Movies & TV

The Best Television of 2019 (So Far)

Chernobyl shows the merits of a one season wonder, while Big Little Lies is back for a second installment
IMAGE HBO/NETFLIX
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The difficult task of following up a beloved first season has been a theme in television in 2019, with Fleabag, Big Little Lies and Killing Eve all rising to the occasion.

Other reasons to forsake our social lives have come in the form of shows focusing on real life injustices, like HBO's gripping mini-series Chernobyl and Netflix's Central Park five dramatisation When They See Us.

It follows a bumper year of television in 2018, with gems such as explosive British drama Bodyguard and Sharp Objects, a psychological thriller from Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn.

Your viewing schedule in 2019 is still looking bright, with the third season of Stranger Things yet to come. Here are the best things to grace the small screen, so far, this year:

Big Little Lies

Meryl Streep and more lies are on the menu for the sophomore season of this Emmy-winning HBO series also starring Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Zoë Kravitz, Laura Dern and Shailene Woodley. The Monterey Five, as they're suspiciously termed by the community, struggle to keep the details surrounding Perry's death secret as Celeste's mother pries into what happened that night.

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Big Little Lies replicates the same slowly building momentum of drama which saw season one crescendo so explosively. It also navigates issues like PTSD, abuse and masculinity with powerful effect.

When They See Us

Director Ava DuVernay's last Netflix venture was 2016 documentary 13th: a disturbing look at the history of slavery in the US, from Jim Crow to the modern private prison system. In When They See Us she turns her focus to the injustice of the Central Park Five - a group of black teenage boys who were falsely convicted for the assault of a jogger in 1990.

Highlighting the historic racism of the justice system, and telling the story of these children with cinematic flair, the dramatisation makes for difficult but important watching.

Chernobyl

In just five episodes HBO's Chernobyl unravelled the events of the 1986 nuclear disaster in Ukraine, impressively breaking down the complicated science that lead to the accident. The scale of people who were effected is told through the stories of the scientists who saved the nuclear reactor from further catastrophe, the government ministers who tried to deny what was happening, and the unthanked firefighters and miners who gave their lives to help.

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It has deservedly earned the title of IMDb's highest rated series ever, with critics and, more importantly, people who lived in the Soviet Union at the time praising the meticulous attention to detail given to everything, from they exact snacks people ate to the type of boots they wore.

Black Mirror

There are recurring themes which crop up in any episode of Black Mirror: holding up a mirror to the way we use technology, we often envisage an unimaginable development in science that paves a hellish path society could go down. The fifth series of Charlie Brooker's techno-paranoid series contains some of the usual types of dilemmas, all repackaged in new nightmarish scenarios.

In 'Striking Vipers', VR and porn merge in a game which has dark consequences for two old friends, asking questions about how we behave online when we feel anonymous. 'Rachel, Jack And Ashley Too' stars Miley Cyrus as a pop sensation with a dark secret who becomes linked to a fan who buys a robot doll of her idol. The episode is a sinister take on YouTube stan culture, peddling empowerment for profit and the toxic side of the music industry.

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'Smithereens' stars Fleabag's hot priest Andrew Scott as a ride share driver who adducts an employee of a social media company to try and get the attention of the company CEO. The reveal of why he needs to speak to him so urgently is a compelling argument for looking away from your phone.

Killing Eve 2

Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh had the world on the edge of their seat when their subversive take on the cat-and-mouse chase of assassin and spy came to BBC One last year. The follow-up season finds itself seconds after the shock ending of season one, where Villanelle plunged a knife into her pursuer Eve Polastri.

Already an anxiety attack to watch, the stakes are now even higher, with the pair's obsession with one another spiralling out of control. Despite Phoebe Waller-Bridge not returning to pen the script, the same sense of humour and boisterousness makes it worth returning to. Plus the soundtrack and costumes are still excellent.

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I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson

Netflix may well have made its funniest series yet with this zany sketch show from Saturday Night Live alumni Tim Robinson. One sketch is about a compensation lawyer protecting people from situations like the toilet of your new house being swapped for one with a hole only small enough for farts. Another features a very aggressive best baby competition.

Perhaps the best is an Instagram-uploading brunch session where one girlfriend tries to join in on her friends' fake cutesy insults and calls them "sacks of shit", adding "if they died together nobody would shed a tear". Starring the likes of Vanessa Bayer, Cecily Strong, Fred Willard and Andy Samberg, the characters are offbeat without becoming annoying, and the show takes turns you don't see coming.

Dead to Me

Jen (Christina Applegate) and Judy (Linda Cardellini) strike up an unlikely friendship after meeting in a support group that Jen is visiting after her husband is killed in a hit and run. If you were expecting a touching tale about the solidarity of female friendship overcoming grief, this buddy film is far more riotous.

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Jen tries to hunt down the car responsible for her husband's death while Judy attempts to shield her from a secret. It's a dark comedy that manages to move you, somewhere in between the smashed windscreens and casual one-liners about the life-ending pain of losing someone, all tied up with a teasing cliffhanger ending.

Game of Thrones

Argue amongst yourselves about whether it's the best, but certainly the biggest show ever created draws to a close this year in the form of HBO's adaptation of George R.R. Martin's fantasy series. Season eight is a six part collection of filmic episodes, the opening setting the stage for the shaky allegiances that will be tested throughout the season.

While the show has struggled to neatly tie up all loose ends while keeping an element of surprise, the filmmaking and acting are the best they've ever been, with an especially moving scene from Gwendoline Christie. The battles are bigger, longer, darker and more ablaze than ever before, and there's plenty of funny one-liners to remind you the show isn't taking itself too seriously.

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Catastrophe

Few shows have captured the daily frustrations and unintentional hilarity of married life as well British comedy Catastrophe. So well have Sharon and Rob (played by series writers Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney) presented knotty issues like a lack of sexual fulfilment in marriage, the weird things your children do and the headache of elderly relatives, that it's hard to believe they aren't actually a couple.

With its fourth and final season, the BBC Three series showed it was able to deftly tread the line between sadness and humour, tackling issues of sobriety and grief as well as it has previously explored subjects like post-natal depression and infidelity. The writing is as affecting and funny as ever, and the closing episode cements it as a perfectly formed comedy series that quit while it was ahead.

Pen15

A natural follow-up to Bo Burnham's saccharine childhood ode Eighth Grade, this Hulu series about the absurdities of high school stars co-creators Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle. In it they play 13-year-old versions of themselves in the year 2000 (believably, too) alongside a cast of actual teenagers. Here they navigate the "cringeworthy" episodes of adolescence, from deciding whether to partake in drugs to experiencing graphic films for the first time.

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It's a time-warp to a simpler time that doesn't gloss over how uncool your past self was. One episode, in which the pair decide on their first AIM screen-name, will be triggering for anyone who remembers the true shame of their MSN Messenger profile. You know who you are.

Fleabag

At this stage Phoebe Waller-Bridge is just showing off. As well as her brilliant, genre-bending assassin series Killing Eve which captivated audiences last year, 2019 saw her return to Fleabag, the dark comedy which took her from the Edinburgh Fringe to Broadway via the BBC.

Returning after the sucker punch reveal of the season one finale (that Fleabag's grief for her best friend's suicide was, in part, her fault), the titular lead character still has plenty of caustic and profound asides, going a step further to twist the convention of breaking the fourth wall. The series introduces a nameless Priest who she quickly becomes obsessed with, leading to a boundary pushing and morally ambiguous moment between them, and setting up the perfect final goodbye to the show. Elsewhere Olivia Colman is back on brilliant form as Fleabag's menacing Godmother, and the relationship with her sister, as played by Sian Clifford, proves the greatest love story of all.

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Sex Education

A sort of Skins for the post-#MeToo generation, in this coming-of-age high school comedy drama we meet Otis Milburn, a 16-year-old boy at odds with his changing body and facing the repercussions of having two divorced sex therapists for parents. X Files actress Gillian Anderson is brilliant as his eccentric and overly chill mother who smokes weed with the class bully and displays graphic art throughout their house.

Dealing with issues like impotence, consent and abortion in a manner sadly missing from real sex education, it is also, crucially, very funny.

True Detective (season 3)

True Detective's first season was an instant hit which melded the directorial talent of Cary Fukunaga and acting chops of Matthew McConaughey. It's third season is a return to form featuring Academy Award-winner Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorffwho play a pair of detectives investigates a case of two missing children which spans decades.

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Ali is especially brilliant, showing shows subtle differences in mannerisms which - as well as his helpfully greying hair - tell you which of the three points in his character's life you're watching. As with season one, there's a sense of creeping unease that hangs over things, from the dark nature of the case to the shady suspects and the thick woods where clues are discovered.

Conversations with A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes

Kicking off a year of 'killer content' which will see multiple projects based on Ted Bundy and Charles Manson, this four part series features never-before heard interviews with the serial killer.

It has been met with controversy, some feeling that it dwells a little too long on how handsome the killer was and how his good looks and charisma allowed him to get away with horrendous acts. What it does do well is explore how Bundy gathered cult-status and hordes of fans while on trial, with many people pledging devotion to him. While it certainly makes for uncomfortable viewing, it's a case that continues to provoke debate.

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Russian Doll

Orange is the New Black star Natasha Lyonne finally gets a leading role worthy of her on-screen charm in this story of a women who relives the same New York party over and over again, each time dying in a myriad of unfortunate ways. Written and directed by Lyonne as well as Parks and Recreation star Amy Poehler and Leslye Headland, it refreshingly spotlights a woman in her late thirties, who is having fun and casual sex without needing to include a neat love story or romantic ending.

Against the backdrop of death there's a lot of consideration of life as it throws up questions about friendship, family, sex and love. With looping narratives that become more interesting each time, Russian Doll is a madcap mixture between Groundhog Day and The Good Place.

This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.ukMinor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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