Photo Credit: Liam Daniel/HBO, Mark Hill/HBO, David Lukacs/Netflix
An understated drama about a catastrophic incident over thirty years ago in 1986 appears most frequently on the list of our favourite TV shows in 2019. Who would have guessed it? We're of course talking about the excellent, triple Emmy-winner Chernobyl. It's closely followed by the equally stellar Watchmen, which served as a sequel to the events penned by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons in 1987. And that's tied for second with The Spy, in which Sacha Baron Cohen plays his distant relative, the famous Mossad spy Eli Cohen, whose efforts helped Israel in the 1967 war with Syria.
A historical setting or connection runs through the list below, which also features a German sci-fi thriller that jumps between 2052, 1986, 1953, 1921, and present day. And then there's one that's set much, much further back in time, in what seems like the medieval era and involves magic. If you were starting to get worried, not everything on the list below is from the past. There are four Indian shows. There's a comedy from Canada. And there's a spy series and a reality one. And oh, there's a superhero show that tries to paint itself as an anti-superhero one. All contemporary. Here are our favourite series from 2019.
Aditya Shenoy: Shark Tank
I started watching this series earlier this year after stumbling upon it while scrolling through Netflix. This show is mainly about entrepreneurs pitching their business and ideas to investors. Having worked at a start-up myself, I was instantly hooked on to the series. This series also offers a lot to information from scaling a company to marketing and branding, all straight from established investors.
Nine seasons of Shark Tank are on Netflix while the most recent season is streaming on Amazon Prime. I'm yet to finish the last season of Shark Tank, something I'm aiming to do before the year ends.
Watch: Shark Tank
Akhil Arora: Ramy, Chernobyl, Fleabag, and Watchmen
Look, I tried — to pick one, that is. But there's no choosing between this lot. All four are excellent in their craftmanship — be it writing, direction, or acting — but unfortunately, one has been largely overlooked.
I'm talking about Ramy, of course. It's possible that has something to do with the fact that it follows an American-born Muslim, which only goes to show the importance of the series in the first place. Created by stand-up comedian Ramy Youssef, who also stars in the lead, Ramy looks at the identity challenges of being Ramy, who's perpetually caught between the traditions and values of his Egyptian heritage, and the live-in-the-moment ambitions of his millennial peers.
The other three have been praised widely, with two — Chernobyl and Fleabag — winning multiple awards at the Emmys back in September. (Watchmen wasn't eligible this time, but I expect it to be a major force next year.) And rightly so.
Creator and writer Craig Mazin delivered an unexpected hit with Chernobyl, which follows the clean-up efforts after the 1986 nuclear disaster at the eponymous power plant, while giving us a peek at how the Soviet way of governance made things worse. I wish it could have been made in the local language with local actors, but I understand HBO's commercial interests.
Fleabag isn't new on the scene, though it returned after an over two-and-a-half-year gap for its second season. Phoebe Waller-Bridge — creator, writer, and star — made it worth the wait, as she told a story about the angry and depressed London native falling for a priest (Andrew Scott). It also gave rise to “hot priest” memes on the Internet, in addition to the one of the best opening episodes in 2019.
That brings us to Watchmen, which I've already written about in detail. You can choose to read that or what my colleague Gaurav has to say about it below.
Akshay Jadhav: Chernobyl
Chernobyl is an HBO miniseries, five episodes long, which showcases the devastating real-life events that took place in April 1986 in a nuclear power station in Northern Ukraine. What I loved most about this show, is the sense of realism that is depicted. From the way people talked to the way they explained how the nuclear power station works and why this nuclear disaster happened.
This series shows these terrifying moments in meticulous detail which gives gravity and grounded sense of realism to this show, that is rarely seen otherwise. Chernobyl also succeeds in showing the enormous scale of the disaster due to the meltdown and the radiation which could have killed millions of innocent people who lived thousands of miles away.
Especially a scene where they had to kill off all the dogs and stray animals in a certain radius of the disaster to prevent them from spreading radiation sickness. These scenes make your stomach turn and it shows the true horror and chaos that was this disaster. It is a truly an excellent miniseries and is definitely worth your time.
Ali Pardiwala: The Spy
For personal reasons, my television viewing has reduced significantly this year; I don't watch as much as I used to, and I'm a bit pickier about what I do watch. I picked The Spy earlier this year and wasn't disappointed. This espionage thriller is based on true events taking place in the 1960s, following Israeli spy Eli Cohen, and how he infiltrated the Syrian establishment to gather intelligence. Although the show takes creative liberties, it accurately portrays how Eli (played by Sacha Baron Cohen) served his country at great personal expense.
Sacha Baron Cohen is best known for his comedic and spoof roles but has shown considerable talent in one of the rare serious roles he's played. The show also takes on an interesting colour tone which adds to the feeling and atmosphere. It's almost monochromatic in scenes in Israel, but switches to bright colours when Eli assumes his secret identity of Kamel Thabet in Syria, perhaps suggesting that Eli Cohen was truly happiest as a spy serving his country.
Watch: The Spy
Aman Rashid: The Family Man
I usually don't watch a lot of TV shows, as I am more into watching movies. But I have to say I did watch a few good shows this year, and my favourite of the lot is The Family Man starring Manoj Bajpayee in the lead.
Before I saw The Family Man, a lot of my friends told me that the show is good, but it feels a little stretched. But personally, after watching it, I did not feel that way. The story is gripping and the direction by Raj and DK in on point. Manoj Bajpayee as Srikant Tiwari, who plays the role of a spy, is a treat to watch. And it is not just him, the supporting cast have equally done a very good job as well.
I would end this on a note by saying that if you haven't watched The Family Man yet, then please go watch it, you won't be disappointed. As for me, I can't wait for the second season to drop in.
Watch: The Family Man
Gaurav Shukla: Watchmen
It seems Peak TV is no close to finding its own peak. We are drowning in content, coming from all over the world and it has become simply impossible to keep track of every great new series. So, from the many I was able to watch over this year, I will pick Watchmen as the show that really impressed me. Created by Damon Lindelof of Lost and The Leftovers fame, the show is a follow-up to the events from the Watchmen comics. It introduces several new characters while keeping a few from the comics. It also answers a number of questions that Watchmen comics didn't answer. I won't go into too many details here and will just say that you won't be disappointed.
Apart from Watchmen, I also liked The Mandalorian (Disney Plus – not available in India), The Expanse season 4 (Amazon Prime Video), Star Trek: Discovery season 2 (Netflix), The Witcher season 1 (Netflix), His Dark Materials (Hotstar), A Discovery of Witches (Sky One – not available in India), and Succession (Hotstar).
Harpreet Singh: Killing Eve
I picked Killing Eve as my favourite show last year. This year, I'd say the second season of Killing Eve was my favourite show of the year. I didn't get to see too many TV shows in 2019 but it was really hard to miss this one. There were a lot of mixed reviews for the second season, but I absolutely loved it.
This year, Villanelle (Jodie Comer) and Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) continue to surprise each other and the world around them. There were some excellent moments during this season, and you end up hungry for more action. I won't spoil the show here for anyone who hasn't seen it yet. Luckily, Killing Eve was renewed for a third season earlier this year.
Watch: Killing Eve
Jagmeet Singh: Chernobyl
I didn't get time to watch many TV shows in 2019. But the one that I was enticed to watch this year was Chernobyl, the HBO miniseries on Hotstar that was based on the nuclear disaster that affected the city of Chernobyl in the Soviet Union (now Russia) back in April 1986. The show excellently portrayed the pain that people faced during the catastrophe and reminded the viewers of the societal damage of a man-made disaster. The storyline developed by Craig Mazin was fair enough to dramatise the chaos that took place in the city following the crisis. Likewise, the cast, including Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgard, and Emily Watson, performed quite well to draw a clear picture of the nuclear disaster.
Jamshed Avari: Schitt's Creek
This irreverent Canadian comedy isn't widely known, but thanks to Netflix's algorithms, it popped up on my screen and I gave it a try. The riches-to-rags story of the bankrupt Rose family, forced out of their luxurious, disconnected lives and into a run-down motel, hits many common tropes but it all works because of the cast. Veteran comedian Eugene Levy and his son Dan co-created, co-produce, and write the show as well as star in it, and the entire cast has incredible on-screen chemistry. This isn't a show you can binge-watch multiple episodes of back-to-back but it's full of GIF-able moments and is of course eventually heart-warming once the family gets over all their bickering. Season five released this year and the final season comes out in January.
Watch: Schitt's Creek
Nadeem Sarwar: The Witcher
“I don't care what the critics say, or what wisdom my friends have to spew. I loved Andrzej Sapkowski's The Witcher series of novels and am a huge fan of The Witcher games, especially The Witcher 3. And no matter how the show turns out, the inner fan in me will first enjoy it, and then think about plot holes, source material deviations, or any other aspect.” This is exactly what I had in mind before binge-watching Netflix's The Witcher, and to be honest, I was not disappointed.
Straight off the bat, Henry Cavill as Geralt of Rivia is the best live-screen incarnation of any novel or game character I've seen to this day. Cavill even nailed Geralt's signature grunts, voice pattern, and behavioural attributes that made me fall in love with the character in the critically-acclaimed game. The rest of the supporting cast also does its job well, and even though the series takes a while to build the characters and set the tone of the story, the final result is satisfying. The only drawback? Season 2 of The Witcher is still too far away.
Watch: The Witcher
Prabhakar Thakur: Kota Factory
Kota Factory by TVF was the only TV show that I watched throughout the year but that is not the reason why I am listing it here. The characters, screenplay, and cinematography make it seem as if we are living the life of a student there. Being someone who lived in Kota and who experienced the monotonous life there, I can say that the show aptly depicts the life of the students, their goals, and the pressure that they endure in the “city of coaching”.
Watch: Kota Factory
Pranay Parab: Dark
Dark is my favourite TV show among those released in 2019. Season 2 was even better than season 1, which is a commendable achievement for a time travel show. I really like the fact that Dark is accessible even to people who don't otherwise watch science fiction. While time travel is at its heart, the story is really about the bizarre bonds between four families and how these keep strengthening the time loop, with no escape in sight. I'm looking forward to season 3, and I do hope that we get a satisfying ending.
Roydon Cerejo: The Boys
Amazon Prime Video might not have the same original catalogue as Netflix, but they do have some gems. While Goliath, Bosch and The Grand Tour keep me coming back to this service, this year, we got another little gem called The Boys.
This anti-superhero series was just the perfect recipe that was needed in year which had some pretty intense AAA superhero films. Here, the so-called ‘superheroes' are actually the bad guys in the show (well, some of them are anyways) and the plot revolves around a group of vigilantes (a.k.a, the Boys) who are trying to expose them for what they really are.
The show has brilliant performances by Karl Urban, who plays the lead role of Billy Butcher, and Antony Starr, who plays Homelander, the leader of the superhero group. The show has plenty of action, some excellent acting, and is hilarious at times. If you're someone who's tired of watching the typical Marvel or DC superhero fare, then you should give The Boys a watch. You definitely won't be disappointed.
Watch: The Boys
Sandeep Kumar Sinha: Chernobyl
Historical incident-inspired dramas have always been eye-catching. Chernobyl was no different. Smooth narration, necessary thrills and suspense, to go along with masterful casting left me spellbound. Will recommend everyone this HBO miniseries everyone.
Sumit Garg: Flames
After watching the season 2 trailer of TVF Flames, I was very excited to watch it because the first season was full of enthusiasm and love. And earlier this year, the wait came to an end and I finally got to watch the show. And all I have to say about it is that I loved every bit of it.
So, season 2 continues the story as now both Rajat and Ishita are having a comfortable time with each other and they are cherishing every moment of it. And though at some moments the show does reflect the old ‘90s-type romance, I feel if you are a pure romantic, you will easily relate to the story.
Tasneem Akolawala: Made in Heaven
This Amazon Prime original is a delight to watch. Created by Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti, Made in Heaven was released in March this year. The plot follows two individuals who have just started a wedding planning company, and the lengths they go to, to make the start-up a success. It delves on to various societal issues, stigmas, and pressures of living in the modern society. Without giving away too much, the storytelling is spectacular and gripping. Performances by Sobhita Dhulipala and Arjun Mathur leave an impact, and Jim Sarbh does a fabulous job in a negative role. This one is worth binge-watching.
Watch: Made in Heaven
Yousuf Jawed: The Spy
This show is based on the life of a secret agent of Mossad, who was planted in Syria by Israel. Since it's based on real life, it gives the feeling of watching something real. Especially in how they nail the retro look of the show, making it all the more immersive. Actors are an important aspect, and Sacha Baron Cohen, better known for his comedic performance in the likes of Borat and The Dictator, is very convincing in the dramatic role of a secret agent in The Spy. I'm not going to talk about the thriller aspects because that's a key ingredient of any spy movie or show. But The Spy offers something different by relying on realism.
Watch: The Spy