In Depth

Best TV of 2019

The Crown, Peaky Blinders and Stranger Things were among the year’s must-watch shows

It has been another bountiful year for TV and streaming, and even the most voracious of watchers have struggled to keep up with an impressive host of new series.

As 2019 draws to an end, The Week looks back at some of the best small-screen offerings from UK TV channels and streaming platforms this year, and see what is still to come.

The Crown - season three
The Crown season 3

Netflix

The UK’s favourite royal drama is set to premiere its eagerly awaited third season on Netflix on 17 November this year.

Best Actress Oscar-winner Olivia Colman and Golden Globe nominee Tobias Menzies will take over as the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh from Claire Foy and Matt Smith respectively.

The series is set to showcase the years 1964 to 1977, “covering the decolonisation of Africa, the birth of Prince Edward, and Prince Charles’s movement into the public eye”, according to Radio Times.

Peaky Blinders - season five

Series five of the Steven Knight family crime saga arrived in living rooms in August this year.

“The formula is the same,” writes Stuart Jeffries in The Guardian. “Gaudy, exploitative violence? Sure. The six-abreast Reservoir Dogs strut across cobbles, backlit by factory flames? But of course.”

Fans of the show will be glad to know that all five seasons of Peaky Blinders can still be found on BBC iPlayer.

Catherine the Great

British A-lister Helen Mirren made her return to TV as historical Empress of Russia, Catherine the Great, in an HBO mini-series that aired in October.

The four-part historical drama followed “the end of Catherine’s reign and her affair with Russian military leader Grigory Potemkin that helped shape the future of Russian politics”, says HBO.

Mirren “has a deft way of mixing humanity in with all the grandeur”, writes Ed Cumming in The Independent. “I suppose playing 4,000 queens in her career has given her a bit of practice.”

Brooklyn Nine-Nine - season six

Fans of the American comedy show were heartbroken earlier this year when the US TV network Fox announced that it would be cancelling Brooklyn Nine-Nine. The subsequent uproar was such that NBC swooped and picked up the series, guaranteeing a sixth season.

It premiered this year on E4 in the UK, with fans of the show grateful that Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg), Captain Ray Holt (Andre Braugher) and the rest of the gang get to continue with their New York City police antics. NBC has announced a seventh series to air next year.

Game of Thrones - season eight

Fans of Game of Thrones waited so long for the final season, they were practically clawing their way up The Wall like White Walkers by the time it arrived.

The wait was over earlier this year, when winter finally came to Winterfell. While many loved the final season and the way various plots were wrapped up, there were a number of (loud) dissenting voices.

petition to have season eight remade has reached 1.7 million signatures, which demonstrates just how much fans care about the show - and how much time people have on their hands.

The final season followed “all of these disparate characters coming together to face a common enemy, dealing with their past, and defining the person they want to be in the face of certain death”, Bryan Cogman, co-executive producer, told Entertainment Weekly.

Gentleman Jack
Gentleman Jack

BBC

Written and directed by Sally Wainwright (Happy Valley), Gentleman Jack stars Suranne Jones (Doctor Foster) as Anne Lister, often referred to as “the first modern lesbian”.

The BBC drama explores the latter years of the “remarkable real-life woman who charmed her way into high society and planned – much to the horror of her neighbours – to marry a woman”, says the Radio Times.

A wealthy Yorkshire landowner at the turn of the 19th century, Lister is famous for her four-million-word diary that documented her controversial lesbian relationships in a code that wasn’t deciphered until the 1980s.

The series explores Lister’s “relationships at home with her family, her servants, her tenants and her industrial rivals, who will use any dirty tricks they can to bring her down”, says Digital Spy.

As well as Jones, the series also stars Gemma Whelan (Game Of Thrones) as Lister’s sister Marian, Timothy West (Last Tango In Halifax) as their father Jeremy, and Gemma Jones (Bridget Jones’s Diary) as her Aunt Anne.

All eight episodes are still available on BBC iPlayer.

Russian Doll
Natasha Lyonne in Russian Doll

The eight-part series, created by writer, actor and director Natasha Lyonne and Parks and Recreation star Amy Poehler, was a hit when it came to Netflix earlier this year.

Russian Doll is a bizarre high-concept comedy about a young woman named Nadia who ends up in a Groundhog-Day-esque time loop that sees her celebrating her 36th birthday and then dying repeatedly in increasingly absurd ways.

“Any more details would probably be considered a spoiler,” Radio Times says. “As the title would suggest, it’s a multi-layered story, which gets more and more intriguing as the episodes roll on.”

Lorena

This four-part docu-series, produced by Get Out director Jordan Peele for Amazon Prime, follows the notorious story of Lorena Bobbitt, who in 1993 severed her husband’s genitals while he was asleep, after years of suffering physical and mental abuse.

Amazon calls it “a groundbreaking re-investigation of the deep moral issues and painful human tragedies buried at the heart of this infamous American scandal,” adding: “Lost in the tabloid coverage and jokes was the opportunity for a national discussion on domestic and sexual assault in America.”

A Confession

After playing second fiddle to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock in the long-running BBC show of the same name, Martin Freeman showcased his own detective skills in A Confession, ITV’s crime drama series that aired across September and October.

The six-part series tells the true story of Steve Fulcher, a detective superintendent in Swindon who deliberately breached police procedure to catch the killer of 22-year-old Sian O’Callaghan, who was murdered in 2011, which lead him to the disappearance of another girl years before.

Writer Jeff Pope, known for Little Boy Blue and the Oscar-nominated Philomena, says he found it a “fascinating story to tell on a number of levels”. 

“On one hand it is a brilliant piece of detective work, but in order to find both girls Fulcher felt he had to deny Halliwell his rights as a suspect,” said Pope.

All six episodes of the show are available on ITV Player.

Summer of Rockets

Adapted and directed by Stephen Poliakoff and starring star Keeley Hawes, Linus Roache and Timothy Spall, this BBC drama series tells the story of a Russian Jewish inventor and his family living in Britain during the height of the Cold War.

The six-part series, set in 1958, began filming in May 2018 in Oxford and London and arrived on screens in May this year.

Lucy Richer, the executive producer for the BBC, said: “Stephen’s writing and direction always draw a brilliant cast; I’m delighted to have such exceptionally talented actors on board to bring Stephen’s compelling, semi-autobiographical story to life on BBC Two.”

All six episodes of the show are available on BBC iPlayer.

Stranger Things - season three
Stranger Things

Netflix

Stranger Things mania was guaranteed long before season three was released on Netflix in July.

The third coming of Hawkins is “still frightening as hell, but far more fun” than previous seasons, says Lucy Mangan in The Guardian.

There’s a new monster to contend with, as well as plenty of teenage hormones that test friendships and burgeoning romantic relationships.

The returning cast bring their A-game, and Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) is brilliantly complemented by Robin (Maya Hawke), his co-worker at the ice-cream parlour he’s ended up working at; the pair enjoy plenty of B-plot fun involving Russians and “The Gate” to the upside down.

Anne

Not to be confused with the Netflix series based on Anne of Green Gables, ITV will screen a four-part television drama about Anne Williams, who lost her son in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster

The series begins after Williams’s son’s death at Hillsborough, with the grieving mother, played by Maxine Peake, seeking the truth and justice over what really happened at the football match that day.

“From the first time I spoke to Anne I was struck by her steely determination... it’s an honour that her family has entrusted us with telling her inspirational story,” said Keven Sampson, writer of the series and author of the novel Hillsborough Voices.

Filming took place in late summer 2018, and the show is expected to hit screens before the end of 2019, though a broadcast date is yet to be set.

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