Who raised the bar on television shows to the crazy, brilliant level it is today? Was it Netflix with House of cards? Or HBO with True blood or Game of thrones? Hulu with The handmaid’s tale? I cannot definitively say. I do know this: there were so many brilliant series in 2019, that I could only watch half of them and still have enough time to write about them. These are the ones I enjoyed the most, not in any order.
Set in an alternative history where masked vigilantes are treated as outlaws, Watchmen embraces the nostalgia of the original ground-breaking graphic novel of the same name, while attempting to break new ground of its own.
Two things make this series my #1 series for 2019 – the perfect cast and the most incredible dialogue. I am not an actor, but if I had to learn lines and repeat them, take after take, this is the kind of stuff that would not drill a hole in my head.
Jean Smart just picks the coolest parts. Go look at her IMDb profile. She has consistently been kicking ass since 1979. Watch all the seasons of Legion (2017–19) if you need proof. Then, there is Regina King, who has an on-screen presence that will make you quiver in your boots. Remember her in all three seasons of American crime (2015–17)? Or in The leftovers (2014–17)? Now, put these two together, throw in that cracker of a script I mentioned, and you will want to watch nothing else. And, yes, Don Johnson and Jeremy Irons are in it, too.
His dark materials
An adaptation of Philip Pullman’s acclaimed trilogy, His dark materials, considered a modern masterpiece of imaginative fiction. The first series follows Lyra Belacqua (Dafne Keen), a seemingly ordinary but brave young woman from another world. Lyra’s search for a kidnapped friend uncovers a sinister plot involving stolen children, and becomes a quest to understand a mysterious phenomenon called Dust. As she journeys through the worlds, including our own, Lyra meets a determined and courageous boy called Will. Together, they encounter extraordinary beings and dangerous secrets, with the fate of both the living and the dead in their hands.
Having read and loved the trilogy, I went into this series expecting it to be as complex and brilliant, but also as confusing, as the books. The characters are still many, they are still complicated and there is a multitude of storylines. But, somehow, it makes a lot of sense. The meticulous script obviously went through many drafts.
It is a slow burner, with solid special effects and incredible production values. The 14-year-old Dafne Keen is on track to become one of the greats. Oh, and you are going to love Iorek Byrnison, the bear.
“It’s the best cancer to get.” That’s what Dr Pillay tells the bewildered Kittie Claassen (Carla Smith), a 22-year-old honours student in the new 13-episode series, Tydelik terminaal (“Temporarily terminal”), as she faces six months of hell fighting for her life.
Her diagnosis of Hodgkin’s disease also means additional challenges for her dreams of winning prizes for her journalistic career, which she is determined to pursue after her cancer treatment.
Etienne Fourie continues to build on his unique style of directing. He handles very serious issues with a light, or rather delightful, touch. His casting is always spot on. His use of colours (clothing, furniture, wall paint, etc) is present and meaningful, but not overpowering.
When you explore a subject like cancer, it can easily feel contrived. Tydelik terminaal does not fall into that trap. It feels completely authentic. It comes down to a great script based on the real-life experience of Elanie Rupping, and a powerhouse performance by Carla Smith.
A law firm in South Africa takes on various cases, while the partners and associates need to balance their personal lives and keep the firm alive.
It is not perfect, and it certainly does not push any boundaries. Yet, I find myself looking forward to every new episode. Even though I kinda know it won’t surprise me or shock me, I enjoy the easy pace; I enjoy how comfortably the ensemble cast just slip into the characters, into their trials and tribulations.
I must single out Kim Cloete’s performance. The dialogue that is, at times, stilted and a tad too cool, and the plot points that every now and again deserve an eye-roll, just fade away when she is on screen. She makes it all better.
The devil next door
A Cleveland grandfather is brought to trial in Israel, accused of being the infamous Nazi death camp guard known as Ivan the Terrible.
I thought I had, in my lifetime, seen comprehensive coverage of the Holocaust. Visiting Auschwitz in 2017 certainly left me reeling. For this series to move me beyond words was certainly a surprise. It also kept me glued to the screen throughout the five episodes. Is it him? Is it not? Is he one of the worst human beings ever? Or a doting husband, father and grandfather who slaved away at the Ford factory to support his family?
Look out for Sheftel, the Jewish lawyer representing the alleged Nazi war criminal. He is any documentary filmmaker’s dream. What a clever, animated, infuriating and larger-than-life character.
The Umbrella Academy
On the same day in 1989, 43 infants were inexplicably born to random, unconnected women who had shown no signs of pregnancy the day before. Seven were adopted by Sir Reginald Hargreeves, a billionaire industrialist, who created the Umbrella Academy and prepared his “children” to save the world. But not everything went according to plan. In their teenage years, the family fractured and the team disbanded. Now, the six surviving 30-something members reunite upon the news of Hargreeves’s passing.
Rotten Tomatoes gives this series only 73% and summarises it as follows: “The Umbrella Academy unfurls an imaginative yarn with furtive emotion and an exceptionally compelling ensemble, but the series’s dour sensibility often clashes with its splashy genre trappings.” Clashes with its splashy genre trappings? Give me a fucking break.
It is entertainment in its purest, most binge-worthy format. It contains very clever and subversive humour, so much freaking heart, enough tension to keep you coiled up until the end and all the superhero thrills.
The OA Part I
The “mind-bending” story returns with The OA Part II, which follows OA as she navigates a new dimension, one in which she had a completely different life as a Russian heiress, and one in which she once again finds herself as Hap’s captive. Part II introduces Karim Washington, a private detective tasked with finding a missing teen, Michelle Vu. His path crosses with OA’s as they try to solve the mystery of Michelle’s whereabouts and a house on Nob Hill connected to the disappearance of several teenagers. Meanwhile, back in the first dimension, BBA, Angie and the boys find themselves on a journey to understand the truth behind OA’s story and the incredible realities she has described.
Part I was a slow-moving, infuriating, weird and confusing tale of near-death experiences. It was also haunting and gripping and addictive. You cared deeply for these broken characters being driven to the edge of their humanity. Oh, and let’s not forget the “dance” sequences, which were totally freaky and weird, until they were evocative and life-changing.
Part II is a fast-paced, less weird and a-tad-less-confusing tale of different dimensions and how we move between them. This time around, it is even more haunting and gripping and addictive. And, yes, the five-movement dance sequences are still prominent and poignant.