1. LODGE 49 (AMC)
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to pay tribute to one of the weirdest, most singular TV programs since “Twin Peaks: The Return” (and the original “Twin Peaks” before it), gone far too soon from this world after AMC’s bizarrely short-sighted decision to cancel the series in its prime. Centered on an idealistic, semi-employed surfer (charm bomb Wyatt Russell) and his cynical sister (the luminous Sonya Cassidy), the show’s two season story arc chronicled the attempts of the orphaned siblings to survive in present day Long Beach, CA, a former company town ravaged by vulture capitalism and the snake oil sham of the “gig” economy. In an age consumed by fantasy at all levels, creator Jim Gavin’s quasi-mystical premise (about a Masonic-style lodge that Wyatt’s character “Dud” Dudley stumbles upon in the midst of his flailing) evolved into a starkly realistic depiction of 21st century life in much of America unlike anything else in the current media landscape. Nearly every character in the vibrant ensemble is a victim of downsizing, stuck in a dead-end job, and/or struggling to make ends meet while surrounded by hucksters, scam artists, criminals, and other predators dangling all manner of tainted carrots on sticks to keep the proletariat in line (like a mouthpiece for the luxury restaurant chain Higher Steaks who tries in one episode to convince his employees that stock in the (ultimately failing) business is far better than the back paychecks they’re owed. Yet far from playing as a grim social realist slog, “Lodge 49” actually celebrated the power of community and the incalculable value of pursuing magic, meaning, and purpose in life even if (like future seasons of Gavin’s story) they remain forever out of reach.
2. THE GOOD PLACE (NBC)
It’s always been a mystery how such a weird, existential sitcom about spirituality, the afterlife, and the nature of morality (featuring two core interracial romances and a remarkably diverse ensemble) wound up on network TV in the first place, let alone how it managed to stay on the air long enough to complete its entire four season narrative arc (scheduled to wrap up in January 2020). And while “Game of Thrones” currently serves as the big, fat cautionary tale du jour of how beloved shows can fail to stick their narrative landings in spectacularly disastrous fashion, I have complete faith that series creator Michael Schur will somehow manage to solve all the nagging questions of life, the universe, and everything before Maya Rudolph’s Judge Hydrogen marble-izes the Army of Janets (and if you have no idea what I’m talking about, the final four episodes might not be the best place for you to jump into the story at this point…but season one is still streaming on demand)!
3. SILICON VALLEY (HBO)
Speaking of sticking the landing, Mike Judge’s spot-on satire of high-tech start-up culture and the pros and multiple cons of the digital revolution (including the deification of far too many Steve Job-ian billionaire sociopaths) wrapped up its consistently funny and engaging run with a well-earned and perfectly symmetrical endgame as good (or even, arguably, better) than the admittedly great finale of its far more beloved spiritual sister series “Veep”(complete with shout-outs to departed cast members Christopher Evan Welch and T.J. Miller and clever, satisfying payoffs for nearly every one of the show’s themes and character arcs). #Tethics!
4. RUSSIAN DOLL (Netflix)
Given that she co-created, co-wrote, and stars in this tale of a woman dying and coming back to life over and over again on the night of her 36th birthday, a high Natasha Lyonne tolerance is pretty much required (as is a whole lotta love for Harry Nilsson’s “Gotta Get Up) to fully enjoy this time-looping eight-episode East Village riff on “Groundhog Day.” But for Lyonne lovers like myself, this death-obsessed, life-affirming mini-series was pure metaphysical catnip.
5. FLEABAG (BBC/Amazon) & CATASTROPHE (Channel 4/Amazon)
Ties are rightly considered cheating on any Top 10 list, but it really is difficult to separate these two British dramedies about sex, love, family, and relationships given their similar dark comic voices (especially with the final seasons of both streaming on Amazon in 2019). “Fleabag”‘s Emmy-winning Phoebe Waller-Bridge is perhaps the more dynamic (and higher profile) star/creator here, and her show (adapted from a one-woman stage production) about a single, promiscuous London eccentric is (arguably) the darker and funnier of the pair. Yet, speaking as a married fellah, “Catastrophe” (created by and starring Rob Delaney & Sharon Horgan) struck even closer to home for me by showcasing the full emotional spectrum couples must navigate in long-term relationships with unusual (and sometimes unnerving) accuracy — plus, bonus points for giving Carrie Fisher a far more respectable sendoff than a certain other 2019 production I could mention.
6. BROAD CITY (Comedy Central)
Another fantastic 2019 farewell was the finale of “Broad City,” which remained consistently hilarious while digging deep into the organically bittersweet emotions of real-life show runners Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer as they said goodbye to their fictional alter egos, New York BFFs Abbi Abrams and Ilana Wexler, who likewise faced the end of a seemingly inseparable friendship as life and maturity inexorably pushed them from a longtime youthful idyll onto the isolated paths of adulthood. (And bonus points for a key episode set within the surreal, immersive world of “Sleep No More,” featured in a pair of long ago Top Ten lists as my favorite theatrical experience ever.)
7. WATCHMEN (HBO)
Damon Lindelof, all is forgiven. After hilariously botching the storytelling of “Lost” (and, more egregiously, “Prometheus” and “Star Trek: Into Darkness”), friends informed me the allegedly A-list writer had finally figured out how to add a coherent middle and ending to the typically promising beginnings of his fantastical tales via the HBO series “The Leftovers.” I didn’t entirely believe them at the time, yet I’m willing to admit that Lindelof’s groundbreaking take on the resurgence of white nationalism in America is indeed a worthy successor to DC’s classic Cold War deconstruction of the superhero genre (even if the ending of “Watchmen,” the series — while a vast improvement over past Lindelof efforts — still didn’t quite live up to the horrific promise of the show’s shocking Tulsa massacre prologue).
8. POSE (FX)
Sure, while Ryan Murphy’s modern family take on black and Latinx LGBTQ ballroom culture in late ’80s (and, this season, early ’90s) New York City can be overly romanticized and emotionally manipulative, damned if it doesn’t work like gangbusters, admirably lionizing a marginalized community in the midst of the resurgent bigotry of the Trump era. Plus, far from resting on their totally woke bona fides, the show’s creative team and charismatic ensemble went for broke in 2019 with a kitchen sink approach featuring everything from a Tarantino-esque caper involving a mummified corpse to romance, tragedy, and everything in between.
9. FOSSE/VERDON (FX)
How could I not love a series where every episode is thematically linked to a Bob Fosse and/or Gwen Verdon project (and one starts with everybody making fun of “Pippin” before realizing how awesome the underloved Stephen Schwartz musical actually is)? Plus, like “Marriage Story,” the writers cleverly shift your sympathies back and forth between the two main characters until they’re both revealed equally as heroes and villains in a failed marriage which ultimately remains a loving relationship and a successful creative partnership until the bitter end. Kudos to Sam Rockwell for submerging his sometimes annoying quirks into a fully lived performance and Michelle Williams for totally earning that Emmy she received for her role.
10. DEADWOOD (HBO)
Not so much a continuation of the 2004-2006 Western but instead a re-do of the show’s abrupt series finale, this melancholy reunion of most of the original’s surviving cast gained a good deal of its power from out knowledge that it was simultaneously a final farewell to a beloved stable of characters (most notably Ian McShane’s iconic Al Swearengen) as well as the inimitable creative voice of creator David Milch, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease while scripting what surely will serve as his creative swansong.
Honorable Mention: “El Camino,” “Crashing,” “Late Night with Stephen Colbert,” “Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World,” “Brexit,” “2 Dope Queens,” the last truly great episode of “Game of Thrones” (“A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” i.e., the one before the battle with the Night King where Jamie made Brienne a Ser), “Veep” (especially the final episode), Meryl Streep & Laura Dern in season two of “Big Little Lies,” “Baskets,” “The Amazing Race,” 55% of the final season of “The Deuce,” all of Maya Hawke’s scenes in “Stranger Things,” “A Black Lady Sketch Show”
And finally, once and for all, here’s how “Game of Thrones” SHOULD have ended:
Okay, first off, when the White Walkers attack Winterfell, Tormund dies saving Brienne and Gilly dies protecting her baby…then dies again when Sam saves the baby from Undead Gilly (because, despite the intensity of the battle, not enough beloved characters perished as brutally as they should have per the rules of old school GoT). Meanwhile, rather than just being uselessly stuck in the crypts for the entirety of The Long Night, Tyrion suddenly realizes the Night King’s too smart to simply launch his entire army at the most heavily fortified part of the living world. Instead, the Imp deduces that the bulk of the White Walkers are bypassing Winterfell to lay waste to the rest of Westeros, which is virtually unprotected — leading to the scene I can’t believe Benioff & Weiss passed up, namely Cersei looking out her window in the Red Keep then dropping her wine glass as she sees the dead marching on King’s Landing (before finally admitting she was stupid for not believing the scope of the threat and teaming up with her enemies earlier). However, because Tyrion is still smart in my version of the ending, he gets word to King’s Landing and manages to coordinate a last ditch joint effort between all the forces of humanity, with long-time enemies fighting side-by-side until Arya manages to slay the Night King (in a much more believable way than just…suddenly popping up out of nowhere). And then, with everyone from all parts of Westeros celebrating and a new dawn of cooperation and peace just within reach…THAT’s when Cersei kills (the final dragon (since the other one died killing Undead Dragon), basically betraying everyone who just saved her life and thereby sparking a spasm of far more believable homicidal wrath in Daenarys, finally pushing her into full-on (yet actually plot-justified) Targaryen bloodlust. King’s Landing is destroyed, the Hound and the Mountain battle to the death (since that part of the finale was just fine) and Jamie and Cersei perish together (which I also didn’t mind). But THEN, realizing Daenarys must be stopped but also that (duh!) her Dothraki and Unsullied and Etc. forces won’t just shrug and walk away if she’s murdered, Jon still kills her BUT Arya then assumes her identity (AND the Iron Throne)…meaning the series ends with the Starks secretly in control of the kingdom though nobody else in Westeros knows (except maybe Tyrion). The End!