Focusing here on series that had their debut in 2019, that I found noteworthy. It’s a crowded field, especially amongst “premium” content, now that every streaming service is developing their own programming and is free of the constraints of network television. It’s weird to imagine a tipping point where the majority of new television is unafraid to say “fuck” if they need to, but that seems to be where we are headed.

The Witcher (Netflix)

People seem to fall into one of two camps here: those who feel the budget gives the show a cheap SyFy feel complicated by the nonlinear storytelling and those who feel it works exactly as well as it needs to in order to tell a compelling tale. I’m obviously in the latter camp. I love the indirect timeline and how it all eventually clicks into place, but even more, I love the inversion of the anti-hero that Geralt represents. Stoic, grumpy, seemingly only self-interested, we see Geralt constantly conflicted by his own morality which perpetually (if grudgingly) drives him toward doing the right thing. It’s a complexity reflected in many of the characters and much of the story of this first season of The Witcher. It’s never simple, there’s always depth to be found, and typically in the most unexpected ways. Also, a massive shoutout to my dude, Jaskier the bard, for the ultimate bop, “Toss A Coin To Your Witcher”.

Watchmen (HBO)

There’s not much I can contribute to the critical conversation surrounding this show. It’s rightly hailed as incredible, thought-provoking, and absolutely necessary. I’ll simply say that I was beyond skeptical approaching it, was completely thrown by the jump forward in time from the events of the graphic novel, confused by the premise initially, and questioning the entire endeavor. Within a couple of episodes, I was utterly hooked and fully invested.

The Mandalorian (Disney+)

I could draw a direct line from Lone Wolf & Cub to Leon: The Professional to The Mandalorian in understanding my enduring fascination with stoic assassins forced to confront unexpected paternal responsibilities. It may be a bit niche, but it’s a genre that hits me hard and something this show does particularly well, thanks in part to the adorable nature of The Child aka Baby Yoda. You just want to hug him up! The Mandalorian also does us the favor of greatly expanding on the world-building of the Star Wars universe in new and interesting ways, catnip to fans such as myself. Laced with spaghetti Western and samurai themes, it’s a stunning bit of storytelling that weaves between an ongoing plot and weekly adventures that all build to an incredible conclusion. A strong debut from Disney+, proof of concept in terms of original programming but also an indication that there is room (even within the usually tight constraints of the Mouse House’s morality) for a tale that’s markedly mature and capable of playing in the gray areas between pure good and evil.

Pen15 (Hulu)

I’m well removed age-wise from the era in which this series takes place, but I felt every moment of it as sharply as I did my own adolescent foibles. I will forever maintain that middle school is when human beings are at their absolute worst. It’s the dawn of social pressure, puberty, the cusp of adulthood, hormones. It’s just a fucking developmental perfect storm, and it brings out the most terrible qualities in us all. Pen15 absolutely nails that turmoil and manages to do so in a way that is consistently funny, occasionally uncomfortable and frequently poignant. It’s a tale of friendship and survival and the entire spectrum of human emotion one encounters in coming of age.

I Think You Should Leave (Netflix)

We live in a golden age of absurdist comedy, but I’ve never encountered anything that hits my sweet spot quite like I Think You Should Leave. Often structured around the inherent awkwardness of social interactions, these skits lean in to find maximum levels of awkward uncomfortableness, in the best way possible. Creator/writer/occasional star Tim Robinson has an incredibly deft hand at the timing and structuring of these moments. I’ve probably watched the series a half-dozen times all the way through since its release this past summer and found something new to be obsessed with every time.

The Boys (Amazon)

With the rise of superhero culture in film and television, we were bound to see some meta-commentary making its way into these mediums eventually. When The Boys was initially announced as an Amazon series, those familiar with the source material understandably scoffed at the idea that it could ever be properly translated into a TV format, given the sheer level of audacious sex, drugs and violence involved. Not to mention the less-than-thinly-veiled references to existing superhero characters embodied by The Seven, the series stand-in for The Justice League. But it came through on every count. Where it differs in scripting from the comic, it makes up in other areas, managing to effectively skewer not only the vacant heroic morality of superhero film and TV in general, but the deeply conflicted corporate interests that dominate every aspect of modern life as well. Bloody, brilliant, bloody brilliant.

Doom Patrol (DC Universe)

I bought a year subscription to DC’s streaming service, looking forward to the Swamp Thing series that had been announced and hoping, but not really expecting, to maybe also enjoy some of Doom Patrol. As a longtime fan of the comic, I couldn’t imagine an adaptation working well and assumed that what we’d end up with would be an action hero team with shades of Hot Topic goth darkness and a splash of token weirdness. What was delivered instead is a series that fully celebrates the pop surrealism, postmodernism, and dark existential horror of the comic at its best. It’s quite possibly the smartest and weirdest television show to ever stream. I’m shocked to not find it being discussed more, and I don’t know if this is entirely down to the format in which it’s broadcast, as DC seems to be struggling with engagement on their streaming service, or if it’s just a little TOO strange. Either way, I’m absolutely smitten.

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