I’m not too proud to admit that I watch a shit-ton of television. Yes, I know I should be doing other things, but dammit, there’s a lot of great stuff to watch out there. This is literally a Golden Age of television. So, yeah, I watched way too much television in the past year and the majority of it was pretty freaking good. Of course, this means that in order to recap the best of 2019, I had to do some creative thinking with regards to how to group these shows in batches of seven. Which basically means, if you don’t see a show you think should be represented, give it a few days. It’s probably on another list.

Next up, here’s my Psycho 7 list of my seven favorite 2019 Sophomore Seasons of a television series, in no particular order. These are the shows that took all that momentum from their first seasons and turned everything up a notch for Season 2.


Castle Rock

The ten-episode second season of Castle Rock took its inspiration from both Misery and ‘Salem’s Lot – or more specifically, from the short story “Jerusalem’s Lot” from Stephen King’s Night Shift collection. I’m a big fan of each of these stories, so I was very excited to see how the creative team of Sam Shaw and Dustin Thomason would weave these threads together, and boy did it pay off.

Lizzy Caplan was a revelation as a young Annie Wilkes (played by Kathy Bates in the iconic film adaptation of Misery). Living on the run with her daughter, taking jobs in hospitals in order to steal her medication cocktail that keeps the voices and visions away, Caplan’s performance was original while still drawing inspiration from Bates’ interpretation. Tim Robbins, as Pop, played the dying head of the local crime family in a way that straddled the line between menacing and paternal, making the creeping supernatural insurrection all the more believable.

Speaking of which, while I was really hoping for more of a direct adaptation of ‘Salem’s Lot with vampires settling in the old Marsten House and infesting the town, bringing back the witches who originally settled the land was a nice touch. There were, as one would expect, various subtle (or not-so-subtle) nods to other Stephen King works and overall, the pacing of the show improved over the first season’s more laid back approach. This season we get weird shit almost from the get-go, with shockingly violent moments exploding onto the screen without warning.

And for those who were wondering, despite being an anthology show with a new cast and storyline each season, Castle Rock was still able to connect this story to the first season in a way that was both surprising and extremely satisfying, if not entirely necessary.


Killing Eve

I initially missed the first season of Killing Eve, not because I didn’t want to watch it, but because I just somehow missed it. I remember seeing commercials for it, thought it looked intriguing, but then for some reason it dropped off my radar. Anyway, before Season 2 premiered back in April, I was able to binge the first season and was immediately hooked and ready for more obsession and attraction between British Intelligence Agent Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) and the psychotic assassin, Villanelle (Jodie Comer).

Season 2 hit the ground running, continuing directly from the final bloody moments of the first season finale. Villanelle, wounded and on the run, makes her way from Paris to London, while Eve gets back to work tracking assassins and keeping an eye out for Villanelle’s inevitable return. The introduction of a new threat in the form of “The Ghost” adds an interesting new layer as Eve and Villanelle end up working together (to an extent) and the finale is just as huge a gut punch as Season One’s.

As usual, the performances of Oh and Comer are the main reason to keep coming back to this show, even when some of the elements lean toward the more outlandish. Their chemistry is perfect and Season Three of Killing Eve looks to take it to a whole new level of conflict and obsession.


Mindhunter

The nine-episode Season Two of Mindhunter picks up where Season One left off, with Holden (Jonathan Groff) waking up in the hospital after his visit with Kemper (Cameron Britton) and being diagnosed with panic attacks. Meanwhile, Bill (Holt McCallany) starts seeing signs of deviancy and psychopathy in his adopted son. All of this is set in 1980-81 and against the backdrop of the Atlanta Child Killings.

Oh yeah, and we continue to get peeks at the developing BTK Killer.

David Fincher returned to direct the first three episodes, followed by Andrew Dominik for episodes four and five, then Carl Franklin directed the final four. This is a bit of change up from the first season where directors filmed two installments apiece with Fincher doing the first and final two episodes of the season. As such, Season Two felt a bit more stylistically consistent to me, and I felt like we got a lot more character growth and solid narrative development as the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit gets more independence and attention from the higher-ups.

Mindhunter continued to be just as unsettling and disturbing as Season One while also expanding its reach. The bad news, though, is that because Fincher has so many other projects in the pipeline, the show has been put on indefinite hold and the cast has been released from their contracts. Fincher still wants to do more, but doesn’t want to keep the cast from pursuing other opportunities while he tries to fit it into his schedule.

This is bad news, for sure, but at least it’s not absolute, as Fincher has said that he planned on doing five seasons overall. Hopefully we’ll get to see that vision executed.


Dark

Dark is a German science fiction thriller that started out concerned with a child disappearance, but slowly and meticulously evolved into a time travel conspiracy spanning three generations and four families. The story begins in 2019, then expands to include storylines from 1986 and 1953, then with Season 2, we also incorporate two additional time periods, 2053 and 1921.

And did I mention there’s an apocalyptic event on the horizon?

After watching the first season, I was totally engaged with this narrative, but it was confusing as hell, as nearly all of the characters were involved in each of the various time periods, so there were multiple people playing the same characters over time. I really could have used a picture scorecard to keep track of who was who and what their relationships were over time.

Somehow, Season Two does a much better job of keeping everybody straight. I’m not sure if that’s just because I’m used to them now, or if the narratives sync up a little better now that they have that initial season under their belt. Regardless, Season Two of Dark ramps up the tension and makes some startling and amazing revelations about the characters and the motivations of the mysterious Sic Mundus fellowship. There are even a couple of character reveals that twists everything we thought we knew going into this season.

Netflix has promised a third and final season, allowing Dark to wrap up it’s complicated storylines in what will hopefully be as satisfying an experience as the first two seasons have been.

German time travel has never looked so good.


Star Trek: Discovery

In what is the longest season on this list, clocking in with fourteen episodes, Star Trek: Discovery kicked off season two with the introduction of the USS Enterprise and Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) and the promise of Michael Burnham’s (Sonequa Martin-Green) adopted brother, Spock (Ethan Peck). The premise of the season is the hunt for the Red Angel, what is possibly a being connected to series of seven mysterious signals appearing across the galaxy. Or something like that. It’s all a bit confusing, but despite never quite making sense, this McGuffin is used to explore the relationship between Michael and Spock (who had visions of the red signal and Red Angel when he was a child).

Spock is on the run, after apparently murdering three doctors at the psychiatric unit he had checked himself in to, but Michael and Pike know something’s not right with that scenario. Along the way we encounter a living, intelligent planetoid-sized sphere and a living computer virus called Control that can also infect people (?). Then time travel is invoked to reveal the identity of the Red Angel and the season ends on a massive cliffhanger as the Discovery is catapulted over 900 years into the future.

Wait, what?

Yup. It was chaotic and at times didn’t make any sense, but for some reason, Star Trek: Discovery kept me fully engaged (no pun intended) and coming back for more. It’s definitely not for everybody, especially some old-school Star Trek fans, as it tends to prioritize action and explosions over scientific exploration, but there are some pretty imaginative high-concept plot points scattered throughout the season that retain that classic flavor. There’s even a direct shout out to the original Star Trek pilot, “The Cage,” as Captain Pike gets a glimpse of his own tragic future.

What can I say? I dig it.


Succession

After the fallout of the first season finale, one of the most powerful and disturbing TV episodes I’ve ever seen, the Roy family is set to reestablish the power relationships of every member as Logan (Brian Cox) is firmly back on top and in charge, but still looking to establish one of his offspring as his successor.

The most amazing thing about Succession is how series creator Jesse Armstrong is able to craft an ongoing work about despicable people reveling in power and wealth and continue to make it captivating. It’s not the misery porn that its description might make it appear. It’s quite literally more epic and Shakespearean than anything else on television. By contrast, it reveals the power struggles on Game of Thrones to be cartoonish and blustery nonsense, struggling for relevance. The Roys would eat the Lannisters alive.

Succession is at its strongest when focusing on Logan’s relationship with his second son, Kendall (Jeremy Strong), especially after the way Logan asserted dominance at the close of Season One. Kendall is broken, falling off the wagon, and desperately veering back and forth between striving for power and trying to passively kill himself. Kieran Culkin, as Roman, the third and youngest son, gets most of the lighter attention this season, while also establishing himself in the family business – not always successfully. Shiv (Sarah Snook), the only daughter, is desperate to prove that she is the only reasonable choice to succeed Logan in taking over the company, so much so that she sabotages herself right and left.

But underneath all the bleak, black commentary on wealth, power, and abuse, is a darkly hilarious undercurrent that hearkens back to some of the funniest shows in recent memory. Greg (Nicholas Braun) and Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) could just as easily be characters from Arrested Development or Veep, but both also get chances to shine dramatically as the season plays out.

I wasn’t sure that I would like Succession when I had only read about it. But I finally bit the bullet and sat down one day to binge as much of it as I could stand and I just couldn’t stop. Now comes the hardest part: Waiting for Season Three.


Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Technically, this was the second half of Season One, but come on. These nine episodes continue the Satanic adventures of everybody’s favorite teenage witch, drawing to a spellbinding grand cliffhanger finale while also effectively tying up a lot of loose ends and bringing an end to The Dark Lord… or does it?

This season moves The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina farther away from its comic book origins and does a damned fine job of it. Once Sabrina (Kieman Shipka) dedicates herself fully to the Academy of Unseen Arts, she is front and center in Father Blackwood’s (Richard Coyle) sights, and her desire to fight the patriarchy that is Hell itself kicks the action into high gear at a quick clip. That’s on the romantic front, too, as Sabrina and Nick Scratch (Gavin Leatherwood) get close, Harvey (Ross Lynch) and Roz (Jaz Sinclair) discover each other, Father Blackwood proposes to Sabrina’s Aunt Zelda (Miranda Otto), Aunt Hilda (Lucy Davis) falls for bookshop owner Dr. Cerberus (Alessandro Juliani), and Ambrose (Chance Perdomo) has an ill-fated romance with a warlock named Luke (Darren Mann).

Even Lilith (Michelle Gomez) gets a brief romantic entanglement with Mary Wardwell’s previously absent boyfriend, Adam (Alexis Denisof).

Rather than getting a romantic storyline (this season), Lachlan Watson’s Susie decides to start openly identifying as male and begins going by Theo, in a storyline inspired by Watson’s own experiences growing up genderqueer and pansexual.

There’s so much to love about this show, and I still giggle a little every time someone casually Hail Satans, but I have to give the most credit to Michelle Gomez for chewing the scenery like it’s going out of style. I thought I couldn’t love her more when she was Missy on Doctor Who, but here she’s truly able to embrace and run with playing a full-on evil character. Missy wanted to rule the universe, but Lilith wants to be Queen of Hell.

That’s so much cooler.

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