The TV gods have provided and so far, 2019 has been pretty good to us. It's been a year of highs and lows (we're looking at you 'Game of Thrones') for shows we have known and loved, but also a year of unexpected hits and flawless performances that left us enthralled.
It's difficult to pick the cream of the crop, but below are the shows we think have proved to be the most accomplished, the most entertaining and the best that TV had to offer from January to June.
We are just ahead of the finale of season 2 of 'Big Little Lies', and while it has been nice to catch up with the ladies of Monterey, we are not sure if this second outing was entirely necessary. It certainly doesn't seem to have attracted even near the same buzz. Saying that, it might just have been worth it for the addition of the force that is Meryl Streep to the series. She has been incredible as the politely menacing Mary Louise, and we are all about Laura Dern's Renata at the moment, who may just be this season's MVP. 'Big Little Lies' still looks incredible and its superb performances and well-rounded characters make this show a worthy addition to the list.
Tommy Tiernan has been entertaining the country with his talk show series for a few years now but 2019 saw him move into a primetime Saturday night slot on RTÉ. His chat show has the unusual concept of Tommy never knowing what guest he is going to interview until they are right in front of him. This most recent season really saw him hone his skills as an interviewer with his conversational style and natural curiosity creating an air of openness and honesty that is rare to see in a TV interview, let alone one in front of a live audience. Perhaps it's not having a list of questions to get through that means Tommy is happy to sit back and let his guest talk. Maybe it's that, when he does ask a question, he knows exactly what to say, as we saw in his powerful interview with football legend Paul McGrath. He is interested in everyone and gives them all the respect and patience they deserve when he talks to them. For a man that can sell out theatres with his comedy, here we see a much more thoughtful, reserved Tommy Tiernan. Still sharp as a whip, mind.
By no means an easy watch, 'When They See Us' is nevertheless a television series that is necessary in that it's a testament to what occurred with the Central Park Five, and how New York and America at large is still feeling the repercussions to this day. When it does tie itself to modern-day figures - namely Donald Trump, who publicly called for the Central Park Five to be executed - it does so simply because that's how it went down. There are many opportunities for 'When They See Us' to offer itself up as a reminder of the ills that plagued America, but the truth is they've always been there - and are still there to this day.
With the success of series like ‘Making a Murderer’, ‘The Keepers’ and ‘The Staircase’, it's evident that Netflix viewers’ consumption of true crime shows is insatiable. ‘Conversations with a Killer’ exploits that to a tee with a protagonist who is on one hand haunting and on the other beguiling. The show's ability to switch between excitement and horror makes for a challenging and compelling viewing experience. And while the doc offers a fair insight into the kind of person Bundy was - an extremely obnoxious and proud introvert - arguably the most haunting thing of all about ‘Conversations’ is that the pieces don’t fit quite as neatly as you’d like them to.
15 Killing Eve
No one was really sure how the new season of 'Killing Eve' could top its first, nor could anyone figure out how Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) and Villanelle (Jodie Comer) could ever share the screen again after what happened in the season one finale - yet that’s exactly what happens in season two. While Eve’s behaviour becomes increasingly manic and immoral, Villanelle remains the murderous psychopath we expect. The many twists and turns of ‘Killing Eve’ and fantastic two lead performances from Oh and Comer make it unmissable television.
Netflix's Fyre documentary followed the utter debacle that was the 2016 music festival organised by rapper Ja Rule and entrepreneur Billy McFarland. Set to take place in the Bahamas, the festival was sold as the best beach party the world would ever see - except it wasn't. It was a shit show of the highest order that resulted in the loss of millions and jail time for McFarland. The documentary gave a fly on the wall look at just how this disaster was allowed to happen, featuring interviews with those who worked with Billy who talked about the many (many) lengths they were willing to go to for this charismatic man. A documentary that truly needs to be seen to be believed.
13 Derry Girls
The first outing of 'Derry Girls' proved a hit for Channel 4 and the second season returned earlier this year just as strong. Set against the Troubles in early-1990s Northern Ireland, it follows the lives of four teenage girls (and the wee English fella) who are navigating their youth during a time of war and conflict in a sort of 'Inbetweeners' way. Written by Lisa McGee, 'Derry Girls' is filled with wonderful characters, laugh-out-loud moments and just the right amount of nostalgia. From the Catholic v Protestant blackboard to sandwich making politics at a Wake, season two had it all.
Here we turn to the words of entertainment.ie alum Mike Sheridan who said of this second season of 'Barry': "There's an episode of 'Barry' halfway through the second season - 'Ronny/Lily' - that is a genuinely insane half-hour of television. It seemingly doesn't make any sense, contextually to the story arc, to move in the direction they do. Yet, by the end, it's clear that this was all part of a plan and it's something truly special. Mixing elements of horror, comedy, action and then organically bringing the main story thread in by the end... the whole series is worth watching just to that point to underline how good it is."
11 Russian Doll
It's rare these days for a Netflix show to become so big a talking point but 'Russian Doll' did just that. It stars Natasha Lyonne as Nadia, a somewhat debauched and misanthropic software designer in New York, in a story that's a cross between 'Groundhog Day' and 'Happy Death Day'. Nadia finds herself in a loop of dying and coming back to life at her 36th birthday party. What resonated with viewers most was that it's a story about friendship and forgiveness and realising that, as it points out, we are often unreliable narrators of our own story. A modern take on the classic time-loop trope, 'Russian Doll' is a show that forces you to look within and leaves you sort of in awe of the journey it took you on to get there.
We are more than halfway through the third season of 'The Handmaid's Tale' at the moment, and yes, we too are getting frustrated with the fact that the powers that be in Gilead have not all been overthrown yet. However, we are still quietly optimistic that this season will deliver the goods. Either way, it's still a fantastic show with superb writing and direction (including Irish director Dearbhla Walsh) as well as an excellent cast, so no matter what happens, we are here until the end now.
Even Ricky Gervais was surprised at how big a success this show was. 'After Life' is a dark comedy which follows widower Tony, played by Gervais, who is left totally bereft following the death of his wife Lisa. Feeling like he can't go on without her, Tony decides to be an absolute dick to everyone and if he doesn't like the consequences? Well, he can just end it all. We said it was dark. What works so well about this show is that you really get a warts-and-all look at the impact of grief, how it's not just sobbing into a pillow but also can unleash deep-seated anger at the sheer injustice of the world. Tony is awful, at least at first, but you can't help but empathise with him and see that his heart was once very big and now it's just very broken. And amongst it all you find the humour, however poignant, that can exist within grief and despair.
This sleeper hit of a show has become more and more beloved by its fans over the years and no doubt somebody in your life has recommended you to watch it if you haven't already. (If not, then consider this your recommendation). 'Schitt's Creek' is a quirky comedy that follows a wealthy family who suddenly finds themselves completely broke and forced to live in their sole remaining asset - a small town named Schitt's Creek, which was bought as a joke for son David's 18th birthday back in 1991. What makes 'Schitt's Creek' stands out is its fantastic characters who you watch evolve over time and honestly grow so attached to despite them seeming like the worst of humans when you first meet them. 'Schitt's Creek' has also been widely praised for its depiction of LGBT relationships, primarily because of how it simply doesn't give homophobia a look in. It's a family production too, written by and starring father and son team Eugene and Daniel Levy (who play Johnny and David Rose), while Eugene's daughter Sarah Levy also stars. Its most recent fifth season has just been nominated for four Emmys, the first nominations the show has received, as it is - at last - getting the recognition it so well deserves.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus just doesn't know how to do a bad show and has the 11 Emmys (and counting) to prove it. 'Veep' ended its final season in a way that did the fantastic satirical show justice and then some. The cast was comedy gold and never failed to deliver a line in exactly as cutting a way it was intended. And let's face it, we would still choose President Selina Meyer over that current fella in office.
To be honest, we would have hoped the final ever season of 'Game of Thrones' would be a lot higher on this list, but it was just a bit meh, wasn't it? Storylines were rushed, character arcs that were years in the making went very strange directions and dammit, that battle was just too dark. Saying that, the sheer scale of this show should be commended. The final season featured the biggest battle ever (not) seen on TV, incredible visual effects, and look, it really was one hell of a story that engrossed the world for almost a decade. Not many shows can or will ever be able to claim that.
Jed Mercurio's 'Line of Duty' has been knocking around since 2012 but it reached peak levels of popularity in its fifth outing this year. The critically acclaimed UK police drama, which focuses on the cases of the anti-corruption unit AC-12, once more raised the stakes with the unit facing their most vicious adversary yet. Nailbiting TV at its finest with a delicious amount of twists and turns, Mercurio continues to surpass expectations with this instantly addictive show.
After what felt like forever, (almost two years in fairness) 'Catastrophe' returned earlier this year for its final ever season. The Channel 4 sitcom, written by and starring Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, was easily one of the funniest shows on the box in the last few years, and the final season proved this dysfunctional-functional couple had not lost their touch. The dynamic between Rob and Sharon was all very raw and real this time around but still as sharp as ever. The heart of this show has always been the tenderness that's clearly brimming under the surface of the acerbic wit of their unfiltered relationship. The final moments left us with a lot of questions, but in many ways, it was the perfect end to a damn near perfect show.
The long-awaited third season of 'True Detective' arrived on our screens this year and very much went back to its roots with a story spanning the course of four decades. Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff clocked in pitch-perfect performance in the lead roles. Ali's thoughtful and measured portrayal of Detective Wayne Hays took the show to new heights, while Dorff and Ali's on-screen rapport made for truly compelling viewing. How writer Nic Pizzolatto so elegantly played with time in this series is unlike anything that's gone before. It surpassed his use of it in season one as it was no longer just a plot device to retrospectively look back, but to further expand the theme that our memories and the key moments of our life don't have a beginning or an end but co-exist with us. Season three was storytelling at its finest with the kind of engrossing performances that raise the bar for what can be achieved, not just on TV, but on-screen overall.
The first season was a massive critical success in 2016 and its rare for a show to return and be as beloved by fans in its second outing but that's exactly what Phoebe Waller-Bridge did this year with season two. 'Fleabag' is a show that is unapologetically dark in its comedy but also carries so much emotional weight, you find yourself thinking about it long after the credits roll. Packed with relatable, if often unlikeable, characters, it's a story about the deep, cutting impact of grief and the unpredictable coping mechanisms that come with it. But it's also about the strange dynamics of a family that you only know if you are in it. In a television landscape drowning with new shows, 'Fleabag' holds its own and stands proudly as a shining example that you can still surprise people. You can still turn their emotions on their head and give them pause for thought, all while they're laughing their ass off.
'Chernobyl' came along and unexpectedly, and very easily, became the show of the year. Its depiction of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine in 1986 is truly harrowing but never resorts to any hyper-disaster movie tropes. It's not hammed up with special effects or over the top performances and it's all the more powerful because of it. The story is told through the human experiences of those involved and acknowledges the unsung heroes of this disaster, showing us another side to a well-known story. The attention to detail in recreating this time in Soviet Russia is truly outstanding while its leads - Jared Harris and Stellan Skarsgard - deserve all the accolades that are undoubtedly coming their way. Gripping, devastating and truly shocking, 'Chernobyl' is simply essential viewing.
Check out The 19 Best Movies Of 2019 So Far