If you are a fan of science fiction and or fantasy TV, unless you have been living under the proverbial slab of granite, one thing is obvious: television as we know it is changing. Not only because lots of our favorite TV shows are now provided by subscription streaming services as opposed to network or cable services, but also because 2019 finally saw the wholesale arrival of adult genre television which had already been manifest in occasional appearances in series like HBO’s Westworld and elsewhere under the banner of the usual suspects like Netflix, Hulu, and the other premium cable channels.
Suddenly, in this brave new post GOT world, the airwaves are awash with not only the standard T&A of the past but full-frontal nudity and just-short-of-porn graphically portrayed sexual encounters, foul language and other signs of adulthood. This is not new to the genre only the genre on TV. After all, sex and scantily clad characters are an integral part of science fiction for a long time; for example, Dejah Thoris, Burrough’s Princess Of Mars was naked throughout most of the story.
Yes, TV has changed and in more ways also, with reports of providers like Disney+, Apple and HBO dropping $10 million-plus per episode, the quality seems to be undergoing a change for the better also as part of this rapid evolution while the volume of content is approaching a tipping point possibly beyond what genre fans can keep pace with
Before we begin my little list of shows from last year I would like to share what made me pick these particular shows over other series not found here. First of all, the series I picked for this list are my favorites not anyone else’s these choices are not based on official reviews from any other source they are picked by me, a sci-fi and fantasy loving nerd who watches entirely way too much TV.
TV series are about several things that contribute to their makeup, chief of which are premise and execution. First and foremost is story. The premise is developed through writing the narrative which also goes a long way towards defining the characters in that story, which hopefully leads to, smart and intelligent dialogue which is part of the execution. In genre series especially art direction is of utmost importance also as part of how the show is executed. we all know the look of a show can make or break a new series and even mundane aspects like lighting can impart the all-important texture and/or style of a show The rest is the talent that gives us the final product; the acting, art direction, casting, costumes, and even the lighting, all of which contribute to the texture of a show and how it affects our mental palates.
These shows were chosen for being the most memorable, enjoyable shows I watched last year and that is their main qualification for getting on the list the reader can assume excellent production quality is a given, and all the basic stuff like narrative, acting, dialogue, art direction and all the rest that make a TV show great are in place and that these shows did an excellent job getting all that effort to add up to final result that is something engaging and special.
Last year also saw the finales of some excellent genre series and I feel it would be remiss to not mention a few shows that I considered to be among the bast that YV has had to offer over the last few years they are Legion, Preacher, and Mr. Robot
Mean while the Arrowverse continues to create their brand of camp melodrama.
For the sake of convenience and organization, I have divided the list into two sections of my personal faves, my top picks, and honorable mention. Do not be offended if your favorite show is not mentioned or if you feel it has gotten unfairly treated here. Please try to remember these choices are subjective to a large degree and your choices are just as valid for you.
In the tradition of articles of this sort, I am saving the best for last.
These are all shows that I enjoyed to varying degrees but that didn’t impress me enough to make the final cut. To be clear these are all shows well worth a watch that I would recommend to anyone seeking good genre entertainment They are (in no specific order):
* SEE (Apple TV)
* THE WITCHER (Netflix)
* TITANS (DC Universe)
* HIS DARK MATERIALS (BBC/HBO)
* DOOM PATROL (DC Universe)
* THE BOYS (Amazon)
* CARNIVAL ROW (Amazon)
* TWILIGHT ZONE (CBS all access)
* TREADSTONE (USA)
MY TOP PICKS
BRITANNIA (Sky/Amazon 2018-2019): This historical fantasy drama is a thoroughly enjoyable blend of drama and the supernatural punctuated with moments of graphic violence along with humor and mystery. This delightful series successfully conjures the usual appeal of a well done British period piece in a narrative that revolves around the Roman invasion of ancient Britain.
LOST IN SPACE (Netflix, season 2, 2018-2019): This series does a much better job of creating a sense of wonder, excitement, fun and outer space adventure this time around as Will Robinson’s search for his alien robot friend becomes the entire crew’s mission in a season that includes generous portions of mystery, suspense, and action in its sophomore season.
THE UMBRELLA FACTORY (Netflix, 2019): The darkly amusing science fiction comics-based superhero fantasy puts up somewhat misleading melancholy veneer that gets reflected in the shows art direction. This series starts out with what is seemingly disparate disconnected storylines and events that it then masterfully weaves into an optimistic tapestry about hope, love, family, and heart.
PENNYWORTH (Epix, 2019): A pleasant surprise. I thought this show was excellent in a number of ways. First of all, it does a splendid job as a period piece that visually and stylishly recreates that fascinating period after WW II in the early sixties at the dawn of the mod era when a seismic generational shift took place affecting music, fashion, lifestyles and more. This series captures the period zeitgeist excellently, Secondly, it paints a marvelous portrait of Bruce Wayne’s stalwart companion and butler as a veteran that has not entirely left the war behind and the various ways he and his friends are dealing with reassimilation into society as civilians. Pennyworth also conjures an interesting take on a slightly alternate universe that includes a Britain that has retained some medieval traditions that include public executions, stocks, and pillories.
. This series is oozing with an almost palpable texture of the period it portrays and conjures two of TV’s best villains in the process. The show even included a portrayal of Allister Crowley, I suspect just to test the envelope of how far it could go in terms of storylines by touching on the supernatural. Pennyworth also gives us a good look at Bruce’s parents in their younger days, how they met and more. This show, from the creator of Gotham, Bruno Heller, like its eponymous character is badass. Penywoorth is a wonderful marriage of spy-fi/detective noir and fantasy that never failed to entertain.
THE EXPANSE (Amazon, season 4 2015-2020): The still seriously good series survived the transfer to Amazon with no signs of damage or deterioration. If anything, production quality might be better. In case you didn’t know, the series has already gotten renewed for its fifth season.
The Expanse borrowed a page or two from Stargate in its season 4 narrative with the addition of an alien super gate that leads to other planets in different star systems and also introduces artifacts of the alien race behind the protoculture. The show remains a reliable and enjoyable adventure/mystery/action series portraying humans in future outer space that constantly squabble and bicker and occasionally shoot at each other or blow each other up. The show’s realistic style came through intact and watching season four was a lot like a welcome visit with old friends.
WATCHMEN (2019 HBO): Damon Lindelof’s excellent, disturbing, surreal and graphically violent take on the original game-changing comics was engaging from the first moment it appeared onscreen. With its unapologetically brutal portrayal of race and the future of law enforcement, along with some excellent character portrayals against the background of a dystopic future America combined with intriguing science fiction concepts, this series created an enormously enjoyable unique quality all its own.
THE MANDALORIAN (Disney +, season 1, 2019): Excellence has a new name. It’s probably no surprise this is my top pick for 2019. This show resets the bar for what to strive for in a great top-notch genre series not only because it takes multiple influences (like Kurosawa and a multitude of Toshiro Mifune samurai films (there’s some Samurai Jack influence in there too), Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns, and classic war movies) The series takes full advantage of taking place against the backdrop of the Star Wars Universe, (robots, spaceships aliens what’s not to like?) This series is one of the best things to come out of that galaxy far away since it was created.
Favreau and Filloni masterfully synthesize and distill the myriad influences into this wonderful adventure series with simple straight-forward narratives, memorable characters that are easy to relate to, and added a cute twist no one saw coming that gives this series a lot of heart and yet remains engagingly entertaining throughout without becoming sappy. The Mandalorian comes wonderfully close to perfection without ever appearing to try too hard to accomplish the stellar results.
So, that pretty much wraps things up here and considering everything, I feel optimistic about genre television going forward. There may even be cause for celebration. Sure, for the most part, television remains a vast wasteland of reality shows and sitcoms enough to make your skin crawl but if you thought 2019 was a banner year for genre TV just wait and see what 2020 has to offer. Happy viewing