This year we found one series that could easily sweep most of the categories–a single television series that had everything: compelling story, a full range of emotions, great characters, tremendous action, a sharp use of humor, all kinds of genre elements that were satisfying and left viewers feeling inspired. Richly detailed sets and costumes. An impossible feat to replicate. No drama came close. No other visual effects spectacle could touch it. And its audience is everyone. A truly epic addition to television viewing, that series is The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, the greatest television series to come along in years. If you love genre like we do, this was as good as it gets. And like icing on the cake, along came The Mandalorian at year end.
But we’re not going to ignore the other good things that happened on the small screen this year.
Without further ado, this year’s Best in Television:
Best Borg Series – Doom Patrol (DC Universe). With this year’s series Doom Patrol we got a look at two borgs, DC Comics’ Cyborg, an update to Martin Caidin’s original Bionic Man from the 1970s, and an older borg created before the word was even coined in the 1960s, Robotman. Both characters revealed a glimpse at what life might be like with significant cybernetic enhancements (when brought together by a modern Dr. Frankenstein). For 2019, it was the way to get your borg fix on the small screen.
Best TV Series, Best New Limited TV Series, Best TV Fantasy, Best Writing for TV, Best TV Costumes/Makeup, Best TV Soundtrack – The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (Netflix). It was worth the wait. Jim Henson’s seemingly impossible to replicate artistic vision was successfully achieved thanks to his daughters and the company he founded. The kindest heroes, the darkest evil, a truly epic, legendary story for the ages. Everybody is cranking out CGI extravaganzas, but how many are creating artistry so fundamentally real, with so many individual artists and artisans contributing and achieving so much? Even that wouldn’t be enough if not for the layered mythology and epic adventure story. Add great humor, high stakes, emotional impact, an all-star voice cast, Daniel Pemberton and Samuel Sim’s imaginative musical score, and those puppets and all that go into them–it adds up to a rare thing–a Henson masterpiece.
Best TV Sci-fi Series, Best TV Drama – The Man in the High Castle (Amazon). Amazon Studios could not have adapted a series more faithfully, making changes for the medium and the times, than its take on Philip K. Dick’s most celebrated novel. The use of science fiction to tell a deep and twisty level of subplots and unique setting all came to a perfect conclusion in the series finale. Exciting, intelligent, frightening, and the most thought-provoking series this year, it was also different from its sci-fi competition. Honorable mention: The Mandalorian (Disney+)–but only if we allow space fantasy since the series is not true science fiction, The Orville (Fox)–for its two-part epic movie-worthy space story, “Identity.”
Best New Ongoing TV Series, Runner-up: Best TV Soundtrack, Runner-up: Best TV Costumes/Makeup – The Mandalorian (Disney+). Not a lot needs explaining with this series, which in only its first two hours we rated it closer to the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back than anything with the Star Wars label on it since. The Western motif is still alive, not all that hidden here in space fantasy garb. And we won’t get started on the impact of The Child (aka Baby Yoda) on the genre-loving world and beyond. Credit Jon Favreau’s visible enthusiasm and love for the original movies for the success of this surprisingly awesome arrival–the series is proof Star Wars is far from over.
Best TV Superhero Series – Swamp Thing (DC Universe). From The Umbrella Academy, The Boys, and Watchmen, to the last seasons of Netflix’s The Punisher and Jessica Jones, plus late seasons of Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Gotham, and Legion, new series NOS4A2 and Batwoman, and new series from DC Universe, it’s official: there is no lack of superhero and superpowered content available. And that’s great, but most suffered from being too dark and full of morality plays–and not so fun or funny–at one end of the spectrum, or too cartoony, soap opera-ish, or comic booky at the other. Swamp Thing struck the right balance, taking a second-tier property and making it look like the right level of creepy found in 1960s-1980s comics–a show that actually looked and felt like what the original visionary–artist Bernie Wrightson–drew. Finally a great Justice League Dark show, complete with Madame Xanadu, Blue Devil, and Phantom Stranger (if only Constantine and Zatanna were here, it’d be perfect). More importantly it’s great fun, like a John Carpenter movie with its visual effects, a top cast of household name actors and great guest stars, and faithful storytelling to the comics, headed up by Crystal Reed as a smart CDC doctor researcher. It also made Swamp Thing a character accessible like the hero of the original classic TV superhero show, The Incredible Hulk. We now see that an unusual character like Swamp Thing can be adapted smartly like Hulk or the Thing. Runner-up: Marvel’s The Punisher.
Best TV Retro Fix – Stranger Things (Netflix). Who knew the mall from the 1980s could be such a nostalgic centerpiece to a great season of TV? Despite a clear low point being the handling of Sheriff Hopper’s character, the clever pairings made the season fun this time around, especially with more Steve and Dustin, adding newcomer Maya Hawke’s mall worker Robin to make a great trio, and Eleven exploring her new life with new pal Max. Great writing, great effects, Cary Elwes, and throwback and homage scenes made this season surpass season two, providing a welcome retro fix.
Best Horror TV Series, Best Import Series – Kingdom (Netflix). The first South Korean TV series released to a mass Western audience proved to be a quality production. Kingdom was a surprising cut above many Hollywood series, a fantastic medieval historic mash-up showing a plague nightmare in a rural community that folds into a zombie tale that wasn’t just about shooting and blood and gore–although it gets that right, too.
Best Mystery/Crime Series – Shetland (BBC/BritBox). The mystery and sleuthing of the smart and overly put upon Scotland cop DI Perez continued to be the clear favorite over lots of new series starting to make their way to America across new streaming networks and cable channels. Five seasons in and audiences can’t get enough of the stark setting and actor Douglas Henshall and his cast of great regulars. Runners-up: Stumptown (ABC), Magnum, PI (CBS).
Best TV Comedy, Runner-up: Best TV Drama – Lodge 49 (FX). Many series tease viewers, reeling them in with promises and never delivering a satisfying pay-off. Serious dramatic personal issues merged with a supernatural subtext leaves viewers considering the impossible is possible. Outrageous situations and people on TV that finally seem honest and real. This season the writers shook every character sideways, and then added Paul Giamatti as a lodge member and world-famous writer, and everything really got crazy. The last half of the season was even better than the first, also a rare thing. Runner-up for TV Comedy: Russian Doll (Netflix), Baskets (FX).
Best Second Wind – Knightfall (History). The first season of this series followed a Knight Templar who was seriously flawed, with men both loyal and disloyal around him scheming or protecting him. The series only had one strong female character, but then made a bad move by writing her out of the story. The writers made up for this in season two, adding more strong women roles, but also delivering what you’d think an audience for this kind of show is after: showing us what life would be like as a medieval knight. Mark Hamill’s new leader made that happen, and he did it in such a way that his Star Wars fans could easily see him leading an army of Jedi Knights with his techniques–if Disney/Lucasfilm isn’t going to deliver the Luke we hoped for, this was a great alternative to make up for it.
Best TV Actress – Cobie Smulders (Stumptown). One of the best performances and best characters of the season. Cobie Smulders’ Dex Parios was such a mess, yet who tried harder to snap back? Smulders has been doing TV for years going back to Canada series, and once she became a movie star opposite the likes of Tom Cruise and a recurring Marvel character, we didn’t think we’d see her back on the small screen. Count us all lucky–this show is a keeper, and her character is one to watch for next year. Honorable mention: Crystal Reed (Swamp Thing), Amber Rose Revah (Marvel’s The Punisher), Katheryn Winnick (Vikings), Natasha Lyonne (Russian Doll).
Best TV Supporting Actress – Maya Hawke (Stranger Things). After Steve Harrington, Maya Hawke’s Robin was the best new recurring character in the three seasons of the series. Clever, funny, real, and completely unpredictable in where she would arrive with respect to co-worker Steve and her role in the finale all added up to her character being a major factor for the success of this season. Who isn’t looking forward to her next role? Honorable mention: Ragga Ragnars (Vikings), Rachel Nichols (The Man in the High Castle), Genea Charpentier (The Man in the High Castle).
Best TV Actor – Brent Jennings (Lodge 49). In the series’ first season, co-star Brett Jennings’ Eddie seemed like he just wanted to give up. We finally learned why in an emotional episode this year. He also was the character that finally fulfilled what Dud believed in from the beginning, and watching the actor’s excitement as he finally agreed to take the big tour to Mexico, and then fulfilling his destiny by donning a mariachi band uniform and running through an actual ring of fire was one of the year’s best moments on any show. Runners-up: Rufus Sewell (The Man in the High Castle), Alexander Ludwig (Vikings), Iko Uwais (Wu Assassins), Karl Urban (The Boys).
Best TV Supporting Actor – Paul Giamatti (Lodge 49). Paul Giamatti has been one of Hollywood’s best actors for years. He is a producer on the series so it was no real surprise to see him step in, but who knew the role would be so big? His character was the ultimate self-centered star who was willing to do anything to please his fans, and this made him endearing. The Oscar-nominated actor set an already stellar show on fire, making it the most exciting series to look forward to each week–in a year of lots of competition on the small screen. Tim KangMagnum, PI), Mark Hamill (Knightfall). Honorable mention: Byron Mann (Wu Assassins), Robert Childan (The Man in the High Castle).
Best TV Villain – Ivar, Alex Høgh Andersen, Vikings (History). Based on a real historical figure in Viking history, Alex Anderson played his Ivar as thoroughly ruthless. The writers had him proclaim himself God and he united thousands to follow him as believers, conquering the peoples of all his brothers until too much insanity lost him control of Kattigat and resulted in his exile. Called Ivar the Boneless for his crippled body, this meant the actor had the extra difficulty of looking fierce while crawling from place to place and the madman who burnt his brother’s wife to death could not allow us to feel any natural compassion for his physical plight. He pulled it off–no one was as loathsome on TV this year. Honorable mention: Uncle Six, Byron Mann, Wu Assassins (Netflix), The Skekses, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (Netflix)–Mark Hamill and Simon Pegg’s voices were perfect re-creations of the original nasty creatures.
Best Guest Stars/Stunt Casting – Lee Majors, Ken Jeong, baseball great Christian Yelich, Halston Sage, Jordana Brewster, William Forsythe, and Train singer Pat Monahan, and original cast stars Roger E. Mosley, and Larry Manetti (Magnum, PI). This season’s Magnum, PI, was completely fun and full of throwbacks to the original series, all accomplished in a way that was faithful to the original, even surpassing it in many ways. Cameo appearances from the original Rick and T.C. were a plus, and each guest star a reason to keep coming back for more.
Best TV Episode – The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, episode “Time to Make… My Move,” in which a connected Mystic and Skeksis recount important history of Thra via theater and a puppet show–inside the puppet show. Close runners-up include the movie-worthy special effects and photography of The Orville, “Identity, Part II,” with the greatest space battle ever shown on TV; the perfect pay-off as the crew at last go to Mexico and Ernie jumps through a ring of fire in the Lodge 49, episode “Le Reve Impossible“; a surprise character saves the world in the The Man in the High Castle in a cheer-worthy moment in the series finale, “Fire From the Gods“; in Wu Assassins, the hero and the villain join forces to roadtrip to Portland in the episode “Legacy“; and Rob Thomas offered up to iZombie fans a sweet series finale in “All’s Well That Ends Well.”
Come back tomorrow as we reveal more of borg‘s Best of 2019! If you missed our list of Best Movies of 2019, check it out here, and if you missed our Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines of 2019, be sure to check it out here.