The best TV of 2019

Benjie Goodhart / 10 September 2019

Saga Magazine's TV reviewer Benjie Goodhart hosts an imaginary and irreverent awards ceremony honouring the shows that he considered 2019's best and worst.

It’s been another glorious year of televisual magic. In a year when politics, Brexit arguments, weird weather and a South African scrum half in dodgy underpants played havoc with the equilibrium of the nation, telly has once again been our saviour, our confidant, our morale-booster and our friend. Apart from when it was showing The Apprentice, obviously.

Here are our awards for the year’s most memorable TV moments. (Lawyer’s Note: There are no awards, and all opinions expressed are almost certainly nonsense):

The Olivia Colman Award for Starring in Absolutely Everything: This year, Stephen Graham had major roles in A Christmas Carol, The Irishman, The Virtues, Rocketman and Line of Duty. And he was spectacular in all of them, with The Virtues being the standout drama performance of the year. Does the man never sleep?

Welcome Back, We’ve Missed You: Glenda Jackson, after a 25-year sabbatical to dabble in a spot of politics, was back on our screens as the star of one-off drama Elizabeth Is Missing. And she was simply mesmerising. We look forward to seeing her in many more dramas, if she can get out from under the pile of awards that is about to rain down on her.

TV blog: Elizabeth Is Missing

Farewell, We Will Miss You: Mum. The irresistible, gently brilliant, warm and touching comedy took its bow this year. As ever, Lesley Manville was perfection as Cathy, and her burgeoning relationship with Peter Mullan’s Michael was nothing short of a joy. Meanwhile, Dorothy Atkinson’s Pauline will go down as one of the grotesques for the ages.

A Plague on Both Your Houses: In June, Piers Morgan hosted a Life Stories with Lord Sugar. That is an hour of telly that should come with a health warning.

Weirdest Idea: Rob Lowe starring as a Police Chief in Boston, Lincolnshire, in Wild Bill. It just didn’t work.

The Storm in a Teacup Award: The reaction of Game of Thrones fans to the show’s final series couldn’t have been angrier if they’d turned the final episode into a comedy ballet performed by the Teletubbies. In actual fact, the conclusion tied up all the loose ends, and in suitably apocalyptic fashion.

The Really Disappointing Series Conclusion Award: Instead of Game of Thrones, Line of Duty walks this one. The series began so confidently, with Stephen Graham brilliant (as usual). But writer Jed Mercurio’s habit of killing off key characters suddenly is becoming old, and the whole thing felt like a massive set-up for the next series.

Most Terrifying Look at the Past: Chernobyl. It is dark, sinister, tragic, almost unbearably tense, and the most absorbing watch of the year. It is extraordinary how frightening they manage to make it considering – spoiler alert – the world doesn’t end in the final episode. Just don’t expect to sleep much after watching it.

Most Terrifying Look at the Future: Years and Years. Russel T Davies’ masterful look at an increasingly dystopian future in a Totalitarian Britain was all the more affecting because it seemed so plausible, with the erosion of civil liberties done in a seemingly mundane and creepingly incremental way.

Cleverest Bit of Last Minute Editing: Years and Years, again. The first episode featured a news story on a car radio taken from the day’s headlines on the actual day of transmission. All right, they just cut a 10-second segment and stuck it in, but it was still clever, audacious, and made the show feel very timely and up-to-date.

Best Regal Performance: That Olivia Colman was brilliant in The Crown should come as a surprise to no-one. She has never been anything less. But her supporting cast has been uniformly spectacular, not least Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret, Tobias Menzies as the Duke of Edinburgh, and (admittedly less regally) Jason Watkins as Harold Wilson.

Olivia Colman

Worst Regal Performance: Oh dear. “Too honourable”… “can’t sweat”… “Pizza Express in Woking”… Catastrophic.

Apart from Prince Andrew, Most Surprising Royal Revelation: Prince Charles owns a B&Q in Milton Keynes (as revealed in the documentary Inside the Duchy of Cornwall). Nip down one Saturday, you might see him in a high-vis vest, unloading pallets of paint. Or not. He also owns Dartmoor Prison and The Oval cricket ground.

Saddest Hour of Telly: The Crown’s heart-breaking episode dealing with the Aberfan disaster.

Best Series of Comedy Shorts Filmed in My Old Local Pub: Admittedly a fairly niche category, but Sate of the Union, a series of ten-minute films, written by Nick Hornby, directed by Stephen Frears and starring Rosamund Pike and Chris O’Dowd, was a total joy. Catch it on iPlayer. (The pub, by the way, is the Thatched House in Ravenscourt Park, West London).

Most Stoned News Reader: Another fairly narrow category, this. The documentary following lovely, lovely Bill Turnbull’s battle with his terminal cancer diagnosis was often profoundly moving, but it also contained a generous helping of love and joy. And it didn’t come more joyous than watching him get a serious case of the giggles on camera after a medicinal dose of cannabis.

Bravest Documentary: Former Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain, now a gifted cook and presenter in her own right, revealed the extent of her utterly crippling anxiety in Nadiya: Anxiety and Me. It was brave, personal and intimate, and it opens up the all-too-important discussion of mental health even more. Bravo.

Collective Insanity Award by One Gender: Literally the ENTIRE female sex seemed to lose their minds over Andrew Scott’s performance in the brilliant Fleabag. ‘Hot Priest’ is the Mr Darcy-in-a-damp-shirt of our time.

Most Human Reaction: We are used to the presenters and experts on our TV being professional at all times. But on Antiques Roadshow’s excellent World War II special, expert Bill Harriman read the last letter of a tragic child evacuee amidst anguished sobs. It added to, rather than detracted from, the moment, a reminder that we don’t need those on our TVs to hide their humanity. (See also Gary Lineker talking about his grandfather’s war in another excellent documentary).

Best scene involving Marmite: Rufus Jones’ delightful and gently subversive sitcom Home dealt with some big themes: Brexit, immigration, racism, love, people-smuggling and parenting. But it still managed to be funny, not least thanks to Youssef Kerkour’s brilliant starring role. The scene where he sticks a spoonful of what he thinks is chocolate spread into his mouth is comedy gold. Speaking of chocolate spread…

Scene that Made the Kids Want to Go on Holiday to Northern Italy: Gino’s Italian Express saw the chef visit Cuneo, a town in the mountains of Piedmont, where they make Nutella. As a result, in winter, the fog tastes of chocolate. Guess where we’re being pestered to go on holiday?

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