Teacher, mother, secret lover

In which I end the decade with a return to my first love.

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but this is a busy time of year, and I was so holiday hectic last week that I didn’t manage to put out a newsletter. Please, in the spirit of a new decade on the horizon, find it in your heart to forgive me. But I’m now just under the wire for my final “best of” list — and it took me a while to figure out what it was going to be. Frankly, I’m devastated that I couldn’t do my annual horror list, but the truth is I simply fell too far behind in watching this year’s releases. (You can read last year’s here. I’m still proud of it.) I’m similarly behind on films as a whole, which you can tell by the stack of screeners glaring at me. And so, I decided to focus on television, my first love (and my Bar Mitzvah party theme).

I’m only doing best TV of the year, not the decade, because I watched a staggering amount of TV over the past 10 years, and there’s no way in hell I could remember most of it. In terms of television, 2019 was a year of letting go for me — losing my job gave me ample time to catch up on all of my shows and probably pick up some new ones, and instead I found myself going to the movies and reading a lot of Stephen King and generally ignoring TV entirely. I realized that it had become a chore for me, that most of “my shows” were obligations rather than series I actually enjoyed keeping up with. So I cut down massively, and what I was left with were shows that I really, truly loved watching. (And yes, OK, a few that I just couldn’t bring myself to quit.)

Anyway, here are my favorites of the year, with some brief notes. Warning: I have nothing particularly intelligent to say on this, the last day of the year, and you’ll just have to deal. Once again, these are not in any particular order. (Previously: favorite theater moments of the decade and songs of the year.)

Watchmen. I mean, duh. It tops everyone’s “best TV of 2019” list for a reason — it really is that good. I had a tough time getting into it, in the sense that the mythology was dense and the politics felt… muddled. But my god did it deliver. I really admire the way the show rewarded the audience’s attention, not to mention its larger thematic aims. I wasn’t as wowed by the finale as some, but not in a way that took away from my feeling that it was a tremendous achievement overall.

Mr. Robot. Remember Mr. Robot? The hiatus lasted so long that I fear most of us forgot this show existed. Also, in the interim, Rami Malek won an Oscar and we all turned on him, but it turns out he’s still an incredible actor, and the final season of Mr. Robot was one of the greatest of any show, ever. Just a stunning, ambitious, unexpectedly moving piece of art. Rarely have I felt more gratified about sticking with a show.

The Real Housewives of Potomac. I am ride-or-die for every Housewives series, which you probably know if you’re a subscriber to this newsletter. This year has given me memorable moments from other cities as well — particularly the perpetually entertaining The Real Housewives of New York City — but in deciding which to include here, RHOP felt like the obvious choice, in terms of consistency and compelling (if morally suspect) storytelling.

9-1-1. Probably the dumbest show on television, but sometimes the only show I actually want to watch, so maybe also the smartest? I still can’t decide if 9-1-1 is in on the joke: It’s so fucking serious sometimes that I have to believe it’s entirely sincere. But the sincerity is what makes it funny, so maybe… I don’t know. I can’t explain it. It’s my trash baby, and I love it, and I will be watching the spin-off.

The Good Place. Another series that takes risks that pay off so well every time. No other sitcom (it feels wrong to call this a sitcom, but also that might be unfair to sitcoms!) is as relentlessly funny and mind-bending. Never sacrifices jokes for plot, or vice versa, and manages to make me cry more often than it probably should. I’m devastated that it’s ending, but thrilled that it’s going out on such a high note.

Encore! Speaking of shows that make me cry every goddamn week (and feature Kristen Bell), every episode of Encore! has these fully grown adults carrying on imagined conversations with their teenage selves, and it never doesn’t make me sob? Like I understand exactly all the ways I’m being emotionally manipulated, and I simply don’t care. And then they put on a fucking musical. Pander to me harder, why don’t you.

The Simpsons. Y’all ever heard of this one? I’m not even talking about the current season — I’m talking about the old episodes I’ve been watching on Disney+. (Right now I’m a few episodes into Season 5, having just finished Season 4.) I fall asleep to it every night. Great show. I don’t know, it’s the fucking Simpsons, what do you want me to say.

The Other Two. My pick for the funniest show of the year, and it’s right up there with Difficult People (which would have ended up on my “best of the decade” list if I’d managed to make that happen) in terms of being made for me specifically. I always worry that when a show feels so niche, it won’t find an audience, but I feel like the (relative) success of The Other Two speaks to the fact that there are a lot of gay men and theater people who live in New York, and probably (who can say) considerable overlap between the two.

Gourmet Makes. Yes, it counts. You know who had a really good year? Claire Saffitz had a really good year. I mean, Gourmet Makes has been going strong for a while now, but I feel like 2019 was the year when we really elevated Claire to pop culture icon status. As I said in my Vulture ranking (which I will be updating soon!), Gourmet Makes is now “less instructional video and more legitimate web series, with all the drama, surprises, and rich character arcs of prestige television.” I love it dearly.

Photo via USA.