It’s a new year and that means a new you (but not You, the strangely fascinating Netflix drama with a sociopathic protagonist). It’s crazy that we’ve hit a new decade but before conversing about 2020, it’s only fair to look back a bit at 2019. It was a year of some great entertainment and what better place to find it than on the plentiful number of streaming services. From the old staples (Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime) to the new kids on the block (Disney+, Apple TV+, DCUniverse) there’s plenty of great fun to choose from. Yet, everything isn’t a golden halo of awesome thus, it’s only fitting that we single out those streaming shows that brought it to the highest of levels.
With this being focused on the streaming space, shows like Watchmen, Game of Thrones, and The Rook are not considered (though, in honesty, none of them would have made my top 8). Also, as genre shows are the focus, brilliant series such as Mindhunters, The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, Jack Ryan, and The Handmaid’s Tale (to name a few) were not considered.
But before we hit the main course, let’s talk about the appetizer, or those shows that, while not making the cut, deserve an honorable mention.
Stranger Things (Netflix): A much stronger showing than the tepid sophomore offering, Season 3 of Stranger Things gave us what first made us fall in love with the series; a blend of cool characters and 80s nostalgia. Russian plot line aside, perhaps the best addition to the show was Maya Hawke’s Robin, Steve’s quirky and smart co-worker at the ice cream store in the mall court. To cap things off, it left us with the biggest emotional cliffhanger in Stranger Things history that makes the wait for Season Four that much longer.
Titans (DCUniverse): A more coherent installment than the disjointed first season, Titans provided viewers with the introduction to some of the staple characters for the team — Aqualad, Superboy, even Krypto — though it did suffer from doing a bit too much in the second half of the season. On an individual level, Season 2 was as much fun as one can have in a superhero show though its overall narrative took a few missteps that prevented Titans from meeting its potential.
Lucifer (Netflix): As much as I’ve loved diving into the perverse world of Lucifer Morningstar over the last few years when the series was on FOX, Lucifer would have never made my top 10 list in any one of those years. I’m not sure what happened in Season 4 but once it hit Netflix, the series graduated from fun to damn fun and… pretty damn good. Now, all the same things us fans have loved from the start — primarily Tom Ellis’ impeccable performance in the titular role — is still there but the quality of the storylines, the season narrative in particular, got an epic boost. Much of this may be to the truncated season (10 episodes instead of 20+) but still, there’s just a different feel from what we got on FOX. Unlike The Expanse, which was still excellent on Syfy, seeing Lucifer on Netflix makes me wonder what if the series was on the streaming platform from the start? Perhaps more people would be talking about it instead of the show’s small but loyal base.
Now, on to the good stuff.
• The Witcher (Netflix): When information first started leaking about this series, as a fan of both the game and book series, I was concerned about the how this was going to turn out. Halfway through Episode One, those concerns faded to background noise and by Episode 3, they were a distant memory. This show is brilliant. Henry Cavill is phenomenal, as are his co-stars (particularly Anya Chalotra and Joey Batey) in a series that will inevitably be compared with Game of Thrones. There’s everything a fantasy geek like me looks for in this genre: great action, political intrigue, some good magic (but not too much), and a phenomenal soundtrack/score. Though it takes liberties with some of the source material, the beating heart of Andrzej Sapkowski’s work is presented in living color. Some people may be thrown off by the diverging timelines and seemingly endless exposition of people and places but, like Game of Thrones, if you pay attention (this is not the show to throw on in the background while doing things around the house), you’ll be fine. I cannot recommend this series enough.
• The Mandalorian (Disney+): Despite being a Star Wars fan, I was more excited for the Disney+ MCU shows than I was for The Mandalorian. Even after the first episode, which teased the action, humor, and characters we’d come to know and love over season one, I didn’t realize just how much I would love this show. Setting aside the Baby Yoda (the Child, I know) in the room, this series has been an extremely fun ride, capturing the essence of the once highly popular westerns (one episode is an homage to the Seven Samurai) while putting it in the familiar Star Wars I may have been a fan of the new trilogy but cannot deny the schism in the fandom that has widened over the years. If we continue to get Star Wars content that symbolizes the enjoyment the franchise has always stood for, that gap between fans may finally be on its way to closing.
• The Expanse (Amazon Prime): First airing on Syfy back in 2015, this series moved to Amazon when the network decided not to pick it up. All I can say for that is — thank you, Syfy; not just for letting it go but for introducing so many people to the brilliant universe us fans of the James S.A. Corey book series had already discovered. There may not be a better cast than what The Expanse has to offer, and the writing is about as good as one could hope for. At times seen as Game of Thrones-in space, The Expanse is heavy on the political drama between the three factions of the Sol system — Earth, Mars, and the Belt — but its true greatness lies in the characters that seem so real and the series does a wonderful job giving them solid motivations. Also, after immersing myself into this world, it’s difficult not to compare all space-based dramas with the mostly real-world physics The Expanse has become known for. If you haven’t watched this, do yourself a favor; take a few days and start. You’ll thank me for it.
• The Boys (Amazon Prime): While we may love the honor and selflessness of heroes such as Captain America and Superman, have you ever thought about the reality? If these larger-than-life heroes were real, chances are there’d be a few assholes in the bunch. The Boys suggests that more than a few would be and that, in this world of social media likes, the drive for clicks, and general online addiction, these heroes would thrive in popularity but what would they be like behind closed doors? The Boys does this by presenting heroes that see themselves as untouchable, taking what they want and doing it in an R-rated fashion (this show’s not for kids). Thankfully, Karl Urban and — well, the Boys — are there to set heroes that get out of line back on the straight and narrow…or something like that.
• The Umbrella Academy (Netflix): Despite my comic book fandom, I had never read this series before it premiered on Netflix. A funky, offbeat drama with a cast of characters who grew up together to be a team of superheroes but still suffer the scars from such an upbringing, The Umbrella Academy is one of those shows you didn’t realize you wanted until you got it. Though there is a slow-developing season narrative, the strength of the series are the characters who are as far from the convention of superhero stereotypes as one can get. This show had me during the most unexpected “I Think We’re Alone Now” dance scene midway through the first episode. For those who love quirkiness, The Umbrella Academy is as quirky (and fun) as you can get.
• Undone (Amazon Prime): I heard about this show the day before it premiered. Using the same animation as projects such as A Scanner Darkly, my biggest draw to Undone was Rosa Salazar, who brought the wonderful Alita: Battle Angel to life. Combing her with clever dialogue, family strife, and a trippy narrative (did I mention things get trippy?), Undone is one of those shows you can bang out in a day (the episodes are only 30 minutes long) but would do to let it breathe a bit as the themes of time travel can be a bit convoluted at times (though still understandable).
• Good Omens (Amazon Prime): Based on the classic novel from Terry Pratchett (R.I.P.) and Neil Gaiman, Good Omens is the story of the apocalypse and how two unlikely and eons-long friendship between an angel (Michael Sheen) and demon (David Tennant) may or may not bring it about through not paying attention to the details. Tennant and Sheen make this series, with every interaction between the pair entertainment gold. Much of the narrative is helped along by the snarky narrator (Frances McDormand) and through its off-kilter humor and distinct examination of some historical events in the world, all that is the icing on the Tennent/Sheen cake of excellence.
• Lost in Space (Netflix): For the first few episodes, it looked as if Season Two of Lost in Space would follow the same path as its first season; a decent and fun adventure that lacked the requisite emotional pull for a memorable journey. Then came the second half of the season and everything changed. Not only did the welcome switch give me that emotional investment I needed but also fixed the largest issue from season one: Parker Posey as series antagonist Dr. Smith. Season Two gave her a much better arc and while everything didn’t hit here, having a capable antagonist (one that isn’t purely a villain) was a welcome change. Add to that some exceptional visuals and stakes that, on more than one occasion, made me question if our protagonists would make it out unscathed and Lost in Space deservedly lands on this list.
As with any list of this sort, chances are good that your choice will differ (perhaps greatly) from mine. With that in mind, tell me what your favorite streaming shows are and why.