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Josh’s Favorite TV Series of 2019 — Part Five!

Huzzah!  We’ve arrived at the end of my lengthy list of my favorite TV series of 2019!  Click here for numbers twenty-five through twenty-one, click here for numbers twenty through sixteen, click here for numbers fifteen through eleven, and click here for numbers ten through six.  And now, without further delay or fanfare, here are my five favorite TV series of 2019:

5. The Mandalorian The first live-action Star Wars TV show was a revelation!  Created by Jon Favreau, this new show made the new Disney+ streaming service an essential purchase.  Each of the eight episodes in this short first season were near-perfect.  I loved how wonderfully retro they were in their approach of telling a complete story in every single episode.  Set several years after the events of Return of the Jedi, the series follows a Mandalorian bounty hunter who finds himself on the run from the bounty hunter guild after deciding to rescue the asset that he was hired to deliver to an aged Imperial officer (played beautifully by Werner Herzog).  Of course, we all know by now that the asset was a child that we all refer to as “baby Yoda”.  The series is a wonderful expansion of Star Wars lore.  It’s awesome to see lots of new planets as well as some familiar ones (episode five took place on Tattoine).  The series is filled with nods and references to the history of Star Wars (we get to see Battle Droids, Jawas, an Ugnaught, etc.) while doing what I want the film series to do: telling new stories with new characters set within the Star Wars universe.  (The influence of Dave Filoni, who masterminded the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels, was clearly felt.)  The series is gorgeous to behold — it’s visually stunning.  The production values are incredible — absolutely movie-quality, not at all cheapened for TV.  The cast was spectacular: Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones) was fantastic as the titular Mandalorian, despite having his face concealed behind a mask; I fell in love with the Taika Waititi-voiced IG-11, as well as the Ugnaught voiced by Nick Nolte (“I have spoken”); I already mentioned Werner Herzog, and I also loved seeing Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad) as Moff Gideon; Gina Carano was perfect as the ex-Rebellion shock trooper Cara Dune… and I haven’t even mentioned Amy Sedaris, Ming Na-Wen, Clancy Brown, and so many more great actors who filled out this universe!!  Each episode was an absolute delight.  I cannot wait for more to come next year.  (Click here for my review of the Mandalorian premiere.  My full review of this first season … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Fleabag!

I’d been hearing about Fleabag for years, ever since the first season of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s show was released back in 2016.  The acclaim for the show’s second season, released this past March, bumped the show up higher on my (lengthy) to-watch list.  About a week or two before Ms. Waller-Bridge cleaned up at the Emmy Awards, I finally wised up and started watching.  Thank goodness!  I tore through the show and was done with the two six-episode seasons in less than a week.  I’m sorry I waited so long to watch the show and equally regretful that I devoured all of the episodes so quickly, because this show is phenomenal.  It’s quickly become the TV show I am most evangelical about these days.  I think it’s an absolutely brilliant accomplishment.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge created the show (based on her one-woman play).  She wrote every episode, and stars as Fleabag, the unnamed woman at the center of the story.  (Ms. Waller-Bridge has suggested that the name refers to the messy reality underneath the main character’s put-together exterior; the character is never actually referred to by the nickname “Fleabag” on-screen.)  To tell you too much about the show would be to spoil its many wonderful surprises and layers.  Suffice to say, Ms. Waller-Bridge’s character is a bit of a mess, a young woman who owns her own cafe but who is drowning in debt and floundering in her personal life.  Ms. Waller-Bridge is magnificent in the role; funny and heartbreaking and immediately captivating for the audience.  She invites us into her life and we dive in with enthusiasm.

That’s one of the keys to the show.  Ms. Waller-Bridge’s character often speaks directly to us, the TV viewer watching at home.  We’re her confidantes; her secret friends.  It’s a device that pays off emotional dividends, as we are drawn in to her life and her story and are made, in many ways, a part of that story.  It’s also the set-up for many, many magnificent jokes.  Ms. Waller-Bridge can get more comedic mileage out of a quick glance into the camera than anyone since Johnny Carson.

Fleabag achieves the impressive tightrope-balance of being incredibly, extraordinarily, astoundingly funny — fall-off your seat funny — while also gradually building to be a story of great depth and emotion.  (Although they are very different types of shows, I am reminded of Catastrophe, which strikes a similar balance in tone.  The two shows also share a ribald, very raunchy sense of humor.)  I can’t believe that a show exists that, in only two short seasons (each consisting of six half-hour episodes), can be at the same time so hilarious and so poignant.  I was deeply moved by … [continued]