TV, Cable & Streaming – Best of 2019 & 2020 (so far) – Part 1

It’s a good thing there’s an abundance of good and even great stuff to watch on TV, computers, and (shudder) mobile phones, considering that movie theaters are closed and we don’t really have anywhere to go except grocery stores, drug stores, and walks. Before we went into lockdown, I was going to post a “Best TV, Cable & Streaming” recap for 2019, but have decided to include shows I’ve seen in 2020 so far that I’ve liked. Many of these are available on Netflix or Amazon Prime, or on demand from HBO and Showtime, and can be accessed any time. I’m putting them all in one alphabetical listing, without separating them by year. I’m sure many of you are familiar with most of these shows, but there may be some that you either weren’t aware of or haven’t caught up with yet.

Okay, it’s showtime! This will be in two parts.

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At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Olympics Scandal (HBO)  Devastating documentary made by Erin Lee Carr about the USA Gymnastics scandal and the investigation of Larry Nassar, the national team doctor who abused young athletes for decades.

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Babylon Berlin – 3rd season (Netflix)  The first two seasons (released by Netflix in one 16-episode package) were amazing. We’ve just started the third season, but it promises to be just as good.

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Barry – 2nd season (HBO)  I have to confess I haven’t yet watched the final three episodes of this season, but will definitely do so. This is a great series. Bill Hader is excellent as a hit man in California who starts taking an acting class. There’s a lot of oddball humor, but the violence is very real. The fifth episode of season two in which Barry is confronted by a “feral beast child” who is practically superhuman is absolutely amazing.

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Better Call Saul – Prequel to Breaking Bad, first four seasons on Amazon Prime, fifth season currently on AMC, and it rocks! Bob Odenkirk, Rhea Seahorn, Giancarlo Esposito, and Jonathan Banks are standouts in an overall great cast.

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Bosch – 6 seasons (Amazon Prime) – Great series about an LAPD homicide cop, based on a long-running series of novels by Michael Connelly. Titus Welliver totally inhabits the character of Harry Bosch. I’d had doubts initially because he didn’t match my image of the character, but he’s great. Jamie Hector plays Bosch’s partner and Lance Reddick is the LAPD chief of police. Both were on David Simon’s The Wire, still the greatest series ever. It’s nice seeing them doing excellent work here. Season 6 became available on April 17. I intended to watch only the first episode that day, but ended up burning through all ten the same day. Now what do I do? Wait for season 7, I guess, which reportedly will be the last.

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Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee – Terrific Jerry Seinfeld series, all seasons are now on Netflix. We’ve seen most of them. The episode with Eddie Murphy is one of my favorites. 

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Counterpart – This was originally on Starz, which we don’t have, but both seasons are now on Amazon Prime. We got through those in about 4 days. J. K. Simmons is phenomenal. The premise of a duplicate world co-existing with ours, populated by duplicates of everyone in this world who travel back and forth between worlds is twisty and provocative and will make you crazy. It’s excellent science fiction and a great spy thriller. If you like this kind of material and haven’t seen this yet, definitely check it out.

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Country Music – Ken Burns series on PBS. Not sure if this can be streamed yet, but it is amazing. Once we started watching, we cleared our schedule for the remaining seven episodes. I especially liked the first three, which dug up the roots of this truly American music.

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Criminal: UK, French, German, Spanish – Gripping series on Amazon, four separate “seasons” all taking place almost entirely inside a police interrogation room in the respective countries, four episodes per country.

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The Crown – 3 seasons (Netflix)  Created by Peter Morgan, this engaging series dramatizes the life and reign of Elizabeth II, Queen of England. Claire Foy plays her in the first two seasons, with Olivia Coleman taking the role in season three.

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Deadwood: The Movie (HBO)  It was a huge disappointment when the series Deadwood was cancelled after three seasons in 2006. For years there was talk and rumors that it would return in some form or other. This 110 minute movie may not be the fourth season many of us hoped for, but it’s a lot better than nothing. A more than satisfying coda to a great show.

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Dracula – 3 episode mini-series (Netflix)  Not for everyone (though you know who you are), this not entirely successful revamp (so to speak) of the Dracula story is nonetheless very good. Created by Steven Moffet and Mark Gattis, who were responsible for the Doctor Who reboot from 2005 to 2017, and the Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock from 2010 to 2017. Claus Bang is terrific as Dracula. My main criticism is that it ended too soon. The game-changing shift in the third episode clearly deserved more time and development. That said, I quite enjoyed it.

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Gentleman Jack – HBO. This was my favorite new show from last year. Suranne Jones is wonderful as Anne Lister, aka Gentleman Jack. Lister was a real-life figure who favored men’s clothing. This series was developed from the many diaries she wrote, and was created by Sally Wainwright, who already had my vote for two previous shows, Last Tango in Halifax and Happy Valley.

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Giri/Haji (Netflix) – Japanese cops & yakuza gangsters plus British cops & gangsters in a storyline that combines them all. Very violent, but also very well made. I liked it. 

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Glow – 3 seasons (Netflix)  With Mel Maron as the lady wrestlers’ acerbic manager. That’s all I need to know. We’ve seen all three seasons, which have expanded the initial premise.

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Goliath – 3 seasons (Amazon Prime) – Billy Bob Thornton as an unorthodox lawyer (is there any other kind?) in Los Angeles. Excellent. The third season has a Twin Peaks vibe, weird and intriguing.

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Grantchester – 4 seasons on PBS Masterpiece Theater. James Norton plays a pastor in the village of Grantchester in the early 1950s, just outside Cambridge. He saves souls and solves crimes in a sometimes adversarial partnership with a local cop, wonderfully played by Robson Greene. In the fourth season, a new pastor, played by Tom Brittney, replaces Norton. It’s a great series.

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Hinterland – 3 seasons on Netflix, cop show set in Wales. Dark, tragic storylines. It’s excellent. Four 90-minute episodes per season. We do like our police procedurals, especially ones from the UK.

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Homeland (Showtime) – 8th & final season. Claire Danes as sometimes CIA operative Carrie Matheson goes off the reservation once again to do what she thinks is right, despite the odds and regardless of how many toes she has to flatten in the process. Mandy Patinkin is great as Saul Berenson, Carrie’s friend and mentor. The current season shows a world in chaos, with everything going wrong that possibly could. Like real life, in other words. We’ve seen all but the finale, which is on Sunday, April 26.

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Killing Eve – Amazon Prime. We loved the first two seasons. Sandra Oh as MI6 agent Eve Polastri and Jodie Comer as the inventive assassin Villanelle are great. Comer had the flashier role, but they’re both great. It’s a very black comedy. The third season has just begun on BBC America and AMC.

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That wraps it up for now. Part 2 will follow shortly. — Ted Hicks

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About Ted Hicks

Iowa farm boy; have lived in NYC for 40 years; worked in motion picture labs, film/video distribution, subtitling, media-awards program; obsessive film-goer all my life.
This entry was posted in Books, Comics, Documentaries, Feature films, Film posters, History, Home Video, Music, Streaming, TV & Cable. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to TV, Cable & Streaming – Best of 2019 & 2020 (so far) – Part 1

  1. David M Fromm says:

    This is wonderful. I have seen a number of the series you write about and liked them. I would include The Plot GAINST AMERIC. I think its the best thing in TV this year.

  2. Ted Hicks says:

    Thanks! The Plot Against America will be listed in Part 2, which should be up later today. I had way too much stuff for one post. We watched the finale of Plot last night and it was a killer.

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