Severance (Apple TV+)
Severance is an astonishing piece of work that tackles grief, identity, work-life balance, belief systems, and so much more. A workplace drama that doubles as a meditation on life, with a propulsive piece of thriller storytelling at its centre. There’s hints of David Lynch eeriness & oddity, with elements of The Office mundanity, Michel Gondry surrealism, and sprinkled with inventive, offbeat humour. This is a profound work of art made by people at the absolute top of their game. Exceptional storytelling, expertly delivered . And what a cast – John Turturro, Christopher Walken, Patricia Arquette, Britt Lower and Adam Scott. My favourite show of the year without a shadow of a doubt, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.
Barry (HBO/NOW TV)
Barry is one of the most interesting, funny and twisted shows out there at the moment. This year saw the third season of Bill Hader’s dark tale of a hitman place itself firmly on my must-see list. It was weekly appointment viewing for me. The balance between dark subject matter and genuinely hilarious humour that the showrunners have managed to craft is something to marvel at. In addition to the standout performances from Anthony Carrigan and Henry Winkler (and Hader himself), it was the direction of these shows that really caught my eye this year. Hader is a genuinely gifted director and the motorbike sequence in episode 6 is an absolute masterclass in tension, compelling storytelling, and good old-fashioned action. I can’t say enough good things about this show. If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a massive favour and start at the beginning. I wish I could see it again for the first time.
This Way Up (Channel 4/Hulu)
I stumbled across This Way Up by chance and what an absolute gem it is. Tackling tricky territory such as mental health and relationships could have been really clumsily done, but instead we were treated to a highly intelligent, thoughtful and incredibly funny piece of storytelling. Aisling Bea is a revelation in the central role, with a magical blend of wit and melancholy that never feels over the top. Sharon Horgan once again lends her immense creative talent to proceedings and this is her best acting work since Catastrophe. The episodes are short and sharp, so you can blaze through this quickly (as I did) and it will leave you wanting to see more of this world and its characters.
Better Call Saul (AMC/Netflix)
The final season of this superb show was a thing of beauty. To maintain tension and intrigue in a story where we already know the fate of major characters is a storytelling feat not to be dismissed. Better Call Saul was anchored in precise brilliant writing, gorgeous cinematography, and real craft from its remarkable cast. A prequel/spinoff show rarely ignites the imagination, but this show is the rare case of surpassing its source material in many ways. For me, it is undeniably better than Breaking Bad, although, ironically, it could not exist without it. If you haven’t seen it yet, then do yourself a massive favour. It’s Saul Goodman!
We Own This City (HBO/NOW TV)
We Own This City is a dark and densely layered look at corruption in the Baltimore police department and the accompanying judicial system. A companion piece to David Simon’s other masterpiece The Wire, it manages to tell a true story in a thoughtful, effective way; cross cutting between timelines and perspectives, with expert pacing. This is compelling, smart storytelling with a central performance from Jon Bernthal as Wayne Jenkins, that might just be one of the best tv acting performances all year.
Ozark is a show that has gotten better and better with each subsequent season. A dark and demented story of money laundering, drug cartels and family drama with knockout performances from Laura Linney, Jason Bateman and Julia Garner. The final season goes to pitch black places and concludes in a pretty satisfying, albeit depressingly real way. One of the best shows that Netflix has made and a worthy watch.
Taskmaster (Channel 4)
Amidst all of these heady dramas, Taskmaster may seem like an unusual choice, but stay with me. For many years this show was a best kept secret on the British cable channel “Dave”, and with its relatively recent move to Channel 4 it has unsurprisingly become a bit of a cult favourite. The simple premise is to gather five very funny people, little Alex Horne (the titular Taskmaster) sets them oddball tasks, and we then watch their attempts to do the tasks together, and host Greg Davies awards them arbitrary points for their mixed efforts. Sounds like a lot of nothing, but, on the contrary, the result is one of the most charming, amusing and downright hilarious shows out there. My family watched it together this past year and it became weekly appointment viewing. Channel 4 player has all of the back catalogue of episodes, so there is a wealth of joy to be mined should you wish to seek them out.
Succession (HBO/NOW TV)
Most of what can be said about Succession has likely already been written, so I will only add that this fiendishly funny and sharp portrait of 1 percenters has hit even greater heights in its writing and performances this year. Before watching Succession, I had never heard of Jeremy Strong. Now I will never forget him and will watch him in anything. And that’s saying something when you consider the incredible lineup of talent in this show. The acting in general is undoubtedly top drawer, especially because the characters in this show are so reprehensible and unlikeable (you really don’t want any of them to succeed) but they nevertheless keep you hooked. A lot of that can surely be attributed to the sharp writing of showrunner Jesse Armstrong. He is a veritable wizard with words and I didn’t think I could love his work more than his legendary British sitcom Peep Show, but this is a whole new level of craft and style. This is a great show and if you aren’t already watching it I urge you to do so.
Bad Sisters (Apple TV+)
I sometimes wonder if Sharon Horgan ever sleeps. Between her producing, prolific writing and acting, it’s a marvel that she has time for anything. Thankfully for us, she brings all those talents to Bad Sisters with maximum effect. Rarely has Ireland been captured so beautifully in a television show (I often swim at the Forty Foot myself); coupled with an amazing cast of Irish actors (special shout out to Bono’s daughter Eve Hewson), that make this show rise way above its somewhat sleight and preposterous premise. Apparently it has been renewed for a second season which is nice to hear, but I have no clue how you continue this story considering how self-contained it felt. Easy casual viewing that is worth a watch.
The Bear (Hulu/Disney+)
The Bear is an authentic feeling peek behind the scenes of a commercial kitchen, while human dramas play out in parallel. Filmed in an almost documentary style, it brought back very real memories of working in a kitchen in my twenties. I was engrossed from start to finish, and my only quibble was the deus ex machina escape from disaster in the final episode. But you can forgive the showrunners for that given the pure quality of the show overall. The episodes are short (30ish mins) so it is easily watched in a short sitting or two.
The Leftovers (HBO/NOW TV)
The Leftovers is a show that ended its run on HBO back in 2017, and I completely missed it when it came out, but I am so glad I connected with it now. It is a genuinely extraordinary piece of storytelling that offers a deep, thoughtful, insightful, profound meditation on faith, grief, loss, identity and the human condition. I have never seen a show like it – a philosophical and mystical, meandering story that spans continents, time and space, with a story about human relationships at its heart. I think about the show often since I saw it, and the final scene of the series between Carrie Coon and Justin Theroux has stuck with me ever since. This is definitely not a show for everyone. It is a piece of art that demands your attention and, like life, it doesn’t offer easy answers, but instead examines the things that make us who we are in a deeply poetic way. If you want to be challenged and immersed in a captivating creative world, then I urge you to seek this slow burning masterpiece out. It might just be the best thing I have ever seen.