This is the third year I’ve been tracking what movies and TV shows I’m watching and there has been a serious shift in my entertainment consumption from movies towards TV shows. I went down from watching 75 movies in 2017 to 49 movies in 2018 and to only 8 of them in 2019. The exact opposite happened when it comes to TV shows, starting from only 7 in 2017, to 12 in 2018, to a record high of 29 titles in 2019 (including miniseries). I’m not going to go into whether this is bad or good, it just is and ultimately what matters is to just enjoy what I’m watching.
Apparently I had two major phases this year: one in which I watched a lot of miniseries, and another one in which I watched all the SF that I could find on Netflix, good or bad (most of it was kind of bad). Regarding movies, 8 seems to be a very low number: two of those I saw at the cinema and the rest on Netflix or TV. But I can’t believe I went to the cinema only two times year… I imagine I must have forgotten to track everything.
One major phase I had this year was to watch miniseries, all kind as long as they had only one season. My favourite was Band of Brothers (2001), placed during WWII, following Easy Company, an Airborne Division of the U.S. Army. Despite some melodramatic bits, the show is a great historical drama, depicting the realities of the war. A highly recommended watch.
Next on the list is another historical drama, Cernobyl (2019). As the name states, it presents the 1986 disaster at the Ukrainian nuclear plant. It can be a tough viewing, with some graphic images displaying the consequences of radioactive exposure, and don’t expect total accuracy in the events displayed. However, it is a very atmospheric movie, with great cinematography and a great choice if you’re curious about what happened.
Staying within the historical realm, The Last Czars (2019) is a documentary about the fall of the Romanov dynasty in Russia. Not great in terms of acting, the show is nonetheless fascinating due to the nature of the story.
The Final Table (2018) is a cooking show, with a different format than what I’ve previously seen: each episode has a different national dish the contestants have to recreate and a special ingredient they have to make a dish around. The competitors are all professional chefs, so the quality of servings is quite high. However, the show was a bit spoiled for me by how they chose the winner at the end.
Now, we’ve reached the last three miniseries, which were all disappointing: Death and Nightingales (2018), Alias Grace (2017), I am the Night (2019). They all have the same recipe for failure: curious intrigue, unique and emerging atmosphere, promising couple of episodes, and then everything falls flat, the episodes get boring and the ending is just dry. My overall final question about each of them is: why were they made in the first place? I wouldn’t recommend any of them.
Sci – Fi
The second phase I’ve gone through this year was to watch everything SF that I could find on Netflix. From best to worst, Altered Carbon (2018) was by far my favourite SF of the year. The plot is original and exciting: the mind is digitally stored and the body becomes just a temporary vessel, immortality becomes achievable for the rich. I loved both actors chosen for the main character (I’ve previously seen Joel Kinnaman in House of Cards), James Purefoy for me is always an extra bonus, and we also have Poe and Vernon as two side-kick characters with their own interesting backgrounds. The movie has a somewhat film noir – blade runner atmosphere at times, interlaced with entertaining fight-scenes and intriguing flash-backs. One major drawback however is one character that appears late into the show, which is so one-sided and plain evil that it just doesn’t blend well with the rest of the cast. Despite this, I would still recommend the first season as a good original and atmospheric SF.
Black Mirror (seasons 1-4: 2011-2017) is a weird mix of SF, fantasy, dystopian stories. Most of them are intriguing and disturbing, some of them are quite mediocre. My personal favorites are The Waldo Moment, White Christmas, Shut up and Dance, San Junipero, USS Callister and Metalhead.
Lost in Space (season 1: 2018) is not great, not terrible, but I enjoyed it quite a lot. It has a cozy feeling, the kind of show you’d watch with kids and family and it reminds me of the shows I used to watch as a child myself. It treats themes as friendship and family, exploration of the unknown, courage and science (I particularly like how science is made a cool thing in the show). They do overuse dangerous situations and last minute escapes to keep you constantly on the edge but overall it’s a pleasant way to spend a Sunday. It also helps that I like the main two actors (Toby Stephens from Black Sails and Molly Parker from Deadwood and House of Cards) very much.
As I was going over all the shows, I stumbled across Nightflyers (2018) and I couldn’t for the life of me remember what it was about just by its name. It’s not bad, it actually has some original characters and plot in it, and it uses a mechanism that I personally love: it starts with the ending and then it shows you how it reached there. However, despite all this, it somehow was forgettable to me.
The second season of Star Trek Discovery (2019) was just as bad as the first one. Captain Pike makes an appearance though and he improves the show greatly. There’s going to be a season three in 2020 and since it’s Star Trek, of course I’m going to watch it.
Another Life (2019) was by far the most memorable TV and not in a good way. It might actually be the worst TV show of the year. Every episode is action packed with drama, danger and catastrophic events. The whole thing is on the brink of parody and the bad acting is just the cherry on top.
Crime & Mystery
Season two of Mindhunter (2018) was a bit messier than the first one. There are too many story lines to follow, and too many questions left open.
The Alienist (2018) started very promising (late 19th century setting, decent cast, gory murders) but ended up quite dry. As the show went along, I became less concerned with who the criminal was and more interested in what suit would Luke Evans wear next.
Rotten (2018-2019) is a depressing documentary about the food industry. The first season is more light weight, but the second one presents some very disturbing facts that would probably make you want to give up on eating avocado, sugar and chocolate.
Roman Empire (2016-2019) is an entertaining documentary about three Roman emperors: Commodus, Caesar and Caligula (he has a really sad story). The show is taking some liberties when it comes to certain events presented as facts, but they’re not crucial details. It made me want to watch Rome for the third time.
Watching Queer Eye (seasons 1-3: 2018-2019) is like eating a warm soup wrapped up in a blanket near a hot stove. Jonathan Van Ness is, to quote a friend, “everything that’s good in this world”. Just watch it. The only small downside that I can find, is that the first episode remained my favourite one.
RuPaul’s Drag Race (seaon 1 & 11: 2009 & 2011) Season 11 is a phenomenal show: the costumes, the queens, the drama. My favourite by far was Brooke Lynn Hytes. The first season, by contrast, was not great. It lacks the glamour and elegance that charmed me in the 11th season.
Once Upon a Time (season 1: 2011) is another great show to watch with the family. The kid within me enjoys all the Grimm fairytales (especially since I’m rereading them now), and Prince Charming is just the icing on the cake. However, it’s not exactly the binging type of show, at least not for me, so I’m pacing this one, taking one season at a time.
At the opposite end of the children friendly range, we have another fantasy, inspired by Eastern European lore and having a similar Grimm’s universe vibe. But this is where the similarities between the two shows stop. The Witcher (season 1: 2019) is placed in a dark, cynical and cruel world, full of magic, monsters and vengeance. Having read some of the books and also knowing the game, I went into this show with a very biased view and certain expectations. Most of them weren’t met, I’m disappointed by the majority of the cast, I find the rhythm to be a tad too fast for the fairy tale atmosphere, and I personally don’t like how they chose to tell the story of Yennefer (chronologically, rather than in flash backs). Also, for someone who doesn’t know anything about the universe, it’s quite confusing to follow all the names and the plots. However, there are some good points as well: the stories and the world are very interesting, the fighting choreographies are original and engaging, and Henry Cavill is an awesome Geralt of Rivia, his performance making a big part of the show. I look forward to the second season.
I have a love-hate relationship with The Handmaid’s Tale (seasons 1-3: 2017-2019). It took me a long time to get into this show. The storyline is intriguing, the world is unique, the characters are complex, however I don’t like the main actress that much and everything seems very distant and cold. But I did get caught in the narrative and I’m interested with what’s going to happen to the characters.
Love, Death & Robots (season 1: 2019) is similar to Black Mirror, but the episodes are short animations. Part of them are average, some are intriguing and my favorites are funny (Three Robots), cute (Ice Age), sad (Suits) and tragic (The Secret War).
The Crown (seasons 1-3: 2016-2019) is underwhelming most of the times, but somehow it always makes me want to watch more of it. Prince Philip’s and Princess Margaret’s lives are captivating and somewhat sad, and the show does present Prince Charles in a better light than I had him pictured. The Queen comes across quite cold and harsh at times. However, I do like that British coolness of the show, the diplomatic episodes and the internal family drama.