So I have a confession to make: The Couch Potato might just be dead.
I’ve been incredibly lucky to write this TV column for more than a decade (though I still have a hard time believing I’ve done anything in my life for that long).
As I sat down last week, I couldn’t quite remember the exact year it started but did recall two of the first shows I ever wrote about: “Heroes” and “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” both of which debuted in 2006.
So, 2006. Thirteen years, and one of my favorite exercises has always been the end-of-year top 10 list.
As the idea of what exactly TV is has expanded thanks to streaming, and our airwaves have filled with more and more options, I eventually changed my annual list from the best TV of the year to my favorite watches of the year.
There were only so many hours in the day and, while this has always been a fun part of my job, it’s not the only thing I do. I don’t even know how full-time TV writers do it.
Then I went and had kids, and any available free time was suddenly filled with much more important things.
All this is to say that I watch less TV now than I ever have in my life. While you might think that’s something to be proud of, this nearly lifelong Couch Potato — going all the way back to my first favorite show, “My So-Called Life” — mourns all the TV I’m not watching.
When I sat down to think about what would be on my top 10 list this year, I couldn’t even come up with five.
I have an endless list of shows I wished I’d watched: Apple TV’s “The Morning Show;” Netflix’s “Unbelievable,” “When They See Us” and “Russian Doll;” Amazon Prime’s “Fleabag” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel;” and Disney Plus’ “The Mandalorian.”
A slew of series also sit on my DVR, just waiting for a view: the final season of HBO’s “The Deuce” and the first for its highly acclaimed “Watchmen;” CBS’s new comedy “The Unicorn;” and, I’m embarrassed to admit, episodes of long-gone series like Fox’s “New Girl” and FX’s “The Americans,” which both ended their respective runs in 2018.
The list goes on.
Because of this, I just don’t feel right compiling a “best of” list this year — unless you want it to include guilty pleasure watches like MTV’s “The Challenge” and “Ridiculousness,” or HGTV’s “Bargain Mansions” (it’s like “Fixer Upper,” minus Chip and Jo).
So I’m sitting this year out, in hopes of somehow redeeming myself in 2020 (maybe there’s a New Year’s resolution in there somewhere).
Here, I’ll discuss some of the TV I enjoyed this year, just not in list form.
Well, here goes, starting with a trio of Netflix series:
My favorite show of the year was “GLOW,” which continues to be so many things, all wrapped up in one funny, touching, charming package. It also boasts one of the best ensembles on television, from headliners Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin and Marc Maron to unsung heroes like Chris Lowell, whose character Bash struggled with his sexuality this season, and Kia Stevens, whose Tammé dealt with the toll wrestling takes on a performer’s body.
“Stranger Things,” which also aired its third season in 2019, comes in at a close second.
Sure, the show struggled a bit this time around; the kids are getting older, the stories a bit repetitive and, really, how often can creatures from the Upside Down menace poor Hawkins? (Well, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” made it work for seven seasons in Sunnydale, I’d like to point out, and I think we could argue that the Upside Down is this generation’s Hellmouth.)
But throw all those characters together — from Eleven, Hopper and Steve all the way down to newcomers like Steve’s partner-in-crime Robin and sweet, doomed Alexi (with a special shout-out to Bret Gelman’s Murray) — and I’m going to be there every time.
“Mindhunter” also returned in 2019 for a highly-anticipated second season, which followed Jonathan Groff’s Holden, Holt McCallany’s Bill and Anna Torv’s Wendy as they continued their research into the psyche of serial killers. It was as captivating as the show’s first run of episodes (even with that cringe-worthy plotline involving Tench’s son, which was far too on the nose for me). I continue to be amazed at how much suspense they can create around people sitting in rooms talking.
Elsewhere in the TV landscape — up north as it were — I actually enjoyed the first few episodes of the “Game of Thrones” swan song, especially its second, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” which found many of our favorite characters preparing to fight the Army of the Dead, and then the following episode, which featured that epic battle. Things went sideways immediately after that, so I prefer to pretend the story concluded at Winterfell after the Night King fell.
Editor’s note: This column contains spoilers from Sunday night’s episode of “Game of Thrones.”
A few more parting thoughts:
» The long-awaited return of HBO’s “True Detective” did not disappoint, mostly thanks to Mahershala Ali’s haunting, heartbreaking performance.
» HBO’s “The Righteous Gemstones” was outrageously over-the-top and mostly hilarious in a way that only Danny McBride, creator of “Eastbound and Down” and “Vice Principals,” can nail.
» It was probably time for another HBO series, “Ballers,” to end but boy will I miss some of those actors and characters, including John David Washington’s Ricky, Rob Corddry’s Joe and maybe even Russell Brand’s Lance.
» There is no better duo than Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman, whether they’re channeling their “Parks and Recreation” characters Leslie and Ron, or just being themselves in NBC’s charming “Making It,” which returned earlier this month for a quick run. The show, which finds artisans and crafters competing in a series of challenges for the title of Master Maker, is so much fun.
» “The Good Place” always put a smile on my face and, while I’m sad it’s ending this season, I’m so happy to have had it for this long.