I feel like I complained a lot about TV this year but despite some disappointments and hurt, it was probably overall one of my most enjoyable in quite a while. Whether it was because I was better at stopping shows that ceased to make me happy or because I discovered so many great new things, I can look back at this year and find so much to appreciate. Once again, half hour shows are where it’s at right now for creative and unique storytelling whether its in the format of the show or the types of stories being told. As evidenced by this list, it was a terrific year for female creators telling very specific stories and doing so incredibly well and a terrific year for compassionate storytelling. It wasn’t always nice and happy but so much came from a place of love and care for its characters and their world and that’s what I want most.
1. Fleabag Season one of this show is good and creative and rightfully brought attention to Phoebe Waller-Bridge for what she created. Season two is extraordinary. It is emotionally resonant, creatively efficient storytelling and it deserves every one of the accolades it’s received. It’s simultaneously soothing and unsettling, which makes perfect sense for a show that is about connection. It’s a season of healing and acceptance, particularly self-acceptance, and the fucking terrifying nature of vulnerability and letting yourself be seen. It’s raw and visceral but not in a way that screams at you. It’s a seductive whisper instead of a roar. It asks you to open your heart and experience the exhilaration of falling in love with someone who is everything you need but that you ultimately can’t have. It’s not anger that ends the season and it’s not even really heartbreak, although that is a component, it’s learning to be present and to sit with your emotions instead of shoving them aside. There’s not a quippy joke meant to deflect and for the first time, Fleabag is going somewhere we can’t follow. She’s ready to be alone now, knowing that she is capable of connection and that she can love and survive even after the loss of that love because she’ll carry it with her. She doesn’t need to run from her own mind and pain to keep going. It’s powerful and deeply affecting in a way that is really only possible when something is as well-constructed as this season was. Everything about it is thoughtfully chosen and led to a whole that was somehow even stronger than the sum of its parts.
2. Good Omens This show came at precisely the right time. After a spring season of television that was once again rough on my emotions in an unplesant way (seriously shows, stop doing this), Good Omens came along with a terrific adaptation of a book I already loved, with a terrific cast, a ship to fall head over heels for, and a celebration of humanity and our ability to choose a path other than the one seemingly laid out for us. The love Neil Gaiman put into this show to make it something his best friend and co-author Terry Pratchett would have been proud of is evident in every choice and especially in interviews. The humanism that is a hallmark of Pratchett’s work is all over the show. It sees who we are, for better or worse, and says that we can choose better. The Them standing up for the world they want to be grow up in against the Four Horsemen and Adam telling Satan that he’s not his real dad despite that being his whole purpose of creation are a demonstration that we don’t have to accept what we’re told is the way things should work. We can rebuild something of our own, something that makes space for all the things we’re told are impossible. We can make a world where an angel and a demon can dine at the Ritz because the side they’ve chosen is the one they can be on together, where a witch burns the prophecies that are her legacy in order to discover a life where she makes her own choices. It is a show full of hope and love that I will cherish forever.
3. One Day At A Time Look, this show has been at or near the top of my lists for the past two years and this year is not going to be an exception. I love this family, the ethos behind the show, and the cast and writers too much for it not to appear. It continues to be smart and full of laughter and warmth and love in its third season as we see Schneider relapse, Penelope become a Nurse Practitioner, Elena and Syd becoming more serious, and Alex trying drugs and promptly getting grounded. It handled things like street harassment, addiction, mental health, and sex with it’s typical consideration and compassion for these characters and lets them have their own perspectives and challenges. They feel like real people that you might know and want to spend time around and you can’t help but love them and root for their successes. It’s not easy to make characters that feel so well-formed and each choice they make feel like it comes from who they are and not whatever topic they want to address, plot point they need to squeeze in, or punchline they need to hit but they have consistently done a terrific job from both a writing and acting perspective. This show is incredibly special to me and PopTV swooping in and saving it was a highlight of my year.
4. Vida This is a show with a vision and a fierce pride and joy in the communities it represents. It also has a deep compassion for who these characters are and what they have been through. As a result, it feels unlike everything else on television right now. Everyone is allowed to be full of contradictions, no one can easily be defined as good or bad. It allows space for complicated issues and is content to sit with the lack of easy answers. Above all, it’s a show about family and learning how to connect and come together after time and distance apart. Emma and Lyn’s relationship with each other and their complicated memories of their mother and her legacy are the backbone of the show. The grace it gives them to navigate that space even when its ugly and come to terms with the loss of a woman who raised them and influenced the person they became, for better or worse, while recognizing that they didn’t truly know her is extraordinary. I can’t speak to the specific ways it portrays Latinx and specifically Mexican culture but every choice they make feels like it’s one made from love and care. It doesn’t feel made to explain things to others, I know I only pick up about 75% of what’s being said when the characters are speaking Spanish, and it’s stronger for it. I love everything Tanya Saracho has created in this show and cannot wait for whatever s3 brings. As long as it maintain its compassion, and I have no reason to believe it won’t, I’m in until the end.