Top 25 Programs of 2019, Part One

By Ed Martin Report Archives
Cover image for  article: Top 25 Programs of 2019, Part One

This was the year that the streaming services really began to dominate television entertainment, with a newcomer seeming to enter the fray (or announcing plans to do so) every month.  That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but there is no denying that they have collectively stolen the media spotlight, and most of them offer one or more of the best programs on television.  That’s got the hive at full buzz, but despite the fervor of the critics, broadcast and cable are still very much in the game when it comes to delivering quality television.

With so many shows now available, and new ones arriving every week, picking the top programs of any given year really is a game of personal preference, rather than a pure acknowledgement of quality.  That’s why my Top 25 Programs of 2019 list contains a few surprises, including those of omission.  My list will be presented in five consecutive columns featuring five shows each, beginning with No. 25 and building to my choice for No. 1 – the Program of the Year.  Onward.

No. 25 -- The Graham Norton Show (BBC America)

After hosting his eponymous talk show for so many years, Graham Norton is starting to evoke memories of the legendary Johnny Carson, because Norton knows how to engage his guests in sparkling conversation about a variety of topics that the audience actually enjoys listening to.  Granted, his show is telecast only once a week, and not every week of the year, and here in the States we only see edited versions of it, but here’s the deal:  Norton continues to put America’s late-night talk show hosts to shame as he makes his show funny and engaging without resorting to silly, time-sucking skits and the lavish overpraising of his guests.  They are there to talk, we are there to listen and laugh.  No wonder his show is an essential stop on most American celebrities’ global publicity tours.  Meanwhile, his American counterparts remain mired in repetitive jokes about and terrible impressions of Donald Trump.  It may not be fair to compare them to Norton, but circling back to Carson, he certainly didn’t spare Ronald Reagan and his administration when finding humor in the “politics” of the day.  But, in tandem with his writers and producers, he knew how to find balance.

No. 24 -- The Kelly Clarkson Show (syndicated)

Who doesn’t adore Kelly Clarkson?  (If the answer is “me,” dear reader, please move on.)  The love affair began with her performances (and eventual victory) during the first season of American Idol and hasn’t stopped since, continuing through a string of chart-topping hits and her current gig as a judge on NBC’s The Voice (where she lights up the screen like nobody else).  On the subject of talk shows that offer an entertaining diversion from the media’s obsession with misery (see Graham Norton above), Clarkson’s brand-new daytime talk show has from the start been a tonic for all that toxicity.  It’s not easy to launch a new daytime talk show; that’s why so many struggle and die, or divert into exploitative trash (still an amazingly popular and enduring sub-genre).  But Clarkson (like the other Kelly who effortlessly lights up daytime television, the remarkable Ms. Ripa) has defied the odds with charm, authenticity and an understanding that people turn to her to be entertained.  It didn't take her long to shape an hour of precious daytime real estate into a space all her own.

No. 23 -- A Very Brady Renovation (HGTV)

It wasn’t a long-planned celebration of the 50th anniversary of The Brady Bunch (which debuted on September 26, 1969), though it certainly felt like one.  Rather, it was the luck of timing.  The iconic North Hollywood, CA, home that had been used for establishing shots throughout the show (and many of the enduring franchise’s spin-offs, reboots, TV and theatrical movies, etc.) was put on the market, and after Lance Bass famously took an interest in buying it, some very smart people at HGTV stepped up, purchased the place and began an incredibly ambitious undertaking, renovating the inside to match the rooms that had previously existed only on studio sets.  The network brought together several stars from its burgeoning stable of home-renovation shows and the actors who played the six Brady kids to execute the project, all while honoring fan expectations and respecting the real-life neighborhood.  The result was an irresistible, nostalgic treat that made Boomers and Gen Xers feel young again.  (On a personal note; for me, a private visit to the finished home was one of the highlights of this or any other year.  I felt very much like Dr. Manhattan in HBO’s Watchmen, existing simultaneously in the past and the present.)

No. 22 -- The Country Music Association Awards (ABC)

Television is loaded with award shows, but from the CMTs to the ACMs to the CMAs, those celebrating country music always turn out to be the most entertaining, and in recent years the CMAs have risen right to the top.  Co-hosts Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley deserve much of the credit, but this year Paisley was absent, and the show did something that made it even better (sorry, Brad), teaming Underwood with two remarkable women, Reba McEntire (who stopped the show with a performance of Bobbie Gentry’s “Fancy”) and Dolly Parton (who can stop any show simply by stepping on stage).  The three-way chemistry was instant, enduring and extraordinary.  This trio set the stage for one of the most entertaining shows of the year, which showcased and honored the formidable female artists of country music past and present throughout.  The ensemble and solo performances by so many amazing women made for a great show.  Male performers (especially Blake Shelton and Keith Urban) had a few choice moments, too.

No. 21 -- What We Do in the Shadows (FX)

TV adaptations of feature films (mainstream and cult) rarely work, but this atmospheric follow-up to the 2014 mockumentary of the same name was a profound exception.  This FX gem follows the lives of three traditional blood-sucking vampires, the “familiar” (or human servant) who serves one of them and an “energy vampire” who sucks the life out of people in an entirely different way – all sharing a house on Staten Island, New York.  I think stars Kayvan Novak (as Nandor the Relentless, self-proclaimed leader of this group), Matt Berry (as Laszlo), Natasia Demetriou (as Laszlo’s bride, Nadja), Harvey Guillen (as Guillermo, Nandor’s long-suffering "familiar" who longs to be a vampire) and Mark Proksch (as Colin, the terminally boring "energy vampire") must have had more fun shooting this show than any other cast currently working in television.  The jokes and sight gags came fast and furious all season long, peppered by guest appearances by many familiar faces.  Jake McDorman (as a reincarnated lover from Nadja’s past) and Vanessa Bayer (as a female "energy vampire" who mixed it up with Colin) really stood out in this one-of-a-kind crowd.

Next up:  Programs 20-16

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