Best & Worst of Netflix Series 2019

Netflix Original streams have lured some of the biggest Hollywood stars to the smallscreen in special event series and films with rivalling production budgets to match!  Furthermore, unlike the re-run overload over at Foxtel it builds new audiences for shows no longer on the air from other networks with glimmers of hope to pick up the story where they left off like they did with Breaking Bad’s El Camino.  Newly announced partnerships with Mattel and the return of “He-Man”, Shonda Rhimes the creator of epic series like “Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder, Private Practice” for upcoming show, Inventing Anna, Universal Pictures & Dreamworks’ new Fast & the Furious animation series, and a new Vikings spin-off in development with Michael Hirst promise another year of epic streams.

One of its main strengths this past year has also been the originals developed in localised markets like Korea, Spain, Mexico, Sweden, Poland, to name a few with their superior audio dubbing and closed caption conversions opening us to new worlds of storytelling.

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Best TV Comeback:

shutterstock_1054656341V WARS: Season 1 – For longtime fans of Damon from Vampire Diaries which went off air two years ago, Ian Sommerhalder’s return to the smallscreen was a very welcome one in a project reminiscent of his iconic and supernatural role.  Only, this time around, they’ve flipped his role where he now plays a vampire chaser or sympathiser of sorts.    His character, Luther Swann battles the politics and drama of a doctor in search of a cure to a plague that has struck the population turning them into blood thirsty beasts.   The plot seems a little far fetched and is presented intellectually playing on the emotional heartstrings of family and friendship.   There’s a sense of realism that’s brought to this which Vampire Diaries didn’t have as we watch Dr. Swann study the vampire creatures through a scientific lense.  The core focus is on the relationships with his son, wife, work colleagues and ‘brother’ are driving the story almost turning the fantasy of vampires into a scientific possibility.  Netflix did this successfully

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Worst TV Comeback:

shutterstock_1017171931DYNASTY:  Season 3 – The reboot of this show is so camp and well done that we bought into the ridiculousness of a second Crystal after the first one quit the show, we welcomed the new darker long lost brother Adam after Stephen disappeared and we accepted Nicolette Sheridan into the role of iconic role of Alexis Carrington even though it was evident after the first few episodes not to discredit the acrtresses acting chops it was a poor casting choice.  Things just got weird when the show’s frontrunner Fallon (played by Elizabeth Gillies) played both roles of mother and daughter.   In hindsight, it was unnecessary and served no purpose in propelling stories playing out on the canvas. Despite the distractions,  Seasons 1 and 2 had enough stories spinning with the rest of the cast entertaining us with the sarcasm and humour keeping us on the edge of our seats to the cliffhanger with Liam’s death and the discovery of a dead body in the lake.   Hopefully the revolving door of actors has settled now that Parent Trap alum,  Elaine Hendrix steps into the role of Alexis.

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Best Fiction/Fantasy series:

Untitled presentationTHE UMBRELLA ACADEMY: Season 1 – It’s the most searched  show on Netflix and the third most watched in 2019 having been streamed over 43 million times since it premiered in February.  It places the dynamics of a dysfunctional family against the backdrop of superhero powers.  Another example of the originals lineup standard that’s been set up with its stellar cast of Game of Thrones, X Men, Broadway expats.  There’s a lot of promise to this series running for a while as we explore the stories of the 7 siblings who have each been gifted with a power.  Season 1 was compromised of Volume 1 and 2 of the comics.  It’s a visual extravaganza depicting the dynamics of family amidst a magical world of time travel, telekenesis, psychic premonitions, robots and superhuman strength.  Underlying it all and bringing the estranged siblings back together – the passing of their father who’s affection they yearned for in childhood, a timely reunion in time to save the world from an impending apocalypse.

The comic relief from Robert Sheehan who plays Klaus Hargreaves is one of the main reasons to watch.  A second season is on the way ya’s mid to late 2020 and we’re left wondering where in time the Hargreave siblings end up and the conversation that needs to happen with apocalyspse prone Vanya.

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Best Science Fiction show:

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LOST IN SPACE: Season 2 – There is no point to compare the original series from 60 years ago to this new modernised one.  The science is different and the comedy of yesteryear would just come across cheesy today.   There’s something new every episode in Season 2 and unlike last season, they’ve clocked up some serious intergalactic miles with return trips back to the Resolute and several planets in a bid to continue their journey to Alpha Centauri.   The flashbacks are kept to a minimum this time around and the show’s writers and directors really played up the emotional scenes with some near death moments that gave us a deeper insight into the relationships between Molly and Penny, Judy and John, and the emergence of Dr. Smith’s redeeming qualities.    John Robinson played by James Bond star, Toby Stephens gets the award for best crybaby this season in the classroom flashback and  mineshaft scenes with Penny.  Robot is back and there’s something different about him which we’re still trying to figure out.  It’s surprising how many times the writers had us believe its core characters could actually be killed off this early in the series, but hit the notes every time they toyed with the idea.

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Best Moments on Television:

Best On-Screen Reunion:

riverdale-shannon-doherty-luke-perryRIVERDALE: Season 4 Episode 1 ‘Brenda & Dylan Forever’ – The untimely death of Luke Perry left a hole in the cast of Riverdale. The tribute episode attracted widespread attention not only for Riverdale fans but non-viewers who tuned in for the nice nod to Beverly Hills 90210’s Dylan McKay with Shannon Doherty guest starring in a special arc to lay the character of Riverdale’s Fred Andrews to rest.   References to his character resonate through the season.  It’s a great supporting cast line up featuring Scream’s Skeet Ulrich, Breakfast Club’s Mollyringwald, All My Children’s Molly Consuelos, Twin Peaks’ Madchen Amick, Criminal Minds, 24 & NCIS regular, Marisol Nichols to name a few.

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Most Shocking TV Moment:

WhatsApp Image 2019-12-22 at 12.41.32 PM.jpegTYRANT: Season 3 Episode 3 – Though it did premiere on Netflix in 2018, if you were late to the party like we were you’re in for a surprise getting to know characters tied to a culture and mindset that for many is still foreign to us.  Set in the backdrop of a fictious Mediterranean city, it pits the opposing beliefs and perceptions of terrorism, religion and politics of the middle East against western civilisation.   It loses it’s way slightly in Season 2, but the chilling events of this episode if you can get through it is worth the pay off.

While it’s not a Netflix Original, something has to be said about the curation of Netflix shows where they have breathed new life into shows that major networks have cancelled picking up the story where they left off like with Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’s Sword of Destiny,  Breaking Bad’s El Camino, Fuller House, She-Ra Princess of Power to name just a few.  What makes this series one to watch are the characters in it that just don’t exist prominently in mainstream television.

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Best Reality series:

THE CIRCLE:  Season 1 – Premiered 1 January 2020.  Okay so it’s not quite 2019, but we were privvy to all twelve episodes  in 2019 which is why it makes the list and it has to be one of the most inventive for the year.   If you’re getting bored with the typical reality TV formats of free-to-air, this one gets you thinking as it uncovers the psychology of who we think we are, how we post, when we filter images, what emojis to use to deliver the personna we are trying to create online.   (Click to add to your MyList)

It is a little rough around the edges but there’s a new logic this show brings as competitors are isolated from each other and can only communicate with through social media.  One by one they are kicked out of the competition by getting blocked based on popularity and their social influence.   Watching the 8 contestants play the mind games and strategise each sentence construction and word play on how they want to be perceived against their peers reactions and interpretations is interesting to watch.  “It’s a f**ked up Brady Bunch” describes contestant Karyn.    Competitors all communicate via a TV screen through direct message and group chats and can either be themselves or pretend to be someone else to gain popularity as they strive for the $100,000 prize.

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Worst Reality series:

SELLING SUNSET – Season 1: Grosse, not even worth a sentence.  Imagine a real estate agency that sells only the most luxurious multi million dollar properties in LA with a team of real estate agents with the same IQ as the entire Kardashian clan.  The trailer looked good though, I’d recommend watching that.

Best Highschool Drama:

elite-season-2-castELITE: Season 2 (Spain) – It’s basically Gossip Girl if Gossip Girl could show boobs but better!  Las Encinas, the best and most exclusive school in Spain where the elite send their children to study, is also where three working class kids have just been admitted after their academy was destroyed by an earthquake and the local council divided up the students between the different schools in the area.  The clash between those who have everything and those who have nothing to lose creates the perfect storm that ultimately ends in a murder.   It’s one of the better shows with english audio options and multi-lingual captions.

The second Season sees Polo descend into depression after killing his best friend’s sister which has caused Guzman to go on a three episode bender with some funny scenes with girlfriend Lu, trashing the maid’s daughter’s home, passing out in a bed while Ander cheats on Omar!  At Élite, friendships will be more complicated than ever, sex will be forbidden and romance will be close to impossible.

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Worst High School Drama:

BABY: Season 1 (Italy) – With a Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless being attacked by a renegade gang over at Riverdale, cutting edge narration and cinematopgraphy over at Daybreak, real teen issues of a budding psychopathic serial killer in The End of the Fu*king world and the school of magic at The Order picking up where The Originals left off and Payton about to take on Judith Light and Bette Midler in The Politician , this first kiss overplayed teen drama of a girl who wants to get a scholarship to America and run marathons pales into comparison.

Best Series Finale:

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SHADOWHUNTERS: 4 Seasons –  Of the 23 Netflix originals that were given the axe this year, the send off for these characters was nicely done, tidied up nicely into a little bow complete with superhero gay wedding, good overcoming evil, people escaping the flames of hell and a time jump giving happy endings to almost everyone.

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Worst Series Finale:

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The Santa Clarita Diet – 3 seasons
After a three year investment into the humorous relationship of husband and wife team, Joel and Sheila adjusting to the needs and yearnings of a newly turned zombie its provided alot of laughs and gory moments.   Well spent 34 minutes with a real estate agency launch party, kidnapping, murder of the bad guys and Joel’s commitment to let his wife turn him.  There really was no where left to go here and the ending came one season too late and in the grand scheme of things, it’s not one of the most memorable Netflix originals.  RIP Hammond family.

The Rain – 2 Seasons (Norway)

Simone’s motivation throughout Season 1 has been to protect and look out for younger brother Rasmus.   Trapped in a bunker with him for five years raising him in their parents abscence.   How are we expected to believe that she now wants her brother dead after her new boyfriend of five minutes is at risk?  Even when Jean turns Rasmus over to Apollon, Lea’s not having it.   But after defending himself against the people trying to kill him, she points a gun at him?  That’s rich Simone, how about that time you murdered that couple at the farmhouse?    This show really lost its way fast after the first season and now we’ll never know what happens after the irritating ending of Sarah’s virus induced awakening from the dead in the final scene.

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Best Psychological Thriller:

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WHAT / IF: 1 Season – Where did Renee Zellweger dig up this Devil Wears Prada like character from?  The screen just couldn’t get enough of Anne Montgomery whose mystery and motivation kept us guessing when it finally turned out to be the plot twist of an ancient old Greek tragedy.

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Best series based on a book:

shutterstock_28948684THE WITCHER: Season 1 – There’s a similar pieceing together of the puzzle that will be familiar to Game of Thrones fans including rare dragons, intricate battle scenes with clanging swords and CGI sorcery that will fill the void for Vikings fans when it goes off air next year.   While many compare the show to both epic series, it’s important not to, in order to enjoy the slow story telling pace and character driven plots with much of the season being dedicated to the setup of its key characters with careful timejumps and re-telling of events from different perspectives.  This show has a fan base derived a series of Polish novels written by which inspired a very popular video game that brings another segment to the audience.  It has it’s moments with some very strong characters who bring to life the world of the Northern Kingdoms who are under threat by the Nilfgaard empire.    The cliffhanger leaves even more questions then the whole series answers and has great potential now that all players are in place to get into the real meat of the story when Season 2 comes out next year.

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Best Mother in a Crime Family:

MONARCA – Season 1 (Mexico): is produced by Salma Hayek and the premise of a foreigner coming back to her home country to take the helm of the family business exploring the same culture shock we saw in Tyrant but set in the backdrop of a corrupt Mexico.

shutterstock_244165114Monarca is a high stakes, multi-generational family saga about a tequila-born Mexican business empire, and the battle that ensues when a member of the family decides to fight the dirty system her family helped create.

The Carranza family has it all – sibling rivalry, cross cultural conflicting morals, boardroom politics, broken relationships with in the group, same sex mistresses outside of the group but somehow as Andres put it “tragedy holds the family together” and when it comes to their public image, they keep all the infighting to themselves.

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It sits more on the drama and mind games unlike the action over at Animal Kingdom but it’s definitely an international original to watch. The most surprising moment in the season was when we thought we had everything figured out and everyone’s place in the family, big mama Carranza steps in to fix a problem.   Not just a token matriarch she’s here to play.

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Worst Mother in a Crime Family:

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ANIMAL KINGDOM – Season 4:  marked a new era in the family as the storytelling in two timelines sees a new story around Smurf which keeps her on the canvas if not in the form of Ellen Barkin.  She has really screwed up her kids.  In four seasons she’s offed Cath (who is now on Dynasty), son Baz, escaped prison, extorted her sons. Definitely mother of the year material – she did such a great job raising her obedient grandson he shot her brains out on the side of a road without hesitation.

One unanswered question remains –  we never got to know the real story behind Julia leaving the family despite the series of verbal sparring with Angela all season!  It really matters now, because Joshua continues to surprise us delving deeper into a dark parth we didn’t think was possible when you think back to the opening scene of Season 1 and his body count at the end of Season 4.

Toward the end of the season we were left wondering what Season 5 would look like now that Adrian was collateral damage after his mother in law ordered his execution leaving Aaron a free agent, Angela becoming first lady and Craig enters parenthood.  The closing of the season was great reassurance that they haven’t lost their edge.

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Best Comedy:

For mindless  viewing with the family or in the background while the house is rustling with visitors and chaos, have Bad Education and The Windsors in the background.   Great shows that take the piss out of high school teachers and the British monarchy.

Worst Documentary:

HAPPY JAIL – Season 1: For impressionable minds, the backdrop of this series set on a correction facility that got the attention of the world after a dance video of inmates went viral to almost 60 million viewers is a little confusing.

There’s mix messaging almost equating prison life to fame at times until you edge deeper into the 5 episode series and real issues of politics, overcrowding, poor sanitation that create the conditions for poor mental health and internal disharmony after the program is shut down.  The approach is original however falls to the typical formula of every other prison series already streaming.   It lacks the emotional connection found in Beyond Scared Straight, the plot is drawn out too long unlike Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons which wraps up your prison visit each episode and their attempts to showcase an explanation at the root of the drug problem that is a major theme doesn’t do as compelling a job as First and Last.

Worst Science Fiction series:

better-than-us-0Better than Us (Russia) explores a future where robots are integrated into human society for companionship and labour,  If I hadn’t met you (Spain) presents the idea of parallel universes and the ability to explore the choices we didn’t make and the butterfly effect those choices have on the people around us.   The plotlines in both are superb but fizzle in delivery.  Blind loyalty, artificial intelligence and machines mimmicking emotions are portrayed well in Better than us.   What’s depicted really well are the very real prejudices that emerge with a new species of machine that become the battlefront of the future that now dominate areas like immigration, race and gender politics.  What let’s this show down is the logic behind its creation – a robot essentially created as an adult sex toy turns into a serial killing predator – any number of other plots would have lifted its credibility because many of the themes it visits contextually give us a glimpse into a future that’s not so far away.  It’s still worthy of a stream, especially when lined up against If I Hadn’t Met You which fails to deliver the elements to similar stories like The Time Machine.  Though a drama, it could have used some comic relief from Ground Hogday to make it a little more watchable.

Best Monologue:

netflix-messiah-ending-explainedStaying clear of the Christ or Antichrist debate. after the strange but fascinating story being told over its ten episodes, Messiah’s dealings in riddles and pure vagueness was critical in delivering landmark moments like the immigration trial episode:

“No one decides where they were born. Our birth place was decided by fate. You were here born here.  I was born there. What divides us?  A border is an idea decided by the lucky.  Today you sit in the seat of the fortunate.  Just remember what put you there.”

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Credit:
Henry Cavill: Miro Vrlik Photography / Vanity Fair
Riverdale, Tyrant  / Netflix
The Umbrella Academy / Kathy Hutchins, Joe Seer, D Free
The Witcher / Cuban Kite
What If / Denis Makarenko
Lost in Space, Riverdale Cast / Eugene Powers
Animal Kingdom, Vikings, Shadowhunters / Kathy Hutchins
Dynasty / Jamie Lamor Thompson

Jack Whitehall / Feature Flash Photography Agency

 

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