What a time to be alive and sat in front of a television. In 2019, the greatest writers in the business produced their finest work for the small screen. Boundaries were pushed, new forms of storytelling emerged, new ways of telling familiar stories were found.
Russell T Davies lit up our screens with Years And Years, a staggering family drama in which the thrilling verve, energy and wit of the writing and acting (Russell Tovey, Anne Reid, Ruth Madeley, T’Nia Miller, Jessica Hynes, Emma Thompson, Rory Kinnear et al take a bow) was matched by a poignant, disturbing and devastating story of an imagined future we seem to be hurtling towards with frightening abandon. As good as television has ever been. Wow. We also looked back in a new way – thanks to World On Fire by Peter Bowker, which offered a new perspective on a familiar conflict, showing people from across the world living through the Second World War with standout performances from Sean Bean and Lesley Manville.
The Big Issue has inspired the launch of 120 street papers globally, including sister titles in Australia, South Africa, Japan, Taiwan and Korea.
Ava DuVernay might be the most important screenwriter in the world at the moment – When They See Us showed the power of TV drama to shine a light of truth on injustice, while Sally Wainwright’s own, personal golden era continued with Gentleman Jack – a radical romp with Suranne Jones on top form as Anne Lister.
Shane Meadows tore our hearts out with The Virtues, a gruelling, vital drama of survival built on Stephen Graham’s stunning performance (what a year he has had, from Line of Duty to The Irishman to A Christmas Carol), his co-writer Jack Thorne somehow found time to bring his genius to the increasingly great adaptation of His Dark Materials and complete his devastating Channel 4 trilogy [after National Treasure and Kiri] with The Accident.
Chernobyl was drama at its most intense in its slow-burn depiction of the devastating tragedy and the subsequent fallout – personal, political and nuclear – of the events of April 26 1986.
Russian Doll – created by its star Natasha Lyonne alongside Amy Poehler and Lesley Headland – was a loopy, inventive, razor-sharp bleak comedy on Netflix. This Way Up showcased Aisling Bea’s writing and acting skills – the sisterly back and forth with co-star Sharon Horgan, the sensitive depiction of mental health issues, the beautifully drawn characters made this a special series (Bea also starred with Paul Rudd – twice – in Living With Yourself, Netflix’s under-sung, surprisingly dark cloning caper), while mental health and sexuality were also discussed comedically – but with similar care and compassion – in Kirstie Swain’s fine adaptation of Rose Cartwright’s book, Pure, with Charly Clive brilliantly depicting Marnie’s OCD torment and Sex Education arrived with a bang on Netflix.
All this, plus triumphant returns for Fleabag – which will now exist for all eternity as two series of telly perfection – the working class heroics of Man like Mobeen, Black Mirror and the sublime Derry Girls. What a ride…