This year, Fleabag, Game of Thrones and Catas­tro­phe all came to an end, which some­how brought us all to­gether

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - TELEVISION 2019 - PETER CRAW­LEY

Acou­ple of months ago, I found my­self in a packed cin­ema to see a live theatre per­for­mance of one of the best shows on television. That came with the tick­lish feel­ing that all media had fallen into a caul­dron, but also the grat­i­fy­ing sen­sa­tion that, even in this age of dis­trac­tion, there was at least one show that could hold ev­ery­one’s at­ten­tion.

This was Fleabag, the con­spir­a­to­ri­ally in­ti­mate, stun­ningly funny solo per­for­mance that launched Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s stage ca­reer in 2013. Her char­ac­ter brought a new charge of sex­ual frank­ness and tor­tured re­spon­si­bil­ity to television in 2016, cat­a­pult­ing Waller-Bridge into a new TV and film ca­reer. And, in 2019, she chose to end it with that rarest of things: a sur­pris­ing evo­lu­tion of the show’s con­cept and the per­fect ex­pres­sion of her great idea.

Do­ing a vic­tory lap of West End and Broad­way stages, Waller-Bridge hardly needed any more ac­co­lades (a brace of

Em­mys, a $20 mil­lion a year deal –that’s ¤18 mil­lion – with Ama­zon, and Andrew Scott’s per­for­mance putting “hot pri­est” into the lex­i­con will prob­a­bly suf­fice). But from its bloody-nosed bust-ups to its im­mensely thought­ful kiss-off, the show was a phenomenon you some­how still took per­son­ally.

Maybe you could say the same about Game of Thrones, which ended its decade-long stran­gle­hold on the planet’s imag­i­na­tion with what I am obliged to call a di­vi­sive fi­nal se­ries.

The di­vide, as I un­der­stand it, was be­tween those who were rea­son­ably sat­is­fied that a show in­volv­ing dragons and zom­bies, with par­tic­u­lar fond­ness for lengthy de­tours into tor­ture, incest and rape, could reach a con­clu­sion at all, and those bit­terly un­happy that such an en­ter­tain­ment ul­ti­mately amounted to noth­ing much at all.

It took a hard heart, though, to see the two mil­lion sig­na­to­ries of an on­line campaign to re­make the fi­nal se­ries “with com­pe­tent writ­ers” and not laugh. Still, how many swords and sor­cery shows have mat­tered so much to so many? A fu­ture filled with Game of Thrones spin offs, once as­sured, now looks un­steady. For now, at least, our watch has ended.

It was a year full of good­byes. Farewell Sharon Hor­gan and Rob De­laney’s ex­cel­lent Catas­tro­phe, a comedy that brought its two frac­tiously sup­port­ive char­ac­ters to the brink of disas­ter, again and again, and fi­nally left them hap­pily and lit­er­ally out of their depth, two ac­ci­dents wait­ing to hap­pen.

So long, Le­gion, the most con­sid­ered and spec­tac­u­lar show based on a comic book to ever es­cape the flavour­less Marvel fac­tory.

Get thee gone, The Af­fair and Poldark, the for­mer of which lost its lus­tre with the de­par­ture of Ruth Wil­son a se­ries ago, and lurched on re­gard­less, the lat­ter of which felt as though its star, Ai­dan Turner, was try­ing to shed its constraint­s like a booster rocket on his way to higher or­bits. And hold on a minute, The Deuce, David Si­mon and Ge­orge Pela­conos’s lov­ingly scuzzy de­pic­tion of New York’s porn in­dus­try in the 1970s. For some rea­son Sky At­lantic still hasn’t broad­cast your third and fi­nal sea­son.

Maybe they’re just wait­ing for a gap in the traffic. With so much must-see TV con­tent fill­ing ter­res­trial sta­tions and chok­ing the stream­ing media pipe­lines, (wel­come to a crowded party, Ap­ple +; Dis­ney + won’t make it un­til next year) even es­sen­tial view­ing quickly be­came pretty dis­cre­tionary. BBC’s wicked black comedy Guilt, its dizzy­ingly stylish Ja­panese-Bri­tish crime drama Giri/Haji, and Chan­nel 4’s grip­ping Chimerica were three of my favourite shows that I never got to fin­ish watch­ing. Mean­while, far lesser shows like Ricky Ger­vais’s asi­nine, self-re­gard­ing comedy Af­ter Life, or the now wrung-dry good spirit of The Good Place (both on Net­flix) were as com­pelling as car crashes. It’s mes­meris­ing to see how bad some­thing can get.

Fears and fan­tasies

Teenagers will know the feel­ing. This year they got to see them­selves de­picted in such sen­sa­tion­al­ist, hy­per-stylish melo­dra­mas as Eu­pho­ria; such pa­per-thin, stag­ger­ingly pop­u­lar ad­ven­tures as The Umbrella Academy; and such smart, spooky zeit­geist dra­mas as The So­ci­ety – all of which seemed to pan­der to the fears and fan­tasies of grown-ups.

In comedy, the sec­ond se­ries of Lisa McGee’s Derry Girls seemed more gener

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