Which moments did you love?
Which moments did you love?
Image: NBC, HBO, Disney, CBS, Cartoon Network, The CW
Year In ReviewYear In ReviewWe look back at the best, worst, and most significant moments of the year, and look forward to next year.

We may have already celebrated our favorite shows of the year, but that doesn’t mean we’re done looking back on 2019's TV. In a year packed with an extraordinary amount of TV, there were moments that had us broken-hearted, laughing our heads off, or pumping our fists and cheering—and there were moments that had us doing those for less joyful reasons. Here are some our faves...and not-so-faves.

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As an early heads up, this list contains spoilers for the following shows: The Good Place, Watchmen, The Mandalorian, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, Archer 1999, Star Trek: Discovery, Steven Universe, and Game of Thrones.

Illustration for article titled io9s 14 Best (and 5 Worst) Television Moments of 2019
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Best

Chidi and Eleanor’s goodbye, The Good Place

It’s the “will they or won’t they” romance of a lifetime—really, hundreds of lifetimes. The third season of The Good Place had Eleanor and Chidi finally professing their love for each other, but it didn’t take long for the painful reality of the afterlife to throw a forking wrench into their happy ending. In the season finale, Eleanor and Chidi realize their experiment to demonstrate that humanity can improve requires Chidi to have his memories erased, meaning he won’t remember anything about her. Before they say goodbye, Michael gives them a final gift: A movie showing their multiple lives together. Every fight, every joke, every endearing moment. The two of them watch their own story play out, right before Chidi’s part comes to an end...at least temporarily.

Vampire cameos, What We Do in the Shadows

The What We Do in the Shadows series, an absolutely delightful TV adaptation of the 2014 vampire mockumentary, had already won us on its own merits long before its seventh episode, “The Trial.” But we’d be lying if we said we weren’t secretly hoping the whole time that co-creators Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, whose names were frequently in the credits for writing and/or directing episodes, would revive their movie characters on the small screen...which they did, while roping in several other big names, for “The Trial.” The end result has to be one of the most hilarious guest star round-ups of all time, created through a magical alchemy of editing, green screen, and in-jokes galore.

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After the show’s main trio is blamed for the (accidental!) demise of a high-ranking bloodsucker, they’re called before the Vampiric Council to be judged not just by the three main WWDITS movie characters (played by Clement, Waititi, and Jonathan Brugh), but also Tilda Swinton, Evan Rachel Wood, Paul Reubens, Danny Trejo, and Wesley Snipes, all playing themselves—specifically, the versions of themselves that played vampires—with dialogue that name-checks other notable performers (“Rob,” “Kiefer,” “Tom,” and “Brad”) who really should’ve taken the time to join in the full-fanged fun. There’s always next season!

The bathroom scene, Stranger Things

There were a lot of things to love about Stranger Things’ third season, but one of the show’s most pleasant surprises came wrapped up in new character Robin (Maya Hawke). She’s introduced as a Scoops Ahoy co-worker of Steve’s (Joe Keery)—serving ice cream and snarking on the former high school stud’s inability to charm any pretty customers—but soon becomes drawn into the latest supernatural doomsday crisis to disrupt life in Hawkins, Indiana.

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After a wacky (and actually pretty damn dangerous!) adventure involving a secret subterranean lair filled with gun-toting Russians, one of whom zaps both kids with truth serum, Robin and Steve segue from being totally stoned into having a heart-to-heart in the mall bathroom. It’s here that you expect the pair to declare their romantic feelings for each other, and Steve actually starts that conversation—until Robin reveals that she’s gay, in a wistful confession that feels both totally earned (rather than a shoehorned-in moment allowing Stranger Things to add a token queer character to its cast) and completely honest. Steve’s reaction, where he takes it all in and realizes he’s 100 percent stoked to hang out with Robin no matter what, lasts just a beat, and their genuine friendship only grows from there. What makes this moment even more special is that it was actually developed with input from the actors, whose insight into their characters helped push the story in a refreshingly unexpected direction.

Puppet show backstory, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance

Exposition is not an easy thing. Sometimes movies and shows have to explain things some members of the audience already know. In the case of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, it was re-telling the origin story of the Skeksis and Mystics (or urRu), something that was already told in great detail in the original film and expanded lore.

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Instead of just sitting our heroes around a fire and retelling old information, Age of Resistance took the origin story and did something amazing with it. A Skeksis and a Mystic—formed from the same UrSkek—worked together to retell the story of their separation using the world’s greatest art form: the puppet show. That means it was a puppet show within a puppet show, created with the help of hand puppeteer Barnaby Dixon. It was a beautiful piece of art that said everything that needed to be said in an imaginative and thoughtful way—one that not only served the story and characters but paid tribute to Jim Henson and his masterful creation.

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Angela finds out what really happened to Judd, Watchmen

As you might have guessed from HBO’s Watchmen showing up on several of our year in review lists already, we loved this damn show. It was actually pretty difficult for us to narrow this down considering it was nine-episodes filled with outstanding moments; the dildo reveal, Ozymandias getting smashed in the face with tomatoes, Lube Man, basically any time Laurie Blake opened her mouth. So instead we chose an outstanding moment from an outstanding episode—“This Extraordinary Being.”

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Angela was devastated over the death of her friend and boss, Judd Crawford, but that didn’t mean she forgot how to think. Knowing he had to be hiding something in his closet she...literally found something hiding in his closet, a KKK costume. While many viewers wanted to hold out hope there was more to the story, those of us who live in the real world know some cops are just racists. So when Angela took that very unhealthy dose of her grandfather Will’s Nostalgia, she (along with us) got to see how far down the rabbit hole it all went. The moment that stood out in the episode the most, however, was seeing Will using the racists’ mesmerism machine in the present to order Judd to hang himself. It was a big reveal to be sure, but it was Regina King’s phenomenal performance that made it truly stand out. The psychological weight she was already carrying was compounded a hundredfold and you could feel every single emotion pouring out of her at once.

Concept art by Christian Alzmann.
Concept art by Christian Alzmann.
Image: Christian Alzmann (Disney)
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The great Mandalorian rescue, The Mandalorian

As we publish this, there are still a few episodes of The Mandalorian left, so another moment might overtake this one eventually. For now though, six episodes into an eight-episode season, the moment of the season was the rescue in chapter three, “The Sin.” Mando is pinned down and trying to escape capture while basically every bounty hunter on the planet is trying to kill him. Then, out of nowhere, the other Mandalorians arrive—his only allies come out of hiding to save the day.

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On the surface, it’s a rousing action set piece, in which a bunch of armored badasses fly around a city and shoot stuff. But it goes beyond that. By helping Mando, the other Mandalorians are revealing themselves, which they didn’t want to do and now will have to find a new home as a result. Plus, the entire scene is predicated on the fact that Mando is putting his life on the line to save Baby Yoda. If he just let the baby be, none of this would’ve happened. So the scene is a triple threat. It’s exciting and fun, sad, but also heroic. There’s also a Mandalorian with a big-ass Gatling gun. This is the way.

Aziraphale and Crowley’s backstory, Good Omens

The apocalypse is only half the story in Good Omens. The other is about the relationship between Aziraphale and Crowley, an angel and a demon. In episode three, “Hard Times,” the first half of the episode (before the title sequence even arrives) is dedicated to exploring Aziraphale and Crowley’s shared history through the millennia, starting with the Garden of Eden all the way through present day. We see this angel and demon develop a bond that’s stronger than friendship and deeper than love, as Crowley repeatedly saves Aziraphale’s life and Aziraphale helps Crowley avoid getting into trouble. Not only did it help us understand their connection, but it also let Michael Sheen and David Tennant shine in these pitch-perfect roles (and wear amazing costumes and so-so wigs). It’s no wonder the fanart community has latched onto these divine partners.

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Archer finally wakes up, Archer

It’s almost tough to remember when Archer was just a show about secret agents obsessed with double entendres and obscure references. For the past three seasons, the FXX animated series has transpired within the confines of a comatose Sterling Archer’s mind, sending the characters to 1940s Los Angeles, the 1930s South Pacific, and finally, retro-future outer space in this summer’s Archer: 1999.

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The season finale of what was once assumed to be Archer’s final season, at least until its renewal was announced at San Diego Comic-Con, finally did the thing: Archer’s awake! At least, we assume as much; he returned (after a musical montage spotlighting his character from over the years) to what appears to be the real world, with his mother Malory on hand in the hospital to welcome him back with surprising tenderness (and a stiff drink). Malory’s reluctance to update Archer—and by extension, the audience—on what’s transpired during his prolonged slumber leaves the possibilities for season 11 wide open, but given the wild detour the show’s been on, maybe a return to the familiar wouldn’t be so bad?

Michael and Spock.
Michael and Spock.
Photo: CBS
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Spock and Michael finally make amends, Star Trek: Discovery 

It took Discovery’s second season a frustratingly long time to get to uniting Michael Burnham and her adoptive brother Spock, and when it did, their relationship was far from warm. Torn apart by sibling strife and Michael driving Spock away from her as a child, fans who had expected to get right down to business with a Trek icon found themselves dealing with the duo sniping at each other instead.

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But not only did Discovery make that anger and strife feel earned (grounded in fantastic performances from Sonequa Martin-Green and Ethan Peck), watching Michael and Spock feel each other out, trade barbs, and ultimately find a path to repairing their relationship–something that didn’t happen immediately for the sake of the wider plot, but crucially took time—over the back half of the season became the most compelling relationship on the series. In an episode that otherwise had to deal with a clunky reveal of the identity behind the season’s other big arc, the Red Angel, the moment Spock and Michael realize they have a shared trauma to find common ground on was a highlight that saved the season from making a rare misstep.

Flash Gordon fun, The Flash

The Flash is not really a show that takes itself seriously. One week Barry Allen is running a hole through time and space, the next he’s punching a super-smart psychic gorilla in the face. It revels in having absolutely no restraint when it comes to the sheer dumb joy of its source material. Which is why it is wild that the show showed so much restraint in spending five seasons not soundtracking a set piece to Queen’s glorious theme for Flash Gordon. And why, now that it’s finally done it, it was so goddamn satisfying.

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After battling a metahuman uncontrollably opening portals all over Central City, Barry finds himself having to race into one of them to save the mind of the wayward meta and stop the city from being sucked in. Cisco, realizing that this is the perfect scenario to deploy it, cues up Queen on the STAR Labs sound system, and blasts it at max. It’s so silly. It’s so fun. And it was well worth the very long wait.

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The kiss, Doom Patrol

When a gargantuan homicidal rat and an equally gigantic evil cockroach come within inches of destroying the world, there aren’t exactly very many ways to raise the stakes any higher that don’t involve some sort of impossibly large exterminator descending from the heavens to get rid of the pests. But where there’s a will, there’s a way, and in the case of Doom Patrol, said way involved the rat and roach in question suddenly deciding to set their differences aside and get down with each other in the biblical sense, which is even more nauseating than anything you’re imagining unless you’re imagining saliva-coated mandibles caressing at a rodent’s huge tongue.

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Krypto being a good boy, Titans

Titans had yet another depressingly weak season, but one of the series’ few shining bright spots this go around focused on Conner, the Superboy, and Krypto, the Super Dog getting some hands-on experience with the wider world that they’d previously never had a chance to explore. Though the boys were delighted by San Francisco, it wasn’t long before they ended up being tracked down by Cadmus and while Titans has always had an affinity for brutal fight scenes, the series took something of a different turn in its depiction of Krypto taking down a bunch of hired mercenaries. Sure, he still wrecked the hell out of them all, but he was an extremely good boy while doing it, which is to say that he caught a missile in mid-air with his teeth and flung it right back in a way that’d make any dog lover proud. More of this, Titans. More of this.

The Crystal Gems fuse Obsidian in Steven Universe

So much went on in “Change Your Mind”—the first of what feels like about five Steven Universe finales that happened this year—that picking a single moment to highlight feels like a disservice to the show. But for all the emotional climaxes and touching character moments, there was something simple and oh so satisfying about seeing the Crystal Gems, after being cut off from each other for a bit, all be in a place where they could come together and form the ultimate fusion from a position of strength and confidence in their selves.

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And really, as cool as Obsidian was—that giant fire sword! The fact it’s the fusion their Temple home’s massive statue was based on!—it’s that which makes the moment it appears such a great one. Obsidian’s power makes it a challenging fusion to pull together for any period of time, the utmost concentration and assurance required of its component gems. Not only is it cool to see, it is the ultimate embodiment of how far every member of the Crystal Gems has come over the course of the show’s run.

Oh right, our industry sucks, BoJack Horseman

Jeremiah Whitewhale’s company, Whitewhale Consolidated Interests, is the kind of company that would mindlessly gobble up a media organization before viciously gutting it under the auspicious of trying to pivot into the whatever’s coming next for the industry. Like all companies of this sort, Whitewhale’s evil lies in its willingness to actively harm hardworking employees working for its newly purchased assets like Philip-Morris-Disney-Fox-AT&T-AOL-Time-Warner-PepsiCo-Haliburton-Skynet-Toyota-Trader-Joe’s and BoJack Horseman were a lovely reminder how great it is to live in a world where these kinds of companies don’t exist. But in season six’s “Feel-Good Story,” it was...interesting to see Diane working on a very important news story about conglomerates only to be thwarted by her media company being purchased by Whitewhale, who then killed her story...much like the fact that Jeremiah Whitewhale literally killed at least one of his employees. Diane’s boss Stefani put it simply for her: “Spronk acquired Univision, which will incorporate Girl Croosh into the Gizmodo-branded mist of advertorial.” It’s nice to be noticed, even if the show was a little behind the times.

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Worst

A clumsy timeline retcon, Star Trek: Discovery 

Discovery’s explosive second season finale delivered one of the most audacious endings the show could possibly do, flinging the titular ship and its crew far into the future, further than any Star Trek show has gone before. It is a moment burdened with a grand promise, and while we can’t wait to see what comes of the show letting go of its nostalgic position in a pre-original-series timeline, one thing that didn’t quite work was how that past timeline resolved the issue that no one on Trek has ever mentioned what happened to the Discovery, that spore technology, or her heroic crew...

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...because the show basically makes it a crime to mention Michael, Saru, Tilly, Stamets, the rest of the crew, and the ship itself. Being interrogated by Federation officials in the wake of Discovery’s timey-wimey sacrifice and the aftermath of the Enterprise’s battle with the sinister Control, Spock suggests that Starfleet simply strike the ship and its crew from records, and make mentioning that they not only survived but fled into the far future, an official crime of treason. And they just say yes? In a finale that otherwise did so much to extricate Discovery from the clutches of nostalgic callbacks, this squaring-the-circle kind of “retcon” just felt clumsily handled.

Edgar Evernever’s ridiculous rocket, Riverdale

Riverdale has made some ridiculous choices over the years, but somehow they all pale in comparison to seeing a formerly threatening cult leader decked out in a leather jumpsuit getting ready to board his homemade rocket. In the season four episode “Dog Day Afternoon,” Betty and her mom managed to thwart Edgar Evernever’s plans to kill the Farm’s cult members and...escape on his rocket. The episode seemed like it was trying to pay tribute to the 1970s, both in its design and Edgar’s Evel Knievel-style jumpsuit, but it just came across as another level of stupid. Even for Riverdale.

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Battle of the black screen, Game of Thrones

From the very first episode of Game of Thrones, all the way back in 2011, fans had been eagerly waiting to see a massive battle between the gruesome army of White Walkers and, well, anyone with a pulse who gave two shits about preventing Westeros from turning into a frozen zombie wonderland. And “The Long Night” did contain a few moments of magnificence; that airborne dragon battle was definitely cool, and Arya’s bold slaying of the Night King was a high point of the entire series.

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But taken as a whole, “The Long Night”—which ran 82 minutes and filled the entire third episode of the six-episode final season, and still felt like it was cramming too much into one segment—was ultimately a huge letdown. That was mostly because the stubbornly murky lighting (which wasn’t totally uncalled-for; it was night, it was snowing, there was smoke, etc.) meant that it was difficult, if not impossible, to actually see what the hell was going on. Fans could not have been more bummed, until the uneven finale made many loyal viewers long for the days when crappy visibility was Game of Thrones’ biggest problem.

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The death of Daenerys Targaryen, Game of Thrones

That Daenerys fell just as she got everything she thought she’d wanted in her quest to reclaim the Iron Throne for House Targaryen is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s tragic, yes, but that’s Game of Thrones—people rarely get what they want without paying a price, one often paid in blood, and even then, they rarely get it for long. Many fans expected Daenerys to either fail in her bid to rule Westeros before she ever laid foot in (or perhaps more accurately, soared over) King’s Landing, or for her rule to be a short tenure. Even the manner of her death—cut down by someone who loved her, out of a fear that her grandfather’s madness had re-awakened in her—is an idea that, on paper, was seen as an incredibly potential outcome for her journey, if not outright inevitable.

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But that’s the thing with Game of Thrones’ finale. So many ideas that sounded good on paper turned out to be bafflingly poorly presented decisions in a rushed and truncated final season. Daenerys’ descent to madness above King’s Landing—where, seemingly out of nowhere, a woman who had attempted to be a leader for every person under her protection, regardless of status or creed, decides to burn her way through the city’s citizens with reckless abandon—had already stoked flames of anger in fans the weeks prior. But that it would serve as the catalyst for Jon Snow to ultimately decide to end his lover’s life in the final episode of the show in a scene that is both staggeringly brief and perplexingly framed—so that Daenerys’ actual tragic death lands more like a wet fart instead of an actual tragedy—just made the rush to closing off such a major arc all the more infuriating.

We spent more time talking about the seemingly equally perplexing decision for Drogon to burn the Iron Throne to molten scrap (he was apparently aiming for a wall, if the script’s to be believed) than we did contemplating the execution of the death one of Game of Thrones’ most crucial characters. That’s how badly it was whiffed. If only there had been more time.

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Bran Stark is named King of Westeros, Game of Thrones

Do you know what’s a brilliant idea? Have the guy you’ve taken prisoner choose the next ruler of the entire kingdom. That was about all the explanation we got for why Tyrion Lannister ended up nominating the Three-Eyed Raven to be the King of Westeros...and everyone else agreeing to it. This series-ending surprise was widely panned by Game of Thrones fans and for good reason. No one, not even Tyrion, ever made a good argument for why an omnipotent godlike man with no emotional connection to the people around him should rule a kingdom. Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss say they were trying to honor the original ending that George R.R. Martin had envisioned. Unfortunately, they did a shitty job building up to it because no one thought King Bran was a good idea.

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