On the national level, Benjamin Netanyahu’s one-man band of a government continued to erode – one repressive law at a time – the last traces of liberalism, democracy and hope in Israel. On the international stage, Donald Trump is still president of the United States; Brexit is, to use a suitably British idiom, the dog’s dinner that everyone expected it to be; and, on the personal level, health issues (mine and those of my beloved four-legged companion) have cast a long shadow over the past 12 months.
But hope springs eternal in the human (and the canine) breast. And, following Alexander Pope’s advice, I shall hope humbly for better things next year. In that spirit, here are the 12 television shows I hope will make the coming year less depressing and oppressive.
1. Game of Thrones (Season 8)
At a time when reality can be hard to stomach, who can resist some out-and-out fantasy? I’m sure I speak for millions when I say that White Walkers will make a welcome change from White Helmets and white supremacists, and that fire-breathing dragons are preferable to shit-spewing politicians. The incestuous, murderous, vile Lannisters will make a welcome change from the [insert adjectives here] Trumps and Netanyahus. At least the Lannisters are fictional.
2. True Detective (Season 3)
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Nic Pizzolatto’s “True Detective” is something of an oddity among current TV shows: Each season has a different pairing of lead actors and a plotline unrelated to previous seasons. The first season, starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson was a hit; season 2 disappointed, in part due to the casting of Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn – and despite the presence of the ever-excellent Rachel McAdams. Season 3 will star Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff but, as long as Pizzolatto remains at the helm, hopes are high for a return to form.
3. Veep (Season 7)
There seems to be a general consensus among TV critics and comics that we are in a post-satire age. That our political, spiritual and cultural leaders have become so ludicrous that they defy mockery. If the seven-episode final season of Armando Iannucci’s show is half as sharp as the previous six (“You have two settings: no decision, and bad decision. I wouldn’t let you run a bath without having the Coast Guard and the Fire Department standing by”) – we’re in for a treat.
4. Sex Education (Season 1)
Starring Gillian Anderson and Asa Butterfield, “Sex Education” is described by Netflix as a comedy-drama about a teenage virgin, his sex-therapist mom and an underground high-school sex clinic. Given that U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is not only waging a war on educating America’s youth but is actively trying to discourage victims from reporting sexual assault, this Netflix show comes at an opportune moment from more than one perspective.
5. Catastrophe (Season 4)
Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan play a couple brought together by the unintended consequences of a drunken one-night stand. Their complicated domestic relationship is fertile ground for two of the most intelligent comedians out there, and their poignant dialogue rings very true. The title of the show is taken from “Zorba the Greek” – asked whether he is married, Zorba replies: “Am I not a man? And is not a man stupid? I’m a man, so I’m married. Wife, children, house, everything. The full catastrophe”– and the entire show is infused with this kind of erudite comic writing.
6. What We Do in the Shadows (Season 1)
I’m usually suspicious of American remakes of foreign shows. I call it “The Office Principle.” But I am hugely looking forward to see what Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi – the creators and directors of the original New Zealand movie on which this FX series is based – will do when they take their hilarious vampires to New York. Expect the jokes to fly like bats out of hell in this 10-episode mockumentary.
7. Catch-22 (Season 1)
Over half a century after Joseph Heller’s book was published, “Catch-22” is getting a long-overdue television adaptation. This seminal anti-war satire has been crying out for an update and, like its eponymous cinematic antecedent, this version will feature a host of star turns, including Hugh Laurie and George Clooney (who also directed several of the episodes).
8. Fleabag (Season 2)
Phoebe Waller-Bridge created, wrote and starred in the first season of the BBC’s excellent “Fleabag,” which she adapted from a one-woman play of the same name that debuted at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2013. Funny, crude and painfully honest, “Fleabag” is one of a slew of recent shows with a female protagonist. It’s no coincidence that the stand-out female-led show of 2018 – “Killing Eve” – was also penned by Waller-Bridge.
9. Black Mirror (Season 5)
Charlie Brooker – the creator of “Black Mirror” – has already blown my mind with “Bandersnatch,” an interactive journey into madness. Even if the upcoming episodes of the show do not feature the innovative element of a choose-your-own-adventure, Brooker’s storytelling skills – and the prospect of seeing Miley Cyrus in something other than an abysmal Woody Allen show for Amazon – will ensure that “Black Mirror” is at least worth checking out.
10. The Spy (Season 1)
For many Israelis, the name Eli Cohen is more evocative of espionage than James Bond. The Egyptian-born Mossad spy, who became chief adviser to the Syrian defense minister, is the stuff of legends. Now, Israel’s most prolific and successful TV creator, Gideon Raff, is bringing Cohen’s story to Netflix – with the lead being played, appropriately, by Sacha Baron Cohen.
11. Homeland (Season 8)
If you read my review of Season 6 of “Homeland,” you’re probably wondering why its eighth and final season is on my list of most-anticipated shows. The answer lies in the question: I will be celebrating the timely passing of a show that lost its freshness and relevance many seasons ago. When Carrie Mathison is finally put out to pasture, I suspect that my relief will be shared by Claire Danes, who – judging by her performances in Season 7 – will be as happy to see the back of the bipolar CIA agent as the rest of us.
12. Sunderland Till I Die (Season 1)
I’m cheating a little with this one, as I have already seen this excellent eight-part Netflix documentary. In my defense, however, I am looking forward to re-watching it in the New Year. Why? Because it chronicles the catastrophic misadventures of the soccer team for which, as a supporter of that team’s local rival, I have harbored decades of animosity. They say there’s no pleasure sweeter than the failure of others. Not true: The sweetest pleasure is surely being able to relive – on demand – the failings of others. This Geordie thanks Netflix for the opportunity.