Television's highs and lows of 2019, from Baby Yoda to that 'Game of Thrones' finale

The Mandalorian, Euphoria, Game of Thrones and The Big Bang Theory (Photo: Everett Collection, HBO, Warner Bros. Television)

Between Avengers: Endgame and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, it was a year of grand finales at the multiplex. But the television world saw some blockbuster goodbyes as well: In May, CBS's The Big Bang Theory and HBO's Game of Thrones signed off from the airwaves within days of each other. (Although they'll both live on in spinoff prequel form thanks to the currently airing Young Sheldon, and the soon-to-air House of the Dragon.) Jane the VirginCrazy Ex-GirlfriendOrange Is the New Black and Fleabag were some of the other buzzy shows that came to a conclusion, even as new favorites like WatchmenPen15 and Batwoman took their place. Yahoo Entertainment looked back on the year in television and found the following highlights... and lowlights. — Ethan Alter, Nick Paschal, Erin Donnelly, Raechal Shewfelt and Taryn Ryder

HIGH: The Big Bang Theory series finale (CBS)

It's not easy to bring a beloved television series to an end — just ask Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (more on that later) — but The Big Bang Theory was able to end it's 12-season run with, well... a big bang. Fans loved the finale, which tugged at everyone's heartstrings as the usually robotic Sheldon (Jim Parsons) delivered an emotional speech while accepting his and Amy's (Mayim Bialik) Nobel Peace Prize. The heartfelt speech thanking the "greatest group of friends anyone ever had" had fans in tears. Those tears briefly turned into tears of laughter when Sheldon interrupted his own speech and asked, "Is that Buffy the Vampire Slayer?" as Sarah Michelle Gellar waved back from her seat in the audience next to Raj. While Sheldon's speech will always have a special place in people's hearts, we can't forget the fact that after 12 years, the elevator was finally fixed! — N.P.

LOW: Sean Spicer on Dancing With the Stars (ABC)

From the moment it was announced, everyone knew that Sean Spicer's time on the dance floor would be controversial. Whether you love him or hate him, it was impossible not to watch as President Trump's former Press Secretary salsaed and Foxtrotted his way into America's living rooms. To be clear, our problem wasn't that he was on the show, it was how long he lasted in the competition. Spicer is not good at dancing, and the former White House Communications Director had some of the lowest scores of the season, but that didn't matter to his fans. Despite those low scores, Spicer outlasted six other contestants, many of whom regularly received higher marks from the judges. DWTS is two things: a talent show and a popularity contest. Ideally, the talent should be the most important of those two, but that was not the case for Spicer. — N.P.

HIGH: The Game of Thrones eighth and final season premiere (HBO)

Before the murky “Long Night,” Daenerys’s rushed transformation into the Mad Queen and a king that no one in the audience would have voted for, the final season of Game of Thrones began like the show we had followed passionately for seven seasons. The Season 8 premiere, “Winterfell,” was filled with truth bombs, emotional reunions and a sight we never thought we’d see: allies/relatives Daeneys and Jon Snow soaring through the skies on dragonback. The hour-long episode brought down the house at the New York City premiere, and left us primed for five more episodes of greatness. Little did we know it would be the beginning of the end… of our enjoyment. — E.A.

LOW: The Game of Thrones series finale (HBO)

Some series finales stick the landing, while others crash and burn. The super-sized Game of Thrones send-off decidedly fell into the latter camp. While a few winners emerged from the last episode — we pledge eternal allegiance to Sansa, Arya and Drogon, in particular — we were mainly left with a profound sense of loss for the show that previously made (almost) all the right choices. Greeted with instant derision by the internet, the David Benioff and D.B. Weiss-crafted farewell has since become a case study for what you don’t do in a series finale. As in, don’t kill one of your best villains by dropping a ceiling on herdon’t let a Queenslayer literally get away with murder; and whatever you do, don’t make Bran king. — E.A.

HIGH: Baby Yoda (Disney+)

Baby Yoda in The Mandalorian. (Photo: Disney+)

The show may be called The Mandalorian, but make no mistake: Baby Yoda is the far, far away galaxy’s brightest star. Since Disney+’s flagship series premiered on Nov. 12, the 50-year-old infant — whose actual name is The Child — has birthed a million online memes, endless amounts of fan art and a tidal wave of merchandise, ranging from Funko Pops to Hasbro figures. In his short time in Star Wars canon, the tiny green Force-sensitive creature has proven more popular than any of the characters in The Mandalorian’s big screen counterpart, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. During the press tour for the saga-capping blockbuster, director J.J. Abrams had to break the bad news that he’d made a Baby Yoda-free movie. Hmmm... maybe that’s why the film fell short of its predecessors at the box office— E.A.

LOW: The rough launch of Apple TV+ 

Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston in The Morning Show. (Photo: Apple TV+)

While Baby Yoda — and an unparalleled back catalogue — powered Disney+ to 10 million subscribers on launch day, Apple TV+ had a less-than-stellar debut. Despite the combined star power of Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon, the streaming service’s marquee attraction, The Morning Show, received mostly mixed reviews. (Although those viewers who have kept up with the show insist that the second half of the season is a dramatic improvement.) And while critics were kinder to shows like For All MankindDickinson and M. Night Shyamalan’s Servant, none of of those titles have become Tweet-worthy television in the way The Mandalorian has. At the same time, success in the streaming war-era is a marathon, not a sprint, and all it takes is one breakout hit for Apple TV+ to have another bite at the... um, apple of success. — E.A.

HIGH: Alex Trebek tears up over Jeopardy! contestant’s tribute (NBC)

Jeopardy! contestant Dhruv Gaur may not have had the right answer, but he knew just what to say in what has become the most touching round of “Final Jeopardy” ever. In an episode airing in November, Gaur used his screen to send a heartfelt message to host Alex Trebek, who has been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. “What is we (heart) you, Alex,” Trebek read aloud, choking up in a rare moment of candor for the typically composed game show legend. Gaur’s note may have cost him some prize winnings, but it won countless hearts. — E.D.

LOW: Survivor ejects player after misconduct claims (CBS)

For the first time in 39 seasons, a contestant was kicked off of Survivor for inappropriate behavior. Hollywood talent agent Dan Spilo had to be removed from the game after multiple accusations of inappropriate touching. Earlier in the season, fellow castaway Kellee Kim made numerous complaints about Spilo’s behavior, forcing producers to get involved. Just a couple weeks after Spilo was warned by producers, host Jeff Probst informed the remaining five contestants that Spilo had been pulled from the game. The incident reportedly happened off-camera and didn't involve another player. Spilo touched a female producer's thigh as he was boarding a transport boat, although he claims it was accidental as he was trying to keep his balance. Fans and former contestants were disappointed in the show's handling of the situation because many people thought Spilo should've been pulled from the game when Kim made her feelings known the first time. Dan has since apologized for his behavior on the show. — N.P.

HIGH: Kendall Roy, rap star (HBO)

In fairness, Succession’s Logan Roy (Brian Cox) can’t be an easy man to shop for; he famously had the luxury watch Tom gave him handed off to a kid in the very first episode. Still, the cringe-y rap tribute performed by second-eldest son Kendall (Jeremy Strong) — while wearing a bowtie and custom pinstriped jersey, no less — in the eighth episode of Season 2 plunged new depths of self-awareness scarcity. With papa-thirsty lyrics like “Yo, b*****s be catty, but the king’s my daddy / Rock all the haters while we go roll a ’rati / Squiggle on the decks, Kenny on the rhyme / And Logan big ballin’ on Hamptons time,” it’s fair to say that “L to the OG” was the biggest car crash of tragic Kendall’s life — and this is a man who literally drove his car into a lake and left his passenger to drown last season. Naturally, we cherished every mortifying morsel. — E.D.

HIGH: Fleabag Season 2 gets us hot under the collar (Amazon)

Not since The Thorn Birds has lusting after a man in cloth been so mainstream, and it’s all thanks to Andrew Scott’s “Hot Priest.” Though she’d hesitated to offer fans a follow-up to Fleabag’s near-flawless first season — based on her London play of the same name — writer and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge hit it out of the park on her second, and, alas, final, go-round. Smart, sharp and sexy — we’ll never look at confessionals the same way — the British comedy struck a chord on topics like faith, sexuality, grief and self-love. It’s no surprise that Waller-Bridge bagged an armful of trophies at this year’s Emmys. And with all due respect to priestly pinup Scott, we’d remiss if we didn’t highlight the season’s other standout supporting acts: Sian Clifford as a begrudgingly vulnerable Claire, Olivia Colman as the narcissistic stepmom from hell and Kristin Scott-Thomas as an elegant and wise love interest. — E.D.

LOW: Will the real Jim Hopper please stand up? (Netflix)

David Harbour and Winona Ryder in Stranger Things. (Photo: Netflix)

Even before he vanished to parts (as yet) unknown, the Jim Hopper we knew and loved from the first two seasons of Stranger Things seemed to have disappeared. In his place was a surly, mean and downright toxic guy who seemed to take pleasure in bullying the people he claimed to love. Whether badgering Joyce into a date, or pressuring Mike into breaking up with Eleven, his behavior got so bad over the course of Season 3’s eight episodes, it was called out by civilian and celebrity fans alike, including Westworld star, Evan Rachel Wood. Don’t get us wrong: We still love David Harbour. But his alter ego had better come back from wherever he is and have made some serious self improvements. — E.A.

HIGH: Dueling Fyre Festival documentaries (Netflix and Hulu)

(Photo: Hulu/Netflix)

The Fyre Festival fiasco was always primed to be the subject for a great documentary. This year, we got two. Days before Netflix was about to premiere Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, Hulu suddenly dropped its own version of the story, Fyre Fraud. Watched individually, both films cover similar ground, albeit with different participants. Most notably, Billy McFarland appears in an on-camera interview for Fyre Fraud, but not Fyre — largely because the makers of the former feature paid him for his time, a choice that inspired no small amount of controversy. Taken together, though, they provide a fascinatingly broad overview of the hubris that led to this disaster and the dramatic fallout for everyone involved. Fyre, in particular, makes it clear that those most hurt by the festival’s implosion weren’t the wealthy Instagram-happy attendees, but rather the men and women in the Bahamas who devoted their time, energy and money to make McFarland’s crazy scheme a reality only to be left with the bill. — E.A.

LOW: Netflix plans to remove Friends and The Office from its catalog

Some of the year’s biggest TV news is that Netflix viewers will be missing some important options in the near future. Sitcoms Friends and The Office, those reliable crowd favorites from the aughts, will no longer be sitting there waiting for us to switch them on, at least not at the same place. Both will eventually be available elsewhere, though: Monica, Joey and co. will head to Warner Media’s HBO Max in 2020, while in 2021, Michael Scott will be taking his employees to NBCUniversal’s Peacock. — R.S.

HIGH: When They See Us (Netflix)

Ava DuVernay touched a raw New York City nerve with her moving dramatization of the infamous Central Park Five case, which resulted in five black teenagers being sentenced to lengthy jail sentences — and a lifetime of emotional trauma — for a crime they didn’t commit. Eschewing a standard procedural narrative, each of the four episodes in the Netflix limited series explores a different facet of the case, beginning with a minute-by-minute account of how the NYPD, under pressure from Manhattan D.A. Linda Fairstein (played by Felicity Huffman), manipulated the boys into giving false confessions. Later episodes focus on their lives in prison — the final installment focuses exclusively on Korey Wise, played by Jharell Jerome in an Emmy-winning performance — and rough re-entry into society after the real culprit confesses. Premiering on May 31, When They See Us amassed more than 23 million viewers in its first weeks of release, making it one of Netflix’s most-seen, and all-around best, series. — E.A.

HIGH: Chernobyl offers a peek into tragedy (HBO)

The nuclear disaster that occurred at Chernobyl on April 26, 1986, has been well documented, but the first episode of the HBO miniseries about it, “1:23:45,” went far beyond the numbers and facts to show us ordinary people. The audience watched as firefighters selflessly battled the blaze, and citizens watched from the sidelines, worried about their loved ones, not knowing that they were also being affected, due to the massive amounts of radiation that had just been unleashed. The episode is a warning, too, as it horrifyingly details the many tiny decisions and actions that went into the event that remains the worst nuclear disaster in history. — R.S.

LOW: The second season of Big Little Lies doesn’t deliver (HBO)

Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep in Big Little Lies. (Photo: HBO)

Beyond a shrieking Meryl Streep and a seething Laura Dern proclaiming “I will not not be rich,” the HBO drama just didn’t pack the same punch in its second outing. After the gripping whodunit premise and domestic violence drama that steered Season 1, storylines like Celeste’s child custody battle, Renata’s money problems and whether or not Madeline’s daughter would skip college felt pretty low-stakes — and not the good kind of low-stakes, like, say, some old-school Amabella birthday party intrigue. Too much time was also spent on new characters (Jane’s new boyfriend, Bonnie’s mom) at the expense of the Monterey 5. Another bone to pick: Madeline finally convincing Ed she can be trusted, renewing their wedding vows... then almost immediately joining Bonnie and co. at the police station to admit her role in a death, all of which she’d kept secret from her husband. — E.D.

HIGH: Zendaya ditches her Disney roots for Euphoria (HBO)

Rocky Blue, who? The 23-year-old actress firmly put Shake It Up and Disney in the rearview mirror with her starring role in HBO’s gritty teen drama. Zendaya plays Rue, a high schooler battling substance abuse issues and mental illness. Season 1 concludes with the actress delivering an emotionally-charged performance as Rue relapses after being three months sober, which also happens to include a vocal performance by Zendaya in the song "All for Us." One of the most memorable and intense moments in the first season came when Rue's mom, played by Nika King, confronted her about her drug addiction. In the script, the scene was only seven words: "Leslie and Rue fight in the hallway." On set, writer-director Sam Levinson asked Zendaya to improvise instead and viewers saw the final result in the premiere episode — including the moment Rue knocked a framed picture off the wall and threatened her mother using a shard of broken glass. "That day took a toll," Zendaya told IndieWire. But it further cemented her status as one of Hollywood's most versatile stars. — T.R.

HIGH: Grey's Anatomy devotes "Silent All These Years" episode to dealing with sexual assault (ABC)

It's hard to imagine that 19 episodes into its 15th season, Grey's Anatomy would still be creating groundbreaking television, but that's what Shonda Rhimes did with "Silent All These Years." In the powerful episode, a woman named Abby walks into Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital after being raped. What follows is a gut-wrenching scene in which Jo convinces Abby to do a rape kit. Abby (played brilliantly by Khalilah Joi) is hesitant to do the rape kit because she doesn't think anyone will believe her. Abby had been out drinking after having a fight with her husband, and is afraid that people would just blame her — a feeling that is all too real for countless women. Abby finally agrees to the rape kit before heading into surgery to fix a tear in her diaphragm. Unfortunately, the trauma is too much for Abby, causing her to be fearful of being sedated and terrified of every man she sees. So in one of the most powerful and memorable scenes in 15 seasons of Grey's, all of the women in the hospital line the hallway in a show of support as Abby is wheeled into surgery. In addition to all the female cast members standing in the hallway, the rest of the women in the scene were actual writers and crew members from the show, and apparently there wasn't a dry eye in the room. — N.P.

LOW: Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (Netflix)

Fionn Whitehead in Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. (Photo: Netflix)

Memo to Black Mirror: There’s a reason why Choose Your Own Adventure is a book series. For its first experiment in branching storytelling, the Netflix series had viewers control the fate of an ‘80s computer programmer with a tortured past and a tortuous idea for a video game. To give the show some credit, the multiple choice options were at least smoothly integrated into the viewing experience. At the same time, though, they didn’t improve the overall quality of the narrative itself and resulted in frustration whenever you hit a dead end… which was often. Presented with the option to watch another interactive Black Mirror, our first choice would have to be “No.” — E.A.

HIGH: SNL parodies Joker with an Oscar the Grouch origin story (NBC)

Turns out, it really isn’t so easy being green — at least according to Saturday Night Live’s gritty mock trailer pitting Oscar the Grouch as an anti-hero in the vein of Joker. Oct. 12 guest host David Harbour took some cues from Joaquin Phoenix to play a very grouchy, very green garbageman-turned-villain borne out of crime-plagued, erm, Sesame Street. “If everyone calls you trash, everyone treats you like trash, why don’t you just become trash?” the dumpster diver growls in one clip. Who knew PBS was so punk rock? — E.D.

HIGH: Barry takes on a true karate kid (HBO)

Jesse Giacomazzi, Bill Hader and Stephen Root in Barry. (Photo: HBO)

One of the best moments of the second season of Bill Hader’s Emmy-winning show arrived on April 28 in the fifth installment, “Ronny/Lily,” when Barry was caught leaving the home of one of his targets by none other than the target’s daughter. While a criminal would normally feel compelled to take out a witness, Barry assured the girl he wouldn’t hurt her and offered to take her to stay with relatives — he had just killed her dad — but then she struck. Turns out, the girl, who’s wearing a gi, is skilled in martial arts and she begins attacking him with pots and pans, beer bottles and even a knife. The audience’s beloved Barry never comes close to killing the girl, of course, and instead she shows off some fierce moves as she runs away. Luckily, that wasn’t the last we saw of her. — R.S.

LOW: The 2019 Emmys went without a host (Fox)

After 2018's lackluster performance by hosts Michael Che and Colin Jost, the Emmys decided to go hostless in 2019, which was equally as disappointing, evident by the show's record-low ratings. The show started off with Homer Simpson getting smashed by a piano, prompting Black-ish star Anthony Anderson to jump into action to "save" the show. But the real savior was Brian Cranston, who was pushed out onstage and miraculously delivered an opening monologue about the wonders of television. The best part of the hostless evening was when two former hosts, Jimmy Kimmel and Stephen Colbert, took the stage to present an award and blasted the idea of not having a host. "What a dumb idea," lamented Kimmel. Colbert added, "What a joke!" Kimmel later pointed out, "You know what else didn't have a host? The Titanic. And look what happened to them." Hopefully, in 2020, the Emmys will let Colbert and/or Kimmel steer the ship again. — N.P.

HIGH: The year superheroes got serious: The Boys (Amazon Prime), Crisis on Infinite Earths (The CW) and Watchmen (HBO)

Thanks to the 1-2-3 of Captain MarvelAvengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home, the state of Marvel Cinematic Universe is Hulk-like strong. Meanwhile, back-to-back hits like AquamanShazam! and Joker have put DC’s once-shaky Extended Universe back on firmer ground. But in 2019, some of the most interesting, and ambitious, superhero storytelling was being done on television. Over the summer, Amazon Prime’s adaptation of Garth Ennis’s The Boys became a word-of-mouth hit for its darkly satirical (and ultraviolent) depiction of a superhero team that has little to no interest in fighting for truth, justice and the American way. The CW’s massive crossover event, Crisis on Infinite Earths, is (much) more kid-friendly, but still exacts a dramatic toll on heroes that fans have been following for years. Hands down, the most complex and layered yarn about costumed adventurers unfolded across HBO’s nine-episode adaptation of Alan Moore’s iconic graphic novel, Watchmen. Everything that’s great about Damon Lindelof’s semi-sequel, semi-remix is encapsulated in its spectacular sixth hour, which explores the origins of the “first” vigilante, Hooded Justice, and in the process completely upends everything we thought we knew about that character and the universe he inhabits. — E.A.

LOW: Rent and The Little Mermaid turn out to be not-so-live musicals (Fox and ABC)

Way back at the very beginning of 2019, people were super excited for Fox's live television performance of Rent starring Vanessa Hudgens. Unfortunately, the night before the show, Brennin Hunt, who played Roger Davis, broke his foot during dress rehearsal. So most of what people saw at home was pre-recorded from the dress rehearsal, which had fans pretty bummed. But the cast was able to give fans a bit of a live performance at the end when they were joined by Hunt with a cast on his foot and members of the original 1996 Broadway cast, including Idina Menzel and Taye Diggs. A little over nine months later, ABC tried to make a splash with their live performance of The Little Mermaid, and the results weren't much better. This showing of the classic Disney tale floundered back and forth between footage from the original 1989 animated film and live performances of the songs. Critics panned the performance for not being live enough, while fans blasted it for numerous reasons, including the fact that Shaggy, who played Sebastian, didn't have claws on his hands— N.P.

HIGH: Pen15 (Hulu)

Nineties nostalgia is so 2018. With Pen15, co-creators and stars Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle invite viewers to look back with glee on the pre-iPhone days of the early 2000s, when low-rider jeans were in every closet, AIM was on every computer and Mandy Moore was on every mix. But the show isn’t just a hilarious trip down pop culture memory lane. Playing loose versions of themselves as middle-schoolers (the rest of the young cast are actual middle-schoolers), Erskine and Konkle wrestle with adolescent angst and family drama in a rich, nuanced way that recalls the best of teen TV, from My So-Called Life to Friday Night Lights. Season 2 will premiere on Hulu sometime in 2020, so make it your holiday homework to catch up on the show’s freshman year. — E.A.

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