We’re already three months into 2019. That means two things. First: We’re rocketing toward a new decade at an alarming rate. And second: There’s already more new tv out than anyone can keep up with.
But Valerie Ettenhofer and I are here to sort through it all and present each of our top 5 picks.
It occurred to us, as we compared our favorites, that this list was overwhelmingly comedy-heavy. We considered trying to balance it with some tragedy, but in the end, we decided to keep it as it was. Now is, we both agreed, the Golden Age of Comedy. And more importantly, it’s an age in which genre means less than ever. Several of these entries, while technically comedies, are the most emotionally mature and devastating things currently on tv. Sometimes the best shows are the ones that leave you breathless from laughter just before they punch you in the gut.
So here they are, our top 10 (mostly funny but still deeply serious) tv shows of 2019 so far.
One Day at a Time
Netflix recently and controversially canceled this sitcom, a Cuban-American revival of the Norman Lear classic, but that’s no reason to miss out on the three seasons that are still available. The series follows the Alvarez family–single mom and veteran Penelope (Justina Machado), traditional yet flamboyant grandma Lydia (Rita Moreno), vain teenage son Alex (Marcel Ruiz), and queer feminist daughter Elena (Isabella Gomez)–along with the family’s friends and neighbors. Season three is more clearly didactic than past seasons, but it also continues to deliver a profound blend of traditional sitcom comedy, nuanced cultural commentary, and emotional, character-driven moments. Whether ODAAT is addressing Elena’s sexual awakening, Penelope’s anxiety, or landlord Schneider’s (Todd Grinnell) addiction, the series that’s traditional in structure yet progressive in its story will make your heart grow three sizes if you let it. (Valerie Ettenhofer)
Miracle Workers has been receiving mixed reviews since its premiere in February, most saying that it’s failed to live up to its very high potential. And while there’s a certain amount of truth there, I think there’s a lot to be said for the little shows. (In fact, I did say some of it in my review earlier this year). The TBS show is a fun, thoughtful, joke-a-minute miniseries that set its sights on an ending and goes for it, even if it has to burst a few appendixes along the way. It instills a sense of pride in humanity and all our screw-ups while offering the oddly comforting balm that the universe honestly doesn’t care. It’s also an excellent showcase for the surprisingly hilarious Daniel Radcliffe, who should be doing more comedy. (Liz Baessler)
A horrifying true story grounded by two powerhouse performances, the first three episodes of Hulu’s The Act have made a strong impression. The anthology series’ debut season retells the stranger-than-fiction story of Gypsy Rose Blanchard (Joey King), a young victim of Munchausen syndrome by proxy, who was kept housebound by her mother Dee Dee (Patricia Arquette) until her mother’s murder in 2015. The details, which were previously covered in an investigative article by series co-creator Michelle Dean and later in the HBO documentary Mommy Dead and Dearest, are unendingly disturbing. In the series, Gypsy is kept in a wheelchair, given a feeding tube and a shaved head, and at one point has almost all of her teeth pulled out. Gypsy doesn’t entirely know what’s medically wrong with her or even how old she is. A story so disturbing was bound to get the on-screen treatment at some point, and King sets this apart from mere dramatization with a performance that nails the real Gypsy’s mannerisms, vocal inflections, and childlike presence. A well-paced drama with limited artistic embellishments, The Act may well become the defining portrait of a deeply misunderstood form of abuse. (VE)
I have an advantage watching Hulu’s Pen15 — I am the same age as creators and stars Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle, and their recreation of American middle school circa 2000 speaks to me on a deeply personal level. But while the time period is specific, the extremes of joy and misery of early adolescence are far more universal, and I suspect anyone could see themselves in it at least somewhat. Erskine and Konkle, both 31, invite you to immerse yourself as they play their 13-year-old selves with such honesty you sometimes forget that something’s off… until you see them interact with actual 13-year-olds, and the bizarre artifice starts to show itself in the best and strangest ways. The show is a hilarious masterclass in cringe comedy that you want to look away from because it’s so awkward, but have to keep watching because it’s so good. (LB)
The Other Two
Perhaps the best TV skewering of the entertainment industry in all its absurdity since 30 Rock, Comedy Central’s The Other Two brings the belly laughs courtesy of two former SNL head writers, Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider. The series follows two adult siblings (Drew Tarver and Heléne Yorke), Midwestern transplants who have adjusted to the New York lifestyle but struggle to take stock of their disappointing lives when their kid brother Chase (Case Walker) becomes a Justin Bieber-like star and moves to NYC with their eager mother (Molly Shannon). Though the two older siblings do some serious soul-searching in the debut season, the most memorable bits take aim at the exploitative and ever-changing industry of teen stardom. Ken Marino rounds out the cast as Chase’s clueless but determined manager Streeter, who sets the 13-year-old up in a series of situations that are ripe for parody and guest stars who play themselves. Weirder and darker than its premise would indicate, the first season features a stellar Call Me By Your Name homage, the hashtag campaign #MyDadFroze, a surprisingly catchy song called “Stank,” and dozens of other well-executed gags that make it one of the funniest series on-air right now. (VE)