The Best TV Shows of 2019

From big finales to long-awaited new seasons to stellar debuts, 2019 brought us more great stories on the small screen than ever before.

Rewind Best Tv Shows

15. I Think You Should Leave

I Think You Should Leave

In an age where streaming shows come and go each week, briefly discussed and quickly forgotten, it’s a minor miracle when one generates such strong word of mouth that it grows increasingly popular with each passing cycle of content. Such was the case with I Think You Should Leave, the immensely quotable and endlessly re-watchable sketch show from former SNL cast member Tim Robinson. Unlike his former place of work, which frequently falls back on tired setups and recurring bits, ITYSL takes a series of seemingly mundane situations and tosses a grenade — in the form of a petty, oblivious, or just plain old stubborn character — at them.

A first date at a restaurant turns into the airing of grievances about sharing nachos, while the arrival of a new office printer sends a woman, who doesn’t think her jokes are met with the requisite amount of laughter, into despair. And that’s to say nothing of setups like “hot dog-shaped car crashes into clothes store” or “man’s life is turned upside down when ‘honk if you’re horny’ sticker is taken a little too literally”. The show’s specificity of character is nowhere better demonstrated than in an absurd old man who slowly turns a focus group against nemesis Paul, after (of course) rattling off a series of insane requirements for a new car that includes “stinky!” and “no space for mother in law”. For its enduring place in our collective consciousness and for THAT in memoriam montage, ITYSL more than earns its place on this list. (Hayden Cornmell)


14. Undone

Undone

Raphael Bob-Waksberg and Katy Purdy’s Undone is a small miracle of a show. It’s an animated series that in a fair world would be nominated not only for best animation awards — its rare rotoscope visual style is hypnotic and singular — but also for best acting, writing, and directing. The series breaks out of the animation box by telling an emotional story that’s at once grounded in reality and crafted around surreality, balancing not only those two elements but also humor and pathos, mystery and drama, and a cast of well-defined characters. Rosa Salazar stars as Alma, an impulsive woman with a fear of mental illness who begins seeing visions of her dead father (Bob Odenkirk) imploring her to uncover the details of his murder after a near-fatal car accident. While other acclaimed recent series like Maniac and Russian Doll covered similarly specific ground including the exploration of trauma through metaphysics, neither is as warm or intimate as Undone, which eschews other series’ stylized, isolating air of mystery to instead focus on relationships and self-identity at every turn. Somewhere along the way, finding out the truth about Alma’s dad’s death becomes less important to us than the well-being of these characters, each of whom is easy to love. Lucky for us, the show was just renewed for a second season. (Valerie Ettenhofer)


13. Euphoria

Euphoria

Euphoria is not just a teen drama riding its own shockwaves. It’s a kaleidoscopic study of the Juul generation, narrated by protagonist Rue (Zendaya, excellent and cool), a high school student who’s just returned to her nameless suburb after a stint in rehab. But Rue, neck-deep in a pill-popping addiction, isn’t the only one with demons to curb. Her peers are tormented by sexual insecurities, illusory big-happy-families, and the delicate balancing act that is the adolescent reputation. If you watch Euphoria for anyone, though, it’s for Hunter Schafer’s Jules, whose sweet disposition breathes warmth into a show usually vibrating with anxious rhythm. Gripping at its most hellish and cathartic at its most tender, Euphoria deserves its place on 2019’s best. Nobody told me that going back to high school would be this mesmerizing — or have this much glitter. (Jenna Benchetrit)


12. When They See Us

When They See Us

Ava DuVernay has built her career on important stories that require someone with a strong vision to stand up and tell them, so it’s only fitting that her greatest masterpiece to date takes on one of the most egregious miscarriages of justice in recent history. Sometimes a true-crime documentary or podcast can tell a story just as well or better than a dramatization, but with an unparalleled level of detail, heart, and follow-through, When They See Us instantly became the definitive retelling of the Central Park jogger case upon its release on Netflix this spring. Each of the series’ four film-length episodes is vital, and the first is likely particularly jarring to those who are unfamiliar with the case, but DuVernay’s indelible image of deeply wronged boys forced to become men in prison is completed and perfected by a knockout final entry. The tribulations of Korey Wise, the oldest of five boys wrongfully convicted for the brutal rape of a stranger in 1989 and the only one to be placed in adult prison, are conveyed across the years by actor Jharrel Jerome. Wise’s hope, pain, weariness, and youthful innocence all shine through in Jerome’s can’t-miss performance, which won a well-deserved Emmy. (Valerie Ettenhofer)


11. The Good Place

The Good Place

For the past three years, The Good Place has graciously held the title of prime time network TV’s most high concept series, and Mike Schur’s mile-a-minute writer’s room took on that often-cursed role (remember Eli Stone? Better off Ted? Pushing Daisies?) with aplomb. After two seasons that delivered more twists and turns than the limo route to Tahani’s Malibu winter home, the show about a broken afterlife settled down a bit for a third season that, though seemingly smaller in scope, actually informed the philosophical endgame for what turned out to be a deeply touching story about what it means to try to be good. The Good Place’s fourth and final season isn’t quite over yet, but has delivered plenty of unique gifts of its own, from the joys of oblivious geek Chidi (William Jackson Harper) to another visit to The Bad Place, a setting that lets writers go wild with one-liners about every modern-day pet peeve imaginable. We don’t know yet how The Good Place will end, but if the ethics-obsessed core characters in this endlessly self-aware series have taught us anything, it’s that a collaborative search for answers is in itself a beautiful thing. (Valerie Ettenhofer)


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Val is a San Francisco Bay Area freelance writer, TV lover, and cheese plate enthusiast. You can find her @aandeandval wherever social media accounts are sold.