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 Tv Shows

10. Stranger Things

Stranger Things

While it still delivered on some tried and true beats of 80s nostalgia, Stranger Things 3 is a lot more singular than the hit show’s previous two seasons. For one, it leans more heavily into its horror influences, introducing us to a new antagonist with quite a few gross-out kills under its belt in the best possible way. Working across genres, the new season also leans into its status as a coming of age story, showcasing some rising tensions between characters young and old based around the fact that the kids at the heart of the show aren’t exactly kids anymore; rather, they’re teens, with summer jobs and long-distance relationships and money to burn at the mall. And to that point, with their new home base at Starcourt, Stranger Things 3 even looks bolder than its predecessors, adding a rich color palette of royal blue work uniforms and neon yellow scrunchies to what amounts to a brave new version of Hawkins, for better or for worse. Really, by the time we reach its post-credits stinger, the world of Stranger Things feels more in flux than ever. But with risk comes reward, and in the end, the show feels all the more fresh because of it. (Christina Smith)


9. Sex Education

Sex Education

Sex Education has all the makings of a new high school classic, without any of the limitations in diversity or questionable messages of the actual high school classics some of us grew up on. Otis (Asa Butterfield) is a sexually averse teen who has a surplus of knowledge on the topic thanks to his mother (Gillian Anderson), who happens to be a famous sex therapist. This premise alone is ripe with promise, but it really works thanks to a cast of memorable and entertaining supporting characters and a deft, sex-positive approach to sensitive topics. When Otis decides to become his high school’s unofficial sex therapist in order to impress his crush, Maeve (Emma Mackey), he quickly gets more than he bargained for when issues including abortion, homophobia, leaked nudes, and more quickly become a part of his life even beyond the confines of his bathroom therapy office. Come for the impressively information-based and progressive take on actual sex education, stay for a lovable group of instantly classic characters, the likes of which also include flamboyant Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) and secretly nice mean girl Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood). (Valerie Ettenhofer)


8. GLOW

Glow

Neon lights. Lycra bodysuits. Suplexes. In season three, GLOW delivers everything we’ve loved about the underdog wrestling show in the past while kicking the camaraderie and empowerment up a notch. After nearly a year — and whole two seasons — of barely making ends meet, living in crappy motels, and creating a failed television program, the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling finally have a massive celebration in order. The newest installment of Netflix’s GLOW kicks off the flamboyant troupe’s year-long residency in Las Vegas, somewhere they hope they may truly fit in for the first time. Unlike the beaten and battered bodies of the lady wrestlers, GLOW is just getting better and better as time goes on. Shining the spotlight more on the complex relationships outside of the ring and less on the actual wrestling, this newest season is arguably the strongest yet. Managing to do it without sacrificing any humor, GLOW doubles down on more emotional storylines: Debbie’s guilt as a working mother, Bash’s struggle with his sexuality and the loss of his closest friend, Ruth confronting the future of her acting career. Ending with a promise of an exciting new venture for the team, or at least for Bash and Debbie, we can’t wait to see the future of GLOW in the fourth and final season, expected sometime next year. (Kristen Reid)


7. Watchmen

Watchmen

When I first heard the news about Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen TV series, I rolled my eyes so hard I got a migraine. I have been obsessed with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s iconic graphic novel since high school and have always been weirdly protective of it. The movie was fine, the spin-off graphic novels weren’t, and I just wanted it to be left alone. But Lindelof proved me wrong with a stunning series that leans into the weirdness that makes Watchmen so appealing while creating a searing critique of contemporary society, a society that idolizes cops and doesn’t seem to know how to handle white supremacy. It also includes just enough fan service for loyal lovers of the graphic novel while never alienating new audiences.

The show is carried by phenomenal performances from Regina King as masked cop Angela Abar, Jean Smart as an aging Laurie Blake, and Hong Chau as pharmaceutical genius Lady Trieu. Three strong female performers provide Watchmen’s core strength as they all weave an intricate web of memory, trauma, and pain. Never did I think a show that discusses inter-dimensional squid-beings would also create poignant commentary about America’s violent racist history and how that trauma is carried on through generations. Watchmen may not be over yet, but in seven episodes it has proved itself as one of the strongest series of the year. (Mary Beth McAndrews)


6. Chernobyl

Chernobyl

When I was a kid I thought I was going to be a scientist when I grew up. Even now that I spend most of my time writing about film, science in movies remains a particular interest of mine. Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is that most movies and TV shows are quite terrible on the topic. Either zero fucks are given about science or the storytelling is, in a word, yikes. And then there’s Chernobyl. The Craig Mazin-helmed miniseries is well-researched, thoughtful, and impeccably executed. Listening to Mazin’s episode-by-episode “making-of” podcast with John August only deepens one’s appreciation for the wonderful storytelling going on here. Mazin’s scripts provide a stellar foundation, and Johan Renck’s direction along with excellent performances from Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgård, Emily Watson, and the rest of the phenomenal cast ensure that Chernobyl lives up to its enormous potential on every front. Deftly defying the extremes of under-baked hero-worship or anti-rationalist fear-mongering that most science-focused stories stumble into, Chernobyl is really the whole package — it’s got a brain and a heart and some really thoughtful things to say. (Ciara Wardlow)


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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.