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

5. Russian Doll

Russian Doll

Believe it or not, Russian Doll came out this year, all the way back in February. It’s absolutely essential to remember it, though, and if by some chance you missed it the first time around, now is the perfect opportunity to fire it up on Netflix and let it wash over you. Go ahead. You can do it in a single sitting. It’s barely longer than The Irishman. Starting out as a seemingly Groundhog Day-esque conceit, Russian Doll follows the tribulations of Nadia (played by a riveting Natasha Lyonne) as she dies and comes back again and again and again on the night of her 36th birthday. But the show quickly moves out from under the shadow of the old rinse and repeat genre as it reveals new mysteries and new characters. Lyonne leads an absolutely captivating charge into the frustrations of the unknown, and Nilsson’s “Gotta Get Up” takes on a sinister quality so gradually you won’t believe by the end that it’s the same song you’ve been hearing all along. The show also has something all too rarely seen: a wholly satisfying ending that’ll leave you smiling and utterly content with the ride you’ve been taken on. (Liz Baessler)


4. Succession

Succession

Jesse Armstrong’s sharp capitalist satire is like a drug. One day, you’re telling a friend that there’s no way a show about the 1% whose central plot involves the retirement of a CEO would ever interest you. The next thing you know, you’re coming out of a fog during which you mainlined a dozen hours of Succession, played Nicholas Brittel’s banger of a theme song on repeat so loud that the neighbors could rightfully file a noise complaint, and tweeted an inordinate amount of times about Shiv Roy’s (Sarah Snook) pantsuits or the latest Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) theory. A powerhouse of micro-expressive acting, barbed and hilarious writing, and plot machinations that’d make Machiavelli’s head spin, Succession is irresistible, delicious television. The second season continued on the first’s near-perfect track record of self-contained episode premises (Hunting in Europe! Hiding in a safe room during a shooting! Returning to Logan’s hometown!) while still threading the needle for an epic overarching premise involving deadly cover-ups in the Roy family business. When everything finally comes crashing down in “This Is Not For Tears,” the finale — which dances around Kendall’s (Jeremy Strong) fragile psyche and Logan’s (Brian Cox) penchant for emotional manipulation before finally going exactly where we all knew it would, then beyond — unspools itself with all the momentum and thrill of prestige TV at its finest. (Valerie Ettenhofer)


3. Mindhunter

Mindhunter

The second season of David Fincher’s Mindhunter was long-awaited and it did not disappoint this year. After focusing on the creation of their division of the FBI, the second season shows how Holden (Jonathan Groff), Bill (Holt McCallany), and Wendy (Anna Torv) use the knowledge they gained from interviewing serial killers. The case they are confronted with is the Atlanta Child Murders, which proves to test their tried and true profiling process more than they expected. This season does a great job of showing the reality that challenges the theoretical thinking Holden clings too. Bill gains a bigger role in this season too, which brings his entertaining and deeply troubling home life into the show. Fincher’s dark and contemplative show continued to deepen our look at serial killers this year and hopefully, we won’t have to wait as long for the next season. (Emily Kubincanek)


2. Barry

Barry

I have a habit of going on the record with a totally wrong interpretation of Barry. I’ve reviewed both seasons and each time I’ve been so sure from the first few episodes that I knew exactly where it was going. And both times I’ve been dead wrong. I’ve never been so happy to be proved wrong, though, because what I keep taking to be a fantastic but relatively straightforward tragicomedy has, both times, completely reinvented itself halfway through and blown my expectations out of the water. You’d think I would have learned my lesson the first time. Barry is a uniquely creative piece of TV. Still working within the basic framework of a hitman who wants to live a normal life, it’s leveraged its position as a superbly written and acted art piece to explore in whichever direction it pleases, be it guilt, abuse, sexism, or preternaturally strong children. Barry is a gorgeous and unique piece of media, one of the finest examples of the new wave of genre-bending, hilarious and deeply affecting drama. I can’t wait to be wrong about it again next year. (Liz Baessler)


1. Fleabag

Fleabag

The only problem with Fleabag is the limitation of public perception. Inevitably, as Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s two-season series grows in acclaim long after its finale has aired, people are going to start getting some things wrong. The titular character is a self-destructive sex addict, some have said, at award shows and elsewhere. She’s a female antihero, a messy woman, unlikeable. These aspects of the spitfire, fourth-wall-breaking comedy may be true on some level, but they almost purposely miss the point of the play-based-series, as if a show that achieves as much as Fleabag does across the span of six hours can be boiled down to a word like “outrageous.”

In its beautiful second season, which follows the protagonist as she falls in love with a priest (Andrew Scott), Fleabag is actually about longing, healing, and catharsis. It’s about the brutal work of choosing connection in a world that sometimes seems designed to hurt you. It’s about finding someone who looks at you and recognizes the moments when you look away and shrink into yourself, then making the bold and scary choice to let them see you anyway. It’s about realizing that no matter how many times you may try to push them away, out of grief or self-loathing or fear, that you may, in fact, be surrounded by people who care. Fleabag is about coming out of a fog of deflection and isolation, only to realize that vulnerability is both the scariest and the best thing in the world, and the second season makes that point without ever ceding one ounce of the authenticity or humor that made it famous in the first place. It’s TV at its most brilliant and impactful. This is, as Phoebe-Waller Bridges’ character says, looking into the camera after wiping the blood off her face and straightening her now-legendary jumpsuit, a love story. (Valerie Ettenhofer)

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.