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Top 25 TV Shows of 2019

Gotta get up, gotta get out, gotta get home before the next show comes...

Top 25 TV Shows of 2019
Top 25 TV Shows of 2019
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    One of the first big TV hits of 2019 sent us in a loop over and over again, returning endlessly to a bathroom mirror, a Harry Nilsson song, and that infernal greeting: “Sweet birthday baby!” And in some ways, Russian Doll makes for a perfect metaphor for the year in television. You’d finish a new series, and then boom, you’re back in the bathroom mirror. Gotta get up, gotta get out, gotta get home before the next show comes.

    But like Nadia’s trips round and round through the same night and day, that cycle contained endless variations. Oh, and what variations there were. With more than 600 series making their way to air (or stream) in 2019, there was something for you, and probably quite a few somethings. Sure, Game of Thrones met its fiery end—not all of it bad, lest we forget!—but in the place of one big, conversation-dominating shows, we got many smaller ones. Hot Priest! Boar on the Floor! “A Little Bit Alexis,” “a legit snack, and “A God Walks Into Abar.” And that’s not counting that brightest of beacons, Baby Yoda, and yes we know it’s not actual Baby Yoda, but we’re not calling that little guy “The Child,” it’s Baby Yoda forever.

    The downside of such bounty is that our list, like your viewing schedule, cannot possibly include all the greats. Some of our favorites won’t be found within—no Brooklyn Nine-Nine, no DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, no Veronica Mars/Ramy/Vida, the list goes on. But these are our picks for the greatest of a great year. Some will be back in 2020, some won’t. But whether your fave is returning or not, never fear: You’ll always have something to watch. Gotta get up, gotta get out…

    –Allison Shoemaker
    Senior Writer


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    25 . The Boys

    The Boys (Amazon)

    The Boys (Amazon)

    Showrunner: Eric Kripke

    MVP of the Show: Karl Urban. As Billy Butcher, Urban is the most Karl Urban that Karl Urban can be. Butcher is an extremely violent, foul-mouthed man, who’s motivated by revenge and says the word “diabolical” a lot. He shouldn’t be the funniest character on this show — after all, he’s an awful person — but Urban brings the laughs with zero effort. You actually love to see him pop up.

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    Why We Binge: In the opening scene of the series, A-Train – a superhero with super-speed like The Flash – literally runs through a woman, killing her in the process. His girlfriend’s death is the inciting incident for Hughie (played by Jack Quaid, the most perfect son of Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid), who’s motivated to take down Vought International, the corporation that runs superheroes. In doing so, the show explores what happens when the super-powered are seduced by corporate power. Through gruesome and frequent violence, The Boys suggests that no superheroes are inherently good by definition – even if they come from a rosy Christian background in Iowa and all they want to do is help innocent people. The Boys, which is as funny as it is abrasive, is a slap in the face to its own genre — and 2019 was the perfect year for its debut. –Carrie Wittmer


    24 . The Mandalorian

    The Mandalorian, Star Wars, Disney+, Jon Favreau

    The Mandalorian (Disney+)

    Showrunner: Jon Favreau

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    MVP of the Show: Even if you don’t subscribe to Disney+, you know about Baby Yoda. Meme culture has made sure of that, and the Mouse House will capitalize on it for years to come with plush dolls, throw pillows, wash cloths, you name it. Granted, it’s basically just Gizmo painted green, but hey, the lil’ guy offers at least a dozen new GIFs each episode, and that’s all that matters now. Cultural currency at its finest … and easiest.

    Why We Binge: Laugh it up, fuzzball, but The Mandalorian further legitimizes Solo: A Star Wars Story, proving yet again that this franchise is best in the hands of dirty scoundrels. After all, there’s only so many times you can revisit the blue-and-red litmus test between the Jedis and the Sith, which is why it’s so refreshing to see a Force-less narrative. Sure, Mando’s stuffed animal may change all that — the second episode, “The Child”, came achingly close — but Favreau’s so far kept his story grounded. No, this is a series cut from the pages of the the pulpy novels that first built up this galaxy ages ago, long before Disney opted to turn it all into “legend.” We must be cautious. –Michael Roffman


    23 . Dickinson

    Dickinson, Apple TV Plus, Hailee Steinfeld

    Dickinson (Apple TV+)

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    Showrunner: Alena Smith

    MVP of the Show: Wiz Khalifa as Death. Kidding, kidding—though he is pretty great. Dickinson lives and dies with Hailee Steinfeld’s performance, a colorful, vibrant thing that balances vulnerability, joy, and immense frustration within the confines of the specific tone Smith conures. It’s a perfect marriage of writer and performer.

    Why We Binge: Apple sent out only three episodes of this series for pre-air consideration, which likely accounts for its mixed, if warm, response from critics. It’s a crying shame—Dickinson grows increasingly more confident in its irreverent, bold, and above all, lively vision by not just the episode, but by the moment. Smith and her writers deftly balance its contemporary streak with its Victorian underpinnings, resulting in a totally original vision that looks, sounds, and moves like a teenage poet’s fever dream. It’s hot-blooded, lightning-bright, deeply empathetic, wholly ensorcelling, and above all else, just plain old cool. — Allison Shoemaker


    22 . Mindhunter

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    Mindhunter, Season 2, Netflix

    Mindhunter (Netflix)

    Showrunner: Joe Penhall

    MVP of the Show: True crime nuts hoping to see Damon Herriman pop up as Charles Manson in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood were probably pissed when he walked in and out of the Polanski residence without so much as a wave. It’s okay, though, because it both a.) worked for that film and b.) made his second cameo in the sophomore season of Mindhunter all that more riveting. Herriman clearly did his homework, and he doesn’t so much do an impersonation here as he emulates Manson’s id. It’s an effective turn, to say the least, and the series does enough needling to earn the visit.

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    Why We Binge: By swiftly resolving the cliffhanger at the end of its debut season — Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) being hospitalized for panic attacks after, you know, spending time with mass murderers like Ed Kemper — Mindhunter opens itself up to the sandbox it spent a whole season creating. Penhall exercises restraint, though, by shifting the focus away from the prisons and down to the Atlanta murders of 1979–81. While the pivot shoehorns Mindhunter into a standard procedural, the investigation itself offers sobering evidence that blood turns to red tape fast in this world. What unfolds is an arc that’s compelling enough to rise above all the perfunctory drama surrounding it, particularly all those trips back home with Bill Tench (Holt McCallany). Who needs a cigarette? –Michael Roffman


    21 . The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance

    Hup in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (Netflix)

    The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (Netflix)

    Showrunner: Jeffrey Addiss, Will Matthews, and Javier Grillo-Marxuach

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    MVP of the Show: Hup walked so Baby Yoda could run. The Dark Crystal’s best character by far is the wide-eyed, adventurous Podling who just wants to prove himself, and carries the soul of the show on his li’l Muppet shoulders.

    Why We Binge: All The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance had to do was recapture the imaginative, high-fantasy spirit of the 1983 Jim Henson film from which its strange world was derived. But the showrunners, and director Louis Leterrier, did one better: not only did they use the series to showcase the incredible production design and Muppetry for which the Jim Henson Company is legendary, they crafted a multi-layered script that (like all the best fantasy) acts as an allegory for our current world of fake news, climate change, and authoritarian impulses. It’s a series that, warts and all, forces you to bow to its supreme ambition. –Clint Worthington


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