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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


    20 . The New Golden of Age of Animated Shows

    Showrunner: Lisa Hanawalt (Tuca & Bertie), Raphael Bob-Waksberg (BoJack Horseman, Undone), Kate Purdy (Undone), Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland (Rick & Morty), Bob Peterson (Forky Asks A Question), Loren Bouchard and Nora Smith (Bob’s Burgers)

    MVP of the Show: With so many stellar candidates in animation this year, it’s hard to choose just one who stands head and shoulders above the rest. But Princess Carolyn is the unsung hero of BoJack Horseman — both in-universe and out. Her have-it-all struggles, her surreptitious strike powerplay, and her managing to achieve a measure of both triumph and peace made it a hell of a year for our favorite PC.

    Why We Binge: What a year for animation! BoJack Horseman and its creative cousins, Tuca & Bertie and Undone, each pushed the envelope and broadened the types of stories told through animation and on T.V. writ large. Rick and Morty continues its maniacal assault on every genre imaginable alongside unassuming doses of introspection for its title characters. Bob’s Burgers has no business continuing to be this funny or this heartwarming in its 10th season. And Forky Asks a Question is the exact sort of inquisitive, hyperactively hilarious, pitch perfect quick-hit comedy we need right now. If you want great television in 2019, start with ink (and pixels) and paint. –Andew Bloom


    19 . Euphoria

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    Zendaya in Euphoria

    Euphoria (HBO)

    Showrunner: Sam Levinson

    MVP of the Show: As Rue, Zendaya delivers the kind of performance that’ll blow open her career options in a just world. Sure, the series may trade on the shock of a onetime Disney star struggling with drug addiction, but her work here is no after-school portrait. She imbues Rue with the weariness of someone who’s already lived far too much for their age and barely stuck around to tell about it.

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    Why We Binge: It would’ve been easy for Euphoria to go wrong, and quickly. HBO’s adaptation of the 2012 Israeli series, following a group of teenagers through their discoveries of sex, drugs, and the cruelty of the modern world, is the kind of flashy provocation that so often tends to reveal itself as empty before long, if not luridly exploitative. But the first season instead offers a wrenching immersion in how much worse being a teenager is when every imaginable vice and perversion is within reach, along with enough screens to make sure that you’ll never live your worst choices down. The uniformly strong cast finds the humanity underneath the archetypes, never letting any one character become the sum total of their alarm-sounding plot points. They’re troubled and contradictory kids, well on the road to becoming troubled and contradictory adults. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


    18 . Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

    Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW)

    Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW)

    Showrunner: Aline Brosh McKenna and Rachel Bloom

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    MVP of the Show: It’s impossible to award this to anyone other than series creator and star Bloom. How do you not give all of the kudos to the theatre major with a strong dislike for the musical Cats for turning the object of her disdain into the inspiration for a series of sex fantasy songs in episode nine, “I Need Some Balance”?

    Why We Binge: In its final year, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend strayed away from its fixation on Rebecca Bunch (Bloom)’s love life in order to focus on the maturation of its entire cast. Sure, the “will they, won’t they” love quad of Rebecca, Nate (Scott Michael Foster), Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III) and Greg (Skylar Astin, in an inspired piece of re-casting) still occupied a lot of screen time, but Bloom and Brosh McKenna became increasingly interested in offering closure for everyone, even the slightest of supporting characters. The result was one of the most creatively satisfying and heartfelt finales in recent memory (of course Rebecca chose herself!), capped by a taped version of the show’s live-show. Plus: we got some great new original songs, including “Anti-Depressants Are So Not A Big Deal”, “Don’t Be A Lawyer” and, my fave, the visual representation of Rebecca’s interior mental struggles as a clock replete with series spanning costumes in “Eleven O’Clock”. –Joe Lipsett


    17 . The Good Place

    The Good Place, Season 4,

    The Good Place (NBC)

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    Showrunner: Michael Schur

    MVP of the Show: Can it be anyone other than Manny Jacinto’s Jason Mendoza? Expressive eyes, five-star cheekbones, and the emotional intelligence of a sleaze ball saint.

    Why We Binge: Perhaps it’s unfair to put The Good Place on this list, seeing as we still have five episodes to go before the fourth season — the series’ last — comes to an end. But Mike Schur’s thoughtful, riotously complex comedy about the intricacies of human morality found bold new ways to reinvent itself each season, and this year was no exception. Putting the onus on our heroes to fix Heaven threw the cast into intriguing new dynamics, and put our idealism that humankind can better itself to the ultimate test. But throughout, Schur and company never lost the pun-filled, absurdist humor at the show’s core of its quirky conception of the afterlife. They just found deeper, more meaningful ways to express it. –Clint Worthington


    16 . Pose

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    Indya Moore in Pose

    Pose (FX)

    Showrunner: Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Steven Canals

    MVP of the Show: It’s hard to play favorites with an ensemble cast like Pose, but for Season 2, the belle of the ball has got to be the heart of the show, mother Evangelista herself, Mj Rodriguez as Blanca Rodriguez-Evangelista. Whether facing the mortality of herself and her community, singing her heart out, or being literally haunted by the dangers that trans woman of color face (Angelica Ross’ Candy Johnson-Ferocity), Blanca’s hardships as an HIV-positive mother to a house of orphans is at the epicenter of every arc of the show, and Rodriguez’s performance bears the weight with dynamic grace.

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    Why We Binge: Equal parts triumphant and tragic, Pose‘s historical fiction is a raw and relevant sashay into a past whose shadow looms large and vicious in the present. This is a 20th century queer history lesson and social studies class distilled into must-see-TV. Some of the names have been changed and there’s high fashion fantasy paired with the high drama, but the important facts are classroom quality. The AIDS crisis has always been a critical component of Pose‘s narrative, and in Season 2, the pain of living at the height of the epidemic takes center stage. From the mass graves of Hart Island, to the front lines of ACT UP protests, Pose is a document of all that was, all that still is, and all that must never be forgotten. –Cap Blackard


    15 . What We Do In The Shadows

    What We Do in the Shadows, FX, Kayvan Novak, Matt Berry, Harvey Guillen

    What We Do in the Shadows (FX)

    Showrunner: Paul Simms

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    MVP of the Show: Vampire content. The stuff’s admittedly been scarce throughout the 2010s, no thanks to the success of the Twilight franchise and our resulting exhaustion with the genre. What We Do in the Shadows brings the sexy bloodsuckers back in a new way (well, outside of the 2015 film the show is based on), and wisely develops its own mythology without trying to course-correct anything we’ve seen before.

    Why We Binge: Like the best sitcoms, the re-watchability factor of What We Do in the Shadows is very high. (Full disclosure: I laughed so hard bingeing it all in one day, I did it again the following afternoon. No, I didn’t cancel any plans.) That alone is a testament to the ingenuity of showrunner Paul Simms and series creators Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi, especially given that its mockumentary format has been overdone to death in the wake of The Office and Parks and Recreation. Nothing feels redundant here, even in the shadow (no pun intended) of its source material. It’s both a companion piece and an expansion of the film that keeps screaming with absurdist originality. –Carrie Wittmer


    14 . Schitt’s Creek

    Schitt's Creek, Catherine O'Hara, Season 5

    Schitt’s Creek (Pop TV)

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    Showrunner: Dan Levy

    MVP of the Show: The answer, my bébés, is obviously Catherine O’Hara. From her glamorously kooky ensembles and untraceable accent to her love of wigs and melodramatic entrances, Moira Rose has become one of the all-time great TV characters thanks to O’Hara’s fearless, peerless performance. But beyond the aesthetics, O’Hara’s Moira also has a warm, tender heart, which peeks through at surprising moments and shows just what a gifted actress O’Hara is.

    Why We Binge: Schitt’s Creek is a true joy to watch week after week. The Canadian import has taken its initial premise — “clueless wealthy family stuck in a podunk town” — and turned it into something far richer over its five seasons. As the Rose Family has become more human, so has the series, subverting stereotypes and expectations all while making us laugh and occasionally cry (looking at you, Patrick and David!). Schitt’s Creek shows us what a kinder, more accepting world could look like and that home and family are what we make them. To borrow a phrase from Ms. Tina Turner, it’s simply the best.
    –Emmy Potter


    13 . Unbelievable

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    Unbelievable

    Unbelievable (Netflix)

    Showrunner: Susannah Grant

    MVP of the Show: Merritt Wever’s been the secret weapon of many a TV show and movie for two decades, but in the last few years has found roles that allow her to stand out as the careful considered performer she is. Here in the role of a detective in charge of a rash of sexual assaults, she’s plainly studied up on the mannerisms, speech patterns and stern but kind demeanor required for work like this. She’s always good, but she shines like a John Paul Jones organ solo all throughout the limited series.

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    Why We Binge: There have been a number of excellent television shows about the horrendous ordeal of living with assault, but few with Unbelievable‘s grip on how nightmarish the law enforcement response to the crimes can be. This show, written by Grant, Ayelet Waldman, and Michael Chabon balances the skin-crawling terror of not just living through the worst moment of your life, but then having to answer endless questions about it to cops who have no idea what it feels like. The show takes on the form of a gripping procedural as the few cops who care and who know from trauma (Wever, Toni Collette, and Dale Dickey among others) find themselves working the same case. Quietly but profoundly empathetic, Unbelievable shows, that even with will, funding, technology, and witnesses, doing the right thing and finding justice can still be next to impossible. –Scout Tafoya


    12 . Documentary Now

    Documentary Now! (IFC)

    Documentary Now! (IFC)

    Showrunners: Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Seth Meyers, and Rhys Thomas

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    MVP of the Show: You could spin a wheel and pick from any number of great performances this season, but we have to hand it to Paula Pell’s hysterical homage to Elaine Stritch in “Co-Op”. As she’s dragged through a recording session from hell (and held back from her eye doctor appointment), Pell’s increasingly aggravated one-liners and song takes make for some of the year’s funniest television.

    Why We Binge: Since its inception, Documentary Now! has been one of TV’s great in-jokes for anyone well-read enough in documentary filmmaking to want to watch meticulous parodies of those same docs. But by its third season, which mixes familiar reference points Wild Wild Country, Original Cast Album: Company) with broader allusions to genre clichés, IFC’s send-up series is now finding resonance even within some of its goofiest jokes. Cate Blanchett’s riff on Marina Abramović’s challenging installations starts with evident silliness, but eventually captures some of the same intimate power as the real-life artist’s work. Fred Armisen’s myopic Kickstarter filmmaker doubles as a case study in obnoxious male hubris. It’s the rare comedy series that inspires laughs and further contemplation in equal measure.

    Also, just try and get any of those numbers from “Co-Op” out of your head. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


    11 . One Day at a Time

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    one day at a time netflix season 3 series

    One Day at a Time (Netfix)

    Showrunner: Gloria Calderón Kellett

    MVP of the Show: It’s tempting to give this honor to the one, the only, the legendary Rita Moreno, but Season 3 really is Justina Machado’s time to shine. Look no further than episode nine, “Anxiety” — you’ll see just how much this show relies on her uncanny ability to wring something meaningful from the limitations of its format.

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    Why We Binge: Going on three years now, Kellett’s reimagining of the Norman Lear sitcom into a warm, insightful, and deeply probing look at a Cuban-American family living in Miami has all but breathed new life into the multi-cam sitcom. Its third season might be its best yet, with some knockout episodes (“Funeral”, the aforementioned “Anxiety”) and new challenges for its likable cast of characters. Even the supporting players find surprisingly dramatic shades, like Todd Grinnell’s Schneider newfound struggles with sobriety. For a second, it looked as though this would be the last we’d see of the Alvarez family; with Schitt’s Creek network Pop TV rescuing it from cancellation, the show’s heart beats for another day. –Clint Worthington


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