At this point, it’s a cliché to say we’re living in “a golden age of television,” but it really is true. Through all of the confusion of 2019, there were some innovative and remarkable television series that hit the air — as well as streaming platforms, of which there are seemingly hundreds. This year, we had Baby Yoda and The Hot Priest, among other television moments, to get us through the chaos. Below, our staff's picks for the best television shows of 2019.
I think I finished Top Boy, the gritty British crime drama revived on Netflix this year in part thanks to Drake, within 24 hours. The story follows a new generation of hustlers in South London, grappling with, in no particular order, Brexit, gentrification, a psychopathic gangster played by British MC Dave, and an Irish drug connect. Oh, and an even more psychopathic Jamaican drug lord. Not since The Wire has a series so comprehensively examined and illuminated the nuances of the drug trade. The soundtrack bangs, too. - Jeff Ihaza, Culture Editor
The Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj
This year brought the glorious return of The Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj — the only South Asian person on TV who I actually trust. As my community continues to navigate the complexities of our identity in this country, Minhaj is our savior: a doe-eyed fact-loving savage on a diamond-shape stage — dropping uncomfortable realities nestled in clever, irreverent, comedy. The last few seasons, all airing in 2019, brought thoughtful and hilarious meditations on topics that matter to young people of all backgrounds: mental health, immigration, and of course, politics. - Rajul Punjabi, Senior Wellbeing Editor
Barry - Season 2
Barry can be difficult to watch. There’s lots of violence, lots of dread, and lots of amateur acting, as the titular Barry (Bill Hader) attends acting class with some truly cringey Hollywood wannabes.
But the hardest thing about Barry is its morality. Repeatedly, you find yourself rooting for a hitman to literally get away with murder. It's a testament to the strength of the show's actors; if you're unconvinced Hader has dramatic chops, prepare to be floored, and Sarah Goldberg's work as Barry's girlfriend Sally is alternately infuriating and heartbreaking. This show will challenge you — but it will be worth it. — Kimberly Alters, Politics Editor
There are technically shows that I liked better than The Mandalorian this year. There were shows that brought back my personal most beloved television character (Veronica Mars) and shows that sent me down a monthlong Joni Mitchell spiral (The Politician). But did anything bring me more joy than Baby Yoda’s tiny green face, gigantic green ears and round, shining eyes? Not even close. The last thing I wanted in 2019 was another hour-long prestige drama to muddle through in order to keep up with Twitter. Half-hour(ish) episodes of a space bounty hunter with the cutest sidekick a galaxy far, far away has ever seen were just what I needed. — Hanna Howard, Innovation Editor
Fleabag - Season 2
Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s portrait of a grieving, sexually-obsessive young woman who sleeps with her best friend’s boyfriend — an act that drives the other woman to take her own life — should, on the surface, inspire our disgust and discomfort. Consider Mad Men’s Don Draper, whose relentless philandering and deceits are increasingly less palatable over the show’s seven seasons, eventually eclipsing his sympathy-inspiring complexities entirely. Waller-Bridge’s character is similarly tangled, but she oozes a fragile warmth and slippery charm that slide right past our defenses and directly into our more-than-slightly-jaded millennial hearts. That’s she’s a woman that is allowed to be all of these things — foul-mouthed, aggressively horny, selfish — feels like a strange victory. We’re forced to love her, in spite of ourselves. — Shanté Cosme, Executive Editor
Netflix and Natasha Lyonne showed us the dynamic potential of prestige TV in the streaming era with Russian Doll, a masterful three-and-a-half hour mystery story that unfolded over eight sharp episodes — perfect for binging or breaking up into shorter chunks. I could’ve lived in Nadia’s orbit for a whole lot longer, honestly. The show started out seeming like a zany redux of Groundhog Day, but it quickly got a lot darker, deeper, and twistier as Nadia explored painful aspects of her past. It was brilliant. Plus, I can’t think of another woman-centered show or movie that plumbs its protagonist’s psyche like this. Men in movies, TV shows, and literature have been allowed complex inner lives forever. The same can’t be said for female characters. Gimme more of it in 2020! - Kara Weisenstein, Contributing Writer
If you’ve read Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ comic book epic Watchmen, then you know how difficult of a story it is to tell through any other medium. In fact, previous attempts to translate the story to film have been met with failure, with many calling it “unfilmable”. Enter Damon Lindelof, creator of such television beasts as Lost and The Leftovers. Lindelof’s Watchmen, which premiered on HBO in October and ran for nine episodes, acts as a sequel to the original text. But by taking slight liberties with the original characters and chronology of events, the show offers a poignant analysis of the problems affecting Americans today, such as race, disinformation, and terrorism — all told through the same lens as the original: an alternate history changed by the existence of superheroes. To be able to pack a cohesive and riveting story into such a short season of television while using many of the original characters and elements of the comics was a truly impressive feat, and the way the show addresses the country’s most pressing issues makes it one of my favorite shows of recent memory. - Ramy Zabarah, Director of Social
Derry Girls is the funniest TV show I’ve seen this year, and one of the funniest I’ve ever seen, period. I have watched both seasons, which feel criminally short, multiple times. There’s something about the way Lisa McGee has created these five Northern Irish teenagers that are both incredibly endearing and a little bit horrifying. As they navigate the Troubles of the 1990s, they also deal with awkward crushes, unbelievable lies, and the excruciating experience that is puberty. The talented cast never misses their mark with jokes, and few other television shows have been so sincerely and consistently funny. Originally aired on Channel 4 and now streaming on Netflix, Derry Girls is a breath of fresh air and a full belly laugh — both desperately needed in 2019. - Opheli Garcia Lawler, Contributing Writer