Before we get to our list of top television shows of 2019, a few notes on methodology:
- In an effort to be fair and accurate to whatever degree possible, we have introduced math to the equation by having our crew of pop culture experts submit their personal top 10 lists and then assigning inverse point totals to the shows based on ranking (the number one show gets 10 points, the number 10 show gets one point, etc.)
- We then took all of these figures and added them up to create cumulative scores for each show, and then we assigned them an overall ranking in the final list based on these figures
- Despite our best efforts, this system still ended up being flawed because one first-place vote by one staffer could launch a show into the top 10 even if no one else had the show on their list
- This is what we get for bringing math into this
The list leads off with three honorable mentions, shows that couldn’t crack the listings proper but still deserved some form of acknowledgment. To be honest, the honorable mention list could have contained 20 shows. Or more. There were a lot of shows this year, many of them very good. Narrowing down to 10 (plus ties, plus honorable mentions) proved as hard as always. We did our best, though. For you. It’s a nice list.
Lodge 49 came to an abrupt end after its second season thanks to the AMC cancellation hammer, which is a real shame because there was nothing else like it on television. It was a stoned look at loss and loneliness that touched on family and creating a new family and finding meaning in life. It also featured a booze-filled Thermos called Thermosaurus and a wild run to Mexico in search of mysterious parchments and Paul Giamatti flinging himself through windows and walls and out of airplanes. It was weird and funny and deep and almost impossible to explain in a short blurb like this. The closest I’ve ever gotten is “like The Big Lebowski crossed with National Treasure with a dusting of The Leftovers,” which is as reasonable as it is wildly unreasonable.
The producers are trying to find a home on streaming service for a third season and fingers crossed on them finding it. Lodge 49 developed into a show with something to say as its second season progressed and it would be a real shame to lose that if we don’t have to. — Brian Grubb
Euphoria courted controversy before it even aired thanks to the abundance of full-frontal nudity and its willingness to address some controversial issues like drug addictions, homophobia, and toxic masculinity, but we’d argue that’s why the show was so damn good. The series never shied away from tough material, leaning in so that it could paint an honest portrait of the generational divide. Zendaya is magnetic as Rue, a teenaged addict grasping to find purpose and meaning in her life while Hunter Schaffer turns in a career-making performance as Jules, a transgender girl battling prejudice, personal trauma, and her need for companionship. We’re also given glimpses of intimate partner violence, child abuse, the consequences of closeted sexuality, bullying, and mental illness as we follow these teens through high school rites like prom and impending graduations. All of this is done to a banging soundtrack that perfectly encapsulates the tone and subject matter of the series. HBO may have taken a risk with Euphoria, but it paid off in a big way. — Jessica Toomer
Schitt’s Creek has always been exceptional, but the world finally caught on in the show’s fifth season as the Rose family navigated hilarious new obstacles in their small-town life. This season focused on the romantic relationships of the Rose children, David (Dan Levy) and Alexis (Annie Murphy) as they took the next steps of apartment hunting and party hosting and planning research trips to the Galapagos Islands. Meanwhile, Moira (Catherine O’Hara) and Johnny (Eugene Levy) made strides in their professional lives that saw them attending soap opera conventions, bringing home hospitality award for the motel, and prepping for the premiere of Moira’s new horror franchise. As wildly ridiculous as the storylines could be, the heart of this show is the relationships between these lovable characters. Levy gave us an honest, heartwarmingly optimistic view of queer romance while O’Hara cemented her status as a comedy phenom who can wear the hell out of any wig. — Jessica Toomer
10. (tie) Veep — 10 points
As the final season of Veep was kicking off earlier this year, a popular refrain starting bouncing around: “What purpose does Veep still serve in a world where politics has gone insane?” It seemed silly at the time, to assume that this show that skewered Washington and everyone in it with laser precision for years would suddenly, like, forget how do it. But people were concerned.
Then the final season rolled on out and — Surprise! — it was fine. It was better than fine. It was very good, up to and through the finale, up to and including the very last moments of the flash forward. Veep was a great show, a mean jumble of creative insults and strings of profanity that also served as the best and sharpest political satire of its time. We’re probably worse off without it. I know I am. I need more Splett in my life. — Brian Grubb
10. (tie) Bojack Horseman — 10 points
Netflix split the final season of BoJack Horseman into two parts; if part two is as good as part one, it will probably crack our Best Shows of 2020 list, too. The first half of the season deftly balanced character-specific episodes — BoJack attempting to sober up; Princess Carolyn juggling motherhood and her work; Mr. Peanutbutter confessing his adulterous misdeed to Pickles; Diane starting over in Chicago; and Todd, well, Todd’s still up to his wacky shenanigans — with, in one episode, removing the main ensemble entirely. It was a bold narrative choice to focus on the characters (especially the female characters) who BoJack has hurt in his decades of self-absorption. But after six magnificent seasons, BoJack Horseman — somehow still one of the funniest and saddest shows on TV — has earned the right to do whatever the heck it wants. Especially if Character Actress Margo Martindale is involved. — Josh Kurp
10. (tie) Mrs. Fletcher — 10 points
Tom Perrota’s The Leftovers formed the basis of one of the best series of the decade, and his Mrs. Fletcher is quietly doing the same while being overshadowed by Watchmen from Perrota’s The Leftovers partner, Damon Lindelof. Mrs. Fletcher is a moving, half-hour character study about a 46-year-old single mother (played sublimely by Kathryn Hahn) who turns to online porn to fill the time after her son goes to college. The porn, in a lot of ways, awakens and liberates a character who had spent the last 18 years being defined as a mother. Meanwhile, while she’s finding herself, her son is losing himself in a progressive college environment that doesn’t accept meatheads. It’s a sharply written, funny, and touching series that also boasts directing turns from some of the best female directors on the planet: Leisl Tommy, Carrie Brownstein, Nicole Holofcener, and Gillian Robespierre. — Dustin Rowles
9. The Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance — 11 points
This Netflix series (a prequel to the Jim Henson movie) is ridiculously complex, but it’s a rare and beautiful beast that actually deserves the “epic” label that so many series are striving for in the post-Game of Thrones era. The show is just so wild and gutsy and ambitious with the world of Thra enthralling and horrifying at various moments. And amid all the power struggles and turmoil of the story, the show even found some time to explore the mysteries of Skeksis pee. You really gotta respect how they squeezed that disgusting little gem into place. Granted, the first few episodes are a lot to wade through, but then there’s an enormous payoff with Jim Henson’s creations reaching full realization. That’s the true attraction here, by the way. I mean, the visuals are astonishing, and the puppets are painstakingly rendered, but it’s those darn personalities that rule. Move over, Baby Yoda, because I wanna carry around some pocket versions of Hup and Deet to spread a little sunshine into life. — Kimberly Ricci
8. When They See Us — 11 points
Ava DuVernay’s four-part miniseries sent up a twisted version of a perverted procedural that showcased the wrongful convictions of the Central Park Five case. Nothing about watching this series is easy, and purposefully so, for a razor-sharp script and an unforgiving camera made viewing an unyielding experience. That’s the case from the night of the attack to the nightmare that followed for wrongfully accused young men whose lives were ruined by an overzealous prosecutor and an all-too-willing public (including our current president, who demanded the death penalty for the accused), who simply wanted someone, anyone, to be held responsible for a 1989 sexual assault. False accusations and forced confessions led to years of brutal atrocities, all excruciatingly rendered, so clearly, this wasn’t lighthearted binging fare by any standard, but Netflix subscribers still gobbled it up. In the end, the miniseries illuminated the corruption and the flaws that America’s criminal justice system is sometimes riddled with, particularly in cases dealing with people of color. — Kimberly Ricci
7. I Think You Should Leave — 22 points
It took about two days for I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson quotes to become a second language among Those In The Know. You can probably list at least ten of them off the top of your head: “I hope you fucking die, Harley Jarvis.” “Slurping down fish piss with these wet chodes.” “The bones are their money, so are the worms.” “FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU DO.” “Bozo did the dub.” “They’re Stanzos. They’re nice.” Even just saying the name “Roy Donk” makes me laugh. You know what? Watch (or more likely, re-watch) the deliriously funny I Think You Should Leave, then come back and finish the list. That is a good idea. — Josh Kurp
6. Chernobyl — 34 points
I did not expect to enjoy Chernobyl, a gloomy-looking miniseries about a nuclear disaster from the guy who wrote The Hangover Part II and — gulp — The Hangover Part III (speaking of disasters…). Oh, and did I mention that there’s an entire episode about the creepy kid from The Killing of a Sacred Deer murdering dogs? I didn’t? Well, there is. But thanks to a stellar, if-not-Russian-accented cast; eerie direction from Johan Renck; Hildur Guðnadóttir’s chilling score; and Mazin’s precise yet engaging scripts, Chernobyl was one of the best programs on television this year, dog-murdering be damned. And unlike another HBO series that came to an end in 2019, it went out with a superb finale (Jared Harris somehow made blue and red cards more threatening than a dragon melting a chair made of swords). I never thought I’d be so invested in “boron rods” and “dosimeters,” yet here we are. — Josh Kurp
5. Barry — 35 points
The fun thing about Barry is the way its two worlds have flipped over on each other. The acting class, once Barry’s safe place to avoid the stress of being a hitman, is now littered with calamity. The world of organized crime, on the other hand, thanks in large part to the leadership of Goofball Prince Noho Hank, is an absolute bozo circus of jokes and mistakes. It’s one of the many things that makes Barry so good.
It’s also a testament to how good Bill Hader is at all of this. Sure, it helps to surround yourself with a bunch of brilliant performers, and you could do a lot worse in this category than Stephen Root, Henry Winkler, and Sarah Goldberg. But this show is mostly a Hader showcase and he is just so good that it needs to be mentioned, multiple times in the same blurb, which is what is happening here. — Brian Grubb
4. Russian Doll — 40 points
Leslye Headland, Natasha Lyonne (and Amy Poehler’s) Russian Doll was one of those rare Netflix series that surfaces seemingly out of nowhere and that is so intoxicating and cool that it commands the pop-culture conversation for a good week or two. The series is a sort of whirling, drug-induced Groundhog Day that sees Lyonne’s character stuck in a time loop on her 36th birthday that ends in her death at the end of each day. It’s remarkably written, emotionally raw, hilarious but humane series that reinvigorates the time-loop trope while Lyonne also delivers one of the year’s most captivating performances. On a streaming service that seemingly churns out one or two new series every week, Russian Doll is one of the few that lingers long after the binge. — Dustin Rowles
3. Watchmen — 50 points
The risk and ambition of this project paid off, and the future of the small screen will be transformed as a result. Are you surprised? You should be. Very few people (even hardcore comic book nerds) were excited by initial reports of this series. Even though I was a little more pumped than most folks, I still feared that the series would be a waste of talent and money that would prove, once and for all, that Alan Moore was correct in claiming that his groundbreaking graphic novel was “unfilmable.” Moore’s grumbling was not entirely unfounded, given what a mess that Zack Snyder’s near-literal approach to the feature film turned out to be. We all should have known, however, that Damon Lindelof wouldn’t tackle the source material in a straightforward manner. In fact, he continued and recontextualized the novel and propelled the story into downright addictive territory, and HBO’s Watchmen became event TV in an era when folks thought Game of Thrones would be the last of its kind. Somehow, Lindelof combined the ultra-serious issues of trauma and race with the silliest touches (Lube Man, farts, blue penises), and all of it works in a masterful way. — Kimberly Ricci
2. Fleabag — 63 points
Sure, a main draw of Fleabag’s second season was the forbidden love affair with a certain Hot Priest, but even if we ignore the allure of Andrew Scott in a clerical collar, the show’s rumored final installment is some of the best television we’ve seen this year. Few series can deliver the kind of character development and climactic storytelling that Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s brainchild gave us, in six half-hour episodes no less. The writing is sharp and funny, the relationships are layered and nuanced, and the perfectly timed camera pans are a genuine work of art. Waller-Bridge is endearingly relatable as a thirty-something woman struggling to manage her messy life while confronting her overwhelming grief and distracting sex addiction. She makes real strides in season two before meeting a celibate clergyman with a penchant for holding soul-baring conversations over a can of G&T. But the real love story of season two is the one Fleabag has with herself as she faces her shortcomings, forgives herself for them, and moves forward. It’s a beautiful season of television that manages to exceed even the highest of expectations. — Jessica Toomer
1. Succession — 69 points
Succession is a show about broken people trying to claw over, around, and through each other in search of power. And respect. And some sort of approval from a distant father. Everyone is searching for everything that money can’t buy, which makes sense, because money is the one thing none of them need. It’s wild that a show about truly awful rich people captivated the discourse in the way it did. There was a period of time in there where your social media feed was probably 50-60 percent Succession screencaps. It must have been a weird time for people who didn’t watch the show.
The thing the second season did was smart, too, how it just kept twisting the knife into the same old wounds. Kendall was beaten and lifeless until his triumphant swing at the end. Shiv was toyed with all season in a way that made her end up wanting the thing she originally tried to avoid. Roman’s issues manifested in some very disquieting interactions with Gerri through a bathroom door. And Cousin Greg, my sweet boy, got hauled in front of Congress to explain his role in a situation he somehow ended up neck-deep in. (He also got a haircut and is maybe addicted to cocaine?) Despite all this trauma, the show remained fun and funny throughout, a two-step that is impressive whenever it’s done well. Who knows where the show will take us next season? Who even wants to know yet? Most of us are just here for the ride. It’s a pretty great ride. — Brian Grubb