Nowadays, even the most zealous television viewer cannot keep up with everything that is recognized or award-winning. Some excellent, idiosyncratic shows ran excellently in 2019, but made little difference in the larger culture. The hackneyed baseball comedy Brockmire, the impressive showbiz satire The Other Two, the melancholy homecoming dramedy Back to Life … these and many other series still have to find the audience they deserve. Even when critics hit the drum for them, the sound is absorbed by an ever increasing volume of hype. And with the new high-profile subscription streaming services that will be launched this year and next, this noise won’t subside anytime soon.
But the really great TV dramas and comedies will last. At least for now, all 20 titles in the list below can be found in a streaming service or on their network’s websites, or even in reruns in reliable old cable television programs. Some of these series are well known and well regarded. Others landed under the radar in 2019. Everyone is ready to be discovered (or in some cases even re-appreciated) by anyone who enjoys the fact that TV professionals take risks with their style, storytelling and subject.
Photo: Michael Parmelee / FX
1. Fosse / Verdon (FX)
This biographical mini-series about Broadway legends Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon is a dizzying turn through American show business from the late 1940s to the early 1980s. Fosse / Verdon is visually stunning, melodic and decorated with dynamic lead performances by Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams and a treat for theater nerds and newcomers. It is also the rare story about tortured geniuses that focuses on genius as well as torture. The co-creators Steven Levenson and Thomas Kail are not afraid of bed bouncing, drug abuse or the emotional manipulation of the title couple. However, their structurally imaginative melodrama still celebrates the collaborative connections that Fosse and Verdon made and the masterpieces they created.
Image: CBS All Access
2. The Good Fight (CBS All Access)
Author producers Michelle King and Robert King actually delivered two major shows this year, with their quirky mystery horror series Evil only debuting on CBS a few months ago. But evil is good (so to speak), but not as good as The Good Fight. The rocket-rich drama of the Kings about Chicago lawyers tries to fight their way through the madness of the current socio-political moment. In its third season, The Good Fight grappled with racist prejudice, the far-right, fake news and the culture of cancellation in entertaining and unpredictable episodes with guest appearances, which Michael Sheen described as detestable Roué (based on the late Roy Cohn) in detail The talented young British actor Gary Carr plays a crazy version of himself.
Photo: NBC Universal
There are only a few episodes left in this imaginative and ambitious afterlife sitcom. So it’s time to advertise his legacy as one of the greatest on television. Between the wild end of season three earlier this year (which included a visit to an IHOP that exists beyond time and space) and the emotional episodes that took place before the last vacation break of season four (our heroes notice that they are really against fighting the eternal torture) is separated), The Good Place is pushing for a powerful finale. As always, creator Michael Schur and his authors and actors continue to balance the basic question of telling whether their characters can be happy with the bigger questions of what it means to be a decent person.
Photo: Michael Moriatis / AMC
4. Lodge 49 (AMC)
The lack of an easy-to-explain premise likely led to this strange and beautiful show being canceled at the end of its second season. Lodge 49 is a kind of Zen surfer (played by the naturally lovable Wyatt Russell) who remains optimistic about one misfortune after another. and it’s about his twin sister Liz (Sonya Cassidy), an exhausted cynic who is trying to make a living in a Southern California economy that has apparently failed anyone who isn’t a “jammer”. But it’s mostly about a social club where ordinary people (plus a few crazy people, like the suicidal spy novel played by Paul Giamatti in season 2 with a charming brio) gather to think about the old, secret lore, that could bring clarity to their chaotic life.
Photo: Steve Schofield / Amazon Studios
The first season of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s hilarious and harrowing drama brought to light both her heroine – an impulsive Libertine whom her family and friends mistrusted – and her brisk nudge at giving the camera quick looks. In the phenomenal second season, the author Fleabag’s well-known tics, characters, and themes serve an intense plot line in which the title character tries to mend some broken relationships while at the same time thinking about an affair with a sexy alcoholic Catholic priest (played by Andrew Bleeding Heart Scott). Rarely has a TV sitcom been so stimulating, mostly because it’s difficult to watch season one first episode without running ahead and trying to figure out what’s going on.
Peter Kramer / HBO
Why did this snappy satire make the leap from small hit to meme-generating virus feeling in season 2? Appreciate the talented cast that has grown into their tricky roles and plays legitimate, disgusting millionaires who are also strangely likeable – largely because they have been manipulated all their lives by their megalomaniacal billionaire patriarch played by Brian with fearsome fire Cox. Give more credit to an ingenious episodic structure in which these contentious oligarchs betray each other and suffer crushing humiliations in almost every episode in new, dazzling areas. Every week brings something new and makes each one a must.
Mark Hill / HBO
This sequel to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s pioneering graphic novel is equally captivating and confusing, as befits a show created by Damon Lindelof, author and producer of Lost and The Leftovers. The real miracle is how Lindelof pays tribute to the spirit of the original work (albeit without Moore’s input or approval) by using the Guardian myth itself as a way to look at the deeper cultural meanings of superheroes and fantasies of power. These guards make connections between reactionary secret societies, racist code switching, and the literal and figurative masks worn by heroes and bad guys – all without losing the tingling secrets and stunning surprises that Lindelof loves.
Jesse Giddings / The CW
8. Jane the Virgin (The CW)
The fifth and final season of this still underestimated series brought years of complicated telenovela acts about amnesia, fake deaths, secret identities, romantic misunderstandings and so on, without abrupt endings or tricks. And until the very end, Jane anchored the virgin her exaggerated soap opera gimmicks in real concerns about careers, parenting, immigration policies, and all the other “life” that is as dramatic as any evil twin or kidnapping. Although it was nice to see their stories end on the right note, these characters – unlike everyone else on TV – are sorely missed.
Photo: Channel 4 / Netflix
9. Derry Girls (Netflix)
Derry Girls ‘fiddly and mischievous Northern Irish Catholic schoolchildren were responsible for some of the best farces of 2019, with tightly constructed, explosively funny episodes about proms and family weddings, and teenagers’ failed road trips. The special thing about Derry Girls, like in season one, is the way the writer Lisa McGee (who based the show on her own experience) used these broad, clumsy high school hijinks against the backdrop of Irish “troubles” placed and shows how life goes even when heavily armed troops patrol the streets.
Released on February 1 – a day before Groundhog Day – this original innovation came on Netflix with very little anticipation, but became a must almost immediately. Natasha Lyonne (who also co-wrote the series) creates with Nadia Vulvokov, a croaky coder in baggy clothes, an instantly indelible character who gets the chance to test her personal program if she’s stuck at the same birthday party. Russian Doll is a show about a young woman who examines her own mistakes and tries to correct them, and there is an action that undergoes amazing changes from episode to episode.
The idea of watching an almost six-hour mini-series about one of the most devastating nuclear accidents ever may sound like a miserable affair. However, the author Craig Mazin and the director Johan Renck transform this project into something absolutely fascinating and unexpectedly filmic. Led by a cast that includes Jared Harris, Emily Watson, and Stellan Skarsgård, Chernobyl collapses step by step how disasters can happen in any oppressive society where mistake detection is tantamount to criticizing the government. Chernobyl is also about how the people most affected by this tragedy preserve their humanity and make gallows humor jokes while trying to save as many of their countrymen as possible.
12. Perpetual Grace, LTD (Epix)
Ben Kingsley gives one of the most memorable performances of the year in which he plays a talkative, philosophical deceiver in this dry, weird neo-noir. Perpetual Grace, LTD, co-created by Patriot writers Steven Conrad and Bruce Terris, is a twisted story of salvation after a handful of tragic special balls – including a stoic magician, a vengeful ex-con, a failed firefighter, and a Mexican astronaut – when they were drawn into an elaborate, cross-border kidnapping scheme. This elaborately planned and stylish show offers colorful dialogues that limit poetics, especially when spoken in Kingsley’s growing monotone.
Image: cartoon network
For the past two years, Cartoon Network has attempted to turn some of its more unconventional projects – such as the gently psychedelic Summer Camp Island and Genndy Tartakovsky’s prehistoric Primal adventure – into special events on consecutive nights by playing full or half-season episode blocks. An unfortunate side effect is that these shows sometimes seem to come and go before people who love them even know they exist. Infinity Train should have been a much bigger business, with its fantastic and surprising story that a lost teenage boy is slowly winding through the title vehicle: an endless convoy in which each car contains its own universe. The good news is that a second season starts with a completely new adventure in January. Get in now.
The beginning of season two in the early 1990s reinforced an already excellent show and allowed the makers to fight the devastation of AIDS (and the activists who responded to it) and to obscure the short window of American life when white people appeared obsessed from Madonna’s “Vogue” and the film Paris Is Burning. Billy Porter is amazing as always, like the Drag Ball MC, which watches all younger queens with a careful, ubiquitous affection. But it’s the mostly transgender-supporting cast that shines the most in Pose Season 2, reflecting both the hopes and the pain of a subculture that seeks mainstream recognition.
Photo: Ali Goldstein / Netflix
The highly fictionalized story of a women’s wrestling league from the 1980s moves to Las Vegas for the third season, where the “beautiful women” enjoy a certain fame outside of the LA market. This series of GLOW episodes downplay wrestling and is more about a series of loosely connected vignettes that explore the personal identity and true meaning of success. It’s a bold creative decision that not every GLOW fan supports. But compared to the nostalgia of the 80s after Stranger Things and The Goldbergs, the material here is refreshingly challenging because the prejudices and bigotry that lived in life 30 years ago were recognized.
Picture: Disney Plus
The goal of a new streaming service is to become indispensable. Disney Plus achieved this not only with the depth of its catalog, but also with the debut of one of the most discussed shows of the year. Almost everything about dealing with The Mandalorian was smart, from keeping the series secret (and its breakout character “The Child”, also known as “Baby Yoda”) before the debut, to structuring the episodes that were old-fashioned “Adventure” remember the week “TV Western. With the weekly release of new installments on Friday, Disney Plus has created a new way for Star Wars fans around the world to sit back and enjoy the weekend together.
17. Sherman’s Shop Window (IFC)
The IFC cult favorite documentary Now! delivered one of the best episodes of the year with Stephen Sondheim / D.A. Pennebaker’s parody “Original Cast Album: Co-op.” But the IFC’s most enduring pop culture parody this year is Sherman’s Showcase, an imaginary best-of anthology for a nonexistent soul train-like dance program. Bashir Salahuddin (who also helped shape the show with Diallo Riddle) plays the presenter, who tries to stay informally cool, even though music and fashion have evolved over the decades in a way that often worries him. The result is a show that pays homage to the past of television and responds gently to the changes that the medium is going through.
Photo: Jennifer Clasen / HBO
Julio Torres has been secretly one of the brightest new TV stars for a few years now, whether he’s writing some of Saturday Night Live’s best sketches or hosting the absolutely magical HBO standup special My Favorite Shapes. In Los Espookys, which he directed together with Fred Armisen and Ana Fabrega, Torres plays an heir to the chocolate company who wants to give up the family business and spend his days doing fake hauntings with his friends. This kind of show can be seen in Los Espookys: silly, cute and generally inferior and also prone to sudden outbreaks of retro B films.
Photo: Jan Thijs / CBS
Discovery cheated a bit in its second season and brought back a few wrestlers from Star Trek’s past to reinforce the already outstanding cast of characters. The addition of Anson Mount as capt. Christopher Pike and Ethan Peck as his trusted semi-Vulcan Lt. Spock connected the show more closely to the Star Trek main timeline and at the same time shifted the dynamics of the crew from fearful and unstable to something more collegial and idealistic. The guest heroes continued on until the end of the season, but not before the Discovery creative team proved that they could produce episodes and storylines that could withstand the best of the Star Trek series.
Yes, Game of Thrones. Loyal viewers can argue – and have – and will – whether this series has a satisfactory ending or not. In an era of extreme audience fragmentation, the internationally popular fantasy blockbuster from HBO deserves a lot of recognition for its reach and spectacle and also for the way it keeps telling so many millions of viewers. Aside from its cultural value, Game of Thrones still offers moments of awe and wonder beyond what most TV stations have ever tried in a recent season, which many find frustrating and disappointing.