With stars like Mahershala Ali, Toni Collette, and Meryl Streep slumming it on the small screen, 2019 was another year dominated by miniseries, anthologies, and bite-sized seasons. Although a handful of new faces were able to enter the collective consciousness, the year’s best work came from familiar names and shows.
Before we get into it, here are 10 shows that nearly cracked the top 10: The Deuce, Fosse/Verdon, GLOW, The Mandalorian, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Rick and Morty, Russian Doll, True Detective, Unbelievable, You’re the Worst
10. Killing Eve: Although Killing Eve wasn’t able to recapture the highs of season one, the show successfully transitioned from one showrunner to another in season two, remaining one of the surest bets on TV. It will have to do so again next season, as Suzanne Heathcote replaces season two showrunner, Emerald Fennell.
9. A Series of Unfortunate Events: Some stories don’t work without absolute commitment from all parties involved: Doctor Who, Edward Scissorhands, Donnie Darko. A Series of Unfortunate Events is on that list, as well, and fortunately for Lemony Snicket and people who enjoy delightful things, the second time’s a charm for this adaptation. The series’ set design, costume work, and acting are all transportive.
8. Mindhunter: David Fincher’s detail-latent serial killer procedural came back to investigate the systemically neglected Atlanta child murders. It remains to be seen how long Fincher and co. are willing to go before returning to Hollywood, but another season or two would be appreciated.
7. Barry: Bill Hader and Alec Berg’s dark tragicomedy makes its inaugural appearance on this list with an abject, action-packed second season.
6. Primal: Genndy Tartakovsky, creator of Samurai Jack and Dexter’s Laboratory, returned to the drafting table for Primal, an anachronistic tale of desperation and friendship between a caveman and dinosaur. An expert in animated fare, Tartakovsky orchestrates tension, emotion, and existential beauty without a word of dialogue.
5. Watchmen: Continuing Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s sacred superhero series was a risk for the show’s cast and crew. Creator Damon Lindelof used pre-existing IP to Trojan horse substantive racial commentary into the cultural discourse. It worked.
4. Chernobyl: More than a window to the past, historical dramas are a reflection of who we once were and a warning of what we once again might be. With fact-intolerant government officials, uncontrollable nuclear fires, and abundant radiation sickness, Craig Mazin’s historical retelling was the scariest thing on screen in 2019.
3. I Think You Should Leave: The best sketch comedy shows share a batting average with baseball’s top players. I Think You Should Leave, from comedian Tim Robinson, is the Babe Ruth of sketch comedy. A plurality of the show’s sketches brought me to euphoric tears. No TV show or movie has ever made me laugh as hard, or as frequently, as Netflix’s I Think You Should Leave.
2. Succession: America’s favorite analog of Rupert Murdoch and his news media empire is back. With as much heir and heiress incompetence, peppery one-liners, and wild rich people shit as season one, there was no sophomore slump for Succession.
1. Fleabag: Creator and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge became one of the most sought-after screenwriting talents on the market through her work on Killing Eve and Fleabag. Waller-Bridge’s considerable reputation has only improved since, saying more in Fleabag season two’s approximately 150-minute runtime than most shows do in an entire series. The 26-minute first episode is 2019’s finest piece of writing.