Fleabag, Russian Doll and What We Do in the Shadows, Best Shows 2019

The Best Shows of 2019 (So Far)

Including two shows that weren't supposed to have second seasons at all

Can you believe that Sex Education came out this year? Or that Russian Doll was released in February? There is so much TV out there now that a Best TV of the Year list published in December may as well be a history book. By then, January happened what seems like 10 years ago, and shows from the beginning of the year have already faded into the recesses of your memory.

No, we need best of lists, like, every week in order to keep pace with the deluge. But since that's crazy talk, we're compromising at the halfway point of the year. Below, we've rounded up the 20 best shows of 2019 (so far) -- a list that could have easily run up to the 50 best, but we restrained ourselves -- and have come up with a list that includes the final season of TV's best rom-com, the second season of a show that wasn't even supposed to have a second season, and a comedy that's been around for a while but is only now getting the recognition it deserves. But the most interesting factoid of this list is that over half of the entries are new shows, meaning TV isn't only getting more prolific, it's getting better. We may have to do this list more often. Here are the 20 best shows of 2019 (so far):

Patricia Arquette and Joey King, The Act

Patricia Arquette and Joey King, The Act

Brownie Harris / Hulu

The Act (Hulu)

The Act is terrifying mostly in its subtly. The real case of Gypsy Rose Blanchard (on which the Hulu series is based) sounds straight out of a Hollywood logline: A mother with Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy lies to her daughter about her daughter's ailments, age, and dietary restrictions all to control her, until the daughter finds out the truth and murders her mother. It could have been very easy to over-dramatize the circumstances, but to those with knowledge of the case, it's as close as a series can get. While some events might be a bit overblown, Patricia Arquette and Joey King's performances ground the piece. There's authenticity to both of them, and the mother/daughter toxicity is palpable. But the true scare comes in King's 'Gypsy voice,' which is so eerily spot on it's hard to remember you're watching fiction instead of fact. If you've seen every Snapped episode and are still craving more, this series won't disappoint. -- Kelsey Pfeifer

​Bill Hader, Barry

Bill Hader, Barry

Aaron Epstein/HBO

Barry (HBO)

Bill Hader and Alec Berg's black comedy about a hitman who wants to be an actor avoided the sophomore slump by going deeper and darker. If Barry's first season was about Barry's (Hader) hope of maybe becoming a better person someday, Season 2 was about that hope getting dashed. Just when you think you're out, you pull yourself back in. Hader committed even harder to Barry's barely controlled rage, and if he wins a second Emmy this year, it will be for his hollow-eyed murder-face, not for his jokes. But the real MVPs were Sarah Goldberg as Sally, Barry's narcissistic but traumatized girlfriend, whose step toward redemption and step back mirrored Barry's own, but with even more pathos; and Stephen Root as Barry's manipulative handler Fuches, who asserted his control over Barry even more. -- Liam Mathews

Pamela Adlon, Better Things

Pamela Adlon, Better Things

Suzanne Tenner/FX

Better Things (FX)

The third season of Better Things was its best yet. Through her character Sam, an actress balancing work and her responsibilities as a mother, Pamela Adlon explores so many deeply realistic topics that we somehow rarely get to see on TV, including menopause, existential crises that come with hitting middle age, and choosing to be unattached instead of forcing yourself to be in an unhappy relationship. It's about time this aspect of women's lives was shown in such a brutally honest and funny way, and Better Things does it perfectly. -- Tatiana Tenreyro

Big Little Lies Season 2​

Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies (HBO)

It didn't take long for Big Little Lies' bonus season to reclaim its acclaim as Sunday night appointment viewing for HBO. The second season picked up right where we left off with the Monterey Five and the myriad scandals that hadn't yet been addressed by its original, ostensibly limited series run. Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), Celeste (Nicole Kidman), Jane (Shailene Woodley), Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz), and Renata (Laura Dern) must all answer for the darkest elements of their recent histories, be it to themselves or their families, but those oft painful revelations are still cleanly coupled with the school house dramas that keep it from becoming completely morose. Also elevating the already esteemed cast is the legendary Meryl Streep as the cunning, cardigan-clad Mary Louise, who aims to get to the bottom of Perry's (Alexander Skarsgard) demise. Between her conversational cross-examination skills, the rigidity in her refusal to accept her son's true nature, and her otherwise Charmin Extra Soft disposition, it's easy to see where her son learned to pull off his Jekyll-and-Hyde act for so many years. Mary Louise fills the void of villainy in his stead without taking things too off track from the tones that made this show so compelling in the first place. -- Amanda Bell

Rob Delaney, Sharon Horgan; Catastrophe

Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan, Catastrophe


Catastrophe (Amazon)

Catastropheis the rom-com for people who have actually been in a relationship before. There are no make-out sessions in the rain or sprints through airports like cinematic fairy tales would have you believe, just a repeating cycle of Rob and Sharon (Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan, their usual amazing selves) putting up with each others' bullsh-- over and over again, reconciling, and remembering what they loved about each other in the first place. Though previous seasons have dealt with serious issues, the fourth and final season put up the biggest obstacles yet as Rob faced the backlash of his DUI and the tension of Rob's mom's death elbowed its way into their relationship. The final shot of the series was a beaut that wrapped up Catastrophe's main message in a wonderful metaphor: Being with someone is a struggle against the current, but it's much more enjoyable with the other person willing to help out. -- Tim Surette

​Stellan Skarsgård and Jared Harris, Chernobyl ​

Stellan Skarsgård and Jared Harris, Chernobyl

Liam Daniel/HBO

Chernobyl (HBO)

All I could think while watching Chernobyl was "Wow, all of these people are just starting a slow, painful, gruesome journey toward death, but they don't know it yet." That feeling is usually a no-no in television, but in a miniseries examining one of the worst man-made disasters in history it's perfectly chilling. Chernobyl came out of nowhere to become one of the best miniseries in recent memory, with most people only realizing it existed from the ads in front of Game of Thrones. But while Dany and Jon led us to disappointment, Chernobyl renewed our faith in HBO by showing us a complete story in under five hours, and one that resonates with our concerns about government oppression and environmental conservation. Plus, all those dogs getting shot was really sad. -- Tim Surette

​Jake Weisman, Matt Ingebretson, Anne Dudek, Adam Lustick, Corporate

Jake Weisman, Matt Ingebretson, Anne Dudek, Adam Lustick, Corporate

Comedy Central

Corporate (Comedy Central)

Not a lot of people are talking about Comedy Central's Corporate, and for that, they should be reported to HR. No other comedy on television has such a bleak and relatable look at the everyday atrocities committed passive-aggressively in the workplace. This should be a mandatory watch to every office drone between the ages of 25 and 45 who has to watch their bosses reap the benefits of their hard work while their personal lives take a hit in the pursuit of a measly raise. In Season 2 there were extended bits on office dogs and power plays involving the removal of exclamation marks in emails, as well as a gem of an episode following one man's attempts to go out to a concert... on a weeknight! Corporate isn't funny because it's funny, it's funny because it's too real. -- Tim Surette

​Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag

Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Fleabag

Steve Schofield / Amazon Prime Video

Fleabag (Amazon)

FleabagSeason 2 is a flawless season of television. And since it's only six 25-minute episodes long, you can binge it immediately. No excuses. The U.K. export is the brainchild of Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who also created Killing Eveand lent her voice to a Star Wars droid. Her brilliant writing on the series is matched by her Emmy-worthy performance as the titular Fleabag, a woman trying (and often failing) to curb her self-destructive impulses, including pursuing a romantic relationship with a Catholic priest. She takes her audience along for the ride in side-splitting asides to the camera -- a device that's far less gimmicky than it sounds; it ultimately leave us vulnerable to the heartache Fleabag would rather hide from us. The more bawdy Season 1 was groundbreaking when it premiered three years ago, but if you can only spare three hours, Season 2 stands on its own. -- Noelene Clark

​Tim Robinson, I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson

Tim Robinson, I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson

Lara Solanki/Netflix

I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson (Netflix)

There aren't a lot of comedies on TV right now whose primary goal is to make you laugh so hard you can't breathe. The purest one is the Netflix sketch show I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson from former Saturday Night Live writer and Detroiters star Tim Robinson, which will infect your brain with phrases like "mudpie," "gazpacho soup," "fart toilet," and "Bozo dubbed over." At just six episodes that top out at 18 minutes, I Think You Should Leave is all killer, no filler, just one perfect sketch about humiliation anxiety after another. Chances are this is your favorite comedian's favorite new show, and he or she wishes they could make something so singular. -- Liam Mathews

On My Block

On My Block

Nicola Goode/Netflix

On My Block (Netflix)

On My Block isn't as heartfelt as Atypical, as boundary-pushing as 13 Reasons Why, or as raunchy as Sex Education, but while the Netflix coming-of-age series doesn't corner any of those markets, it excels in its ability to switch between them. This half-hour dramedy about a group of kids growing up in Los Angeles seamlessly blends absurdist humor, such as when one character becomes convinced a lawn gnome is haunting him, with a very grounded look at the trials of growing up in a neighborhood torn apart by gang violence. Its young cast, particularly Brett Gray, Jason Genao, and Jessica Marie Garcia, deliver standout performances that make you want to want to live in their world, even if they also rip your heart out from time to time. -- Sadie Gennis

Heléne Yorke and Drew Tarver, The Other Two

Heléne Yorke and Drew Tarver, The Other Two

Comedy Central

The Other Two (Comedy Central)

The most slept-on comedy of the year is Comedy Central's The Other Two, a show biz satire about two down-on-their-luck millennial siblings -- a washed-up dancer (Heléne Yorke) and a wannabe actor (Drew Tarver) -- who may finally get their moment in (or at least adjacent to) the spotlight after their 13-year-old brother (the adorable Case Walker) becomes an overnight star when his YouTube song "Marry U at Recess" goes viral. We actually get to hear the song, as well as other gems like "My Brother's Gay and That's Okay!" and "Stink." (Sample lyrics: "We dance all day, we dance all night/ We dance until we don't smell right!") The show boasts hilarious supporting performances from Ken Marino as the desperate manager who knows no boundaries, Wanda Skyes as a label publicist who manages to be at once ridiculous and no-nonsense, and Molly Shannon as the siblings' well-meaning but clueless mother. And while The Other Two doesn't pull punches in its critique of fame and influencer culture, it packs in plenty of sincere, heartwarming moments thanks to the relationship between the siblings, who are the only ones trying to do what's best for their guileless baby brother. -- Noelene Clark

Dynasties, Painted Wolf


Nick Lyon/BBC America

Our Planet (Netflix)/Dynasties (BBC America)

Although Our Planet and Dynastiesaired on different networks, the two docuseries share the same DNA -- both were narrated by David Attenborough and both ultimately carried a timely message about the role humanity has played in the ongoing destruction of the Earth and its once bountiful wildlife. From the creators ofPlanet Earthin partnership with the World Wildlife Fund, Our Planet exposed viewers to the harsh realities challenging the natural world, like the rapid disappearance of sea ice that disrupts entire ecosystems. Meanwhile, Dynasties was a bold look at the challenges endangered species face as a direct result of human contact or humanity's growing presence in their lands. Both series offered breathtaking, high-definition looks at the awe-inspiring beauty of nature, but they also delivered insightful, pointed commentary from the viewpoint that every creature explored in every environment visited is worth saving -- and if we act now, there's still hope we can succeed in doing just that. Our Planet and Dynasties were definitely difficult to watch at times, but it was their unflinching honesty that made them so good and so powerful. -- Kaitlin Thomas

Maya Erskine, Anna Konkle; PEN15

Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle, PEN15

Alex Lombardi

PEN15 (Hulu)

Ignore the silly name (which comes from a school prank) because PEN15is one of the realest shows out there. Set in 2000, the awkwardness of the two central characters entering junior high school for the first time leaps off the screen because of its authenticity, reminding us how incredibly stupid we were in our early teen years. You'd think the comedy's gimmick -- 30-something-year-old stars Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle play young versions of themselves while their schoolmates are all actual young teens -- would tire, but it never gets old, particularly when Maya and Anna explore romance (Maya and Sam 4ever). But the real reason to watch is for the friendship between Maya and Anna, two outcasts who found strength and a partner in each other. -- Tim Surette

Perpetual Grace, LTD

Perpetual Grace, LTD

Lewis Jacobs/Epix

Perpetual Grace, LTD (Epix)

Easily one of the weirdest shows on the air and one of the most difficult to describe, Perpetual Grace, LTDisn't a show for everyone. But who cares? It's not like this is Game of Thronesand you're going to be publicly shunned for not tuning in (and really, who got the last laugh in that situation?). For those of us who do like noir crime thrillers mixed with off-kilter humor, dreamy surrealism, and a man who is inexplicably in an astronaut suit, the Epix drama's singularity and creative excellence feels like such a gift. Starring Jimmi Simpson, Ben Kingsley, Jacki Weaver, Terry O'Quinn, and Dewey Crowe himself, Damon Herriman, Perpetual Grace, LTD is beautifully shot, expertly scored (creator Steven Conrad wrote most of the music himself), and will have you chuckling to yourself over a Chuck Norris joke one minute and trying not to throw up as Ben Kingsley saws off his own thumb with a soda can the next. Your fave could never. -- Sadie Gennis

Natasha Lyonne, Russian Doll

Natasha Lyonne, Russian Doll

Courtesy of Netflix

Russian Doll (Netflix)

The first season of Russian Dollwas one of this winter's happiest surprises: a barbed, funny, philosophical time loop story about a woman who can't seem to stop dying on the night of her birthday party. It's Groundhog Day with better hair. Natasha Lyonne anchors the Netflix series (a half-hour drama -- thank you, more please) as gravel-voiced game coder Nadia, an open wound with the energy of a grumpy old man. As she unravels her own trauma, she finds hard-earned hope in just carrying on. Russian Doll is about the pain and triumph of putting one foot in front of the next. It's about needing other people to live. It's about how one woman says "cockaroach." The show asks big questions and, in the process, has forever changed how we look at Thursdays. What a concept. -- Kelly Connolly

Annie Murphy, Noah Reid, Dan Levy, Catherine O'Hara; Schitt's Creek

Annie Murphy, Noah Reid, Dan Levy, Catherine O'Hara; Schitt's Creek

Pop TV

Schitt's Creek (Pop)

In a TV landscape littered with emotionally draining prestige dramedies and toothless network sitcoms, book a one-way ticket to Schitt's Creek for something different: a warm-hearted comedy that always finds the smartest angle on optimism. The Canadian sitcom about a once-wealthy family starting over in a small town has spent five seasons defiantly moving its characters toward happiness, all without losing its bite. It doesn't hurt that Catherine O'Hara's decadent diva Moira Rose remains one of TV's most absurd, original creations. The news that the show will end with its upcoming sixth season is bittersweet, but Schitt's Creek has always understood how endings become new beginnings. It's about how people -- who happen to be related -- grow up together. -- Kelly Connolly

Emma Mackey and Asa Butterfield, Sex Education​

Emma Mackey and Asa Butterfield, Sex Education

Sam Taylor/Netflix

Sex Education (Netflix)

High school comedies about sexual awakening are not a new thing; in fact, they're a staple of every generation's upbringing. But Sex Education brings the genre into 2019 by making the most inclusive show about adolescent sexuality ever seen. In the Netflix series, Otis (Asa Butterfield) becomes his high school's in-house sex therapist despite the fact he's so averse to sexual intercourse he can't even bring himself to masturbate. He's a good listener and knows his way around Google though -- not to mention his mother (Gillian Anderson) is a well-known sex therapist -- so he ends up helping his classmates who are also struggling in some way. Because of the heartfelt nature of Otis' advice, it never feels like the show is showcasing different types of relationships just to check a diversity box -- the characters feel like real teens with real questions and anxieties about getting intimate. The awkward nature of it all leads to episodes that will make you cry laughing before the giggles evolve into true sobs. It's a brilliantly crafted, witty, and honest look at teen life with so much heart you can't help but fall in love. -- Megan Vick

​Rosamund Pike and Chris O'Dowd, State of the Union

Rosamund Pike and Chris O'Dowd, State of the Union

Parisatag Hizadeh/Confession Films/SundanceTV

State of the Union (Sundance)

Made up of just 10 10-minute episodes, Sundance's State of the Unionwas a beautifully acted and exceptionally clever experiment in storytelling. The series, written by Nick Hornby and directed by Stephen Frears, starred Rosamund Pike and Chris O'Dowd as Louise and Tom, a couple who meet for drinks ahead of their weekly marriage counseling appointments. With a runtime shorter than most movies, the series made effective use of what little time it did have to tell a very funny but still emotionally resonant story about love and friendship with both insight and compassion. Though our time spent with Louise and Tom was brief, State of the Union made a lasting impression as one of the best shows of the year. -- Kaitlin Thomas

Matt Berry, Natasia Demetriou, and Kayvan Novak, What We Do in the Shadows

Matt Berry, Natasia Demetriou, and Kayvan Novak, What We Do in the Shadows

Russ Martin/FX

What We Do in the Shadows (FX)

As a film, What We Do in the Shadowshad a fairly limited premise -- a group of vampires live together as roommates and their ancient ways clash with the modern world! -- so it's hard to imagine a scenario in which an ongoing TV series could work. But with comedy masterminds Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi also pulling the strings of the TV adaptation, perhaps it should come as no surprise there's still life in this oddball story about the undead. The series is exceptionally weird and incredibly funny even as it relies heavily on vampire gags, but with a talented cast and multiple standout moments throughout its first season, like the episode that featured a vampire council made up of familiar actors who've famously donned fangs in other TV shows and movies, What We Do in the Shadows is a brilliant addition to FX's already rich comedy slate. -- Kaitlin Thomas

Jharrel Jerome, When They See Us

Jharrel Jerome, When They See Us

Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix

When They See Us (Netflix)

So much of When They See Us, the Netflix series from Ava DuVernay that tells the story of the five black and Latino men wrongfully convicted of an infamous rape and assault in 1989, seems like it occurred by divine guidance. Who could've guessed that the true perpetrator would've seen one of the men in prison and confessed? And who could've known at the time of their conviction, that some 30 years later one of the accused would reach out to director/producer Duvernay on a medium called Twitter, ask her to tell their story, and that she'd say yes? The presence of the divine is in the work too, with mind blowing performances from Jharrel Jerome, Niecy Nash, Dascha Polanco and others. Though tough to watch, When They See Us is also spellbindingly gorgeous, rendered in a stark patina that amplifies the crushing truth behind the material and the muscle behind the performances. Said to be the most-watched series on Netflix in the U.S. since it premiered, When They See Us educated many about the realities of the criminal justice system and the media's bias towards people of color. It also indirectly caused the lead prosecutors on the case, who knowingly pinned the crime on innocent boys, to face public backlash, an improbable karmic revenge that suggests When They See Us was definitely ordained by something bigger than its team. -- Malcolm Venable

Honorable mentions: There were a lot of shows that didn't make the list but we still love, so we'd like to give a special shout-out to Billions, Counterpart, Doom Patrol, Fosse/Verdon, The OA, Ramy, Swamp Thing, Tuca & Bertie, Veep, Warrior, You're the Worst, and Years and Years, which might have made the list had the show aired in the U.S. prior to this story being published.