The 20 best TV shows of 2019
10 December 2019, 14:25 | Updated: 11 December 2019, 16:54
From Sex Education, When They See Us, and Euphoria to Succession and The Crown, 2019 was a strong year for new and returning television shows that inspired audiences everywhere.
Our list of the best TV shows of 2019 includes new and addictive programmes that debuted on Netflix, HBO, and Hulu in 2019. It also includes shows that have had multiple successful seasons and continued to impress audiences this year.
2019 saw Netflix prove once more that it can make funny, raw, and groundbreaking television shows like Russian Doll and Sex Education. Meanwhile, audiences were beyond captivated by the dramatic true events of The Act on Hulu. HBO's Succession seemingly had the whole world tuning in this summer and TV lovers could not stop raving about season 2 of Phoebe Waller-Bridge's Fleabag.
2019 was a great year for television so here are the binge-worthy, emotional, and captivating TV shows we loved this year.
Hulu's Pen15 is an absolute gem of a comedy that arrived in early 2019 to widespread acclaim.
Creators Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle star as 13-year-old versions of themselves growing up in the year 2000. Anyone who grew up around that era will find that Pen15 perfectly captures the spirit of all the chaotic moments and absolutely bizarre impulses that defined teenhood at the turn of the century.
19) The End of The F***ing World
The End of The F***ing World returned for a stellar second (and likely final) season. After two years away, Jessica Barden and Alex Lawther had another great turn as Alyssa and James. The moody new episodes brought the same dark, wry humour that had audiences hooked in season one and season two's final moments gave fans a realistic ending that felt true to the spirit of the popular British dramedy.
18) Big Little Lies
Meryl Streep joined the cast of Big Little Lies in season two as Perry's mum, Mary Louise, giving BLL fans the scream meme heard round the world. Big Little Lies was strong in its sophomore outing thanks to individual performances from the show's leading ladies.
Elite's second season brought us even more compelling rich kid drama. The Spanish language Netflix drama skilfully pivoted from season one's whodunnit to a completely wild and gripping kidnap mystery that placed fan favourite, Samuel, at the centre.
For the second year in a row, Elite boasted the sexiest ships of any teen drama currently on air. The show is Gossip Girl meets Skins with more unexpected twists than you can shake a stick at.
16) On My Block
Netflix fan favourite On My Block kept things fresh in season two after a season one cliffhanger that resulted in the death of Ruby's love interest, Olivia (Ronni Hawk). Jessica Marie Garcia was upped to series regular and gave strong performances alongside Jason Genao, Diego Tinoco, Brett Gray, and Sierra Capri.
15) A Black Lady Sketch Show
Robin Thede's A Black Lady Sketch Show is sharp, entertaining, and seriously overdue.
Great comedic performance are punctuated with hilarious guest appearances from black legends like Angela Bassett and Patti LaBelle. The sketches on A Black Lady Sketch Show are also somehow incredibly broad and incredibly specific at the same time.
The show imagines scenarios like what usually happened in a black household when you'd try to change the channel while a parent was sleeping or even the dilemma of supporting black-owned businesses with terrible customer service. And, my personal favourite: what would happen if everyone in a courtroom was a black woman – from the judge and the lawyers to the defendant and the plaintiff. Dear reader, I have had the "black lady courtroom" song stuck in my head for the last four months and I do not see that changing anytime soon.
14) The Umbrella Academy
Audiences loved Netflix's The Umbrella Academy following its February 2019 premiere.
UA comes from the mind of My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way and tells the story of adopted siblings who were born on the exact same day and have superhuman abilities. Nickelodeon alum Aidan Gallagher plays Number Five, the time traveller among the siblings who returns to warn of an impending apocalyptic event of unknown origin.
The fascinating new series is a superhero time travel epic wrapped in plenty of emotion and buoyed by great performances from Ellen Page and the rest of the ensemble cast.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge's second season of Fleabag was hailed as "gorgeous", "heartbreaking", and "unmissable" by critics. PWB also grabbed three Emmys for her writing and acting work on Fleabag season 2. Meanwhile, Andrew Scott's portrayal of the "hot priest" deserves its own award category and glitzy ceremony just for making us feel...things.
12) RuPaul's Drag Race UK
Drag Race successfully crossed the pond for the first-ever UK-based season of RuPaul's hit show. American viewers may have been shocked to find that the prizes were non-existent (this is the BBC, after all), but that hardly stopped fans from rooting for standouts like Baga Chipz and Sum Ting Wong.
The show's first foray into Britain's drag scene proved that RuPaul's winning formula works on either side of the Atlantic.
11) Schitt’s Creek
Schitt's Creek's penultimate season was easily one of the funniest things on television in 2019.
The show continues to have a unique and slightly chaotic comedic voice which has kept audiences endlessly entertained by the misadventures of the (mostly) well-meaning Rose family.
10) The Act
Hulu's The Act earned Joey King and Patricia Arquette well deserved Emmy nominations for their harrowing portrayals of Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose Blanchard. The limited series was gut-wrenching and heartbreaking at times, with an incredible performance by Joey King in particular, who shaved her head and wore prosthetic teeth for the role.
9) Dead To Me
Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini. Need I say more? In Dead To Me, the TV icons play Jen (Applegate) and Judy (Cardellini), two women who form an unlikely friendship after meeting in a grief support group. Jen is there to process the pain and anger she has after her husband's hit and run killing. Unbeknownst to Jen, Judy just so happens to be the person responsible for her husband's tragic accident.
While some parts of Dead To Me are warm and light, there are plenty of 'tightly gripping your armrest out of sheer anxiety' moments mixed in as well, making for a truly varied viewing experience.
8) Sex Education
Sex Education was an early hit for Netflix in 2019 and gave viewers the incredible gift of Gillian Anderson as the sex therapist mum of awkward teen, Otis (Asa Butterfield). Sex Education brought the laughs, the awkward teen moments, and near-perfect performances from the extremely talented young cast.
Kaitlyn Dever plays Marie Adler in Netflix's Unbelievable–the remarkable true story of a young woman who recants the report of her sexual assault after being pressured by local police. The limited series found its way onto Netflix after a 2015 ProPublica article laid out the young woman's harrowing experience.
Merritt Weaver and Toni Collette are phenomenal as the two detectives determined to solve a string of unsolved rapes similar to Marie's.
6) Russian Doll
Natasha Lyonne shines as Nadia Vulvokov, a woman who dies and comes back to life over and over again on the night of her birthday party. As Nadia struggles to find meaning in the strange events, she meets a man, Alan (Charlie Barnett) who is experiencing the same bizarre daily reset.
Russian Doll is strange, beautiful, and gripping and Natasha Lyonne is simply remarkable in the role.
5) The Crown
Once lauded as the most expensive television production of all time (before being overtaken by Game of Thrones), The Crown remains one of Netflix's strongest prestige offerings. In season 3, Olivia Colman replaced Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth, who has officially transitioned from inexperienced ruler to "settled sovereign".
Colman is brilliant as the stoic and wry monarch, meanwhile, Helena Bonham Carter's Princess Margaret is layered and endlessly captivating.
Succession returned for a stunning second season in late summer and things with the Roy family were as complicated as ever. The adult children of Logan Roy continued to backbite, scheme, and throw one another under the bus as the family faced setback after setback, including being hauled in front of a Senate subcommittee.
In the very niche genre of rich white people bickering on private jets, Succession truly cannot be beaten.
3) When They See Us
Ava DuVernay's When They See Us is the incredible true story of the Central Park Five, a group of young men who were wrongly imprisoned for the brutal attack of a female jogger after being railroaded by police and prosecutors handling the case.
The young cast of When They See Us deliver poignant and utterly heart-wrenching performances deserving of every major television award. Ava DuVernay continues to tell vital stories and Netflix's When They See Us is undoubtedly one of the most important things to hit TV screens this year.
2) Stranger Things
The Duffer Brothers expanded the world of Stranger Things in season 3 to include a brand new mall in Hawkins and, uh, a Russian lab. The show's immensely talented cast was on form in ST3, especially Dacre Montgomery whose troubled character, Billy, was at the mercy of this season's monster.
Stranger Things 3 also skillfully teased hero Hoppers fate, a fate which may not even be confirmed until 2021. Yes, we are seriously whipped for Stranger Things.
Drake produced Euphoria sees Zendaya play a troubled teenager named Rue who returns home (after a short stint in rehab) with no intention of staying clean. Rue's life is one hair-brained scheme after another until she meets Jules, the beautiful new girl in town.
Zendaya is phenomenal as Rue, as is Hunter Schafer in the role of Jules. The show's cultural impact is already apparent (just search 'Euphoria makeup tutorial' on YouTube to see what comes up). Euphoria deliberately avoids a sanitised view of modern teen life and, instead, eagerly leans into the drugs, the sex, the risky behaviour, and the toxic co-dependencies.