THE BEST TV SHOWS OF 2019 (so far)
From slapstick & sitcoms to deadly dramas, these are the TV shows that have stood out so far in 2019…
Looking for a more in depth discussion of these shows and more? Check out Intercut’s Best TV of 2019 (so far)
Barry - Season 2 (HBO)
After a debut season so good it maybe didn’t need a 2nd season, Barry returned to HBO with an even sharper take on its hitman-turned-actor-who’s-still-a-hitman protagonist. The show balances the hilariously low stakes of Barry’s acting ambitions with the gruesome violence he commits in a way that does justice to both the comedy and drama. Whereas its first season dealt with whether or not Barry is a good person, the show’s 2nd season explores the lies we tell ourselves in ways that are both dark and hysterically relatable. The very sweet, easy-going Chechen mob boss NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan) has an expanded role in Season 2 but it’s Sally Reed (Sarah Goldberg) who steals the show, particularly with a breathless monologue in the show’s 7th episode. But Season 2’s best half-hour came in episode without either NoHo Hank or Sally; “ronny/lilly” (written and directed by the show’s star & co-creator Bill Hader) is an absurd fever dream of an episode, in which the consequences of violence are unexpected and extremely funny.
Big Little Lies - Season 2 (HBO)
Though Big Little Lies was meant to be a limited mini-series, everyone involved thankfully realized that when you get this much talent in front of a camera together, it’s hard to simply let it go. Back for Season 2 with the superstar addition of Meryl Streep, the women of Monterey are back with a fiery new season in which lies are revealed and the threats aren’t so thinly veiled. In its first couple of episodes, Streep and returning star Laura Dern are taking turns delivering show-stopping, memeable moments and highly quotable lines. Meanwhile, the drama is thicker than ever, with Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, Zoe Kravitz and Nicole Kidman holding their lives together as their lies unravel. The show has leaned more heavily into the satire of suburbia that struck a chord in its first season, with even more contentious after-school assemblies, as its characters’ lives become even more complicatedly intertwined.
The Boys - Season 1 (Amazon Prime)
An intriguing and full world based off of the comics of the same name, The Boys depicts a society in which variously corrupted superheroes work alongside a giant corporation to subcontract police work. Amazon’s 8-episode first season builds an impressively detailed universe for the show with a bunch of charming characters played by familiar faces (Karl Urban, Elizabeth Shue) and newcomers (Jack Quaid, Erin Moriarity) alike. The Boys delights in its use of 4-letter words and excessively brutal violence, but beneath the noise is a smart look at what happens when capitalism meets a Supe (The Boys’ lingo for its super-powered humanoids). This is far more than a Justice League parody. The Boys is an excessively fun blend of action and commentary. It’s a spectacularly realized, modern vision for the superhero genre.
The biggest nuclear disaster in the world occurred on April 26th, 1986 in the Soviet town of Chernobyl. This critically acclaimed HBO mini-series retells the events of that day, the months that followed, and even the time before the event. How it affected everyone from the workers and first responders, the citizens of the surrounding towns, all the way up to the scientists and leaders of the Soviet Union. We follow scientist Valrey Legasov (Jared Harris) and politician Boris Shcherbina (Stellan Skarsgard) as they try to uncover what happened that day, while also having to confront the ideology of their own nation which will ultimately put themselves in danger. This is a brilliant look at how the hunger for power and abuse of power can cripple and bring about the worst in humanity. (written by Fernando Andrade)
Dead to Me - Season 1 (Netflix)
A wry, soapy drama about the rippling aftereffects of a hit-and-run that leaves Jen (Christina Applegate) a widowed mother of two, Dead to Me is an intensely bingeable show that’s hard to put down. After Jen meets Judy (Linda Cardellini) at a grief-counseling group, the two women form an unlikely friendship in which they help out each other in place of their absent significant others; however, things are far more complicated than they first appear to be on this show. Dead to Me serves as an excellent showcase for both Applegate & Cardellini, whose quippy banter and Odd Couple dynamic ground the twisty plotlines in reality. The highly entertaining show was renewed by Netflix for a 2nd season and we can’t get it soon enough!
Fleabag - Season 2 (BBC/Amazon)
The second season of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s dark, wry comedy is a return to the sharply written language of the show’s first season. Waller-Bridge makes funny yet relatable observations about modern living through her character’s often self-destructive choices, and the most iconic turns to camera since Jim Halpert was at Dunder Mifflin. Fleabag (the credited name for Fleabag’s unnamed protagonist) is emotionally withdrawn from her life at the start of season 2. In the season’s sharply written opening episode, Fleabag’s family gather for dinner to celebrate her father and godmother’s engagement when she is introduced to her godmother’s new (hot) priest (Andrew Scott). Their complex and evolving relationship is the most interesting on-screen pairing on TV this year.
Game of Thrones - Season 8 (HBO)
In spite of all its flaws, Game of Thrones’ 8th and final season was one of the most consistently gripping shows of the year. The forces of ice and fire finally clashed at the Battle of Winterfell, an epic fight the likes of which were previously unseen on TV and may not be seen again soon. Long simmering questions over who would live, who would die, and who would end up on the throne were answered. And yes, many of those answers weren’t as satisfying as previous chapters of Game of Thrones; however, the show did offer some of its dozens of characters well-earned moments along the way. It may not have been the grand finale Thrones fans had dreamed of, but it was one of the rare instances in which it felt like everyone was watching the same thing at the same time. In an age of divided attention, that alone is a huge accomplishment.
High Maintenance - Season 3 (HBO)
High Maintenance continued its growth by expanding its purview in a 3rd season that saw the show dive deeper into the life of its central character, The Guy (series co-creator Ben Sinclair), and continued to show how this is far more than just a show about weed. Following The Guy’s divorce in Season 2, Season 3 sees him seeking connections outside of his marijuana-maintained friendships. He starts to see a new woman, Lee (Britt Lower), and in traditional High Maintenance fashion, the show gradually reveals a fascinating backstory that complicates their budding romance. High Maintenance continues to be TV’s most empathetic show, but as it continues, it’s also growing into one of TV’s most inward-looking stories about finding happiness in a modern world.
I Think You Should Leave - Season 1 (Netflix)
Tim Robinson’s frequently bizarre and absurdly funny sketch show is only six 15-minute episodes long, it’s easy enough to watch it all in one after, but in it are several instantly memorable comedy bits. From Will Forte’s grudge-holding plane passenger to Vanessa Bayer’s caption-challenged Sunday bruncher to the highly memeable ‘Focus Group’ sketch, I Think You Should Leave features irreverent characters and situations that flip right after you think you’ve figured them out. There’s probably no one better at getting a laugh at refusing to admit he’s wrong than Tim Robinson on this show. It’s a loud, often crude comedy that might not work for everyone, but within the show’s variety of ideas there’s bound to tickle your money bones.
Mindhunter - Season 2 (Netflix)
After a two year hiatus, the critically-acclaimed Netflix crime drama Mindhunter returned with a stellar second season. After season one introduced the Behavioral Science team at the FBI, season two puts Ford, Tench and Carr in even more complex environments. They must use everything they have learned when it comes to identifying criminals, what makes them tick to try, and nail down one of the most infamous murder cases in America: The Atlanta Child Murders. This second season not only brings more incredible performances, picture-perfect castings of the criminals, but more importantly, a layered look at how regular people are impacted by the criminal justice system and the politics that mandate it. Mindhunter ramps things up with the FBI putting more interest in the Behavioral Science unit, and their personal lives becoming more complicated as well. (written by Fernando Andrade)
The Other Two - Season 1 (Comedy Central)
Two 20-somethings, Cary and Brooke, struggle to make something of their lives when overnights, their teenage brother Chase becomes a viral star. From former Saturday Night Live head writers Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider, The Other Two is arguably the strongest of Comedy Central’s new shows. As Cary and Brooke watch their young brother get sucked into the entertainment industry, the older, wiser siblings vacillate between protecting their younger sibling and giving into the temptations offered by fame. The Other Two also includes several well-known but underused comedians, including Molly Shannon as the siblings’ excitable mother Pat, Ken Marino as Chase’s doofus manager Streeter, and Richard Kind as Cary’s hapless agent/cabbie.
Pen15 - Season 1 (Hulu)
Relive all the painful awkwardness of middle school through the eyes of two 7th grade girls played by adults. Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle are co-stars and co-creators of the uncomfortably funny PEN15 on Hulu, and though both actresses are in their 30s, they play teenagers alongside the actual teenagers on the show. PEN15 derives much of its broad comedy from the way its stars struggle with their oncoming adulthood and changing bodies, but a lot of the fun is in the details of its early 2000s setting. An episode built around signing up for AOL Instant Messenger is sure to bring back weirdly specific memories for any child of the 90s.
Queer Eye - Season 3 (Netflix)
The Fab Five are back to zhush up the lives of eight more unsuspecting people. Netflix’s reboot of Queer Eye continues to preach the values of self-care and positivity through their third season, first in Kansas City. Each transformation the Fab Five perform is an empathetic journey. They open their guests up to improve them inside and out. This season features some of the biggest makeovers on the show to do, particularly the “Jones Bar-B-Q” episode, in which the boys give a pair of hardworking sisters a break from their busy lives running a barbecue joint. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll learn some great tricks for making homemade Manuka honey face masks.
Russian Doll - Season 1 (Netflix)
Reliving the night of her birthday party over and over (and over) again, world weary New Yorker Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) tries to figure her way out of this crazy time loop. The new Netflix series, co-created by Lyonne, Amy Poehler, and series show runner Leslye Headland (Bachelorette, Sleeping with Other People), goes beyond Groundhog Day in its format with a mystery that involves elements of the timeline slipping away with each reset. The odd couple pairing of easygoing Nadia with the regimented and overly cautious Alan (Charlie Barnett) creates a fun dynamic as the pair haphazardly attempt to avoid death while getting to the bottom of their timeline problem.
When They See Us (Netflix)
On April 19th, 1989 the lives of five young men were changed forever. Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana Jr., and Korey Wise were arrested and wrongly convicted to raping and assaulting a jogger in Central Park. This four-part mini-series tells there story. From acclaimed director Ava DuVernay, When They See Us is much more than a historical re-telling. It is a story which everyone should witness. It tackles the systematic coercion of the boys, the trial they faced, and the effects prison has on the individual and their families. It is a masterclass in storytelling, filmmaking, and acting which will bring you to tears and have you asking yourself what you can do to make sure this never happens again. (written by Fernando Andrade)
All excerpts written by Zachary Shevich unless otherwise noted