This article is part of our 2019 Rewind. Follow along as we explore the best and most interesting movies, shows, performances, and more from 2019.
Listen, we know you already have a lot of TV to watch. We do too. With hundreds of new TV shows debuting a year, television has reached a level of saturation that’s unprecedented and seemingly unstoppable. The sheer variety of programming that’s available for instant beaming into our eyeballs may seem daunting, but that’s why we’re here. We watched as many small screen stories as we could this year to bring you this list of the year’s best offerings, voted on by our staff. Due to the sheer volume of content out there, other lists will look different — heck, our mid-year list did — and we encourage you to not stop with the 25 shows mentioned here if you aim to uncover the best the format has to offer. Several great ones, among them Veep, Crazy-Ex Girlfriend, and What We Do in the Shadows, are honorary mentions that just missed the ranking, while others like Unbelievable, On Becoming A God in Central Florida, and Ramy, are excellent shows with small but passionate fan bases among our staff.
All that being said, the surplus of TV available doesn’t necessarily mean it’s impossible to pick some winners. The top few spots on our list belong to clearly deserving works of all-time-great art, stories that blew us away and left us glued to the screen even as the credits rolled. Each of these shows says something raw and powerful about human nature, and each helped us make sense of the maddening world we live in. If you can see past the corporate headlines and the choice paralysis and the shows that left us all angry, it’s clear that 2019 was a fantastic year for television.
25. Bojack Horseman
BoJack Horseman is probably the finest thing to come out of Netflix’s foray into original TV series. It’s coming to a close this January, but it gifted us this fall with the first half of its final season. In usual tip-top form as an ensemble drama with deftly handled personal arcs and a dizzying knack for animal and showbiz puns, this year’s batch of episodes focuses heavily on forgiveness, self-improvement, and the looming sense of dread that in the end it just might not be enough. The final episodes are going to sneak in over the finish line into the next year and decade, but if the buildup of this year is any indication, BoJack Horseman is going to be topping most of our lists this time next year as well. (Liz Baessler)
24. The Boys
Superhero burnout is real. There’s an appeal to the shiny suits and a happy ending, but it eventually feels so formulaic. That’s where The Boys steps in, a show adapted from a graphic novel about a group of vigilantes who want to take down superheroes. In the world of The Boys, superheroes are a corporate venture, owned and operated by a CEO and lots of PR reps fluttering around to control carefully-curated images of perfection. But, surprise, these superheroes are heavily flawed, even devious beings who use their status to manipulate others. So the boys, led by a sailor-mouthed, Hawaiian-shirt-wearing Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), want to change all that.
It’s a breath of fresh air that tackles what might really happen if superheroes were real. It taps into our obsession with these superhuman figures but also our capitalistic desire to make people into commodities. The Boys doesn’t skimp on the violence, either. Bodies explode, viscera flies everywhere, and no one is truly unbreakable. It is a show that delves into the dark side of the superhero and the consequences they have on the mortals around them. It is the antithesis of Captain America and Iron Man, so if Marvel makes you yawn The Boys will most likely get your blood pumping. (Mary Beth McAndrews)
23. Good Omens
A full thirty years after the publication of the classic Neil Gaiman/Terry Pratchett novel, Good Omens came to the screen for the very first time this spring. Gaiman himself was at the helm, steering in all the right directions and delivering that all-too-rare thing: an adaptation that felt utterly true to its source material. But while certain little details and Easter eggs and the pervasive oh-so-English tone are a treat for book readers, the miniseries is really pushed over the edge into fantastic territory by the amazing chemistry between its two leads. David Tennant and Michael Sheen absolutely shimmer as Crowley and Aziraphale, a demon and an angel who have been begrudging friends (and probably more) for 6,000 years, and who feel like they’ve got a good thing going on Earth and would really just rather the apocalypse not happen at all, thank you very much. When the two are onscreen together the affection and slight exasperation are palpable, and you’ll find yourself thanking God’s ineffable plan for getting these two cast together. (Liz Baessler)
22. Derry Girls
Derry Girls is the sort of funny-because-it’s-true show that’s so damn funny you don’t need to know how accurate it is to have a rollicking good time. Lisa McGee’s semi-autobiographical tale of growing up Irish Catholic in Derry (not Londonderry, you colonizers) amidst the Troubles is more Irish than Guinness and has an even wider appeal than the strong-flavored stout. As the second season, which if anything improves on the wonderful first entry, so heartwarmingly proclaims, anyone can be a Derry Girl. And who wouldn’t want to be? The show features one of the most wonderfully wacky casts of characters to be found anywhere on television, from the gloriously shameless Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell) to the delightfully odd Orla (Louisa Harland), the one and only Granda Joe (Ian McElhinney), and of course, the true MVP, Sister Michael (Siobhan McSweeney), a judo-practicing habit-wearing legend who is cooler than any of us mere mortals could ever hope to be. (Ciara Wardlow)
21. Big Mouth
Created by Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Jennifer Flackett, and Mark Levin, Big Mouth is a raunchy, perverted, sex-positive cartoon, loosely based on the experiences of Kroll and Goldberg growing up together. Big Mouth has always tried to stray away from any expectations audiences may have about a cartoon about puberty, breaking out into flashy musical numbers like season one’s “Life Is A Fucked Up Mess” or spending an entire episode advocating for Planned Parenthood in season two, and season three continues that trend. This season features episodes about just how cursed Florida really is (with Maury the Hormone Monster referring to it as “America’s glory hole”), Duke Ellington’s ghost telling the long-winded story of how he lost his virginity, and a school musical based on psychosexual thriller Disclosure. Despite always being well-intentioned, Big Mouth stumbled a bit in its depiction of fluid sexualities this year, introducing Ali Wong’s pansexual character with harmful stereotypes about both pan- and bisexualities as well as trans men and women. Besides this blip (which garnered an earnest apology from Goldberg), Big Mouth season three is still exceptional in its blunt yet thoughtful storylines that tackle wrongfully taboo topics like toxic masculinity, masturbation, and menopause. Already renewed for three more seasons, we can’t wait to see how Big Mouth continues to evolve. (Kristen Reid)