19 Best New Shows of 2019
HBO dominates the year in new TV, compensating for loss of Game of ThronesBY ZACH DECEMBER 27, 2019
These are my picks for the best new shows that premiered in 2019. Notably, "new" shows means it only includes shows in Season 1 or miniseries. (In case you're wondering why Succession and Fleabag are missing.) It also only includes shows which I watched (which is a lot) but inevitably there is probably something good that just didn't interest me. (Tuca and Bertie is probably that something this year.)
19. The BoysAmazon | Eric Kripke
"In a world where superheroes embrace the darker side of their massive celebrity and fame, a group of vigilantes known informally as "The Boys" set out to take down corrupt superheroes."
The Boys has something to say. Unfortunately the execution of its message is about as subtle as a naked man with C4 stuck up his anus exploding. It also suffers somewhat from trying to take on too many themes at once, while simultaneously veering into the territory of a soap opera plot. Nevertheless, it is an entertaining show with a unique premise and a dark twist on 2019's most popular genre.
Investment: 8 episodes, 1hr each (renewed)
Watch if you like: Preacher, Jessica Jones, other dark takes on the superhero genre
18. Good OmensAmazon / BBC | Neil Gaiman
"The End of the World is coming, which means a fussy Angel and a loose-living Demon who've become overly fond of life on Earth are forced to form an unlikely alliance to stop Armageddon."
Good Omens, or more formally, "Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophesies of Agnes Nutter, Witch" is a rare gem of a comedy epic. At the heart of the show is a forbidden bromance of banter between Michael Sheen (angel) and David Tennant (demon). Frances McDormand, Jon Hamm, and a Queen: Greatest Hits CD are also involved. It's not the level of cinematic achievement of the other miniseries on this list, but it is probably the most fun.
Investment: 6 episodes, 1hr each (miniseries)
Watch if you like: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, David Tennant
17. Back to LifeBBC | Daisy Haggard
"When Miri Matteson returns home after eighteen years, can she integrate back into her old life? With a terrible event from her past hanging over her, it won’t be easy."
The first season of Back to Life plays out as a sort of whodunnit mystery, except in reverse. You know who committed the crime, you just don't know the what or why. The details are gradually revealed throughout the season amidst a backdrop of dark British comedy.
Investment: 6 episodes, 25m each (renewed)
Watch if you like: Fleabag meets Broadchurch
16. The WitcherNetflix | Lauren S Hissrich
"Geralt of Rivia, a solitary monster hunter, struggles to find his place in a world where people often prove more wicked than beasts."
The death of Game of Thrones has ironically created its own "war of five kings" as all of the major streaming players try to create the next major fantasy epic. The Witcher has great potential, but its first season suffers from many flaws. Firstly, the non-linear narrative structure is poorly explained and doesn't really become clear until episode 4. Secondly, a majority of the episodes feel a bit too "side-quest of the week" for a show trying to be a serial epic.
Investment: 8 episodes, 1hr each (renewed)
Watch if you like: Lord of the Rings, The Witcher video games or original novel series
15. Love, Death & RobotsNetflix | Tim Miller
"A collection of animated short stories that span various genres including science fiction, fantasy, horror and comedy."
Love, Death & Robots is very much the Black Mirror of animated short film. What makes it different than Black Mirror however is its variance. Episodes significantly vary in genre and tone, ranging from sci-fi horror to straight up comedy. They also vary in length, from around 5-18 minutes, and in animation style, from anime to photorealistic CGI.
Investment: 18 shorts, 5-18m each
Watch if you like: Black Mirror, Into the Spiderverse, graphic animated violence
14. What We Do in the ShadowsFX | Jemaine Clement
"A documentary-style look into the daily (or rather, nightly) lives of three vampires in Staten Island who have 'lived' together for hundreds and hundreds of years."
With the awkward comedic style of The Office and an absurd premise of vampires trying to take over Staten Island, What We Do in the Shadows is probably one of the funniest shows on this list. This is just one of many examples of FX's ability to create a catalogue of consistent quality with extreme variety of genre, concept, and tone.
Investment: 10 episodes, 25m each (renewed)
Watch if you like: The IT Crowd, Flight of the Concords, The Office
13. UndoneAmazon | Raphael Bob-Waksberg & Kate Purdy
"Alma, a 28-year-old living in San Antonio, Texas, finds that she has a new relationship to time after nearly dying in a car accident. As Alma develops new abilities, she pursues answers about her father’s death."
Undone is one of the most bold shows of 2019 in terms of both storytelling and visual style. The story is both an existential and metaphysical crisis, following the narratively difficult "unstuck in time" concept of Slaughterhouse-Five. The animation style of the show is created by first shooting in live-action and then rotoscoping, allowing for psychedelic visual sequences that complement the show's premise perfectly.
Investment: 8 episodes, 23min each (renewed)
Watch if you like: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Lost episode "The Constant", 12 Monkeys
12. The Morning ShowApple | Jay Carson
"A behind-the-scenes look at the lives of the people who help America wake up in the morning, exploring the unique challenges faced by the men and women who carry out this daily televised ritual."
Critics unjustly panned The Morning Show as part of the hate-tsunami against the launch of Apple TV+. To be fair, most of their content at launch was straight garbage, but The Morning Show did not deserve to be dragged down with the rest. The show is very good, with an important take on the real world #metoo movement, but does suffer from being a bit try-hard. The show has something to say, but not nearly enough to warrant the hour-long episodes. Almost every shot in the series drags on for noticeably too long (particularly shots with iPhones in them) creating a show too bloated for me to call top ten of 2019.
Investment: 10 episodes, 1hr each (renewed)
Watch if you like: The Newsroom, Jennifer Aniston
11. The Righteous GemstonesHBO | Danny McBride
"A TV series that follows a world-famous televangelist family with a long tradition of deviance, greed and charitable work."
The Righteous Gemstones is ungodly levels of hilarious. Anyone familiar with protestant Christian culture is sure to benefit from the many inside jokes. McBride definitely did his research for this series. The real breakout hit of this series, however, is the sinfully catchy song, "Misbehavin" which brilliantly parodies the Christian sing-a-long sunday school music of the 80s and 90s in an incredibly well directed flashback episode.
Investment: 9 episodes, 30min each (renewed)
Watch if you like: Vice Principals, any over-the-top comedy like Pineapple Express
10. UnbelievableNetflix | Susannah Grant, Ayelet Waldman, Michael Chabon
"After a teen reports being raped, then recants her story, two female detectives follow evidence that could reveal the truth. Based on a true story."
Unbelievable is the latest true-crime detective series. The focus on trying to find a serial rapist (rather than the done-to-death serial killer story, no pun intended) makes Unbelievable incredibly fresh and relevant. The young lead actress, Kaitlyn Dever, is absolutely superb in one of the most challenging roles on tv this year. This series would probably be higher on this list, but the detective played by Meritt Wever has some weak writing. Most of her dialogue sounds sounds incredibly fake to me, as if her lines were taken straight out of a psychology textbook on how to talk to sexual assault survivors.
Investment: 8 episodes, 50min each (miniseries)
Watch if you like: When They See Us, any true-crime dramas
9. Russian DollNetflix | Natasha Lyonne, Leslye Headland, Amy Poehler
"Nadia keeps dying and reliving her 36th birthday party. She's trapped in a surreal time loop -- and staring down the barrel of her own mortality."
At 3 and a half hours of total runtime, the first season of Russian Doll is an existential comedy miniseries unlike anything else... except the film Groundhog Day, it's exactly like that. Despite the show feeling like a limited series, it was renewed for a 2nd season which I am hoping is going in the direction of an anthology series with a new story. Regardless of what the future holds, Season 1 is a great low-concept science fiction story worthy of a weekend binge.
Investment: 8 episodes, 30m each (renewed)
Watch if you like: Groundhog Day I guess...
8. The MandalorianDisney+ | Jon Favreau
"Set after the fall of the Empire and before the emergence of the First Order. The series depicts a lone bounty hunter in the outer reaches of the galaxy far from the authority of the New Republic."
Disney+ came out swinging with The Mandalorian, which just might be the best addition to the Star Wars cinematic universe since The Empire Strikes Back. Unfortunately, the twist of the first episode is now one of the internet's biggest meme so if you didn't watch when it was first released you genuinely missed out. Nevertheless, you can still enjoy The Mandalorian for the awesome space western that it is.
Investment: 8 episodes, 30-40m each (renewed)
Watch if you like: Star Wars, Firefly
7. Looking for AlaskaHulu | Josh Schwartz
"Miles enrolls in boarding school to try to gain a deeper perspective on life; after an unexpected tragedy, Miles and his friends try to make sense of what they have been through."
Death looms over this series. Between the flash-forward car crash opening, the main character's obsession with the last words of famous people, and each episode ending with text like "91 days before," you pretty much know someone is going to die. Nevertheless, none of this lessens the pure, emotionally devastating impact that hits when it finally happens. The incredible performances (particularly of Denny Love as "The Colonel" and Kristine Froseth as Alaska Young) make sure of that. The only fault I can find in this series is it takes place in some kind of alternate reality where teenagers actually read classic literature.
Investment: 8 episodes, 50m each (miniseries)
Watch if you like: Paper Towns meets Dead Poets Society, the original John Green novel
6. Perpetual Grace, LTDEpix | Steven Conrad
"James, a disgraced firefighter turned grifter, seizes a chance, illicit opportunity to prey upon Pastor Byron Brown, who turns out to be far more dangerous than he appears."
This comedy/western features Oscar award winner Sir Ben Kingsley driving around in a stolen ice-cream truck in Mexico to get revenge on Luis Guzmán (of Narcos)... need I say more? Perpetual Grace LTD is a truly unique and quirky show that is 100% worth signing up for a 7 day free trial of Epix to binge watch.
Also, there has never been a more perfectly bizarre title to an episode of television than "Felipe G. Usted. Almost First Mexican on the Moon. Part 2"
Investment: 10 episodes, 50m each (not yet renewed)
Watch if you like: Fargo, Coen Brothers style neo-noirs, Cash Cab
5. When They See UsNetflix | Ava DuVernay
"Five teens from Harlem become trapped in a nightmare when they're falsely accused of a brutal attack in Central Park. Based on the true story."
When They See Us is an incredibly timely "true crime" miniseries. Despite the case of the Central Park Five being 30 years old, its relevance in 2019 is indisputable. This is one of those miniseries that is better described as a "five hour movie." The acting (particularly the Emmy award winning performance of Jharrel Jerome) is incredibly strong for an ensemble of 5 young performers. The series also does an amazing job of transitioning between the courtroom drama (reminiscent of People vs. OJ) that makes up the show's 2nd act and the prison drama (ala The Night Of) of the 3rd act, while managing to be best-in-class throughout both.
Investment: 4 episodes (miniseries)
Watch if you like: The Night Of, Unbelievable, American Crime Story
4. Fosse/VerdonFX | Thomas Kail & Steven Levenson
"He was a filmmaker and one of theater's most influential choreographers and directors. She was the greatest Broadway dancer of all time."
As someone with virtually no interest in Broadway musicals, Fosse/Verdon was still one of the most incredible miniseries of 2019. Lead duo, Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams put on one hell of a master-class in period piece acting. Supporting Actress, Margaret Qualley also earned herself an Emmy nom, an unexpected boost to her already very busy year as she appeared in Tarantino's "Hollywood" and Kojima's Death Stranding. Aside from the acting, the editing is what really sets this series apart.
Investment: 8 episodes (miniseries)
Watch if you like: classic Broadway musicals, All That Jazz, Flesh and Bone
3. EuphoriaHBO | Sam Levinson
"A group of high school students navigate love and friendships in a world of drugs, sex, trauma, and social media."
Euphoria is a deeply uncomfortable series to watch, perhaps more than any other on this list. The magnificent first season blends the darkest sides of being a Gen Z teenager with some of the most enthralling cinematography and performances of the year. Zendaya and Hunter Schafer have more on screen chemistry than any other lead duo this year. The soundtrack deserves equal praise, particularly for the memorable "carnival episode" which might be some of the best directing of the year.
Investment: 8 episodes (renewed for season 2)
Watch if you like: Skins (UK), Requiem For a Dream
2. WatchmenHBO | Damon Lindelof
"A modern-day reimagining where superheroes are treated as outlaws and must embrace the nostalgia."
Damon Lindelof's Watchmen is his most meticulous work yet. This adaptation/remix/sequel (whatever you want to call it) to the original graphic novel is series without flaw. By any right, it should be #1 in any sane year, but another equally flawless miniseries came along to steal the spot. Nevertheless, Watchmen is a breathtaking spectacle of a show with a clear cultural relevance in a racially divided America. The performances (Regina King and Jeremy Irons in particular) are incredible but the triumph of Lindelof's storytelling over an extremely tricky beast of a high-concept plot is what earns Watchmen this spot. It's the rare show that will answer each and every "what the fuck?" moment of brilliant confusion with an "oh, fuck." moment of jaw-dropping clarity.
Investment: 9 episodes (second season unlikely)
Watch if you like: Legion, The Leftovers, or the original graphic novel
1. ChernobylHBO | Craig Mazin
"Chernobyl dramatizes the story of the 1986 nuclear accident — one of the worst man-made catastrophes in history — and the sacrifices made to save Europe from unimaginable disaster."
There was nothing sane about Chernobyl. Every component of this 5 and a half hour miniseries is a masterpiece born out of the blood, sweat, and tears of the artists involved. Whether it's Hildur Guðnadóttir composing the haunting score from sounds she recorded of an actual nuclear power plant, or the costume and set designers tracking down the exact type of helmets the firefighters wore and recreating the accident site to look indistinguishable from the historical photographs... or creator/writer Craig Mazin painstakingly researching the various accounts of the incident, even visiting the exclusion zone in person... or Johan Renck directing the most anxiety inducing 120 second single-take scene of the rooftop cleaning process...
All of this adds up to the most magnetic miniseries masterpiece. Perhaps of all time.
Investment: 5 episodes (miniseries)
Watch if you like: Great television