The 10 Best TV Shows of 2019, That Is, Why It Was Worth Wading Into Television’s Dark Swirling Waters
Before we plunge too deeply into 2020, when we can expect the television weeds will continue to grow taller and thicker, it seems fitting to take one quick glance back at the 10 best shows from 2019.
Okay, sure, maybe this sounds like last week’s news. But look at it this way: Television “best of” lists may have no greater scientific validity these days than they ever used to, but they are more gratifying because they usually include programs that are still available.
In the olden days, last year’s best shows were something that sorry, you missed. Now, most of them are still cued up for your “should watch that someday” file.
So, in no particular order, consider these 10 shows that poked their heads above the crowded TV pack in 2019:
Power, Starz. By happy coincidence, the final episodes of this intense series launch Sunday night, with a “Who shot J.R.?” style mystery. Power has just in general stayed fresh for its whole run, weaving an urban crime-and-money drama into an unblinking look at the dark side of human behavior.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Amazon Prime. Mrs. Maisel’s only problem is herself. The first season was so good that some folks immediately started grumbling that the second and third seasons didn’t reach the same level. Stop! Just stop! It’s a delightful show, with a half dozen terrific characters even beyond Rachel Brosnahan’s Midge Maisel.
The Good Place, NBC. Alas, The Good Place is heading for its final resting place. The last four episodes, ever, kick off on Jan. 9. If you haven’t seen it and want a treat, quickly binge all previous episodes before watching these. Ted Danson and Kristen Bell lead a wonderful cast that we will desperately miss.
Country Music, PBS. Ken Burns’s 18-hour, eight-part epic on one of America’s own musical creations showed how country music is not an outlier niche, but is woven deeply into the fabric of all American popular culture. Plus the hours of great video clips are just sheer fun to watch.
Unbelievable, Netflix. Depressing and disturbing, this miniseries features two dogged female detectives, played by Toni Collette and Merrit Wever, who are determined to track down a serial rapist that the male cops refuse to believe exists. The real star is Kaitlyn Dever, as a victim bullied by the law enforcement officers who are supposed to help her. There were a lot of dark miniseries in 2019. This one stood out.
Ray Donovan, Showtime. Another show that’s been around for a while and kept it fresh. The techniques are standard, like shifting location from LA to New York and bringing in guest stars. Unlike with many other shows, here is has worked. On a network that specializes in dysfunctional families, the Donovans, from Liev Schreiber’s Ray to Jon Voight’s Mickey, always seem to find something new and interesting to screw up.
Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries, Acorn. This Australian series is a spinoff from the popular Miss Fisher series, jumping forward from the 1920s to the 1960s and starring the delightful Geraldine Hakewell as Ms. Fisher, flaky long-lost niece of the original Miss Fisher. Is that clear? No matter. The series consists of four murder mystery movies where fashion, banter, comedy and romance are as prominent as sleuthing. Popcorn TV at its breeziest.
Stumptown, ABC. The most engaging new drama of the broadcast season. Graphic novel adaptations don’t always work, but this one does, thanks to Cobie Smulders’s portrayal of a private investigator suffering from serious PTSD. Okay, almost every law enforcement person on TV is deeply troubled, but Smulders’s Dex Parios brilliantly conveys the challenges without letting us feel sorry for her.
Mr. Inbetween, FX. The stuff they make into comedy these days, y’know? Scott Ryan created the show and plays Ray Shoesmith, who’s a caring Dad and a hitman. Like, a hitman who’s involved in a lot of violence. It’s an Australian series, only six half-hour episodes a season, and somehow it finds room to be both good action drama and comedy that you feel only slightly guilty to be laughing about.
Das Boot, Hulu. Back in 1981, the original five-hour Das Boot was cut in half to make a really good movie for American audiences. This series is a sequel whose focus is split between life on a World War II German U-boat and a woman who works as an interpreter at German military headquarters and has a brother in the service. That woman, Simone Strasser, played by Vicky Krieps, turns a solid series into an exceptionally good one. Dark, complex and well worth the time. Good news: There will be a season two.