Take a look at our list of the top 10 TV shows of 2019, which includes several repeat performers and a few new series making a big impact this past year…
By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer
It’s really hard to keep up with everything on television these days.
Besides what’s on network and cable TV, the streaming services out there are far beyond what was around just a few years ago. Netflix once ruled the roost when it came to streamers but now Hulu, Amazon and Disney+ are building the competition with a robust slate of original programming.
Disney+ is the newest big kid on the block with multi-millions of subscribers already signed onto the service with only one major program on the line up — “The Mandalorian.” It’s hard to imagine a better start for Disney+ than the one they’ve had, especially considering many of their marquee series from the Marvel Cinematic Universe won’t even launch until sometime in mid to late 2020.
New series also had a particularly powerful impact on television this past year with shows like “Watchmen” enjoying almost universe praise from critics and audiences alike.
There were also some old favorites punching their way towards the top of our list for the best show of the year including another standout season from “Billions,” which might be the most consistent performer over the past few years.
With that said, let’s get to our list of the top 10 television shows for 2019…
“GLOW” has been great since it first began and the third season was no exception.
Based loosely on the all-women’s professional wrestling league of the same name from the 1980s, this version of “GLOW” relocated from Los Angeles to Las Vegas for the third season that saw the women put on a live show in front of a casino audience instead of being broadcast on television. While still largely marketed as a comedy, “GLOW” has managed to tackle some really timely issues such as abortion in season 1 followed by a storyline focused on sexual harassment in season 2.
“GLOW” season 3 tackled plenty of real life problems on top of the comedy aspect of the series. The highlight was likely the episode based around a telling of “A Christmas Carol,” which proved just how much this series was willing to take chances that other shows wouldn’t dare to attempt.
It’s unfortunate that “GLOW” will come to an end with season 4 but hopefully the final year will bring the same kind of energy as the first three and chances are the show will be back on this list in 2020.
9. The Mandalorian
The first “Star Wars” live action series for Disney+ really exceeded expectations with its debut season. “Star Wars” has been a highly divisive property ever since Disney shelled out $4 billion to purchase it from George Lucas.
The trilogy that followed up from the original movies has faced serious criticism from fans and journalists alike. The two spinoff films — “Rogue One” and “Solo” — were plagued by reshoots and the notorious “creative differences.” (although “Rogue One” ended up being rather good).
Thank goodness Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy loosened the reins ever so slightly and allowed Jon Favreau the room he needed to create “The Mandalorian.”
Favreau wasn’t saddled to 40 plus years of history when making his series because the “Star Wars” franchise is now moving beyond the Skywalker Saga so this show had nothing to do with the Rebellion or the Galactic Empire. Instead, “The Mandalorian” is one part space opera and another part Western with a mysterious unnamed and conflicted hero, who is forced to face his own morality after he’s unable to carry out one of his jobs and it makes him the most wanted man in the galaxy.
If you were a fan of Joss Whedon’s short-lived series “Firefly,” you should love “The Mandalorian”
8. True Detective
If “Watchmen” was one of the greatest single seasons of television in history, then the first installment of “True Detective” starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson is likely at the top of that list.
Unfortunately that was an impossibly tough act to follow and “True Detective” season 2 was largely a letdown. So when season 3 was announced with Oscar winner Mahershala Ali starring in the lead role alongside underrated veteran actor Stephen Dorff, it felt like the series was back on its feet.
“True Detective” season 3 returned to form in a mystery spanning several decades as a pair of cops desperately searched for answers in a murder-kidnapping from the early 80’s that was still haunting them years later. Each episode gave out clues and the audience attempted to sleuth out the truth about this crime with a slew of theories being tossed out week to week.
The end of “True Detective” season 3 left something to be desired, although certainly not a bad conclusion whatsoever, but the road getting there was absolutely worth traveling down.
7. Stranger Things
Following a breakout freshman season, “Stranger Things” experienced some growing pains in season 2. Still a fun watch from start to finish, the second season spent a little bit too much time splitting the kids apart before finally reuniting them with Eleven in the finale. But things get back on track in a big way in season 3, which is why “Stranger Things” returned to a prominent position for 2019.
The show upped the ante when it came to the sci-fi, supernatural chicanery that serves as the backbone of the series but “Stranger Things” also managed to introduce some fun new characters and add in enough off-beat comedy to keep things light while the rest of the season was plenty serious.
Filled with nostalgia for the 80s combined with some really heartfelt moments shared between characters, “Stranger Thing” has been a consistent crowd pleaser since first debuting and season 3 deserves plenty of praise.
6. The Boys
Superheroes aren’t actually one-note characters devoted to the fight for good over evil. In fact many of the best superheroes are incredibly conflicted — look no further than the legendary exploits of Batman, Daredevil or even the Punisher if you want to travel down a truly rocky moral road. But what if superheroes were created in a lab — engineered to become the saviors of society — only behind the scenes these men and women are not just morally questionable but they are down right corrupt.
That’s the concept behind “The Boys” — an Amazon series based on the original comic books written by Garth Ennis.
These paragons of virtue are actually some really evil motherfuckers and the checks and balances to stop them are slowly being eroded away. That’s where a rag-tag group of hero hating citizens come together to expose them and ultimately stop them.
The result is a hilarious, violent and well-executed take on the superhero genre that is completely unlike anything you’ll ever see in a Marvel movie. “The Boys” was not only one of the best new series of 2019 but overall one of the best shows out there today. Season 2 is already been wrapped and its expected to debut on Amazon in 2020 so it’s highly recommended to catch this show if you haven’t already.
The battle between law enforcement and a hedge fund manager has produced some of the best television over the past few years and season 4 of the Showtime series “Billions” was no different. This past season saw Bobby Axelrod team up with his former foe Chuck Rhoades as both of them tried to conquer new enemies and the result was just as riveting as when they were forced to face off with each other. In an age where the term “billionaire” has become one of the most polarizing words in our vernacular, showrunners Brian Kopelman and David Levian posit a different take on one particularly rich man as he seeks to destroy his competitors and making him a three-dimensional character who isn’t necessarily defined by the size of his bank account.
Add into the mix a former U.S. attorney turned State’s Attorney General, whose thirst for revenge is hardly ever quenched and you have set the stage for a series steeped in gaudy excesses, back door dealings and even some BDSM for good measure.
A series focused around a truly abhorrent family where it’s tough to find a redeeming quality about any of them might sound like a tough watch but “Succession” really does force you to find a place where you come to appreciate a show built on people you love to hate and hate to love.
“Succession” is very loosely based on the real life Murdoch clan, who run FOX News, except the Roy family — led by patriarch Logan Roy — might be even worse. Season 2 of “Succession” deals with the Roy family facing off with a hostile takeover of the company and Logan’s desperation to maintain control rather than conceding any kind of leadership to his children.
The acting, writing and directing in “Succession” are all top notch as the show straddles the line between serious drama and dark comedy. That’s a tough balance but somehow “Succession” pulls it off with each new episode. You’ll laugh, you might cry and you’ll most definitely despise somebody when each hour comes to an end.
It’s hard enough to create one compelling season of television but “Yellowstone” somehow managed to come back even stronger for season 2.
Set around a battle for land rights and development, “Yellowstone” focuses primarily on the Dutton family, who own the largest ranch in Wyoming, as they constantly battle back threats to take away their legacy. A Native American group and an ambitious developer faced off with the Dutton’s in season one but season two saw the formerly warring factions team together to take on a sibling duo, who were willing to kill to get what they wanted.
Kevin Costner anchors the series and he’s outstanding but the performances by the surrounding cast is what really elevates “Yellowstone” episode after episode. In particular, Kelly Reilly as Beth Dutton might be one of the best characters on television and it’s criminal she hasn’t gotten more recognition for the work she’s doing.
In any other year, “Yellowstone” could easily take the top spot overall and with season 3 coming in 2020 — with “Lost” star Josh Holloway joining the cast — it’s hard to imagine this series won’t be challenging for No. 1 a year from now.
2. Mr. Robot
After four seasons as one of the best shows on television, “Mr. Robot’ came to an end this past weekend with a finale episode that likely made everyone want to go back and watch the entire series again.
What Sam Esmail crafted with this show was not only incredibly original but it also felt like four or five different kinds of series wrapped up into one. “Mr. Robot” was largely based around a hacker activist named Elliot Alderson, who was determined to bring down an evil corporation that he believed corrupted everything it touched. Over the course of four seasons, Elliot’s mission shifted direction while he battled against his own mind as he suffered from multiple-personality disorder, social anxiety and extreme paranoia.
The final season was executed with surgical precision including one commercial free episode that barely featured any dialogue yet ended up as one of the most taut, suspenseful television experiences in 2019. As great as that was, it’s entirely possible that the best episode of the season was actually No. 407 titled “Proxy Authentication Request” where Elliot is forced to confront demons from his past while facing off with a truly vile villain, who is determined to take him there while attempting to also bring him back from the brink. There may not be a better piece of acting in a supporting role than Elliot Villar as Fernando Vera in that particular episode.
“Mr. Robot” was a one-of-a-kind bombshell that exploded at just the right time and place that reflected a United States that is still struggling under the weight of those same corporations and greedy fat cats who Elliot sought to bring to their knees. And ultimately for all the computer hacking featured on “Mr. Robot,” the heart of the show was still based around Elliot’s constant struggle to deal with his own mental health thanks to the intense trauma he suffered his entire life.
“Mr. Robot” was a mind-fuck from start to finish but it was the best kind of show that made you not only think about what you just witnessed but because we saw so much of the series through Elliot’s eyes, you had to wonder if what you just watched was even real in the first place. That kind of originality not only deserves a standing ovation but here’s hoping more networks and/or streaming services take chances on series like this one in the future.
Damon Lindelof didn’t even want to make “Watchmen” the first couple of times HBO asked him about developing a series based around Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s iconic comic book. Looking back now, we’re all fortunate that HBO continued hounding him and Lindelof eventually relented and said yes because “Watchmen” ended up transcending pop culture as not only one of the best series this year but perhaps one of the best single seasons of television in history.
It was obviously a tall order given all the filmmakers who tried to tackle “Watchmen” before Lindelof came along and created a sequel series, which was an even more impressive magic trick. He brought back legacy characters from the past and managed to intertwine them with new additions while doing so seamlessly enough for hardcore “Watchmen” fans to concede that he really did get it right.
Set in present day, “Watchmen” begins as an investigation into the murder of police chief Judd Crawford before spiraling out into a vast and insidious conspiracy involving government officials, a white supremacist group, a blue god, and the world’s smartest man and woman.
The intricate plot that unraveled over nine episodes was a master craft of storytelling and once again proved that Lindelof is one of the most important creative minds working in film or television today. He’s now managed to create three all time classic series with “Lost”, “The Leftovers” and then “Watchmen.”
And perhaps the best thing that “Watchmen” accomplished was that the show transcended fans of the original comic. People who had never read a single page of the 12 issues Moore penned and Gibbons illustrated were still enthralled by the elaborate labyrinth that Lindelof and his writer’s room created. It’s a feat of great filmmaking when you can make a series that is almost universally beloved and that’s exactly what “Watchmen” was in 2019.