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Top 50 TV Shows of 2019 to Stream Now During the Quarantine

May 20, 2020
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We’re all stuck inside during the quarantine. It could last for a few more weeks, but more likely for months—whatever it takes to make sure that those most at risk in our society aren’t exposed to COVID-19. So we’re on our couch, perhaps still in our PJs, pretending to be productive. But with the weight of all that’s going on, perhaps we just want to grab the remote. But what to watch? These days we’re spoilt for choice, depending on which TV services you partake in. Some have cable plus streaming services, others are cord cutters and rely on only on Netflix and their ilk. But then there’s Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO Go (and soon HBO Plus), Disney Plus, DC Universe, BritBox, CBS All Access, and others we’re no doubt forgetting. Sure, we’ve all been told to watch Tiger King, but what else?

We decided to dust off an abandoned project to help give some suggestions of recent shows to check out while you’re confined to home. Last December we had started a list of the Best TV Shows of 2019, conducting a vote with all our writers, but never finished it. Better late than never we say. So our writers finished up their blurbs on the Top 10 and we belatedly present to you a list of last year’s best shows to help you decide on what to watch until we’re allowed outside again.

1

Watchmen

(HBO)

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal ’80s comic Watchmen is probably un-filmable. That doesn’t mean you can’t adapt it, of course—anything can be adapted, but so much of what has led to its status as the defining piece of comic media is how well it utilizes its medium. Zack Snyder’s 2009 big screen attempt went for a shot-for-shot approach, resulting in a slickly stylized rendition of Watchmen’s pages that lacked any of the original’s thematic depth. Enter: Damon Lindelof. What made Watchme so essential week-in, week-out, is that Lindelof didn’t attempt to adapt Moore and Gibbons’ earlier work. Instead, he used their comic as a springboard to ask the same questions they posed in a new context, 30 years on in the comic’s timeline. Moore and Gibbons were uniquely concerned with superheroism as a condition, questioning what personal inadequacy or sexual deviancy might drive someone to wear a mask. In turn, Lindelof asks what power a mask holds for law enforcement in an America where African-Americans are already terrified of those supposed to protect them. If that suggests a pontificating, dry piece, well, that couldn’t be any further from the truth. Lindelof has clearly learned a trick or two from his tenure on the similarly meditative but bugged-out The Leftovers, effortlessly blending high concepts with highly thought provoking questions. There’s squid rain, glowing blue dildos, and, in what was surely the best 30 seconds of television all year, one particularly lubed up vigilante. A sequel in the best sense of the word, Lindelof has made a piece that tunnels down deeper into what made Watchmen tick, rather than just flatly reproducing it. By Blaise Radley

2

Barry

(HBO)

Let’s talk about ronny/lily for a moment. The fifth episode of the second season of Bill Hader’s hitman turned actor comedy may well be the best episode of TV of 2019. It’s a ridiculous mix of the absurd and the surreal, delivered with the explosive energy of an action thriller and the flair of arthouse cinema. And it’s incredibly funny. It’s such an achievement it could easily have overshadowed the season’s other seven episodes but Hader, Alec Berg, and the rest of the team are far too good for that. Picking up where we left off, Barry still wants to be an actor and is stumbling towards success, all the while struggling to extricate himself from his violent past that never really became the past. The true wonder of the show is that it manages to make Barry a compelling lead without inadvertently providing justification or excuses for his behaviour. Or maybe the true wonder is how damn good it is. Barry has been labelled the next Breaking Bad, an unfair and diminishing tag. This is a clever, frequently inspired comedy rooted in dramatic depth. Season one felt perfect. Season two somehow raises the bar. By Stephen Mayne

3

Chernobyl

(HBO)

Chernobyl is a master class in taut, gripping, powerful storytelling. The HBO miniseries charting the disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant subtly fuses the tension of an apocalyptic disaster movie with the intrigue of a political thriller. It opens in 1988, one day after the second anniversary of the explosion at reactor number 4, with a black screen as a tinny voiceover plays over the hiss of a tape machine. We discover this is the voice of protagonist Valery Legasov (played by Jared Harris) recording his thoughts shortly before taking his own life—“What is the cost of lies? It’s not that we’ll mistake them for the truth. The real danger is that if we hear enough lies, then we no longer recognize the truth at all”—we are then taken back to 1986 and plunged into the chaos of the control room at the Chernobyl plant. Ironically it was during a safety system test that things began to spiral out of control, the mounting panic and confusion are tangible as is the negligence of deputy chief engineer Anatoly Dyatlov (played with menacing arrogance by Paul Ritter) whose cavalier attitude in part, led to the disaster. The series then deals with the aftermath of the explosion, the subsequent investigation, and the attempted cover-up. When, Council of Ministers vice chairman Boris Shcherbina (Stellan Skarsgård) states that site director Viktor Bryukhanov (Con O’Neill) has assured him “the radiation reports no more than 3.6 roentgen” and “is the equivalent of a chest X-ray,” it’s obvious that one of the first causalities of this disaster is going to be the truth. Self-preservation and reputation management, amidst an endemic culture of denial, is far more of a priority for the mendacious powers that be than protecting the people in the nearby town of Pripyat and beyond. As one might expect it’s not an easy watch—dead birds fall from the trees and in a particularly nightmarish episode a group of soldiers, including tearful rookie Pavel (Barry Keoghan), are dispatched to kill as many dogs as they can in an evacuated town who may have been infected with radiation. As the animals were previously pets the soldiers can simply call them out of hiding before dispatching them. It also details the horrific nature of radiation sickness, which has been described as being “burnt from within and without.” This is even more appalling when you consider that pain relief in the final stages is impossible as drugs can’t be administered due to the fact that the walls in the patient’s veins are slowly collapsing. It’s Harris’ dignified and empathic portrayal of Valery Legaso, the chief investigator into the disaster, that gives the show it’s humanity, you can sense the jaw-clenching tension within the man, as he unearths the truth, based on facts and science. His agonized choice during the show trial to tow the party line or to go public with the information he has unearthed is grippingly brought to life in the final episode, which would undoubtedly mean the end of his career and possibly a life spent in exile. Legaso’s final spine tingling voice-over, which links back to the series-opening shot, should, in the current cluster fuck of fake news, climate change denial, and an irrational mistrust of “experts,” be a warning to us all. “The truth doesn’t care about our needs or wants. It doesn’t care about our governments, our ideologies, our religions. It will lie in wait, for all time. And this, at last, is the gift of Chernobyl. Where I once would fear the cost of truth, now I only ask... What is the cost of lies?” By Andy Von Pip

4

Black Mirror

(Netflix)

Some fans griped that Black Mirror’s fifth season didn’t live up to the dystopic opus’ prior highs. Regardless, that still makes it one of the best series on TV, comparatively speaking. Sure, there’s only three episodes to delve into this go around, compared to the more plentiful seasons three and four. And the finale, a Miley Cyrus starring episode with an uncharacteristic (for Black Mirror at least) happy ending was off putting for diehards who revel in this show’s infamously bleakest scenes. However, that episode’s girl power positivity, robotic sidekick and memory robbing villainess, not mention its allegory about the abuse pop stars face (from Kesha or K Pop) all make for compelling TV. There’s plenty to enjoy in the season’s other episodes as well. Be it Anthony Mackie’s life altering video game addiction, or Topher Grace’s turn as a Jack Dorsey-esque tech mogul facing off against a social media addicted, hostage taking Andrew Scott (ie the “hot priest” from Fleabag), Black Mirror remained essential viewing in its fifth year thanks to its tech skewering and heartfelt, yet twisted storytelling. By Kyle Mullin

5

Stranger Things

(Netflix)

Three seasons in, and the Duffer brothers have still found ways to evolve the Stranger Things formula. The show has grown past its 1980s horror roots to fully embrace the glitz and bombast of the era. The settings are neon-drenched and over-the-top, including shopping malls, carnivals, and secret Russian bases. Meanwhile, the Duffers cut all the fat for season three, with no weird side-stories in Chicago. It has a propulsive momentum leading toward the conclusion. The Duffers also pull off the Herculean feat of juggling a cast the size of an Avengers movie. Some characters did get sidelined—Noah Schnapp as Will Byers was especially underutilized. It’s hard to fault them though, especially when the new characters are pitch-perfect and the character threads from season two are built on in engaging ways. On top of that, Stranger Things continues to have some of the best special effects and soundtrack work on TV right now. While the show probably will likely never recapture the lighting-in-a-bottle effect that was season one, it is still some of the most addictive entertainment to be found on TV. By Caleb Campbell

6

The Good Place

(NBC)

The final season of The Good Place argues whether the complications of modern life have made it more difficult to be “good” and therefore to be on the plus side of the ledger. As a reminder, this is the plot of a network comedy. That a show with such an out-there premise lasted all the way to the end is a victory in and of itself. That it’s stayed funny while arguing such high moral concepts has always been its greatest trick. Of course, this trick is made possibly by the strongest cast in a current comedy. Ted Danson is always great. Kristen Bell is phenomenal. But Manny Jacinto, Jameela Jamil, William Jackson Harper, and especially D’Arcy Carden are all revelatory. By Jim Scott

7

Russian Doll

(Netflix)

Death never looked so lively. Thanks to star Natasha Lyonne’s repeated kicking of the bucket on this intricately written, impeccably cast Netflix gem, audiences are left to not only wonder about the big sleep. This series’ brilliant millennial twist on the Groundhog Day premise also makes us ponder the choices we make, and how we might change if our final day was endlessly looped. Lyonne’s Nadia Vulvokov is a drop dead gorgeous redhead who chain-smokes and quips poetic profanity with ease, a protagonist you’ll want to visit purgatory with. Her attempts to solve the ever layered mystery about her demise, and the funny friends puzzled by her increasingly frenzied behavior after each reset, make Russian Doll both an addictive thriller and a side splitting comedy. By Kyle Mullin

8

Mindhunter

(Netflix)

It took 22 months for Netflix to finally upload a second season of Mindhunter, David Fincher’s series about the formation of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, but the show’s ability to arrest and affect so well remained firmly in place once Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) head to Atlanta to investigate dozens of murders of young black children in the early ’80s. The show’s first season revealed how the expanding study of and vocabulary about serial killers could get inside those closest to it. The second season keeps those effects at work in each of the show’s primary characters while expanding that destructive reach to family and friends alike. Each of the series investigators face significant issues at home while work remains as dangerous as ever. The resulting balance is a show that grips and never lets go, at least for another season. By Matt Connor

9

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

(Amazon Prime)

If often takes a couple seasons for television writers to really wring the most from their creations, and the third season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is no different. While the Amazon show earned acclaim from its debut episode, it’s not until the third season that tiered characters beyond the core feel as three-dimensional and appreciated. Maisel’s third go-around features the comedienne taking flight (literally) as the surprising opener for R&B crooner Shy Baldwin even as her parents still struggle to understand her life choices. Her ex-husband Joel tries his hand at being a nightclub owner, while Susie, her manager, tries to balance her newest client Sophie Lennon (Jane Lynch). Not to play the role of spoiler, but it’s easy to see the greater theme of reinvention at work in each character. By season’s end, everyone has been forced to reckon with dashed expectations of their own. The acting on Maisel is top-notch as always, anchored by the Emmy-winning Rachel Brosnahan in the titular role. The inimitable Sterling K. Brown joins this season as Baldwin’s manager and adds another renowned actor to a cast list that any director would beg to work with. Now with well-rounded characters at all turns able to experience the highs and lows thrown at them, Maisel remains a largely feel-good show with a greater ceiling than ever before. By Matt Connor

10

What We Do in the Shadows

(FX)

Did the world really need a TV adaptation of Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s 2014 vampire mockumentary? It doesn’t take long to realize the answer is a resounding yes. Clement and Waititi remain entirely off camera (well almost) as the story moves from New Zealand to the U.S. If there’s some recycling from the movie, there’s more than enough new material expanding out the world without feeling like the joke is ever stretched too far. As for the universally excellent vampire cast, Kayvan Novak as the new Waititi and Matt Berry—possessor of the best voice in comedy—as the new Clement feel familiar, though no less hilarious for it. There’s also Natasia Demetriou and Mark Proksch, the latter an “energy vampire,” a particular high point, rounding out this suburban vampire’s nest. They all have a lot of fun playing around in the same register as the movie, mixing deadpan delivery and naivety as the supernatural meets the mundanity of local council meetings, seedy clubs and animal control. In fact, it is pretty much the movie only longer and in different locations. That should be more than enough for anyone. By Stephen Mayne

11

Sex Education

(Netflix)

12

Fleabag

(Amazon Prime)

13

GLOW

(Netflix)

14

The Mandalorian

(Disney Plus)

15

Doctor Who: Resolution

(BBC America)

16

You're the Worst

(FXX)

17

Big Little Lies

(HBO)

18

Silicon Valley

(HBO)

19

Dark

(Netflix)

20

Unbelievable

(Netflix)

21

A Very English Scandal

(BBC One/Amazon Prime)

22

Harley Quinn

(DC Universe)

23

His Dark Materials

(HBO/BBC One)

24

911

(FOX)

25

BoJack Horseman

(Netflix)

26

Orange Is the New Black

(Netflix)

27

The End of the F***ing World

(Channel 4/Netflix)

28

After Life

(Netflix)

29

Succession

(HBO)

30

Tuca & Bertie

(Netflix)

31

Big Mouth

(Netflix)

32

Derry Girls

(Channel 4/Netflix)

33

Stumptown

(ABC)

34

The Boys

(Amazon Prime)

35

The Righteous Gemstones

(HBO)

36

Mrs. Fletcher

(HBO)

37

Documentary Now!

(IFC)

38

This Is Us

(NBC)

39

Supergirl

(The CW)

40

The Flash

(The CW)

41

The Good Fight

(CBS All Access)

42

Pennyworth

(Epix)

43

Star Trek: Discovery

(CBS All Access)

44

The Man in the High Castle

(Amazon Prime)

45

Doom Patrol

(DC Universe)

46

Grey's Anatomy

(ABC)

47

Evil

(CBS)

48

Good Omens

(Amazon Prime)

49

Broad City

(Comedy Central)

50

The Dark Crystal: The Age of Resistance

(Netflix)

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