It’s time once again for the Best TV Shows of 2019. It’s actually past time, but my Internet service went out for about a week and that threw everything off. As usual, I have a list of twenty-five that I’ll break into three parts. And the numerical ranking is really an approximation. How do you even compare I Think You Should Leave to Succession, for example? They’re doing such different things in different ways and the only thing they have in common is the piece of technology you watch them on. So really, there’s not a quantifiable difference between, like, 25 and 20, but I have to put them in an order and this is the one that feels right.
I should note my arbitrary rule – in order to qualify, a series had to air six episodes in the calendar year. So this year, that eliminated the movies Deadwood and El Camino, miniseries Chernobyl and Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal (five episodes each), and Joe Pera Talks With You. Joe only had four episodes in the calendar year, or else he’d be in the top ten easily. But the second hunk of the season will qualify next year, so watch out Westworld.
Let’s get to it!
25. I’m Sorry (TruTV) – We all agree that Andrea Savage is the best, right? She created and stars in this show that owes a lot to the Curb Your Enthusiasm formula while still doing something new and hilarious. This season we learned about what happens when comedy bits go too far, that it’s possible for a woman to have a secret extra breast, the dangers of having a child who can read, and how to end a useless friendship. Like Curb, it focuses on the comedy of discomfort, but unlike Larry, Andrea is a normal person with a family who will have to deal with the consequences of her faux pas. It’s truly hilarious and one of the best pure comedies around.
Best Episode: “Sophie’s Choice”
24. Legion (FX) – Noah Hawley’s X-Men spinoff wrapped this year with a truly baffling final season. This is a show I had to stop recapping because it got too abstract to really talk about, but I loved it right to the end. With David reframed as the villain and taking up a new life as a cult leader, this season focused on his former colleagues’ attempts to stop him from destroying reality even as David continued to alter the timeline. It’s a show that puts a million ideas out there and some of them work and some of them don’t, but it’s always arresting. The fairy tale episode that pit Jason Mantzoukas against Jemaine Clements in a rap battle, Lenny experiencing her child’s entire life in a minute, the musical numbers… And it all wrapped up with David and his father (Professor X) facing two Shadow Kings and a finale that kind of works as a coda to FOX’s entire X-Men license.
Best Episode: “Chapter 25”
23. Game of Thrones (HBO) – Remember when people were signing a petition to make HBO re-do the final season with different writers? That was nuts, right? I hope everybody is embarrassed about their behavior. I’m a final season supporter – I understand and agree with some of the complaints but on the whole, it’s an impressive accomplishment that closed out a seemingly unfinishable story. We got some excellent and long-awaited character bits, epic battles, and a dang emotional roller coaster. I mean, I understand that if you named your daughter Khaleesi, Daenerys’ heel turn would have been hard to take but also the lady who spent eight seasons threatening to burn cities to the ground burned a city to the ground. She gave you all the clues, Mr. Police. I was completely absorbed in these final hours.
Best Episode: “The Bells” (Yeah, I said it.)
22. Living With Yourself (Netflix) – A high concept comedy starring Paul Rudd? Yes please! Short version – Paul Rudd is a depressed man who signs up for a treatment that’s supposed to make him a better person but he’s actually replaced by a better version of himself. Original Paul (well, Miles) survives the process and has to get back to his old life alongside his superior twin. And there you go. I’m a sucker for a show that keeps moving – you could have made a whole season out of the two Miles trying to keep a secret but each episode jumps the story ahead. Their(?) wife, Kate, finds out about the second Miles really quickly and original Miles blows the game at work earlier than you’d expect. It’s a twisty and innovative story, and I loved the way the two Miles traded off as the leads episode-to-episode for a cool stutter-step approach that let us see everything from two perspectives without getting repetitive. They haven’t committed to another season, but I want more. And I want it now.
Best Episode: “Va Bene”
21. Gotham (FOX) – Man, I love this crazy show. The fifth and final season about Gotham City before Batman was a take on “No Man’s Land”, the famous arc with Gotham being separated from the rest of the country. Is it possible to do that story without Batman? They did. Plus they threw in “Knightfall” for good measure. But they did it all with a new approach that made for some genuinely shocking reveals. I’ve written so much about this show already, but it was straight-up bonkers. We got to see Penguin and Riddler take on Bane, fun takes on C-Listers like Magpie and the Ventriloquist, huge action scenes, and approximately one million surprising plot twists that made it feel like this show was going to go off the rails at any moment. And then they brought it in for an epilogue episode set ten minutes in the future that gave us Batman’s first encounter with the Joker. I can’t believe this show existed, much less that it ran 100 episodes and I loved every moment of it. Farewell, Gotham. You were better than we ever deserved.
Best Episode: “Legend of the Dark Knight: They Did What?”
20. Brooklyn Nine-Nine (NBC) – I’m cheating a little bit here. This entry and the next two could maybe be a little higher on the list, but I write more the higher a show places and these are shows I’ve been putting on my end-of-year list for years and I’m running out of things to say. In its new home on NBC, B99 kept doing what it does and being great. Jake and Amy’s honeymooon with a depressed Holt in tow, the annual Halloween heist (moved to Cinco de Mayo this time out), an episode focusing on Scully and Hitchcock, Lin-Manuel Miranda as Amy’s brother, a hilarious runner with Diaz’s increasingly regrettable hairstyles. The annual Pontiac Bandit episode was a joy, Holt’s husband Kevin got a good spotlight episode and the show dealt with sexual assault in a surprisingly deft episode. It’s a very good show and it makes me laugh now just as much as it did in 2013.
Best Episode: “Cinco de Mayo”
19. Bob’s Burgers (FOX) – Speaking of consistent, we’re ten seasons in on Bob and it is still one of TV’s best comedies. And it does it without being flashy or making big moves. You’ll get the occasional episode with a weird premise (Gene befriends plankton) but mostly you have episodes about Bob taking a day off or the kids trying to entertain their parents or Gene trying to get out of running a mile. It’s a show with perfectly realized characters that is still producing hilarious and heartwarming episodes long after the point when most shows have taken a noticeable dip in quality. It’s the most rewatchable show on TV – you just pick a random episode on Hulu when you’re having a bad day and you’re going to have a good time. One of the best shows of the decade and the most rock solid.
Best Episode: “Yes Without My Zeke”
18. Archer: 1999 (FXX) – The third and final dream season, Archer: 1999 took the cast to a 1970’s sci-fi future. This time, Pam was a rock monster, Krieger was a cyborg, and Malory was a ball of light. And once again, the fantasy setting let Adam Reed and company throw a whole new mess of tropes at Sterling Archer, who was the same delightful a-hole he’s always been. It was a kick to see elements that would not have been possible in other iterations of Archer bump up against the characters we’ve been following for ten years – a sentient doomsday device, brain parasites, and the fully robotic version of Barry. (Well, to be fair, he’s been a robot for a while in the regular series. He’s just more open about it here.) And unlike the previous seasons, Archer’s “real world” started to leak into the dreamland and the season ended with the original Archer waking up from his coma. This was meant to be the final season, but plans have changed and we’re getting at least one more season of the original Archer, this time re-entering a world that’s moved on while he spent three years in a coma. Creator Adam Reed is stepping back, which would be worrisome but he relied heavily on other writers this year and it turned out fine. It turns out, you can’t stop Archer even if I have nothing new to say after ten years of putting this on my best of list.
Best Episode: “Robert de Niro”
17. Good Omens (Amazon) – First off, it’s an indicator of how good and plentiful TV was this year that this is at Seventeen. Most years, it’d have been top ten easily. This miniseries, based on Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s bestselling novel, tells the story of the imminent apocalypse and the angel and demon who quite like Earth and would prefer to save it. It’s a credit to the series that it was still exciting for a person who’s read the book half a dozen times, and that’s largely due to some clever tweaks and some amazing casting. David Tennant (demon Crowley) and Michael Sheen (angel Aziraphale) were tremendous. Tennant especially is so much fun when he plays nasty and he lands some of the year’s most iconic scenes – Crowley driving a flaming car, held together only by his sheer force of will, across London is a favorite over here. This was just pure fun, with everybody from Jon Hamm to Michael McKean scoring hilarious side roles. I loved this darn thing and I wanted it to just keep going.
Best Episode: “Hard Times”
16. Jon Glaser Loves Gear (TruTV) – Guys, I love this show. Glaser (Delocated) plays himself in this faux behind the scenes look at a show celebrating gear. He has to hire actors to play his wife and kids since the real (well, “real”) ones won’t allow their images to be used. It’s a great parody of reality TV, but it’s also just an absolutely wild fictional world where a beta male is desperate to be mistaken for an alpha. Glaser’s take on defeated masculinity is a hallmark of his best work and this show is the ultimate expression of it. There’s nobody better at playing a jerk and the degree to which he’s willing to make himself look bad is laudable. It’s a show that makes me so happy and I don’t know anybody else who watches it so it feels like my seedy little secret. It’s weird and mean and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Best Episode: “Photography”
Tomorrow, we’ll get to numbers 6 – 15. Superheroes, ducks, and vampires!