With Peak TV still not close to peaking—the number of scripted series airing this year likely topped 500 for the first time ever, and is expected to rise even higher in 2020—it’s impossible not to feel overwhelmed by the endless onslaught of new content that arrives on a daily basis.
But while there is more great TV than ever before, the number of top-tier programs actually declined in 2018, making the task of assembling a Top 10 TV shows list easier than usual since so few shows stood out from the pack. That changed for the better in 2019, resulting in a Top 10 lineup that features only one returning series from 2018’s list. (Also, some of last year’s best shows, like Better Call Saul and Atlanta, didn’t air new episodes in 2019.)
Competition was so fierce, in fact, that several of last year’s entries found themselves on the outside looking in this time around. Even though some of their followup seasons were on par with 2018, they simply couldn’t measure up to an astonishing array of programming that included several gripping miniseries, a few sensational freshman debuts and a trio of shows that made incredible leaps of quality in their second seasons.
Yes, you already have far more TV to watch than you can handle, but be sure to carve out some time for the 10 best TV shows that 2019 had to offer:
10. The Good Fight (CBS All Access)
After three seasons, each of which has improved on its predecessor, it can now be said: The Good Fight, like Better Call Saul and Frasier before it, has entered that rarefied category of spinoffs that are arguably better than the already superb shows they originated from. It continues to be TV’s best scripted exemplification of how the Trump White House has upended all aspects of our society. Even the flights of fancy—like breaking the fourth wall and weekly cutaways to Schoolhouse Rock-style animated musical sequences—seem perfectly suited to a world in which seemingly anything goes. Anchored by Christine Baranski, who after 10 seasons as Diane Lockhart is still uncovering new layers to her character, the legal drama continues to be worth the cost of a CBS All Access subscription all on its own.
9. Barry (HBO)
Last year, Barry was one of a handful of new shows that had terrific debuts, but also had me concerned that they might have worked better as a single season than an ongoing story (case in point: Killing Eve, which suffered a sophomore slump). But Bill Hader put that notion to rest with an enthralling second season of his dark comedy about a hitman (Hader) questioning his life who moonlights as an aspiring actor. The key: surprising audiences with a steady stream of curveballs (especially the surreal fifth episode, “ronny/lily,’ which featured a relentless, Terminator-like girl who cannot be contained) while smartly deepening the storylines not only for his conflicted hitman but the people around him (particularly his fellow acting student Sally, played by Sarah Goldberg).
8. Unbelievable (Netflix)
In lesser hands, this would have been a standard-issue procedural about a serial rapist. Instead, co-creators Susannah Grant, Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon turned the genre on its head by centering two empathetic yet dogged female detectives (Toni Collette and Merritt Wever), and, in a parallel story taking place three years earlier, the rapist’s first victim (Kaitlyn Dever), who in an devastating turn of events is destroyed by the very system that was supposed to defend her. This was billed as a limited series, but Collette and Wever make such a formidable duo that Netflix would be insane not to continue their story.