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The best TV shows of 2019

  • From 'Succession' to 'Russian Doll', a roundup of the best TV shows from last year.
  • At the top of the list is 'Fleabag', which recently won a Golden Globe for Best TV Comedy.

A still from What We Do In The Shadow
A still from What We Do In The Shadow

The 77th Golden Globe Awards took place on 5 January, and, in an unexpected plot twist, they left me with little to complain about. Succession won Best TV Series—Drama, Fleabag won Best TV Series—Comedy, and Olivia Colman won Best Actress for The Crown, trophies uncharacteristically hard to argue with. In 2019, it appears we applauded in unison—yet television last year also included assassins auditioning for films and birthdays that wouldn’t end. The list is anything but typical.

Best Indian series

Indian originals finally stepped up their game, with several shows making a mark. Delhi Crime (Netflix) featured a crackerjack ensemble, and The Family Man (Amazon Prime) proved to be sharply, impressively political. My top Indian show is Amazon Prime’s Made In Heaven, set in the world of weddings. A striking show ostensibly about ostentatiousness, it is about wealth—and the perils of too little or too much.

Now, the top shows of the year, with a caveat: I haven’t included the final seasons of BoJack Horseman or The Good Place (both Netflix) simply because they will bow out in 2020, and we must see how well they stick the landing.

#10. Unbelievable (Netflix)

The first episode is an ordeal. Based on a 2005 article about a girl charged with lying about being raped, two detectives dig their way to the truth. Created by Michael Chabon, Ayelet Waldman and Susannah Grant, here is a dramatic, powerful and ultimately rewarding miniseries, with strong performances from Kaitlyn Dever as the girl, plus Toni Collette and Merritt Wever as the detectives.

#9. The Crown (Netflix)

One of TV’s most opulent shows, The Crown got a royal upgrade in its third season with the cast replaced by older actors—and what actors! Colman and Helena Bonham Carter are astonishing as Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, granting the series introspective depth, and Tobias Menzies makes the oft-caricatured Prince Philip a being of flesh and (bluish) blood. Most impressively, each episode is remarkably self-contained and satisfying.

#8. Good Omens (Amazon Prime)

Based on the beloved and bonkers Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman novel, this show chooses not to be for everyone. Gaiman, writing all six episodes, leaned into the bookishness to make a show loyal enough for the late Pratchett to smirk at. David Tennant and Michael Sheen are terrific as a demon and an angel colluding to prevent the apocalypse, motivated by a love for wine and old books. The novel’s absurdly wonderful asides are left in, given to Frances McDormand, who (rightfully) voices God.

#7. When They See Us (Netflix)

The true-crime genre has become one of television’s most salacious and manipulative, but Ava DuVernay’s series on the Central Park Five—five young African-American men wrongly accused of rape, and imprisoned—tells its story solemnly and with grace. The young actors are astonishing. It’s hard to watch, but impossible to look away.

#6. What We Do In The Shadows (Hotstar)

One of TV’s wildest scenes came with an all-star council of vampires, featuring several actors who have played vampires on screen, through the ages—from Tilda Swinton of Only Lovers Left Alive to Wesley Snipes of the Blade films. This spin-off of the phenomenal film of the same name gives us new vampires, myths and concepts: An Energy Vampire, for example, is one who drains a victim of life force by droning on and on. Delectable.

#5. Russian Doll (Netflix)

If you were forced to relive any day endlessly, a birthday might be a safe bet—but not for Nadia Vulvokov, who has little patience for herself. While the film Groundhog Day is an easy (and accurate) conceptual reference here, the show offers a peculiarly poetic take on time-loops. There are lots of details, none of them coincidental, making this a rewarding rewatch. You keep trying to piece life together, but the song remains the same.

#4. Sex Education (Netflix)

It sounds like a Seth Rogen concept—the son of a sex therapist starts conducting his own therapy classes in high school—but this delightful British series is equally stuffed with empathy and flamboyance, making us root for both the queer overcompensator as well as the obnoxious bully. It’s a glorious, heartfelt series where the hero’s journey is merely to come.

#3. Barry (Hotstar)

What do killers do between bullets? Here, they memorize soliloquies. This show about an ace assassin trying to be an actor got both darker and less predictable in its stellar second season, highlighted by an episode featuring a lethal little girl. Bill Hader is smashing as the killer, and Henry Winkler plays his pompous acting teacher with jukebox-jumpstarting flair.

#2. Succession (Hotstar)

Maddeningly well-written, this insult-a-minute series gave us billionaires at their most dastardly—and their most helpless. The story of the wayward Roy clan, from tyrannical patriarch to icy daughter, is riveting, and while we can’t side with any of these awful people, we are woefully seduced by their swearing. No matter how bad your day, it can’t possibly touch the way Roman Roy snubs his brother-in-law. Or his sister. Or his mother.

#1. Fleabag (Amazon Prime)

Hail to the chief. The first season of Fleabag, in 2016, gave us a ringside view into its nameless protagonist’s head—and we were all amused and impressed by creator and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge. In season 2, she took the very idea of a fourth-wall-breaking protagonist and, with a stroke of genius, brought the audience into it, making us a part of the wall-breaking. As co-conspirators, our empathy for characters increased and this storytelling felt strangely, thrillingly intimate. We are one with the heroine, and thus we obey, even—or especially—when the show asks us to kneel.

Stream of Stories is a column on what to watch online. Raja Sen is a film critic and the author of The Best Baker In The World (2017), a children’s adaptation of The Godfather.

Twitter: @rajasen

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