Another phenomenal year for TV! Throughout the entire year we were hit with one incredible series after the next, and they all showed up in different places; from HBO to Netflix and even the newcomer Disney+. Somehow I managed to whittle down 28 TV shows into this list of the 10 that stood out above the rest. It’s a stellar mix of shows, some new and some returning, that all deserve recognition. Every single one of the shows in the top 10 received a score of 9 or more, while the honourable mentions all received a score of 8 or more.
This year left me with five shows that unfortunately just missed out on a spot in the top 10, but are good enough to get an honourable mention. For the second year in a row, both Atypical and The Man in the High Castle delivered stellar seasons but couldn’t quite land a spot in the top 10, finishing here instead. The Man in the High Castle closed out the series with a satisfying ending while Atypical improved on its second season with an emotionally heavy third. What We Do in the Shadows dropped onto the scene with an incredible first season that turned Taika Waititi’s hilarious film into a stellar series. Despite a strong initial season, it just falls short of the mark. Criminal: UK is possibly the most surprising entry here as the anthology series managed to make it this high with only three episodes to tell its stories. Last but not least is The Mandalorian. It wouldn’t be a list of mine if I didn’t mention Star Wars at least once right? This fantastic first season confirmed one thing… that the future of Star Wars is on TV.
#10 – Orange is the New Black (Season 7)
Ride the emotional highs and lows of Orange is the New Black one last time with this final season which brings everything to a delightfully satisfying conclusion. The entire season is focused on wrapping up the stories that we’ve been following for years and closing out the arcs of characters we’ve grown to love more and more. The series becomes an emotional rollercoaster in this last season that will have you laughing one minute and crying the next. Every episode is jam packed with thrilling content, both in and out of prison, and it’s never too much to follow. The performances are as good as they’ve ever been and there’s no doubt it deserves this tenth spot for the legacy it leaves behind.
#9 – Unbelievable (Season 1)
When it comes to true crime, no one does it better than Netflix. Unbelievable was one of the standout true-crime series’ of the year for how it tells a thrilling story across two time periods and links them through clever storytelling. It hooks you right from the first episode by throwing you in the deep end with a tonne of harrowing and confronting content that sets up the season ahead. From this incredible first episode, the mystery unfolds and it gradually becomes more and more tense, regularly tugging on those heart strings. Kaitlyn Dever delivers a riveting performance across every single scene and would single-handedly carry the entire season if it wasn’t for the entertaining dynamic between Toni Collette and and Merritt Wever. This is a must-watch for someone who wants their fix of gripping true-crime.
#8 – Lost in Space (Season 2)
Lost in Space snuck into 2019 with a Christmas Eve release date and has earned a spot in the top 10 for how it improves on the first season and delivers 10 episodes of a gripping narrative. The family dynamic at the core of this season is what makes it so emotionally rewarding to watch. The numerous character arcs are all thrilling so no matter who the focus of each scene is, there’s a character who you care about. It’s a fun ride from beginning to end that isn’t void of stakes, with constant threats testing the strength of the Robinson family. For a lighter watch that still brings the drama, thrills, humour and emotion, Lost in Space is the way to go.
#7 – The OA (Season 2)
This is the most bittersweet entry on the list that will make me cry every time I see it. The OA was one of the best high-concept series to ever grace the small screen with a story that was original, weird, mind-bending and just straight-up incredible. It required a lot of thinking and piecing things together just to form a cohesive grasp on what was going on. I’m speaking in past tense mainly because The OA was unbelievably cancelled not long after the season aired. The cancellation of Brit Marling’s spectacular high-concept sci-fi series caused mass uproar, and for good reason. The season developed characters even further than anticipated, took the story in directions no one saw coming and ended in a place that meant big things for the future. Unfortunately we’ll never see how the story continues, but the two seasons that have been released are more than worth a watch for the mind-bending story alone.
#6 – When They See Us (Season 1)
When They See Us is definitely not the easiest thing you’ll watch on Netflix, but it may be one of the more important things you’ll ever see. It’s an emotionally heart-wrenching story from the very beginning and never lets up, as it continues to explore distressing themes that feel all too real… that’s because they are real. The story of the Central Park Five is a journey of pain and fear, and a strong statement piece on the judicial system of the past that still isn’t completely gone. The immensely talented Ava DuVernay tells this story in such a confronting and impactful way that you can’t help but keep your eyes eternally fixed on the screen. The performances from the young cast enhance the emotional weight of every scene to astronomical heights. The four episodes of this series are tight and gripping from beginning to end, forming what is a must-see show.
#5 – The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (Season 1)
Game of Thrones may not be anywhere near this list, but fear not because this is the best fantasy epic of the year, without a single doubt. The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance revived the cult classic Jim Henson film and did so in the best and most entertaining way possible. This story really is a fantasy epic set in a world rich with lore and history, and following characters who, despite being puppets, feel strikingly real. Despite being a series filmed with puppets, this is not a show for kids. It’s a quite dark series with a number of themes that would haunt younger kids for sure. It’s a fast paced adventure with characters who you get on board with early and are invested in right through to the end. What makes it great is it gives everyone, both heroes and villains, this sense of vulnerability. At any point you could lose your favourite character, and it’s that detail that makes it all the more engaging. This is absolutely not a series everyone will enjoy, but it’s this high for a reason… it’s a phenomenal fantasy series that is expertly crafted down to the most minute of details.
#4 – A Series of Unfortunate Events (Season 3)
When it comes to crafting a tight story where every little detail is linked to something else within the episode or the season as a whole, A Series of Unfortunate Events executes that better than any other show in 2019. The dialogue in this series is so intelligently written that it rewards those who pay attention with clever callbacks to certain themes and subplots that have shown up in the past. The quick, witty humour is some of the best and most effective I’ve ever seen in a series to date. It doesn’t pause to deliver the joke and give you time to laugh, rather, the jokes are dished out as any other line of dialogue, so if you aren’t paying attention, you’ll miss it. Those moments where you’d pick up on a subtle nod to a running joke from a previous season made the whole series infinitely more enjoyable. It’s led by a phenomenal performance from Neil Patrick Harris who completely embodies the character of Count Olaf and makes every scene he’s in twice as enjoyable. A definite must-watch for anyone looking for something a little quirky.
#3 – Watchmen (Season 1)
Watchmen slid into the time-slot held by Game of Thrones and delivered a truly phenomenal debut season that will go down as one of the best. It’s gripping, thrilling and mysterious right from the first episode and everything you see is heading towards a common goal, resulting in every subplot and character arc being as engaging as the next. Damon Lindelof has crafted a masterpiece of thrilling storytelling where every episode furthers the main story and every character arc sees development across the entire season. The many mysteries that fill this season keep you hooked right to the very end as the show dishes out surprise after surprise, thrusting the story in directions you could not have seen coming. The astounding ensemble cast, led by the talented Regina King, ensures there’s no one performance that is subpar and everyone is captivating in their respective scenes. You don’t need to have read the graphic novel or even seen the 2009 film to understand what’s going on, but of course, if you do have that prior knowledge, the overall experience is made even better.
#2 – Stranger Things 3
Stranger Things was the first TV show I ever reviewed, and since then it has grown into my favourite TV show of all time (if you take away the nostalgia of Prison Break). Season 3 continues the story of Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) and the Hawkins crew as the dangers of the Upside Down continue to pose a serious threat to their lives. There’s not a single minute of this series that is unenjoyable in any way. It’s a perfect balance of fun 80’s nostalgia and chilling horror/thriller vibes, straddling that line the whole way through for a consistent ride. With each passing moment, the tension rises and the kids who we’ve followed for all these years and grown to love more and more are tested in ways that allow them to grow even more as characters. This show is everything you want it to be, fun, heartwarming, heart-wrenching, scary and above all else; entertaining. It’s the greatest thing to hit our TVs in recent years and will be hard to top if it continues with such unspoilt quality. It may be my favourite show ever and this season may be phenomenal, but there’s one show that delivered such a strong season of television that it’s hard to give it anything other than the top spot.
#1 – Chernobyl (Season 1)
Expert storytelling, phenomenal performances and chilling atmospheric horror make up the backbone of Chernobyl, without a doubt the most horrifying series you will watch all year. The story is distressing right from the get-go and the dread only continues to grow worse exponentially with each massing minute. The nuclear disaster of Chernobyl is a harrowing event that is covered here with immense detail and thrilling storytelling. Every minute is as engaging as the last and has you locked in at every single moment. The imagery is bleak and horrifying, the score is crafted from the grinding of metal and every moment is designed to paint the perfect picture of the terror experienced in such an event. Everything about this five-episode series, from a technical to creative standpoint, works together to craft a true masterpiece that will stick with you long after the credits roll. The slow pace is perfect for the subject matter and the performances, specifically from Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgård and Emily Watson are, without a doubt, three of the best performances of the year.
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