Top 19 TV shows of 2019
James R | On 31, Dec 2019
2019 has proven one thing more than any other: there is a lot of TV. From BBC Three comedies to HBO dramas, there has never been a wider selection of genres, stars and stories vying for your attention. Game of Thrones came to a spectacular – and spectacularly divisive – end. Surprise hits Chernobyl and Watchmen wowed viewers without warning. When They See Us, Unbelievable and Years and Years reminded us of TV’s ability to comment, inform and reflect upon the state of society. Fleabag, Russian Dolls and Derry Girls equally reminded us of the need to laugh and escape from that same society. And Stranger Things, His Dark Materials and Good Omens proved that even without Game of Thrones, fantasy and sci-fi genre still has countless epic tales to tell.
With Apple TV+ bagging awards nominations out of the gates with The Morning Show and Disney+’s The Mandalorian becoming the most searched-for TV series on Google, the sheer volume of TV isn’t about to shrink anytime soon, but The OA and One Day at a Time are a reminder that no show is safe from tightening budgets and tougher competition for eyeballs. But one thing we can guarantee you: we’ll be here to help you find the best stuff to stream all year round.
As voted for by our team of writers, here are the best TV shows of 2019:
Game of Thrones
“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.” Those were the words of Cersei way back in Season 1 of HBO’s fantasy epic. Fast forward to this action-packed final run, is it the ending fans have dreamed of? No, but it’s the ending that best fits the characters left standing – and gives them the time to try it on for size.
HBO’s remarkably engaging teen drama is an intense, shocking, uplifting and spellbinding experience.
This absurd, excellently cast adaptation of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s fantasy is damn good fun.
Line of Duty
“They’re my best team. They’ll get to the root of anything.” That’s Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) five minutes into Season 5 of Line of Duty, and if you’re not already hyperventilating from nerves and stress, you’re probably watching a different programme by mistake. Stephen Graham joins the always-excellent ensemble to play an ambiguous leader of a criminal gang, while Adrian Dunbar is equally enigmatic on the right side of the law – together they make for an unpredictable, surprising duo that grips you with speculation.
“Protestants hate ABBA” is the line of the year to beat in any TV programme, as the show about a group of schoolgirls The Troubles in the early 1990s returns to escalate its comedy of misunderstandings, both wilful and accidental, to inspired farce. Laugh-out-loud funny and performed with heartfelt sincerity, you’ll want to be friends with these characters immediately.
Netflix’s wrestling comedy heads to Vegas for its typically brilliant, colourful, funny, inspiring and glamorous third run.
His Dark Materials
This impressively faithful adaptation of Philip Pullman’s books is a grand but grounded epic.
Dark, trippy and existential, Russian Doll is a lot more than just Groundhog Day with hipsters.
Amazon’s surprisingly timely superhero satire is darkly entertaining, unabashedly violent and certainly never dull.
With all the messy grace of someone arriving two hours late to a party and making their entrance by banging the door open, waving a bottle of cheap red wine in the air and raucously yelling something posh, Fleabag returns to our screens for a second season. And, like the party guests who recognise said late arrival, we’re all secretly delighted, as we know we’re in for an awkward, emotionally devastating and ultimately hilariously good time.
Stephen Graham is heart-wrenchingly good in Shane Meadows’ thoughtful drama about trauma and recovery.
Years and Years
Russell T. Davies’ gripping portrait of a family fighting through a changing society is a hauntingly plausible state-of-the-nation thriller.
When They See Us
Ava DuVernay’s enraging, powerful, deeply human retelling of The Central Park Five case is essential viewing.
Stranger Things is confidently back in its stride with a near-perfect third season.
This Time with Alan Partridge
Alan Partridge’s hilarious return to the BBC will have you laughing, wincing and crying for someone to give him a second series.
Mindhunter’s probing study of darkness and people’s fascination with it is disturbing, gripping, superbly acted TV.
Damon Lindelof’s remix of Watchmen is compulsively unusual, excitingly ambitious and challengingly pertinent television.
Excruciatingly hilarious and flawlessly written, Jesse Armstrong’s biting satire is as gripping, funny and bleak as ever.
This haunting, gripping retelling of the 1986 disaster is one of the must-see TV shows of the year.
These didn’t quite make it into our top 19, but were highly rated by our writers:
Unbelievable (Netflix UK)
The Umbrella Academy (Netflix UK)
The Morning Show (Apple TV+)
Sex Education (Netflix UK)
Catastrophe (All 4)
The OA (Netflix UK)
Gentleman Jack (BBC iPlayer)
Deadwood: The Movie (Sky Atlantic / NOW)
Call My Agent (Netflix UK)