Entertainment

The Best TV Shows of 2019, Ranked

succession hbo
Jeremy Strong on 'Succession' | HBO
Jeremy Strong on 'Succession' | HBO

In 2019, TV networks and a seemingly endless number of streaming services pumped high- and low-quality content straight into our eyeballs with a ferocity never seen before. So how can you possibly find the actually good TV shows quickly, before their secrets are spoiled and you just give up and re-watch the "Leap Day" episode of 30 Rock for the millionth time? (It's a good episode!) Why, with this definitive ranking of the best TV shows of 2019, of course! Here's every show that made the cut this year, down in terms of sheer volume from 2017 and 2018 but possibly higher on the quality scale overall.

Please note: I've only included scripted episodic TV shows that began new seasons or made their US debut during calendar year 2019. Also check out our ranking of the Best Movies of 2019. And for more recommendations of good TV shows to watch right now, read our running list of funny 2019 TV shows.

35. Game of Thrones (HBO)

Season 8. 6 episodes.
Who's in the cast: 
Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Sophie Turner, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, countless others
What it's about: Presumptive, incestuous highborns squabbling for power in a medieval realm that's about to be attacked by a supernatural horde.
Why it's a good TV show: After 73 episodes, a gajillion character deaths, and lots of intrigue, betrayal, and trauma, the show's watch has ended. Yes, the final season was absolutely the worst of its eight seasons, with rushed plot resolutions, cloying heapings of fan-service, preposterously dimly-lit scenes, and a finale that sparked controversy and not a little bit of fury. Game of Thrones nonetheless captured what seemed like the entire world's constant attention for six weeks this spring. So why am I including it here? Because a lot of the very accurate and indisputable complaints about how it all wrapped up are ultimately outweighed by one thing no one gives Season 8 credit for: It exists. This season completed a 73-episode run based on a book series involving dragons, wargs, giant wolves, perfectly detestable villains, trees with bleeding faces, zombies, a magical wall of ice, copious wine-guzzling, epic disses, and cave sex. Even its worst (again, by far) season is a miracle.
Who should watch: Completists

34. The Passage (Fox)

Season 1. 10 episodes.
Who's in the cast:
Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Saniyya Sidney
What it's about: An FBI agent protects a girl from a secret government program studying a mysterious power that turns people into telepathic vampires.
Why it's a good TV show: Based on Justin Cronin's best-selling novel, The Passage is produced in a fairly straightforward way, like a cross between a Doggett-centric The X-Files episode and a CBS procedural. You won't laugh -- sadly, it's not purposefully ludicrous like American Horror Story, nor good-bad like The Event. But its bonkers premise should reel in virus-mystery fans, and the Season 1 finale (which also turned out to be its series finale) is legitimately surprising.
Who should watch: Fans of Designated Survivor and FX's The Strain

33. A Discovery of Witches (Sundance Now)

Season 1. 8 episodes.
Who's in the cast: Teresa Palmer, Matthew Goode
What it's about: A witch with dormant powers and a centuries-old vampire negotiate the arcane secret supernatural society that prohibits their species from hooking up.
Why it's a good TV show: Based on the series of novels by Deborah Harkness, A Discovery of Witches is a British production that serves up much more than mere bodice-ripping, spell-casting intrigue. It's also a show in which the hunky vamp played by Matthew Goode hunts down and sucks blood from a deer.
Who should watch: Fans of Outlander and Twilight

32. What/If (Netflix)

Season 1. 10 episodes.
Who's in the cast: Renée Zellweger, Jane Levy, Blake Jenner
What it's about: A naive, ambitious biotech-startup founder and her kinda dumb ex-professional-athlete husband get a proposition they stupidly don't refuse from a Machiavellian venture capitalist with a secret past.
Why it's a good TV show: This is a show that revels in outlandish twists and quotable characters you'd hate in real life, yet done in a way that will make you literally shout at the television with gleeful incredulity and queue up the next episode. Zellweger 100 percent deserves an Emmy for her role as a scheming venture capitalist/puppet master, but she wasn't even nominated. Rude.
Who should watch: Fans of Revenge and Indecent Proposal

31. Younger (TV Land)

Season 6. 12 episodes.
Who's in it: Sutton Foster, Hillary Duff
What it's about: A 40-something woman poses as a millennial to work at a publishing company named Millennial.
Why it's great: Breezy, low-stakes shenanigans. 
Who it's for: Fans of Friends and The Bold Type

30. Call My Agent! (Netflix)

Season 3. 6 episodes.
Who's in it: Camille Cottin, Thibault de Montalembert, Grégory Montel, plus celebrity like Monica Bellucci, Isabelle Huppert and Jean Dujardin playing themselves
What it's about: The talent agents at a successful but turmoil-filled French agency do their best not to let workplace drama affect their business relationships with actors and directors.
Why it's great: A French farce in the best sense of that term, Call My Agent! has quietly become one of Netflix's best foreign-language pick-ups over three easily binged seasons.
Who it's for: Fans of The Bold Type and Extras

29. Stranger Things (Netflix)

Season 3. 8 episodes.
After a mediocre second season, Netflix's summer 2016 surprise returned to form in season three.

28. Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access)

Season 2. 14 episodes.
Who's in it: Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Anthony Rapp
What it's about: The voyages of starship Discovery, as it navigates space politics, insurrection, constant nearly certain death, glitchy AI, and a beardy Mr. Spock
Why it's great: Drama! In space!
Who it's for: Fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation and The Expanse

27. Killing Eve (BBC America)

Season 2. 8 episodes. 
Who's in it: Sandra Oh, Jodie Comer
What it's about: A British intelligence agent and killer-for-hire play an eroticized game of cat-and-mouse across Europe.
Why it's great: The second season of Phoebe Waller-Bridge's playful and smart adaptation of Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings has lost some of its killer instinct now that the multi-talented showrunner has moved on, but it remains one of the strangest, most entertaining hours of television you can watch. 
Who it's for: Fans of Silence of the Lambs and Fleabag

26. Black Monday (Showtime)

Season 1. 10 episodes.
Who's in the cast: Don Cheadle, Andrew Rannells, Regina Hall, Paul Scheer
What it's about: A Wall Street wolf hires a naive analyst as part of a scheme to leverage insider knowledge in the year leading up to the 1987 stock market crash.
Why it's a good TV show: Executive-produced by Seth Rogen (among others), the half-hour comedy both revels in its glitzy, very not-politically-correct Reagan-era setting as well as makes fun of how terrible everything and everyone was, while also delivering a neatly executed financial caper.
Who should watch: Fans of Anchorman and Trading Places

25. Baskets (FX)

Season 4. 8 episodes.
Who's in it: Zach Galifianakis, Louie Anderson
Why it's great: Fare thee well, gentle Baskets.

24. Veep (HBO)

Season 7. 7 episodes.
Who's in it: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tony Hale, Anna Chlumsky, Timothy C. Simons
What it's about: A vapid former Vice President and President and her team of incompetents seek to hang on to political power.
Why it's great: It may not have the gargantuan ratings of its dragon-filled premium cable sibling, but Veep consistently featured some of the smartest and funniest writing on television as it continues to satirize a practically un-satirizable American political landscape in its seventh and final season. Creator Armando Iannucci's razor-sharp dialogue has only become more cutting under the direction of showrunner David Mandel, and the no-holds-barred take on politics results in jokes that would get the average person reported on Twitter. As Selina Meyer and the empty shells of human beings that surround her in politics take one last shot at the White House, the rest of us can sit back and actually laugh at politics in all its slimy, self-serving, treacherous glory.
Who it's for: Fans of In the Loop and The West Wing

23. Veronica Mars (Hulu)

Season 4. 8 episodes.
Who's in the cast:
Kristen Bell
What's it about: A private investigator investigates a serial bomber.
Why it's a good TV show: Bell still has it as Mars, and the twisty case will scratch your nostalgic itch more than the reunion movie did.
Who it's for: Fans of Veronica Mars

22. True Detective (HBO)

Season 3. 8 episodes.
Who's in it: Mahershala Ali, Stephen Dorff, Carmen Ejogo, Scoot McNairy
What it's about: An Arkansas cop and his partner investigate the confounding disappearance of a girl and multiple associated deaths across three time periods.
Why it's great: Hart and Cohle stans, unite: The languid, banally philosophical and twist-filled qualities of True Detective's 2014 debut season are back, while the outlandishness has been dialed down. No Yellow Kings here!
Who it's for: Fans of True Detective Season 1

21. The Good Fight (CBS All Access)

Season 3. 10 episodes.
Who's in it: Christine Baranski, Delroy Lindo, Cush Jumbo
What it's about: The trials and travails of Diane Lockhart from The Good Wife and her legal-eagle pals.
Why it's great: Last year's best TV show took a small step back in Season 3, but if you are a fan of The Good Wife or either of the first two season of The Good Fight, you will binge this quickly (and be sad you binged it so quickly).
Who it's for: Fans of The Good Fight and The Rachel Maddow Show

20. I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson (Netflix)

Season 1. 6 episodes.
I Think You Should Leave -- a collection of absurdist sketches that take on the mundane realities of everyday life -- is easily the most bingeable series on this list, with just six sketch-based episodes clocking in at fewer than 20 minutes each. It's also really fucking funny. The brilliance of ITYSL comes from its ability to turn mundane, everyday situations -- like a birthday party or sitting on an airplane -- into absurdist masterpieces peppered with poop and fart jokes. It's a show you can complete in less time than it takes to watch a movie, but the sketches are so layered that you'll want to go back and watch again and again.

19. Too Old to Die Young (Amazon Prime)

Limited series. 10 episodes.
Who's in it: Miles Teller, Augusto Aguilera, Cristina Rodlo, Nell Tiger Free, John Hawkes, Jena Malone, William Baldwin, Hart Bochner
What it's about: A dirty cop in Los Angeles gets dirtier while a drug-cartel boss seeks revenge.
Why it's great: Nicolas Winding Refn and Ed Brubaker wrote every provocative, weird and gory episode (Halley Gross joined them for the final two episodes), with director Refn shooting it all in his signature colorful and deliberately unhurried style. Some might argue that Refn cares more about style than substance, and it's fair to say that the plot is less compelling than its visuals. But Too Old to Die Young is like Only God Forgives, Breaking Bad and Twin Peaks: The Return put into a blender, with surprisingly awesome supporting performances by Baldwin as a super-wealthy, super-creepy dad and by Die Hard scene-stealer Bochner as a MAGA-inspired police chief, plus a compelling turn by Malone as a conspiring spiritual healer. It also has a Drive-esque car chase, that should be reason enough to check it out.
Who it's for: Fans of Only God Forgives, Breaking Bad, and Twin Peaks: The Return

18. Dead to Me (Netflix)

Season 1. 8 episodes.
Who's in it: Linda Cardellini, Christina Appelgate, James Marsden
What it's about: Two grieving women bond via group therapy, but all is not what it seems.
Why it's great: First of all, Linda Cardellini nails her stalker-y, self-deluding, yet well-meaning character who sidles up next to (the also great) Applegate's grief-stricken, death-metal-listening widow. The premise leads to some fun twists and turns, and James Marsden, as a selfish ex, is perfectly hateable.
Who it's for: Fans of Killing Eve and Insecure

17. The Righteous Gemstones (HBO)

Season 1. 8 episodes.
Who's in the cast:
Danny McBride, John Goodman, Walton Goggins
What it's about: A family of super-wealthy ministers implodes when one of them is blackmailed by his estranged son.
Why it's a good TV show: The third hilarious HBO series from McBride, Gemstones really commits to its premise and satirizes hypocritical hucksters operating megachurches.
Who it's for: Fans of Eastbound and Down and Vice Principals

16. Sex Education (Netflix)

Season 1. 8 episodes.
Who's in it: Asa Butterfield, Emma Mackey, Gillian Anderson
What it's about: The son of a sex therapist teams up with a misunderstood classmate to help fellow high school students with their romantic problems.
Why it's great: The incredible chemistry between all of the cast members and an undeniable John Hughes vibe (think Pretty in Pink) elevate this easily binged show above a sea of mediocre teen angst programs.
Who it's for: Fans of Undeclared and Netflix's canceled-too-soon Everything Sucks!

15. Mindhunter (Netflix)

Season 2. 10 episodes.
A slow-cooking quest for serial killers by the FBI, Mindhunter should delight anyone who liked Zodiac or Silence of the Lambs.

14. Russian Doll (Netflix)

Season 1. 8 episodes.
Natasha Lyonne's a gas to watch as a cynical New Yorker attempting to figure out why she keeps dying and being forced to relive her 36th birthday. As she falls down stairwells and cracks wise about her dilemma, what starts off seeming like a humorous episode of Black Mirror turns into a profound and affecting meditation on trauma.

13. Barry (HBO)

Season 2. 8 episodes.
A hitman decides his true calling is acting, but can't seem to fully transition. Stefon is nowhere to be found in this dramedy created by Bill Hader and Silicon Valley showrunner Alec Berg in which the SNL alum plays an assassin who realizes he wants to be an actor. After a riveting first season, the second installment firmly establishes Barry as one of TV's best, most inventive shows.

12. The Witcher (Netflix)

Season 1. 8 episodes.
Who's in the cast:
Henry Cavill
What it's about: A supernatural monster killer named Geralt of Rivia, a rogue sorceress and a princess with unknown powers chase their intertwining destinies.
Why it's a good TV show: Toss a coin at your witcher.
Who it's for: Fans of Game of Thrones and the old Dungeons and Dragons cartoon

11. Billions (Showtime)

Season 4. 12 episodes.
Billions has become one of the most enjoyable dramas on television, having populated its voyeuristic world with unsavory quipsters, stealth pop-culture junkies and legit food pornographers. Paul Giamatti plays relentlessly scheming power broker Chuck Rhodes, who matches wits in the sewer that is New York politics with his worthy adversary and frenemy, Bobby Axelrod, a ruthless hedge fund bro played by Damian Lewis.

10. Dark (Netflix)

Season 2. 8 episodes.
Dark, which follows multiple characters from several families in the present, past and future after a teen named Jonas travels through time, will scratch any discerning sci-fi fan's continual need for philosophical and mind-bending time-travel narratives. The German-language program -- your future self implores you to turn off the horrible dubbing and watch with subtitles -- is even more addictive and convoluted in Season 2, essentially serving as the Back to the Future Part II to Season 1's Back to the Future, only without the hoverboards.

9. The Mandalorian (Disney+)

Season 1. 8 episodes.
Who's in the cast: Pedro Pascal, Carl Weathers, Gina Carano
What it's about: A helmet-shrouded bounty hunter who only wants to ply his trade is forced by his honor code to protect a Yoda-esque toddler who is wanted by ex-Imperial baddies a few years after The Return of the Jedi.
Why it's a good TV show: Loaded with Star Wars universe references, the series has also carved out its own place in the four-decade-old franchise by not trying to do too much. A solid tale about a compelling character who lives by a code who is thrust into the unlikely role of guardian to the galaxy's cutest individual.
Who it's for: Fans of the original Star Wars trilogy and Boba Fett

8. When They See Us (Netflix)

Miniseries. 4 episodes.
Who's in the cast: Jharrel Jerome, Asante Blackk, Caleel Harris, Ethan Herisse, Michael Kenneth Williams, Vera Farmiga, Felicity Huffman, Joshua Jackson, Niecy Nash
What it's about: The biased prosecution of the men dubbed the Central Park Five who were wrongfully accused of brutally assaulting a jogger and the ensuing politicization..
Why it's a good TV show: It's a well-acted, expertly cast, and nicely paced dramatization of the Central Park Five case.
Who it's for: Fans of Ava DuVernay and true crime docuseries

7. Chernobyl (HBO)

Miniseries. 5 episodes.
Hangover Part II (and Part III!) writer Craig Mazin turned one of the most devastating man-made catastrophes in history into a disaster movie/crime-thriller hybrid. Fantastically grim performances from Harris, Skarsgård, and Watson amp up the drama of a show the Russians aren't too happy about.

6. Fleabag (Amazon Prime)

Season 2. 6 episodes.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge is a force, who won lots of Emmys this year, and her one-woman-show-turned-TV-fave builds on what made its initial run in 2016 a cult hit. It also gave Twitter the Hot Priest.

5. The Other Two (Comedy Central)

Season 1. 8 episodes.
Created by two former SNL scribes, The Other Two is a laugh-out-loud TV comedy about underachieving, self-sabotaging millennials and their cool normie Gen Z brother who writes the best and dumbest pop songs on the planet. The adult siblings of the teenage viral singing sensation flail in the wake of their brother's newfound fame, leading to plenty of comedic soul-searching and scene-stealing smaller parts, including the manager played by Ken Marino.

4. Lodge 49 (AMC)

Season 2. 10 episodes.
In this era of Netflix and cutting the cord, the cable network AMC has sometimes struggled to break through the noise with series that aren't about zombies. That especially applies to Lodge 49, a seemingly low-stakes dramedy that's as perpetually laid back as its protagonist, Dud (played charmingly by Wyatt Russell), an aimless Southern California beach bum who joins an old-school fraternal club after the death of his father. But the show's small, cultish army of faithful viewers know that Lodge 49 steathily built out a vibrant world populated by quirky characters solving tantalizing mysteries about the secretive organization and, well, life, man. AMC declined to renew the show for a third season, but TV needs more programs that can accurately be described as Northern Exposure meets Inherent Vice and that feature killer comedic turns by Paul Giamatti (as a frenetic writer), especially ones that ended Season 2 on a cliffhanger. Someone, please pick this show up, thanks.

3. Succession (HBO)

Season 2. 10 episodes.
In just 20 episodes over two seasons, the Roy clan has become one of the most compelling, hilarious TV families ever, and can even rival the Bluths and the Lannisters for most brutally dysfunctional. Season 2 gave us incredible heaps of Roy drama, with a season-long crisis culminating in a supremely awkward yacht voyage, as well as more Tom Wambsgans and Cousin Greg action, but the real victory for the series' writers is getting us to care about each of these truly reprehensible assholes -- EVEN CONNOR.

2. The OA (Netflix)

Season 2. 8 episodes.
The second (and likely final) season of Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij's esoteric sci-fi drama was a revelation, converting Season 1's compellingly hoky tale about self-discovery and interdimensional travel into a breath-taking, bat-shit, indelible, addictive work of art that should appeal to any fan of Lost, The Leftovers, and Twin Peaks: The Return.  You will never look at an octopus the same way again.

1. Watchmen (HBO)

Season 1. 9 episodes.
This loose continuance of Alan Moore's graphic novel was far better than it had a right to be, and held together through the satisfying conclusion.

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John Sellers is Thrillist's Entertainment Director and frequently wishes John Ritter were still alive.