As we noted and suggested in our Best TV & Mini-Series of The Decade feature, it was a pretty nutty decade for television. The advent of streaming, peak TV, prestige TV, and now, in late 2019, the new 2nd age of the Streaming Wars— thanks to the arrival of Disney+, Apple TV+, and soon, HBO Max—is going to make the content deluge even more difficult to navigate for audiences and TV critics, trying to discern what’s what and keeping up. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, because here, we’re just discussing the best TV of 2019. While AppleTV+ and Disney+ are here, both arrived far too late to make a dent in the year—Apple’s torrent of opening day content fizzled, and Disney’s ‘Mandalorian‘ has caught the culture by storm thanks to Baby Yoda, but isn’t exactly, must-see TV yet (nor has it really had time to totally unfold).
2019 was the year that TV’s greatest show finally was slain, and by its own hand (“Game Of Thrones” wasn’t terrible by any stretch, but it was a bumpy, uneven ending to the opus with some critically patchy writing that made its villain reveal deeply unsatisfying). It was also the year where cable channels and streaming competitors just did their thing, worrying less about the shifting TV landscape and continuing to try and deliver compelling stories. And by and large, they did. HBO was still a force (“Watchmen” captured the zeitgeist, and “Chernobyl” and “Euphoria” received massive acclaim), proving even without their flagship show they are something to still be reckoned with. Netflix flexed its muscles again (“The Crown,” “When They See Us,” “Mindhunter,” “Russian Doll,” “Unbelievable“) and Amazon proved with “Fleabag” the studio can still stay in the game even when something like the once-beloved “Transparent” totally flew off the rails. And the Emmys by and large gave love to most of these shows, including accolades for “Fosse/Verdon,” “Killing Eve,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” and more, proving year by year its shaking off its legacy as a fusty, out-of-date awards show and getting more hip to what’s moving the culture.
Regardless of all of it, the Emmys, the soon-to-come Golden Globes which will further shape the narrative of TV in 2019, here’s what we loved and we thought was the best small-screen narratives of the year, acclaim, ratings, or attention be damned.
22. “I Think You Should Leave With Tim Robinson”
There was nothing funnier on TV in 2019 than Netflix’s “I Think You Should Leave With Tim Robinson.” This original sketch comedy series is a pure distillation of ex-‘SNL‘-cast-member Robinson’s comedic sensibility, a no-holds-barred barrage of pure and utter nonsense. With the help of co-creator Zach Kanin and a few of their comedy friends, Robinson has crafted something truly special here — and left an indelible mark on the Internet ecosystem in the process, by introducing the world to this stinky car guy. There’s really nothing better than the stinky car guy. Except maybe for Chunky. In any event, we’re extremely excited to see what kind of unhinged madness Robinson has in store for us in Season 2. – Eli Fine
21. “Documentary Now”
The target audience for Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Seth Meyers, and Rhys Thomas’ “Documentary Now” is extremely niche: people with a deep knowledge of documentary filmmaking… and also a very silly sense of humor. Each episode of IFC’s mockumentary series parodies another genre of doc, and Season 3 gave us some of the best episodes yet. From Owen Wilson as the head of a cult that might be extremely familiar to anyone who has seen Netflix’s “Wild Wild Country” to Cate Blanchett as a Marina Abramovic analogue, this season of “Documentary Now” had some real star-power bolstering its wild premises. But the breakout episode of Season 3 might just be “Original Cast Album: Co-Op,” in which John Mulaney and a host of other comic actors parody the infamous cast recording of Stephen Sondheim’s 1970 musical comedy “Company.” It’s a joyful episode— and season—of TV. – EF