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The 25 Best TV Shows of 2019

Our favorite shows of 2019 resist easy categorization, and they attest to a medium in transformation.

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The Best TV Shows of 2019
Photo: Amazon

Ramy

10. Ramy

It’s the tension between Ramy’s (Ramy Youssef) secular and spiritual leanings that serves as the thrust of the Hulu series that bears his name, as he considers what kind of person—what kind of Muslim, son, and man—he wants to be. Intensely critical of himself, Ramy recognizes that he’s done much self-mythologizing, mostly in regard to his religious observance, and acutely feels his lapses in judgment, and Ramy derives its soulfulness from the ruins of the myths that Ramy and his family and friends tell themselves and those around them. There’s profound pain to be found amid the rubble. And, maybe, peace. Sultan


Too Old to Die Young

9. Too Old to Die Young

It’s plain to see why Amazon had precisely zero confidence in Too Old to Die Young and shooed it out the door with little fanfare, like it was something to be ashamed of. Caked in neon, slathered with synths, and riddled with near-parodically long, languid shots of silence and solemn dialogue exchanges, it’s Nicholas Winding Refn at his most Nicholas Winding Refn. But that’s also what makes the series so enthralling: the uncompromising clarity of his overpowering vision, a biting satire of modern America conceived with writer Ed Brubaker. The America of the show is lit mainly by signs, streetlamps, and stars, and it feels like the end of the world, overrun as it is by bad, creepy cops who can dream only of further ways to impose their will. It’s Refn’s best work since Drive, painting the country as a series of freeways and headlights that stretch onward into an infinite abyss, to the empty absolution sought by people well into the final stages of moral decay. Scaife


Chernobyl

8. Chernobyl

Though Chernobyl isn’t without the familiar, awkward elements of docudrama—strained exposition, summary speeches—it successfully drowns out the clanging gears of historical reenactment through the sheer quality of its construction. This is less a miniseries as five-hour movie than episodic television, with new narrative wrinkles introduced each week. It’s unrelentingly grim material—one episode shows the men assigned to kill the irradiated pets that evacuees from the Chernobyl nuclear accident had left behind—as well as totally engrossing, a deadly puzzle solved piece by piece with unorthodox solutions that give way to potentially ruinous complications. In exploring the context around the disaster’s response, Chernobyl finds empathy for the affected as well as outrage for the human failures that led to the explosion—the hubris, greed, the ignorance, and the clear preference for believing nothing is wrong. Scaife


Russian Doll

7. Russian Doll

The premise of Netflix’s Russian Doll, in which Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) keeps dying during her 36th birthday party only to awaken each time at the start of the night, suggests a playfully morbid Escher painting. The fact that the series doesn’t address the specific root of Nadia’s predicament, though, invites a number of interpretations. And by glossing over the precise details of its central mystery, it resists reducing Nadia’s quest to a simplistic morality tale. Without ever suggesting that she must alter herself to meet the expectations of others, Russian Doll maintains an astute understanding of which aspects of Nadia are permanent and which are malleable. It suggests that the parts of her that need changing, like her self-loathing and emotional numbness, relate primarily to her own happiness rather than virtue or goodness. The series seems to make the case that morality is relative, amorphous, and immaterial. Haigis


Better Things

6. Better Things

Much of the discussion around Pamela Adlon’s Better Things has, unfortunately, surrounded the ignominious departure of the show’s co-creator, Louis C.K. The series hasn’t merely survived his absence, but actually thrived as a result. The new season largely concerns Sam (Adlon) grappling with the onset of menopause, and the series continues to address her struggles with characteristic frankness. Whether Sam is wrestling to fit into clothes she only recently purchased, or preparing for a colonoscopy (memorably outlined in painstaking detail), Better Things focuses squarely on the impact that routine indignities take on her. But the show is far from a mere lament. As it has in past seasons, Better Things also fixates on the joys and sense of peace—a romantic entanglement with a therapist, a reconciliation with a friend—that she finds even in the midst of enduring life’s hard knocks. The affirming Better Things stares boldly at anxieties as universal as atrophy and regret, and concludes that the daily struggle of life is still worth undertaking. Haigis

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