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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

Mindhunter

5. Mindhunter

Mindhunter’s first season distinguished itself from other crime shows by offering an origin story, dramatizing how the F.B.I. forged its Behavioral Science Unit. It reminded audiences that institutions and corresponding notions of reality have to be invented and manipulated, and creator Joe Penhall and co-executive producer David Fincher rhymed this social invention with one of a more personal sort. The show’s second season is both epic and intimate in its sprawl, collapsing dozens of famous crime stories together, revealing the intricate intersections between personal and political neuroses. The season is so stirring for showing how murder mysteries reflect every element of society, and are therefore on certain levels almost inherently unsolvable. To understand an element of human nature is to know how truly little one knows. Chuck Bowen


Barry

4. Barry

Surreal flourishes lace the second season of Barry, conveying in precise but poignant fashion how its eponymous character’s trauma has caused him to live in a fugue state. But the show’s dark comedy is still largely derived from stark juxtapositions of violence and humor. While the series portrays its underworld as the province of bumbling and affable lords, its directors frame violence with a matter-of-fact sensibility, emphasizing the yawning gap between whimsy and outright danger in Barry’s world. As he strives to bridge the gap between the person he is and the one he wants to be, the show’s central source of pathos is his (and our) dawning understanding that it may not be possible, and that he may not even deserve it. Haigis


Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal

3. Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal

Genndy Tartakovsky’s work as an animator is most striking for its embrace of silence. Even in the cacophonous realm of children’s cartoons, the Samurai Jack creator favors wordless moments that lean on the flapping of cloth in the wind or the exaggerated sounds of a clenching fist. Adult Swim’s Primal, then, feels like something Tartakovsky has been building to for much of his career, a dialogue-free miniseries following a caveman and his T. rex partner fighting to survive in a violent, unforgiving world. The show’s violence is a reflection of its characters’ existence, a cycle from which there’s no escape. Children are swallowed whole, prey is devoured on the spot, eyeballs are smashed in by rocks, and dino jaws are smeared in vivid red blood. The story of the caveman and T. rex’s survival, in Tartakovsky’s hands, is totally enthralling, as terrible as it is beautiful. Scaife


Succession

2. Succession

HBO’s Succession derives its acerbic satire from envisioning real-world corporate mergers as hostile takeovers performed by bullies and proxy wars waged between families with the wealth of developing nations. The morally bankrupt, mostly bumbling, but never harmless Roy family constitutes a garish caricature of billionaire excess. In season two, as they attempt to stave off their company’s acquisition by absorbing a news competitor, Succession underlines the moral bankruptcy which flows from the Roys’ unfettered avarice, while simultaneously lamenting the poisonous toll such greed can take. Haigis


Fleabag

1. Fleabag

Fleabag’s messiness is what makes it feel so authentic. The show’s thematic questions are broad, its history is spooned out over time instead of at the most convenient expositional moments, and its characters are at once detailed and vague enough to suggest lives being lived, regardless of whether or not they’re lived on camera. Even the smallest roles are ascribed idiosyncrasies that allude to actual personhood, to say nothing of the depth and understanding displayed through the show’s main characters. With those characters and their histories now mostly clear to the audience, season two moves along a somewhat less bold, more conventional path compared to last season, which constantly doubled back by recontextualizing and reexamining itself. Despite this more straightforward approach, though, the series still boasts creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s unmistakable voice and her witty, resonant characterizations. Scaife

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