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The Best TV Shows of 2019, So Far

Whether it's a touching two-hour finale, a lean limited series, or a propulsive half-hour format, the best of 2019 finds impactful artistry in concise storytelling.

Better Things, Fleabag, Russian Doll

“Better Things,” “Fleabag,” and “Russian Doll”

FX / Amazon / Netflix

Summer hasn’t even officially started yet, and there are already so many excellent TV shows, limited series, and movies to catch up on — from favorites like “Better Things” and “Barry,” to perfect series cappers like “Deadwood” and “You’re the Worst,” to new series bound to light up best of lists for years to come like “Tuca & Bertie” and “Russian Doll.” You’re in for a long three months indoors if you want to see the best of the year so far.

And even the 10 best 2019 shows listed below don’t fully encompass what’s worth watching. Honorable mentions go to Hulu’s sharp comedy “Shrill,” Comedy Central’s crazy strong final season of “Broad City,” IFC’s inventive and observant “Documentary Now!,” HBO’s return-to-form season of “True Detective,” and a little Amazon series that’s the furthest thing imaginable from a “Catastrophe.”

So read on, set your priorities, and prepare yourself for six more months of surprising TV — there are bound to be more great series to come post-summer, and now is not the time to fall behind.

10. “Deadwood”

Deadwood Timothy Olyphant Ian McShane

Timothy Olyphant and Ian McShane in “Deadwood”

Warrick Page/HBO

It’s the kind of story that sounds too good to be true. An iconic television series, flush with critical acclaim and a small but loyal fanbase, is cut down in its prime, leaving one of the medium’s richest universes as a storytelling ghost town. But then, some 13 years later, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, comes “Deadwood: The Movie.” The crowning jewel in auteur David Milch’s long, illustrious career got its final chapter in 2019 and single-handedly justified an entire era of reboots and revisitations. “Deadwood: The Movie” picks up 10 years after its final season and sees its characters older, wiser, and wilier. Walking a tightrope of too-sentimental, too fan-service-y, and too pat, the film manages the impossible, capturing the bittersweet spirit of the original and leaving fans grateful for its existence, and still, always, hungry for more. — LH

9. “The Good Fight”

"The Good Fight"

“The Good Fight”

Patrick Harbron/CBS

The CBS All Access show, which picks up after the events in the final episode of the CBS series “The Good Wife,” enters its third season following a thrilling Season 2. The attorneys at topshelf African-American-owned Chicago law firm Reddick, Boseman & Kolstad are pushed further into the madness that is the country’s current civic climate and decidedly take on Trump. Throughout, it’s less a series that preaches to what’s perceived to be a liberal choir, but instead shrewdly satirizes the left; one of this season’s most memorable episodes tackles the more commonplace and potentially more insidious forms of racism, as opposed to examining something as blatantly overt as white supremacists. Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) continues her furtive efforts to resist the current administration; Adrian Boseman (Delroy Lindo) and Liz Reddick-Lawrence (Audra McDonald) are forced to contend with a past moment of vulnerability that resurfaces; Maia Rindell finds herself in a dogfight with the devious Roland Blum (Michael Sheen); and finally Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo) tries to balance life as a single mom with rising pressures at work. Through it all, the series never strays very far away from the zeitgeist, with just enough crazy that’s in keeping with the times. — TO

8. “Chernobyl”

Chernobyl Episode 2

“Chernobyl”

Liam Daniel/HBO

Craig Mazin’s five-episode limited series is a haunting recreation of one of history’s worst manmade disasters, but it never loses sight of the men who made it happen — and those who kept it from getting worse. There’s a line drawn early on between acknowledging the stark new reality facing the Ukraine and trying to hide from it, as some of the scientists and bureacrats responsible run from the culpability of their catastrophe. Still, when others are called into service, even those who wouldn’t normally be involved in such actions, they readily make the ultimate sacrifice to protect others. They recognize their unique skill sets and how they can apply them for good, even when they’ll see no good from it personally. Some people shrink in the face of death, while others stand tall. “Chernobyl” paid heed to both, invoking terror through falling birds and melting faces, while inspiring courage through sharp, full-formed heroes. That it’s all done in five stunning hours only adds to its power. — BT

7. “You’re the Worst”

YOU'RE THE WORST -- "This Brief Fermata" - Season 5, Episode 6 (Airs February 13, 10:00 pm e/p) Pictured (l-r): Aya Cash as Gretchen, Chris Geere as Jimmy. CR: Byron Cohen/FXX

Aya Cash and Chris Geere in “You’re the Worst”

Byron Cohen/FXX

Stephen Falk’s new-age romantic-comedy spends each of its five seasons breaking from convention, and its final run doesn’t let up one iota. Starting with an homage to ’90s rom-coms like “Notting Hill” and then spending the rest of the season subverting those outdated romantic expectations, “You’re the Worst” makes viewers come to terms with the very real possibility that its core couple — Gretchen (Aya Cash) and Jimmy (Chris Geere) — might not make it. Flashforwards show a dark future, while problems in the present continue to build up. Questioning the seemingly inevitable answer to “will they or won’t they” isn’t the only purpose: Love doesn’t have to be eternal to be meaningful, nor does it have to fit into society’s pre-established boxes. Acknowledging those options doesn’t lessen the love story — it strengthens it. Thanks to its persistent pursuit of authenticity and incredible performances from an excellent ensemble, “You’re the Worst” forged its own standing in the romantic-comedy genre, pushing it to new levels in the process. — BT

6. “Barry”

Anthony Carrigan in "Barry" Season 2 finale Episode 8

Anthony Carrigan in “Barry”

Aaron Epstein/HBO

Many shows confuse “darkness” for “reality,” assuming that heaping on grim development after grim development somehow makes a particular story feel more grounded. “Barry” is the rare exception that can actually make those intertwining ideas work. As everyone in the show embraces the mistakes of their past, the comic novelty of Bill Hader’s title-character hitman trying his hand in the world of 99-seat Los Angeles theater gives way to something even more raw than what was shown in the series’ debut season. Henry Winkler, Sarah Goldberg, and Anthony Carrigan each continued their part in helping build a rich foundation for the series, one that still manages to succeed when it veers into the surreal. — SG

5. “Russian Doll”

Natasha Lyonne, "Russian Doll"

Natasha Lyonne, “Russian Doll”

Netflix

“Fucking clues abound.” That’s what sharp-witted, trash-talking New Yorker Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) says when confronted with a bizarre existential crisis that’s been thrust upon her on her 36th birthday. From the creative minds of Lyonne, Leslye Headland, and Amy Poehler, “Russian Doll” takes what could be seen as a cheap gimmick — a “Groundhog Day”-style death loop for Nadia in which she must extricate herself — and transforms it into a mesmerizing yet often hilarious detective series that examines trauma and agency. Exquisitely executed, the briskly paced series sets up its premise with a built-in device to fend off repetition-induced frustration, and the precision and specificity of each line of dialogue and moment gives the show an unmistakable voice that is reflected in Nadia herself. As for Lyonne, she gives one of her best performances to date, imbuing the character with such fully realized mannerisms and intonations that she buoys the intricate storytelling into the realm of pure viewing pleasure. At only four hours total, more or less, “Russian Doll” is a densely packed treat to tickle the mind. — HN

4. “Veep”

Veep Season 7 Episode 7 Tony Hale

Tony Hale in “Veep”

Colleen Hayes/HBO

Of the May HBO series finales that featured a power-hungry ruler scorching everything in her path on the way to a dark, uncertain future, “Veep” was the one to remember. The final season saw Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) drop everything in her life into a bubbling cauldron of acidic ambition, nursing all the petty grudges and international crises that have fueled the show for the better part of a decade. Giving all the supporting cast one last chance to indulge the caustic spirit of this Washington satire culminated in a somber farewell parade. It was shocking. It was mean. It was closer to reality than anyone involved could have predicted. In other words, it was vintage “Veep.” — SG

3. “Tuca & Bertie”

Tuca and Bertie Season 1 Netflix

“Tuca & Bertie”

Netflix

Like a fledgling leaving its nest, creator Lisa Hanawalt takes a little time to flap awkwardly and find her narrative footing after working as the production designer for “BoJack Horseman.” But even though her new Netflix series also features anthropomorphic creatures, she soon establishes a narrative style, tone, and dynamic visual gags that make this series sing (and squawk and chirp). Brilliant voice casting informs the 30-someting bird women heroes — Tiffany Haddish gives Tuca the toucan a joie de vivre while Ali Wong instills a sweet anxiousness in Bertie the songbird. Also, don’t roost on Steven Yeun as Bertie’s understanding and sexy boyfriend Speckle, whose delightful presence sometimes pushes the series into a three-hander (footer?). Over the course of the 10-episode first season, the show takes the viewer on sweet and sometimes trippy adventures before stealthily delving into more adult themes with a surprising deftness and emotional honesty. While acknowledging life’s difficulties, however, “Tuca & Bertie” simultaneously offers the warmth and encouragement of a downy embrace, comforting in an experience shared and understood. The viewer may not have ever thought off themselves as a booty shorts-wearing feathered friend before, but “Tuca & Bertie” has the skill and instinct to make you feel seen. And oh yeah, bird puns! — HN

2. “Better Things”

Better Things Season 3 Pamela Adlon Episode 11

Pamela Adlon in “Better Things”

Suzanne Tenner/FX

It’s almost impossible to believe that Pamela Adlon’s FX show is only in its third season. Every character within the orbit of Sam Fox feels like another protagonist, someone who feels like they’ve lived a life that extends far beyond the most recent batch of episodes. “Better Things” may have started as a portrait of a woman trying to navigate the blurred line between her personal and professional lives, but it’s become an ongoing, living portrait of what it means to embrace family in all its forms. Whether it’s the family you make for yourself or the people that come into your life unexpectedly, this is a show that captures every shade of emotion within that ever-growing spectrum. — SG

1. “Fleabag

Phoebe Waller-Bridge, "Fleabag" Season 2

Phoebe Waller-Bridge, “Fleabag”

Amazon

There is “Fleabag” and then there is every other show on television. The second season of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s brainchild declares itself in the opening moments. “This is a love story,” Waller-Bridge – who also stars as the titular character – in a signature fourth-wall breaking aside to the audience. What she doesn’t clarify is what, specifically, the love story in question is. The brilliance of “Fleabag” Season 2 is that it’s every love story, examining the love between sisters, between father and daughter, between a sexy priest and an corrigible atheist. But more than anything, the best tale on TV so far in 2019 is the story of one woman doing the messy work of learning to love herself. Oh, and it’s a laugh riot to boot. — LH

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