Runner-Ups: I didn’t want to count TV movies, although HBO had a trio of great ones in “Brexit,” “OG,” and especially the return of “Deadwood.” Also, “Crashing,” “On Becoming a God in Central Florida,” and especially “Veep”‘s final season were all worth watching.
10. “The Righteous Gemstones” …Given the outrageously over-the-top nature of televangelists, it may be surprising that there hasn’t already been a comedy series based around them–so it’s a pleasure to see Danny McBride and co. making up for lost time. Although the entire ensemble is close to perfect, special mention to Walton Goggins’s Uncle Baby Billy as a dead-on satire.
9. “Mindhunter” …Although it’s not quite as effective as the chilling first season (it needed more interviews with killers, hands-down most of the best season 2 scenes), there’s still more than enough great scenes to look forward to season 3, which will hopefully put Holden Ford back in the spotlight.
8. “Documentary Now” …A nearly perfect season, and opinions will vary wildly as to which episode is the best. My personal favorites are the riotous “Original Cast Album: Co-Op,” “Any Given Sunday,” and especially “Waiting for the Artist,” a great showcase for Cate Blanchett.
7. “The Good Place” …How many TV series actually make you want to be a better person? What “Place” accomplishes is nothing short of a miracle in its heady final season. And how Chidi and Elenor will save all of humanity (in the show’s final four episodes) is sure to be the highlight of 2020 TV.
6. “I Love You, Now Die” …The year’s scariest TV villain is a teenage girl who convinced her (text) boyfriend to kill himself. The reason why is a bonkers tale that includes celebrity worship (Lea Michele), pop culture (from “Fault in Our Stars” and “Glee”), and a craving for the spotlight that borders on psychosis.
5. “Leaving Neverland” …Going into this documentary (which I really wasn’t looking forward to, in all honesty), I was pretty agnostic about the allegations against Michael Jackson. After finishing it, I was certain he’d systematically molested kids for years. Even more chilling is the way Jackson would try to manipulate the kids against anyone who might get in the way (primarily their parents) and even discouraged them from going to a proper school. You will never look at Michael Jackson the same way again.
4. “Silicon Valley” …We know that techies have an enormous amount of control over our lives, and yet know surprisingly little about that world. “Valley” did more than any other show to change that, and made mini-stars out of Kumail Nanjiani, T.J. Miller, and even Zach Woods in the process. Real ethical dilemmas about data privacy and A.I. are somehow rendered hilarious. No small thing to be the year’s most consistently funny series, and be about something.
3. “Chernobyl” …By the end of this chilling 5-part miniseries (you’ll get the shivers multiple times in almost every episode), you’ll be hard pressed to know which was worse: the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the way it was handled (thousands of people will eventually die of radiation-induced cancer), or that a Soviet system refused to openly discuss the real causes of it or (initially) that it was even possible.
2. “Primal” …Completely dialogue free, and thus reliant on being a purely visual medium. One of the most beautiful TV series I’ve ever seen, even while refusing to shy away from scenes that are either bizarre (bat creatures in the fourth episode), heartbreaking (the protagonist loses his family in the first episode), or gruesome (the wintry face-off with a stray mammoth).
The Best TV Show of 2019: “Mr. Robot” …Not much left to say about this series, which I’ve praised in several articles over the last few weeks. All I can say is that each 2019 episode felt thrillingly alive, daring, and accomplished in a way few films do.