The 25 Best TV Shows of 2019 (So Far), Ranked

Gotta catch 'em all!

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The 25 Best TV Shows of 2019 (So Far), Ranked

2019 has kicked off as an unusual one for television. We all thought that Game of Thrones would not only dominate the conversation (which it did), but that it would sweep us off our feet (it did not). In fact, spoiler, it did not make our list of the best shows of the year so far. And while big-budget dramas tend to dominate these lists, as we noted in our list of the Best Episodes of the Years (So Far!), half-hour series have been where we’ve seen some of the most visual and narrative innovation. It’s a wonderful, if somewhat stressful time to be a TV fan. Peak TV has changed the game, so we’re here to help—the Paste editors and writers have chosen a diverse list of series you should check out, while also acknowledging there are even more that are probably worth your time. (Follow your joy!)

A note on eligibility: to be considered for this list, series had to have aired the majority of their episodes by June 14th. That means that Big Little Lies, Baskets, and Perpetual Grace LTD are not (yet) able to be included. There are also a number of series that only some of us were caught up on, and may end up as part of our final end of the year list. Or not! Things are always changing, but here’s something to get you started:

Honorable Mention: Gen:LOCK (Rooster Teeth), Sex Education (Netflix), The Umbrella Academy (Netflix), The Spanish Princess (Starz), True Detective (HBO), Doom Patrol (DC Universe), Ramy (Hulu).

25. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Network:   Amazon Prime  
Season: Two

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Though it has sustained some (perhaps rightful) backlash for being a fantasia of privilege, those fantasy aspects of Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel are still really fun. The snappy series is wry, witty, and occasionally deeply emotional. But for the most part, it comes down to having a lot of funny words and a lot of beautiful costumes, as our protagonist Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) navigates her dual lives as a put-together mother of two and a brash standup comedian. Brosnahan is exceptionally charming, and pulls Maisel back from the brink of occasionally becoming a little too theatrical. In fact, everyone in this swirling, whimsical series is excellent, most especially Alex Borstein as Midge’s long-suffering manager Susie (in particular Susie’s low-stakes kidnapping and her later assimilation into the wealthy Jewish getaway where Midge’s family has holed up for the summer). Maisel is pure escapism with some occasional well-earned bite.—Allison Keene (Photo: Amazon Prime)

24. What We Do in the Shadows
Network: FX
Season: One

Based on the vampire mockumentary from Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, What We Do in the Shadows brings the sadsack bloodsuckers Stateside. The Staten Island roommates— vampires Nandor (Kayvan Novak), Laszlo (Matt Berry), and Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), as well as Nandor’s servant, Guillermo (Harvey Guillen)—are all ridiculous and slightly pathetic. The handheld camerawork is the deadpan punchline, with every shaky zoom in on a character during a confessional implying, “Can you believe this weirdo?”

There’s also a fourth roommate who’s always left out of their vampire games, Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch). He’s got two main differences from the rest of the gang: a last name, and a thirst for energy rather than blood. That’s because he’s an office worker who bores people with long stories, killing them slowly. His friends are Dracula; he’s Office Space. It’s a consistently funny bit, especially when the series seems to forget about him for entire episodes, only for him to pop up unexpectedly. Proksch’s sleepy shtick counterbalances the other vampires’ horny exploits, which are more often endearing than laugh-out-loud funny.

More of the humor comes from the macabre wordplay and deadpan goofiness—often thanks to Berry’s stark, blustery delivery, straight from his BAFTA-winning Toast of London, and the exasperated looks it draws from Demetriou and Guillen—which are then punctuated by violent slapstick, featuring gallons of blood. In bringing the vampire-out-of-water conceit’s mix of comic elements down to the granular level, What We Do in the Shadows harkens back to the strongest parts of the film, which thrived on its charming re-imagining of dopey mythical creatures failing through the world in a way very particular to Kiwi. . . or, now, Staten Island. And with its documentary style taken just as seriously as its campy effects and extravagant costumes, the cretinous cosplay is beautifully straight-faced and completely winning—especially when the show goes to oxymoronic extremes of mundanity, like a city council meeting about zoning ordinances.—Jacob Oller (Photo: FX)

23. Dead to Me
Network:   Netflix  
Season: One

Jen (Christina Applegate) and Judy (Linda Cardellini) meet not-so-cute at a grief support group. Jen’s husband died three months ago in a hit and run accident. Judy’s fiancé died eight weeks ago of a heart attack. They develop a friendship over their mutual anguish and their love of Facts of Life (Jen is a Jo, Judy a Tootie). Before long Judy is moving into Jen’s guest house and a beautiful friendship is formed. Or is it? Netflix is keen on keeping the pilot’s big reveal a secret. I watched it with my husband and didn’t even let him know there was a secret and he still guessed it within minutes of the show’s opening. But no matter. The series, rooted in terrific performances from Applegate and Cardellini, is a fascinating mix of humor and pathos. The show deftly balances both extremes and pull both off. After watching the second episode, I had no idea what Dead to Me is really up to and that’s just the way I like it. —Amy Amatangelo (Photo: Netflix)

22. Better Things
Network: FX
Season: Three

The easygoing brilliance of Better Things is in full flower in its episode “Nesting”: Much of it focuses on an all-over-the-map dinner party Sam Fox (series creator Pamela Adlon) throws for her family and friends, replete with a trained monkey and Sharon Stone. Rambling, crowded, “episodic” in the fullest sense—pausing only long enough on a scenario to suggest its essence—the conversation covers everything from the movie Sam’s shooting and her flirtation with a co-star’s manager to her brother’s (Kevin Pollack) insistence that their mother, Phil (Celia Imrie), lose her driving privileges and enter assisted living. Laundry and divorce, FaceTime and Heads Up, pop-up restaurants, severed fingertips, and hotboxing the garage: “It’s bananas around here,” Sam texts the manager when she carves out a spare moment of alone time, and the Altmanesque “Nesting” is indeed a minor masterpiece of chaotic kinship that defines the series. —Matt Brennan (Photo: FX)

21. Veep
Network:   HBO  
Season: Seven

2019 was the right time for HBO’s long-running political satire series to have come to a close. The art of the series imitated life, but of concern was life sometimes imitated the art. It was difficult to keep the hilarious, foul-mouthed Veep from careening too far off into the cartoonish when American politics are so fully entrenched there now. But the series wrapped things up with a worthy, if uneven, final stretch of episodes. The pièce-de-résistance, though, was its finale—titled “Veep”—where Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) finally gets her heart’s desire in her final bid for President, one that came at an enormous cost both personally and for the country as a whole. The final moments also transported us to a post-Selina future though that felt particularly hopeful for a series that typically trades in darkly acerbic witticisms and the bleakest of humor. Ultimately, showrunner David Mandel finished out the series by letting us know things might be alright. Not right now … but one day. Maybe. We live in hope. —Allison Keene (Photo: HBO)

20. Gentleman Jack
Network:   HBO  
Season: Miniseries

Gentleman Jack is drawn from the extensive (some four million pages) journals of Anne Lister, a landed class Yorkshire woman widely considered to be the first “modern lesbian” known to history. Those diaries exhaustively detail her rather audacious life as a world traveler, coal magnate, landlord, mountaineer, and “Parisian,” which seems to be a common shorthand in 19th-century Halifax for “avid seducer of other women.” The series focuses on a timeframe in the 1830s dominated by Lister (Suranne Jones) returning to her family home in Yorkshire and setting her sights on nervous heiress Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle) as a companion.
Watch it for an interesting depiction of 19th-century Yorkshire society with sleek, colorful production and a lot of beautiful high-contrast scenery; rolling green fields and hedgerows starting to sprout factory smokestacks, or Lister’s frock coat and men’s hat and frank stare amid all those blonde ringlets and pastel silk gowns and sunlit yellow drawing room walls. Watch it for Jones’ forceful, vivacious, smart-as-hell portrayal of a defiant iconoclast who chose to value her own integrity over whatever it was society needed her to value. Though all the performances are relatively strong, Jones instantly becomes the center of gravity in every frame she’s in. Perhaps most of all, though, watch it for what it suggests about why it nearly always makes sense to be yourself. Even if it sometimes hurts, because of course it will, whoever you are. —Amy Glynn (Photo: HBO)

19. Speechless
Network: ABC
Season: Three / Final

Just like JJ (Micah Fowler), the protagonist at the center of ABC’s charming, insightful and hilarious comedy, Speechless has defied the odds. In a landscape dominated by dragons and zombies, a TV series about a family whose oldest son has cerebral palsy shouldn’t have lasted for three seasons. But not only did it last, it thrived. The DiMeo family, with Maya (Minnie Driver, in a career-best role) as its fearless matriarch, represented not just a loving family with a special needs son, but all families who want what’s best for their children and won’t let any obstacles get in their way. In the pitch-perfect Season Three finale, JJ graduates from high school and makes the decision to go to his dream school, New York University. The move will take him far from his family and his fiercely overprotective mother, but it’s also a life change he knows he needs to make. “I’ve opened so many doors for you, and you’ve walked through every one,” his mother tells him.
To use the show’s words, it was “unrealistic” of me to hope for the show to be renewed for a fourth season. The comedy ended on a triumphant, beautiful and poignant note, with JJ in the Big Apple and his family realizing it’s time to let him go. It was a wonderful way to leave the DiMeo family. But I want more. I’m not going to be realistic. I’m going to be blindly optimistic that we will see them again. TV needs a show like Speechless and so do I.—Amy Amatangelo (Photo: ABC)

18. Our Planet
Network:   Netflix  
Season: Miniseries

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Coming from those who have helmed previous installments of the Planet Earth series, the engrossing Our Planet is specifically a call for conservation. The fantastic globe-trotting nature documentary keeps to a general pattern in each episode: introduce something wonderful, educate us about it, and then explain why it’s dying or being put in peril because of climate change. Our Planet holds back a little in terms of showing the demise of charismatic megafauna, a long-time staple of nature docs, because its desire is to make us feel connected enough to this planet to do something about the problems facing it (and ultimately us). But there is certainly plenty to make us feel queasy about the stakes. Though it is a little more overt in terms of an agenda than its Planet Earth (and Blue Planet) predecessors, Our Planet is similar in that it utilizes the most cutting-edge camera technology to capture this world in all of its splendor. It is absolutely breathtaking—and incredibly urgent. —Allison Keene (Photo: Netflix)

17. I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson
Network:   Netflix  
Season: One

The co-star and co-creator of Comedy Central’s dearly missed DetroitersSaturday Night Live alum Tim Robinson is equally comfortable on either side of the camera—he’s a fantastic sketch comedy writer who’s just as good of a performer, and who has carved out a unique and immediately recognizable niche in both. And he puts both skills to brilliant use in his new Netflix show, I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson.
Robinson is a master of embarrassment. His sketches tend to focus on two types of characters: People who tell small lies that grow larger and more obvious as they refuse to come clean, and people who are too irrational, confused, or stubborn to understand what’s happening—or refuse to understand because that would require admitting their own ignorance. This might sound like typical cringe comedy turf, but Robinson keeps it fresh by extending ideas behind all bounds of logic, resulting in characters or situations so utterly absurd that you won’t even think of comparing them to such cringe comedy forefathers as Larry David or Ricky Gervais. —Garrett Martin (Photo: Netflix)

16. Les Misérables
Network: PBS
Season: Miniseries

Written by Victor Hugo and published in 1862, Les Misérables is known as one of the great novels of the 19th century. And as the title implies, it’s all about misery, of a sort that’s difficult for most of us to imagine. The most recent retelling of the novel—which many people familiar with the story through the stage musical and its screen adaptations may not have actually read—is brought to you by Masterpiece, and it lives up to the name. There have been many prior versions of the tale, and most of them condense it to two or three hours. The beauty of turning Les Misérables into a miniseries is that we get a long view of the characters, finding new sides to well-known figures—Lily Collins’ Fantine, Dominic West’s Jean Valjean, David Oyelowo’s Javert—and finding depth in those, like Olivia Colman’s Madame Thénardier, who often come across as one-note. This Les Misérables may be the best one yet. —Keri Lumm (Photo: PBS)

15. One Day At a Time
Network:   Netflix  
Season: Three / Final

I promised myself I would savor the third season of One Day at a Time. That I would space out watching the 13 episodes, treasuring each one. I would relish how each precious half-hour was simultaneously timeless and cutting edge. I would marvel at the series’ ability to be quietly groundbreaking. I would reflect on how it made Cuban culture at once unique and intimately relatable.
Instead, I devoured it. The series is so excellent and so compulsively watchable I couldn’t help myself. It’s like a paraphrase of that old commercial for Lay’s potato chips: “Betcha you can’t watch just one.” In a seemingly impossible feat, the third season of this cherished comedy is even better than the two that preceded it—and the two that preceded it were pretty awesome. For its third outing, the series goes deeper on the challenges of modern parenting, addiction struggles, and living with anxiety and depression. It explores with great nuance what makes a family. It is pioneering in its ability to treat Elena’s (Isabella Gomez) same-sex relationship as a high-school first love, with all the drama and issues that accompany that regardless of gender. Justina Machado and Rita Moreno are, of course, reliably fantastic as the mother/daughter matriarchs of the family, but the season really gives Todd Grinnell, as handyman/landlord Schneider, a chance to shine. Alex (a terrific Marcel Ruiz) also gets a complex storyline, which is honest in its admission that adolescent issues aren’t easily solved. I hold out hope that another network or streaming platform will pick up the series for a fourth season. ¡Dale One Day at a Time, dale! —Amy Amatangelo (Photo: Netflix)

14. The Good Fight
Network: CBS All Access
Season: Three

With “The One Where Diane and Liz Topple Democracy,” The Good Fight achieved the holy grail of the TV spin-off: It’s taken the animating question of The Good Wife—How far can you push the law?—and reinterpreted it for our own moment: Does the law even matter? As Diane (Christine Baranski) and Liz’s (Audra McDonald) “book club” debates whether or not to hack voting machines to right the disenfranchisement of voters in the 2016 presidential elections, or as Gary Carr (playing himself) shadows Roland (Michael Sheen) and Lucca (Cush Jumbo) to prepare for a role, The Good Fight is reminiscent of The Good Wife on a molecular level. And yet its characterization, aesthetic, tone and plot are utterly without nostalgia for it. “What isn’t a lie these days, though?” Gary asks Lucca when she explains why she doesn’t like TV. “Politics, art, science: Everything is TV.” The Good Fight would know: It’s the best show on television. —Matt Brennan (Photo: CBS)

13. Legends of Tomorrow
Network: The CW
Season: Four

“Joyful” is an underused and underrated term when it comes to TV dramas. Too many series conflate “prestige” with sorrow, violence, and horror when it can (and should) also mean happiness and splendor. Legends of Tomorrow, though, is a drama that truly understands the meaning of joy. The series—which follows a rag-tag bunch of misfits through space and time trying to “fix” historical anomalies caused by villains and supernatural beings—can be flippant and glib, but it can also be devastatingly emotional. The bottom line is that it’s just good. For those who were turned off by its first episodes or even first season, dive in to Season Two (or even Season Three, if you’re really strapped for time) and go from / start there. It gets much, much better. Legends is the rare series that learns from its mistakes, always ready to grow and innovate to bring us the most bonkers but wonderful television. And unlike most other series (especially those dealing with superheroes), it isn’t afraid to change out its cast members when things aren’t working, which keeps each season feeling fresh while the stakes remain high.

Legends of Tomorrow is funny, strange, bizarre, beautiful, and silly. It incorporates puppets and unicorns and sentient lopped-off nipples, but also explores the the devastation of losing loved ones, of advocating for those who need a voice, and an ever-developing journey of self-discovery. Join us for the ride.—Allison Keene (Photo: The CW)

12. Shrill
Network:   Hulu  
Season: One

  Saturday Night Live ’s Aidy Bryant takes center stage as Annie, an overweight woman who wants to change her life. But it’s not what you think: So many TV series, from This Is Us to Netflix’s repugnant Insatiable, build entire storylines about a fat woman losing weight. Before we even get to the opening credits, a total stranger tells Annie, “There is a small person inside of you dying to get out … You could be so pretty.” Annie’s got a boyfriend who makes her leave through the backdoor so his roommates don’t see her and a mom who drops not-so-subtle hints about dieting and exercising. But an unexpected event in the first episode forces Annie to reassess her life and flips the proverbial script on the “fat woman” story TV and movies are so fond of telling. Amazingly, Annie doesn’t have to lose weight to improve her life. She’s ready to advocate for what she deserves. Bryant is so utterly charming, you can’t help but root for her. Lolly Adefope is also a true breakout as Annie’s best friend, Fran. The series is a delight. “I’m the one with the fat ass and the big titties, so I get to decide what we do,” Annie says. Damn straight, she does. —Amy Amatangelo (Photo: Hulu)

11. The Other Two
Network: Comedy Central
Season: One

Comedy Central’s charming, hilarious series The Other Two follows adult siblings Brooke (Heléne York) and Cary (Drew Tarver) as they try and figure out their own lives in the wake of their 13-year-old brother Chase (Case Walker) becoming an overnight YouTube sensation. Though Brooke and Cary support Chase (who is not, yet, an obnoxious internet star) they want to have careers that stand on their own. But they can’t help but get pulled into Chase’s orbit, making sure others aren’t taking advantage of Chase for their own gain while acknowledging they might be doing that very thing. The Other Two is darkly funny and real, as Brooke and Cary struggle to find success and exist on the outskirts of the vapid world that wants to make Chase an industry unto himself. It is one of the funniest series to air this year as well as one of the smartest. Creators Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider understand the modern fame machine better than most, exposing truths in some of its most hilariously audacious scenes. It also has coined one of the year’s best and most useful catchphrase: “In this climate??” —Allison Keene (Photo: Comedy Central)

10. Counterpart
Network:   Starz  
Season: Two / Final

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The excellent Starz series Counterpart introduces us to a world that has been split in two for decades, as two parallel Earths sharing a single portal in Berlin unbeknownst to all but government spy agencies on either side. Counterpart explores what-if questions of making different choices in one’s life, and how things might have changed. It does so through the lens of Howard Silk (J.K. Simmons), who unexpectedly meets his “other” after his wife Emily (Olivia Williams) suffers an accident that puts her into a coma and her own secrets are revealed. But Emily also has an other … as do we all, and thus starts the Howards’ journey of self-discovery x 2.

Despite its sci-fi trappings, Counterpart has always been a deeply character-driven story about how our choices affect us, giving a tantalizing look at how our things might have been different with just a few changes over the years. In its second season, each of the Howards were trapped in each other’s worlds, but the story also expanded to see how the two Emilys lives diverged so dramatically—and what they could each learn from each other. Somehow, Counterpart manages to never be confusing, though, thanks especially to its excellent cast who made different versions of each character feel incredibly distinct (even when they were pretending to be each other). Its story is a deeply human one, told in extraordinarily interesting ways. Though it sadly wasn’t renewed for a third season, its second season ended in a satisfying way that still kept the door open for further exploration. —Allison Keene (Photo: Starz)

9. Good Omens
Network:   Amazon Prime  
Season: Miniseries

Neil Gaiman’s passionate fans can safely dive into this adaptation of Good Omens; since the author served as showrunner and handle the script himself, his vision comes through very much intact. The six-part series follows the angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and the demon Crowley (David Tennant) as they team up to avert the apocalypse. It has sensibilities that recall the work of Terry Gilliam and the films of Powell and Pressburger. It’s funny, eccentric (sometimes downright hammy) and quite poignant, and it’s got a totally delightful script and a mostly amazing cast, including Frances McDormand as the voice of God and Benedict Cumberbatch as the voice of Satan. But for all its virtues the standout feature of Good Omens is the incredible chemistry between Tennant and Sheen, who make sparks fly every time they appear onscreen together. Happily for us, that’s most of the show.—Amy Glynn (Photo: Amazon Prime)

8. Killing Eve
Network:   BBC America  
Season: Two

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BBC America’s breakout hit returned with a second season that acted as an almost perfect inverse of its first. We saw Villanelle (Jodie Comer) knocked off-kilter (at least at first), Eve (Sandra Oh) ready and willing to commit violence, and a power dynamic that felt fundamentally changed after the events of the Season One finale. A few things remained the same, though, like Villanelle’s outrageously excellent sartorial choices, as well as some particularly creative, grisly deaths. Though the season was faulted for making Villanelle far more interesting than Eve in terms of her story, it tracked; in Season One, Villanelle was in Eve’s thrall, and in Season Two, the dynamic flipped. The show is still incredibly interesting and stylish (under new showrunner Emerald Fennel, who will be handing the reins over to a third showrunner for the next season), and introduced us to a host of interesting new characters and dilemmas for our core duo to face. It’s main problem, though, is that it’s just too short.—Allison Keene (Photo: BBC America)

7. The Good Place
Network: NBC
Season: Three

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Network TV represent! I lamented a bit that The Good Place was only one of two network TV shows (hi Speechless!) to make our list. But it’s because The Good Place doesn’t seem to know it’s on network TV that it is so consistently fantastic. As the third season wrapped up, the comedy continued to defy every TV convention in each and every episode. The hilarious series never tells you when to laugh and re-invents its premise and plot on the regular. The final three episodes of the show’s third season, which aired in January of this year, proved that the series is poised to go out creatively on top in its fourth and final season. As Janet tells Eleanor, “But since nothing seems to make sense, when you find something or someone that does, it’s euphoria.” And The Good Place is pure euphoria.—Amy Amatangelo

6. When They See Us
Network:   Netflix  
Season: Miniseries

Antron McCray. Kevin Richardson. Yusef Salaam. Raymond Santana. Korey Wise.

I will admit that up until When They See Us, Ava DuVernay’s searing four-part miniseries, I knew these men as only the “Central Park Five.” That they were, to me, first the perpetrators of a horrific crime and later exonerated victims of a racist and rigged legal system. But you cannot look away from When They See Us or shelter yourself from the blinding truth. The harrowing episodes will leave you devastated yet in awe of how McCray, Richardson, Salaam, Santana and Wise came out on the other side of what happened to them to lead happy, productive lives today. The story itself is overwhelmingly powerful. But there are several key decisions DuVernay makes that turns When They See Us into one of the year’s, if not the decade’s, best programs. One is the casting of five relatively unknown actors to play the boys. The “Central Park Five” were 14-16 years old in 1989 and Marquis Rodriguez, Ethan Herisse, Jharrel Jerome, Asante Blackk and Caleel Harris not only look young but portray the absolutely vulnerability and fear that their real-life counterparts must have felt. The devastating fourth episode is a tour-de-force performance for Jerome, the only actor to play both the younger and older version of his character. In this traumatic hour, Jerome is nothing short of phenomenal. When They See Us is exceedingly difficult to watch; it cut me to my very core. When you see it, I’m sure it will do the same to you.—Amy Amatangelo (Photo: Netflix)

5. Catastrophe
Network:   Amazon Prime  
Season: Four / Final

Catastrophe is one of the decade’s best series. Its farewell means we’re losing one of the medium’s funniest comedies—and its comedy cuts to the core of life’s daily hassles. We’re also losing the most achingly honest show about marriage, parenting and the daily slog of raising a family, particularly when your children are young. The series greatest gift was its dark, dark humor. On TV, children are often treated as an accessory or a character trait not as beloved tiny humans who have an enormous impact on your life. That never happened on Catastrophe. The series’ look at marriage, particularly a marriage in the thick of raising small children, was equally realistic. As it ended its four-season run, Catastrophe was as sharp, as biting, as witty as ever. Few shows have the luxury of going out on such a creative high. —Amy Amatangelo (Photo: Amazon Prime)

4. Russian Doll
Network:   Netflix  
Season: One

Netflix’s Russian Doll was almost too good to be renewed. By all means, renew Natasha Lyonne. Renew Amy Poehler. Renew Leslye Headland. Renew Charlie Barnett. Renew Rebecca Henderson and Greta Lee as hot mess hipster art friends ready to make parties across the Netflix spectrum that much spikier and sparklier. Renew Elizabeth Ashley as every Netflix heroine’s no-bullshit therapist (but make it fashion) mom-figure. Renew sharp, funny women directing sharp, funny women written by sharp, funny women. Renew that hair. Renew every damn thing about Russian Doll that helped make it such a brambly triumph of black comedy, macabre ennui and existential optimism. (Everything, that is, except Dave Becky in a producer’s chair—if Broad City can change precedent after four seasons, new series can avoid setting one altogether.) Renewing Russian Doll as a whole is tricker. It is, in the eight shaggy, smartly-constructed puzzlebox episodes of its debut season, nearly perfect. —Alexis Gunderson (Photo: Netflix)

3. Barry
Network:   HBO  
Season: Two

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Bill Hader’s excellent series continued to play with questions of identity and self-expression in its second season, which further explores the dual lives that Barry (Hader) leads. Amateur dramatist by day, assassin by night, Barry works to shed his darker self and become the man he wants to be, but he can’t escape the choices that led him down that dark path to begin with. Denying that being a killer is part of who he really is only leads to a repressed rage that comes out in exceptionally tense and violent scenes, ones that Hader expertly juxtaposes with Barry’s sweet and earnest side through unexpected comedy. He’s a man who wants to do good, but can’t reconcile the two parts of himself, something the series also explores in Sally’s (Sarah Goldberg) story as well. Who we are versus how we want others to see us is at the core of Barry’s character exploration, and Hader manages to somehow make the series both hilarious and deeply affecting, taking us on a rollercoaster of emotions that ends—at least with this season—in an extraordinary difficult place of truth and self-understanding.—Allison Keene (Photo: HBO)

2. Chernobyl
Network:   HBO  
Season: Miniseries

Maybe this is a good time for a drama about Chernobyl. I mean, as it becomes increasingly tempting to give in to apocalyptic ideation, I guess it’s useful to remember that the apocalypse already happened, and not even that long ago (I was a teenager and remember it vividly), and we apparently survived it.
?In April 1986, the reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, in present-day Ukraine, exploded, leaving a large number of first-responder widows and a legacy of environmental annihilation. The incident and its aftermath are the subject of a new, five-part drama on HBO. Let me start by saying people with mood disorders should weigh the pros and cons carefully before tuning in: It’s possibly the worst thing I have ever seen on TV. And I don’t mean poorly done. (It’s unfortunately brilliant). I mean Chernobyl is devastatingly realistic and really, really painful, so be prepared for graphic depictions of what it’s like to die of radiation poisoning. Or what it’s like to be recruited to the task force that has to destroy radioactive housecats, milk cows and puppies. I literally couldn’t sit through the first episode. I had to watch it 10 minutes at a time.

The outstanding cast is led by Stellan Skarsgård as Boris Scherbina, a Kremlin apparatchik, and Jared Harris as Valery Legasov, the nuclear physicist who makes the government understand they cannot lie and obfuscate their way out of a nuclear disaster. Emily Watson rounds it out as Ulana Komyuk, a Byelorussian scientist determined to find out what really happened in order to keep it from ever happening again. The production is HBO-grade excellent. The soundtrack is a testament to the terrifying sound of a chattering Geiger counter. Writer and producer Craig Mazin is relentless in his depiction of human corruption and environmental breakdown, and director Johan Renck gives Lars von Trier a run for his melancholic money. It is an anatomy of fear and incompetence and hopelessness and baseness and self-destructiveness. It is desolate and desperate and excruciating and horrible. Horrible. Horrible. And it should be. —Amy Glynn (Photo: HBO)

1. Fleabag
Network:   Amazon Prime  
Season: Two / Final

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In its long awaited second season, Fleabag, which unfolds in six delightfully perfect installments, remains as sharp and as witty as ever. Our heroine (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), still reeling from the death of her best friend and her culpability in what happened, is still struggling. “I want someone to tell me how to live my life because I think I’ve been doing it wrong,” she wails in the fourth episode. But living your life is difficult when you have a sister who blames you for all her problems (“We’re not friends. We are sisters. Get your own friends,” Claire tells her) and a father who gives you a therapy session as a birthday gift (which leads to a delightful cameo from Fiona Shaw). Fleabag cuts to the core of the female experience. Whether it’s Fleabag rightly explaining that how your hair looks can be the difference between a good day and a bad day or guest star Kristen Scott-Thomas, whose character receives a women in business award in the third episode, only to rightly decry it as the “fucking children’s tables of awards,” explaining menopause as “it’s horrendous and then it’s magnificent.”

Over these six episodes there are, among other things, miscarriages, a return of an iconic object from the first season, and an obsessed stepson whose mantra is “Where’s Claire?” The series succeeds because it never has distain for its characters and their tragic dysfunction. It never mocks them. It merely lays them bare for everyone to see. Martin’s stifling cruelty. Claire’s overwhelming unhappiness. Their dad’s desperation not to be lonely. The godmother’s narcissism as a cover for her acute insecurity. I don’t want to say too much about the relationship between Fleabag and the priest because the way it unfolds is so perfect and surprising and, in the end, redeeming. But I will say that Andrew Scott, who wears a priest’s robe very well, creates a priest that is fully realized. A real person who swears and makes mistakes but is still devoted to his faith. Their love story is one of salvation.—Amy Amatangelo (Photo: Amazon Prime)

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