It’s incredibly hard to cull a list to something manageable. Especially when you consume as much TV as I and my kids do over the course of the year. In looking at 2019, I ended up mostly going for shows that have finished out their runs and are done for a particular season, which means some currently airing stuff didn’t make the list. In fact, even though I thoroughly enjoy them all, none of The CW shows made the top ten – Crisis included. And we did largely stick to genre shows while our weekly roundups talk about a lot of other shows. I’d be even more frustrated if I was trying to incorporate things like Sex Education or Queer Eye into the list since I do not live by genre TV alone.
With that in mind, I present our top ten shows of 2019!
1) Swamp Thing (S1)
Yes, I’m still pissed about Swamp Thing being canceled. The first season delivered exactly the kind of show that I had always hoped for in that it had the right kind of Vertigo-ness that the comics side would produce while delivering an interesting mystery, great characters, and a real affection for location. That the show was able to bring in characters like Blue Devil in a way that worked was even better. The first and only season isn’t quite exactly complete as some might want to say it is, but it delivers a fantastic season that goes for the southern horror in all the right ways. Though a lot of people mostly remember the old 80s live-action movie and a good chunk the cartoon, this one delivered the best vision of it in live-action and with the perfect cast from start to finish. I’ll be upset about this cancelation for a long time because this first season was gold.
2) The Mandalorian (S1)
With Star Wars as embedded in my DNA as it is, The Mandalorian ranking near the top was a given. The series is one that delivered exactly what I was looking for in something that explores more of the edges of the galaxy but also touches on the familiar because of its need to do so for fans. The first season introduced quite surprisingly the most interesting character in years for many in The Child and it’s played a path to tell its spaghetti western tale in a way that works perfectly. Frankly, the things that make me understand why this works is because the main creative behind it with Favreau and Filoni is that they’re of the same age and general background as me, and likely had the same dreams and ideas as kids playing with the toys. Bringing this to life with a strong cast, some fantastic directors, and a budget that lets it be Star Wars means we get something very different from the films but that fits in perfectly with them. It exists and explores its own space, working a more languid pace than the films can, and introduces new things while reaffirming the familiar.
3) Doom Patrol (S1)
Coming from a comics background, I was shocked when Doom Patrol was revealed to get an episode appearance in the first season of Titans. And then to learn that with some minor recasting of the semi-regular Chief that it would be getting its own series. And that the series would be one of the best things on TV this year was just impossible considering how odd the whole thing is. Yet, it achieved it. Watching this show with my 16-year-old daughter who had no clue who they were, the series delivered hard on the weird and absurd, embracing it in a way that most shows would limit or cull entirely in adapting. It works a familiar pattern that does make for some slow episodes and periods with its back and forth in time and exploration of the cast, but that is Doom Patrol. It’s the truly weird and unusual, the broken and complicated, that create a patchwork family that works for them while saving the world at the same time. I cannot express the joy I felt watching this show as it introduced more and more surprising and surreal characters from the books and with such love and care.
4) The Expanse (S4)
One of several shows that were canceled in the spring of 2018 that got a massive push for a renewal, The Expanse landed with its fourth season just recently and in binge form, which was a change from the first three seasons. The show has a lot going on because of the couple of books it already covered but it’s pretty accessible right from the start as we get into how a transport ring has opened up within the solar system that can take humanity out to any number of possible habitable worlds out there. The problem is that the beings that crated these ring gates were all killed some time ago by something and there’s some that want to take this exploration cautiously, because why attract the attention, while others are desperate to get out into these new worlds as Earth and Mars are dying. It’s got a great cast, works a lot of strong largely realistic science into its science fiction, and builds the tension in great ways. And this season made my already second-favorite character of Bobbie Draper even more of a badass.
5) Dark (S2)
I have a real love for a lot of the ScandiNoir shows that get brought over on various streaming services. I’m not a fan of your usual procedurals like Law & Order and the like because they’ve been around forever, operate largely on weekly storylines. But the Scandi stuff operates differently and that draws me into them with the settings and mood, even as the borrow heavily from Hollywood styling. The first season of Dark went from intriguing German story of a small town to one that has people traveling backwards and forwards in time from the 1920s to the 2050s while trying to unravel what happened. With a lot of family dynamics coming into it as well, the second season upped the ante by going backward and forward further than the first season, exposing more connections, and showing some of those operating within the system that are after their own goals. It’s frighteningly complex and I can’t wait to rewatch the first two seasons in the week before the third season hits next year so that it’ll all come together. I cannot recommend this enough.
6) Lucifer (S4)
When the third season of Lucifer was canceled, well, that was hell for fans who saw a show that became brilliant toward the end of the first season ending on a cliffhanger here that we had been excited for. The showrunners, after all, thought they were going to be renewed. With Netflix stepping in for a fourth season and renewed already for a fifth and extended final season, this season does some great stuff in showing us the growth and changes in the cast from the beginning. With truths trying to get out and nobody believing the devil, it’s a delight in seeing it play out. A lot of it is on the strength of Tom Ellis as Lucifer but the concept is so well executed that it takes the procedural that it was and shows how you can do them in creative and engaging ways. Growing beyond that is what it needed and that’s what this season is all about as the stakes rise higher and we see the tough choices made, leading to what should be a fantastic final season.
7) Star Trek: Discovery (S2)
It took a good number of episodes for the first season of Discovery to click for me but once it did, I was all-in. With the second season and its expansion and changing of several characters, it hit the ground running in a different way and got to play in some neat areas without the looming threat of war over it in the same way the first season had. A lot of the appeal for this season comes from Anson Mount as Captain Pike and the fact that they tie into some of the original series elements here. The show is far more playful in working in this period compared to other series that ended up working a more respectful and somber route and that gives it a very different feeling. I still completely get all the reasons a lot of older fans struggle with this show but a lot of those reasons are exactly why I like it. And the fact that it ends as it does here has the third season full of incredible possibility that the franchise has not wanted to explore for far too long.
8) Russian Doll (S1)
That we call this a Groundhog Day kind of show really makes clear the impact of that film in how it signifies the little cottage industry of projects like this. Russian Doll succeeded because of a few factors, a big one of which was Natasha Lyonne. I had always liked her going back to American Pie but with a chaotic number of years and problems, she fell out of view entirely. But coming back with a project like this was fantastic, especially being under thirty minutes an episode and working some creative decisions to handle the looping and changes that happen with each repeat. It’s not just Groundhog Day writ small. Lyonne’s performance is fantastic as well as she gives us a wholly distinctive character that’s engaging in nearly every frame she’s in.
9) See (S1)
While a lot of folks were quick to write off most of the Apple TV+ projects for a variety of reasons, most of them appealed to my household of diverse tastes. The first one that I spent the time going through was See and it really keyed in on that post-apocalyptic world design that I wanted to see. With the bulk of the cast blind due to a virus that has carried through for generations after the end of civilization, we get to see two main groups of survivors at first before it explores more while also introducing a new generation of those who can see as part of a larger plan. It’s a fairly standard riff that you can imagine any number of books written about in the 70s and 80s. It’s not particularly large or grand in it scope or plan, though there are some good hints of potential there, but it keeps it focused on the characters and their journey over many years. I absolutely love the cinematography for this as it helps to truly draw you into this overgrown world and I definitely like that it took risks and came up with some creative rituals and superstitions that would exist, as well as ways of communication without sound. It’s easy to mock the show but the cast sell it and Jason Momoa is fantastic.
10) Pennyworth (S1)
I’ll admit I’m cheating with this one a bit as I’ve only seen a third of it and haven’t had a chance to see the rest. But the opening sequence and the first three episodes so completely sold me on this show that I can’t wait to get the time to really dig into it more. A lot of people were writing this off as another BatmanWithoutBatman show, of which there are many, but that diminishes what is otherwise a character that is full of potential and exploration. Reminding me of a Master Keaton kind of series, putting it in the late 50s early 60 period was perfect to explore a young Alfie as he looks to set his way in the world after some rough military service. It’s stylish as hell, the acting is great, it has my love, Paloma Faith, in it, and it just delivers everything that I wanted.