For a list called ‘TV of the Year’, it’s remarkable how few of the below entries were actually watched on television. Of course, ‘mini-movies watched on a laptop screen of the year’ doesn’t quite have the same ring, does it? Perhaps it’s better to stick with what we know, which is probably why more than half of the year’s best TV series were returning franchises. In 2019, the most successful shows were those that kept us coming back for more.
From property-based sitcoms to wacky animations and gritty urban dramas to nostalgic sci fi epics, 2019 had it all. Here’s our pick of the bunch – how many have you seen?
– Alex Flood, Film and TV Editor
Words: Rhian Daly, Alex Flood, Christopher Hooton, El Hunt, Ella Kemp, Jack King, Will Lavin, Thomas Smith, Andrew Trendell, Greg Wetherall
20Stath Lets Flats
A comedy about inept lettings agents might be a bit too on the nose for those paying through the nose for shitholes with ludicrous rents, but Stath Lets Flats will actually make you feel empathy for them! Imagine that! The hapless but well-meaning Stath, sister Sophie, their dad Vasos and the rag-tag crew of surrounding agents get into all kinds of property-related hijinks – but it’s all done with a surprising amount of heart.
Most underrated character: Dean – the grumpy, desk-dwelling agent who gets unexpectedly and begrudgingly bumped-up to be the right-hand man of the new boss, Julian. TS
Like this, try this: The Office, Ghosts
What would you do if you were trapped in an eternal time loop, one that restarted at your 36th birthday party every time you had a freak accident (falling through a cellar door, being trapped in a plunging lift)? That was the future Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) faced in Russian Doll, a darker, funnier Groundhog Day in which its protagonist had to work out why she was doomed to return to her friend’s bathroom night after night (Was it drugs? Mental illness? The supernatural?) and uncovered a tonne of life lessons along the way.
Most underrated character: Nadia’s friend Maxine (Greta Lee), who utters the now iconic “Sweet birthday baby” greeting every time Nadia began her time loop and is eternally tied to preparing a roast chicken every time the birthday girl dies. At least Nadia got to go outside. RD
Like this, try this: The Good Place, Maniac
In a year which saw cult comic book creator Alan Moore take over TV (Watchmen, Swamp Thing), the Mage of the Midlands’ influence was also felt in The Boys. Set in a world in which superheroes are real, but corrupted by the celebrity status they enjoy, Amazon Prime Video‘s hit series served as a fresh antidote to the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) and its ‘holier than thou’ central characters (we’re looking at you Captain America). Standout performances came from Jack Quaid (Denis and Meg Ryan’s son), whose tetchy turn as Hughie Campbell – a reluctant conscript to Billy the Butcher’s (Karl Urban) vigilante crusade against the corrupt supers – was a career highlight. Bring on season two!
Most underrated character: Hugh Campbell (Hughie’s dad) might not get much screen time in The Boys, but Simon Pegg’s concerned parent deserves a shout-out nonetheless. When you’re all stressed out after the latest tense action scene, there’s nothing like Pegg’s boyish, smiling face to make things seem alright again. AF
Like this, try this: The Umbrella Academy, Preacher
Channel 4’s hit dramedy has been essential viewing since its riotous first series back in 2015. Set in ‘proper adult’ London, Catastrophe follows the story of two grown-ups who accidentally get pregnant – and then married as a result. Writers and stars Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney share chemistry that is hard to find on-screen and their clueless characters feel relatable in a way that doesn’t try too hard. Darkly funny and often silly, this is a realistic black comedy for those who like their TV to make them feel better about their own lives. This year’s cathartic final series was emotional to say the least.
Most underrated character: Lauren Socha’s sarky childminder puts Rob in his place more than once in season four. If you liked Channel 4 drama Misfits, this is more of the sassy same. AF
Like this, try this: This Way Up, Fleabag
Season: six (part one)
The second half of BoJack Horseman’s sixth season drops on Netflix on 31 January 2020. After that? No more horsin’ around, folks. Fans are devastated and not without reason. The bleak, brilliant misadventures of the jaded horse and his team of pals have gone from merely great to unmissable. Turns out that Gob in Arrested Development was just a taster of what Will Arnett could offer as a comic actor. So far, this final season has yielded more emotional depth than ever, as Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s characters negotiate addiction, parenthood and relationships. Unlike BoJack’s career, the show’s going out on a high.
Most underrated character: Princess Carolyn – BoJack’s ex-girlfriend and agent bucks empty stereotypes of career women. Her struggles with fertility – and, eventually, with motherhood – have brought some of the series’ most poignant moments. Amy Sedaris’ performance lends warmth and wit to a fascinatingly complex character. Only catty in the most, er, literal sense. GW
Like this, try this: Bob’s Burgers, Peep Show
The second season of Killing Eve began precisely where the first left off – with Eve (Sandra Oh) hunting for a bleeding Villanelle (Jodie Comer) in Paris. As they travelled across the UK, France and Rome, it was Comer who dominated the show, filling the hole that had been left by Phoebe Waller-Bridge leaving the writing team with impressively unnerving performances. She told gags as she slit her victims’ throats, nailed a range of accents in flawless form, and essentially played several secondary characters each time she pretended to be someone else.
Most underrated character: Although he’s only in it momentarily, Julian Barrett’s Julian begins as a brilliantly unassuming nobody, before slowly revealing that even the most mundane of people can possess some of the same twisted tendencies as Villanelle. RD
Like this, try this: The Americans, Mindhunter
14When They See Us
Season: one (mini-series)
When They See Us is as vital as it is heartbreaking. Depicting the harrowing events endured by the Central Park Five – a group of black teenagers wrongly jailed for murder in 1989 – Netflix’s visceral adaptation adds a degree of humanity to the story and asks viewers to ponder how justice takes effect in modern day America. Raw and absorbing, this is not for the fainthearted. Stuffed with soul-shaking performances, the entire cast list feels like a glimpse into Hollywood’s future – especially Jharrel Jerome, whose phenomenal turn as Korey Wise won’t go unnoticed. One of the most essential shows of 2019.
Underrated character: It feels wrong to single out one character in a narrative where every part played is so important. Instead, we’ll put the spotlight on Ava DuVernay (director and writer), without whom this heartbreaking tale of loss and wasted youth might not have been brought back to light. AF
Like this, try this: Making a Murderer, American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson
A crop of America’s finest standup comedians go back to middle school and deliver a vivid, whip-smart evaluation and satire of puberty in its most tedious details with Big Mouth. Everyone is a bit too loud, too awkward, too clueless – but with lucid writers able to find humour in everything that feels nervous, the show thrives. The show mainly revolves around Nick Birch (Nick Kroll) and his best friend Andrew Glouberman (John Mulaney), two almost-teens dealing with all the things almost-adolescence entails. Puberty manifests in physical and utterly hysterical monsters, and nothing is off-limits – it’s glorious.
Most underrated character: Maya Rudolph voices several characters, but none as impactful as Connie the Hormone Monstress. While Andrew, more advanced than Nick, deals with Maurice the Hormone Monster (voiced by a gruff Kroll), both Jessi and Nick deal with Connie – a caring and confident creature with entertaining theatricality that easily reaches pantomimic levels. EK
Like this, try this: Sex Education, BoJack Horseman
12Rick and Morty
Rick and Morty creators Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon must feel a tremendous amount of pressure now that their weird little cartoon has become a mainstream hit. They’ve not let it get the best of them though, and the fourth season has been just as funny as those that came before.
No long synopsis necessary: a boy and his grandpa simply go on adventures. That said, the show is deceptively smart, and beneath all the burping and improv-style humour is some very well thought-out sci-fi. With so many weird planets and parallel universes for Rick and Morty to explore, this show could easily go on ad infinitum, and we hope it does.
Most underrated character: Ants-In-My-Eyes Johnson. One of the dumbest, most brilliant creations to come out of the ‘Interdimensional Cable’ episodes, which – fingers crossed – will soon get a third instalment. CH
Like this, try this: Metalocalypse, The Eric Andre Show
Season: one (mini-series)
Chernobyl made for 2019’s surprise ‘event TV’ moment. Everyone was talking about the HBO miniseries, which constituted five of the bleakest hours of television ever made but also five of the most enthralling. The story of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster was told methodically and in a way that respected the viewer’s intelligence, detailing the fascinating ins and outs of the meltdown. The decision to hold back the blow-by-blow account of the fateful evening of 26 April 1986 until a court hearing in the final episode was a masterstroke, and Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgård and Emily Watson gave towering performances.
Most underrated character: Boris Shcherbina. Skarsgård played the government official with great restraint, Shcherbina largely remaining stoic in the face of the tragedy. And yet, by the finale you realised just how much you sympathised with this flawed character. Underneath that steely facade he was really hurting. CH
Like this, try this: The Americans, Band of Brothers
As Derry Girls’ Erin Quinn (Saoirse-Monica Jackson) puts it: “It’s about The Troubles in a
political sense, but also about my own troubles in a personal sense”. Erin might’ve been describing her own mediocre poetry but it’s also a good jumping-off point for Derry Girls, a show about a gang of havoc-wreaking teenagers muddling their way through an all-girls Catholic school in ’90s Northern Ireland. Though the Northern Irish conflict forms the backdrop, Erin and her mates – Orla, Clare, Michelle, and Michelle’s English cousin, James – have other things to worry about. Namely, trying to bunk off exams by faking a weeping statue miracle, and seducing a group of protestant boys at a Friends Across the Barricade peace initiative.
Most underrated character: Fionnula, the no-nonsense ruler of Derry’s best chip shop. We never find out exactly how many bags of chips is enough – after much deliberation, the Quinns order seven. But they really must be the best in town as a lifetime ban from the shop is the worst fate of all. EH
Like this? Try this: Chewing Gum, Brassic
Are caped crusaders a good idea? Are they not in fact fairly unethical, these vigilantes who take it upon themselves to be the arbiters of right and wrong? This is what Watchmen explores, a superhero story with enough satire and narrative layering to land it a spot on the hallowed schedule of the normally comic book-averse HBO. The show imagines a world where even local law enforcement wear masks, and where the only superhero with actual superpowers has grown tired of helping humanity and retired to Mars.
Most underrated character: Laurie Blake. Jean Smart plays a vigilante turned FBI agent weary of all the lycra costumes and grandiose superhero names and she’s pivotal in keeping the show grounded. CH
Like this? Try this: Black Mirror, The Expanse
8The End of the F***ing World
What if we just told the world to fuck off and drove into the night with no clear destination or plan? This is the spirit of The End of the F***ing World, which follows teenagers James (Alex Lawther) and Alyssa (Jessica Barden) as they drive aimlessly around the UK trying to escape dire predicaments, usually of their own creation. TEOTFW has such a defined, unmistakable tone and aesthetic. It’s a Bonnie and Clyde story that looks and feels like an old Western, only it takes place in the petrol stations and greasy spoons of suburban England.
Most underrated character: Bonnie. James and Alyssa are already such an iconic duo that it can’t have been easy for Naomi Ackie to join the cast. She’s done a tremendous job though, playing the psychopathic love interest of professor Clive Koch and immediately feeling at home in TEOTFW’s very weird world. CH
Like this? Try this: Barry, Skins
When Peaky Blinders first hit our screens, it had the vibe of a Western sent in 1920s gangland Birmingham. As the Shelby family rose through the ranks in their battle for supremacy, the show evolved too. Season four felt like mafia epic with the family at war with the Changretta clan, and season five was more of a political and psychological thriller. The latest series started with the family reeling from the stock market crash of 1929, setting them at odds with themselves as they faced the threat of the modern world. As if that wasn’t enough, Tommy’s life as a newly-elected MP finds him attempting to sabotage Oswald Mosely and the rise of fascism. All the while, Tommy’s PTSD sees him haunted by the ghosts of his past. Paranoia and chaos climax with the Shelbys’ ultimate betrayal in the finale, but whodunnit? Stay tuned.
Most underrated character: Billy Grade, brilliantly played by Emmett J. Scanlan. A former-footballer-turned-singer, Grade is blackmailed by the Blinders to introduce them to athletes and help them rig matches. He seems petrified of the Shelbys, but you’re left wondering if he actually had a hidden agenda. Did Grade double cross them after all? AT
Like this, try this: Boardwalk Empire, Taboo
As Mad Men’s Don Draper would say, nostalgia is “delicate… but potent.” This is, and perhaps always has been, Stranger Things’ unique selling point. From Spielberg to proton packs and Eggos, the Duffer Brothers have consistently wielded the nostalgia effect like a magic wand. The likes of It, Black Mirror and (apparently) Ghostbusters: Afterlife have tried to follow in its wake, but Stranger Things remains the undisputed nostalgi-champ. The latest season was the show’s best, and brought a twist of modernity to Stranger Things’ 1980s obsession, best illustrated by the introduction of Maya Hawke’s Robin – one of the year’s best examples of genuine on-screen queer representation.
Most underrated character: In exchange for her cracking a world-saving algorithm, Dustin’s girlfriend Suzie forces ‘Dustybun’ to duet with her on the Limahl banger ‘Never Ending Story’. So fucking fierce. And Dustin? Absolutely whipped. Suzie, we stan. JK
Liked this, watch this: Black Mirror, The OA
The dreary blazers and prefab classrooms of UK secondary school got a shiny, all-American makeover in Sex Education – Laurie Nunn’s Nowhereville comedy. The show followed the bumblings of Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield) – a shy and awkward teenager whose mother (Gillian Anderson) happens to be a sex therapist. Soon, Otis earns a reputation after helping the school bully with a Viagra-related crisis, and ends up starting a sex advice clinic with his classmate Maeve (Emma Mackey) – with hilarious results.
Most underrated character: Lily Iglehart: swing band member, alien erotica author, and on a mission to “fornicate” as soon as possible. EH
Like this? Try this: Sugar Rush, Lovesick
When season one of Fleabag came to a close, we were told that was it. No more Phoebe Waller-Bridge trying to recover from the guilt she felt about her best friend’s death or trying to keep her guinea pig-themed cafe afloat. Luckily, the BBC managed to convince the woman of the moment to reconsider and she presented us with an even more unmissable second turn – one that was equal parts heartbreaking, hilarious and uncomfortable. It also brought us #HotPriest and one of the most powerful one-word utterances in recent TV memory – “kneel”.
Most underrated character: Fleabag’s sister Claire (Sian Clifford), the perfect example of the very British stiff upper lip. See politely excusing herself from the dinner table to have a miscarriage, but going delightfully off the rails when faced with much lesser problems. RD
Like this, try this: Broad City, Crashing
Every few years a show sends people into a frenzy about how teenagers are living their lives. Euphoria was 2019’s panic-starter, a darker, grittier take on Skins, its central character Rue (Zendaya) struggling with addiction and her school friends getting involved with everything from assault (Jacob Elordi’s Nate) to becoming cam girls (Barbie Ferreira’s Kat). In a revolutionary move, the show also featured a trans main character in Hunter Schafer’s Jules, but made her as three-dimensional as the rest of the cast, treating the kind-but-troubled teen as more than just her gender identity.
Most underrated character: Lexi (Maude Apatow), who, compared to the rest of her classmates, is a pillar of virtue. A truly dependable friend who helps Rue out, no matter how badly she treats her, she consistently makes the lives of her peers better, even if they don’t notice it themselves. RD
Like this, try this: Skins, Sex Education
Peep Show creator Jesse Armstrong’s HBO series got off to a promising start, but it was with its second season that it really came into its own. Centring around a Murdoch-esque family of media moguls, Succession manages to not only be unbelievably funny but also legitimately dramatic. Though the characters are all thoroughly reprehensible, you can’t help but giggle with glee as they skewer this very unusual moment in human history that we find ourselves in. Watch out for episode five, ‘Tern Haven’, an absolute tour de force of screenwriting.
Most underrated character: Tom Wambsgans. Succession is awash with great performances, but Matthew Macfadyen is a revelation. Tom is consistently the funniest character, and his complicated alliance with parasitic underling Greg (Nicholas Braun) has yielded some of the show’s best scenes. CH
Like this? Try this: Deadwood, Ray Donovan
Making a comeback after the original series ended in 2013, Top Boy proved itself to be one of the best British dramas of recent years – and an important moment for black British culture. Hard-hitting from start to finish, it offered a gritty and realistic insight into London’s postcode wars and the fight for survival that some endure on the streets of the country’s capital. Ashley Walters and Kane Robinson (aka Kano) return as seasoned drug dealers Dushane and Sully, while newcomer Micheal Ward proves the breakout star as he leaves viewers conflicted and questioning morality: can you cheer a good guy doing bad things?
Most underrated character: Shelley (played by Simbiatu Ajikawo aka Little Simz). While the majority of the show’s other characters are caught up in the thick of things, Shelley keeps her distance playing a mother – not only to her daughter but also her best friend. She’s probably also the reason Dushane isn’t dead or in jail. WL
Like this, try this: The Wire, Power