The 25 most binge-worthy TV shows of 2019

We pick the top 10 TV shows of the year, from scathing stories about justice and finance to deeply-felt romance. Plus: Addictive shows about sex, stellar ensemble casts, and hilarious sketch shows

The Top 10 TV shows of 2019

1. Fleabag (Amazon Prime Video Canada)

The year’s best relationship on TV is the eponymous character Fleabag and us, the audience. Going into the second season of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s dark British comedy, we’d already developed a connection with the self-destructive but charming Fleabag (Waller-Bridge), who frequently broke the fourth wall, speaking directly to the camera, to bring us into her chaotic world. But in this season’s whirlwind six episodes, our relationship deepens, and we see Fleabag as a more vulnerable and loving heroine as she reckons with her own selfish tendencies and family.

The audience is Fleabag’s respite and co-conspirator when a fist fight ensues at a chic restaurant or during an awkward therapy session. Then the sensitive, borderline-alcoholic and irresistible Hot Priest (Andrew Scott) enters Fleabag’s life and as the will-they-won’t-they chemistry builds, we’re pushed to the sidelines. (Theirs is the second-best relationship of 2019.) The heart-wrenching season features an outstanding cast, particularly Olivia Colman as the narcissistic artist Godmother, razor-sharp writing and an achingly honest portrayal of humanity. Impeccably action-packed yet tidy, it’s the kind of show you’ll immediately want to re-watch. Samantha Edwards

Top episode: Episode 4.

Watch Fleabag on Amazon Prime Video Canada.

Best TV shows 2019 - Barry

Isabella Vosmikova

2. Barry (HBO Canada)

With the second season of their brilliant HBO series about a hit man who wants to quit the business and become an actor, writer/director/star Bill Hader and producing partner Alec Berg (Silicon Valley) upped the creative stakes with stunning set pieces, twisty plotting and an experimental episode that pitted Barry and his treacherous minder Fuches (Stephen Root) against a father and daughter who may have been Terminators. Hader and Berg have also given Sarah Goldberg the space to craft a grounded, heartbreaking turn as Barry’s frequent scene partner Sally and encouraging Root, Henry Winkler and Anthony Carrigan to work their magic in comic supporting roles, and somehow setting up a perfect cliffhanger for Season 3. Norman Wilner

Top episode: ronny/lily

Watch Barry on Crave.

Best TV shows 2019 - Easy season 3

Courtesy of Netflix

3. Easy (Netflix)

So much is said and unsaid in the third and final season of Joe Swanberg’s Chicago-set anthology series. Sharp, complex and beautifully acted, each episode goes deeper into the relationships between the now-familiar characters than in past seasons, revelling in existentialist contrasts between art and commerce, love and labour and public and private personas while delivering great drama (and comedy). Timely plot lines touch on dating apps, open relationships, surveillance and cancel culture, but Swanberg’s low-key style doesn’t belabour anything. He trusts his actors, allowing reaction shots and quiet moments to advance stories without ever slipping into lazy moral simplicity. It’s sad that Easy has come to an end, but this season – the best yet – is highly rewatchable. Kevin Ritchie

Top episode: Blank Pages

Watch Easy on Netflix.

Best TV shows 2019 - Russian Doll

Courtesy of Netflix

4. Russian Doll (Netflix)

Who knew that a sci-fi comedy drama about a tough-as-nails New York game developer (Natasha Lyonne) stuck in a Groundhog Day-like loop where she keeps dying would act as a balm for these divisive, fraught times? But besides being highly addictive, stylish as fuck (let’s face it: we all coveted Lyonne’s black jacket) and gruesomely funny, the show also encourages empathy and coming to terms with past bad behaviour. Not a bad takeaway in the Trump era. Hint: if you’re not quite sold on the pilot, wait until the end of episode three. Only question: now that it’s been renewed, how will the creators come up with a second season that surpasses the first? Glenn Sumi

Top episode: Superiority Complex

Watch Russian Doll on Netflix.

Best TV shows 2019 - Leaving Neverland

Bennett Raglin

5. Leaving Neverland (HBO Canada)

Director Dan Reed’s four-hour documentary miniseries about the two men who allege late pop star Michael Jackson molested them as children is a devastating exploration of how celebrity worship and extreme wealth can enable abuse. Largely comprised of interviews with Wade Robson and James Safechuck and their immediate family members, Leaving Neverland is more than a tell-all. The testimonials – shot in unforgiving wide-angle close-ups – suggest victims of child sexual abuse are often unwilling and unable to acknowledge what happened to them until later in life. Reed builds to a sad and sobering double realization that cuts to why the uncritical ways we elevate and exalt certain people as geniuses needs to change. KR

Top episode: Part 2

Watch Leaving Neverland on Crave.

Best TV shows 2019 - Succession season 2

Courtesy of HBO

6. Succession (HBO Canada)

Jesse Armstrong’s Shakespearean drama about an obscenely rich and morally bankrupt dynastic family was largely ignored during season one despite being consistently sharp, repulsive and addictive. Audiences are flocking to season two, savouring the cutthroat board meetings and side-eye during crystal-and-porcelain dinners. It may be tempting to look down on the Roy family, but the show has a sneaky way of reminding us that even regular folk can end up behaving vile. This season, several characters were particularly memorable (and meme-able): mopey Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) dopey-yet-brilliant Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) and Shiv (Sarah Snook), a tough, resourceful woman who is manipulated in a way that speaks more to the times than I first realized. Radheyan Simonpillai

Top episode: Tern Haven

Watch Succession on Crave.

Best TV shows 2019 - Top Boy

Courtesy of Netflix

7. Top Boy (Netflix)

This layered British crime drama was cancelled in 2013 and then revived by Canadian producers Drake and Adel Nur. Set in a London housing estate, it follows seasoned drug dealers Dushane (Ashley Walters) and Sully (Kane “Kano” Robinson) as they try to reassert dominance in the face of ruthless newcomer Jamie (Micheal Ward). It’s the perfect gangster epic, steadfastly refusing to paint any character in easy moral terms. Creator/writer Ronan Bennett and his collaborators (including rising American directors Reinaldo Marcus Green and Nia DaCosta) use an increasingly insidious cat-and-mouse plot to show how socio-economic and political forces are the true culprits. The expanded 10-episode arc allows the stellar ensemble to really dig into the characters, while the saturated cinematography leaves an indelible impression of London. KR

Top episode: The Squeeze

Watch Top Boy on Netflix.

Best TV shows 2019 - When They See Us

Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix

8. When They See Us (Netflix)

The infamous and infuriating story of the Central Park Five – five racially profiled New York City teen boys imprisoned for a crime they didn’t commit – warrants all the melodrama director Ava DuVernay gets out of it in this miniseries. But this isn’t just packaging Black trauma for wide audiences DuVernay hangs focus on the characters’ strength and resolve, empathetically finding every grace note in their fight to survive incarceration and difficult lives following their exonerations. At the Emmy Awards, young actor Jharrel Jerome won for lead actor in a limited series for his powerful performance as King Korey Wise, the oldest of the five. When Jerome locked eyes with Wise in the audience as he gave a joyous speech, it felt like a happy ending that was 30 years in the making. RS

Top episode: Part Four

Watch When They See Us on Netflix.

Best TV shows 2019 - The Good Place season 4

NBC Colleen Hayes/NBC

9. The Good Place (Global TV)

In its final season, Michael Schur’s remarkable network sitcom/philosophy course goes out with its heroes – an Arizona “trashbag” (Kristen Bell), an indecisive academic (William Jackson Harper), a self-absorbed socialite (Jameela Jamil), the quintessential Florida Man (Manny Jacinto), a reformed demon (Ted Danson) and his supernatural assistant (D’Arcy Carden) – determined to save humanity from an eternity in the Bad Place. It’s a universe away from the simple mistaken-identity premise that kicked off the show four years ago, but somehow its humour and its boundless optimism remain perfectly on point. Will Schur stick the landing? Take it on faith. NW

Top episode: The Answer

Watch The Good Place on Global TV.

Best TV shows 2019 - GLOW

Ali Goldstein/Netflix

10. GLOW (Netflix)

In its third season, Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch’s dramedy about the Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling stretches over the entirety of 1986, as our heroes trudge through a repetitive Vegas residency and start questioning why they’re still playing reductive caricatures rather than growing as wrestlers (or artists). Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin anchor a knockout ensemble as friends-turned-rivals Ruth “Zoya the Destroya” Wilder and Debbie “Liberty Belle” Eagan this year gives Kate Nash’s Rhonda and Chris Lowell’s Bash some time in the spotlight while setting up an arc for Gayle Rankin’s wolf-woman Sheila that brings the show’s ongoing exploration of identity into sharp focus. NW

Top episode: Outward Bound

Watch GLOW on Netflix.

15 more shows we loved this year

Addictive shows about sex

These series were stimulating in more ways than one

Best TV shows 2019 - Now Apocalypse

Katrina Marcinowski

Now Apocalypse (Starz)

Gregg Araki’s raunchy queer sex comedy is a grower. A quintessential expression of the cult director’s madcap 90s style, the show focuses on four wisecracking (and horny) 20-somethings in Los Angeles navigating sex in today’s fluid and fun-fur-clad landscape. Co-written by Slutever columnist Karley Sciortino, the show’s as sweet as it is sharply observed when it comes to dating dynamics.  KR

Watch Now Apocalypse on Starz.

Sex Education (Netflix)

Set in the present day but styled in homage to 80s teen movies, this UK comedy follows a neurotic teen (Asa Butterfield) whose savant-like knowledge of human sexuality is cheerfully exploited by an enterprising classmate (Emma Mackey), who turns him into the school sex therapist. Clever, compassionate and very, very funny, this was one of the winter’s happiest surprises.   NW

Watch Sex Education on Netflix.

Mrs. Fletcher (HBO Canada)

The adaptation of Tom Perrota’s bestselling novel gives Kathryn Hahn her juiciest role yet as Eve Fletcher, an empty-nester and divorceé with an addiction to MILF porn. But it’s her college freshman son Brendan whose love life is even more jolting and realistic as he fumbles his way through the nuances of consent.  SE

Watch Mrs. Fletcher on Crave.

Big Mouth (Netflix)

Nick Kroll, Jennifer Flackett, Mark Levin and Andrew Goldberg’s animated comedy about seventh-graders in the throes of puberty is the American answer to Sex Education – if that show also included literal Hormone Monsters urging the adolescent heroes to ever greater humiliations between surrealistic musical numbers. Hey, it just works.  NW

Watch Big Mouth on Netflix.

Hip-hop-centric shows

These series explore different facets of hip-hop culture

Best TV shows 2019 - Wu Tang Clan of Mics And Men

Kyle Christy/Showtime

Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics And Men (Showtime)

Director Sacha Jenkins’s four-part series about the seminal New York City rap group is one of the most philosophical and entertaining docs of the year. Full of dramatic archival footage and candid interviews, Of Mics And Men uses the music biopic format to give viewers a complex, intimate and melancholy account of what happens when street culture and collectivism collides with celebrity culture and capitalism.  KR

Watch Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics And Men on Crave.

Rhythm + Flow (Netflix)

Hosted by Chance the Rapper, T.I. and the delightfully blunt Cardi B, this addictive hip-hop reality competition goes deep into regional music styles as respected MCs judge contestants from Chicago, Atlanta, L.A. and New York City while giving viewers a window into the shrewdness required to navigate today’s music industry. Like all reality shows there are cringeworthy constructed moments, but it’s bingey for the increasingly ambitious performances – and the battle-rap episode.  KR

Watch Rhythm + Flow on Netflix.

Hip-Hop Evolution (Netflix)

One of the most overlooked things on Netflix, Hip-Hop Evolution is an overhead view of the genre’s history from the beginning. It’s created by true (mostly Canadian) music lovers, including host Shad, who aren’t interested in the same old sensationalized narratives – even when it comes to Biggie and Tupac, which covers half of its excellent third season. If for no other reason, watch for the emotional Snoop Dogg interview.  Richard Trapunski

Watch Hip-Hop Evolution on Netflix.

Shows with great ensemble casts

These shows offer up a true communal experience

Best TV shows 2019 - Watchmen

Courtesy of HBO

Watchmen (HBO Canada)

Damon Lindelof’s maddeningly complicated follow-up to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s landmark comic book series may tilt toward a different character in each of its episodes – Regina King’s costumed Oklahoma cop Sister Night, Tim Blake Nelson’s traumatized Looking Glass, Jean Smart’s ex-cape Laurie Blake, Jeremy Irons’s mad genius in exile – but it’s clear that their stories are all heading in the same direction.  NW

Watch Watchmen on Crave.

Schitt’s Creek (CBC)

In its Emmy-nominated fifth season, the formerly one-percenter family The Roses are as delightful and self-obsessed as ever. David (Dan Levy) and Alexis (Annie Murphy) are both in normal(ish), loving relationships, but it’s their parents Johnny (Eugene Levy) and Moira (Catherine O’Hara), who anchor the show as the eccentric, affectionate and supportive couple – a rarity in sitcoms.  SE

Watch Schitt’s Creek on CBC Gem.

Kim’s Convenience (CBC)

Ins Choi’s melancholy stage play about the expectations immigrant parents place on their children has been retooled into a thoroughly satisfying sitcom – set in a relatable, recognizably diverse Toronto. By season three, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Jean Yoon, Simu Liu and Andrea Bang have settled into a comfortably fractious dynamic as the eponymous family.  NW  

Watch Kim’s Convenience on CBC Gem.

What We Do In The Shadows (FX)

A companion piece to his 2014 mockumentary about vampire flatmates who’ve spent centuries getting on each other’s nerves, Jemaine Clement’s giddy, goofy FX series introduces a new, equally eccentric cast (Kayvan Novak, Matt Berry, Natasia Demitriou, Mark Proksch, Harvey Guillén) and brings in a slew of A-list guest stars – including Clement, occasional director Taika Waititi and Tilda freaking Swinton.  NW

Watch What We Do In The Shadows on FXNOW Canada.

BoJack Horseman (Netflix)

Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s animated dramedy about a self-destructive celebrity and his long-suffering circle of friends has provided Will Arnett with the role of his career… and found equally rich parts for Amy Sedaris, Aaron Paul, Paul F. Tompkins, Alison Brie, Aparna Nancherla, Stanley Tucci, Garry Marshall, Stephanie Beatriz, Rami Malek and dozens more.  NW

Watch BoJack Horseman on Netflix.

Stellar sketch comedy shows

These inventive comedy series can be binged whole or in small bites

Best TV shows 2019 - Baroness Von Sketch Show

Courtesy of CBC

Baroness Von Sketch Show (CBC)

In its fourth season, co-creators/co-stars Carolyn Taylor, Meredith MacNeill, Aurora Browne and Jennifer Whalen continue to brilliantly skewer everyday situations and people, often pushing their sketches to absurdist extremes. Case in point: the dark turn for the anxious friend who calls for an Uber and now needs to rally her friends before it arrives.  SE

Watch Baroness Von Sketch Show on CBC Gem.

A Black Lady Sketch Show (HBO Canada)

A Black Lady Sketch Show could just as easily be called “Black Girl Comedy Magic” thanks to its hilarious and thoroughly original outrageousness. Created and helmed by Robin Thede, it’s packed with firsts: an all-Black, all-female cast and writing team – and the sketches are equally full of memorable characters, like Ashley Nicole Black’s CIA agent Trinity, the invisible spy. Chaka V. Grier

Watch A Black Lady Sketch Show on Crave.

I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson (Netflix)

This is peak TV working as it should, letting a weirdo like SNL alum Tim Robinson create something purely funny and singular with no greater aspirations. Almost every sketch is a classic, and almost every one is a meme: TC Tuggers, the bones are their money, mud pie, the Colgate Comedy Hour. If you’ve seen the show, you know exactly what these all mean and you’re already laughing. RT

Watch I Think You Should Leave on Netflix.


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