The critics’ top shows of 2019, from Barry to Watchmen
Looking to kick off 2020 with some critically acclaimed series? Here is the critics’ pick of the past year, all streaming now.
Review aggregator site Metacritic has released its round-up of TV shows that made the most Critic Top 10 Lists for 2019. Here are ten series that nabbed the top spots on critics’ coveted best-of-the-best lists for last year.
Watchmen was the #1 show of the year for Empire, Mashable, Screencrush, Vulture, Vox, and Washington Post, where Hank Stuever said the show “continues to take my breath away with its bracing vision of racism, mask-wearing vigilantism and superheroic qualms in a skewed-reality America.”
Inspired by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s iconic DC graphic novel, Watchmen stars Oscar winners Regina King, Jeremy Irons and Louis Gossett Jr, as well as Golden Globe winner Don Johnson.
“No show this year has inspired me like Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen,” said Vulture’s Angelica Jade Bastién, who described the show as “visually astounding, brimming with ingenious transitions” and hailed King’s performance as “a masterwork.”
- #1, Best Reviewed New TV Shows 2019, Rotten Tomatoes, with a 96% critics rating
- #18, Best Of The Decade, Metacritic
- 8/10 and currently #15, Most Popular TV, IMDB
Succession topped numerous favourite lists from AV Club to The Guardian to Uproxx. As The Guardian said: “2019 was the year HBO threw millions upon millions of dollars at the final season of Game of Thrones, only to have another of its shows blow it out of the water entirely. That show was Succession, Jesse Armstrong’s dizzyingly seductive drama about a billionaire media family, which became a runaway hit with its second series. A veritable powerhouse, Succession contained all the things that had once drawn us to Westeros: power, wealth, loyalty and sheer nastiness.”
The cast includes Brian Cox (Golden Globe winner for his role as Logan), Kieran Culkin (nominated for the Golden Globe as Roman), Jeremy Strong (Critics Choice nominee as Kendall), Sarah Snook (Critics Choice nominee as Shiv), Matthew Macfadyen (Critics Choice nominee as Tom) and multi-award winner Hiam Abbas (Ramy, Blade Runner 2049).
- #3, Metacritic’s aggregated list of TV Shows Mentioned on Most Critic Top 10 Lists for 2019
- Won Best TV Drama and Best Actor (Brian Cox) at The Golden Globes this year
- Won Best Drama Writing and Best Theme Music at the Emmys last year
Chernobyl took the top spot on Radio Times’ critics poll, with reviewer Tim Glanfield calling the mini-series, “a gripping and at times hard to watch drama… an outstanding piece of television… it’s more than a worthy winner of our 2019 critics’ poll.”
Chernobyl dramatises the story of the 1986 nuclear accident, one of the worst man-made catastrophes in history, and of the brave men and women who made incredible sacrifices to save Europe from unimaginable disaster.
The five-part series also topped The Observer UK’s list, with Euan Ferguson enthusing: “I said in May that this was the best TV I’d seen so far this year and I see no call to revise. We were all blindsided. Some are talking of it as not just the best show of the year but of the decade.”
- #1, Best Reviewed Mini-series and Limited Series 2019, Rotten Tomatoes, with a 96% critics rating
- 9.5/10 and the top-rated scripted series this decade, IMDB
- 2020 Golden Globe winner for Best Limited Series and Best Supporting Actor (Stellan Skarsgård)
- 2019 winner of 10 Emmys, including Best Limited Series
Barry was the top pick of the year for three separate AV Club critics: Baraka Kaseko, Erik Adams, and Sam Barsanti. This pitch-black comedy stars Bill Hader as Barry, a depressed war-vet-turned-hitman who takes up acting while on assignment in LA.
As Indiewire wrote while including it in their list of the best shows of the decade, “It’s not a huge jump to read Barry as an allegory for the United States failed military policies, with the titular character a PTSD-stricken vet trying to do something positive with his life, only to be repeatedly drawn into situations that lead to more death and destruction. It’s dark, not for entertainment purposes, but because the world is dark. Luckily for us, it’s also funny and real and not to be missed.”
- #3, Rotten Tomatoes’ Best TV Shows of 2019, with a 99% critics rating
- #7, Metacritic’s aggregated list of TV Shows Mentioned on Most Critic Top 10 Lists in 2019
- Won three Emmys in 2019, including Best Actor in a Comedy, and another three in 2018
AV Club reviewer Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya chose Pen15 as her top pick of 2019. The comedy series follows 13-year-old besties Maya and Anna [played by 32-year-old co-creators Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle) as they navigate – and try to survive – seventh grade and puberty. AV Club called it “one of 2019’s most delightful surprises … a hilariously insightful and refreshingly heartfelt look at adolescence in the early 2000s.”
- #12, Metacritic’s aggregated list of TV Shows Mentioned on Most Critic Top 10 Lists in 2019
- 93% critics rating, Rotten Tomatoes
- Nominated for a 2019 Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Writing
Nicky Idika of Pop Buzz picked Euphoria as her favourite show of the year, praising the performances of its lead stars as “phenomenal” and saying, “The show’s cultural impact is already apparent. Euphoria deliberately avoids a sanitised view of modern teen life and, instead, eagerly leans into the drugs, the sex, the risky behaviour, and the toxic co-dependencies.”
The adults-only drama series follows a group of high school students as they navigate love and friendships in a world of addiction, intimacy, trauma and social media. Zendaya (K.C. Undercover, Spider-Man: Homecoming and The Greatest Showman) stars as 17-year-old Rue, who returns home from rehab with no plans to stay clean, and strikes up a friendship with the new girl in town, Jules (played by trans superstar Hunter Schafer).
- Zendaya won the 2019 People’s Choice Award for Favourite Drama TV Star for her role
- #17, Metacritic’s aggregated list of TV Shows Mentioned on Most Critic Top 10 Lists in 2019
- 8.4/10, IMDB | 82% critics rating, Rotten Tomatoes
Ramy stars 2020 Golden Globe winner and stand-up comedian Ramy Youssef as Ramy Hassan, a first generation Egyptian-American in politically-divided New Jersey, where he’s caught between a Muslim community that thinks life is a moral test and a millennial generation that thinks life has no consequences.
It was the #1 show of the year for Star Tribune reviewer Neal Justin, who called the series “ground-breaking” and “dynamite”, saying it (and the star’s 2019 stand-up special) “might be all it takes to declare Youssef the breakout comedian of the year.”
- Won the 2020 Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical
- Won the Audience Award at SXSW 2019
- #19, Metacritic’s aggregated list of TV Shows Mentioned on Most Critic Top 10 Lists in 2019
Entertainment Weekly’s Darren Franich has been telling everyone he knows to watch his favourite show of last year, The Good Fight, a “smartly hilarious legal drama” whose creators, he says, “are having too much fun throwing axes at [the] American apocalypse.”
This unfailingly prescient spinoff of The Good Wife follows Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski in an Emmy-nominated role) to historically black law firm, Reddick, Boseman, & Kolstad, after she loses everything in a financial scam. The powerful cast includes Cush Jumbo (in a Critics Choice nominated role), Emmy winner Audra McDonald (Private Practice), Screen Actors Guild nominees Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones) and Delroy Lindo (Get Shorty), and Golden Globe nominee Michael Sheen (Masters of Sex).
- #22 (tied with Years and Years), Metacritic’s aggregated list of TV Shows Mentioned on Most Critic Top 10 Lists in 2019, and tied at #19 (with The Walking Dead and Rectify) overall for the decade
- 8.3/10, IMDB
- 96% critics rating, Rotten Tomatoes
Perpetual Grace was the year’s favourite show for Entertainment Weekly’s Kristen Baldwin, who called it a “strange and wonderful saga” with “a story that unfolds like a Rube Goldberg contraption” and an ensemble cast “stuffed with excellence”.
The modern noir drama follows a young grifter, James (Emmy nominee Jimmi Simpson from Westworld, Black Mirror and House of Cards), as he attempts to prey upon Pastor Byron Brown (Oscar winner Sir Ben Kingsley). But the pastor and his wife Lillian (Oscar nominee Jacki Weaver from Silver Linings Playbook) – known to their parishioners as Pa and Ma – turn out to be far more dangerous than he suspects…
- 88% critics rating, Rotten Tomatoes
- Cinematographer James Whitaker was nominated at Camerimage 2019 for his work on the pilot
The third and final season of The Deuce got the top vote from AV Club’s Vikram Murthi.
Oscar nominee Gyllenhaal plays Candy, a porn director struggling to maintain her artistic integrity in an industry that is quickly devolving. As AV Club reviewer Noel Murray put it, “She shouldn’t just win a trophy, she should have one named after her.”
The Deuce follows the interconnected lives of Times Square’s barkeeps, prostitutes, pimps, police, mobsters, porn actors and producers. The final season is set in 1985 – VHS has overtaken film as porn’s primary medium, while the lure of the California sunshine, the city’s aggressive takeover of commercial sex properties in Times Square, and the devastating impact of the AIDS epidemic mark the end of an era.
- 93% critics rating, Rotten Tomatoes
- 8.1/10, IMDB
- Maggie Gyllenhaal was nominated for a Golden Globe and a Critics Choice Award for her role
Alicia Rancilio of Associated Press picked documentary series Surviving R. Kelly as the top show of the year, saying, “No other series made the kind of real world impact that this one did.”
Celebrated R&B singer R. Kelly’s genre-defining career has been riddled with rumours of abuse, predatory behaviour, and paedophilia. In Surviving R Kelly, for the first time ever, survivors and people from his inner circle come forward with new allegations about sexual, mental, and physical abuse. The bombshell documentary series features over 50 interviews, including civil rights activist Tarana Burke, musicians John Legend and Sparkle, talk-show host and former DJ Wendy Williams, Kelly’s ex-wife Andrea Kelly, ex-girlfriend Kitti Jones, brothers Carey and Bruce Kelly, and many others.
- 95% critics rating, the third-highest ranked documentary and #44, Rotten Tomatoes’ Best TV Shows of 2019
- Nominated for a 2019 Emmy for Outstanding Informational Series or Special
- Named Best Documentary Series or Special at both the Black Reel Awards and the Critics’ Choice Real TV Awards, and Program of the Year at Banff
All of the series above are on Showmax, which also has the Michael Jackson documentary Leaving Neverland (#2 in Rotten Tomatoes’ list of the best-reviewed new TV shows), Spanish/English horror-comedy series Los Espookys (#2 in the Rotten Tomatoes’ list of the best-reviewed new TV shows), anti-war comedy-drama Catch-22 (#4 in Rotten Tomatoes’ list of the five best-reviewed miniseries & limited series), and Season 4 of Adult Swim animated comedy Rick & Morty (#7 in Rotten Tomatoes’ best-reviewed returning TV shows), among other hit shows from 2019.
See Metacritic’s full round-up of TV Shows Mentioned on Most Critic Top 10 Lists for 2019 here.