Twelve Exceptional New TV Shows From 2019 That You Need to Catch Up On
This year has served up plenty of must-see TV so far — here's what you need to stream.
If you're a fan of Game of Thrones, The Handmaid's Tale or Big Little Lies, you've probably spent plenty of time in front of your TV screen over the past six months. If you're head-over-heels for Stranger Things, you likely have more couch time planned, too. But 2019's television and streaming viewing isn't just about the shows you already love. If you're eager to add some fresh favourites to your pile, the year so far has well and truly delivered.
From existential comedies and anarchic sketch shows to gripping accounts of real-life tragedies and excellent anthology revivals, 2019's batch of new shows has proven a varied bunch — and an excellent one as well. It's enough to make you hole up in your living room and never want to leave. Or, to spend the year's colder months catching up.
With the year at its halfway point, here's our picks of 2019's best TV and streaming series that you owe it to yourself to seek out now.
Netflix and smart existential laughs continued to go hand-in-hand with Russian Doll, with the streaming platform once again taking one its protagonists with wondering what this whole life business is all about. Here, however, New Yorker Nadia (Natasha Lyonne — who you'll most likely recognise from Orange Is the New Black) is forced to relive her 36th birthday shindig over and over again. And wWhile getting stuck at a celebration in your own honour will sound like a literal party to most folks, that's not Nadia's path. Co-created and co-written by Lyonne, Amy Poehler and filmmaker Leslye Headland (Bachelorette, Sleeping with Other People), this eight-episode show takes its acerbic, misanthropic lead character through all kinds of twists and turns, examining fate, logic, life's loops and wading through limbo in a clever and compelling way. This is a dark, heartfelt, hilarious and inventive series all at once, and, although the do-over premise has become a well-established trope on both the big and small screens, Russian Doll never feels like it's relying on a gimmick. Unsurprisingly, Netflix has renewed it for a second season.
The entire first season of Russian Doll is available to stream on Netflix.
When it comes to sheer horror of the bone-chilling kind, not to mention the kind of soul-crushing dismay that can only stem from the bleakest of tales, nothing compares to Chernobyl. The five-part show explores the aftermath of the 1986 nuclear disaster, which saw the reactor inside the Ukrainian facility explode. The fallout, unsurprisingly, was catastrophic, with the incident considered the worst nuclear power plant accident in history as well one of the worst man-made events ever. While the dramatisation begins with the fiery explosion, it's what happens next that earns the show's focus — the initial salvage attempts by workers condemned to suffer and die just for doing their jobs; the arrogant cover-ups, including by stubborn plant supervisors who refuse to believe what's happened; the clean-up and rescue missions, sacrificing more lives to the incident; and the inevitable investigation. Every aspect of the series is detailed, thorough, and even more relentless and unnerving than you'd expect given the real-life situation, with creator and writer Craig Mazin drawing upon meticulous research, interviews with nuclear scientists, chats with former Soviet residents and first-person accounts from those who were there.
All five episodes of Chernobyl are available to stream on Neon.
THE TWILIGHT ZONE
The Twilight Zone is back, and it's in the best possible hands. After wowing horror movie lovers with Get Out and Us, Jordan Peele takes on the task of presenting, narrating and redeveloping the legendary sci-fi anthology show for the 21st century, and it's one he does well. Picking up where Rod Serling's original five-season 50s and 60s show left off (and short-lived revivals in 1985 and 2002, too), the eight-episode first series blends the old with the new — both remaking previous episodes and coming up with fresh, thrilling stories. It's as entertaining as you'd rightfully expect, with more set to come next year. This initial season also comes with a huge cast, including Adam Scott, Kumail Nanjiani, Tracy Morgan, Steven Yeun, Zazie Beetz, Taissa Farmiga, Greg Kinnear, John Cho, Rhea Seehorn, Jessica Williams, Jacob Tremblay, Allison Tolman, Betty Gabriel, Ginnifer Goodwin, Chris O'Dowd and Seth Rogan. Put simply, it's must-see viewing.
The entire first season of The Twilight Zone is available to stream on TVNZ OnDemand.
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS
A bunch of vampires. One share house. Ample undead hijinks. It worked swimmingly in 2005 short film What We Do In the Shadows. Next, it worked hilariously in 2014 mockumentary movie What We Do In the Shadows. And it works mighty fine in TV spinoff that's also called What We Do In the Shadows, too. Adapted for television by original creators and stars Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi (with the first episode written by the former and directed by the latter), this Staten Island-set version focuses on a new set of vamps and new supernatural problems, and the laughs keep coming. Unsurprisingly, Matt Berry's English bloodsucker Laszlo is a highlight, but this is a great ensemble effort, complete with ace turns from Kayvan Novak as Ottoman Empire-era soldier Nandor the Relentless, Natasia Demetriou as Romani vamp Nadja, Mark Proksch as 'energy vampire' Colin Robinson and Lady Bird's Beanie Feldstein as a live-action role-play fan who falls in with the undead crowd. Also keep an eye out for some absolutely killer high-profile cameos — and for more episodes next year.
The entire first season of What We Do In the Shadows is available to stream on Neon.
THE CASE AGAINST ADNAN SYED
It has been five years since much of the world first heard the name Adnan Syed, delving into his case in the first season of Serial. And just like the hugely popular true crime podcast, Syed's is a tale that just keeps fascinating audiences. Murder and the possible miscarriage of justice will do that, as will the grim circumstances surrounding the death of Baltimore high school student Hae Min Lee in 1999. Enter The Case Against Adnan Syed, the four-part documentary TV series that has been in production since 2015 and promises to answer — and pose — more questions. Yes, it delivers. As well as boasting a compelling subject, the series also has an impressive pedigree, with filmmaker Amy Berg adding another top effort to her resume after Oscar-nominated 2006 doco Deliver Us from Evil, 2012's West of Memphis and 2014's An Open Secret.
The Case Against Adnan Syed is available to stream on TVNZ OnDemand.
Joining the long list of films-turned-TV shows is Hanna — and the long list of spy, assassin and conspiracy -focused series as well. This small-screen adaptation follows the storyline established in the 2011 movie, just with a change of cast (sorry Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett fans). Here, the titular child (Esmé Creed-Miles) has spent her entire life learning survivalist skills under the tutelage of her mercenary father (Joel Kinnaman). Of course, the day comes when she has to put her talents to the test. The original flick plunged viewers into a complex, murky world that it'd be easy to spend more time within, and now this series delivers on that notion.
The entire first season Hanna is available to stream on Amazon Prime.
I THINK YOU SHOULD LEAVE WITH TIM ROBINSON
You don't even need two hours to get through all six episodes of this new sketch comedy show but, once you're done, you'll wish that it went for at least twice as long. Social awkwardness is satirised with absurd precision in I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson, and the results are as offbeat and hilarious as a house completely filled with Garfield items and furniture (trust us). If he seems familiar, Robinson was the star of Detroiters and also spent a couple of seasons on Saturday Night Live. He has plenty of recognisable co-stars on his new show, which he also wrote and produced — talents such as Will Forte, Steven Yeun, Tim Heidecker and Vanessa Bayer. And, like fellow ace new 2019 comedy PEN15, the show boasts some big names off-screen too, with The Lonely Island (aka Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone) its executive producers. It's also another of this year's big debutants that's coming back for a second season.
The entire first season I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson is available to stream on Netflix.
The director and choreographer behind Cabaret and All That Jazz, Bob Fosse's achievements are many, including winning an Oscar, Emmy and Tony all in the same year. A prolific Broadway performer who earned just as much acclaim — and four Tony awards of her own — Gwen Verdon was his collaborator, muse and wife, although theirs was a tumultuous story. That's the showbiz drama unfurled in Fosse/Verdon, which boasts Sam Rockwell as Fosse, Michelle Williams as Verdon, and even Hamilton's Lin-Manuel Miranda as Roy Scheider. Unsurprisingly, the performance-driven eight-episode series is full of razzle, dazzle, interpersonal drama and excellent portrayals. Also unsurprisingly, it'll add plenty of 70s musicals to your watch list afterwards.
The first four episodes of Fosse/Verdon are available to stream on Neon.
Yes, existential comedy is having a moment — and add Miracle Workers to the already great pile that includes The Good Place and Russian Doll. Based on the novel What in God's Name and adapted for TV by the book's author Simon Rich, the series asks a very important question: what if God was a slacker played by Steve Buscemi? The amusing questions keep coming. What if heaven was a huge company charged with making Earth run smoothly? What if two employees were responsible for all of the world's miracles? What if said miracle workers made a bet with God, and he's planning to blow up the planet if they lose? It all makes for ace viewing, complete with a stellar cast, including Daniel Radcliffe and Australian actress Geraldine Viswanathan (Emo the Musical, Blockers) as the duo trying to save humanity by performing one heavenly feat: making a shy couple fall in love.
The entire first season of Miracle Workers is available to stream now on Amazon Prime.
DEAD TO ME
When the trailer for Dead to Me first released, we noted that this blend of drama and comedy gave off A Simple Favour vibes — and we stand by it. The Netflix series isn't as quirky or laugh-out-loud funny as that great flick; however, it similarly nails the complications of female friendship. The incredibly watchable show also delves into the many shades of grief smartly and satisfyingly as well. Story-wise, Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini play new pals who meet at a bereavement support group, bonding over their shared mourning for their respective spouses. But there's more to their tale, with the show adhering to one of the streaming platform's favourite techniques and throwing up cliffhangers at the end of every episode. Given the way that the first season comes to a close, you'll definitely be left waiting for the just-announced second series.
The entire first season of Dead to Me is available to stream on Netflix.
He made his famous Teen Apocalypse Trilogy back in the 90s, courted controversy with the Joseph Gordon-Levitt-starring Mysterious Skin, gave the world a female-fronted stoner comedy with Happy Face and won the first ever Cannes Film Festival Queer Palm with Kaboom. Alas, it's been five years since filmmaker Gregg Araki last made a movie — and while Now Apocalypse is definitely a television show, it's 100 percent driven by the distinctive writer/director. Transferring his talents to the small screen (and his usual themes, standout visual style and love of taking viewers on a head trip), Araki's series is set in Los Angeles, and follows Ulysses (Avan Jogia) and his fellow twenty-something pals. They're are all just trying to chase their dreams, but in Uly's case, that could be a literal quest given that his monstrous nightmares seem to be coming true.
The entire first season of Now Apocalypse is available to stream on Amazon Prime.
ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE
It's a little unfair to say that Always Be My Maybe is worth watching for Keanu Reeves. He's not the film's star, with those honours going to writers and comedians Ali Wong and Randall Park; however, he's an unmissable force of nature not only playing the man who could thwart the movie's central romance, but also playing a heightened, exaggerated, ultra sensual version of himself. Yes, it's as glorious as it sounds. Always Be My Maybe is never as entertainingly chaotic when Reeves isn't around, but it's a charming, topical rom-com from start to finish, albeit one that hits familiar genre beats. A little charisma goes a long way, however, and Wong and Park (and Reeves, obviously) have it in spades in a movie that also marks the film directorial debut of Don't Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23's Nahnatchka Khan.
Always Be My Maybe is available to stream on Netflix.
Looking for more viewing highlights? Check out our list of film and TV streaming recommendations, which is updated monthly.
Published on June 23, 2019 by Sarah Ward