The Ten Best New TV Shows of 2019
From melancholy animation and offbeat sketch comedies to a grim drama based on a real-life tragedy — and they're all available to stream.
When every new year starts, we all have our favourite ongoing shows. They're the series that have already earned both a place in our hearts and a permanent spot on our viewing schedules — and, each time they come back with new episodes, we eagerly look forward to spending time with again. In 2019, think Game of Thrones, The Handmaid's Tale and Big Little Lies, plus Stranger Things, Mindhunter, Wellington Paranormal and Rick and Morty too. They're the known quantities and the established heavy hitters; however each and every year also serves up a whole heap of new programs to enjoy as well.
This year's slate of newcomers didn't disappoint, whether you're a fan of absurdist comedies, quirky Australian dramas or US spin-offs of existing favourites. Grim recreations of real-life events, thought-provoking police procedurals and mind-bending animation also made an appearance. They're the new favourites — the shows that, now you know that they exist, you'll either be awaiting new episodes (if they're ongoing) or revisiting again (if they're a one-off affair).
With 2019 coming to a close, here's our rundown of the new TV series that top the pile for the year. An added bonus: they're all available to stream.
It's co-created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg, tells its tale through vivid animation, grapples with mental illness and saddles its protagonist with an existential crisis; however, Undone is worlds away from BoJack Horseman. That's not a criticism of the talking horse comedy, but a reflection of how firmly Bob-Waksberg and Kate Purdy's series charts it own path and makes its own imprint. Rendered using exceptionally fluid and expressive rotoscoped animation that often flows into surreal territory, and anchored by impressive voice work by Rosa Salazar (Alita: Battle Angel) and Bob Odenkirk, the series spends its time with the struggling Alma — who, after a near-fatal car accident, starts experiencing time and her memories differently. Inventive, smart, funny, tender, gorgeous to look at and always devastatingly astute, it's a worthy addition to the growing canon of great shows pondering the meaning of life of late, such as The Good Place, Russian Doll, Forever and Maniac.
The first season of Undone is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
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 Foxtel.
Content warning: sexual assault
Based on real-life crimes, and instantly becoming one of the most talked-about shows of the year, Unbelievable steps inside a series of rape cases between 2008–11. When Washington teenager Marie Adler (Booksmart's Kaitlyn Dever) reports her sexual assault to the police, authority figures begin to question her story almost from the outset — not just law enforcement, but two of her ex-foster mothers. She's forced to sign a statement saying that she made a false report; however, over in Colorado, detectives Karen Duvall (Merritt Wever) and Grace Rasmussen (Toni Collette) are on the trail of similar attacks. More than just the latest true-crime tale to hit the screen, the series explores the mistrust experienced by female victims of violent crimes, serving up a powerful account of weathering, surviving and investigating multiple horrors. It also features exceptional performances from its three leads, with Dever in heartbreaking form as a girl shattered by her ordeal, Wever in empathetic and thoughtful mode, and Collette proving a force to be reckoned with.
All eight episodes of Unbelievable are available to stream on Netflix.
I THINK YOU SHOULD LEAVE WITH TIM ROBINSON
You don't even need two hours to get through all six episodes of this 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 series 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 OTHER TWO
You're in your 20s, trying to make it in New York and struggling to chase your dreams. The only thing that's making you feel better is the knowledge that your sibling is doing the exact same thing. Then your kid brother comes up with a throwaway pop hit, adopts the stage name ChaseDreams and becomes a YouTube sensation — and the world's next Justin Bieber. That's the premise of sitcom The Other Two, which follows struggling actor Cary (Drew Tarver) and his ex-dancer sister Brooke (Helene York) as they come to terms with their new situation. Also starring Molly Shannon, Ken Marino and Wanda Sykes, the show's ten-episode first season is constantly hilarious and acerbically perceptive, especially when it comes to today's celebrity-obsessed, influencer-heavy society. An instant classic, thankfully it's due to come back for a second season.
Netflix and smart existential laughs continued to go hand-in-hand with Russian Doll, with the streaming platform once again tasking one its protagonists with wondering what this whole life business is all about. Here, however, New Yorker Nadia (Natasha Lyonne, Orange Is the New Black) is forced to relive her 36th birthday shindig over and over again. And while 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 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, uproariously humorous 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.
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 Foxtel.
ON BECOMING A GOD IN CENTRAL FLORIDA
The American Dream — aka the idea that any US citizen can achieve all the success they've ever hoped for if they just toil hard enough — gets a very darkly funny spin in On Becoming a God in Central Florida. Anchored by a fantastic Kirsten Dunst, the show focuses on Krystal Stubbs, who works at a water park, earns minimum wage and has a baby that she often takes to her job. She's also immersed in a cult-like pyramid scheme. Founders American Merchandise sells household products, pushes its sales people beyond their limits and wraps up its mania in patriotism, with Krystal becoming involved through her husband Travis (Alexander Skarsgård). He's as devoted to the multi-level marketing cause as anyone can get, so the series charts the Stubbs' path after their fortunes take a turn. Set in the early 90s and sporting pitch-perfect costuming and production design, the show was originally planned as a TV project for The Lobster and The Favourite director Yorgos Lanthimos — and while the Greek filmmaker is no longer involved, it's easy to see how this savvy satirical comedy would fit into his wheelhouse.
The first five episodes of On Becoming a God in Central Florida are available to stream on SBS On Demand. Episodes will drop weekly on Thursdays afterwards.
LAMBS OF GOD
On a remote island that's difficult to access, in a dilapidated convent that time seems to have forgotten, three women (Essie Davis, Ann Dowd and Jessica Barden) remain true to their faith by adhering to their routines and rituals. Then, an uncaring priest (Sam Reid) arrives with a message: their home is due to be sold off by the Catholic Church, for profit, and turned into a luxury hotel for the wealthy. More than just a fight against gentrification and corruption, the plight of Lambs of God's three nuns spans mysteries, murder, divine beliefs and otherworldly deeds, all based on the novel of the same name by Australian author Marele Day. Directed by Ali's Wedding's Jeffrey Walker and lensed by acclaimed Australian cinematographer Don McAlpine, the four-part mini-series proves a lush and twisty gothic drama — aka the best kind — that takes aim at both gender and class inequality.
All four episodes of Lambs of God is available to stream on Foxtel Now.
YEARS AND YEARS
If Black Mirror weaved its dystopian visions of the future into an ongoing narrative, rather than doled out its horror stories in standalone instalments, it might look like Years and Years. Focusing on the Lyons family — which spans Muriel (Anne Reid), her grandchildren Edith (Jessica Hynes), Stephen (Rory Kinnear), Daniel (Russell Tovey) and Rosie (Ruth Madeley), plus their partners and children — the six-part British drama ponders their lives from 2019 onwards. So, all of the usual events happen, such as births, deaths and marriages. Here, they're all filtered through the possible political and technological landscape that could await us all, with wars, embeddable technology, climate change, the gig economy and nationalist politics (with Emma Thompson playing an increasingly popular Pauline Hanson-style politician) all part of the story. Created by Russell T. Davies (Queer as Folk and Doctor Who), Years and Years isn't just a must-watch portrait of what may come, but a smartly written, engagingly performed and absolutely fascinating series that's purposefully designed to intrigue, and to stress viewers out about the current and future state of the world.
All six episodes of Years and Years are available to stream on SBS On Demand.
Looking for more viewing highlights? Check out our list of film and TV streaming recommendations, which is updated monthly.
Published on December 14, 2019 by Sarah Ward