If you were trying to keep up to date with the best TV in 2019, you probably spent quite a lot of time in front of your TV (or phone, or tablet or computer screen).
So even though you’re probably exhausted by now, you were also richly rewarded because it was a great year of content. Super great, even.
These are the best TV shows of the year.
FLEABAG (Amazon Prime Video)
Fleabag’s second season is a masterclass in how to perfectly write and structure a TV show so that not a single line of dialogue or character beat is wasted. The whole season only runs for three hours but it’s three faultless hours, the story of a being a restless, vulnerable and confused adult (who isn’t?).
Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, now with bonus Hot Priest, is so acutely observed and sharp, it’ll feel like someone poked you in the side with a pointy sword – or maybe that’s the stitch you’ve developed from laughing so hard.
But it’s not all frothy hilarity because Fleabag has a dark vein running through its soul, and it cleverly makes us complicit in its world.
This series set in the world of the uber-rich and uber-powerful is an exciting blend of social satire, Shakespearean tragedy and razor-sharp comedy, and the balance between those elements is as sharp as a neurosurgeon’s scalpel.
Centred on the Roys, a media conglomerate family, it’s a story about a tricky family with as much ambition and resentment as money, as four adult children angle for position with their notoriously cold father who enjoys nothing more than to manipulate his kids for sport.
While the show started as a drama in which you watch rich people emotionally torture each other (how fun!), it’s become a series with incredible weight and insight into all the ways in which the world we live in has always been built for them.
RUSSIAN DOLL (Netflix)
One of the best shows of the year was also one of the earliest, marking the start of 2019 with such promise in the televisual arts. Natasha Lyonne stars in the series she co-wrote and co-created as an acerbic and challenging woman who finds herself reliving the same party that always ends with her death.
What started off as a Groundhog Day-esque premise, this thought-provoking show soon morphs into a treatise on emotional scars, loneliness and human connections. It’s exactly the kind of twisty and ambitious work we should be paying attention to.
Far more ambitious and stranger than your average superhero shows, Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen is a sequel to the acclaimed comic books of the same name from the 1980s. It’s bold, complex and tackles difficult issues such as racism with no apologies.
With Regina King in the key role of Angela Abar/Sister Night, Watchmen takes big swings and it does not miss. Set in an alternative history of our world, it grapples with a society in which cops wear masks to protect themselves from white supremacists.
But it goes much deeper than that and features several outstanding episodes that veer from the main narrative as it explores the personal and collective trauma of our pasts and the function of memory and pain. It’s also, quite beautifully, ultimately a love story.
It took two years for Mindhunter – a deliberately paced and slow burn series about FBI profilers in the late 1970s, early 1980s – to return to our screens, but we’re so glad it did. This richly textured drama is the perfect balance of character work and narrative momentum.
Mindhunter is properly chilling storytelling and not just because Agents Tench and Ford go around interviewing serial killers in order to find out what drives them to murder. This season coalesces around the Atlanta Child Murders, a crime that’s about more than just the kids who go missing but rather how everyone failed an entire community.
The final season of this British comedy created by Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney ended on an overwhelmingly poignant and romantic note. Despite its caustic DNA, and a convincing argument that the flawed couple at the centre of this raucously funny series might be better off apart, in the end, it mounted the fight for love.
Over its four seasons, it slowly shifted from a comedy largely reliant on farce and jokes to something more complex and ruminative – about our imperfections, about family and about what we owe each other and ourselves.
GET KRACK!N (ABC)
Who needs the dramas of the ratings war between Sunrise and Today when we could be watching Get Krack! n instead, Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan’s riotously funny satire of the tired and ludicrously pandering formulas of commercial breakfast TV.
And as if every week isn’t genius enough, this season topped off with a stunning half-hour of TV as Miranda Tapsell and Nakkiah Lui took over the couch with a searing take on Australia’s complicity in the continued disadvantage experienced by Indigenous communities.
GOOD OMENS (Amazon Prime Video)
There’s nothing more English than the apocalypse being scheduled for teatime, and Good Omens is a larger-than-life battle between good and evil wrapped in a quaint, droll and extremely British package.
Adapted by Neil Gaiman from the cult book by him and the late Terry Pratchett, this six-part series starring David Tennant as a demon and Michael Sheen as an angel is wickedly good. The battle for the soul of the antichrist unites two unlikely allies, and it’s that delicious chemistry between Sheen and Tennant that makes Good Omens such intoxicating viewing.
Based on a Pulitzer-winning feature article about a young woman’s claims of rape and the community that didn’t believe her, this Netflix miniseries is compelling and uneasy.
Powered by stellar performances from Kaitlyn Dever as the victim and Merritt Wever and Toni Collette as two cops who catch similar cases in other states, Unbelievable is a formidable, faithful dramatisation of an unbelievable story.
THE GOOD FIGHT (SBS)
The Good Fight has always been a great show, but in its third season it really focused its vibe, casting off some superfluous (and uninteresting) subplots. Now, no other series feels as “of this moment” as The Good Fight, capturing the absurdities and frustrations of 2019 culture and politics.
Ostensibly a legal drama, it deftly uses its framework to explore storylines and questions that strike at the heart of Western democracies, especially the US, and the future we’re building for ourselves, and it does so with smarts and a sense of humour – even when what’s presented is deeply disturbing.
THE HUNTING (SBS)
When two schools and four families become embroiled in a teen sexting scandal, it reveals much more about the pervasive sexism that becomes ingrained from an early age than some kind of shortcoming on the part of the girls in the photos.
This well-crafted four-part Australian drama looks at this cultural practice with more intelligence and thoughtfulness than you’d expect, and while it’s infuriating to watch (you can feel the heat of your anger on the back of your neck), you can’t tear yourself away.
WHEN THEY SEE US (Netflix)
When They See Us is not an easy series to watch. In fact, it may be some of the most uncomfortable viewing you’ll experience all year – the five-part miniseries tells a story of injustice so great, you’ll struggle to believe it happened.
But it did happen. One night in 1989, a group of teen boys from minority backgrounds are rounded up for acting up in the park and somehow become the suspects in the rape and assault of a jogger.
Even if you’re familiar with the details of the real-life Central Park Five, Ava Duvernay’s Netflix series takes it all in from that night through to their trials, incarceration and eventual vindication as their wrongful convictions are overturned, and it does so with necessary rage.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS: The Mandalorian (Disney+), Total Control (ABC), Lambs of God (Foxtel), Ramy (Stan), Pen15 (Stan), The Letdown (ABC), Utopia (ABC), Shrill (SBS), What We Do in the Shadows (Foxtel), Have You Been Paying Attention? (Ten), Chernobyl (Foxtel), The Boys (Amazon Prime Video), The Cry (ABC), Leaving Neverland (Ten), Euphoria (Foxtel), Veep (Foxtel), Sex Education (Netflix), Barry (Foxtel), and Years and Years (SBS).
What were your favourite TV shows this year? Let us know in the comments below.