The Best New Shows of 2019, So Far
With so many excellent series ending in 2019, it’s time to start looking toward new beginnings. “Broad City,” “You’re the Worst,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “Easy,” and “Veep” have all ended already, but there are a slew of exciting series looking to fill the void in your viewing schedule.
Luckily, many of the best are advancing the medium, as well. Some toy with genre and format. Others push the boundaries of what kind of stories can be told and who gets to tell them.
But the best new TV shows of 2019 all get off on the right foot by refusing to repeat what came before. Now is a time to look forward, not back, so binge accordingly.
Below is IndieWire’s mid-year ranking of the best new shows so far. To winnow the field, only scripted offerings were considered, and the cut-off date to premiere was the same as the Emmy eligibility end point: May 31.
There are bound to be more brilliant series to come in 2019, but this should keep viewers satiated until they arrive. Enjoy, debate, but most of all, don’t look back — unless you haven’t caught up on “Veep.”
Renée Zellweger in “What / If”
Mike Kelley’s juicy nighttime soap excels as a twisty thriller, but elevates itself above similar delicious trash by recognizing the best means to tell its story. Rather than spend five seasons exhausting every possibility within Anne Montgomery — Renée Zellweger’s wealthy industrialist who hatches a devious gambit in the vein of “An Indecent Proposal” — the Netflix anthology wraps up her story in one immensely satisfying season. It’s a philosophical look at the cost of investing in relationships as much as it’s an attentive homage to ’90s noir, but it’s always, always, always a good time. Finding a way to have it all, while not doing too much, is an art form worth admiring, and “What/If” deserves its adoration. — BT
9. “I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson”
“I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson”
Another example of self-awareness paying off for the viewer at home, “I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson” tells its episodes in 15-17 minute chunks. Each is built on sketches of varying lengths, rhythms, and characters, while all are united by Robinson’s brash, observant, and extreme humor. One minute he’s dissecting airplane etiquette through Will Forte’s diabolical seatmate, the next he’s prying open a door that says push — but he’s already started pulling! What makes each work beyond the all-out performances and all-in dedication to each bit is the timing: “I Think You Should Leave” doesn’t overstay its welcome, be it with episode runtime or structuring. Robinson’s sense of humor is so freaking weird that if it piled on too much, too fast, it could blend together and lose its impact. Moreover, Robinson (who plays a character in almost every sketch) divvies up his roles so as not to overlap or repeat himself. He keeps viewers on the edge of their seats, and that’s a great place for comedy. — BT
Michelle Williams. I mean, there is plenty more to say about FX’s accomplished limited series chronicling five decades in the romantic and professional relationship between Bob Fosse (played by Sam Rockwell) and Gwen Verdon (played by the aforementioned Williams), but… Michelle Williams. The “Brokeback Mountain” and “Blue Valentine” star is so good she demands the same spotlight her character so often received, as her exploration of Broadway’s greatest dancer reaches physical and emotional levels hard to imagine, let alone reach. The price of art through challenging collaboration, fame through the lens of love, and plenty more themes are expressed beautifully in Thomas Kail, Steven Levenson, Joel Fields, and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s piece — but you had me at Michelle Williams. — BT
Anna Konkle and Maya Erskine in “PEN15”
Comedy duo Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle teamed up with Sam Zvibleman to create this made-for-adults comedy that’s about the ungainly experience of a 13-year-old who’s just entered middle school. Starring Erskine and Konkle, both women in their 30s, playing fictionalized versions of their 13-year-old selves while surrounded by actual teenage actors takes a bit of adjustment for the viewer, especially when these women awkwardly flirt with the kids. But soon this innovative casting pays off as awakening sexuality, family strife, and other very real issues rear their heads. Scenes that would not be appropriate for a teenage actor to perform, or even easy for a viewer to stomach in a child actor, is suddenly eased knowing the actresses are adults. The distance provides safety to explore these issues in depth and honesty that hindsight brings. Although Maya and Anna never disappear completely into their teenage personas, they have an uncanny ability to recall the dreary minutiae and mortification of those tender years and channel the gawkiness in a convincing way. At heart, “PEN15” remains a raucous, ballsy comedy in the vein of “Broad City” that is insightful in its brashness and yet celebrates every excruciating moment of how family and society has shaped us. Don’t be fooled by the braces and frequent exclamations of “oh my god, oh my god”; this is mature, well-considered storytelling. — HN
A confidant debut from an exciting young voice, “Ramy” examines the culture clash between two generations of Muslims. The eponymous Ramy (played by creator, producer, and writer Ramy Youssef) represents the youth of today: He has faith and often practices in accordance with expectations. But there are certain aspects of his religion and its customs that nag at him, especially when it comes to who he’s expected to date. Funny, honest, and aware enough to involve as many perspectives as possible, “Ramy” features impeccable episodic structuring that builds to an impactful overall season. For the devout or secular, Hulu’s original offers a compelling cast of characters trying to sort out their own beliefs, one way or the other. — BT
5. “The Other Two”
“The Other Two”
Former “Saturday Night Live” scribes Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider created this satire in which adult siblings Cary (Drew Tarver) and Brooke (Helene Yorke) are struggling in their showbiz careers and general adulting when their 13-year-old brother Chase Dreams (Case Walker) becomes a viral sensation overnight with his song, “Marry U at Recess.” It only gets more ridiculous from there with sharp writing that has an ear for pop-culture patois, a love-hate relationship with social currency, and just enough heart to feel worthwhile. Tarver brings a game earnestness to Cary’s attempts to draft off of his brother’s fame to finally get his big acting break, while Yorke’s physical comedy skills are top-notch as Brooke’s daffiness makes way for newfound maturity. Molly Shannon, Ken Marino, and Wanda Sykes lend their comedic chops to this zany affair that is stronger than an first season of a comedy deserves to be. “The Other Two” speaks to those who are left behind the Millennial and Gen-Z can-do zeitgeist, which to be honest, is many of us. It’s pure joy wrapped in a zippy bomber jacket that contains richer, more profound insights within. — HN
Aidy Bryant in “Shrill”
Allyson Riggs / Hulu
Efficient, funny, and eye-opening, “Shrill” starts the story of a young professional finding her voice, confidence, and sense of self. Played exquisitely by Aidy Bryant — and based on the memoir by Lindy West — Annie is a writer whose last disastrous day turns into a personal rallying cry to change things up. She takes command at work, demanding challenging assignments she can invest in; Annie kicks her self-centered boyfriend to the curb, realizing how often he takes her for granted; finally, she starts to better understand who she is, what she wants, and how she’s going to get there, be it through confronting trolls or taking risks. “Shrill” doesn’t let Annie off the hook, either, as her forward momentum can lead to getting a bit caught up in herself, but the speed with which Season 1 incorporates Annie’s journey with plenty of compelling characters around her is impressive, addictive, and demands more. Bring on Season 2.
One of the best things about this TV show is how great it is at being a TV show. Even with the overarching historical framework of an infamous nuclear disaster, each of the series’ five installments works on its own as a thematic chapter in what unfolded thereafter. Ideas of sacrifice, expertise, obligation, and the danger of the unseen all swirl together to create a portrait of a people in crisis. Like many of the best stories set in the past, it provides a nuanced understanding of the timeline in question, but can still reach through and show the all-encompassing effect that it had on the people involved. With a trio of rich performances at its center — Jared Harris, Emily Watson, and Stellan Skarsgard are all incredible — “Chernobyl” is built on all the complex impulses and shortcomings of the human spirit that transcend time and political boundaries. — SG
2. “Russian Doll”
Natasha Lyonne and Oatmeal, “Russian Doll”
Courtesy of Netflix
In today’s day and age, it takes plenty of work to make a show that feels believably unpredictable. That “Russian Doll” fashions a main character who is often just as uncertain and flummoxed by her own predicament as those watching is what helps make this Netflix series feel like such an exciting arrival. A comedy built on the relative power of self-reflection and defying one’s own expectations, the constant recycling of one day in the life of Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) never overdoes its special brand of philosophical musings. Instead, it shows the value of finding strength in others when the world crumbles again and again. (Plus, it has one of the year’s best soundtracks to boot.) — SG
1. “Tuca & Bertie”
“Tuca and Bertie”
There are a number of adult-aimed comedies that are animation in medium only. Watching “Tuca & Bertie” feels like getting a lesson in what the form should be, complete with on-screen lists and fantastical diversions, each underlining how the two title characters relate to their world as well as each other. Tuca and Bertie are bird-people, but the emphasis isn’t on trying to fuse two worlds, it’s about creating a third one entirely its own. Tiffany Haddish and Ali Wong are incredibly expressive co-stars, headlining a voice ensemble (which also includes the incomparable Steven Yeun and Richard E. Grant) that leaves no emotion unexplored and revels in life’s tiny absurdities, hand-drawn or otherwise. — SG
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