Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

What to watch in 2019

Baskets (Photo: FX) ; Claws (Photo: TNT); Shrill (Photo: Hulu)

We know there are Stranger Things on the horizon, but that trip to Hawkins, Indiana will be over before you know it—and there will still be so much holiday weekend left. If you’d rather not be far from home, and prefer your couch and a dimly lit room to a backyard and fireworks, The A.V. Club has even more TV streaming recommendations for you. Here again are many of our top picks from 2019, including the stellar new comedies that kicked off the year, thoughtful documentaries you might have missed, the return of a Florida noir, and the adventures of a superhero gone too soon.


The Other Two

Everything’s going so well for The Other Two. The new Comedy Central series, a smart pairing with the outgoing Broad City, is so smart and so funny about celebrity, success, family, pop culture, relationships, and the various kingdoms of Andy Cohen’s reality-show empire. [Erik Adams]

grade: a
Debuted: january 24 on comedy central

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Russian Doll

A never-ending party full of attractive people, drugs, and fresh oven-roasted chicken would be hell for some, heaven for others. For Nadia (Natasha Lyonne), the cynical game developer at the center of Russian Doll, it’s a (repeated) wake-up call. [Danette Chavez]

Grade: A
DEBUTED: February 1 on NETFLIX

A Discovery Of Witches

A woman sits alone in the Bodleian Library, poring over multiple ancient texts and summoning up even rarer books, including a highly coveted one that’s not been seen for hundreds of years. This young professor is given virtually free rein of one of the world’s oldest research libraries, where she works without interruption, save for a not-so-chance meeting with a very handsome and elegant man, who seems every bit the bibliophile as she.
This encounter is the bookworm’s ideal meet-cute (with the possible exception of talking in the reading room), and sets the tone for the library and wainscoting porn that is A Discovery Of Witches, the Sky One series adapted from Deborah Harkness’ bestselling novel of the same title. [Danette Chavez]

Grade: B
Debuted: january 17 on sundancenow and shudder

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gen:LOCK

Julian Chase (Michael B. Jordan) and Miranda Worth (Dakota Fanning) are members of Vanguard, the military arm of Polity, an ostensibly egalitarian government engaged in a shadow war with a mysterious seditionist faction called the Union in the year 2068. Chase is one of the force’s ace fighter jet pilots, while Miranda is the operator of one of Vanguard’s bipedal artillery tanks, which means, no time for home leave. Instead, the two opt to holographically project themselves to his mother’s house for some much overdue “face to face” time. It’s just as good as the real thing, isn’t it? [Toussaint Egan]

GRADE: B
Debuted: January 26 on ROOSTER TEETH

I Am The Night

The 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short—forever enshrined in the annals of true-crime history as the Black Dahlia—is only tangential to the story of TNT’s new period thriller I Am The Night. But the limited series’ tabloid bona fides are still strong: It’s based on One Day She’ll Darken: The Mysterious Beginnings Of Fauna Hodel, Hodel’s 2008 memoir about her journey to find her birth parents in ’60s Los Angeles, and the shocking revelations she found there. [Katie Rife]

Grade: B
Debuted: January 28 on TNT

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Pen15

Adolescence has been handled with both humor and pathos on TV, in series like Freaks And Geeks, My So-Called Life, and The Wonder Years. More recent additions like Big Mouth and Sex Education are part of a new class, one that really grasps just how marvelous and grotesque our changing bodies are (or once were). And then there’s Hulu’s Pen15, which takes the even more novel approach of sending actors and series co-creators Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle back to school so they can relive the humiliation, first loves, and cargo skirts of their 2000s adolescence. [Danette Chavez]

GRADE: B
Debuted: February 8 on hulu

One Day At A Time

While revitalizing a seemingly bygone period of TV, that of the multi-cam-with-a-moral storytelling honed by co-executive producer Norman Lear, One Day At A Time has also bucked modern convention by crafting standalone stories that are as rewarding and enjoyable as season-long arcs. You can and should watch the show from the beginning, but every episode offers an entry point. [Danette Chavez]

Grade: A-
premiered: february 8 on netflix

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Doom Patrol

...[T]he abrupt toggling between postmodern snark, stiffly earnest emotional arcs, and ridiculous plot twists are what make the series stand out in an increasingly crowded TV landscape for the genre. Anyone can have people with super-strength pummeling one another. How many shows have the villain’s grand plan involve a farting donkey that can consume a small town? Such lowbrow silliness masks some fairly smart storytelling from showrunner Jeremy Carver, a Supernatural veteran whose years on the CW series presumably helped him conquer this blend of over-the-top conceits and very human heroism. [Alex McLevy]

GRADE: B
debuted: february 15 on dc universe

Lorena

Lorena embraces the many complex layers of the Bobbitt case, skillfully highlighting both the larger cultural implications of the story and the intimate personal pain at its center. Lorena is presented in the overdone prestige true-crime style parodied so deftly in American Vandal, and despite its strong anti-tabloid stance, it doesn’t completely eschew sensationalism. (Yes, we do see crime scene photos.) Still, it’s the best docuseries of its kind since ESPN’s O.J.: Made In America. [Katie Rife]

GRADE: A
DEBUTED: FEBRUARY 15 ON AMAZON PRIME video

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Leaving Neverland

[Director Dan] Reed’s ensured this is a harrowing watch, the soaring orchestral score from Chad Hobson providing a jarring counterpoint to [Wade] Robson and [James] Safechuck’s graphic accounts of the abuse they say they suffered from [Michael] Jackson over several years. If any production ever necessitated built-in breaks, it’s this one. [Danette Chavez]

GRADE: B
debuted: march 3 on hbo

The Case Against Adnan Syed

The four-part HBO documentary The Case Against Adnan Syed aims to pick up where Serial left off, but struggles mightily in its first two hours—three were sent to reviewers in advance—to decide what it wants to be. Instead of introducing newbies to the details of the case, it spends a good chunk of time introducing the victim, giving voice to Hae Min Lee both with words from her journal and with stylish animation. It seems like a direct response to one (of many) Serial criticisms, and really a criticism of the true-crime genre: They tend to give short shrift to murder victims, to the point of treating them more like objects than humans. [Josh Modell]

GRADE: B
DEBUTED: march 10 on hbo

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Shrill

Short, sweet, and full of potential, Hulu’s Shrill does more than fill the dating comedy void left by The Mindy Project on the platform. The series, loosely based on Lindy West’s Shrill: Notes From A Loud Woman, combines heartfelt commentary on beauty myths with workplace drama and millennial misadventures, while also offering a great spotlight for Aidy Bryant, who stars as one of TV’s few plus-size leads. [Danette Chavez]

GRADE: B
DEBUTED: MARCH 15 ON HULU

The Act

As always with true crime—a genre where we always know, or at the very least can find out, how the story ends—the gratification of The Act is in the telling. And the show, spread out over 10 leisurely hours that greatly expand on Lifetime’s condensed treatment of the story in the recent TV movie Love You To Death, only gets more compelling with every new reveal. [Katie Rife]

GRADE: b
debuted: march 20 on hulu

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The OA

If you were one of the many people who watched season one of The OA on Netflix, you probably recall your thoughts upon finishing the last episode. If you felt satisfied and entertained by the daffily earnest sci-fi story, then you’re in luck, because the new season is just as wide-eyed and fey as ever. But if you felt annoyed and put off by all the metaphysical hokum and New Age mysticism, you should consider this your official warning: In coming back for its second outing, the series is doubling down on everything strange and silly, and leaving any lingering questions of narrative skepticism far, far behind. In other words: Abandon all logic, ye who enter here. [Alex McLevy]

GRADE: b
PREMIERED: MARCH 22 ON NETFLIx

Happy!

[W]hile the storylines may not be as compelling as they were in season one, Happy!’s core DNA is still intact and should be enough to get you by until the second big reason to keep tuning in: episode three. [Andrea Reiher]

GRADE: b
premiered: MARCH 27 ON SYFY

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Santa Clarita Diet

What season three adds that makes the show feel a little deeper than in the first two seasons are some big-picture questions. Thanks to the writing and [Drew] Barrymore and [Timothy] Olyphant’s performances, Sheila and Joel’s marriage has always been of the best on TV; the real-life problems they faced were given a fresh, comedic twist by this supernatural premise. But in season three, they face what might be their first real test when they realize that Sheila is going to live forever and Joel is not. [Andrea Reiher]

GRADE: b+
PREMIERED: march 29 on netflix

The Twilight Zone (2019)

For its latest foray into the “dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity,” CBS has enlisted comedian-turned-director-and-Oscar-winning-screenwriter Jordan Peele as a guide. And talk about putting your best foot forward—if anyone can navigate “the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge,” it’s Peele, who’s indelibly established himself as a brilliant filmmaker and astute observer of the human condition. [Danette Chavez]

GRADE: B+
debuted: april 1 on cbs all access

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Native Son

For his feature film debut, conceptual artist-turned-director Rashid Johnson thrusts [Richard] Wright’s narrative into the modern day, bringing with it all of society’s failings surrounding race, class, and privilege. [Aramide Tinubu]

GRADE: B
DEBUTED: april 6 on hbo

The Tick

Over a year later, that second season has arrived, and it more than lives up to its promise—this is the show we were hoping The Tick could be all along. [John Hugar]

grade: a-
pREMIERED: april 5 on amazon prime video

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The Chi

The Chi has always made a point of showing us how South Side Chicagoans do more than survive—they live, love, aspire, fight, and thrive, despite the odds. Season two remains committed to showing us how all of the neighbors make their way in that world, but continues to hinder that progress with by not allowing for enough room to breathe between shifts in narrative. [Danette Chavez]

GRADE: B
pREMIERed: april 7 on showtime

Reconstruction: America After The Civil War

Reconstruction also feels repetitive at time, which perhaps is the point. Rebuilding the country after the Civil War was a daunting task, and the series drives that home time and again by highlighting racist legislation and mass murder, issues that continue to arise. [Aramide Tinubu]

GRADE: B+
DEBUTED: april 9 on pbs

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Dark Side Of The Ring

From a cinematic standpoint, Dark Side Of The Ring unfolds like nearly any Investigation Discovery mystery, with shadowy reenactments accompanying the talking heads prodding the narrative. It lacks dynamism in that way, though you can’t deny the power of its archival footage, much of which offers glimpses into past iterations of the industry that only barely resemble WWE’s polished product. [Randall Colburn]

GRADE: B+
DEBUTED: APRIL 10 ON VICELAND

Ramy

Ramy explores familiar territory about hookup culture, career woes, and general aimlessness (Ramy lives at home with his parents and sister, and works at a tech startup that doesn’t seem to actually do anything), yet the show finds freshness in exploring those ideas within a religious context. Ramy is frequently very funny, with a particular deftness with dark humor, but it has a weighty question at its heart: How do you live a devoutly religious life in the 21st century, particularly as a young, single, politically progressive person? [Caroline Siede]

Grade: a-
debuted: april 19 on hulu

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She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power

But while parts of the original framework remained in place, She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power proved itself the rare reboot that’s powered more by innovation than nostalgia. Noelle Stevenson has updated She-Ra’s look and themes with the help of a women-led writers room, varied character design, and a vivacious voice cast. [Danette Chavez]

GRADE: B
PREMIERED: APRIL 26 ON NETFLIX

Tuca & Bertie

Created by Lisa Hanawalt, who’s behind the striking, whimsical design of BoJack Horseman, Tuca & Bertie is raucous, heartfelt, surreal, and distinctly female. [Danette Chavez]

GRADE: A-
debuted: may 3 on netfliX

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Guardians Of The Galaxy (TV series)

The stylistic flourishes can sometimes be anachronistic—pretty sure there weren’t many 8-bit arcade games back in the day that allowed you to take a snapshot of a character to share later, as Quill does when Gamora is forced to don a frilly pink dress—but such quibbles are almost beside the point. The affection these episodes show for the animation techniques they reference is obvious and infectious. By the end, you’re ready to see what they can tackle next. Anime Groot, perhaps? [Alex McLevy]

GRADE: B+
premiered: may 5 on disney xd

What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali

In What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali, director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) chooses to let Ali tell his own story through interviews, fight footage, and home movies from throughout the champ’s life. There’s no voice-over, no talking heads, and no new interview footage whatsoever, which frees this 165-minute film—delivered by HBO, for no clear reason, in two parts that will air back to back—to let Ali and his history speak for themselves. [Josh Modell]

GRADE: B+
DEBUTED: may 14 on hbo

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Vida

Identity remains one of the show’s most significant themes: how it’s defined and claimed, only to be redefined and/or reclaimed. Vida views its characters through multiple lenses—Mexican, Mexican-American, Latinx, Chicanx, gentrifier, displaced person, lesbian, pansexual, heterosexual, nonbinary, and more. It then questions the creation of those constructs, all while taking its two leads through their grieving processes and attempts at reconnection. That’s a lot for any show, especially a half-hour comedy-drama hybrid, to tackle, but Vida and its all-Latinx writers room make it look easy. Although the show occasionally gets tripped up in its world-building, the story it’s telling remains one of the most vital, heartwarming, and fraught on TV. [Danette Chavez]

Grade: A-
premiered: may 26 on starz

Good Omens

Good Omens soars when it focuses on the buddy comedy between Aziraphale [Michael Sheen] and Crowley [David Tennant], who are tasked with keeping mortals on the straight and narrow and luring them away from it, respectively, neglect their duties, either by aiding the first couple cast out from Eden, or by partaking of the many wonderful things humans have created. [Danette Chavez]

grade: b
debuted: may 31 on amazon prime video

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3%

This show has always gotten mileage out of exploring the ethical compromises its young protagonists make in the name of progress (whether for themselves or others is another question), and by turning over the running of an entire compound to the same people who were used to being the outgunned underdogs, 3% finds new life in the drama of collective self-management. [Alex McLevy]

grade: b
premiered: june 7 on netflix

Claws

Claws continues to deliver an experience that is suspenseful, unorthodox, and relentlessly fun while testing its own boundaries. It’s hard to guess where this season will take us—playing it safe has never been part of the formula. But what we can glean so far is that this casino will serve as the setting for some significant changes for our manicurist mafia, and neither Desna’s reign nor the security of their friendship will come easily. [Shannon Miller]

grade: b
premiered: june 9 on tnt

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Big Little Lies

But though its focus is more scattered this time around, Big Little Lies recaptures much of the magic of the first season, especially in the performances. [Danette Chavez]

grade: b+
Premiered: june 9 on hbo

Pose

On Pose, the celebration of life continues, as do its earnest attempts to teach its audience about LGBTQ+ history. But in its second season, the series has a better handle weaving its lesson plan into the spectacle. One of the most stunning sequences in these new episodes tears a page straight from LGBTQ+ activist history, but the show sacrifices none of its style in communicating its message. Once more, the midseason point represents an artistic high for the series, but it also gives the sense that things are just getting started. [Danette Chavez]

grade: a-
premiered: june 11 on fx

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Baskets

Comedically, Baskets has basically remained the same, minus some of its more abrasive shades exhibited early on. It’s still mostly a tender mixture of throwaway deadpan jokes, rooted in offbeat character tics, and broad slapstick humor, frequently involving pratfalls or costumes. Zach Galifianakis and Jonathan Krisel have a knack for localizing airtight sources of comedy in the strangest places, like a sight gag of rollerblading through a 24-hour pharmacy, or a feud between two cats named Susan and Ronald Reagan, or just the most delectably weird product placement. [Vikram Murthi]

grade: b+
premiered: june 13 on fx

16 Shots

Thoughtful yet stylish, 16 Shots maintains a firm grasp of these narratives while introducing a few more over the course of its runtime, including the parsing over labels for the slain teen: “victim” or “offender,” a teen with a great sense of humor or “no angel.” Yet the documentary by Rick Rowley, the Dirty Wars helmer and Frontline veteran, never feels overstuffed, nor does it seem to be glossing over the inequitable systems that led to not just Laquan McDonald’s murder but also the ensuing coverup. [Danette Chavez]

grade: b+
debuted: june 14 on showtime

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Ramy Youssef: Feelings

Although Ramy Youssef has the only microphone, there’s a conversational element to Feelings. He remains in the center of the venue (whose architecture recalls that of a mosque), open to admiration and criticism—a sense of vulnerability runs throughout. His observations about the fraught world around him are accompanied by confessions about how he’s internalized some of that prejudice, leading to a jaw-dropping denouement that’s bound to dominate Monday’s watercooler chats. Feelings is quite complementary to Ramy’s exploration of identity and dating, but it’s also its own vital discussion. [Danette Chavez]

grade: B+
debuted: june 29 on hbo

The Loudest Voice

...Like Tom McCarthy’s Oscar-winning Spotlight, the series soon excels by leaning into the behind-the-scenes workaday grind of Fox News, using the petty squabbles and political clashes (with the Obama administration, with other networks, and so on) to illuminate how a particularly craven mind was able to disregard journalistic ethics and single-handedly shift the Overton Window of political legitimacy in the United States to the right. [Alex McLevy]

grade: b
debuted: june 30 on showtime

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