It’s been quite a roller coaster of a year and TV has often served as a great escape from the world, all while offering an exploration of its morally gray area, or working as a mirror, reflecting and tackling modern-day issues in a fictional world not unlike our own. This year’s television has brought on a myriad of emotions, too. It’s made us laugh and cry, it’s challenged us, comforted us like a warm blanket, or asked us to acknowledge society’s darkness in some way.
As 2019 wraps up and we look forward to a new year, television has never been better and the quality is reflected in this list The Young Folks staff has put together, ranking the top ten TV shows of the last year. Be it streaming, network television, or premium cable, these series are indicative of the best TV has to offer. Check out our list of the top ten shows below and here’s to even more great TV in 2020!
Adolescence is full of awkward moments many would prefer to leave in the past. There is confusion and anxiety that comes with the body’s constant changes; it’s a trying time that haunts the majority. With Pen15, Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle deliver an intimate look into these formative years by inserting their current selves into their past stories. Set in the year 2000, the show expertly explores the myriad of situations that defined Konkle’s and Erskine’s experiences as teenagers. The duo pours so much of themselves into each episode by retelling personal experiences like Maya’s experience with racism in the episode “Posh,” or early interactions on social media in “AIM.” The blend of humor and vulnerability in Pen15 feels like a cathartic breath of fresh air for us and them as well. —Mark Wesley
9. BoJack Horseman
This does feel a bit like cheating if only because the sixth season only has only had half its episodes released in the fall of 2019, but seeing as how the series’ final episodes will air in January, this is just about the final chance for the series to realistically make a Best of The Year list. Bojack Horseman is a challenging animated series. Sure, it’s funny, but it’s grown to become one of the most honest and introspective character studies imaginable, not just of its title character, but of its surrounding cast.
Season six, so far, has seen the growing pains of BoJack, Princess Carolyn, Diane and even Todd. They’re making really challenging decisions to better their own lives and sometimes it also means leaving behind the people and places they find most comfortable. Unfortunately, these positive changes may be swiftly undone by the consequences of BoJack’s past actions catching up to him, as indicated by a midseason finale where he is nowhere to be seen, yet the ghost of “who he used to be” is felt in every frame. —Evan Griffin
8. Stranger Things
Stranger Things returned for an electric third season that had all the fun ’80s flair we love combined with a thrilling plot. Forget about the bumpy road that was season two – Stranger Things ironed out those missteps and came back with a vengeance! The newest season spread The Upside Down’s influence on the citizens of Hawkins, Indiana and the Russian’s interference to control it. Fun new characters were added, like Robin and Erica, and well-written arcs gave characters the redemption they needed, like Billy. The action was raised, the drama was juicier, and the series matured as the characters got older – offering some of the most emotional and heartbreaking scenes in the series yet. Stranger Things brought their A-game! —Justin Carreiro
As the first television series to truly focus on an Arab-American lead, his life, journey, and family dynamics, Ramy broke ground and opened up the door for this underrepresented — and often villainized — community to finally be humanized onscreen. The series explores double standards, Ramy’s efforts to become a better Muslim, and finding love in the third space as a first generation immigrant. The show truly flourishes, however, when it seriously ponders Ramy’s confusion regarding his life choices, the morally gray area he often finds himself in, and the challenges he faces in staying dedicated to his religion without also losing himself. Unique in its storytelling and topics, Ramy is a quiet revelation. —Mae Abdulbaki
Toeing one of the thinnest lines of absurdist hilarity and bleak tragedy on television, HBO’s Barry easily could’ve fallen off the deep end in its second season. Instead, it further flourished, reaching greater heights than its debut season, with the characters themselves falling to their deepest lows. Bill Hader and Alec Berg understand that the comedy doesn’t negate the horror of Barry’s violent lifestyle, but makes it all the more shocking and utilizes that double edge to brilliant effect. The best demonstrations of this balancing act is seen in the surreal “rony/lily” and the finale.
The former is a silent and often slapstick look at some of the more tiring, banal fights Barry finds himself, while the finale allows for the protagonist to let loose all of the fury he’s barely been keeping locked down, quite literally descending into shadows before the end credits roll, setting up for a very different season three. It’s a story about a man trying to reconcile what he wants, who he is and what he perceives as things he can’t have, and when all of those ideals come crashing together, the results are furious, eliciting laughs and then immediately stunning us with something much bleaker than we could’ve imagined. —Allyson Johnson
HBO’s Watchmen is a masterclass in storytelling, one that does not fear digging deep and building upon its source material. Based on the bestselling graphic novel, Damon Lindelof and his writing team craft a first season that is both mystifying and sadly familiar, by integrating tragic historical events into Watchmen’s alternate universe. Regina King’s performance as the series lead, Angela Abar, is phenomenal, further cementing her as one of Hollywood’s greats. She brings so much complexity to her character as she marries the tragedy of Angela’s past with the confusion of her present to surprising ends. Her work on Watchmen is a reflection of the show itself. Watchmen not only acknowledges our history and present, it engages with it full throttle. —Gabrielle Bondi
4. The Good Place
Following a slightly underwhelming third season, The Good Place stopped going around in circles and got back to business. Season four posited more ethical lessons about what makes a person good or bad, its exploration of ethics, morals, and ideologies nuanced but light-hearted. However, the series took it a step further by including other characters to prove that maybe, just maybe, people making an effort to change is what makes all the difference. The show speaks to the resilience of humanity and showcases just how much the main characters themselves have changed since we met them. They’re no longer passive participants, but have taken the lessons they’ve learned to help others. As it reaches its end, The Good Place remains a beacon of hope that, slowly but surely, people can learn and become better than they once were. —Mae Abdulbaki
3. Schitt’s Creek
For me, 2019 was the year of the Roses. I binge-watched all five (rather short) seasons and fell deeply in love with this enigmatic family and the town of Schitt’s Creek. This incredible cast, led by Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, stole my heart in the best of ways.The dynamic chemistry that the cast shares bursts through every scene so that you’re quite enamored with everyone, even the often-times off-putting Roland. All of the relationships shine and make even the most cynical of us believe in love and it’s no wonder that Patrick and David’s relationship have inspired so many others.
Dan Levy’s writing never fails to make me burst into tears and laughter in just one scene. It’s hard to imagine a show so funny could have so much heart and gravitas. It’s hard to imagine that 2020 will welcome the end of this incredible show, but I’m grateful for every moment I got to spend in Schitt’s Creek. While I eagerly wait for the season premiere in January, I’ll just listen to Noah Reid’s affecting rendition of “Simply the Best” on repeat and rewatch some of my favorite moments. —Brianna Robinson
The success of Fleabag, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s one-woman-show turned critical-hit-dramedy, is more remarkable because it is a two series show consisting of 12 episodes that managed to rise above the endless options of the Peak TV era. Some of the series on this list took years to become what we know them as, but with just six episodes in 2016 Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s “selfish, cynical, depraved” modern woman left enough of an impression that her second season three years later was highly anticipated and instantly beloved.
How can a show with a chatty woman who talks directly to the camera and a cast of six mostly nameless characters become such a hit? Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag says it simply in the first scene of season two: This is a love story. In six short episodes, Waller-Bridge writes about the love between sisters, family, a partner, God, and with one’s self. It’s the most universal subject, told in the most specific, hilarious, heartrending manner. We couldn’t help but love it. —Beth Winchester
1. Russian Doll
Russian Doll turned the Groundhog Day formula into a fresh take on the complexities of growing older and facing childhood traumas. Stuck in a repeating time loop on the night of her 36th birthday, Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) has to come to terms with her past and her present even as she keeps dying. The eight-episode Netflix series perfectly paces out Nadia’s repeating journey without making it feel repetitive, expanding the trope itself into its own psychological mythology. It’s great sci-fi that edges on the point of existential horror, but perhaps its most wondrous revelation is how it allows Nadia space to face her trauma and learn to move forward on her own terms. —Katey Stoetzel