The 10 Best New TV Shows of 2019

Hulu and Netflix each boast multiple impressive freshman series

collage of characters from 2019
The best new shows of 2019 included Watchmen, Russian Doll, Pen15 and Unbelievable. Illustration: Trent Joaquin; Sources: HBO, Netflix, Hulu
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After rounding up 2019’s 10 best TV shows, it’s time to spotlight new series in their first year that were impressively able to stand out among an unprecedented glut of broadcast, cable and streaming content.

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With the streaming wars upon us, freshman series have no room for error: If they don’t immediately grab the attention of audiences in a sea of 500-plus scripted series that came out this year, they will likely be passed over for good. And quantity is no guarantee of quality, as neither of the high-profile streaming services that launched this fall managed to crack this list (though one OTT newbie did warrant an honorable mention).

In contrast, seven of the 10 new series that are trying to hold their own among a new crop of OTT services come from established streamers, with even more upstarts on the way in early 2020.

The bar for new shows is now sky high, but each of these 10 series rose to the challenge and would make a marvelous addition to your TV diet.

10. David Makes Man (OWN)

David Makes Man

Netflix, HBO and FX dominate most conversations about prestige TV, but OWN has quietly produced a few gems of its own, like this coming-of-age drama about a 14-year-old African American boy (the incredible Akili McDowell) who is juggling different worlds: his family in the projects, his mostly white magnet school and the local drug crew. The first TV series from Oscar-winning Moonlight screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney—and executive produced by Oprah Winfrey and Michael B. Jordan—is a complex, vibrant examination of a world that is far too often given only surface-level treatment on television.

9. Shrill (Hulu)


Speaking of breaking TV stereotypes, Aidy Bryant does just that in this sublime comedy, which she co-created, co-wrote and starred in, based on Lindy West’s memoir Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman, about a plus-sized Portland blogger who is finding her voice and becoming comfortable in her own skin. Bryant, who has long been an SNL MVP, is a revelation here as she deftly pulls off everything from tiny moments (almost imperceptible wincing in response to a body-shaming comment) to large ones (giddily coming out of her shell as she cuts loose and enthusiastically dances at a pool party).

8. Sex Education (Netflix)


When it came to frank, sexually explicit new shows about high schoolers, HBO’s Euphoria might have grabbed all the headlines, but this British comedy was the series that was actually worth watching. Asa Butterfield stars as an awkward, sexually repressed teen and son of a confident, outspoken sex therapist (Gillian Anderson), who ends up running a sex advice business for his fellow students. And unlike Euphoria, this show understands that the most important key to its success is focusing on great storytelling and characters, not simply relying on sex and shock value.

7. Evil (CBS)


The Good Wife creators Robert and Michelle King have shaken up broadcast TV once again with this riveting—and consistently creepy—series about a female psychologist (Katja Herbers) who teams up with a priest-in-training (Mike Colter) to help the Catholic Church assess unexplained mysteries to determine what really happened. Evil has built on the terrifying premise of its pilot, introducing inventive ways to put its cast into peril, such as a menacing VR game frequently played by Herbers’ four daughters. It’s still early in its run, but Evil is shaping up to be TV’s first worthy successor to The X-Files.

6. Undone (Amazon)


There’s nothing else on television that looks like Undone, which features the rotoscoping technique in which animators paint over the live-action performances of its cast. The rest of the series is just as unique. Rosa Salazar is a woman who, after almost dying in a car accident, seems to have become untethered from conventions of space and time and reconnects with her late father, a theoretical physicist played by Bob Odenkirk, all while time-traveling as she investigates his death. The series is a visual marvel, but also a mesmerizing look at trauma and its aftermath.

5. Ramy (Hulu)


Comedian Ramy Youssef co-created, starred in and occasionally directed this groundbreaking comedy about a first-generation Muslim man in New Jersey—his parents are Palestinian and Egyptian immigrants—who tries to reconcile staying committed to his faith with simply living his life. Youssef smartly knows when to cede the spotlight to others. One of the season’s strongest episodes included a flashback to how 9/11 forever changed his life as a 12-year-old Muslim, while another switched the POV to his isolated mother, who decides to become an Uber driver. Ramy proves once again that the most specific stories frequently are also the most poignant and relatable.

4. Pen15 (Hulu)


It sounds like a gag that should have worn out its welcome by the end of Episode 1: 31-year-old co-creators Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle play adolescent versions of themselves growing up in 2000 alongside opposite real middle school-aged kids. But this comedy is much more than just a silly sight gag; it’s a hilarious, heart-wrenching and surprisingly moving look at the dumpster fire that is adolescence.

3. Unbelievable (Netflix)


Technically, this searing drama—which simultaneously follows a pair of female detectives (Toni Collette and Merritt Wever) and a rapist’s first victim (Kaitlyn Dever) from three years earlier, who is unable to convince her loved ones or law enforcement that she didn’t fabricate her assault—shouldn’t be on this list. Netflix said Unbelievable was a limited series, not an ongoing one, but given that Collette and Wever comprise TV’s most captivating crime fighting duo in years, it’s clear that the streaming service needs to put them on another case ASAP.

2. Russian Doll (Netflix)

Russian Doll

Video game designer Natasha Lyonne (co-creator) keeps reliving her 36th birthday party after getting stuck in a time loop. As her frustration mounts, our delight continues to grow, given how skilled the series is at never feeling repetitive (quite a feat, seeing as the exact same moment replays dozens of times) and literally making everything that was old new again. Netflix is deservedly criticized for churning out too much content each week, but as long as it keeps making room for wholly original series like this amid the deluge, I’ll happily keep sifting through it all.

1. Watchmen (HBO)


There are a few overarching themes about the shows on this list: Many of them revolve around a woman (the likes of whom rarely get to star in their own series), routinely take big swings, push the medium to new heights, or throw so many delightful curveballs that you never know what to expect from week to week. Watchmen features all of them and executes at an exhilarating level. Even for those (like me) who aren’t as familiar with the ’80s DC Comics cult classic that serves as its backstory—this version is set three decades later—you’ll be endlessly astounded at the masterpiece that Damon Lindelof has constructed.

Honorable Mentions

In a strong year for a freshman series, these programs also came very close to making it onto the best new series list and are worth seeking out:

The Act (Hulu)
Emergence (ABC)
Los Espookys (HBO)
The Mandalorian (Disney+)
Modern Love (Amazon)
Tuca and Bertie (Netflix)
The Unicorn (CBS)
What We Do in the Shadows (FX)

After celebrating the top television programs of the year, tomorrow we’ll take a look at the best TV shows of the decade.

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.