Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
On my personal blog, I reviewed the year that was 2019 in television. I also compiled a list of the best new programs to air on broadcast, cable or streaming networks. I also compiled a list of the best continuing programs that have been airing prior to 2019. For the purposes of this list, I took what were the most compelling or powerful from those two compilations. Most of this list is comprised of new programs, as a lot of new stuff were really amazing. I provide links to full reviews of each of these programs when available.
10. SPECIAL (Netflix) – This show was nominated for four prizes at the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Short Form Comedy or Drama Series. That category is one that is specifically for web series. Often time, the shows nominated used to be what would be considered bonus content or additional material for a show’s DVD release. The episodes were usually less than a half-hour, usually less than 20 minutes. However, show-creators are treating them as more than just bonus content but actual bonafide stories that often aren’t getting told in the mainstream. This one focuses on a disabled man who happens to be gay and trying to establish his independence.
9. SHRILL (Hulu) – Aidy Bryant from Saturday Night Live stars as a woman juggling her work life and love life, while also struggling with issues of body image. She’s plus-size, but she’s not ashamed of it. She’s also not totally comfortable with it either, but she’s getting there. It’s based on the book by Lindy West, a writer for The New York Times, who has mainly tackled topics of feminism and fat acceptance.
8. EMERGENCE (ABC) – For those who have been searching for a more-current version of Lost, it’s finally here. Yes, since the ABC mystery-thriller with bits of science-fiction and fantasy went off the air, many other shows have tried to imitate it. None have really been successful until now. Putting aside that aspect, Emmy-nominee Allison Tolman is the main reason to watch this show. She’s so charming, smart and funny that it makes every scene a delight simply because her beautiful presence is on screen. The supporting cast of Donald Faison and Clancy Brown also make for beautiful presences on screen.
7. PEARSON (USA) – This is the spin-off show of Suits (2011). For those who don’t know what Suits is, it’s the TV series that used to star Meghan Markle, the now Duchess of Sussex. Gina Torres plays the titular character from that series who goes to work for the mayor of Chicago and works to fix various political scandals. The series is timely in that it’s mainly about the issue of gentrification with which it deals straight on.
6. THE ACT (Hulu) – Oscar-winner Patricia Arquette has now won the Emmy and the Golden Globe for playing Dee Dee Blanchard, the real-life mother who was murdered in 2015. This series is the depiction of the events leading up to that true-crime. Joey King who was also nominated at the Emmys and Golden Globes plays Gypsy Rose, the daughter who suffers from a bunch of medical conditions that require constant care from her mother. Yet, that care might be making Gypsy Rose even more sick, which all changes when a couple of men come into their lives.
5. FOSSE/VERDON (FX) – Michelle Williams first hit the scene, thanks to her role in Dawon’s Creek (1998). Williams left television after that and pursued a very successful film career that yielded four Oscar nominations. This series brought her back to TV after a 20-year absence. The result was her first Emmy nomination and her first Emmy win. Her speech and her comments over the past year or so have made her the face of the Time’s Up Movement, the movement that focuses on sexual harassment and assault, particularly in the workplace. Underneath it though is the feminist push for equality in the workplace, for women to get equal treatment and equal pay. This series about Bob Fosse and his wife Gwen Verdon perfectly speak to those issues, making it one of the most relevant shows in 2019.
4. COBRA KAI: SEASON 2 (YouTube) – This series comes in the wake of 80’s nostalgia that has permeated Hollywood in its films and TV shows. This series takes that nostalgia and does something with it that’s more than just reminding us of it and reveling in it. This series advances the story and puts those things from the 80’s in a modern context that works. It also reevaluates the themes, so that the current generation can can grapple with them. It also has a different spin that’s interesting and engaging. Plus, there’s some really cool martial arts. It’s essentially a sequel to The Karate Kid (1984) that picks up with Ralph Macchio and William Zabka decades later.
3. ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK: SEASON 7 (Netflix) – It’s odd, but I wasn’t a fan of the show when it first premiered in 2013. I thought it was bold and compelling, as well as representative of what representation and diversity can achieve. Yet, I dismissed it for its first season. However, the second season proved to be one of the most amazing things I had ever seen on TV. From then on, I was hooked, all the way to the end. Some shows end on a whimper or lackadaisically. This show ended strong, very strong. It didn’t short any of the characters, which this show has always been a wide-ranging character study. This final season also underscored the idea that this show has been the most perfect critique of the criminal justice system that has ever been made. It also managed to stay relevant, even till the end, addressing the issue of immigration in this final season too.
2. UNBELIEVABLE (Netflix) – This series is an adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize-winning, news article from 2015. It’s akin to a Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode, but it’s done so incredibly well, with such nuance and grace. It’s done with such specificity and such heart. It brims with empathy. It was ineligible for this year’s Emmys, but it will be eligible for the 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards. My hope will be that it does get recognized. It did get four Golden Globe Award nominations, including nominations for three of the main actresses, Merritt Wever, Toni Collette and Kaitlyn Dever.
1. WHEN THEY SEE US (Netflix) – In terms of accolades, this show is the reverse of the previous. This show was ignored at the Golden Globes, but not at the Emmys. It got nominated for 16 Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Limited Series. The series won Outstanding Lead Actor for Jharrel Jerome who plays Korey Wise, the real-life black teen who was falsely convicted, along with four other minority teens of assault and rape in 1989. The case was famously referred to as the Central Park Five. The teens were referred to as that as well. Now, they’re known as the Exonerated Five, but this series details what they experienced and it is absolutely mind-blowing and more powerful than anything. Not only is it one of the best of the year, it’s one of the best of the decade.