At the end of the decade, Netflix is an indisputable powerhouse in television series production. The streaming titan that changed the entire delivery model of the entertainment landscape also helped usher in the so-called new Golden Age of TV by giving a new platform to some of the largest and most inventive creative talents in the industry, taking away the rules and limitations, and throwing their inexplicably vast arsenal of money at them.
And in 2019, Netflix had one of their most important years yet on the TV side. going toe-to-toe with HBO at the Emmys in wins and nominations (though HBO ultimately won both this year), and controlling the Golden Globe nominations in both TV and film — the first year Netflix overcame the studios at the starry awards show, a sign that the streamer’s ever-growing film appearance is finally catching up with its prestige TV.
And what a lineup they had in 2019!
The best series of the year varied from returning awards darlings like GLOW, The Crown, and Stranger Things; a second season of David Fincher‘s serial killer drama Mindhunter, which anyhow managed to be more Fincher-esque than ever; a feat of technological wizardry with the performance epic The Dark Crystal: Rise of the Resistance; innovative new genre-hybrid half-hour comedies like Russian Doll and Living with Yourself; the sketch comedy glory of I Think You Should Leave; and gone-too-soon oddballs like Santa Clarita Diet and Brit Marling‘s baffling but profound The OA.
With that in mind, we surveyed the LearnWorthy.net staff for the 10 best Netflix series of the year, presented our votes, and here’s what came back. (Editor’s Note: Unfortunately the article was written before the mad delights of The Witcher were launched.)
Here's our list of the top 10 best Netflix Series of 2019
- I Think You Should Leave
- Russian Doll
- Stranger Things
- When They See Us
- Big Mouth
- The Dark Crystal
- Living With Yourself
- Black Mirror
We'll start the top 10 Best Netflix Series of 2019 with Black Mirror.
The fifth season of the dark sci-fi series, Black Mirror, will not likely be recognized as favorably as seasons past. Only three episodes, Charlie Booker told tales of virtual reality’s threat to real human existence, extreme guilt, and the tremendous weight of fame. The standouts this year were Andrew Scott’s manic and unpredictable performance as a driver for an imaginary ride-sharing app and the wild Miley Cyrus episode. The former features Scott’s style wrestling with what he’s done, who he accuses, and how he ventures to right that wrong. It’s been a great year for the Irish actor, who succeeded as the lead in A Dark Place and then received a Golden Globe nod for his “Hot Priest” role in Fleabag. He’s in top form here—his appearance as emotionally affecting as we’ve seen in the show. Cyrus’ episode, called “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too,” was the most buzzed-about. Not only does it tap into the worship of celebrity in Western culture, but it presents the sometimes hellish reality of pop stardom—that utter blackness cooking behind the veil of an apparently impeccable life. And yet, this one provides one of the series’ more hopeful resolutions.
Living WIth Yourself
It may seem like merrier fare, but this new dramedy series starring Paul Rudd and Paul Rudd has more profundity than meets the eye. With brief episodes going under thirty minutes, Living with Yourself tells the tale of Miles, a man stuck in a rut trying to improve himself. So he does what any clear-headed 40-something guy does: he pays $50,000 to a massage parlor in the beliefs of lifting his spirits… because a guy he works with did it, and it benefited him. Sadly, the result is a bit more complex when Miles is cloned and now has to, as the title implies, live with himself when the clone version has nowhere else to go. And this clone version is more reliable than Miles in every way. Funny and darker than you’d expect, this is one that will suck you in and motivate you to finish in one weekend (it’s only eight episodes). It’s also got something to say about marriage and what makes us who we are, quickly making it one of Netflix’s most binge-worthy new series of 2019.
The Dark Crystal
Hup! First thing’s first, I would undoubtedly die for Hup, the stalwart podling who was last-minute seized by Baby Yoda as the year’s cutest puppet. But more importantly, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistanceis a success one-of-a-kind series that features some of the most effective, staggering technical achievements of the year with this in-camera puppet epic, built on bright, detailed sets, with a goldmine of creature creations. But it is also absolutely a high fantasy epic filled with a rich mythology that ambitiously arises from the already compelling world-building in Jim Henson and Frank Oz‘s beloved 1982 film, with some of the best court politicking, treachery and redemptive curves this side of Game of Thrones. It also highlights an absolutely bananas voice cast including Jason Isaacs, Mark Hamill, Anya Taylor Joy, Taron Egerton, Keegan Michael Key, Simon Pegg, and Nathalie Emmanuel, just to name a few, not to consider the artful physical work of their puppeteer counterparts.
The Dark Crystal is number eight on the top 10 Best Netflix Series of 2019.
Big Mouth remains to be the greatest show on Netflix about horny, confused children. The third season of the animated comedy from producers Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Mark Levin, and Jennifer Flackett remains to tackle the most awkward period in everyone’s lives with a mix of innocence and stupidity. Which is appropriate, because “sincerely absurd” is kind of what it feels like to go through adolescence. Kroll and the rest of the main cast – John Mulaney, Jessi Klein, Jenny Slate, and Jason Mantzoukis – handle the subtle emotions of pre-teens admirably. And the show gives up a brand new set of musical numbers, including a truly entertaining song about Florida that is one of my favorite moments of the entire season. Netflix lately greenlit Big Mouth for three more seasons, which is truly the best news I’ve heard in the past six months. The only contradictory thing I can say about the show is that I wish it had existed back when I was in middle school.
GLOW is one of the best and most consistently funny shows on television, and I’ll be sad when its fourth and final season brings the series to an ending. Especially since Season 3 proves this show is still going powerful. This third batch of episodes moved the action to Las Vegas, and the act of pressing the characters to all live with one another ratcheted up the drama and comedy correspondingly. At heart, this series is really an investigation of what it means to be a woman, especially living in a predominantly male world, and I’m consistently fascinated by the myriad of avenues of femininity that this show investigates. But on top of all that it’s just supremely entertaining, tied by two of the best performances on all of the TV courtesy of Betty Gilpin and Alison Brie.
GLOW is listed sixth in the top 10 Best Netflix Series of 2019.
When They See Us
From creator Ava DuVernay, the four-part Netflix limited series When They See Us chronicles the famous case of the five teenagers of color from Harlem – Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise – who became identified the Central Park Five, after being indicted of a violent rape in New York in the spring of 1989. After being questioned as teenagers and pressured to confess, they were and sentenced and served between 6 and 13 years in prison before their release in 2002.
Watching their journey feels like a knock to the gut, and your heart will break while you’re a sobbing mess who’s angry at the unfairness of it all, but you’ll still survive to come out the other side, motivated and with a sense of hope. What these men went through when they were still just boys is unreasonable, and the fact that they are a guide of light today, now known as The Exonerated 5, is truly a wonder, but they went through it and even though it is, at times, excruciating to watch, it’s also important to witness and experience. They are not the first, last or only people wrongly accused and convicted, and their story is still so relevant today.
The third season of Stranger Things was the show’s greatest yet. After a slightly mixed Season 2, this year it felt like the show really dug into the depths lives of the characters, and the extension of the mall as a central location was a stroke of genius. But even just the development of the season really paid off in a big way. It kept growing and building, getting better and better as it progressed the grand, epic finale that profited from an “upstairs/downstairs” storyline that had two major pieces of action proceeding simultaneously, putting our characters in grave risk. It also just looked super cool.
Netflix’s Russian Doll satisfied our thirst early in the year for a great show that not only inspired but gave us something to chew on. With my husky-voiced femme of choice Natasha Lyonne guiding the way, Russian Doll quickly revealed it wasn’t interested in playing by the rules of the “day-on-repeat” trope universalized in Groundhog Day. Over the course of eight episodes, we watch Nadia (Lyonne) wrestle with being stuck inside of the same night and next morning. It’s unclear how Nadia gets stuck in the loop at first and we soon learn through a serious of genius, madcap montages that Nadia gets to live in a loop for as long as possible granted she doesn’t die. Now, the universe doesn’t let her slide so smoothly and the montages quickly reveal Nadia is accident-prone like nobody’s business.
Flying, the show reveals its hands with the addition of Alan (Charlie Barnett). Through Alan and Nadia, who seem to be the only two people stuck in this looped hellscape, Russian Doll becomes an examination of the psychological imprints left by our traumas and how we are shaped by small moments we don’t understand are, at the time, actually quite life-changing. Lyonne and Barnett’s acts are simply electrifying, with the former providing vividly manic energy to the screen and the latter bringing a delicate shyness, which together blended perfectly into one wonderful relationship. Watching Russian Doll moves through the tonal highs and lows of its story felt like such a treat and it’s mysterious, deeply symbolic ending leaves the story is a very interesting place for its forthcoming Season 2.
Russian Doll deservedly is listed number three on the top 10 Best Netflix Series of 2019.
I Think You Should Leave
There is possibly no 2019 television show whose language has penetrated our cultural lexicon more than Tim Robinson’s sketch fever dream I Think You Should Leave. To enter this specific world, distributed smartly in bite-sized less-than-20-minute episodes, is to give yourself over wholly to the screeching, indignant, mixed, and fundamentally pathetic humans generating the wild assumptions of the show. While Robinson was able to sneak in some of his voice as a cast member and writer on Saturday Night Live and showed us a more refined version on Comedy Central’s perfect Detroiters (with co-star Sam Richardson, who returns here in many key roles, including the funniest A Christmas Carol parody I’ve ever seen), I Think You Should Leave feels like Robinson off the chain, and I never want him to put one on again.
And even though Robinson’s characters increase in their own buffoonish screaming, the season’s three MVPs feature bountiful gifts to other performers. One: Vanessa Bayer in the excellent Instagram/brunch culture-skewering sketch (Robinson ain’t even in it!). Two: Will Forte in the unreal revenge-gone-wrong airplane sketch. And three, of course: “You have no good car ideas,” with our single most fabulous comedy performance of 2019 courtesy of Ruben Rabasa. All of these sketches and more focus such peculiar turns of phrases and points of view, and all have been consumed by those who breathed the series — the sign of a great comedy made for the crowds without sanitizing its specificities.
Mindhunter is our number one in the top 10 Best Netflix Series of 2019.
In season 2 of Mindhunter, the bolts were tightened, the procedures and etiquettes were bent to their near-breaking point, and constants we thought we knew about the characters were flummoxed — all while the real-life tragedy of the Atlanta Child Murders, a case that pushed Mindhunter’s usually subtle didacticism yelling necessarily into the forefront. The show’s more surface-level pleasures remained and evolved from season 1. It proceeded to be one of the most handsomely shot and constructed shows on TV, continued to ratchet up nearly unacceptable levels of suspense and tension with nothing but dialogue, and had sterling performances from its locked-the-hell-in company. But I’ll remember Mindhunter’s second season primarily as a “walls caving in” season, dropping the central beliefs and tropes of its characters to bright, enthralling results.