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.
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)
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.