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The 5 best TV shows of 2019 so far

From dark satire to wildly inventive fantasy, January was packed with exciting debuts.

The Magicians, The Other Two, You’re the Worst
Watch The Magicians, The Other Two, and You’re the Worst, if you know what’s good for you! (Or, okay, just like good TV.)
Syfy, Comedy Central, FXX
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

2019 is but one month old, and it’s already looking like a more promising TV year than 2018, thanks to a combination of fun new shows and returning favorites. From Comedy Central launching its biggest hit in ages to the first few episodes of the final season of a beloved romcom, January had something for everybody.

So we’ve gone and ahead and made a short list of our favorite debuts of the month, with a focus on shows that flew a little under-the-radar in this age when it’s increasingly easy to just turn on your favorite streaming service of choice and let it suggest whatever it wants.

It’s something we’ll continue doing each month for the rest of the year — and hopefully something will pop up on one of these lists that you’ll end up enjoying.

With that in mind, here are our five favorite TV debuts of January 2019, including two new shows and three returning series.

Corporate is Comedy Central’s bleakly funny assault on workplace America

Working in corporate America in the 2010s can feel slightly like working inside of a mirage. The mechanisms that drive the world economy forward (possibly into a ditch) can seem byzantine and obscure. Meanwhile, faceless, monolithic organizations are at pains to make you feel like a team player when you know they don’t really care and are only too happy to show you the door should they find a way to replace you with a robot.

Lots of shows have played in this space, but Comedy Central’s Corporate is the one that lives there most successfully. The series can feel bleak to some, but in its recently launched second season, it’s much better about wedding its hilariously dark jokes to the sorts of tiny personal achievements that corporate workers count as “wins” in the face of so much drudgery. Does that sound fun? Maybe not to everyone. But I love it.

Corporate has always had a flair for the visual comedy that arises from presenting completely absurd situations with a straight face. When I interviewed creators and stars Matt Ingebretson and Jake Weisman, they pointed to the films of David Fincher as exemplifying some of what they were going for — except, y’know, funny. In season two, director and co-creator Pat Bishop uses the disparity between ridiculous and mundane to comment not just on the workplace but on the idea of a personal life, and on all that is sacrificed in the name of being a slightly better cog in a deteriorating machine.

Watch Corporate if you like: Better Off Ted, The Office, Halt and Catch Fire

Where to watch: Corporate airs Tuesdays at 10:30 pm Eastern on Comedy Central. The first season is available for digital rental and download; cable subscribers can also stream it on Comedy Central’s website.

Good Trouble blends workplace drama and soapy complications with aplomb

Here’s an excerpt from my earlier, four-star review of Good Trouble, Freeform’s new young adult drama about two sisters who move to the big city together:

The show might sound very feel good-y, but I like how Good Trouble isn’t afraid to let both girls screw up in ways both big and small. They each commit very believable workplace faux pas that reminded me of how dumb I was at my first job. [Insert editorial note about how nothing has changed here.] And I like how the show balances a bunch of tones, from earnest, progressive do-gooderism to outright sexy soap operatics.

Good Trouble strikes me almost as TV’s first good Gen Z drama. It’s forthright and earnest, and it wears its politics on its sleeve. It understands that the world is filled with junk, but sometimes you can make something beautiful out of that junk. And it knows that even if the end is near, it’s not quite here yet. There’s still time.

Watch Good Trouble if you like: Parenthood, My So-Called Life, Angel

Where to watch: Good Trouble airs Tuesdays at 8 pm Eastern on Freeform, and previous episodes are streaming on Hulu.

The Magicians remains one of TV’s most wildly inventive shows

At this point, I’ve written so much about The Magicians that I could just link to all of my previous coverage and encourage you to check out the show’s first three seasons (especially that dazzling third) on Netflix. But maybe that won’t be enough.

So instead, let me say that in the first three episodes of season four (all I’ve seen of what will be a 13-episode season), the show’s zestful love of genre-hopping and plot contortions continues in all its glory, as the series’ top-notch writing staff (led by Sera Gamble and John McNamara) seems to delight in tackling each and every new challenge it can think of. Season four launches with a case of magical amnesia that allows The Magicians to become — of all things — a very fun cop show for an episode, and the deeper it gets into the season, the more its storytelling about damaged 20-somethings trying (and usually failing) to make themselves whole by using magic becomes emotionally acute and bittersweet.

But it’s also a series boasting a crackerjack cast, tremendous facility with pop culture references, and a willingness to subvert almost all of its own storytelling tropes once they’ve outlived their usefulness. If you tune in to The Magicians and it’s not doing something you like, wait a minute. It’ll surely turn into something else entirely, like magic.

Watch The Magicians if you like: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The X-Files, Community

Where to watch: The Magicians airs Wednesdays at 9 pm Eastern on Syfy. The first three seasons are streaming on Netflix.

The Other Two makes an early claim for being 2019’s funniest new show

The Other Two arrived almost from out of nowhere to become one of the most promising new TV comedies in years — and it’s easily a strong contender for the funniest new show of the year. The Comedy Central series has been critically lauded and, even more surprisingly for a basic cable series in 2019, heavily sampled by viewers, with 2.25 million viewers watching the pilot across assorted platforms (including YouTube, where the pilot was available before it debuted on TV).

The success is deserved. Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider, both former Saturday Night Live writers, are using The Other Two to tackle some weighty topics, including fractured families, the soul-crushing nature of fame, and the complete economic decimation of the millennial generation. But rather than underline that this is what they’re doing, the two writers use their series to wink at these topics, telling great jokes about all of them, while occasionally leaning into something earnest and heartfelt. And then they immediately dart away, like a shy cat who’s still a little skittish around strangers.

The Other Two stars Drew Tarver and Heléne Yorke as siblings Cary and Brooke, who both nursed showbiz dreams but have largely come to realize those dreams probably aren’t coming true as they settle into their 30s. And then their 13-year-old brother, Chase (Case Walker), blows up on YouTube, and they find themselves among his entourage. It’s the kind of wryly absurdist premise that provides plenty of fuel for jokes that make fun of everything from the entertainment industry to upper-class white people who play at being the most socially just social justice advocates of all. It’s a delight.

Watch The Other Two if you like: How I Met Your Mother, 30 Rock, Jane the Virgin

Where to watch: The Other Two airs Thursdays at 10:30 pm Eastern on Comedy Central, with previous episodes available to stream on the network’s website for cable subscribers.

You’re the Worst proves that a flagging comedy can find a second wind in the home stretch

The second season of FXX’s You’re the Worst was one of the best TV seasons of the decade, a ruthlessly funny and sometimes just plain ruthless story of two people who had coupled up and weren’t sure what to do next — especially when one of them revealed she struggled with clinical depression and would sometimes disappear inside of herself.

The road from there was ... rougher. Though both the third and fourth seasons had their considerable charms, they were never as consistent as the second, and it was tempting to think that perhaps You’re the Worst had only one real story to tell and then just made a lot of very good but not great TV. But now, the show’s fifth and final season (of which I’ve seen all 13 half-hour episodes) is hands-down the show’s second-best season, second only to that second outing.

Season five collects all of the storylines that You’re the Worst has spun over the years, sets them twirling atop plates, adds a complicated flash-forward structure, then catches every single plate before it can shatter on the ground, all while making the task seem effortless.

The series finale (which airs April 4) made me realize just how much I’ve loved spending time with the show’s characters, even when they tried my patience. You’re the Worst’s love of format-breaking episodes, moments of near-profundity (often undercut with crass jokes), and bad behavior carries the day throughout the last season. This is terrific, confident TV, and it ends with a wedding — just like comedies are supposed to.

Watch You’re the Worst if you like: The previous four seasons of You’re the Worst, Moonlighting, Breaking Bad

Where to watch: You’re the Worst airs Wednesdays at 10 pm Eastern through on FXX. The first four seasons are streaming on Hulu.

Six other shows worth sampling ...

While the five shows above are my top priorities from January’s TV debuts, you might also consider checking out the six shows below to see if they’re to your liking.

  • The final season of Broad City (Comedy Central, Thursdays at 10 pm Eastern) doesn’t feel as wildly inventive as the show did when it began, but Abbi and Ilana are still terrific tour guides to their own bespoke version of New York.
  • High Maintenance (HBO, Sundays at 10:30 pm Eastern) is one of those shows you’ll either obsess over or not quite get. I’m closer to the former camp than the latter, and thanks to the show’s semi-anthological nature (every episode involves an unnamed weed dealer making a delivery to a new client), you can dip in and out as you like.
  • I haven’t yet decided whether I Am the Night (TNT, Mondays at 9 pm Eastern) actually works, but hey, there are worse things to watch than a series where Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins guides Chris Pine through a knotty, true crime-inspired mystery. I’ll keep checking it out.
  • Informer (streaming on Amazon), meanwhile, is a bit clunky around its edges (particularly when it comes to its women characters), but the thriller is a tense dive into the world of counter-terrorism, and all the more welcome for being seen through the eyes of a British-Pakistani man.
  • Raunchy, ribald, and very funny, Sex Education (streaming on Netflix) is the kind of teen sex comedy that TV wouldn’t have been able to make even 10 years ago. Its take on teenagers trial-and-erroring their way to a better understanding of their sexuality is unexpectedly sweet.
  • Finally, recent episodes of True Detective’s third season (HBO, Sundays at 9 pm Eastern) have come in for some critical jeers, thanks to the slow-as-molasses pacing, but I’m all-in on both the central mystery involving the disappearance of two kids and Mahershala Ali’s hypnotic lead performance.

And if that’s not enough, brace yourself for February — where yet another terrific new show (Netflix’s Russian Doll) launches on the very first day of the month.