2019 Midyear Report: The 15 best TV and streaming shows (so far)

(Photos: BBC/HBO/Netflix)
Killing Eve, Game of Thrones and Russian Doll (Photos: BBC/HBO/Netflix)

There’s no time like the Fourth of July holiday to binge all the great TV you missed from the first half of the year. Here are Yahoo Entertainment’s picks for 2019’s best shows so far. See if you can squeeze them in between fireworks displays and backyard BBQs. — by Ethan Alter, Kevin Polowy and Gwynne Watkins

15. Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All-Access)

Freed from some of the behind-the-scenes troubles that made its maiden voyage a bumpy ride, Season 2 of Discovery charted a 14-episode arc that includes the return of some classic characters and a cliffhanger ending that boldly pushes the show into new narrative frontiers. Showrunner Alex Kurtzman also significantly upped the show’s visual pizzaz, importing some of the deep space spectacle that defined J.J. Abrams’s 2009 feature film reboot. But as with the best Trek shows, it’s the interplay of the crew that really makes Discovery soar. Sonequa Martin-Green’s Michael Burnham continues to be one of the most emotionally-layered characters in the franchise’s long history, while Anson Mount portrays a version of Enterprise captain Christopher Pike that’s both consistent with canon yet also feels like a new man. Here’s to Discovery’s mission lasting a whole lot longer than five years.

14. Easy (Netflix)

Most shows go out of their way to wrap up loose ends and bring things to a definitive conclusion in their final year. But then Easy was never like most shows; over the course of three seasons, Joe Swanberg’s scruffy Chicago-set anthology series repeatedly proved itself attuned to the rhythms of everyday life… and everyday life is rarely tidy. Accordingly, few of the recurring characters that populate Easy’s universe — from Marc Maron’s grouchy graphic novelist to Elizabeth Reaser and Michael Chernus’s polyamorous married couple — arrive at conventional happy endings in this last batch of 10 episodes. Instead, Swanberg brings the curtain down with the very real sense that these stories will continue out of sight, but definitely not out of mind.

13. Leaving Neverland

As a society we were all too willing to turn a blind eye to all the molestation allegations against Michael Jackson over the years. And there weren't just allegations — there was evidence he had child pornography in his house, that he slept in the same bed as children and that he was even spotted showering with one of them. Then #MeToo happened, bringing about a new era of awakening and accountability. HBO's Leaving Neverland, which forces fans to confront the unsettling truth that Jackson was very, very likely a pedophile. Dan Reed's shocking four-hour documentary unveils the full stories of accusers Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who recount in graphic, matter-of-fact and fully convincing fashion the years of sexual abuse they say they suffered as children at the hands of the late "King of Pop." It's an extremely difficult watch, but we owe it to ourselves — and the victims — to face the music.

12. Good Omens (Amazon Prime)

As American Gods illustrates, Neil Gaiman’s seal of approval isn’t necessarily a guarantee of creative success. Fortunately, the author did right by his late collaborator, Terry Pratchett, in bringing their 1990 bestseller to the small screen. Gaiman wrote all six episodes of the Amazon Prime-produced miniseries, making sure to retain the witty humor and high-wire narrative juggling that made the novel such a delight. All that would be for naught, though, if Michael Sheen and David Tennant weren’t front and center as the cameras rolled. The duo are a perfect double act as an angel and a demon who aren’t about to let their otherworldly origins — or the looming apocalypse — get in the way of a beautiful friendship.

11. Jane the Virgin (The CW)

The best show on network television, full-stop, headed into its fifth and final season picking up from a shocking twist in the Season 4 finale. In the wake of that game-changing revelation, practical dreamer Jane (Gina Rodriguez) tries to figure out how to move fully into adulthood when her work life and home life are anything but stable. Jane the Virgin is effortlessly enjoyable for newcomers — but its brilliant storytelling rewards the long game, so catch up with previous seasons on Netflix before the July 10 finale.

10. Russian Doll (Netflix)

Variations on the Groundhog Day concept of a character re-living the same day over and over have emerged as a genre of their own in recent years, and Russian Doll shows just how much juice that idea still has left. A sci-fi series that plays like a contemporary New York City comedy, the series stars co-creator Natasha Lyonne as Nadia, a smart-mouthed software engineer who dies tragically on the night of her 36th birthday party. But then she finds herself back at the beginning of the party, only to die again, and again... and again. It's hard to say more without spoilers, but the show is sensational from the first beat to the last, and Lyonne's realistically messy performance as a brilliant but troubled woman is one of the year's best.

9. Pose (FX)

Pose dramatizes the story of a community most Americans didn't know existed: the transgender women and gay men, many of them HIV-positive, who participated in New York CIty's ballroom scene in the '80s and '90s. The setting provides all the inspiration and tragedy a good one-hour drama needs, with the added bonus of fashion and dance — plus the chance to watch stars being born, since the cast is stocked with remarkable trans actresses and queer men who never before had a shot at a lead role on TV. Season 2 is jump-started by the characters hearing Madonna's "Vogue," which drew mainstream attention to the balls for the first time. The main cast, including M.J. Rodriguez, Indya Moore and red-carpet trailblazer Billy Porter, is joined this season by Sandra Bernhard and Patti LuPone. Get all the inside details from Yahoo Entertainment's set visit.

8. Big Little Lies (HBO)

Why mess with the bitchy, exquisitely styled perfection that was the first season of Big Little Lies? Turns out that HBO had its reasons. Chief among them is Meryl Streep, who plays Nicole Kidman's acidic mother-in-law. In the Season 2 premiere, she meets the hyper-competitive meddler played by Reese Witherspoon, and while calmly smiling, Streep's character delivers one of the most brutal verbal smackdowns an HBO drama has ever seen. And that's just the beginning! Kidman, Streep and Laura Dern are still at the peak of their acting powers, reprising their roles as wealthy California mothers who must face new demons while reckoning with the aftermath of last season's murder. Director Andrea Arnold is a stellar replacement for Jean-Marc Vallee, navigating Big Little Lies's perfect storm of secrets, betrayals and balcony ocean views.

7. Killing Eve (BBC America)

BBC America's ambitious psychological thriller was addictive out of the gate, and Season 2 was even bolder, sexier and more shocking. Golden Globe winner Sandra Oh reprises her role as a brilliant but bored intelligence agent who becomes obsessed with a female serial killer named Villanelle (Jodie Comer). To complicate matters, the feeling is mutual. While Season 1 was all about the women trying to kill each other, Season 2 found them scheming to get closer. But can a sociopath like Villanelle ever be trusted to have real feelings? And would Eve really put her job, her marriage and even her life on the line in order to feed her infatuation? The breathless season finale left the audience with more questions than answers, but fortunately, Killing Eve has already been renewed for a third season.

6. PEN15 (Hulu)

The complicated experience of being a 13-year-old girl, with its awkwardness, horrors and strangely resilient joy, has never been more perfectly captured on television than in PEN15 — in which fully-grown creators Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle play middle-school versions of themselves, alongside a cast of actual 13-year-olds. At first glance, the Hulu original series, set in 2000, plays like a high-concept comedy sketch. (It's named after a juvenile prank that Gen-Xers and Millennials may remember falling for.) But viewers who stuck with it for all 10 episodes were rewarded with complex, daring and hilarious episodes that explored sexual awakening, internalized racism and, above all, the beauty and heartbreak of an all-consuming friendship.

5. Game of Thrones (HBO)

We’ll be arguing about the last season of Game of Thrones until winter comes. But here’s some common ground between the lovers and the haters: For six glorious weeks, no show was more fun to obsess about IRL and on social media. Whether ridiculing stray coffee cups, cheering on Arya or sobbing for Drogon, the show’s final episodes provided plenty of fodder for conversation among friends, co-workers and even total strangers. And that’s ultimately the mark of a great TV show … even one prone to rushed character transformations and anticlimactic deaths.

4. Schitt’s Creek (Pop)

The fifth season of this first-class Canadian import boasted a moving coming-out episode, a memorable trip to a soap opera convention and a better version of Cabaret than the one in Fosse/Verdon. By now, Schitt’s Creek has becomes such a warm, welcoming and hilarious place to visit week in and week out, we’re hyperventilating knowing that there’s only one more year left with Johnny, Moira David and Alexis. At least that gives you the chance to raise a glass of Herb Ertlinger’s fruit wine and watch the entire run — for the first time or the fifteenth time — on Netflix. And here’s to annual holiday specials with the Rose family from now until the Crowening.

3. Chernobyl (HBO)

The scariest parts of HBO’s dramatization of the Soviet Union’s real-life nuclear disaster aren’t the radiation-ravaged bodies and burning buildings, it’s the bureaucratic inaction — and outright denial — in the face of a near-apocalypse. Over the course of five riveting episodes, writer Craig Mazin and director John Renck chronicle the myriad institutional failures that compounded the initial meltdown, with an eye towards illustrating how those who refuse to acknowledge past mistakes are doomed to repeat them.

2. Fleabag (Amazon Prime)

Fleabag didn’t really need a second season, but thank goodness that creator/star Phoebe Waller-Bridge decided to make one anyway. Where Season 1 was defined by grief, Season 2 is suffused with longing — whether that’s for a hot priest, a better job or a breakthrough moment with a parent. The miracle of Fleabag lies in the way the show’s tone can whiplash between spiky comedy and devastating honesty without ever feeling chaotic. Waller-Bridge has stressed that this is the final season — and an exquisite last shot drives that home — but if anyone can pull off the hat trick, it’s her.

1. When They See Us (Netflix)

The story of the Central Park Five has been chronicled in newspapers, books and documentaries, but it took Ava DuVernay’s powerful dramatization to drive home the crime visited upon five innocent teenage boys in the summer of 1989. Each of the four episodes explores a different facet of the case: The first installment zeroes in on the way that police and prosecutors engaged in ethically and morally questionable actions to secure convictions, while the final chapter is given over to the tragic story of Korey Wise, the only one of the five juveniles to be tried as an adult and who was subjected to horrific abuses during his prison sentence. Taken together, they paint a damning portrait of a justice system — as well as a media echo chamber dominated by voices like Donald Trump — that allowed their prejudices to decide that these boys were guilty before being proven innocent.

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