Now more than ever we’re all so grateful that we’re living through an unprecedented golden age of not just great TV but tons of TV. There are too many shows to count let alone watch but over the course of 2019 we watched as many as we could, which amounted to about 200 series all told. Below are our picks for what stood out from the pack last year.
Don’t miss our 2019 Nominee Interview Series, featuring exclusive interviews with dozens of this year’s nominated artists and be sure to check out Awards Headquarters for more from the Critics’ Pick Awards, including the Theatre and Film winners.
Without further ado, the winners are:
Dear White People
Three seasons in, the thoughtful direction of this beautiful show still stands out. A vibrant colour palette and subtle character direction pair with clever but never showy cinematography to create a style that’s as visually delicious as the storytelling is intellectually rewarding. It’s a rare TV show so thrillingly framed that it makes you want to print out individual shots and hang them on your wall.
Outstanding Writing for a Comedy
“Strawberries” by Ramy Youssef
“Strawberries” was our favourite episode of television in 2019. It was a tonal achievement for the ages, an absurdist-meets-realist fantastical masterpiece that is the single greatest testament in recent history to the importance of elevating unique, underrepresented voices. It’s unmissable.
Outstanding Writing for a Drama
“Where Am I Going?” by Charlotte Stoudt
Fosse/Verdon could have won in any number of categories but, looking back on this tumultuous show, we chose writing because it’s this standout out-of-town episode that we remember most. The dialogue was so searing and the character journeys so heartbreaking. This show was never afraid to be ugly and this episode was beautifully so.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy
Sex Education has quickly become our top choice for a good Netflix recommendation. It’s a fantastically funny show and also one of the most heartbreakingly human and deeply insightful that we’ve ever seen. In 2019, Gatwa’s Eric quickly emerged as the show’s most unique voice and truest heart in a performance we’ll never forget.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama
(For the People)
For the People was an under-marketed, under-watched show that over-delivered on every front and gave us many of the best characters of 2019. First among them was Shenkman’s brilliant balancing act of an AUSA who felt deeply, spoke sharply, and refused to give too much away. We loved Roger Gunn, we hope he’s never forgotten.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy
(Jane the Virgin)
Jane the Virgin was under our radar for far too long but we caught up on the series in time for its finale in 2019 and were swept away by its heartfelt emotion and surefooted winking tone. For our money, the standout of the stellar cast was Yael Grobglas whose Petra lived many lives over the course of five seasons.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama
Chernobyl was packed with excellent performances but its cold tone made the story hard to connect with despite its visceral horrors. Enter Jessie Buckley whose affecting performance as a reckless, grieving young wife was the tether that connected our hearts to the series.
Outstanding Actress in a Comedy
(Dead to Me)
We didn’t love this so-so Netflix comedy about grief and friendship but we adored Christina Applegate’s delicate, angry, bare performance as the recent widow at the centre of the series. It’s so refreshing to see her get the weightier material she can absolutely handle in concert with her proven comic chops.
Outstanding Actress in a Drama
(Orange is the New Black)
We’ve already written at length about our love of Brooks and her incomparable character Taystee. She’s the beating heart and backdoor heroine of the defining Netflix show of the decade in our opinion. Brooks’ work over seven seasons of OITNB was both subtle and exuberant, hilarious and heartbreaking and everything in between.
Outstanding Actor in a Comedy
We were skeptical of this highly stylized show from the over-the-top Ryan Murphy universe but Ben Platt’s central performance was so grounded despite the character’s flashy quirks that everything else fell beautifully into place around him. He’s a true leading man who dominates the series and we couldn’t tear our eyes away.
Outstanding Actor in a Drama
This beautiful adaptation of the classic novel didn’t get nearly the attention it deserved, especially for Abbott’s stunning central performance full of spot-on character and period nuances, refreshing flaws, and deeply relatable frustration. We could have watched another twenty two hours of the furrow in his brow.
Outstanding Guest Performance
The guest arc of the year belonged to the sad and wise drag queen in residence at the Las Vegas hotel where the GLOW ladies took their wrestling show in season three. Cahoon captured our heart as much as Bobby as as Barbara and breathed fantastic new life into one of our favourite shows.
Outstanding Variety Performance
John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch
We’ve always been big Mulaney fans around these parts (he was also nominated for this award in 2017 and 2018, and won in 2015) but the creativity and absurd fun of the Sack Lunch Bunch won us over in a whole new way in 2019. A perfectly cast crew of kids join Mulaney in an after school special packed with brilliant guest appearances, fantastic songs, and kid-friendly comedy that works on every level.
Outstanding Reality Host
Mark L Walberg
He looks so much like Chris Harrison that it’s almost easy to miss how much more Walberg does than Harrison. Walberg’s role is more Probstian than Harrisonian, even more than Probst, leading debate and serving as relationship counsellor in a way that elevates the show completely.
Outstanding Reality Show
The Masked Singer
Season one of this absurd import hit like a tornado and captivated us like no reality show had in awhile. It was an insane amount of fun and a fun amount of insane. Though the judging panel leaves a lot to be desired and subsequent seasons have had recruitment issues, we love Nick Cannon as the host, the production values are incredible, and the first season slew of celebrities was top notch.
Season one of Fleabag borrowed the theatrical convention of direct address to help turn a solo play into a beautiful TV dramedy. Season two fully embraced the new medium to play with said convention, break it down, and use it as a metaphor for emotional connection. We’ve never seen anything quite like it. It’s well written and acted too, of course, but it’s the use of form as an emotional device that really knocks us over.
This slowburn detective story is harrowing and illuminating but somehow never grim. It never felt self-serious or like the tragedy porn of so many dramas but rather self-aware and sturdy like its workman central characters who keep their heads down and deal with the shit as it comes. A rare female-led police drama that’s an absolute must-watch in modern times.
Elena & Syd
(One Day at a Time)
This cancelled-then-rescued show is pure joy without ever being lightweight. It just makes us so happy and the sweetness of the budding relationship between teenage Elena and her adorable partner Syd is a true highlight of the show. We haven’t gotten a chance to check out the new season on PopTV yet but we can’t wait.
Performer of the Year
This was one of the easiest choices of the year. Not only did Scott deliver our favourite performance of 2019 in Fleabag but he also gave standout leading performances in two different anthology series (Black Mirror and Modern Love, of which he led the only truly great episode) plus a memorable turn in 1917 to add a little film cred to this TV award. He’s just the best and his 2019 was his best yet.
Germaine stood out with an amusingly deadpan performance as a teenage political strategist on The Politician but it wasn’t until their debut in the glorious Showtime series Work in Progress that we really fell madly in love. As the hot young boyfriend of Abby McEnany’s neurotic leading character, Germaine is like a supernova of enigmatic charm. Germaine (who goes by both they/them and he/him pronouns but plays male roles, cis and trans respectively, on The Politician and Work in Progress) is only four credits into their onscreen career but we’re calling our shot now that you’re gonna learn the name Theo Germaine.