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Netflix wasted no time this year.
It only took a matter of weeks for contenders to emerge for the best Netflix original series of 2019. The streaming platform has already pumped out a gut-busting high school sex comedy, a time-bending detective show, and a nuanced comic book superhero adaptation. And those are just the new Netflix originals; several other series have also returned with great new seasons this year. The best part is, judging by our guide to Netflix release dates for 2019, there’s a lot more to look forward to for the rest of the year.
The best Netflix original series of 2019
1) Russian Doll
There are plenty of TV shows and movies about alternate realities and star-crossed timelines, but Russian Doll takes that premise and builds in a detective show and a philosophical exploration of morality. Series co-creator Natasha Lyonne plays Nadia, a former game designer who dies on her 36th birthday only to be rerouted back into that night to relive it again. As Nadia investigates her situation she has to take a look at herself as well, but the series resists giving us a neat ending or “fixing” her. —Audra Schroeder
In 1989, five Black teenage boys were falsely convicted of the assault and rape of white jogger Trisha Meili in a case that would change the course of their lives. While a shallow version of their story sits in the public’s collective memory, Ava DuVernay uses her new four-part series When They See Us to wholly correct the narrative of the Central Park Five. Through these meticulous episodes, DuVernay rewrites history, exploring how the police and the media systematically derailed the lives of innocent children during one of the most public, racially driven court cases of the pre-Black Lives Matter era. —Sarah Jasmine Montgomery
Netflix original series Sex Education tells the story of socially awkward 16-year-old Otis Milburn, who begins an underground sex clinic with witty bad girl Maeve at their high school to capitalize on their peers’ coital concerns. The series is both the Skins for Gen Z and a public service announcement for inclusive sexual education. The series tackles everything—masturbation, impotence, abortion, pubic lice, sex, LGBTQ relationships—in a frank and often graphic way. It addresses the modern-day growing pains of puberty in a bluntly tragic and often hilarious manner. —Tess Cagle
With a compelling cast and a refreshingly unpredictable plot, The Umbrella Academy blows most comic book shows out of the water. Using the framework of superhero origin stories, the show explores the kind of themes you usually see in indie dramas. The main characters are a squad of super-powered siblings who were adopted at birth by an eccentric billionaire. Instead of using childhood trauma as the motivation to become a hero, The Umbrella Academy explores how parental issues actually get in the way of these characters fulfilling their heroic destiny. —Gavia Baker-Whitelaw
Special stars Ryan (creator Ryan O’Connell), a young gay man with cerebral palsy who starts an internship in Los Angeles at a website aimed toward “woke” millennials. Ryan’s boss, Olivia (Marla Mindelle), pushes the writers for the site to bare their souls for crappy pay (or, in Ryan’s case, no pay, since he is an intern). Ryan writes about a recent accident where he was hit by a car—and decides to hide his CP from his co-workers and boss rather than admit that he is disabled. Special—with O’Connell’s obvious talent as a writer and star—makes a compelling case for why disabled writers, creators, and actors should be leading the way in expanding media representation for people with a variety of disabilities. —Anna Hamilton
6) Dead to Me
Dead to Me is a comedy, drama, and thriller all wrapped up into one TV series. It follows Jen as she attempts to come to terms with the death of her husband Ted in a hit-and-run accident by solving the murder, right as she meets warm and positive Judy at a grief support group. The two form a fast friendship and team up to find the owner of the car responsible for Ted’s death, despite their different personalities. The most fun part about watching Dead to Me is the twists and turns sewed into the plot, making it an easy series to binge watch in a weekend. —T.C.
In the Tales of the City reboot, Mary Ann (Laura Linney) returns to present-day San Francisco to celebrate the 90th birthday of Anna, the transgender landlady who’s home at 28 Barbary Lane has been a safe haven for the LGBTQIA community for decades. The new series more accurately reflects the community at large, which is multi-generational, racially diverse, and boasts a spectrum of lived experiences. Showrunner Lauren Morelli expertly assembled an all-LGBTQIA writers room, and it shows in the series’ thoughtful, nuanced, and relatable writing. — T.C.
The third season of Easy, Joe Swanberg’s mostly improvised anthology show about people navigating love and relationships in Chicago, is intimate in all the best ways. While his films have occasionally felt almost lazy in their looseness, the freewheeling pace of the show opens up Swanberg’s instincts in the best possible way. In Easy, we get glimpses the characters’ lives as they evolve in real time, checking in with them from one year to the next, with latter episodes even justifying the necessity of earlier, seemingly weaker ones. —Chris Osterndorf
Tijuana, a new hourlong drama from Netflix and Univision, wastes no time telling you why its story is different than most American journalism dramas. Mexico, we learn before the opening credits, is the most dangerous place in the world for journalists. To reinforce the point, we begin the series with a vigil for a slain political reporter: If you want to pick a particularly lethal line of work, political journalism in Tijuana might be it. Despite some minor shortcomings, Tijuana stands nicely alongside American prestige procedurals that aim to interrogate the relationship between corruption and institutions meant to provide accountability. Given the unique point of view and the compelling subject, American audiences won’t be able to say Tijuana is quite like any show they’ve seen before. —Brenden Gallagher
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10) Coisa Mais Linda
Brazilian TV series Coisa Mais Linda follows Maria Luiza as she decides to open a music club in Rio De Janeiro after her husband runs off with a mistress and all their money. The series showcases Rio in the ‘50s, Bossa Nova music, and the resilience of women from the time period. With its smart storytelling and multi-dimensional cast, Coisa Mais Linda honors the “beauty that comes from the sorrow of being a woman.” —T.C.
Jessica Jones season 3 wraps up one of the most mature superhero shows on TV, starring Krysten Ritter as a private investigator with super strength and a notoriously bad attitude. The previously self-destructive loner teams up with her newly superpowered adoptive sister Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor) to catch an elusive serial killer. If you love Jessica Jones for its social commentary, this storyline may be a letdown. But if you’re just watching it as a straightforward thriller, Jessica Jones season 3 is still in fine form. —Gavia Baker-Whitelaw
12) The OA season 2
If the first season of The OA messed you up (in a good way), season 2 will break your brain. The show opens with a new character: Karim Washington (Kingsley Ben-Adir), a private investigator tasked with finding a missing teenage girl. Karim inhabits an alternate dimension from season 1. In this new dimension, Prairie goes by her Russian birth name, Nina Azarova, and was never adopted by an American couple. (Also: Joe Biden is president instead of Barack Obama.) Prairie/OA’s friends from Hap’s basement all appear in this new dimension in slightly different roles, including Homer (Emory Cohen), the man she fell in love with while trapped underground for seven years. The OA is proving to be a weird, original show that is forging its own path. It’s unclear what we’ll find out at the end of this series, but for now, the ride is thoroughly enjoyable. —Tiffany Kelly
The sophomore season of Spike Lee’s adaptation of his debut film returns with protagonist Nola Darling (DeWanda Wise) once again navigating the worlds of art and love in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. She’s moved on from her three male lovers to pursue a more serious relationship with Opal, (Ilfenesh Hadera) the single mother to whom she previously couldn’t commit. Things are going great for the happy couple at first, but because this is Nola Darling, they don’t stay uncomplicated for long. Perhaps the main criticism of season 2 is that Nola occasionally gets lost among Spike Lee’s, well, Spike Lee-ness. Yet the very Lee-isms that threaten to undermine this show are also what make it great in the first place. —Chris Osterndorf
With its quippy comedy, deliberately slapdash production values, and supportive atmosphere, the third season of reality baking competition Nailed It! is guaranteed to continue to win over audiences’ hearts and minds—though maybe not their eyes or stomachs. Host Nicole Byer brings the laughs, head judge Jacques Torres brings the expertise, unofficial mascot Wes brings the costumes, and several rotating guest judges bring their own flavor to each episode. Instead of treating failure as an opportunity for mockery, Nailed It! season 3 celebrates it as a natural part of the learning process. —Caitlin Moore
15) Dark season 2
The second season of Netflix’s German sci-fi drama opens up even more possibilities in interfamilial time travel. At its heart, it’s a show about the generational trauma and secrecy of four families from Winden, who’ve been caught up in parallel realities or multiple versions of themselves. Season 2 answers some big questions about the fate of protagonist Jonas and town of Winden, but it also sets up a final season that might take place in a reality we haven’t even seen yet. —A.S.
They’re here, they’re queer, and they’re saving Kansas City from harmful gender roles and assumptions! The Fab Five is back again, leaving Trump Country for the historically LGBT-friendly Kansas City, Missouri. Other than a change in location, Queer Eye season 3 offers more of the same from the first two. Fans will find just as much frothy fun as they did before, while those who felt alienated by the religious conservatism that permeated the previous seasons may find themselves better able to enjoy this outing, even with the reality show sheen that Queer Eye can never truly shed. —Caitlin Moore
17) Tuca & Bertie
Tuca & Bertie, the debut show from BoJack Horseman production designer Lisa Hanawalt, starts with a moment of transition: Two best friends, Tuca (Tiffany Haddish) and Bertie (Ali Wong), who are residents of Bird Town, are no longer cohabiting. Bertie’s boyfriend Speckle (voiced by Steven Yeun) has moved in. There’s an uncertainty there, but the pulsating colors and hybrid characters of the show lift you up. This 10-episode series shares an animation aesthetic with BoJack, but that’s about it. There aren’t any crossover characters or storylines, and Tuca & Bertie is more focused on the lives of women in their 30s than one horse-man’s depressive spiral. —A.S.
18) After Life
After Life stars Ricky Gervais as Tony, a bitter shut-in mourning the passing of his wife Lisa (Kerry Godliman), who recently succumbed to cancer. The series opens with Tony emerging from the throes of grief and just starting to think about getting back out into the world. After Life revels in the rude comments that come out of Tony’s misery—this is a Ricky Gervais project, after all—but they’re fewer and further between in this more contemplative show. As is often the case with Gervais’ work, what elevates After Life is its empathy, and a true wish that the world could be a little less cruel. —B.G.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt ends its run on Netflix much as it began: hilarious, poignant, and criminally under-appreciated. For those of us who stuck in there, the back half of season 4 holds plenty of rewards. (The first six episodes dropped last year, just in time for Emmy qualification.) The book Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) wrote to teach boys not to be creeps starts catching on, just as Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski) and Lillian (Carol Kane) realize that younger men are interested in them now, as younger women have raised their standards. Titus (Tituss Burgess) discovers that all you have to do to be in Cats is walk onstage and brags about his role as a doorman on an unreleased episode of Daredevil to win his ex Mikey (Mike Carlsen) back. And the show reckons with the Me Too movement in the most Kimmy Schmidt way possible—through puppets. —C.O.
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Trigger Warning with Killer Mike distills the controversial Atlanta rapper’s various sociopolitical musings on hurtful ideologies, nationality, America’s addiction to porn, and contextual Blackness/otherness into a cultural docuseries. More or less an imperfect, six-episode thought experiment, Trigger Warning finds the affable Run the Jewels MC serving humor, absurdity, and truth in equal portions. —Kahron Spearman
Looking for something more specific? Here are our Netflix guides for the best war movies, documentaries, anime, indie flicks, true crime, food shows, rom-coms, LGBT movies, alien movies, gangster movies, Westerns, film noir, and movies based on true stories streaming right now. There are also sad movies guaranteed to make you cry, weird movies to melt your brain, old movies when you need something classic, and standup specials when you really need to laugh.
Bryan Rolli is a reporter who specializes in streaming entertainment. He writes about music and film for Forbes, Billboard, and the Austin American-Statesman. He met Flavor Flav in two separate Las Vegas bowling alleys and still can’t stop talking about it.