It’s been a great year for television, evidenced mostly by having too many good shows I can’t even catch (I will get to the Americans when I get to it). Pioneers like Netflix and Hulu continued streaming’s dominance by putting focus on writing and character. There may be tiny spoilers in the descriptions but nothing too major.
Here is my list for favorite series of 2018.
10. Sharp Objects
Adapted from Gillian Flynn’s book, Sharp Objects is more mood than anything else. Set in the sticky, sweaty south, Amy Adams is Camille, a reporter who returns to her hometown to cover the murder of two young girls. Camille deals with her cold and harsh mother (Patricia Clarkson), her precocious teenage sister (Eliza Scanlen) and a dogged cop (Chris Messina) as she covers the gritty crime. The series unravels slowly and isn’t as concerned with the crime as it is with how Camille deals with covering it and returning to the darkness of her childhood. Adams is wonderful, per usual, and does well at exploring the messy, complex Camille. The coda of the series is a bit of a jolt, and it doesn’t do as good of a job at explaining the details as the book thankfully does, but it’s still an interesting story told in an engaging way.
09. Sorry For Your Loss
Led by a devastating performance from Elizabeth Olsen, Facebook Watch’s foray into television overcomes the frustration of the technology (I don’t want to watch a show on my computer or screens smaller than that) by presenting a half-hour drama that explores grief in a thoroughly detailed way. With supporting turns from equally great actors like Janet McTeer, Kelly Marie Tran, Mamoudou Athie and Jovan Adepo, it’s a quiet, slow-paced tale that unfolds in little vignettes, jumping back and forth between the present and the past, with every moment eschewing schmaltz or forced sentimentality for just a hint of hope.
08. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Season two of Amy Sherman-Palladino’s Emmy-winning comedy series continued to shine as it followed the titular comedienne (Rachel Brosnahan) further down her career path. True, the moments on stage aren’t nearly as funny as those off of them. And the complications at the end of the season, with new relationships and new job prospects, offered more interest for season 3. But with sharp performances from the lead, as well as supporting gloriousness from Tony Shaloub, Alex Borstein and the criminally underrated Marin Hinkle, dazzling rat-a-tat dialogue that feels both of its time and from a whole different universe, and a wholly unique premise, Maisel the series (and Maisel the character) continued to offer surprises and unexpected joy.
07. Dear White People
The second season of the college-set series continued to expand on the racial dynamics presented in the first, but thoughtfully cemented around a season-long mystery surrounding a secret society at the school. The show continued to deepen side characters like Joelle (Ashley Blaine Featherson), Coco (Antoinette Robertson), and Lionel (DeRon Horton), but also let its lead Samantha (Logan Browning) veer in interesting directions. The cliffhanger ending offers an interesting turn for the next semester.
06. The Handmaid’s Tale
While the first season ended where the book it was based on did, season two had a different energy by expanding the scope of the series and shifting characters into surprising directions. Villainess Serena Joy (season MVP Yvonne Strahovski) became more complicated and even somewhat likeable, Offred/June’s (Elisabeth Moss) initial escape and return worked well even as it seemed dictated more by the needs of the show than to come organically from the plot. But as our own society continues down an unfortunate path, the series continues to be a bellwether on what can happen on religious extremity left unchecked.
05. Killing Eve
A fun and surprising spy drama, that shifts between thriller, drama, comedy, and character study usually in every episode. Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer lead an interesting ensemble that offered the requisite unexpected turns and edge-of-your-seat plotting. The season-ending denouement from Eve and Villanelle’s last meeting was an entire microcosm of the cat-and-mouse game at the center of the show, and makes the wait for season two excruciating.
04. The Haunting of Hill House
I’m not a fan of horror, and while this show is billed that way, and offers enough jump scares to warrant it, it’s the deeper family drama at the center of it that is most intriguing. Telling the story of the Crain family, husband and wife and their five children, told across two timelines brought together by the tragic events unfolding in each, centered around the mysterious house the family spent a year at. With blink-and-you-miss-it creepiness and an ending that was satisfying and surprising, great performances from its giant ensemble (Elisabeth Reaser, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, and Kate Siegel being standouts).
03. The Good Place
This show is so amazing, embracing its ridiculous premise and finding its voice on being a complex dissertation on philosophical theories. The series has reset itself more than once in its three short years, but never ceases to be hilarious. A glorious ensemble-Kristen Bell, Ted Danson, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, D’Arcy Carden, Manny Jacinto-that has gelled into a complete force, and episodes that are everything from peculiar to absurd, but also thoughtful and fascinating.
Donald Glover’s show has a completely different sensibility than anything else out there. It’s not an outright comedy, though it is outrageously funny in some places. It’s heavy in spots but not overly dramatic. With its second season (subtitled “Robbin’ Season” for some reason) Atlanta, overtly about Glover’s Earn and his management of his rapper cousin Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry) spent entire episodes exploring different relationships and characters to focus on broader themes. Each of the main cast, including Lakeith Stanfield and Zazie Beetz, got their own episode that was a bottle episode of sorts that showed a new side to the characters: Beetz’ Van dressed up a party at Drake’s house, Paper Boi trying to get his haircut, Stanfield’s Darius buying a piano from an eccentric recluse. Every episode was an interesting side note in a broader tale of what binds these characters together.
01. Bojack Horseman
While it’s been a great show since its inception, the fifth season offered so many great episodes that made this sad-funny animated comedy my favorite of the year. From the French-farce that was Todd visiting his girlfriend’s parents, the episode-long monologue of Bojack eulogizing his mother, Princess Caroline’s struggle to manage her job while trying to adopt, to the Mr. Peanutbutter’s multiple Halloweens, the season-long meta commentary of Bojack’s new show that was served as an indictment of masculinity even as it reveled in it, everything clicked into place this year. The show has always been smartly written, and the expert voice-cast (Will Arnett, Alison Brie, Paul F. Thompkins, Amy Sedaris, Aaron Paul) were joined by newcomers that fit right in (Rami Malek as an auteur showrunner, Stephanie Beatriz as Bojack’s partner in bed and on his new show). We deserve more TV shows that are always this good.
And here are my favorite TV Episodes
10. Silicon Valley “Fifty-One Percent”
The show proved it could survive without T.J. Miller, and continued its path to success through hilarious failure, but really this episode makes the list for showcasing secret-weapon and most interesting character, Jared (“How would you like to die today, motherfucker?”).
09. Brooklyn Nine-Nine “Jake and Amy”
Thankfully resurrected on NBC next week, this almost series finale offered the wedding of Jake and Amy that was the culmination of the show’s best in-jokes and running gags and showed the series still has a lot of life in it.
08. Atlanta “Teddy Perkins”
Ridiculous doesn’t even begin to cover it. Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) shows up at the house of an eccentric recluse who may or may not have imprisoned his musician brother. Series creator and writer Donald Glover plays Teddy in white face and that’s just the surface of what makes this weird, uneasy episode of the year’s best.
07. The Good Place “Janet(s)”
I don’t know if there’s a better way to demonstrate that a show has built strong characters than having another actor portray them. In what amounts to a showcase (of biblical proportions) for D’Arcy Carden as she plays not only her character of Janet, but also the four other main characters as they try and make their way back to the afterlife. Carden does a phenomenal job, each character feels like their character, even when she plays one character pretending to be another character. It’s crazy. But hilarious. And amazing.
06. Homecoming “Protocol”
Julia Roberts’ show bounced around different timelines as it followed the central mystery as to what happened to Roberts’ Heidi after her time working with soldiers at a facility that purports to help them re-enter civilian life. With “Protocol,” the series finally started to offer some answers to the mysteries it set up initially and played up Roberts’ star power in order to highlight a character that isn’t as endearing as its star.
05. American Vandal “The Brownout”
With a deluge of one-season wonder TV series that don’t warrant a second season (13 Reasons Why, Big Little Lies, the aforementioned Homecoming), it’s a shame that as American Vandal justified its second season it gets canceled. With “The Brownout” the show set up a new mystery for its amateur sleuths (Tyler Alvarez, Griffin Gluck) to solve, as they are brought to the Pacific Northwest to hopefully discover who poisoned an entire cafeteria of students and teachers resulting in them, well, shitting themselves. Dubbed “The Brownout” the mystery offered a slew of new puns, and began an interesting foray into the wild world of private-school life.
04. Atlanta “Crabs in a Barrell”
While showier episodes like the one at number 8 got more attention, this season finale of Atlanta’s second season impressed me more. At the climax of the episode, as Chekov’s backpack was about to go through security at the airport, the entire random season built to one crazy tense moment that strengthened the bond between characters as it gave a deeper insight into why Paper Boi and Earn are connected, what that means to each of them, and what they are each willing to do. It was amazing television.
03. The Haunting of Hill House “Two Storms”
While the entire show was built on focus and paying attention to the background (both visually and metaphorically) it was this episode that brought that to the forefront, so to speak. Following two storms, one in the present, one in the past, the distraught family explored their shaky foundations and their unraveling bonds. The creep factor was high, and the episode was deep, but it was also a technical marvel, made up of multiple one-take scenes playing out in real time. A highlight episode of a great season of this show.
02. Bojack Horseman “Free Churro”
I’m a sucker for theater on television, but has it ever been done so expertly in animation? The entire episode is ostensibly a one-act play with Bojack eulogizing his mother. They had a complicated relationship, and Bojack worked through his feelings while the show played to his strengths as a character: his charm, his depressive tendencies, his self-deprecating humor combined with his enormous ego. It was a great showcase for Will Arnett, who has felt more lifelike as Bojack than as some of the real characters he’s played. The whole thing culminates in an easy joke, one that was well-earned, even if the show is smarter than that.
01. Dear White People “Vol. 2: Chapter VIII”
Speaking of theater, this is another play on screen as the season-long wait for Sam (Logan Browning) and Gabe (John Patrick Amedori) to deal with their break-up built to this confrontation between them, as Sam finally sat down for an interview with her ex. Save for the intro, the entire episode is Gabe and Sam, dissecting everything from their break-up to the state of racism in the world today. It’s awkward and messy and thought-provoking and intricate and awesome.