Monday, December 31, 2018

My Top 12 TV Shows of 2018

With the year ending, I've binged everything I was able to squeeze in, and so now it's time for my Top 12 TV Shows of 2018.

A couple disclaimers: it's Peak TV so I certainly can't see EVERYTHING. I haven't yet gotten to see the new season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, so if you're wondering how it disappeared from this year's list, that's why. One Day at a Time remains unfinished, and there was really no point this year that I felt ready for The Handmaid's Tale, so if any of those obvious omissions bugs you, you now know why.

Onto the countdown!

12) Forever - Upon release, critics were asked not to reveal the concept of this afterlife-set series, an odd prohibition considering this show semi-reinvented itself in each of the first three episodes. Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen play a married couple reunited in the afterlife and find that the malaise that their marriage has become might mean there's a reason the vows say "till death do us part." Not really a comedy or a drama, but something in between, the show had its own unique feel and some solid, lived-in performances from the leads.

11) Homecoming - Julia Roberts comes to TV! Or at least Amazon. At times, this story of a woman helping returning servicemen deal with PTSD got a bit too showy with its storytelling, but this slow-burn thriller deployed its mystery well and built the central relationship between Roberts and Stephen James's veteran even better. At a time when too many streaming shows have one hour or longer episodes that feel even longer, it was a delight to find eight episodes that clocked in at thirty minutes each and never had time to bore.

10) Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - Most of this year's short 6-episode run were on-par for the show, that is to say, wacky and delightful, but the third episode was the true standout. Done in the style of a true-crime documentary, we get the history of Jon Hamm's Richard Wayne Gary Wayne, and the idea of applying the Making a Murderer motif to this story feels so obvious in retrospect, it's a wonder it wasn't done sooner. I'm gonna miss this show.

9) Counterpart - As I haven't seen season 2, this ranking is based only on season one. Though the shows deliberate pace occasionally felt TOO deliberate, most weeks this was an enthralling Cold War-type story that was an excellent showcase in how subtly J.K. Simmons could distinguish his identical characters without giving one of them a scar, a beard or overt facial tick. The show boasts a two of my favorite tropes - actors convincingly playing dual roles and actors showing off how they can have Character A play their identical Character B and get it JUST wrong enough that it reads as one character imitating another. Simmons's work aside, another notable episode is episode 7, which agonizingly reveals the history of how one character from the other side came to murder and replace their double on our side.

8) Brooklyn Nine-Nine - In its sixth season, the show finally got around to the HOMICIDE in-joke we were all waiting for and put Andre Braugher in an episode-long interrogation. Even better, the perp was THIS IS US's Sterling K. Brown. It was a highlight of a generally strong season. Cancelled by Fox, the show got a reprieve less than 24 hours later from NBC, where it will hopefully reign for many years to come. I want more teasers like this:

7) DC's Legends of Tomorrow - The most off-beat of the CW superhero shows really hit its stride this year. There's not a single drama on TV less afraid to be goofy and that kind of swing for the fences mentality ends up hitting a lot more than it misses. Where else can you have a time-traveling talking gorilla try to kill Barak Obama in college? Or how about when our heroes realize the disembodied voice of their demon enemy sounds like John Noble, so they hatch a plan to go back in time to the set of Lord of the Rings and, disguised as PAs, get John Noble to record dialogue that will let them manipulate their foes? By the way, both of these crazy developments happen in the SAME episode

6) The Haunting of Hill House - a completely unsettling experience elevated even further by a couple standout hours. On every level - casting, directing, performing, production design - this show hit the mark and then some. The resemblance between the child actors and their adult counterparts was uncanny, to say nothing of the siblings' resemblance to each other. The series most intense hour revealed the truth of the "Bent-Neck Woman" and followed that with a stunning episode full of long-takes that managed to tell the story more than drawing unnecessary attention to each other. (Pay attention, HOMECOMING.) This is one I can't wait to revisit in a few months.

5) Barry - A dark comedy that wasn't afraid to get REALLY dark. Just when it started to feel like the bread and butter of the show was making fun of vapid acting classes and the people who frequent them, the series took a hard right with a violent subplot that culminated in one of the best scenes of the year - Barry showing us that no matter how much we'd laughed at his acting dream, there was still a ruthless killer lurking in there. Bill Hader gave one of the best performances of the year, perfectly balanced by Henry Winkler's acting coach. I can't wait to see how season two moves forward.

4) Dear White People - a nuanced look at racial issues through the experiences of the black population at an Ivy League college. I was late in getting to the show, but once I started, I binged through both seasons in less than a week and a half. Even when the characters are directly confronting racism and cultural tension, it never feels preachy. That's a credit to the deeply-drawn and richly portrayed characters. The show can do an episode that's essentially just two characters in a room debating their perspectives on race and all of it comes from character.

3) Better Call Saul - Hands down, the show's best season so far finally gave Rhea Seehorn's Kim a lot of material to sink her teeth into while Bob Odenkirk took Jimmy close to the final transformation into Saul Goodman. In a season that got much closer to completing the bridge to BREAKING BAD, it ironically felt even more capable of standing on its own.

2) American Vandal - Season two was less outright funny than season one, but proved even more adept than it's predecessor at mining the loneliness and challenges of teenage life for story material. VANDAL again proves to be one of the most thoughtful depictions of high school and the different faces modern teens wear in order to survive in it. Who would have thought a mockumentary about the hunt for a laxative-spiking prankster called the Turd Burglar would have so much complexity to it?

1) The Good Place - Until the show's most recent episode a few weeks ago, THE GOOD PLACE was sitting at #3 on this list. Then came the story that required D'Arcy Carden to play all four major characters, sometimes without even the aid of different clothes and styling to distinguish among the characters. It was an Emmy-worthy episode and one that hopefully won't be forgotten more than half a year from now.

Beyond that, no show on TV is more fearless about reinventing itself. Every season has seen a massive change in the status quo and usually even that status quo gets blown up by midseason. Every season feels like it should be the show's last, and yet the writers keep finding ingenious ways of exploring these characters and the inner workings of the afterlife. I want this show to go on forever, so long as it keeps up the work of not overstaying its welcome. There is no show I look forward to more each week.

1 comment:

  1. Fuck off, you stupid cunt. Roll up your scripts and shove them up your ass.