Here are the best shows I watched in 2018.
Here are some honorable mentions: It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (FXX), Bojack Horseman (Netflix), A Series of Unfortunate Events (Netflix), Champions (NBC), Jane The Virgin (The CW), Grown-ish (Freeform), Taskmaster (Comedy Central)
And here are some shows I wanted to watch but didn’t get to in 2018: Pose (FX), The Terror (AMC), Dietland (AMC), Sharp Objects (HBO), Brockmire (IFC), Vida (Starz), America To Me (Starz), The End of the F*cking World (Netflix), Lodge 49 (AMC)
And a couple of shows I enjoyed that I didn’t get to finish before making this list: American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace (FX), Corporate (Comedy Central), Homecoming (Amazon), A.P. Bio (NBC), Cloak & Dagger (Freeform), The Romanoffs (Amazon)
Anyway, here’s the list.
20. WHO IS AMERICA? (Showtime)
There was plenty of handwringing over what the Show That Represents The Trump Era is (even I participated in it), even though that’s foolhardy to properly determine while we’re still living through the Trump Era. Nevertheless, there hasn’t been a show more indicative of this yet in 2018 than Who Is America?. There was also plenty of handwringing over whether Who Is America? is “effective” satire or not when that’s more than besides the point. Who Is America? mirrored how horrific and exploitative our current political climate is, and in its own way it was plenty horrific and exploitative itself, but towards a cathartic point. It’s giddily post-#TheResistance, “when they go low, we go high” ideology replaced with a take no prisoners approach to making the shameless, spineless monsters running this country accountable in public opinion at the very least. I’d never seen something as purely shocking as Who Is America? before, that still has a salient concept at its core: America is, and may have always been, a disaster, so let’s laugh through the misery.
19. ONE DAY AT A TIME (Netflix)
The first season of One Day At A Time felt uniquely timely but it wasn’t on purpose: this show about a Latinx family tackling several social issues including immigration and LGBTQ rights was released in January 2017 and made before the Trump presidency. Season two gave the show the opportunity to directly comment on the harsh political climate that has since been enacted and thankfully, it didn’t. The second season of One Day At A Time, a few obligatory Trump jokes aside, doubled down on its characters, digging deep for emotion and infused social commentary into the proceedings in a completely natural way. Justina Machado and Rita Moreno again, give incredible performances that combine love and anger as they navigate various life crises. One Day At A Time makes you feel good, but it makes you really earn that feeling.
18. THE LAST O.G. (TBS)
A strangely moving show, The Last O.G. takes a simple fish out of water premise (man arrested for selling drugs in 2002 Brooklyn gets released from prison into 2018 Brooklyn) and imbues it with so much more humanity than the premise calls for. Tracy Morgan’s performance as Tray is hysterical in Morgan’s typical way, but also subtly hides a genuine layer of fear and sadness at having to rejoin the world and navigate his relationship with his ex-girlfriend Shay (Tiffany Haddish), her new husband, and her two kids that happen to be his. The show navigates how hard it is for an ex-con to reintegrate into the world, but never in a heavy handed manner, and with a mix of highbrow and lowbrow humor. Even the easy jokes about Brooklyn gentrification work because they’re rooted in the idea that while Tray actively misses and is nostalgic for his pre-prison life, it’s long gone and in its place is a bizarre and unfamiliar, yet ultimately somewhat better, more progressive version of his home. Interestingly, the show has also teased that Tray might be more of an antihero to his friends and family than anything else. Tracy Morgan couldn’t have asked for a better, more interesting return to television.
17. CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA (Netflix)
The lesser of the clearly Buffy-inspired shows this year, but still great in its own right, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina made Riverdale look like Mad Men in terms of subtlety, but that’s just what I’ve come to accept and love from series creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacase. Sabrina is as messy as Riverdale could and still continues to be, but its central metaphor is so potent that it makes the whole thing work. Sabrina’s coming to terms with her power is not only a strong metaphor for puberty, but her struggle to sign herself over to the Dark Lord himself comment on religion and navigating a patriarchal world with the careful consideration of a sledgehammer but with the outrageous fun of the cult 60’s era horror films it clearly wants to emulate. It helps, as well, that Kiernan Shipka is clearly overqualified for all of this but never feels above it: without her the show would crash and burn under the weight of its own ridiculousness. Miranda Otto and Lucy Davis are fantastic as murderous and borderline abusive sisters, but Michelle Gomez is truly the MVP, chewing as much (blurry for some reason) scenery as she can in every single scene she is. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is pulpy, silly, meaningful, delightful nonsense.
16. BIG MOUTH (Netflix)
Big Mouth’s second season managed to be just as addictive and fun as its first season. Just as the show’s introduction of Hormone Monsters seemed innovative in the first season, season two’s introduction of the Shame Wizard (bizarrely and perfectly played by David Thewlis) feels similarly innovative, personifying that gender neutral deep shame that all teenagers feel as they despair over their bodies and crushes. Episodes devoted to body positivity and Planned Parenthood never feel forced in their messages and yet are deeply empathetic and funny in a pretty fucked up way. It was impressive enough that the show could keep this balance of empathy and crudeness in the first season, it’s even more impressive that it’s kept up the act for another. Big Mouth is a puerile teen comedy drama that’s better written than most dramas right now.
15. SORRY FOR YOUR LOSS (Facebook Watch)
I’ve always said that I’m going to rue the day that Facebook finally caves and starts making scripted television. It feels especially ironic that one of their first scripted original series is very impressive. From playwright Kit Steinkellner and director James Ponsoldt, Sorry For Your Loss is a extraordinary and sensitive look at how we process grief. Elizabeth Olsen is Leigh, a woman who lost her husband three months ago and is realizing with mounting terror that it might be time to move on and let go off her grief. It’s this central, difficult idea that makes the series so fascinating: when and how do we stop grieving? Olsen is terrific in a difficult role: Leigh is insufferable yet so very human in how she weaponizes her grief against loved ones because she doesn’t know how else to act, while her mother and sister, played by Janet McTeer and Kelly Marie Tran, try to be as empathetic as they can to her while also processing their own grief. The show also finds time to realistically discuss class, race, and mental illness without ever losing central focus. Impressively, Sorry For Your Loss is as wry as it is heartbreaking: it’s a smart blend of comedy and drama that few shows can pull off as well as this show does.
14. AMERICAN VANDAL (Netflix)
Once again combining puerile jokes with affecting social commentary, season two of American Vandal aimed to combine poop jokes with commentary on social media bullying, and it worked shockingly well. American Vandal became one of the very few TV shows to properly diagnose a generation that’s Too Online, without coming off as too condescending or too forgiving. Much like the reveal of who drew the dicks in season one, the reveal of identity of the Turd Burglar is satisfying but also desperately sad, possibly even more sad than the first season. Travis Tope’s Kevin McClain is probably the most impressive character ever on the show in both writing in performance: he’s equally annoying and relatable to anyone who wasn’t popular in high school. He’s also such a specific type of person that everyone knew in high school: the nerd type that keeps to himself yet is also a bit obnoxious. American Vandal continued its trend of being the most impressive teen drama on TV, it’s a shame that we won’t see more of it.
13. KILLING EVE (BBC America)
Sort of a feminist, gender-swapped version of Hannibal, Killing Eve was the last thing I expected from Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge. A wonderfully bizarre spy thriller show, Killing Eve is representative of Waller-Bridge’s version of fucked up feminism: women are at the forefront and they’re unapologetically awful. Props must be given to Waller-Bridge for giving Sandra Oh an impressive leading role, Oh’s been killing it since Grey’s Anatomy and it’s a shame this is her first big break since then. Jodie Comer (who’s great on the little seen My Mad Fat Diary) is also quite impressive, making her Villanelle terrifying and also deeply, deeply strange in a way that never makes her any less scary. Killing Eve is an odd show: it’s aimless at times even though it has a clear plot, and it became too much of a standard spy thriller near the end of its debut season, but it’s the chemistry between Comer and Oh, as well as the well-calibrated will they-won’t they relationship between them that keeps the show interesting. It’s absolutely unclear whether they’ll kill each other, sleep with each other, or both, and it’s in that uncertainty that Waller-Bridge thrives with Killing Eve.
12. CASUAL (Hulu)
Consistently underrated, Casual finally ended its run this year and in typical Casual fashion it was very lowkey. The show smartly did a time jump into a post-Trump (and post-NFL apparently) California, avoiding any depictions of liberal despair and focusing directly on where Alex, Valerie, and Laura have found themselves since we last saw them. They’re as lonely as ever, but the show ends with them making small, but vital strides towards happiness, which is what the show always was about. Casual depicted realistic, and therefore incremental progress in self-actualization and with an impressive cast of actors in Tommy Dewey, Michaela Watkins, and Tara Lynne Bar. It could have easily been a self-indulgent and whiny, but the actors made it work, expertly telegraphing the way these characters tend to be resistant to change the more things change around them. Now that the show has finally ended, I feel confident in calling Casual the best spiritual successor to Six Feet Under, another show that expertly explored the slow growth of characters within a family. Few other shows dug deeper into thorny interpersonal relationships than Casual, and hopefully other shows will learn from it.
11. GLOW (Netflix)
GLOW impressively avoided a sophomore slump that many of its fellow Netflix series find themselves in by delving deeper into its characters and showcasing a remarkable amount of confidence in its storytelling. Season two found the show exploring some of the lesser GLOW ladies, with Tammé’s (Kia Stevens) Welfare Queen taking center stage in her own episode, last season’s shocking revelation with Justine (Britt Baron) being further explored, and Arthie (Sunita Mani) being given a surprising and sweet romance. GLOW also once again gave Betty Gilpin steady material for her to knock out of the park. Debbie’s increasing stress over the season over juggling motherhood and GLOW is a joy to watch thanks to Gilpin’s determined performance. Alison Brie is great as well, even as she fades into the background this season a bit. Special props to Marc Maron and Chris Lowell as well, who have mastered the extremely 80’s roles of loving curmudgeon and approval-seeking trust fund kid (who’s also given a surprising new dimension this season), respectively. The second season of GLOW turned the show into an impressive and confident ensemble comedy drama that’s easily the best show on Netflix (though that’s not saying much).