The Best TV Shows Of 2018
We’re weeks away from Christmas, which means the arrival of a flurry of end-of-year coverage from your favourite angry film and tv blog. Our first major feature is our esteemed Best TV Shows Of The Year list: the fifteen shows from broadcast, cable and streaming that inspired, amused and entertained us the most during the past 12 months.
Note: Shows we didn’t watch this year — so couldn’t possibly have made the list — include The Handmaid’s Tale, Westworld, The Deuce, The Good Place, The Americans, Barry, Killing Eve, Sharp Objects, The First, 13 Reasons Why, Homecoming, American Horror Story and Pose.
And then there’s shows we watched that were very, very bad. Namely House of Cards, our Worst TV Show of 2018.
And now, the list…
A textured experiment in contract fulfilment, Netflix’s expensive Jonah Hill/Emma Stone vehicle is a visually flawless but narratively meaningless attempt at capturing the midpoint of Inception and The Leftovers without putting in the character work either of those properties was so renowned for.
The ten-episode second season, adapting five of Daniel Handler’s children’s books, is an absolute chore to sit through in one viewing: books with twenty minutes of plot stretched to two hours, giving Neil Patrick Harris time to make Count Olaf — one of modern literature’s great villains — totally insufferable. Yet the production design is, while cheap, a delight to live within, and the young leads — Louis Hynes, Malina Weissman — never less than charming. The shorter third season due in January should easily be able to get this once-very promising show back on track.
You can put the Bluths — yes, even the one accused of sexual abuse — back in a room together, but you can’t tell me a single thing that happened in the eight episodes of Arrested Netflix dropped in May. The cast just don’t seem too enthused to be there — David Cross and Alia Shawkat especially cannot wait to escape — and the farces constructed are merely building on season four storylines that weren’t interesting to begin with. An insignificant return for a masterful series.
When Hulu’s 9/11 prequel, adapted from Lawrence Wright’s acclaimed nonfiction book, took full advantage of its ensemble — including Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg, Alec Baldwin, Bill Camp and several more of my favourite actors in the whole world — it was occasionally a complete and pure joy. But it primarily (almost admirably) failed to sensationalise anything, delivering hours and hours of clinical, po-faced exposition into how the CIA and FBI failed to prevent the September 11 attacks. An important story to tell, of course, but it wouldn’t have harmed to have a few more scenes like Daniels in a Liverpool pub dancing to “Come On Eileen”.
A-ha! I bet you forgot there was new Kimmy this year! But there was. And it was as hilarious as ever. If the initial novelty of this sweet, hilarious show may have worn off slightly, its joke rate and cast cohesion remain unparalleled. The imminent final season should be considered as one of 2019’s most bittersweet TV goodbyes.
Alan Ball ’s little-seen and poorly-received True Blood follow-up was an ambitious and tediously-confrontational social drama about a diverse adoptive family in present day Portland, throwing every 2018 social issue into the cauldron of ideas — PC culture, religious extremism, gender identity, fake news — along with some funky superstition about butterflies and volcanoes. A messy and unsubtle experiment, Here & Now was ultimately a very entertaining one that captures the unfocused state of American liberalism like little else has managed to, and grounded itself in outstanding performances by Sosie Bacon, Daniel Zovatto and Marwan Salama. Tim Robbins, meanwhile, as the philosophy professor dad who pulls out a gun in lectures to prove a point, was the embodiment of everything wrong with the show.
There’s an awful lot to be said for a family comedy that’s absolutely, indefatigably charming. A show as well-intentioned as Atypical wouldn’t quite fit in as an ABC half-hour; it’s a little too smart, like the best early Modern Family to hit the broad notes necessary in 2018. Brigette Lundy-Paine continues to inhabit one of the strongest characters currently on television in a show that handles autism, divorce, teen sex and general awkwardness with a sharply sensitive gaze that’s impactful and addictive.
Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad prequel has lost its initial cultural colour, but is still — four seasons in — nothing less than one of the most consistently well-written and well-directed cable dramas, often reaching higher heights than its acclaimed AMC predecessor. The absence of Michael McKean’s Chuck was a blow to the ensemble, but Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn’s work alone makes even the weakest episodes of Saul unmissable TV.
Bojack Horseman wasn’t on top form this year — with only its bloated, heavy-handed funeral monologue episode Free Churro creating any real cultural waves — but fit remains one of the sharpest satires around, utilising its cast of animated animals to touch upon the #MeToo movement and digging further into the dark mindset of America’s most depressed celebrity horse.
The creators of Glee and American Horror Story apply their format of campy cynicism to the procedural drama, as we follow a team of emergency responders on an array of utterly ridiculous, often ripped-from-the-headlines incidents across Los Angeles. Angela Bassett and Peter Krause are among the strong personalities rushing to save an assortment of idiots from perilous scenarios, usually of their own making. But there’s an underlying progressiveness to 9–1–1, among its cast are LGBT characters and actors of colour, and its diversity is addressed in surprising and empowering ways.
Donald Sutherland, Brendan Fraser and fabulous breakout Michael Esper did sensational work in Danny Boyle’s miniseries, an electric adaptation of the infamous Getty kidnapping. Trust is a historical drama with a rock n’ roll sensibility: both a nail-biting, relentless crime thriller and a fascinating deconstruction of excessive wealth and the downfalls of fame and fortune.
Dave Holstein and Michel Gondry’s Kidding is a fascinating, touching drama that succeeds in totally different ways than seemingly intended. Jim Carrey grounds the show with his enigmatic central performance, but it’s the surprisingly sensitive exploration of how TV affects people’s lives — with episodes touching on drug addiction, cancer and the death penalty — that sets it apart from other postmodern comedies.
Big Mouth, the creation of Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg, improved hugely in its second run of episodes, expanding its horizons beyond the humiliating trials of puberty, introducing compelling depictions of mental health and modern sexual culture into its bizarre canvass of Hormone Monsters and Shame Wizards. It’s a show about being 14 years old that’s targeted at an audience well past that stage of their lives. The tragic Coach Steve figure is a new, timeless icon for beautifully hapless morons everywhere.
Co-created by Adam McKay and Jesse Armstrong, Succession takes a Shakespeare-cum-screwball approach to the New York media elite. A Rupert Murdoch-style billionaire (Brian Cox) facing retirement must choose one of four obnoxious adult children as his corporate heir. Succession is like Arrested Development with billionaire cocaine addicts: we are somehow delighted and charmed by the outrageous in-fighting between these despicably manipulative siblings. Each episode is built around brilliantly-constructed sequences of boardroom catfighting reminiscent of both David Mamet and Aaron Sorkin. The performances are uniformly stellar: Jeremy Strong, Nicholas Braun, Sarah Snook and Kieran Culkin are among the relative newcomers who make a significant impression in their skilful delivery of Armstrong’s labyrinthine, plotty teleplays.
Donald Glover’s meandering, soulful urban poem Atlanta stepped up a level in its second season, diving into the heart of contemporary black America and validating Glover as a cinematic auteur unequalled in his vibrant melding of personal and political statement. Yet Atlanta is not an inherently serious show, and is strongest when returning to its absurdist comedic roots. See the episode “Teddy Perkins”, the strongest hour of television this side of Twin Peaks Part 8, an improvement on the sort of post-blacksploitation satire Get Out reintroduced into culture last year.
And that, friends, were our 15 favourite shows of the year. Stay tuned to Luwd Media these next few weeks as we countdown the best episodes, performances and films of 2018 in beautiful full-colour illustrated form. But for now…