The best (and worst) TV shows of 2018
There have never been so many TV shows. And never have there been so many good TV shows: Bold, unique, eccentric, and entertaining, representing a broad array of styles, genres, and perspectives. For your reading pleasure, here are EW critic Darren Franich’s top 10 shows of the year, followed by EW critic Kristen Baldwin’s top 10 shows of the year… and then a few shows the EW staff didn’t love.
DARREN’S TOP 10 LIST: 10. Superstore (NBC)
Something remarkable happened when I watched this workplace comedy’s season 4 premiere: When the Cloud 9 staff gathered in the break room to talk about sexual harassment, I realized I cared about 13 characters in the scene — an ensemble of uproariously funny worker drones barely surviving the drudgery of life in a product-placement dystopia. Long a hidden gem on NBC’s lineup, Superstore hit a new gear with episodes about Amy’s (America Ferrera) pregnancy, a cheerfully downbeat portrait of a woman with crummy healthcare and zero maternity leave.
9. The Deuce (HBO)
Maggie Gyllenhaal′s Candy is a prostitute–turned–porn star–turned ’70s auteur filming a female-gaze XXX fairy tale without a permit in mean Manhattan. She′s an antihero for our own #MeToo era, and Gyllenhaal′s bold performance should become a new national monument. But the show′s rich journalistic texture grants a star turn to every member of the giant cast. While the sex-power-money subject matter is endlessly provocative, The Deuce’s real kick comes from its magnificent sprawl. It’s a whole vanished NYC brought to life with cinematic-universe precision.
8. Dear White People (Netflix)
The best college TV show ever, Justin Simien’s social comedy uses its fictional Winchester U as a battleground for the great issues of the day: social media racism, free speech, the fading possibility that you can ever film reality without bias. A remarkably sensitive abortion subplot raised the Very Special Episode format to a shattering art form. You feel the characters engaging in a daily reinvention, solving the mystery of themselves alongside the mysteries of campus lore. Plus, it’s shot with a luscious opulence that makes every freeze-frame a dorm poster waiting to happen.
7. Corporate (Comedy Central)
The opening credits for this insanely fun satire present a montage of employees at megacorporation Hampton DeVille, their faces all frozen into the kind of smile you usually only find on corpses left behind by the Joker. You can hear them screaming inside. There’s a quality of deadpan despair to Corporate, a sense that it’s less about office culture than how modern culture turns everything into work. The great cast has the kind of weary nihilistic energy you usually only get from British actors, but I treasure Lance Reddick’s CEO, an oddly endearing capitalist monster.
6. Barry (HBO)
The pinnacle of 2010s TV success (your Shondalands, your Walking Deads, your Game of Throneses) turned death twists and rug-pull WTFery into a new normal. Credit Bill Hader′s hitman comedy for reviving genuine dumbstruck surprise, like you′re watching something that wasn′t allowed to happen. The premise — an assassin who wants to be an actor — offered a riff on showbiz. Then the body count piled higher. All hail Paula Newsome as the year′s most most diligent TV sleuth.
5. Homecoming (Amazon Prime Video)
The thrilling cure for the common overlong bingeable drama. Julia Roberts gives a brilliantly tense performance as Heidi, a caseworker at a mysterious support facility for military vets. Then she gives a brilliantly frayed performance as Heidi, a waitress dodging questions about her professional past. Director Sam Esmail crafted this slippery work into a cinematic delight, sliding famous movie scores and swoony camera trickery into a trippy, tone-shifting narrative. All hail Shea Whigham as a confused government bureaucrat gradually revealing himself as the year′s other most diligent TV sleuth. (Dear 2019: Buddy-cop show starring Newsome and Whigham, please?)
4. Lodge 49 (AMC)
The saga of salesman Ernie (Brent Jennings) and wounded ex-surfer Dud (Wyatt Russell) earned comparisons to The Big Lebowski and Thomas Pynchon′s tales of SoCal Weird. This freshman drama is definitely the most humane TV mythology since The Leftovers. The story of a Freemason-ish secret society certainly has its eccentricities (local real estate demigod Bruce Campbell!), but listing the loopy plot turns doesn′t capture the show′s profound sweetness. “I′ll be here at the same time every week,” Ernie tells Dud, “So you′ll always know where to find me.” And isn′t that why we watch TV?
3. Adventure Time (Cartoon Network)
The great animated series of our age wrapped its eight-year run with one of the best series finales ever, a 44-minute eruption of pure imagination. Heartwrenching sacrifices! Surreal imagery demanding rewatches! An ode to the heroic possibilities of communal engagement! THAT KISS! Faced with the end of everything ever, the characters joined together to heroically sing “Time Adventure,” a tune that could make anyone cry. Fun fact: The song was written by Rebecca Sugar, whose splendid Steven Universe leads a new Renaissance of great cartoons. They have a perfect act to follow.
2. The Good Fight (CBS All Access)
Political corruption, apocalyptic paranoia, bullet storms of domestic terror, overflowing misogyny: This was 2018, but thankfully we also experienced the triumphant transformation of this Good Wife spin-off into a slow-motion portrait of America′s nervous breakdown, told with procedural clarity and highball wit. Nearly a decade into the role, Christine Baranski has turned attorney Diane Lockhart into a weary icon, a strong woman self-caring against end times with psychedelics and aikido. It′s all right there on CBS All Access; my mom borrowed my password, and you can, too!
1. Atlanta (FX)
Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry) wants a haircut. Van (Zazie Beetz) hunts for a Drake selfie. Earn (creator/2018 avatar Donald Glover) is a black man trying to spend a $100 bill. And Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) simply must escape Teddy Perkins. Every sub-quest on Atlanta: Robbin’ Season was hilariously doomed, and every episode looked like a different perfect TV series: a police standoff against a climactic alligator; a raucous New Year’s Eve night out; that dystopian music company with no functional audio; the lost wander through a fairy-tale forest. The tragicomedy felt surgical, like Atlanta was Temple of Dooming America’s broken heart right out of our schismatic rib cage. You wanted to find something redemptive, a new hope blooming amid the casual racism and brutal capitalism, like a fake FUBU shirt that turns real if you believe hard enough. “That’s beautiful,” Teddy Perkins told us, “but wrong.”
KRISTEN’S LIST: 10. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime Video)
Boy, does this show know how to put on a show. In season 2 of Amy Sherman-Palladino’s version of 1950s New York, everything is choreographed to perfection: A family of immigrants sing in unison while washing dishes in their tiny tenement room; Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) glides gracefully from one end of the chaotic B. Altman switchboard to another; Abe (Tony Shalhoub, national treasure) keeps his math lecture going as he strides across campus with a gaggle of note-taking students in tow. It’s TV–as–Rube Goldberg contraption, and it’s a marvel to behold.
9. Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox)
“Title of your sex tape,” “Terry loves yogurt,” the Halloween heist — five seasons in, no show is more committed to tomfoolery than Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Every cold open is a finely crafted work of absurdity (that Backstreet Boys lineup!); every sight gag designed for maximum hilarity (Cheddar the dog in tiny swim trunks!). It’s all rooted in the characters’ fierce love for each other… and the writers’ love of dumb wordplay. There was no wedding vow more moving this year than Amy’s (Melissa Fumero) declaration to Jake (Andy Samberg): “Your butt is the bomb. There will be no survivors.”
8. YOU (Lifetime)
Dating is a nightmare under the best of circumstances. And dating in the era of Insta stories and eggplant emojis? It can be deadly. In this crazy-sexy social media thriller, bookstore manager Joe (Gossip Girl’s Penn Badgley) falls for a winsome, wayward poet named Beck (Elizabeth Lail) and devotes his life to loving her — whether she likes it or not. Badgley gives a career (re)making performance (much of it in rapid-fire voice-over) as a charming but comically insecure psycho disguised as the World’s Best Boyfriend. Watching a woman in peril on Lifetime has never been so much fun.
7. Better Call Saul (AMC)
The tragedy of Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk, consistently miraculous) is never more poignant than when we see it reflected in the eyes of his soul mate, Kim (Rhea Seehorn, so overdue for an Emmy nom). Until this season’s final scene, Kim allowed herself to hope that Jimmy could conquer his inner shyster. But when he fools a legal board into reinstating his license, Kim must face the truth: She’s a sucker, too. Even with all the Breaking Bad detours (oy with the superlab already!), Saul remains TV’s most deftly constructed character study.
6. Cobra Kai (YouTube Premium)
A potentially terrible idea that became a delightfully entertaining reality. Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio, ageless) is now a car dealership king, while former bully Johnny (William Zabka, brutally funny) is broke and alone. But high school wounds never heal — they’re just visited upon the next generation of kids. Cobra Kai has heart and humor, and the guts to let Johnny drop unfrozen caveman wisdom on his triggerable teen students. (Asthma? Peanut allergies? All “made-up bulls—.”) Give it a chance. Judgment does not exist in this dojo!
5. Pose (FX)
The ads with queens serving face made Pose look like an explosion of fab-ulos-i-ty. The stories about the transgender cast made it sound like a Very Important Drama. The show was neither; it was both. In truth, it was a tender tale about a mom and her kids. Yes, the mother is an HIV-positive trans woman (Mj Rodriguez) and her children are lonely LGBTQ outcasts, but their struggles are the same: Set the table. Stay off drugs. Practice safe sex. Know your worth. Traditional with a side of glamour, Pose was the most heartwarming show of the year.
4. Barry (HBO)
Call it PTSD: The Comedy! Relentlessly dark, yet funnier than a show about a depressed Marine has any right to be, Barry took a wacky conceit and gave it a thousand-yard stare. As the titular hitman-turned-actor, Bill Hader is heartbreaking, a man made toxic by war. Still, the pain is shot through with hilarity: Henry Winkler, channeling more than 50 years of experience into his role as Barry’s pompous acting teacher, Gene; Anthony Carrigan, a pure joy as gregarious mobster Noho Hank. And Hader’s tiny flinch upon hearing “thank you for your service” is a master class in literal cringe humor.
3. The Good Fight (CBS All Access)
As our country descends further into surreality (don’t @ me), it’s blissful to watch a legal drama turn agitation into art. Part procedural, part fever dream, and all impeccably executed, The Good Fight is a real-time reflection of our chaotic culture — only funnier and much better dressed. Christine Baranski’s regal Diane thinks she’s going insane, but she’s also the “adult in the room,” a precious commodity these days. Weird and wonderful, and boasting the best ensemble on TV (@ me all you want), this is a Fight worth having, over and over again.
2. Killing Eve (BBC America)
Two women — one brusque, bored, and seething with indignation, the other impish, incorrigible, and deadly — stalk each other across Europe, sinking deeper into a mutual obsession. MI5 officer Eve (Sandra Oh, profoundly sardonic) wants more from her job, her husband, her life, and she finds it in Villanelle (the peerless Jodie Comer), a narcissistic assassin whose disdain for society’s moral code holds Eve in thrall. A snappy spy adventure with car chases and cliff-hangers, disguises and double crosses, Eve is a savagely funny journey through the vast and varied landscape of female rage.
1. The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (FX)
The second installment of Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story lured us in with the promise of a lavish retelling of fashion designer Gianni Versace’s headline-grabbing murder, featuring Ricky Martin in tennis whites as Versace’s life partner, Antonio, and Oscar winner Penélope Cruz in a Barbieblond wig as his steely sister/business partner, Donatella. But in a beautiful bait and switch, the show took the story of Versace (brought to life with stunning precision by Edgar Ramírez) and expanded it into a contemplative eulogy for Andrew Cunanan’s previous victims, including a promising young gay architect (Cody Fern) and a closeted naval officer (Finn Wittrock). Anchored by Darren Criss’ wondrous, quicksilver performance as Cunanan, Crime Story turned the clear gaze of hindsight on an era when America tried to “don’t ask, don’t tell” its homosexual citizens into invisibility.
THE WORST SHOWS OF 2018: 5. Reverie (NBC)
A limp procedural that looked like an undiscovered ’90s UPN travesty. No disrespect to ’90s UPN travesties. Reverie was so bad, it made Deadly Games look like VR.5.
4. Sweetbitter (Starz)
Penniless young Tess (Ella Purnell) moves to New York and is stunned to discover (a) it’s expensive and (b) people who work in a busy restaurant aren’t nurturing or patient. Worse than Tess’ excruciating naivete is the show’s need to fetishize her doe-eyed innocence. Send this dish back to the chef — it’s way overdone.
3. Insatiable (Netflix)
Unhappy heavy girl (Debby Ryan) drops the weight and becomes a miserable, vindictive, skinny beast. Is the show fat-phobic? That’s debatable. What’s truly offensive about Insatiable is the tacky, unfunny writing, intentionally hammy acting, and shameful misuse of otherwise likable performers (Chris Gorham, we still love you).
2. Who Is America? (Showtime)
Sacha Baron Cohen, last decade’s most profound provocateur, becomes part of the problem. We know people say crazy things on camera. The real trick would be to get them to say something sane.
1. Lost in Space (Netflix)
How to make television In 2018: Buy a storied pop culture franchise. Ignore everything about it so you can just make This Is Us in Space. Spread maybe 90 minutes of plot across 10 neverending episodes. Make sure every stupid moment looks expensive. Then cancel Everything Sucks! while you order another season of this borefest, you monster.
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