Best of 2018: TV Shows

Finally, it is time to wrap of this year’s “Best of” collection with a look at my favorite shows. I may have watched fewer things than is typical for me this year (though still more than most people I know), but on the whole, I loved the things I watched more. As both my top 10 and honorable mentions indicate, I’m appreciating comedies more than dramas at the moment and would argue that they are doing better work as a whole. I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at the things I’ve appreciated in 2018 and as always, leave your own favorites in the comments below!

1. The Good Place I occasionally have a hard time believing that a sitcom about moral philosophy aired on NBC at all, let alone has been running for three seasons and has been renewed for a fourth. However, I also can’t think of a more fitting show for this moment in time. What do we owe one another? How do we fix broken systems? What does “doing good” look like? This show addresses them all head on while also telling a beautiful story about four people, one demon, and a Janet who have undoubtedly improved themselves because of the impact they’ve had on each other. They’ve started to overcome old struggles and hurts, become clear about the people they would like to be, and seem to be in the midst of fixing the afterlife for everyone. This is a show that never entirely goes the way you think it may but it does everything so confidently that you can’t help but trust in the end results. There is a solid vision for what this show wants to be and intelligent plotting that rivals many dramas, all in half the time and while making us laugh. It is a remarkable accomplishment and I’m waiting for the award recognition is strongly deserves.

2. One Day at a Time This show is responsible for one of my favorite memories of the year and while that shouldn’t technically count because it involves season three which has yet to air, I’m still counting it because all it did was amplify my love for this special show and all the people involved. This show is everything you want a family sitcom (or honestly, just a good show) to be. The cast is incredible and I will sing their praises constantly, the writing and directing are terrific and take advantage of the cast’s abilities, and it is the perfect blend of funny and warm. In true Norman Lear style, the way they integrate social issues into episodes is beautifully done and I think they topped themselves this year with the episode centering around Penelope’s depression. Rather than being “very special episodes” that are never addressed before and after, they involve issues that have simmered in the background and that flow through into future episodes. I cannot say enough about this show and if you’re not already watching, go to Netflix and hit play on the first episode and catch up before it comes back in early February.

3. Pose I want this show to be Ryan Murphy’s legacy. He has been involved with so many different television shows, many of them critically acclaimed, but he has done something really special with Pose. And he’s done it largely by letting others tell their own stories and using his influence to get it a platform. This is a story by and about queer and trans people of color and it’s full of joy. There is struggle, fear, and loss as it takes place in the 80s during the AIDS crisis but it doesn’t take center stage. Instead, it highlights community and chosen families and love. It feels unlike anything else on television and not just because it’s telling a story about people who are still underrepresented. It’s the heart and core of sense8 with the tight plotting and character work of The Americans and the result is a compassionate, smartly crafted show about identity and life. It has the pageantry of ball culture alongside quietly intimate moments and it all came together to form a beautiful piece of media.

4. The Americans So much of this season will make your heart ache for these characters but it did so in the most beautiful and fitting way. This has always been a show that is very comfortable with what it is. It lingers in the slowness and tedium of spy work and uses small changes in facial expressions and body language to say most of what these characters are feeling. It’s never been a loud, flashy show and it’s better for that quiet examination of these characters. Elizabeth Jennings has given everything for her country. She has been the true believer who is willing to do the ugly, dirty work that is necessary because she thought she was fighting for something bigger. Then she wasn’t. That cause she was working toward turned out to be as corrupt as the one she had been fighting against. It stopped being something she could believe in and she turned to the one thing she could still rely on – her relationship with Philip. It had been broken nearly irreparably as they stopped being able to truly see each other but it was the thing that kept her tethered to herself and in the end, it was all she was left with. This was always Elizabeth’s journey and Keri Russell’s understated performance was the anchor of this series. I didn’t actually intend for this entry to just talk about the brilliance of Elizabeth as a character and Keri as an actress but it feels right and encapsulates what I loved most about the series. It absolutely deserves the recognition it gets as one of the best shows of this time.

5. Harlots I know The Handmaid’s Tale is Hulu’s buzzy show about women navigating and extremely male-dominated world but I really need people to be watching Harlots, which deals with so many of the same ideas but doesn’t make me feel miserable while I’m watching it. The women on this show are poor sex workers. Their livelihood and in some cases, their freedom, relies on the patronage of wealthy, mostly terrible, men who want them for sex and nothing else. They are objects to be used or in the worst cases, conquered. But this story isn’t about those men, it’s about the women who have made this life theirs, for better or worse, and the houses and families they’ve built together. It’s about a mother who loves her children and has put them through awful things in an attempt to give them a better life than she had. It’s about a daughter who is full of resentment and anger and pain trying to change things while falling into the same cycle she hated to be a part of. It’s about a group of women who band together because they are seen as “exotic” or less desirable because of their skin color or physical condition and turn those things into their power. It’s about a woman who is trapped by the circumstances of her time and birth in a house with her abhorrent brother until she breaks free and gets a chance to truly live for the first time in a long time. It’s basically a mob drama with feuding houses told through a different lens that is full of color and knows how to blend big dramatic moments with much quieter ones in the most emotionally effective way. It goes through plot extremely quickly without feeling rushed or like anything has been shortchanged because it knows who these characters are and what world they live in. It’s unfortunately largely gotten lost in the Peak TV rush but it feels like one people will look back on and regret not paying more attention to.

6. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend This show has been on my best show of the year list every year since it started and my reasons for that haven’t changed much. We’re just a handful of episodes from the series finale and everything still feels intentional and like part of the larger story they are trying to tell. It’s confident in its execution and actually delivers on that confidence. This has been a huge year of growth for Rebecca as she owns up to her actions and starts to create a life that she wants. She’s done a lot of things for the approval of others, whether it was her mother or a boyfriend, and now she’s at a point where she recognizes she has to be the person she wants to be. She quit being a lawyer and seems happy with her pretzel stand, she’s taking a break from romance (even when every ex starts to look appealing) and as the theme song for the season points out, embracing the mess and complexity that comes with being a person. She’s not just one thing and that’s good. I will miss this show very much when it ends but it feels like it’s going to finish strong after four very solid seasons and as a TV fan, you can’t ask for much more.

7. Killjoys How do you make a good show even better for me? By growing the family these characters have made together and that’s exactly what this show did in season four. So much of this season revolved around the bonds these people have formed and the strength it gives them to fight, not just against The Lady but this was also a season of fighting internal demons and being better. This was only the first half of a two-season finale arc and if next season is as solid as this one was, you’ll want to catch up before next summer. But as well-done as the plot is and as entertaining as it is to watch, this show is going to come down to these characters and their bonds every time. It’s funny, sarcastic, and emotional with a terrific cast of characters that are used very well to tell this story. Finally, Hannah John-Kamen is not getting nearly enough credit for the work she’s doing as Dutch and Aneela and I need everyone to join me in appreciating her talents.

8. Brooklyn Nine-Nine It may not have aired many episodes in 2018 but the ones they were fantastic. And who doesn’t love a cancellation story followed by an outpouring of support and a fortuitous network transfer? We saw the return of Doug Judy, Allison Tolman guest starred, Jake and Amy got married and Captain Holt may or may not have become the next police commissioner. Through it all, the big and the small, it was once again the friendships we saw on display that help make this show what it is. The writers know how to make the most of their terrifically talented ensemble cast and combine them in smart ways to show who they are in relation to one another. It is consistently funny and tugs at your heartstrings in the best ways and is the best example of what is essentially a combination of network workplace and hangout sitcom. It’s not reinventing a genre but it’s excelling in being exactly what it has set out to be.

9. GLOW This season fleshed out more of the supporting characters, gave us a beautiful arc about a woman trying to define herself outside of her role as a mother as well as the ridiculous and perfect absurdity of “Don’t Kidnap” so of course it’s ended up on this list. Sam Sylvia may be my trash son and he legitimately had a strong arc this season in learning to be a father to Justine and his growing relationship with Ruth, but this show really is all about the ladies of GLOW. They got to grow and explore new things and find new relationships all while building a show that was struggling to take off. Despite my lack of interest in wrestling, I loved all the behind-the-scenes elements that went into building the storyline and finding ways to make it compelling while changing it up and letting the ladies tell stories they are more interested in telling than the standard stereotypical roles they started with. Next season will be bringing a change of environment and I can’t wait to see what they do with it.

10. Killing Eve First things first, Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer are giving some of the best drama performances of the year in this show. They are incredible and the supporting cast is also terrific. They relish in this world, both the darkness and the quirk, and when you put them in a scene together, magic happens. Given my love of Hannibal and Mohinder and Sylar’s relationship on Heroes, I was already into the complicated relationship between a serial killer and the person trying to catch them and making them both women really works. Eve is already seen as weird for her interest in what makes women become serial killers and Villanelle is a gleeful sociopath who truly enjoys her job as an assassin and loves pretty things. Neither fits into any model of what we expect female characters to be and Phoebe Waller-Bridge knows this. While the subject matter is different, you feel some similarities to her show Fleabag in the way she writes women in a way that is both loving and unflattering. They are both fascinating and the push and pull of their dynamic coupled with the unexpected humor makes this a great binge. This isn’t going to be a show for everyone but those who are into it’s off-kilter vibe will love it.

Honorable Mentions: Superstore, Take My Wife, Vida, Jane the Virgin (which probably would have made the top 10 except real life circumstances have made the last four episodes of season 4 hit too close to home to want to watch), Younger, Vida, Mom, Elementary

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