I think we all know that my writing colleague EJ Feddes rules the roost around here, but I still like to fancy myself a bit of a tastemaker. To that end, I’ve created a detailed list of my Top 10 shows of 2018. There are a few fantastic shows that finished just outside the Top 10: Barry (HBO) Brooklyn Nine Nine (NBC) and Superstore (NBC) in the comedy category and The Bodyguard was a great British drama I found thanks to Netflix.
Once again, my list grew when it comes to shows I haven’t watched yet and really, really need to see! That list still contains Breaking Bad, but it no longer features Game of Thrones, as I now impatiently wait for Season 8 with everyone else. (It’s astounding how many more pop culture references I get now than I did pre GOT binge!)
One more prelude to my Top 10 is a short list of comedy specials produced in 2018 that I cannot recommend enough (all on Netflix): Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King (and his wonderful weekly show, Patriot Act); Iliza Schlesinger: Elder Millenial (not just for Millenials); John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous (It won an Emmy!) But here’s my Top 10!
10. One Day at a Time (Netflix) I went into this one for the nostalgia in Season One, and was pleasantly surprised at just how solid of a reboot Norman Lear made. It had a structure that nodded to the original (divorced mom of two, trying to make it on her own), but with so many current touches that only enhanced the story. In Season Two, Penelope and her lovable family are dealing with the realities of being Latinos in Trump’s America (while never saying his name), Elena’s coming out, and Lydia’s near death experience (a standout finale that made it clearer than ever that Rita Moreno is an absolute treasure). It continues to be a family sitcom that is wholesome enough to watch with the kids but sophisticated enough that you never feel as if you’ve wasted your time.
9. This is Us (NBC & Hulu) The end of Season Two saw the audience finally being given closure as to how and when Jack Pearson died, and it was a kick in the gut. While it happened right after the fire we’d been assured would ruin the family’s home for quite some time, it wasn’t as heroic Jack fleeing from the burning structure carrying a dog or a child, but rather it was in a quiet moment in the hospital as he was being observed following excessive smoke inhalation. He had a cardiac arrest whose sudden nature sent his family spiraling for years to come. In the present day, the effects were most profound on Kevin, whose addiction battle culminated in a rehab stint and recovery. Kate’s wedding to Toby capped things off and sent us on a new path for Season Three which has so far found Randall embroiled in a battle for city council in William’s old neighborhood that could cost him his marriage to Beth; Kate and Toby expecting, and Kevin travelling with new love Zoe (Beth’s cousin) to Vietnam to find out more about his father’s time there. The winter finale dropped the bombshell that Jack’s brother Nicky is actually alive and living in Pennsylvania. Did Jack (or Rebecca!) know this? Does Nicky know that The Manny is his nephew? Inquiring minds want to know!
8. Ozark (Netflix) While Jason Bateman has done dark comedy like Horrible Bosses, he’s never done anything as straight up dark and scary as Ozark. And the onetime child star is firmly up to the task. Season Two found Marty and Wendy Byrde trying to keep all the plates spinning in their Missouri money laundering biz and trying to stay one step ahead of their cartel bosses, co-conspirators (The Snells), those they’ve wronged and the long arm of the law. The body count is higher this time around and the net gets wider as it further ensnares the Byrde children, Ruth Langhorne and her family and poor Rachel, the unwitting accomplice turned state’s witness battling her own demons. But more than anything we learn in Season two, it’s the fact that Wendy Byrde (played by total badass Laura Linney) is more of an asset than her husband could have ever dreamed back when he got into this dirty business in the first place. On more than one occasion, he’’s just flat out lucky she’s there to save him…even when he’s supposed to be doing the saving.
7. The Crown (Netflix) There’s not a more regal drama on TV than The Crown. Season Two has lighter moments (when Prince Phillip makes fun of Elizabeth’s matronly hairstyle, for example) and its sexy stories (Princess Margaret’s tempestuous romance with her commoner, bisexual husband), but it’s also surprisingly engrossing even when it’s just talking about the Suez Canal or JFK and Jackie coming to visit Buckingham Palace. The love story between Phillip and Elizabeth deepens, as we see how the combined senses of resentment and entitlement fueled his frustrations and his dalliances in this time period. Matt Smith, Claire Foy and Vanessa Kirby are extraordinary as the royals, and their replacements will have huge shoes to fill when Season Three bows soon.
6. Big Mouth (Netflix) I’m not sure that I’m the target audience for a filthy cartoon about teens going through puberty, but there are few things that I love more than this weird and funny Netflix comedy. I mean, every single adult on earth has gone through puberty, so who can’t relate to what Nick, Andrew, Jessie and the gang are dealing with on the daily? I will admit I don’t think I know any guys who were like Jay (I really hope not!), and I’ve never had to deal with someone as stunted and strange as Coach Steve, but we all have our own Hormone Monsters to manage and parents who frustrate and embarrass us, don’t we? Plus, the introduction (and vanquishing!) of the Shame Monster in Season Two was genius. Nick Kroll gets bonus points for voicing so many of these characters, while his talented writing room and fellow actors are all geniuses for making what is kind of an important show that can also be inter-generational. Parents can laugh at it knowingly and teens might actually learn something while laughing their faces off.
5. GLOW (Netflix) So far, GLOW has had two seasons, and I’ve devoured each in about two days apiece. Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin, Marc Maron and company have created something that’s just so eminently watchable and immediately engrossing that I can’t stop once I start. Season Two was, once again, so very 80s, but also topical in a crazy way. When GLOW takes off, Debbie (aka Liberty Bell) has to deal with the advances of an industry exec which she turns down. Instead of being understanding, the always frustrating Ruth (Brie) can’t believe she didn’t sleep with the guy. It’s the inverse of #Metoo. We also get more of the personal lives of Ruth, Debbie, Sam and Bash, Tamme and many of the other girls, along with the game-changing show within a show, ‘The Good Twin” (Episode 8). Amazing stuff.
4. Schitt’s Creek (Pop & Netflix) I was told constantly that I needed to be watching this show, so finally, as 2018 wound to a close, I binged all four seasons. (My timing was great, because Season Five starts next week!) I had no expectations, but knew that nothing with Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara could be truly bad. It was the complete opposite…a near perfect sitcom. If you haven’t seen it, the Rose family (Johnny, Moira, David and Alexis) lose their fortune and are forced to move into a motel in the small town they happen to own (yes, own) called Schitt’s Creek. The town has quirky characters and seems to consist of not much more than one long road, but once they get over their horror at being stuck there (it’s tough to leave with no money and no car!), the Rose family actually starts to embrace their new home and make lives for themselves. It was great to see the four season evolution all at once. Rich and spoiled but not dumb, David and Alexis turn out to be quite entrepreneurial and each also finds their own great loves in town. Johnny proves that he didn’t make his fortune by being an idiot, either, as he helps town cynic Stevie run her motel. Former soap actress Moira, now serving on the town council, is the easiest to write off as shallow and vain (she is!), but she also loves her family and will protect them to the end. Do yourself a favor and binge this one ASAP!
3. The Good Place (NBC & Hulu) There is nothing on TV more inventive that The Good Place, a show that’s had to REinvent itself each of its three seasons. The second half of season two found Michael (Ted Danson) and Janet (D’Arcy Carden) trying so many reboots of their fake Good Place that everything was put in jeopardy. In the end, they managed to save Elenor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason from their fates and give them each a second chance to live better lives. Season Three saw them being brought together in Australia for a study that they didn’t know Michael and Janet were kind of running. But, when Tahani threw an engagement party to send herself off to England with Larry Hemsworth (living in his actor brothers’ shadow…he only repairs baby spines…no big),Michael and Janet are found while they have a door to the afterlife opened, and it throws everything into an existential crisis. The standout episode of 2018 had to be “Janet(s)”, which saw D’arcy Carden playing all four humans herself. Someone needs a damn Emmy already.
2. The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu) Well, if you thought Ozark was the darkest thing on this list, you hadn’t yet reached this spot. The Handmaid’s Tale is easily the most depressing thing on TV, because you can easily see how it might actually happen. Not to get too political, but if certain forces were to align and enough people in high places ignored enough warning signs, we could certainly find at least some aspects of this dystopian tale taking over our country. Take it as a cautionary take, because we kind of need to these days. In Season Two, our heroine June (the completely fearless Elisabeth Moss) escapes Gilead while pregnant, only to eventually be found when trying to get to Canada for good. Back at “home”, she is treated with relative care due to her condition, but promised that she will be in big trouble once her baby arrives. She and Nick continue to deepen their connection, even as he’s given a child bride for his trouble. We learn of the hellish life Emily (Alexis Bledel) has been sentenced to in the Colonies, along with one-eyed Jeanine, and it’s bleaker than Gilead in many ways. But the former handmaids are returned to their posts and a small rebellion starts to creep in even as we see the resistance getting stronger in Canada. Even Serena gets emboldened when reminded of her former life, but loses an appendage for her trouble. The Season finale angered many viewers with June’s controversial decision, but offered glimmers of hope as well as baby Holly and Emily set off to the Great White North and June stayed back to find Hannah. There was nothing more gripping than the episode in which Baby Holly was born, with June laboring alone in an empty house. Just try to look away.
1. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime Video) And then there is my number one pick, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which is at once a frothy confection that can just make you smile and at the same time a feminist masterpiece that shows what can be done when people follow their dreams and break out of their boxes. Every aspect of this show is visually and audibly pitch perfect…from the costumes and sets to the Jewish culture mixed into the New York City of it all. The casting continues to be spot on…you didn’t know you needed more of Joel Maisel and his insufferable family until you realized you actually did. And Zach Levi joining the cast as Midge’s new love interest is inspired as well. Tony Shaloub and Marin Hinkle as Midge’s parents seem born to the roles. But it’s the bizarre yet fantastic friendship of Midge and her manager Susie that make the show. If we gave out two Spunkies for Best Inanimate Object, Susie’s plunger that she took everywhere in the Catskills would have won a trophy for sure. Season two saw everyone grow and change, learning how to deal with the curve balls life threw them. Midge is far from perfect, expect when it comes to her clothes, which always blow me away. She is so trapped inside her own self that she doesn’t realize how spoiled and fortunate she is, nor does know how to not be fully herself at times, and it results in both some serious missteps (sex jokes don’t go over well at 1950’s Catholic weddings) and some big successes (European tour, anyone?). The cliffhanger left us with our mouths agape at some big choices–both personal and professional– made on impulse, but we can’t wait to see what happens next.
There you have…my own favorites among the absolute avalanche of quality TV out there at your fingertips. I hope you agreed with a few of my picks or maybe even found something new to check out!