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Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Top 10 Best Television Shows of 2018

Needless to say, this tweet did not age well:

While I easily could have written about an additional 8 shows, I realized the back half of my list just consisted of the shows I always watch and love and recommend. Shows like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Superstore, and Bob's Burgers are shows I absolutely love and adore, but don't particularly like putting on lists anymore. A lot of that comes down to the fact that I don't have a lot of say about these shows that I haven't already said before outside of "It's still really good you guys", but I also don't want my work to feel repetitive. Additionally, there were so many new and great shows in 2018 that I didn't want to feel like I was cheapening my final list.

What you will not see on this list is a lot of HBO. I found their dramas and limited series this year to be downright boring or not worth watching. I know people seemed to have loved Succession, but after watching the entire first season and consuming all I could about the content after the show aired, I still don't particularly like or respect the project. I respected a lot of the first season of Westworld, but the show failed to solve any of its problems from it's rookie to sophomore season. In fact, they doubled down on the aspects of the show I never particularly cared for that it just became an expensive mystery box for Reddit to solve. And Sharp Objects was just plain boring. When your show is compelling, a slow pace is considered "deliberate". When your show isn't, it's just considered "boring.".

Netflix also took a hit on my list this year. For my 2017 list, five out of my top 10 shows came from Netflix. For my 2016 list, 4 out of my top 10 shows came from Netflix. For this list? Only 2. In the era of peak television, different channels and mediums are finally producing great content as opposing just just producing content to produce content. I have two shows from Amazon (and I haven't even seen The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel yet) and a show from YouTube. Showtime also managed to crack my list which I don't think it's managed to do since season one of Homeland. During a year where you could watch great television basically anywhere, I think my lists accurately reflects the great diversity of programs that we're living in. So without further ado, here is my list of the Top 10 Best Television Shows of 2018:

10) Homecoming (Amazon)
Season: 1
Created By: Micah Bloomberg and Eli Horowitz & Sam Esmail
Starring: Julia Roberts & Bobby Cannavale

Brief Description: Based upon the popular podcast of the same name, Homecoming is paranoid thrilled ripped straight from the 1970's. Micah Bloomberg and Eli Horowitz created an extremely compelling story for the audio medium and Sam Esmail works his usual magic to bring that storytelling to life. Of course, having Julia Roberts in peak form and Boardwalk Empire alums Bobby Cannavale and Shea Whigham who always elevate their projects. (My theory of having Boardwalk Empire alums as the third though fifth lead will always be good for your program or film remains in tact). I knew exactly how this story would end, and yet Esmail and crew kept me entertained throughout.

9) Better Call Saul (AMC)
Season: 4
Created By: Peter Gould & Vince Gilligan
Starring: Bob Odenkirk, Rhea Seehorn & Jonathan Banks

Brief Description: Not all of the fourth season of Better Call Saul worked. The show was slow to pick up steam after it's strongest piece, the relationship between brothers Jimmy and Chuck McGill, ceased to exist, and the Mike (Banks) subplot of helping Gus Fringe build his Super Lab felt like the show was spinning its wheels. But once the show found its footing by deepening the relationship between Jimmy (Odenkirk) and Kim (Seehorn) and focusing on Jimmy's stalled career, Better Call Saul really started to sing.

8) Killing Eve (BBC America)
Season: 1
Created By: Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Starring: Sandra Oh & Jodie Comer

Brief Description: I don't much care for classic spy stories and John La Carre novels/adaptations, but I loved the twist that creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge have managed to put on the genre. Sandra Oh playing the titular Eve as a low level British intelligence officer trying to hunt wickedly brilliant Villanelle played spectacularly by Jodie Comer. Comer's performance really made this season for me. It was over-the-top crazy in the most delightful way. As much fun as the spy stuff was, it was the characters of Eve and Villanelle and the relationship they ended up having together that really made for one of the best surprises of 2018.

7) Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan (Amazon)
Season: 1
Created By: Carlton Cuse & Graham Roland
Starring: John Krasinski & Wendell Pierce

Brief Description: In my opening I mentioned Homeland. It's first season was excellent and is on the borderline for the Mt. Rushmore of television seasons. I haven't felt that joy of Good Guy vs. International Terrorist done in a smart and sleek way from that first season until I saw this iteration of Jack Ryan. This season is so good as Carlton Cuse obviously brings the lessons he learned from Lost to form a really enjoyable season of television.

6) Billions (Showtime)
Season: 4
Created By: Brian Koppelman and David Levien & Andrew Ross Sorkin
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Maggie Siff & Damian Lewis

Brief Description: When Billions first started, it was packaged as prestige television. It starred Emmy winner Damian Lewis, Emmy and Oscar nominee Paul Giamatti, and was created from Rounders creators Brian Koppelman and David Levien. But something was missing. It felt empty. At the end of season 2, the show smartly veered away from any semblance of prestige and turned into pulpy fun. The show also added the gender binary character Taylor Mason, played by the great and IRL gender binary Asia Kate Dillon, and the flip was instantly switched. Now Billions is one of the best and most fun shows on television.

5) Glow (Netflix)
Season: 2
Created By: Liz Flahive & Carly Mensch
Starring: Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin & Marc Maron

Brief Description: Glow was not a show I particularly cared for in its first season. I liked the performances just fine, but I didn't quite feel enveloped into the show. Glow's second season changed that for me as it went deeper with its characters without worrying too much about exposition. I knew these characters, the stakes, and the world, and now I was able to sit back and enjoy the ride. The show is also in that early Jenji Kohan mold where we have our main characters and a decently sized supporting cast, but not too large where it takes over the show (see season 2 of Orange Is The New Black). That way we're also able to get episodes focusing on Kia Steven's Tamme/The Welfare Queen while also getting plenty of screen time with Marc Maron's Sam and Alison Brie's Ruth.

4) Barry (HBO)
Season: 1
Created By: Bill Hader & Alec Berg
Starring: Bill Hader, Stephen Root & Henry Winkler

Brief Description: Barry is a show that takes its comedy seriously and its violence seriously. It's both funny and scary. We get comedy from both Barry's (Bill Hader) world trying to be an actor as well as his role in the criminal underground (especially from the great Anthony Carrigan). It's this duality that Barry plays with and explores. Barry the character is trying to be good and live a normal life, but he also has strong connections to Monroe (Root) who keeps sucking him in as well. Barry acts out of self-preservation to live and self-preservation to be a part of the real world.

3) Cobrai Kai (YouTube Red)
Season: 1
Created By: Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg
Starring: William Zapka, Xolo Mariduena & Ralph Macchio

Brief Description: I do not have a nostalgic affinity for the 1984 film The Karate Kid or any of its sequels / reboots. In fact, the first time I saw the original film in full was about a month before I saw this season. That's why it is so impressive that I love Cobra Kai. This show has absolutely no right being good, nevertheless this great. The show smartly plays out as a version of the original movie with Billy Zapka's Johnny playing the Mr. Miyagi role and Xolo Mariduena playing the Ralph Macchio Daniel-son role, but it also takes it's characters and their place in the world extremely seriously. Daniel is now successful car salesman while Johnny is a washed super who are both still at odds with each other. The show also smartly leans on the notion that Johnny was the Good Guy and Daniel was the dick, popularized by How I Met Your Mother. The show steers into the tropes created by the original franchise at some places and bucks them the next to the point where you're left on the edge of your seat.

2) BoJack Horseman (Netflix)
Season: 5
Created By: Raphael Bob-Waksberg
Voices Of: Will Arnett, Amy Sedaris & Alison Brie

Brief Description: A lot of BoJack Horseman has focused on the nihilism and flaws on its main character, which it has done to tremendous success, but it could and would have gotten old had the show stayed the course. Instead, the show has taken a step sideways in its fifth season by taking aim at Hollywood itself. BoJack gets a starring role in Philbert as the titular character in a big, prestige True Detective esque type show and BoJack creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg uses his smarts and cleaver takes to create another brilliant season of television by poking fun at television itself. It's dark. It's funny. It's twisted. It's genius. It's everything you'd expect out of a BoJack Horseman season.

1) Atlanta (FX)
Robbin' Season
Created By: Donald Glover
Starring: Brian Tyree Henry, Lakieth Stanfield & Donald Glover

Brief Description: No one can match drama and comedy with surrealism like Donald Glover. Everything he touched in 2018 was pure gold (outside of the box office numbers of Solo: A Star Wars Story despite being the best part of the film). Glover's Earn took a back seat this season to let Bryan Tyree Henry's Paper Boi shine. Whether he was getting lost in the woods or following his barber around town before a haircut, Paper Boi blowing up was just a part of the reason the second season of Atlanta was probably better than its first. And we have not even begun to discuss the genius that was "Teddy Perkins". Few shows have managed to truly pierce the zeitgeist to become appointment television, but leave it to Donald Glover and Atlanta to be just that.