Another year is coming to an end and you know what that means don’t you? TOP 10 LISTS! That’s right, once again I’m going to attempt to narrow all the TV I watched this year down to my top 10 shows. Is the practice arbitrary and somewhat self-defeating in a world with so many shows? Maybe, but we’re doing it anyway!
With the hundreds of shows that are out there today, it can be a difficult task separating the “good” from the “Great.” Especially when the majority seem to fall into the former category. They get the job done, but they aren’t anything special and don’t really stick with you. This list represents the 10 shows that have stuck with me throughout this year. I think it goes without saying that this is far from an exhaustive list.
10. Timeless (NBC)
Ah, Timeless, the little show that simply refused to die. After being canceled by NBC twice (!!!), this rip-roaring time travel drama came to a close earlier this month with a finale that somehow managed to jam a whole season’s worth of revelations into 90 minutes. Through its second season and the aforementioned two-hour finale, Timeless delivered so much of what made me love it from the start: fun (and informative) historical settings and characters that I loved spending time with.
The show never really hit the mark with its overarching plot but I’ll sure miss spending time with Lucy, Wyatt, Rufus, and the rest of the Time Team. Timeless was just plain fun and never took itself so seriously that it forgot to be fun. For that reason alone, it deserves a spot on this list.
9. American Vandal (Netflix)
Come for the poop jokes, stay for the insightful social commentary about how hard it is to be a high school student in 2018.
The first season of this true-crime parody show surprised everyone last year with its combination of incisive social commentary and spot-on send-ups of a done-to-death genre. This season, the show switched settings from LA to Seattle to tackle a new high-school related crime and in turn delivered a season that while not as funny as the first, provided an incisive look at high school identities and the role that social media takes in shaping them.
Unfortunately, because the show was produced by CBS and not Netflix, the streaming network decided to cancel the show shortly after dropping the new season. It remains to be seen if the show will find a new home but if it doesn’t, then at least we got two seasons of this wonderful, weird, and poignant show.
8. The Good Place (NBC)
Broadcast TV just doesn’t get any better than The Good Place. Without a doubt, this is broadcast TV’s most creative and philosophically conscious show. The sheer fact that it seems to reinvent it’s premise every 5-6 episodes never ceases to amaze me. While a lot of broadcast shows seem to be playing it safe (read: boring), The Good Place is never afraid to change lanes.
While a lot of the early season 3 episodes felt like the show was treading water plot-wise, 2018 closed out with the all-time great episode “Janet(s)” that brought some satisfying revelations and gave D’Arcy Carden her best showcase episode yet. Despite being perpetually underrated, NBC wisely renewed the show for a fourth season so we’ve got many more adventures with the Soul Squad ahead of us!
7. Killing Eve (BBC America)
Killing Eve wins the award for Most Surprising Show of 2018. Seriously, this show came out of nowhere and I love it! Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer are a match made in heaven as M16 agent Eve Polastri and the assassin Villanelle respectively. While the season sagged toward the middle just a bit, the cat and mouse game between the two was always enough to pull me further along. I’ll take a second here to say that it’s a crime that Comer didn’t get nominated for an Emmy for her role. The show just doesn’t work without her.
I have absolutely no idea where this show is going to go in season two but I’m completely on board for whatever they have in store.
6. Barry (HBO)
2018 was quite the year for assassin’s on TV, wasn’t it? Debuting a few weeks before Killing Eve, Barry was another pleasant surprise that turned out to be far more than I was expected it to be.
Bill Hader stars as the eponymous hit-man who travels to LA for a job and where he decides that wants to quit killing people and become an actor. You might think, based on the trailers, that the show is trying to be a comedy but by the end of this first season, Barry had gone to some pretty dark places. Don’t let the half-hour runtime fool you, this show is far more of a drama than a comedy.
I had no idea Bill Harder was capable of the range that show requires of him, and he won a much-deserved Emmy for his work. Other cast standouts include the legendary Henry Winkler (who also won an Emmy for his role as acting coach Gene Cousineau), Stephen Root, Sarah Goldberg, and even D’Arcy Carden from The Good Place shows up in a supporting role. To say any more about Barry would detract from the satisfaction of watching the season unfold for yourself. Don’t sleep on this one, go check it out.
5. Bojack Horseman (Netflix)
Make no mistake, Netflix’s best show is an animated comedy about a depressed, talking horseman who acts and suffers from tons of addictions and childhood traumas. Few shows are willing to dredge the depths of addiction and self-destructive behavior like Bojack Horseman. Season five went for the jugular as Bojack’s decisions and unresolved traumas continued to wreak havoc across his life and his relationships.
In the midst of all the drama, the show once again delivers another hilarious send-up of Hollywood with its parody of the many self-serious, auteur-driven shows about “hard men” that we’ve been subjected to over the last several years (hilariously called Philbert in the show). You won’t have to think hard to come up with the shows that Philbert is poking fun at to great effect. Both Rami Malek and Stephanie Beatriz make great additions to the voice cast this year while Will Arnett, Aaron Paul, and the rest once again knock it out of the park.
Bojack might seem silly and inaccessible on the surface but if you just embrace that you’re watching a show where humans and anthropomorphic animals co-exist, you’ll not only a hilarious satire of show-biz but a sad portrait of a (horse)man struggling to overcome his demons.
4. Homecoming (Amazon)
The less you know going into this half-hour drama from Amazon, the better. Part of Homecoming’s charm is its ability to create and maintain suspense across it’s 10 mercifully brief episodes. Based on the podcast of the same name, Homecoming stars Julia Roberts (in her first TV-regular role) as Heidi Bergman who works as a therapist in an outpatient clinic that allegedly helps veterans readjust to life in the real world. Naturally, things aren’t quite as they seem.
While Homecoming features amazing performances from Roberts, along with Bobby Cannavale, Sissy Spacek, and Stephen James, what really stands out about Homecoming though, is the directing. All ten episodes were directed with great flair and craft by Sam Esmail (the creator of Mr. Robot). Every scene, camera, move, change in aspect ratio, and song choice was carefully selected to add the mood and sense of tension that creeps in with each passing episode. In fact, Homecoming is responsible for delivering my most memorable TV shot of 2018. You’ll know it when you get to it.
Honestly, if the show had been a traditional hour-long drama, I don’t think it would’ve worked at all, especially considering what the format of the source material. Homecoming was originally 6 half-hour podcast episodes so even expanding that to 10 was stretching things. If the writers and director had to suddenly create 10 hours of content, I think the tension would’ve run out. If anything, I hope Homecoming shows creators that you show doesn’t have to be incredibly long to be good.
3. Counterpart (Starz)
If you were looking for a reason to subscribe to Starz (and I just know you were), look no further than Counterpart. Backed by a show-stopping dual performance from J.K. Simmons, Counterpart deftly combines familiar espionage thrills with a clever sci-fi twist. Simmons stars as Howard Silk, a low-level employee at a mysterious government group called The Office of Interchange. Shortly after being denied for a promotion, Howard discovers that his office houses a door to a parallel reality (called “The Crossing”) that looks a lot like ours but has some pretty stark differences.
You’ll be hooked from the first episode as the show skillfully introduces its characters and setting while spins an intriguing conspiracy story. What really sticks about Counterpart is how it uses its sci-fi conceit to ask questions about identity and how our choices shape and define who we are. Simmons’ performance and the concept will rope you in but the show succeeds because it has created a world worth exploring populated with characters you want to learn more about.
Season two began airing in early December and while its first 4 episodes haven’t gripped me in the same way the first season did, the seeds that have been planted offer plenty of excitement and I’m very interested to see where the story goes from here.
2. Better Call Saul (AMC)
I always knew Better Call Saul was going to be a great show but I no idea just how great it would become. Season 4 continues the slow-motion tragedy of Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk’s) transformation from lovable yet put-upon con-man/lawyer into a full-on criminal to devastating results. Given that this is a prequel, we all know where the show is going to end and I couldn’t be dreading it more. Odenkirk and his co-star Rhea Seehorn once again deliver come of the best dramatic performances on TV and Jimmy and Kim (Seehorn) continue to drift further apart. Meanwhile, Mike (Jonathan Banks) gets further in bed with Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito).
While Mike’s story (and by extension, the whole ABQ drug cartel plotline) felt like it was just ticking the boxes of a Breaking Bad prequel (showing us Gale and how the superlab was built), the drama between Jimmy and Kim combined with great directing and performances from the rest of the cast where always more than enough to keep me hooked and contemplating each episode long after it ended.
I’m not sure how much time this show has left in it but I dread it more and more with each passing season. If you were put off by how different this show is to Breaking Bad, don’t be. It stands shoulder-to-shoulder to its parent show and is worth every minute you spend watching it.
1. The Americans (FX)
They did it! They stuck the landing! After six seasons and 75 episodes, FX’s The Americans came to its inevitable and heart-wrenching conclusion. Ending a season of a show is hard, ending an entire show is even harder. I had full confidence in creators Joel Fields and Joe Wiseberg in their ability to land this plane but had no idea how they were going to do it going into this year.
Picking up 3 years after the so-so fifth season, season six finds Philip Jennings (Emmy-winner Matthew Rhys) out of the spy game and dare we say it, happy. While Philip is off enjoying life, his wife Elizabeth (Emmy snub Keri Russell) continues their spy work solo and has even started including their daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) on some missions. Meanwhile, FBI Agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) gets closer to the truth of the Soviet illegals operating in the U.S.
Throughout the entire series, we’ve watched Philip and Elizabeth struggle under the weight of the work they’re asked to do and the double lives they have to keep up. It was always an unsustainable situation and in this final season, we get to watch the slow-motion tragedy of the Jennings’ lives crumble around them. You likely won’t be surprised by any of the events of these final 10 episodes, but that doesn’t soften the blow at all.
Year after year, The Americans remained one of TV’s best and most underrated shows on TV and with this final season it has cemented its place as one of America’s all-time best dramas and the best show of 2018.
So there you have it, the 10 best shows I watched this year! As much as I love these shows, this list is hardly comprehensive. For every show like The Americans that I was able to watch, there was one like Atlanta that I wasn’t able to get to. There’s just so much TV out there and so much of it is good! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this list and hey, if it gets you to check out a show you hadn’t thought about then that’s a win in my book.