Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
The best TV of 2018

The best TV of 2018

Photo: GLOW (Erica Parise/Netflix), The Good Place (Colleen Hayes/NBC), Atlanta (Guy D’Alema/FX), The Americans (Jeffrey Neira/FX), Killing Eve (BBC America), Graphic: Libby McGuire

It’s truer in 2018 than it was in 2017, or 2016, or 2015: Any survey of the year’s best TV can only provide a tiny sampling of the finest the medium had to offer. The perception of this particular year is that it was one characterized by good, not great programming—to which the TV critics of The A.V. Club offer, as a rejoinder, the number of worthy shows that aren’t on the list below. Please spare us the reminders of those we didn’t include; their ghosts and the second thoughts they conjure are already plenty haunting. Instead, revel in a year of television that introduced us to infatuated assassins and fatuous scions of wealth, expanded the worlds of its comedies to previously inconceivable bounds, and gave the best show of the decade the ending (and the musical coda) it deserved. And while you’re at it, give thanks to the reconciling sisters and bewildered military veterans who kept their dramatic exploits from running over the 30-minute mark. You’ll be grateful for that extra time when you’re still discovering all of 2018’s best TV (and the one effervescent period piece from 2017 that missed last year’s voting deadline—though it surely has a laugh-out-loud anecdote about why it missed that deadline at the ready) in 2019, 2020, and beyond.

25. American Vandal (Netflix)

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Photo: Netflix

Sadly, there’s one outlandish miscarriage of justice that Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez) and Sam Ecklund (Griffin Gluck) won’t ever get to the bottom of: Netflix shutting down the campus documentarians following American Vandal’s second season. At least they went down in a blaze of sophomoric glory, heading to the Pacific Northwest to crack open the case of a tony prep school living in fear of a scoundrel known only as the Turd Burglar. Although not as plainly uproarious as the show’s initial outing, season two went deeper on the things that elevated those phallic shenanigans, bringing its acute sense of characterization to bear on endearingly pretentious prime suspect Kevin McClain (Travis Tope), refracting its class commentary through basketball phenom DeMarcus Tillman (Melvin Gregg), and wrapping the whole saga in an extremely online package that’s the source of big laughs (what’s “Diapey” Drew Pomkratz hiding beneath all those pixels?), shocking twists (again—“Diapey” Drew and the pixels), and a damning critique that gives new meaning to the term “full of shit.” Take the hilariously grotesque/grotesquely hilarious cold open depicting the “brownout” as the final piece of evidence: American Vandal was No. 2 to no other true-crime parody. [Erik Adams]

24. Vida (Starz)

The best TV of 2018
Photo: Starz

Starz’s Vida is as vibrant and all-encompassing as its title suggests: both a moving family drama and a bawdy big-city comedy, two frames through which executive producer Tanya Saracho explores grief, culture, sex, and class transition in East Los Angeles. The series has bucked convention at almost every turn, from taking a “less is more” approach to its runtime and episode count to making sure this Latinx-centered story is actually told by Latinx actors and writers. That latter move has led to one of the most nuanced immigration and gentrification stories ever told on TV, one that’s as sprawling as it is intimate. Vida straddles both sides of the hyphen in Mexican-American history, taking the current conversation beyond border disputes and narcocorridos. As the Hernandez sisters, Emma (Mishel Prada) and Lyn (Melissa Barrera) come to terms with their mother’s death and previously unknown (to them) queerness, Vida never lacks for story, humor, or insight—unlike some contemporary dramas that struggle to find enough plot to fill every overlong episode. The cast is also so full of standouts—from Prada as the exacting Emma to Ser Anzoategui, the magnetic non-binary actor who plays Emma’s stepmom, Eddy—that Starz might have its first program with built-in spin-offs. [Danette Chavez]

23. The Terror (AMC)

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Photo: AMC

The Terror is masterful on pretty much every front. The show takes Dan Simmons’ novel—a mix of historical fact and horror fiction about a British expedition to find the Northwest Passage that’s stymied by ice and monstrous polar bear-like creature—and crafts something that’s not only scary and visceral, but also incredibly humane and scathingly political. On the surface, few shows this year looked better. The candle-lit nights and the barren arctic landscape are beautiful and oppressive in equal measure, and the visuals are used expertly to build the show’s slow, creeping feeling of dread. The story of the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus begins as a straightforward, though well-crafted, period piece, before the true nature of the show seeps into every episode and every character interaction. Once the ships are trapped, the monster out on the ice isn’t the real threat; it’s the people holed up together. Their bonds break; their trust and companionship begins to rot. In that slow descent into death for everybody—an unrelenting ride into the frozen heart of darkness—The Terror finds insights about the greed of man, and the disastrous effects of colonization and the continuous need for more everything. As always, we’re our own worst enemies. [Kyle Fowle]

22. Billions (Showtime)

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Photo: Jeff Neumann (Showtime)

The first two seasons of Billions were all about how the obscenely rich live in constant fear of losing everything—and behave accordingly, to society’s detriment. Season three, though, acknowledges how the rules of engagement have been changing in an America governed by a billionaire president. In one of this year’s primary plotlines, New York-based U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) suffered under a Justice Department appointee who preferred to punish poor, dark-skinned drug addicts rather than rule-breaking CEOs. In another, rockstar hedge fund manager Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) took advantage of the laxer government oversight to pursue some shady funding, intending both to settle old scores and to fend off a new generation of investors who favor analytics over risk. As always, even as the circumstances changed dramatically for their characters, co-creators Brian Koppelman, David Levien, and Andrew Ross Sorkin kept the focus on the fine details of those characters’ jobs, in fast-paced, genuinely educational stories that attempt to explain the destructive thrashing of terrified titans, clinging desperately to whatever remains of their power. [Noel Murray]

21. DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow (The CW)

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Photo: Robert Falconer (The CW)

There are destructive forces at work in the world, pillars of darkness that threaten to tear down the spirit, fracture communities, and sour all life’s sweetness. Faced with such a force, the B-list superheroes of DC’S Legends Of Tomorrow did what all such teams do when an unconquerable foe rises: They fused, like Voltron, to become a giant, lethal version of a Tickle Me Elmo knockoff called Beebo who, by the way, was also once a Viking god. What makes Legends one of television’s purest giddy pleasures isn’t merely its willingness to take the weirdest, silliest, most entertaining paths onto which it stumbles—though it always does, and god bless it. It’s that all that silly weirdness springs from the emotional lives of its characters, a gang of rogues and misfits who’ve embraced the idea that they’re destined to screw things up for the better. In doing so, Legends Of Tomorrow has managed to succeed where so many other superhero shows have failed: It argues, most winningly, that people can’t be shoved into boxes marked “good” or “evil,” and that it’s utter foolishness to assume that a noble cause can’t also be a damned good time. [Allison Shoemaker]

20. Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox)

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Photo: John P. Fleenor (Fox/Universal Television)

The cancellation of Brooklyn Nine Nine last spring seemed like just another example of why we can’t have nice things, until suddenly, like some kind of avenging multinational conglomerate angel, NBC swooped in and renewed the show. But whatever mercenary motives might have been involved, the fact remains that the comedy, then wrapping up its fifth season, is still an impressively solid half hour of television. It is undoubtedly hard work to create it, but the makers of Brooklyn Nine-Nine make it seem like crafting a long-running, high-quality sitcom is easy. Instead of showing signs of creative exhaustion, it’s the same reliable joke machine it’s always been. The cold opens are still the best on TV, with last April’s Backstreet Boys sing-along eventually garnering well over eight million views on YouTube. And the writers and actors have managed to master that uncanny alchemy that occurs when people on both sides of the character equation figure out exactly who their creations should be. It’s a relief to still be able to visit the show’s sweet, oddball version of Brooklyn, where the jokes are always noice, the Halloween heists are always top notch, and the Pontiac Bandit will always escape for another day. [Lisa Weidenfeld]

19. Homecoming (Amazon)

The best TV of 2018
Photo: Jessica Brooks

Let’s raise a glass to the half-hour drama! Trimming away any potential bloat, showrunner Sam Esmail’s decision to tell this story in smart and efficient 30-minute slices of narrative led to a creatively triumphant adaptation of the Gimlet media podcast, a 10-part series that nonetheless felt as much like a five-hour movie as anything in the TV medium. And what a story it was: a show that moved fast while never feeling rushed, that took its time unveiling its secrets without playing coy or indulging in cheap mystery-box trickery to delay the reveals. The two-part tale, split between the past (i.e., now) and the present (four years in the future), follows Julia Roberts’ Heidi as she optimistically runs a recovery and societal reintegration program for returning U.S. soldiers, only to drop the other shoe by showing her future self is working as a waiter in a ramshackle waterfront restaurant, with no explanation of what happened. The dogged investigator (an excellent Shea Whigham) working to discover what transpired between Heidi and a soldier in the program (Stephan James) functions as audience surrogate while we slowly peel back the layers of deception, finally arriving at an answer that deeply satisfies even as it sets up subsequent seasons. Mr. Robot was no fluke: Esmail knows how to draw a viewer in—and better still, has the talent to deliver once they’re hooked. [Alex McLevy]

18. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW)

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Photo: Greg Gayne (The CW)

It only makes sense that the fourth season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend runs an extended 18 episodes instead of its last two seasons’ 13. For one thing, this ridiculously ambitious hour-long musical-comedy-drama has one of the richest supporting casts on television, almost all of whom get their own turns in the show’s musical theater spotlight. This season, even Whitefeather & Associates—sorry, Mountaintop—functionary Jim (Burl Moseley) brings the house down with his (temporarily) liberating ’90s R&B anthem “Don’t Be A Lawyer.”

But this is also Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s final season to complete the series arc of Rachel Bloom’s reluctantly titular character, Rebecca Bunch, and, well, Rebecca is a lot. From the start, the series—from Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna—has been about deconstructing audience expectations about how love, life, family, friendship, mental illness, an the occasional hardcore stalking spree are handled on the average television show. Not being, itself, remotely average, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has maneuvered its heroine past various milestones (romantic obsession, multiple heartbreaks, therapy, a suicide attempt, prison) without ever forgetting that life never conforms to the glibly tidy resolutions of TV drama—or even a bewilderingly and consistently brilliant roster of original musical numbers. Rebecca Bunch’s journey of halting, backsliding, ultimately hopeful self-discovery might be ending after this season, but the show continues to assert that real life happy endings only mean more hard work, even with a song in your heart. [Dennis Perkins]

17. Succession (HBO)

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Photo: Peter Kramer (HBO)

On some level, you couldn’t craft a log line more out of step with the current culture than “Grotesquely wealthy family fights for power within and beyond their omnipresent conservative media empire.” But TV shows shouldn’t rise and fall by flighty “What We Need Right Now” pronouncements, and Succession’s satirical edge coupled with its fail-son generational dysfunction made it the ideal candidate for “Most 2018 Show.” Succession might have broke through because of its late-capitalist send-ups and the spectacle of rich idiocy, but its biting, fatalist examination of family dynamics would fit well in any era. Strip away the wealth and you still have a clan of squabbling children trying to impress and piss off the patriarch that gave them life. The Thick Of It’s Jesse Armstrong pulls no punches regarding his subjects’ failings, but somehow retains sympathy for the Roy family if only because “fucking up” still bonds all of humanity together. It’s why the nebbishy Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun), who stumbles into his family’s power grabs with the grace of a sure-footed mountain goat, scans as an ideal audience avatar. Who isn’t horrified by everything in sight but continues to soldier on anyway, hoping that, at some point, it will all make sense? [Vikram Murthi]

16. Big Mouth (Netflix)

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Image: Netflix

It’s rare for a show to have both a light touch and a stunning impact, especially when that show is mostly about boners and boobies and racing hormones. Rich in comic detail, bottomlessly raunchy, and overflowing with compassion (and, uh, a lot of other stuff), Big Mouth is unflinchingly honest about adolescent angst. Nick Kroll’s endless array of voices fuels the Netflix original series—now in its second season, with the third confirmed—but Big Mouth’s symphony of characters and perspectives allows the writers to explore anything and everything: the harmless pleasures of private masturbation, a pre-teen’s burgeoning bisexuality, the creeping fear that your juvenile moods spurred your parents’ split, even (with Planned Parenthood’s blessing) the essential health services provided by an organization some dismiss as “an abortion factory.” It’s so expressive of and empathetic to the panics of puberty, it’s almost a shame not to show it to actual middle-school kids. (But really, don’t show it to actual middle-school kids unless you want them to learn lots of new words and ideas.) Big Mouth is sweet, salty, and an utter smutty delight. [Emily L. Stephens]

15. One Day At A Time (Netflix)

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Photo: Adam Rose (Netflix)

In its second season, One Day At A Time continued the brilliant work it did in its first, telling timely, emotionally complex stories in a way that centers and inspires empathy. After struggling to come out in season one, Elena (Isabella Gomez) now comes into her own, her arc providing nuanced, sweet queer storytelling that is still a rare delight on television, especially when it comes to young Latinx characters. One Day At A Time can tell stories about PTSD, immigration, identity, loss, and grief in sharp ways that still manage to have so much heart, never becoming too steeped in the darkness but also not downplaying the seriousness of the issues it grapples with. Yes, it’s a feel-good comedy. But no it won’t just hold your hand and pretend the world is rosy. Justina Machado anchors the show with her consistently captivating performance, harnessing not only the comedic voice of the show but also some of its more dramatic underpinnings. Her six-minute monologue in the season finale is an acting and writing masterpiece, touching on all the depth and complexity of an imperfect but loving mother-daughter relationship with force. [Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya]

14. The Assassination Of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (FX)

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Photo: Ray Mickshaw

The first season of American Crime Story established an anthology series template: The People V. O.J. Simpson explored not the crime itself, but the circus that formed around it. The Assassination Of Gianni Versace takes a decidedly thornier and less spectacular approach to the same thematic material. Rather than indicting society by focusing on society, the series delves into the lives of the individual, often marginal people who were part of the lead-up to Versace’s murder—the Versace family, the gay men of Miami Beach, and, above all, the other victims of serial killer Andrew Cunanan. Darren Criss’ mesmerizing performance as Cunanan anchors the show, deconstructing the trope of the slick, charismatic gay serial killer and giving executive producer Ryan Murphy and writer Tom Rob Smith the room to use a reverse-chronological structure and lush visual storytelling to examine a plethora of under-considered, oft-ignored lives. In a roundabout, painful way, The Assassination Of Gianni Versace asks why nobody—not the media, not the police, sometimes not even their own families—cared that these people were gone. Much has changed in the years since Cunanan’s murders, but it’s hard to shake the central conviction of the series: We still haven’t. [Eric Thurm]

13. The Good Fight (CBS All Access)

The best TV of 2018
Photo: Elizabeth Fisher (CBS)

After a solid first season (and a whole previous series that was also pretty good), the same was expected for The Good Fight’s sophomore season. But “solid” would be an understatement, as The Good Fight came back even more focused and determined (and funnier—the true secret to creators’ Robert and Michelle King’s success) than before. Season two got rid of the series’ weaker aspects fairly early—by wrapping up the Rindell family scandal plot and writing off Erica Tazel’s Barbara (who was pretty much set up to fail as a character in the first season)—making it easier to just strap in and enjoy the ride. The season focused more on the already strong ensemble, especially succeeding in introducing Audra McDonald’s Liz Reddick-Lawrence as a foil and friend (a “frenemy,” technically) to Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski). And the show also made its more absurd aspects work extremely well—by which we mean Diane’s drug phase and, of course, all things “pee tape.” While the CBS All Access thing makes it harder to actually access the series, somehow The Good Fight feels like a sophisticated version of appointment TV. (Even with the “pee tape” stuff.) [LaToya Ferguson]

12. BoJack Horseman (Netflix)

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Image: Netflix

Unlike its paunchy protagonist, BoJack Horseman shows no signs of wear and tear or dwindling relevance after five seasons. In fact, the newest episodes of Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s animated series offer its most sophisticated storytelling and scathing satire yet, as well as a career-best performance from Will Arnett, whose whiskey-ed voice remains the perfect timbre for despairing of celebrity culture. As usual, nothing and no one is sacred: not small-screen auteurs, journalism, or tech behemoths that are seemingly on the verge of achieving nationhood. But there’s never the sense that BoJack is merely scoring points with its skewering, though there is a point to everything, including the omnipresent visual gags. The show has always been taking shots from inside the Hollywoo(d) Hills/trenches, which made it the perfect forum for a discussion about serial abusers and reform. And in one of its most rewarding developments, that look at broader progress turned into a real step forward for BoJack. So yes, after five seasons, a cartoon horse remains one of the best examples of our flawed but ever-evolving humanity. [Danette Chavez]

11. Sharp Objects (HBO)

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Photo: Anne Marie Fox (HBO)

Some people complained that Sharp Objects moved too slowly, but that’s exactly what other people loved about it. Every Sunday night for eight weeks, the show offered a dark, humid tour of Wind Gap, Missouri, where actual monsters lurked closer than its residents could have ever imagined. Amy Adams transformed into our simultaneously reliable/unreliable guide into this Southern gothic madness, her reporter Camille steadily unwinding, sipping vodka out of plastic water bottles and trying to cobble facts together about the unexplained deaths of girls in her hometown. Camille had plenty of her own internal demons to fight, preparing her to take on the mysterious external ones coating Wind Gap’s falsely sunny exterior. The fact that Camille was living in the amusement park scare house of her childhood home only exacerbated the dangers in every corner, a place where motherhood meant the exact opposite of what it should have, where every organized detail of interior decoration hinted at a corresponding evil. Sharp Objects was a summer journey like no other, topped off by a mic drop of an ending that even startled those who’d read Gillian Flynn’s source novel; those who hadn’t had a hard time recovering. [Gwen Ihnat]

10. Barry (HBO)

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Photo: Jordin Althaus (HBO)

Few shows this year had as tricky a tonal tightrope to walk as Barry. A dark comedy about a former Marine turned hitman who discovers an unexpected safe haven in an L.A. acting class, the show mines its humor from juxtaposing the actual life-or-death stakes of Barry’s hitman career with the figurative life-or-death stakes of the world of struggling actors. Yet while it’s a pitch-perfect L.A. satire with an unnervingly high body count, what really makes Barry work is its empathy. Co-creators Alec Berg and Bill Hader care deeply about the interior lives and emotional vulnerabilities of even the show’s goofiest characters—from Henry Winkler as a vain acting teacher to Sarah Goldberg as a big fish in a small acting class pond to Anthony Carrigan as a curiously friendly Chechen mafia member. Appropriately, however, it’s Hader’s flawless, Emmy-winning performance as the titular killer that best embodies the show’s off-kilter humanism. Barry is a show about getting in too deep and desperately trying to claw your way out of an ever-growing rabbit hole. And whether Barry is honing his Meisner technique or murdering someone at point-blank range, Hader makes that quixotic journey both hilarious and utterly heartbreaking. [Caroline Siede]

9. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon)

The best TV of 2018
Photo: Amazon Studios

After the one-and-done cancellation of Bunheads (and her even more frustrating experience on The Return Of Jezebel James), you could forgive Amy Sherman-Palladino for being a little gun-shy about diving into her next series. Instead, she doubled down on creating another fully realized universe of honest oddball characters, teleporting back to 1958 to give us a throwback Manhattan going through the growing pains of a new generation of stand-up comedy entering the zeitgeist. Enter into that disreputable world the Upper West Sider Miriam “Midge” Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan in an Emmy-winning turn), who separates from her businessman (and wannabe stand-up) husband only to drunkenly perform her own comedy set and realize she might have a real gift. With her aspiring manager (Alex Borstein) in tow, the show paints a relatable portrait of what it’s like to start at the bottom of a creative career, even as it created a distinctively idiosyncratic life for Midge—her workaday job, her early fumbling efforts at comedy, her tony Jewish parents (Tony Shalhoub and Marin Hinkle) mortified at her choices as a single working woman in an era and society that still frowned upon it. It’s an outsized story made honest and indelible through engaging performances, vivid visuals, and dialogue that proves Sherman-Palladino still excels at lacerating wit and rapid-fire patter. [Alex McLevy]

8. Lodge 49 (AMC)

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Photo: Jackson Lee Davis (AMC)

Their characters may not have a firm grasp on the principles of alchemy, but the first season of Lodge 49 is evidence that series creator Jim Gavin and showrunner Peter Ocko have it down pat. While the delicate blend of elements is eclectic—quirky stoner comedy, SoCal surf’s-up vibe, a dash of magical realism, a pinch of Pynchon—the show’s appeal is easy to pin down: Who wouldn’t want to have a Lodge 49 to unwind in after a long day of selling toilets or temping in a warehouse? This is a hangout show, first and foremost; there’s a sliver of plot about the “true lodge” and its rumored mystical properties, but the richest pleasures come from the characters and their interactions. Wyatt Russell’s Sean “Dud” Dudley may have his sorrows (a maimed foot, a recently deceased dad), but he’s friendly and curious and eager for adventure as squire to plumbing product salesman and Knight of the Order of the Lynx Ernie (Brent Jennings). Along with his sister, Liz (Sonya Cassidy), Lynx philosopher Blaise (David Pasquesi), visiting dignitary Jocelyn (Adam Godley), and the rest, Dud is searching for some meaning in his life beyond the nine-to-five grind, but he’ll settle for a few beers with friends. Anyone who can identify should seek out Lodge 49 before it returns for a second season next year. [Scott Von Doviak]

7. Better Call Saul (AMC)

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Photo: Nicole Wilder (AMC/Sony Pictures Television)

Much is made about Better Call Saul’s deliberate process of transforming Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) into Saul Goodman, but the Breaking Bad prequel really seems to have cracked the formula for prestige-drama momentum circa 2018. The montages help, speeding Jimmy, Kim (Rhea Seehorn), Mike (Jonathan Banks), and their associates on both sides of the law through everyday tasks and outrageous schemes via glittering confections of split screens, needle drops, and sharp editing. But the show also hums along with an all-too-rare sense of when to switch gears (Tony Dalton’s arrival as the unhinged head the Salamanca hydra tossed up late in the season), rely on established patterns (Kim’s inability—rendered so poignantly, recognizably, and compellingly by Seehorn—to quit Jimmy or their shared love of the grift), or foreshadow its beloved predecessor (Mike committing a murder that eerily echoes his own). Most impressive in this age of lumpy, too-many-episodes-not-enough-story dramas: Season four’s management of its thematic fuel, with the characters propelled to the bitter end by their grief over the death of Charles McGill and a funhouse-mirror reflection of that loss in Gus’ (Giancarlo Esposito) and Nacho’s (Michael Mando) maneuvers around an incapacitated Don Hector (Mark Margolis). Gus’ grand plan has only yielded a shell of a super-lab thus far, but Better Call Saul was cooking high-grade shit all fall. [Erik Adams]

6. Pose (FX)

The best TV of 2018
Photo: Sarah Shatz (FX)

When you get your first glimpse of New York City’s 1980s ballroom scene in Pose, you wonder how this has never been a TV show before: the balls are intoxicating spectacle (especially with Billy Porter’s Emmy-worthy supporting turn as the emcee), an invitation to an LGBT subculture that offers all the drama, comedy, and heartbreak that fuels great television. But as the series expands, you realize that Pose could have never existed even five years ago: following three trans women of color (brought to life by MJ Rodriguez, Dominique Jackson, and Indya Moore) on their respective journeys through the world that discriminates against them and the competitions that empower them still (sadly) feels inherently radical, and Pose refuses to sand down the edges of this story or flatten each woman’s distinct journey. Instead, it positions the balls as a support structure for the women and men living in the midst of the AIDS crisis, elaborately realized moments of joy that fuel their desire to survive (or die thriving). The climactic ball is just as spectacular as the one that opens the season, but it comes with the weight of a half-dozen stories breaking new ground for queer narratives on TV, and transforms into one of the year’s most triumphant finales, a fitting end to an accomplished and deeply affecting debut season. [Myles McNutt]

5. GLOW (Netflix)

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Photo: Erica Parise (Netflix)

GLOW avoided the sophomore slump that plagued other sensational 2017 debuts like Legion and The Handmaid’s Tale, and it did so by diving deeper into the lives of its vibrant and vast cast of characters. Season two offered even more interpersonal growth between the gorgeous ladies of wrestling, with bonding between moms Debbie (Betty Gilpin) and Tammé (Kia Stevens), Justine (Britt Baron) leaving the pack and coming into her own, and Ruth (Alison Brie) and Debbie finally coming to terms with each other after a literal break in their faltering friendship. The fictional G.L.O.W.’s success allowed for increasingly intense matches, wholly ’80s TV mall promos, and best of all, an episode devoted entirely to the show-within-the-show (complete with canned laughter). As Brie’s Ruth has learned over time, becoming a Gorgeous Lady Of Wrestling might not have been on her ideal list of career opportunities, but any gig that allows you to push yourself, and express yourself creatively, all the while accepting you completely, is one to hang onto. And someone who not only totally gets you but appreciates you, like Sam (Marc Maron), may be a keeper as well. Rather than driving viewers to tap out, a second round with GLOW made future seasons with these theatrical wrestlers seem not only possible but also necessary. [Gwen Ihnat]

4. Killing Eve (BBC America)

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Photo: BBC America/Sid Gentle Films Ltd

On its surface, Killing Eve appears to be a good/evil standoff, but it offers so much more than that. Shepherded to TV by Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the cat-and-mouse series features Jodie Comer as impossibly charming assassin Villanelle ,and Sandra Oh as the crafty MI5 operative on her tail, but the twists and turns of the chase seem to surprise even the characters themselves. Comer is a revelation as the chameleon-like killer with no qualms at all about taking down whoever she was paid to, until Oh’s spy brings up buried memories from her past. The chase in this explosive first season was Les Mis-like epic, the killer and the detective’s eventual confrontations over dinner or in a remote field anything but anticlimactic, only heightening the suspense between the two. Eve’s quirky and duplicitous co-workers and Villanelle’s paternal guide Konstantin (Kim Bodnia) added depth and an intriguing Russian subplot to the chase, but they never fully stole attention from the series’ magnetic fulcrum. Somehow, we rooted for both Villanelle and Eve, and even though they each admire a lot about each other, only one can ultimately prevail. [Gwen Ihnat]

3. Atlanta (FX)

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Photo: FX

The question on everyone’s minds ahead of Atlanta: Robbin’ Season’s premiere wasn’t whether Donald Glover could follow up that stellar first season, but rather how he’d do it. Glover and Hiro Murai, his director of choice, established a wildly inventive yet incredibly grounded sense of storytelling, which, combined with season two’s subtitle, meant every genre was fair game: drama, of course, but also horror, absurdist humor, surrealism, and bildungsroman. Robbin’ Season moves with the same fitful drive as its characters—Earn (Glover), Al/Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry), Darius (Lakeith Stanfield), and Van (Zazie Beetz)—languishing in bureaucracy one episode before cramming eight hours of errands and a lifetime of choices into a tense albeit muted finale that’s spectacular for the way it burrows into your consciousness. (Admit it, you’re also still wondering just how cold-blooded Clark County is.) Thoughtfulness combines with playfulness so there isn’t a single wasted opportunity; every narrative flourish has a purpose, especially if it’s part of someone’s undoing. Although the characters are scattered, the cast—which is now absolutely packed with standouts—is tighter than ever. Ultimately, Robbin’ Season doesn’t just top Atlanta’s first outing; it demonstrates growth from episode to episode. There’s no other show that could switch from the unsettling cautionary tale of “Teddy Perkins” (one of the best episodes of TV of the year) to a fantastic discovery about Drake without letting its audience down. [Danette Chavez]

2. The Good Place (NBC)

Illustration for article titled The best TV of 2018
Photo: Colleen Hayes (NBC)

All other signs to the contrary, we must be living in the Good Place to get a sitcom as funny, smart, and endearing as The Good Place. In its second and third seasons, the show offered up a dizzyingly inventive array of stories, resetting its fundamental narrative in ever more ambitious and absorbing ways as it followed the afterlife adventures of four humans trying (and failing, and trying again) to learn how to be better people. It’s impossible to explain the arc of the narrative without spoiling massive plot twists (even from episode to episode), so instead let’s praise the talents who make this freewheeling exploration of life and how to live it: There’s the writers, who have all captured a unique tone that expertly balances absurdist wordplay, rapier wit, gonzo physical and visual comedy, and profound human drama; the actors (Kristen Bell, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, Manny Jacinto, and the dynamic duo of Ted Danson and D’Arcy Carden), who manage to pull off the high-wire act of goofball comedy and genuine pathos on a weekly basis; the set designers and effects teams that bring to life the best sight gags on television; and the sure hand of creator and showrunner Michael Schur, who has made a career out of building uncommonly decent places in which audiences can find a respite from the cruelty and coldness too often running through not just real life, but the rest of the TV landscape. What a wonderful world, where our protagonists are dead—and long may they live. [Alex McLevy]

1. The Americans (FX)

The best TV of 2018
Photo: FX

A TV show is not its ending. A TV show is not its ending. A TV show is not its ending. And with that out of the way: wow, what an ending. It would have to be, with all the work The Americans did to get there, and all the fuses it laid across six seasons of espionage drama: across tensions between married spies that were as fraught as those between Cold War superpowers, through familial bonds and friendships secretly colored by hidden loyalties, under a soundtrack of the most anxious hit songs of the ’70s and ’80s. The sixth season still held off on its biggest bang—and Noah Emmerich’s shining moment as duped G-man Stan Beeman—for as long as it could, but it was proceeded by a series of smaller detonations that shook the faith of Soviet sleeper agent Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) and stirred her semi-retired husband, Philip (Matthew Rhys), back into action (albeit to spy on Elizabeth). It’s payoff like this that has persuaded so many other, lesser shows to chase the dragon of serialization; it takes a show of The Americans’ caliber to get that payoff while simultaneously tending to the complex dynamics under the Jennings’ roof, the global stakes of its macro conflicts, and a sense of characterization strong enough to make an antiquated mail-delivery device one of the most beloved members of its cast.

Until the very end, The Americans’ many disguises and aliases raised gripping questions about its characters’ true natures: Had they aligned themselves with a cause they were willing to kill themselves (and most of the world’s population) for? Was the disparity between the United States and the Soviet Union as pronounced as their respective citizens were led to believe? Could these people live with or without one another? Not every tantalizing query gets a satisfying answer, despite the show’s deeply satisfying conclusion; you’ll just have to spend the rest of your life agonizing over whether or not Renee is a spy. The Americans’ identity as the best show of 2018, however, was never in doubt. [Erik Adams]

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