Sunday, December 30, 2018

2018: Year In Television (The Best TV Shows of 2018)

Well, this list was very well received last year, so I thought I'd offer up my thoughts on the best TV shows of 2018. I am going to do what I did last year. I got a list of the ten best new shows and the ten best returning shows. Again, it seems that the Golden Age of Television is continuing. Not seeming to run out of breath. Although I will say that there were more great new shows coming out and it seemed like a lot of returning shows slogged a bit. I had a harder time coming up with my returning list and my new shows list is nice, but I wanted to cram several other shows into the list. Let's dig in.

Since TV seems to end for the year much earlier then movies, its easier to get my lists out faster. So without further ado. The ten best new shows of 2018.

The Ten Best New Shows of 2018

1. Castle Rock (Hulu)
Being the huge Stephen King fan that I am, this should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me. This is an awesome time for anybody who has ever liked a shred of his work, and its much more than just an Easter Egg hunt. Sure, you can spend time looking at each corner and each episode and say "Hey, its that character!" "Hey, its that place!" But the show does much more. J.J. Abrams successfully made another Mystery Box show set in the Stephen King universe. And its all a helluva ride.

2. The Chi (Showtime)
A murder in Chicago sets off a chain of events that effects the lives of several people living in the inner city. Whats great are all the performances, how the stories seem to criss-cross without ever seemingly forced or melodramatic and the guessing game that eventually takes hold as to who murdered who and why. This has set itself up for a very good second season, and I can't wait to dig right into it.

3. Sharp Objects (HBO)
I was a little worried that the same team behind this show was behind "Big Little Lies" which I thought was the most overrated thing on TV last year. Color me surprised as "Sharp Objects" is way better. Its another murder mystery, and it gets off to a slow start. If you continue on, its all well worth it with an ending that will knock you out. All this time, I thought your jaw hitting the floor was all a figure of speech. Its not, not even close. My jaw literally dropped.

4. Homecoming (Amazon)
I am going to go ahead on a limb and say that anything award worthy circuit TV related will come down between Julia Roberts and Amy Adams for women's awards. Of course I was interested in this show from the get-go. Its Julia Freaking Roberts in a crazy mystery. Another show that hits you hard once you find out what the big deceit is in the show. Riveting from start to finish, this is another well-crafted mystery.

5. Who Is America? (Showtime)
Sacha Baron Cohen has once again succeeded in creating a questionable, politcally incorrect set of personas. In a world where everyone gets so uptight about everything, I am glad he is back to shut those people up. This whole country, no matter which side of the political fence who sit on, needs a wake-up call. Jesus, God I am so glad Cohen agrees. Republican, Democrat, Independent...nobody is safe from utter ridiculous jokes and offbeat parodying done by Cohen. If we really want to make this country great again, we have to remember that we all want freedom, it just means something different to everyone. Cohen gets that.

6. The Haunting of Hill House (Netflix)
There are plenty of shows that call themselves scary. But I don't think a lot of them are legitimately scary. When I watched "The Haunting of Hill House" in October, it got spooky and cold in my house really quick. And I never really watched any episodes at night. This is a masterful scary show that has plenty of good mood and atmosphere. There are some fun twists and turns along the way and its brought to life by a wonderful cast. If you're a horror fan, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

7. Our Cartoon President (Showtime)
Like I mentioned above, we are never going to be a great, understanding nation if we are afraid to laugh at ourselves. Our current president can't seem to not take himself seriously for five seconds, which makes this show funnier than it should have been. What's even more surprising was how, Conservatives could enjoy this too if they gave it a chance? Even though its made by Liberals, I think the world would be shocked just how humanistic the show really was, while also taking every opportunity to slander the current administration. Don't worry, it does a good job slandering the other side too. Its a show that reminds us not to take things too seriously, especially politics.

8. The Kominsky Method (Netflix)
Interesting. A comedy that feels like its from HBO that you can watch on Netflix. I never would have guessed to see that in a million years. There is plenty to laugh at, but there is also a grounded human side to the show that I really dug. It feels like real life, but there is also a funny bone in the mix. Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin have never been better. I look forward to seeing more seasons of this, its small and slight, but absolutely its special.

9. The Looming Tower (Hulu)
Even if you don't buy into the conspiracy theories. No matter where you stand on 9/11, you will more than likely find this show riveting. Telling the story of the investigation and information handling before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, this show was the best drama that seemingly nobody watched. Too bad too, with Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg, Peter Sarsgaard and Bill Camp, this had the best cast of any show this year. The untold story of the 9/11 investigation is an enthralling one and no other drama was more fun to tune in for this year. 

10. My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman (Netflix)
A show doesn't have to be scripted in order to be best TV of the year. Not for me. It doesn't have to be something super-exciting or dramatic or hyperbolic. Not for me, at least. Sometimes, its amazing to sit down and watch people and listen to people talk and nobody does that better than David Letterman. He got a chance to sit down with the likes of Barack Obama, George Clooney, Jay-Z, Howard Stern, Tina Fey and Malala Yousafzai. They talk about their careers, talk about their lives before their careers, talk about nothing at all. Getting together with people and just communicating back and forth is what got us to where we are today. So I don't take talk shows for granted. There was a fun style here, and as I had to wait for each episode to air weekly, I'd be lying if I said I didn't crave it.

Amazon's "Jack Ryan," 
Netflix's "Disenchantment"
CBS's "The Neighborhood"
Freeform's "Grown-ish"
Netflix's "Everything Sucks!"
Amazon's "Forever"
Netflix's "Maniac"
The CW's "Black Lightening"
Netflix's "The Joel McHale Show With Joel McHale"

Next up, the top ten returning TV shows of the year. Shows that either had a season 2 or greater premiere this year. 

The Top Ten Returning TV Shows of 2018

1. Westworld (HBO)
Yep. I liked it that much. I am really digging this show. I think its really special. I love for this second season they've really expanded on this theme park, and discovering just how limitless the boundaries seem in this world. Not only was fun world-building, but the stories within the various characters are getting more and more engaging. It helps that such a stellar cast has come to play, and they are continually adding wonderful actors in new roles. (Peter Mullen and Hiroyuki Sanada in particular were welcome additions) I can't wait to see where this goes next, its getting more and more exciting.

2. Atlanta: The Robbin' Season (FX)
The year hiatus was worth it. The second season of "Atlanta" came back fast and furious and I am so glad it did. Once again, it pushed the boundaries of what you can do with drama and comedy, sometimes feeling like an arthouse movie that just somehow made it onto network TV. Plus, can we all just admit that Donald Glover is a national treasure? Please? Pretty please? He is doing career-best work in this show. It is continually addicting and my only hope is that I don't have to wait until 2020 for season three.

3. The Handmaid's Tale (Hulu)
Jesus Christ, this show scares me. It's haunting to the bone. I feel like I need a hug after every single episode. I don't think TV has had a darker television show ever in its history. Yet, I can't stop watching it. I can't stop this journey with Offred through this creepy future. I want to know that her and her husband and her daughter find some kind of peace in this new dark world. And I am as committed as ever to seeing the resolution though. I will say, I considered giving this show the top spot, but the finale has me a bit scared. I don't want this show to start suffering from circular plots. I don't want this to be the dark "How I Met Your Mother." There was only one book written, which means the show has already run out of material to adapt. Can they keep our attention without repeating themselves?

4. BoJack Horseman (Netflix)
I am probably going to start sounding like a broken record soon. We finished the fifth season of "BoJack Horseman." At the end of each season, I feel like I am watching a new show for the first time. Surely, a silly show about humans, humanoid animals and humanoid insects wouldn't last this long, right? There wouldn't be a weird animated comedy that told more truth about real life than any drama could? There is no way a show about a talking horse could ever really make us feel every emotion there is available to us? "BoJack Horseman" constantly surprises me, year after year. So much so, that I want a new season for the rest of my life. Episode six of this season, where BoJack speaks at his mother's funeral, was the best episode of any television show anywhere in 2018. What gets me is that he says some fairly heavy human things, then the show ends with a crazy laugh. I can't think of another show that shake a laugh at life's problems so effortlessly as I see here. Which makes this show a constant discovery every year, easily the best show Netflix has made.

5. Divorce (HBO)
A diamond in the rough. The best show on TV nobody is talking about. I get it, I get it. Its from HBO, everything the channel makes seems to turn to gold. No reason not to get into this as soon as possible though. Who would have known that the heartbreak, heartache and oddly enough, heartwarmth of a divorce could be so addicting to watch? I sure didn't. Sarah Jessica Parker is doing the work of her career and Thomas Haden Church is just being himself, being amazing as always. Get going on this one, you'll be glad you did.

6. The Good Place (NBC)
There was a new show that premiered this year called "God Friended Me" and it was show I couldn't honestly get into because it was way too preachy in its beliefs for me. I don't mind religious shows or religion in shows, but if you are going to sell some kind of agenda, you will lose me really quick. I love that we have a show like "The Good Place," a show that tackles big ideas like religion, faith and belief. It handles it all with a laugh, making it easily accessible to people of all ages and manages to not be preachy at all. Kristen Bell and Ted Danson are amazing here and each season is getting funnier and funnier.

7. Daredevil (Netflix)
Well Marvel fans, you got screwed. Just as all of Marvel's Netflix shows got better and more exciting in 2018, Marvel felt compelled to drop most of them off the platform. Why is anybody's guess, but as Netflix's fourth most popular original show, this should have been left alone. The story of Daredevil, The Kingpin, Karen Page, Foggy Nelson and the recently introduced Poindexter is a dozy for fans of the character. The Daredevil, Kingpin, Bullseye fight is some of the most intense, gratifying action in any of these shows. It seems like we are losing something just as it was getting good, but I am praying to every angel in existence that this story continues somewhere, somehow. No matter where Daredevil goes from here, don't drop these actors nor this continuity.

8. Brooklyn Nine-Nine (FOX)
A special thanks to NBC for saving this, it will be worth it folks!

9. Big Mouth (Netflix)
I can't believe that this is an actual show that you can go watch. And thank god its animated, because if it wasn't somebody would be going to jail. Its that strange line that as I watch this show and put it all into context, I don't know if I should laugh or feel disgusted by what I'm watching. But all joking aside, "Big Mouth'' is a magnificent look at those years when you first get puberty, when your body starts to feel different, when you start to discover your attraction to the opposite sex (or same sex if you are into that), different feelings and different emotions flutter you, and its very real and very funny. And yes, lets be adults here, horniness is part of the human experience too. This is better than it needed to be, and much funnier the second time around.

10. Survivor (CBS)
Survivor would not have lasted as long as it has if it didn't evolve. No longer is it really a social experiment like it was in the early days, it has settled to be more of a gimmicky game show. No longer can somebody be voted out simply for being lazy around camp, now if you're smart, you drag those lazy people to the end so that you look better to the jury. The show now stays in one place and comes up with one cheesy theme after another. 2018's offerings shouldn't have worked. Between "Survivor: Ghost Island" and "Survivor: David vs. Goliath." I mean, I snicker just typing those out, I can't believe those titles. Thankfully though, 2018 was a good year for the old reality competition, a classic blend of new age and old school gameplay intertwined with the two best casts in recent memory.

If you didn't like the Wendell and Dom alliance from "Survivor: Ghost Island," that season might have been a hard sit for you. Luckily, I loved those guys but I remain perplexed that nobody decided to break them up, leading to an easy climb to the finals. In "Survivor: David vs. Goliath," the characters were so memorable and the editing so unpredictable, it made each episode a treat. Production was smart to keep its new advantage, the hidden immunity idol nullifer, a one-and-done use. And the scarce advantages lead both of these seasons to have better gameplay. We can only hope that production learns from this great year and tries to match it for the foreseeable future. 

NBC's "The Blacklist"
NBC's "Superstore"
Netflix's "F is for Family"
CBS's "The Amazing Race"
FX's "American Crime Story"
FX's "Archer: Danger Island"

I've got lots of end-of-the-year lists coming. Its that time of year again. I still have to cram in some last-minute movies for my list for that. But continue to tune in this week. We are going to have a nice look back at 2018!

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