A Banner Year for Both Network & Streaming
I’ll say this up front in hopes of avoiding the inevitable backlash: we have neither the time nor hosting space to allow for a 100% comprehensive list of all the great television programs that arrived in 2018. With the incredible amount of new shows arriving via an ever-expanding streaming market, and traditional broadcast networks finally catching up to creative trends, do not be surprised if your very favorite show doesn’t make an appearance here.
Whether it’s the return of a cartoon horse with a knack for inciting existential dread, or a wannabe LA actor who just happens to shoot people in the face at his day job, 2018 had some wonderful tricks hidden up its sleeve.
With the holiday binge-watching season upon us, let’s take a look at what we think was the best stuff on the tube this year:
The Good Place (NBC)
As it was with 2016 and 2017, this year it would be impossible to make any kind of ‘best-of’ TV list without mentioning The Good Place, so we might as well get it out of the way.
This year showrunner Michael Schur (The Office, Parks & Recreation) offered up the anticipated third season of his prime time existential comedy, and if the critical reaction is any indicator, it might be the best season yet. Anyone who has seen the show will understand that you can’t say much about the plot without spoiling entire episodes, however, we will say this. Ted Danson absolutely kills it.
The sophomore season of Donald Glover’s Atlanta hit the market to wide critical acclaim, with many claiming that it somehow managed to improve upon the shows breakout first season.
Atlanta is a curiosity in many ways. Glover, the show’s star and creator, breaks narrative rules and sitcom convention with delightful self-assurance. While the second season feels somewhat less structured, the aggregate effect of the new episodes is one of astounding originality, nothing short of what we expected from the man behind the years must-see music video, This is America.
Succession is just one of HBO’s new original offerings, in which we are treated to a darkly satirical journey into the life of America’s corporate elite. While the trope of rich people behaving badly is not an original one, and indeed has captured the attention of audiences to an astounding degree, Succession is a show that pulls it off with a stylish urgency.
Meanwhile, Brian Cox makes a welcome return to the small screen lead as the Icey family patriarch, Logan Roy.
Bojack Horseman (NETFLIX)
The 5th season of Netflix’s animated hit Bojack Horseman is a swift continuation down the inane, pun-packed and yet simultaneously heartbreaking roads that series creator Raphael Bob Waskberg introduced us to way back in 2014. The shows staying power is no doubt due to its unique ability to balance contrasting tones of comedy & drama, a feat made possible by the unmatched voice-work of the show’s star Will Arnett.
As is tradition, Bojack Horseman’s 5th season continued a tradition of exploring new narrative structures capable of carrying the show’s sometimes burdensome, sometimes devastating dramatic luggage. If you don’t know what we’re talking about, go check out the S05 episode, “Free Churro,” which could very well be one of the best TV episodes of 2018.
Julia Roberts dominates her small screen debut as Heidi Bergman, a small-town waitress with a more-than-she’s-letting-on history with a mysterious veteran’s rehabilitation program. Sam Esmail’s (Mr. Robot) directing talent is apparent here as well. Homecoming’s 30 minute episodes are deft and breezy; a pace that is hard to pull off with psychological dramas.
Deliciously tense without falling into the convolution, Homecoming is more binge worthy than most shows in its genre.
For Bill Hader fans and skeptics alike, Barry is undeniable proof that the SNL alum has a lot more to offer than lighthearted gags & shenanigans. While the premise has all the hallmarks of a one-off gag (a depressed hitman finds new life in the LA theater scene), Barry pulls it off with an ethos that is deeper and more defined than it has any right to be. The result is compelling drama, expertly timed comedy, and Taxi Driver-like psychology that make Barry one of the most unique shows of the last decade.
True Detective and Beasts of No Nation director Cary Fukunaga is back with something both utterly unexpected and entirely welcome. Maniac details the story of two mentally distressed strangers (Jonah Hill and Emma freakin’ Stone, by the way) who navigate the trials of a new pharmaceutical treatment guaranteed to fix their problems. Needless to say, things don’t go as expected.
Alternatingly bizarre and confounding, Maniac is nevertheless a gripping show that refuses to fall victim to bloating or sluggishness.
If anyone else out there is missing Breaking Bad as much as we are, Ozark might me the medicine you are looking for.
While not as innovative or surprising as its clear spiritual predecessor, Ozark does a good job of refitting the “mild-mannered-come-criminal” plotline with its own style, giving Netflix a new thriller that its subscribers can write home about. Jason Bateman’s performance is expectedly solid, Laura Linney’s is as gripping as anything she’s ever done, but in season two, Julia Garner is the real show-stealer.
Cobra Kai (YouTube PREMIUM)
As far as we can remember, no one ever asked for a Karate Kid spinoff. Perhaps that’s why YouTube’s Cobra Kai was such a delightful surprise, offering us a glimpse into how things turned out for the feuding Johnny Lawrence and Daniel LaRusso of the 1984 original. With Johnny in the spotlight this time around (a refreshingly sincere reprisal by William Zabka) Cobra Kai is able to pay tribute to its source material without being so clingy about it, while exploring some of the more controversial elements of the original film and delighting in the franchise’s signature spiritual corniness.