Lets face it, 2018 was kind of a meh year for television. Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of good stuff out there, but with so much to watch, fewer shows now rise to that “Game of Thrones” level of ubiquitous must-watch TV. It also means that it’s difficult to stay current with some of the things you really want to watch (apologies to “Atlanta” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”). With that in mind, here’s my short list of the best TV I watched in 2018
“The Good Place” (NBC)
Michael Schur has a knack for creating quirky, lived-in worlds full of equally quirky yet endearing characters. For a broadcast network show, “The Good Place” is high-concept: four strangers meet in the afterlife only to slowly discover they are in hell, and must work together to figure out what it means to be good through an exploration of moral philosophy and inter-dimensional meddling. With a strong ensemble cast that includes Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, the series is smart, charming and incredibly funny.
“The Americans” (FX)
“The Americans” was always a slow burn. Its final season, which concluded in May, was no different. Defying expectations, the show, about a family of Russian spies living in secret in America during the 1980s, did not go out with a bang. Rather, its finale mirrored the fall of the Soviet Union itself — relatively quiet yet monumental. With both the FBI and a rogue anti-Gorbachev faction of the KGB closing in, Philip and Elizabeth Jennings’ at times strained marriage was put to the ultimate test as the couple was forced to choose between loyalty to their country or to their family. Both Matthew Rhys and Kerri Russell delivered superb performances that simmered with tension and passion from start to finish.
“Homecoming” was Julia Roberts’ first foray into prestige TV. It was worth the wait. Roberts gives a layered, tightly wound performance as a case worker with a spotty memory who works at a shady private facility helping veterans with PTSD. The mysterious story, based on a popular podcast, is elevated by Sam Esmail’s direction. The “Mr. Robot” creator conjures a similarly paranoid atmosphere here with haunting god’s-eye views and slow tracking shots. The 30-minute episodes make this intriguing drama a brisk and thoroughly enjoyable watch.
“BoJack Horseman” (Netflix)
The depression horse show does it again. In its fifth season, “BoJack Horseman” demonstrates how an animated Hollywood-insider comedy about a bunch of anthropomorphic animals can be more real, emotionally raw and unrelentingly funny than any live-action show. Creator and showrunner Raphael Bob-Waksberg pushes his characters to new, often uncomfortable places as he explores personal relationships and contemporary social issues with sharp wit and unflinching honesty.
“Hannah Gadsby: Nanette” (Netflix)
“Nanette” isn’t a traditional standup special. The hour plays like an installment of “The Moth” or a TED talk — a deeply confessional and visceral personal essay on gender identity, sexuality and trauma. Tonally, it oscillates between riotously funny — Hannah Gadsby has a chatty, disarming style that sneaks in extra laughs on her way to the punchline — to devastatingly raw and angry. The special is perfectly pitched for the #MeToo moment; it puts men on blast, and is unapologetic in its thesis that the arbitrary barriers created by straight white men that prevent others from telling their stories must be torn down.
“Barry” (HBO), “Legion” (FX), “The Handmaid’s Tale” (Hulu), “The Bodyguard” (Netflix), “The Haunting of Hill House” (Netflix), “John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous at Radio City” (Netflix), “Springsteen on Broadway” (Netflix), “Salt Fat Acid Heat” (Netflix)