Top 10 TV shows of 2018

Wednesday, January 9, 2019 - 7:11pm

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Mrs Maisel

The TV beat has a problem: 2018 was a great year in television. On one hand, as the television addicts we claim ourselves to be, this “problem” has provided us with a myriad of excuses to avoid social contact and stay in. On the other hand, the consistent stream of quality television makes any effort to choose definitive favorites all the more difficult. The selection process itself was strenuous: on what criterion should we base our picks? Should we skew towards smart comedies, somber dramas, or meet somewhere in the middle with the wide range of dramedy hybrids on the market today? Should entertainment value be the main determinant or technical prowess? What role should cultural context and inclusion play? As best as we tried to pick shows that combined each of the above criteria, in trying to nail down an angle, it became very clear that no matter which shows we selected, and which order we placed the shows in, at the end of the day, it is subjective. So, if your favorite show does not end up making the cut, you still have pristine taste, champ!

Also, please consider the fact that this list was drafted before the Golden Globes; we do, indeed, have minds of our own.

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This is Us

10. “This is Us”

Late at night, when youre lying next to someone you love, a thought might strike you. If one thing had changed, your whole life would be different. “This is Us” is a show operating only on this thought. Its third season continues the work of its predecessors, building beauty out of the humdrum. Just when it seems like the Pearsons might be living life with a little too much comfort, theyre set back. The big date doesn't go as planned, a community retaliates against assumptions about them and depression puts you to bed when you don't take your meds. Its honesty and self-awareness easily are the best part of “This is Us.” It’s how the Pearson family wrangles with the moments where things fall apart and makes do. It's how they admit they overreact. Its how they try to grow, and fail at it. It's the want to love and be loved. It might be a story about them, but at times, it feels like it could be about you as well. Season three has not seen the show turn towards the saccharine. Instead, it continues to straddle the line of feel good television and reality. Season three tightens its hug around viewers and envelopes you in such a way that an hour of “This is Us” has begun to feel like home.

— Max Schwarz, Daily Arts Writer

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Queer Eye

9. “Queer Eye” (Season Two)

2018 was a long year. It’s hard to imagine that between Kylie Jenner giving birth, an Olympic games, a World Cup and Mark Zuckerberg taking over the government that not one, but two, seasons of the “Queer Eye” reboot were released. But, it’s true, “Queer Eye” triumphantly returned this year, and oh, was it wonderful. “Queer Eye” is the embodiment of joy neatly packaged in a makeover show. No matter how you may feel about individual members of the Fab Five (sorry, Antoni), the show undoubtedly acted as a force of positivity against a horrifyingly bleak year. While polarized political parties rip each other to shreds in Washington and across the country, “Queer Eye” reflected a different possibility: Georgia conservatives and queer men cuddled up on a couch shouting “Yas, Queen!” together. At its core, “Queer Eye” is a show about hope: Hope that some of our differences are not irreconcilabl, and hope that it is possible to truly fall in love with yourself.

— Samantha Della Fera, Senior Arts Editor

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The Good Place

8. “The Good Place”

As a fan primarily of comedies, I have never switched one on for the purpose of an intellectual challenge. That is, until I discovered “The Good Place.” From the beautiful mind of Michael Schur, a man that gave us both “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “Parks and Recreation,” “The Good Place” is a comedy about death, decisions and doing the right thing (sounds hilarious, right?). It is the harmonious marriage of philosophy and comedy, two subjects that do not meet as often as they should. While watching “The Good Place,” you’ll find yourself chuckling along with loveable demon, Michael, played by certified silver fox Ted Danson and then moments later be captivated by a discussion of Kant with the dreamy Professor Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper, “Patterson”). Yes, the entire cast is hot. “The Good Place” will challenge both your mind and your ability to pick up on some incredible niche jokes. And if the Golden Globes won’t say it, I will: this is one of the best shows of the year.

— Samantha Della Fera, Senior Arts Editor

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GLOW

7. “GLOW” (Season Two)

Because the season one finale neatly concluded the season-long arc dedicated to seeing whether the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling could actually produce a successful television program, I wondered where the show could take the ragtag bunch in its sophomore effort. I was pleasantly surprised to see that everything enjoyable about the first season was reproduced and elevated in season two. One of the best things about the second season was the opportunity to learn more about the real women behind the theatrical wrestling personas. While in the first season, the central drama afflicting the diverse ensemble was their satirical acceptance of their stereotypical roles, in season two, viewers are able to see what lies beneath the surface. Most memorable was the episode following Tammé’s (Kia Stevens, “Total Nonstop Action Wrestling”) struggle to explain to her son how and why she deals with participating in minstrelsy for a paycheck. Although we definitely saw more of the diverse ensemble cast than in season one, “GLOW’s” problematic tendency to centralize only its white characters remains. Being one of the best shows of 2018 does not mean it comes without room for improvement. Hopefully, in the forthcoming third season, we will be able to see the same heart and eclectic humor, but with better storylines for the characters of color. However, “GLOW” makes up for any shortcomings by finally providing viewers an episode completely dedicated to showcasing the show-within-the show in all its spectacular ’80s-ness.

— Ally Owens, Daily TV Editor

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Insecure

6. “Insecure” (Season Three)

Well, I wanted to simply use a photo of Issa Rae as my justification for this ranking. But, alas, this job requires me to write, so I will attempt to summarize (in under 10,000 words) why “Insecure” ranks amongst the best television of 2018. While single-handedly transforming what it means to be a funny Black woman on television, this is not the sole reason why “Insecure” is great television.  With each season, Rae and her team raise the bar of quality for the show — the writing continues to become snappier, the characters more layered, the cinematography all the more beautiful. However, I want to zero in on what season three has done in particular. Season three, in many ways, was a season of transition for the characters of “Insecure,” and while still continuing to provide enjoyable, hilarious, escapist television, it does an excellent job reflecting real changes twenty-somethings must endure. Through seeing the central characters surmount changes of great magnitude, “Insecure” remains one of the few shows on television in which all characters, central and secondary alike, have an element of depth and authenticity to them. During season three, particularly, characters like bougie Tiffany (Amanda Seales, “Blackish”) and brash Kelli (Natasha Rothwell, “Love Simon”), who were previously minor and underdeveloped, were given the chance to evolve before our eyes into fully fleshed out characters with a semblance of a life outside of their interactions with Issa.

— Ally Owens, Daily TV Editor

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Bojack Horseman

5. “Bojack Horseman” (Season Five)

The animated show about a goddamn self-loathing horse man continues to produce the realest content on TV. Let the brilliant animal puns (seriously, how do they still come up with them) draw you in, but let the touching, intelligent portrayal of everything from addiction to loss to abuse keep you mesmerized. Every season, “Bojack” delivers episodes that push the envelope of what we can expect from the medium itself — from an entire episode under the sea with no dialogue, to Seasons 4’s magnum opus “Time’s Arrow,” which let us into the deteriorating mind and traumatic past of Bojack’s mother. This season, we received “Free Churro,” an entire episode delivered as a monologue before ending on a note so absurd it pretty much sums up Bojack’s entire relationship with his mother. “Bojack Horseman,” in all its brilliance, continues to set the standard for absurdist comedy (where else can you find a season-long arc about a sex robot gone rogue?) that has the capacity to make nuanced social commentary.

— Sayan Ghosh, Assistant Arts Editor

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Killing Ever

4. “Killing Eve” (Season One)

You know what’s tired? Having the same debate every three months about whether or not James Bond can be played by a Black man. You know what’s wired? Scrapping the whole James Bond idea and allowing “Killing Eve” to replace it as the premiere spy story in pop culture. It is rare that a show can hook you from the first minute and then retain that chokehold grip on your attention for the remainder of the season, but “Killing Eve” does it. What makes the show so engaging is its usage of the parallel narrative arcs following both Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh, “Grey’s Anatomy”) and Villanelle (Jodie Comer, “My Mad Fat Diary”). The quickness with which the show intercuts between protagonists makes it difficult for audiences to figure out exactly who to place our support behind, which keeps us watching. The first season of “Killing Eve” is particularly exciting because of its boldness in daring to diverge away from genre conventions. At first glance, “Killing Eve” appears to be just another thriller-drama, devoid of all humor. But then moments of dark, off-kilter hilarity occur — like a character accidentally dying from spraying perfume (that really wasn’t perfume) and before you know it, you’ve devoured the entire season.  

— Ally Owens, Daily TV Editor

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Barry

3. “Barry” (Season One)

Hired assassins have had a moment this past year, but our two favorites could hardly be any more different. Just as “Killing Eve”’s Villanelle is vivacious and disturbingly passionate about her job, the titular hitman in Bill Hader’s brilliant “Barry” is increasingly frustrated and disillusioned with his. He finds his true calling in an acting class directed by Gene Cousineau, played by Henry Winkler in one of his greatest performances. Like “Killing Eve,” “Barry” straddles the increasingly fine line between comedy and tragedy, and is anchored by Hader’s masterful portrayal of depression and his quest to climb out of it, all while his past life clings on.

— Sayan Ghosh, Assistant Arts Editor

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Atlanta

2. “Atlanta” (Season Two)

Donald Glover and Hiro Murai have developed a symbiotic partnership for the ages. The Lennon and McCartney of modern TV, they achieved the rare feat of following up a brilliant debut season of TV with another, surpassing the first in terms of boldness, innovation and emotional resonance. There are too many episodes in season two that made me completely re-evaluate how TV can or should be done, in a way that reminds me of the way I felt I first watched “Twin Peaks” hit its stride. Donald Glover’s creative genius is common enough knowledge that any further lauding would seem redundant. More underrated are the virtuosic performances of Lakeith Stanfield as Darius and Brian Tyree Henry as “Paper Boi,” with the latter giving a nuanced and heartbreaking portrayal of depression this season. “Atlanta” continued to hit the surreal notes it did so well in season one, including a stunning “revelation” about Drake and perhaps the best episode of TV this year, the horrifying “Teddy Perkins.” Although the titular city remains its central focus, Murai and Glover take us to a variety of locales within it, from a German festival to a state college frat party (which also produces one of the show’s most memorable and disturbing scenes set to D4L’s “Laffy Taffy”). All that’s left is to wait and see what this duo can accomplish next.

— Sayan Ghosh, Assistant Arts Editor

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Mrs Maisel

1. “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Season Two)

After a pilot season that brought in two Golden Globes, four Emmys and an infinite amount of praise from critics, the cast and team of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” had a lot to live up to in the sophomore season of the Amazon Prime Video comedy. The show clearly did not disappoint. Rachel Brosnahan is a glowing, persistent light in gloomy world of cookie cutter comedies. Her magnificent performance is only enhanced by the equally impressive work of her costars, from the flawless comedic timing of Alex Borstein as Suzie, Maisel’s agent, to the love-to-hate-him role taken on by Michael Zegen as the star’s complicated ex(ish)-husband. Everything about Maisel is pleasing to watch: the saturated set design, the perfect soundtrack and the clever jokes woven into the show so well you might miss them. “Maisel” is so simply entertaining that it is easy to overlook the painstaking attention to detail that lies within the show. Once again, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” has proved itself as the exemplar of a period comedy, highlighting the novel charm of a bygone era, but never failing to wryly critique the problems of it we have progressed from. One can only hope it will sustain its rule.

— Samantha Della Fera, Senior Arts Editor