American Crime StoryAndi MackBarryBob's BurgersBritanniaChannel ZeroClawsDivorceFind Me in ParisGreenleafHarlotsHumansInto The BadlandsKiddingOpinionOverthinking with Kat & JunePoseQueen AmericaQueen SugarSchitt's CreekSorry for Your LossStan Against EvilThe Dangerous Book for BoysThe MagiciansThis Close Jan 17, 2019 Shilo Adams
13. Divorce (HBO)
Season two of HBO’s Divorce let a little light shine in, as the formerly combative, angry take on conscious uncoupling got out from under the emotionally heaviest aspects of divorce and emerged a broader, more hopeful version of itself in 2018. Focusing more on two people having to rediscover their sense of self vs. the legal wranglings of leaving your spouse, Divorce’s character-first approach and themes exploring self-actualization in middle age made it a deeper, richer show while balancing an ability to laugh at itself and the institution of divorce. Not only that, removing itself from the intricacies of actual divorce allowed Divorce the chance to fill its world out better, particularly when it comes to giving its rock solid supporting cast (Molly Shannon, Talia Balsam, Tracy Letts) a more active role in the narrative. From its beautiful art direction to its vintage soundtrack and intriguing central relationship, season one of Divorce certainly had its charms, but season two was the step in the right direction that it needed.
12. Bob’s Burgers (FOX)
Trying to rank Bob’s Burgers in a year-end list is surprisingly difficult, as its quality is startlingly good for something that entered its ninth season in 2018 while its episodic storytelling and lack of true standout episodes handicap it in this highly serialized TV environment. Even with an immaculate voice cast, impressively deep bench of supporting and peripheral characters, and innate ability to find the sweetness amid life’s many weird moments, Bob’s is always just Bob’s for me – an always funny, often lovely celebration of family and individuality that’s the highlight of my TV week more often than not. The last half 2/3 of season 8 and first 1/3 of season 9 might have lacked a knockout punch like “The Bleakening,” 2017’s Christmas episode that blended mystery, musical, and mayhem to an impressive degree, but Bob’s is still a consistent delight that finds delightful ways to utilize its core cast this many years into its run. It’s TV comfort food of the highest order and the fact that it’s still this funny and on the ball creatively is a testament to how well the show knows (and loves) its characters and how its early season world building paid off.
11. The Magicians (Syfy)
Season three of Syfy’s The Magicians found the fantasy series as emotionally resonant, creatively uninhibited, and thematically stout as ever. A whirling dervish of lightning quick pop culture references, otherworldly political intrigue, and more plot than it knows what to do with, The Magicians season three continued to flesh out the show’s allegory for young adulthood and the growing pains that come with standing on your own for the first time. It occasionally got bogged down by its labyrinthine mythology, but the show’s embrace of structural experimentation, admirable dose of sincerity amidst the snark, and increasingly distinguished visual language more than made up for the plot density, particularly when focusing on Julia’s continued recovery from her sexual assault and the effects that becoming a niffin had on Alice. The Magicians is genre television with an equal dose of brains and heart and in a year where it could be hard to hold on to hope, its optimistic worldview and passionately determined characters were a welcome respite.
10. The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (FX)
The Assassination of Gianni Versace is a case of needing to see the forest in spite of the trees. Once you get past the unconventional structure which reverse chronologically follows Versace murderer Andrew Cunanan in lieu of fleshing out its title subject, the season eschews typical true crime trappings and becomes a visceral, almost smothering examination of homophobia buttressed by sumptuous direction and a towering and layered performance from Emmy winner Darren Criss. Its stylish, almost operatic extravagance and deep sense of empathy help the sometimes bloated episode times, while the prioritizing of character-focused episodes and the “why” over the “how” produces many a narrative gut punch. Versace still believes that Cunanan was a monster for what he did to the iconic fashion designer, as well as everything that led up to the events of that fateful day in July 1997, but it spends nine episodes showing you that not all monsters are born that way.Sometimes they’re created by those around them.
09. This Close (Sundance Now)
Part of the fun of the Peak TV era has been seeing which outlets can come from nowhere and make quality scripted programming. Add streaming service Sundance Now to the list after the debut of romantic dramedy This Close this year. The story of two co-dependent deaf best friends whose tangled relationship gets even more complicated, This Close is a smart and poignant look at characters rarely seen on television. With an indie movie aesthetic and dry sense of humor, the series is able to adorn itself with little specific details and storylines that no other current series can all the while keeping itself from being solely defined by the disability it portrays. This Close takes the adage of speaking the same language as your best friend to another level and uses its open heart and sensitive soul to tell a different kind of love story – one about two platonic life partners who find themselves at personal and professional crossroads at the same time.
08. Schitt’s Creek (Pop TV)
One of the great joys of my 2018 was bingeing the first four seasons of Pop TV/CBC comedySchitt’s Creek for the first time. Amid its growing buzz and because of a need for optimistic television in such a dour year, I spent a few weeks devouring the adventures of the Roses, a formerly wealthy family forced to trade in their luxurious lifestyle for a rundown hotel in a small town. Featuring a truly genius performance from Catherine O’Hara as bewigged family matriarch Moira, Schitt’s Creek has become funnier and emotionally richer with each passing season, culminating in a fourth season that was as rewarding a watch as I had in 2018. Warm, romantic, and compulsively watchable, season four might’ve lacked much in the way of narrative conflict, but it featured one of the most well-done queer relationships on television, allowed for well-earned character growth that gave weight to the show’s inherent silliness, and continued to mine its premise without condescending to those of us who live in our own little Schitt’s Creeks. The series, something like Arrested Development with heart, was one of the things that kept me going in 2018 and for that, I am thankful.
07. Barry (HBO)
HBO hitman dramedy Barry was one of three assassin-based series to debut in 2018, joining BBC America critical darling Killing Eve and FX’s Mr Inbetween, an Australian import that was also well-received. For my money, though, it was the best of the lot; it might be less stylish than Eve and not as funny as Inbetween, but Barry was thematically strongest and allowed itself room to explore to complicated character at its center. Following someone whose greatest talent is something they want nothing to do with and exploring the masks we all wear to protect our true selves, the series walked quite the tightrope in foregrounding Barry’s humanity and desire for a new life as an actor while exploring the impact of his unsympathetic actions. At times brutally violent, at others sweet and funny, the series was made special thanks to a blistering performance from Bill Hader, who shows an impressive range and masterful ability to ride the show’s darkening tone, and a supporting cast who manages to bring levity punctuated by moments of deep emotion.
06. Kidding (Showtime)
Showtime dramedy Kidding follows Jeff “Mr. Pickles” Piccirillo, a Mr. Rogers-like television personality who has difficulty adjusting to the accidental death of one of his sons and the subsequent separation from his wife. Often transcendent with how it conceptualizes grief, Kiddingis a surreal, moving, and challenging watch with gorgeous visuals to spare and a keen eye for experimentation. It’s never content to rest on its laurels, nor does it give into its inherent sadness too often; instead, it’s an active narrative with a sometimes crass, often hilarious sense of humor that nicely juxtaposes against its more emotional moments. Through its use of music, puppetry, and inventive episodic structure, Kidding turned in a first season fever dream that pushed the boundaries of its format and felt like a more coherent version of something that Adult Swim would air. Part showbiz comedy and part intensive character study, it was one of the most distinct and engaging shows that I had the pleasure to watch in 2018 and I’m beyond thrilled to have no idea what it’s going to look or feel like in 2019.
05. Harlots (Hulu)
The second season of Hulu period drama Harlots channeled female rage like no other show in 2018. Following a band of 18th century London sex workers as they fought against the men that harmed them physically, psychologically, and legislatively, the series was a timely dissection of sex, power, patriarchy, violence, and capitalism that had a vibrant, rebellious energy and dynamic sense of narrative tension. With its vibe and attitude reminiscent of Sofia Coppolla’s Marie Antoinette, Harlots is a period drama with bite, most especially when stars Samantha Morton and Lesley Manville share the screen and dive into the complicated history and fiercely competitive rivalry their characters share. Packing a bawdy sense of humor, stunning art direction, and deep understanding of systemic sexism into eight captivating episodes, season two of Harlots was an improvement over the already very solid first season and especially resonated during a year when women began reclaiming their power.
04. Sorry for Your Loss (Facebook Watch)
Facebook Watch found its first critical darling in 2018 in the form of Sorry for Your Loss, a dramedy from playwright Kit Steinkeller that follows Leigh, a recent widow as she grapples with her grief and tries to find understanding as to her husband’s suicide. Anchored by a raw, textured performance from Elizabeth Olsen and inventive editing that seamlessly amplifies the show’s emotion, Sorry for Your Loss manages to dodge the emotionally manipulative trap that many a show about mourning can fall into, instead concerning itself with the many shades of grief and the unexpected minutiae that accompanies loss. While everything it does is filtered through the sadness of its heroine, it’s a show that can be funny, sexy, angry, surreal, and warm, keeping its tone from being too smothering and its storytelling livelier and more well-rounded. Most impressively of all, the show’s central “mystery” only grows thematically deeper the longer the season goes on, particularly in a stunning midseason episode focused on voicemails, which provides further context for Leigh’s grief and makes her dearly departed a three-dimensional character whose loss the audience feels almost as much as his former wife.
03. Humans (AMC)
The show that Westworld strives to be but still can’t touch, season three of AMC’s Humansmanaged to broaden out its world and deepen its mythology while retaining full control of its narrative and fully servicing its characters. Still an eerie, intelligently constructed piece of speculative fiction that examines the intersection between technology, personhood, and society, the series became timelier than ever in 2018 thanks to a season that leaned even further into its allegorical themes. It amplified its commentary about discrimination, media propaganda, and civil rights while producing a season that was bigger, faster, and more self-assured than anything that came before. Most impressive was the show never losing its emotional connection to its characters or letting its storytelling becoming didactic despite reaching a new level of social relevance, demonstrating the cost of revolution, and refusing to turn away from the uglier aspects of humanity. Season three of Humans was a perfect example of a show bettering itself by becoming more complex, speaking its truth to power, and never forgetting to honor its past while pushing forward to the future.
02. Pose (FX)
My favorite new show of 2018 was easily FX’s Pose, a glittering, glamorous, and gutsy tribute to ballroom culture and the queer men and women who paved the way. Featuring the largest ever transgender cast for a scripted TV series, Pose was a deeply compassionate look at an under-known subculture that juxtaposed energetic, expensive-looking performance scenes with the realities of being a trans POC in the ’80s. Thankfully, though, the series isn’t interested in being dour trauma porn or exploiting trans bodies for prestige points; instead, Pose is a lovely little narrative that never hides its sentimental streak or its desires to tell different stories than what we’re used to seeing. It can fling a catty one-liner like no other or take you breath away with its lavish costume design, but this is a story about perseverance and found families that adds to representational inclusivity in more ways than one. Television is better with shows like Pose and fingers crossed its success can open the floodgates for more stories of its ilk to be told.
Shilo Adams is a contributor to KSiteTV who has written for the likes of TVOvermind, ScreenFad, and TVHackr. You can e-mail him at [email protected], follow him on Twitter @sda0918, or contact him on Curious Cat @sda0918.