The Best TV Shows of 2018

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24 Queer Eye

More than a decade after its original run, Queer Eye returned to television to take eight every day men and revamp their lives. With five new experts tackling the areas of food, grooming, design, fashion, and culture, the Bravo cult-series found new life and a new, rabid audience on Netflix (not long after the first eight episodes became available for streaming, the reboot was renewed for a second season). The show’s two seasons follows the new Fab Five across Georgia as they makeover everyone from a pastor to a NASCAR enthusiast. Though the show has definitely adapted to a new generation and political climate, the core of the show remains the same: Everyone can come together and agree that cargo shorts are not the answer. —Justin Kirkland

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23 Forever

Maya Rudolph is having a great TV year, with scene-stealing guest turns on Big Mouth and The Good Place. But her most surprising role to date has been in Forever, the subversive afterlife comedy from Amazon. It’s impossible to talk about Forever without spoiling the twist that happens early in the season, which finds Rudolph’s June Hoffman living in an eternal state of existentialism alongside her husband, Oscar (a perfectly saccharine Fred Armisen). Its premise is simple and familiar opens itself up to comparisons to The Good Place. But unlike its network TV peer, Forever spends less time in complex world-building and mind-melting philosophical set pieces. The comedy is quieter and the visuals more subdued, which allows Forever to elevate its performances and writing beyond its central plot. Think of this as the year’s best slow-burn comedy, which hopefully earns itself multiple seasons that will see this gem of a show unravel into full bloom. —Tyler Coates

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22 Maniac

Perhaps the most ambitious original series Netflix has produced to date, Maniac is at once a serviceable near-future satire of the pharmaceutical industry and a trippy journey into the human mind that provides a tangible portrayal of mental health. If this sounds like a deeply confusing concept, that’s because it is: Maniac stars Emma Stone and Jonah Hill as two depressed people, living in a dystopia inhabited by shitty robots and annoying advertisement buddies, who enter a pharmaceutical trial for a drug that promises eternal happiness. They’re transported deep inside their own minds, where their fears and anxieties take the form of scenes like trashy ’80s heists, high-fantasy with elves, and vintage espionage thrillers. And while all the threads don’t pull together into a perfectly satisfying cohesive whole, director Cary Joji Fukunaga absolutely succeeds at creating a wholly unique work of art complete with absolutely stunning world building. —Matt Miller

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21 High Maintenance

While the first season the web-series-turned-TV-show closely followed its small-scale predecessor, linking together the tales of various New Yorkers who were all linked by their weed dealer known simply as The Guy, the second season of HBO’s comedy series made the character more of a central figurer. This shift was a narrative departure from the previous episodes, both because the co-creators Ben Sinclair (who plays The Guy) and Katja Blichfeld ended their romantic relationship and brought in more writers to craft the storylines. What results is a similarly genius look at the lives of everyday city dwellers, but the show also gives some human insight into The Guy that made him less of an omniscient drug dealer and more of a person. —Tyler Coates

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20 The Haunting of Hill House

Our current iteration of Prestige TV has moved on from courting A-list actors to the small screen (though that certainly hasn’t stopped yet) to telling genre-specific stories with a slow-burn, cinematic weightiness. Director Mike Flanagan—who made a name for himself with contemporary horror films like Oculus, Ouija: Origin of Evil, and Gerald’s Game—brings his distinct vision to this adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s monumental horror novel. But it’s hardly a straightforward adaptation as much as it in an homage to Jackson’s psychological thriller. Here, it’s the people—not the place—that are haunted by ghosts and demons: the members of the Crane family find themselves unavoidably linked to each other and the site of their collective traumas. While the show may run an episode or two too long, and its too-clean ending may undermine the powerful episodes in the middle of the season, The Haunting of Hill House proves what TV can do with the horror genre: make the terror something its characters see, hear, and touch—but also feel deep within themselves. —Tyler Coates

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19 Westworld

I’d like to see a TV show that tried harder in 2018 than Westworld. This is a show that took more than a year (and millions of dollars) to make 10 episodes of mind-bending television told across multiple timelines—complete with people who weren’t really people, people who might not be living in the present or the past, people who were people who thought they were robots, and oh so much more than that. In its second season, Westworld graciously expanded its scope into something much bigger than a malfunctioning theme park. While the subject matter can be as confusing as it is ridiculous, Westworld is anchored by a number of fine, nuanced performances by Thandie Newton, Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright, Jimmi Simpson, and Ed Harris. In a show that asks questions about what it means to be a living, breathing human, it’s these actors’ performances that bring actual humanity to their characters—even if they may or may not be robots. Meanwhile, it worked in a number of themes about artificial intelligence, power, and the ethical treatment of what we consider others—all of which will be important conversations now and in the future. —Matt Miller

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18 The Handmaid’s Tale

Hulu’s most successful venture into original programming doubled down in Season Two. After a sickeningly morbid opening scene, the handmaids of Gilead have the odds stacked against them in a collection of episodes that both parallels our own world and toes the line of being too dark for consumption. With episodes highlighting the stories behind Alexis Bledel and Yvonne Strahovski’s characters, The Handmaid’s Tale’s first season away from its source material found its golden ticket: remembering the immense well of talent it had in its ensemble cast. —Justin Kirkland

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17 Better Call Saul

Mark down 2018 as the year Better Call Saul made a legitimate case for those “better than Breaking Bad” comparisons. Credit to Vince Gilligan and Co. for crafting a brilliant universe for the characters to play in, but the performances of Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn (seriously, give her all the awards) make the series much more than a simple narrative conveyor belt leading us to Walter White and his criminal meth empire. The story of Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman is a patient, arguably more painful one, made all the more heartbreaking by the knowledge of where he’s ultimately headed—and who “Slippin’ Jimmy” will bring down with him along the way. —Nate Erickson

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16 Big Mouth

Nick Kroll’s animated Netflix creation could have been a one-season wonder that just happened to strike the right chord at the right time. But after its second season dropped early this fall, it’s clear that the pubescent adventures of Nick and Andrew are far from peaking. Picking up where Season One left off, the most recent season dives deeper into the awkward reality of being a teenager. With Gina Rodriguez joining an already stacked cast, Big Mouth does the rare feat of improving on its first season. And if Maya Rudolph’s infamous “bubble bath” pronunciation didn’t win you over, listen to the Hormone Monstress say “Ginkgo Biloba” and get back to us. —Justin Kirkland

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15 The Good Fight

The Good Fight has always been willing to tackle an uphill battle. Before anyone was willing to make any sure bets on CBS All Access, it became one of the first scripted shows to appear on the streaming service. After a successful first season, it’s returned to take on a new narrative challenge: work on very specific plot points associated with our reality. While other shows test the waters with discussions about race and politics, The Good Fight dives in directly and convincingly enough that it doesn’t feel like a trope. Even as the series works to impeach President Donald Trump (why cast drama if it’s already been cast for you?), you believe in the story because the showrunners know exactly where it’s going. —Justin Kirkland

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14 Succession

The last thing America needs right now is another hyper-wealthy family of white powerful assholes. But the Roy family is exactly the one America deserves. Patriarch Logan Roy is a modern-day equivalent of Orson Welles’s Charles Foster Kane: a biting hybrid satire of the Murdoch and Trump empires. He’s a ruthless scumbag whose business empire extends to politics, media, entertainment—even theme parks. His bumbling children (brilliantly played by Alan Ruck, Jeremy Strong, Sarah Snook, and Kieran Culkin) all spend their time clawing up the corporate hierarchy through little actual merit of their own and bickering over their inheritance. From director/producer Adam McKay, Succession is often hard to watch for its realistic depictions of horrible people and their abuse of power. The genius of Succession, however, isn’t simply in pointing out the evils of the one percent. It’s in how the HBO show is able to make you like these characters against your will, while you’re laughing or cringing at how deeply shitty they are. —Matt Miller

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13 The Good Place

Without revealing the Season One finale’s mind-blowing plot twist (and subsequent cliffhanger), Good Place fans could have been easily nervous about how the cerebral comedy’s writing team would keep the momentum going in its second season. Luckily, creator Michael Schur and his team proved they had plenty of tricks up their sleeves. The result was an equal match to the show’s debut season, with the next 13 chapters delving into heavy logical conundrums that felt less like Philosophy 101 homework and more like the most clever (and funniest) brain teasers one could conjure up. —Tyler Coates

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12 Homecoming

The Golden Age of Podcasting and Prestige TV have converged, and it’s surprising it took this long. Gimlet Media’s fictional podcast Homecoming was a game-changer, offering the narrative structure of a mystery like Serial but letting its story go into more ethereal places. With Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail at the helm, the Amazon adaptation is equally beguiling and mysterious. Julia Roberts delivers one of her best performances as Heidi Bergman, a caseworker at a government facility that specializes in transitioning soldiers back into civilian life. But the mysteries of the Homecoming center, which unravel in two separate timelines, are the focus of this Hitchcockian thriller—one full of paranoia and confusion as its characters interrogate their own identities and behaviors on a seemingly endless loop. —Tyler Coates

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11 The Americans

For six seasons, we’ve watched real-life dream couple Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys’s Elizabeth and Philip Jennings grapple with their role as KGB spies posing as American citizens. We’ve followed along as they raise two American children, befriend their FBI agent neighbor Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), and grow increasingly uncomfortable with the work they’re forced to do. This year saw the series’ wrenching conclusion, which (no spoilers) left basically every character we loved suffering some sort of terrible loss, with a finale that has, for me, permanently ruined (or made?) U2’s “With or Without You.” You don’t have to take our word for it, though: The episode earned Emmys for Rhys and showrunners Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg. —Joanna Rothkopf

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10 BoJack Horseman

Who would have thought a cartoon about a talking horse would provide one of the most stunning depictions of problematic male behavior in Hollywood in the #MeToo era? It’s the same show that few thought would end up being one of the most emotionally complex and deeply depressing cartoons ever made. That’s BoJack Horseman for you, though. Between depicting a studio head as a malfunctioning sex robot to its title character’s fucked-up behavior, the Netflix animated series absolutely succeeded in addressing the recent revolution in the entertainment industry. It both hilariously and appropriately tackled tough conversations while holding people in a position of power accountable, doing something that few live-action dramas even managed to accomplish in 2018. —Matt Miller

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9 Wild Wild Country

At a time when we’re fascinated with reexamining how the media and our government reacted to some of the biggest scandals of the ‘80s and ‘90s (think O.J., Tonya Harding, etc), Wild Wild Country does much more than deliver the juicy footage of a notorious sex cult. It uses the community of Rajneeshpuram as a case study for examining the effects of xenophobia in this country. When a religious group relocates to a small Oregon town, the locals’ reluctance to accept the robed foreigners into their community eventually explodes into an international conflict involving plotted assassinations, bombings, and bioterror attacks. Most millennials who come across Wild Wild Country on Netflix might have trouble believing any of this happened at all. —Matt Miller

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8 Barry

Barry’s premise—in which Bill Hader’s titular hitman decides to change career paths and become an actor—sounds like excellent fodder for some slapstick silliness. One could picture this being a ridiculous SNL sketch, bringing the absurdity of Laser Cats or Stefon. But Barry is much more than that. At its heart, the show is about a veteran suffering from PTSD looking for something that makes him feel. Rather than play the goofball, Hader is more the straight man—a broken soldier wandering around in sort of a shell shock. Surprisingly, Hader allows his brilliant supporting cast of Sarah Goldberg, Henry Winkler, Stephen Root, and Anthony Carrigan to get most of the laughs. It’s one of few 30-minute comedies that can pack emotion, surprises, and hilarity into such a short period of time. —Matt Miller

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7 The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story

The first season of American Crime Story set an impossibly high bar for later editions of Ryan Murphy’s latest anthology series. While The Assassination of Gianni Versace seemed like the perfect follow up to The People v. O.J. Simpson, the former never quite lived up the hype of the latter. That is essentially a shame—and perhaps its misleading title is to blame. While the 1997 murder of the Italian fashion designer does kick off the season, it’s hardly its focus; instead, serial killer Andrew Cunanan is the leading player as the show follows him on his three-month murder spree across the United States. Darren Criss delivers a phenomenally unhinged performance as Cunanan, bringing humanity to the sociopathic character who left behind little explanation of his motives. —Tyler Coates

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6 Sharp Objects

Jean-Marc Vallée was one of the many collaborators that made Big Little Lies a massive hit for HBO in 2017, but his return to the limited series format feels more like an auteur’s vision than the result of juicy source material and an all-star cast that can’t help but chew up the scenery. Adapted from Gillian Flynn’s novel, Sharp Objects falls into the Southern gothic space that made True Detective such a hit. But missing from this show is the gritty machismo and overwrought psychology, instead following Amy Adams’s tortured journalist Camille Preaker, who returns to her small hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri to look into the serial murders of young girls—and, of course, to come to terms with the demons she left behind. Patricia Clarkson offers a deliciously cold performance as Camille’s overbearing mother, Adora, who is more fond of her second daughter Amma (a deviously good Eliza Scanlan) than she is her alcoholic firstborn. The refreshing twist: the central murder mystery plays second fiddle to the dynamic drama between Camille and Adora, as well as the Vallée’s bewitching study into his protagonist’s stormy mind. —Tyler Coates

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5 Patrick Melrose

Based on Edward St. Aubyn’s incredible series of novels, Patrick Melrose follows the titular character (played by Benedict Cumberbatch, who delivers an incendiary performance) throughout his life as he battles the demons of addiction and childhood trauma. Hugo Weaving co-stars as Patrick’s brutally cruel father who would be unbelievably evil if he weren’t based on St. Aubyn’s own abusive father. Despite its darkest moments, Patrick Melrose offers a wickedly funny perspective on the dying British aristocracy, told though the manic lens of a ruined man who is trying at all costs to keep himself from falling apart. —Tyler Coates

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4 Pose

Ryan Murphy’s latest—co-created with his writing/producing partner Brad Falchuk and Steven Canals—is a major departure from the brutal visions of American Horror Story and American Crime Story. Set in New York City in 1987, Pose follows the world of the Harlem ball scene (as seen in the seminal doc Paris Is Burning), seen through the eyes of the members of House Evangelista. MJ Rodriguez, Dominique Jackson, and Indya Moore lead an astonishing ensemble cast that roam through the various social circles and hierarchies at the height of the AIDS epidemic, Reaganomics, and the rise of Trumpian social politics. Unlike any other show or film about the subject, Pose boasts the largest transgender cast ever assembled and offers a compelling look at gender identity with stories told by trans artists. —Tyler Coates

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3 Killing Eve

“You should never tell a psychopath that you’re a psychopath. It upsets them,” says the psychopathic half of BBC America’s new anti-buddy-cop drama. The eight-episode first season, which kicked off in early April, follows MI5 agent Eve (Sandra Oh) and psychopathic assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer) in a cat and mouse game across the world. With neither women having much they’re worried about losing, they become obsessed with each other, resulting in deadpan (and sometimes disturbing) comic moments that wrangles you in. Showing so much promise that it’s already been renewed for a second season, Killing Eve is worth it just to watch Oh and Comer bat back and forth at each other—and, of course, to see if they’re able to survive it.—Justin Kirkland

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2 GLOW

The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling are back for the second season of Netflix’s pitch-perfect comedy series. On this second bout, the stellar ensemble cast shines as the individual women see their stories develop. But that doesn’t mean co-leads Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin don’t slip into the shadows, which their ongoing relationship getting fresh complications. Most brilliantly, the series handles the #MeToo movement with a sense of urgency that doesn’t feel forced (or, because of its ’80s setting, out of place). And at ten 30-minute episodes, GLOW is refreshing in our current heavy and overwrought TV climate—proving that it’s able to cover wide ground in brilliantly tight stories. —Tyler Coates

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1 Atlanta

After earning two Golden Globes and two Emmys for its first season, Donald Glover had both credibility and a lot to live up to going into the second season of Atlanta. Yet, if anything, that critical acclaim gave Glover even more freedom to create. The groundwork he laid in Season One was only a foundation to the boundaries he was willing to push. From a 45-minute horror short inspired by Michael Jackson with Glover in whiteface, to a reinvention of Drake’s “Hotline Bling,” to an absolutely spot-on critique of the lame white millennial, Glover’s Atlanta continues to start conversations around race, identity, poverty, and popular culture in ways that have never been done before. —Matt Miller

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