It may be prudent once again to note that much like last year this isn’t a list of the best shows of 2018, but a list of my favorite shows of the year. If you trust my tastes, then maybe you can consider it both a list of favorites and a list of the best. Also noteworthy: I don’t have the time or the wherewithal to watch every single thing. There’s just so much to see and so much of it was pretty good! In fact, I had a harder time with my list this year than in years past. I could almost rearrange any of the shows in the 2nd through 5th slots and feel satisfied.
What did I miss? Let the countdown (and conversation) begin!
Almost made it: 15. Maniac (Netflix), 14. Crashing (HBO), 13. Patrick Melrose (Showtime), 12. Homecoming (Amazon Prime), 11. Last Chance U (Netflix)
Kidding, at first, felt like a failed attempt due to hinging so much on what-if type of debating about some very specific aspects of our real world: What if Mr. Rogers wasn’t so stable? What if Mr. Rogers had a public meltdown after the death of a child? And what if the child had a twin that survived? And what if this fictionalized version of everyone’s favorite public television host, now called Mr. Pickles, had a darker backstory than the real Mr. Rogers?
After the release of the seismic documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? earlier this year, Kidding didn’t feel up to the task to bear the weight of all those heavy “What Ifs.” The characters of Seb (the domineering father of Mr. Pickles) and Will (Mr. Pickles’ living son) both felt too distant and disconnected at first to be interesting. Then at the end of the third episode, the twinkle of the series began to show itself: like much of Michel Gondry’s work, elements of magical realism popped up here and there throughout. Suddenly, the entire production had a beautiful, emotional, resonant, and warm turn. In the end, Kidding was a wonder of a show that wore its heart on its sleeve.
Sometimes it takes a fantasy to point out what’s actually real.
Better Call Saul
This was the season where Better Call Saul took the mantle from its excellent predecessor Breaking Bad and became the better show. Let the naysayers denounce if they want. Better Call Saul stands on its own.
Jimmy McGill finally took the turns and twists that were inevitably coming for him to become the shadiest lawyer in Albuquerque, and it was always mesmerizing to see. As for Mike, he also leaped significantly forward to solidify himself. He did it with no half measures, too.
The reasons why the series — and this fourth season in particular — were so good had a lot to do with not only the story’s focus on the minutia, which never got boring, but also the supporting cast. Rhea Seahorn’s Kim Wexler amazes in what could become a traditional “girlfriend” role on any other series. (Watch that last scene of the season where all the air is let out of her sails for one very good reason.) Michael Mando’s “Nacho” went a bit underused, but burned bright each time he was on the screen. (Of particular note is his gunshot scene this year.)
Though I was a detractor on the idea of this show existing, it’s quickly become must-see on a week-by-week basis, a rarity in today’s streaming world.
Just like the acting classes in its narrative, Barry also played the impromptu game of “Yes, and…?” Each time the show should’ve back peddled and saved some hits for next season, it went all in for the kill.
Barry was the HBO series starring Bill Hader as a hitman whose new calling in life seems to involve a lot less killing and a lot more acting. So what does he do? He does what one does in L.A.: starts at the bottom with theater classes (who seem to only do scenes from movies, funnily enough) taught by Gene Cousineau played with gusto by the always fun Henry Winkler.
This show had it all in spades: writing, cast, story, and a debut that was one of the best of the television year. The tale of a hitman who is taking a turn away from his murderous lifestyle isn’t exactly new territory, but Barry took the story to complex levels. Those levels will have a lot of reckoning and reverberations in the next season.
Bill Hader, Stephen Root, Sarah Goldberg, and Henry Winkler were all as glorious as any ensemble in 2018, but the scene-chewing really belonged to Anthony Carrigan, whose chatty mobster Noho Hank was one of the funniest character on television this year.
It will be just as enthralling to see how the writers for Barry mop up all the spills. I’m ready for the next hit.
In another hitman — excuse me, hitwoman — show, Killing Eve had its titular Eve (an eyeopening turn from Sandra Oh) leaving the desk life in the MI5 to tracking down the deadly Russian assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer, who was simultaneously scary, beautiful, glorious, and hilarious).
The show played out in unexpected ways and not just due to the perfunctory spy intrigue. It also achieved a quirky comedic tone, particularly with the odd relationship between the cat and mouse; it was mesmerizing to see this different love story develop between the two obsessives.
While the last episode of the season lost some of its earlier momentum, Killing Eve was heightened television and a perfect antidote for the usual, run-of-the-mill thrillers with no sense of humor.
The End of the F***ing World
This dark comedy had me from its opening, voiced-over moments and its brevity (only eight episodes, most under twenty-five minutes) had me shouting from the rooftops not long after its U.S. release. It was the first great show of 2018.
The plot revolves around the fact that the unreliable teenage James believes he’s a psychopath and decides that he needs to kill a human to chisel that whole psychopath thing in stone. He picks fellow schoolmate and outsider Alyssa, but as anyone who’s ever watched television likely knows, one thing leads to another. James and Alyssa start a very odd flirtation and make a trek through England. That’s just the start of it.
The beauty of this dour-yet-gut-busting-funny show came in its refreshing new look at teen angst. While played for laughs, there’s real pathos between James and Alyssa’s reactions brought on by the stiff and idiotic adults around them. It was bold and brazen. It was also touching and hilarious. The two leads, Alex Lawther and Jessica Barden, are a perfect fit. I’m not so sure a second season was warranted — the show would’ve been even more breathless and brave had it left at all with that final shot — but Netflix has announced another season. It will be impossible to be as surprising and divine as this first season was. But, fanks anyway, Netflix.
Check back at The Alabama Take soon for the rest of the top ten favorites.