My Top 50 TV Shows of 2018

Because I have a weird work schedule that often leaves me at home alone for long stretches with nothing to do but write, I have become kind of a Peak TV nutjob who actually attempts to see a large number of the absolutely staggering number of scripted series that are aired these days. So I've literally watched entire seasons of over 100 different shows this year, and probably one or a handful of episodes of over 100 other shows. Without trying to, I ended up spreading the list pretty well among all the different ways people consume TV these days: 16 shows are from streaming services (Netflix/Hulu/etc.), 13 are from premium cable (HBO/Showtime/etc.), 9 are from broadcast networks (NBC/FOX/etc.), and 12 are from basic cable (FX/Comedy Central/etc.). So bear in mind that I really did cull this list down from a much larger set and feel pretty confident about recommending all of these shows to people who might be curious about any of them if they match up with what genres you like and what ways you watch TV.

Here are the TV lists I did in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

1. Barry (HBO)
I think a lot about the fact that Bill Hader was a 25-year-old PA and aspiring filmmaker the first time he took an improv class and thought about a career as a comedy performer, and joined the "Saturday Night Live" cast just 2 and a half years later, which is like picking up a baseball for the first time in college and then ending up on a major league team. So not only he is an incredible talent who didn't grow up dreaming about the dream career he wound up with, but he's started to fulfill some of his filmmaking aspirations when he knocked it out of the fucking park with his first series as a creator. "Barry" feels a little autobiographical, except the character Hader plays is pushing 40, is a contract killer, and his acting class is probably not going to lead to a prestigious TV gig. But there's something about "Barry" that feels a little more personal than its fantastical narrative of Chechen mobsters and "Breaking Bad"-like double life drama lets on. And the incredible, hilarious performances by Hader, Henry Winkler, Stephen Root and newcomer Anthony Harrigan breathe new life into the hitman comedy genre that was so overexposed in the '90s.

2. Homecoming (Amazon)
A few years ago I complained that many of TV's most acclaimed shows classified as comedies were essentially half hour dramas, but that was a gripe more about dramedies that neglected laughs than the idea of an actual half hour drama, a fine but rarely used format that blossomed this year with Vida, Sweetbitter, and especially Homecoming, which was surprisingly gripping. Sam Esmail's direction, which I found a little overly flashy and ornate without much reason on his breakout his Mr. Robot, finds a better story for him to unleash some Hitchcockian pacing and framing upon, with Stephan James pulling off an incredible performance as well as Julia Roberts, Bobby Cannavale and Shea Wigham doing some of the best work of their careers.

3. Brooklyn Nine-Nine (FOX)
At the beginning of 2018, FOX's live action comedy lineup included Brooklyn Nine-Nine, New Girl, and The Last Man On Earth. At the end of 2018, they have Rel, Last Man Standing, and The Cool Kids. Now, it's never entirely fair to compare a network's new fall lineup with the longer-running shows that they've recently cancelled, but in the case of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, FOX cancelled the show after their 5th and probably best season to date, and left NBC to pick it up, which might have been a tactical move somehow, but really just seems

4. Succession (HBO)
A show about the petty feuds of an absurdly wealthy media dynasty is, in a weird way in our times of class war and open resentment of what the richest people are doing to the world, kind of a feelgood show. But money doesn't so much cause the dysfunction of the Roy family, it just amplifies it and makes their vindictive actions ripple out to effect and be seen by the rest of the world. So Jeremy Strong and Kieran Culkin and Sarah Snook and Alan Ruck bring just the right pitch of reality and boilerplate sibling rivalry to their performances while the story spins out in a way that it's the horrible economic scale and consequence that makes it funny.

5. Billions (Showtime) 
I felt kind of bad that Billions seemed to reach a tipping point of popularity with its great 3rd season just as Succession was coming along and getting favorably compared to it. But if Eric Bogosian, who has recurring roles on both shows, doesn't have to pick a side, neither do I. And I've enjoyed how the show has continued reverberate into all these different little conflicts so that's not just Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis ping ponging back and forth at each other.

6. The Venture Bros. (Cartoon Network) 
Most long-running shows burn out creatively as an inevitability of the pace of TV production -- the biggest HBO dramas occasionally get away with taking more than a year between seasons, but most scripted shows keep cranking the stories out. But The Venture Bros. has become Adult Swim's longest running series, a heavily serialized one with dozens of characters and a densely referential mythology, without ever falling off thanks to a relaxed schedule -- this year they hit 7 seasons and 80 episodes, 15 years after the show debuted. And the 7th season was refreshing because it felt like they finally stopped making the show's universe bigger and more complicated and kind of circled back to having the main characters back to more or less their same old hilarious bullshit.

7. Dietland (AMC)
The Handmaid's Tale remained an awards show darling in its second season this year. And while I certainly see the value in fiction taking society's persecution of women to its logical extreme for a dystopian warning, I thought it was a shame that equal attention wasn't paid to a show like Dietland, sbout a present day world in which a radical feminist group starts killing men and resisting the patriarchy by any means necessary, all from the vantage point of an introspective and self-doubting woman on the periphery of the story.

8. Lodge 49 (AMC)
I was mad that AMC cancelled Dietland, but I feel like forgiving them because they renewed their other unique and underwatched freshman show Lodge 49. There's a little The Big Lebowski in this show's DNA, but the aimless surfer who gets pulled on a mysterious misadventure is Dud, not The Dude, and there's a whole other melancholy thread in the show about loneliness, and the grief of two siblings who lost their father, that makes the show's rambling whimsy all the more engrossing.

9. The Magicians (SyFy)
I enjoyed the first two seasons of The Magicians a lot, but the show just hit its stride so wonderfully this year, the way they've built a world where magic is a malevolent and unpredictable thing that takes the story into really dark places but Summer Bishil and Hale Appleman and Arjun Gupta have this fantastic comedic chemistry that the show keeps getting better and better at using. "Be The Penny," "A Life in the Day," and "Six Short Stories About Magic" were 3 of the most inventive and memorable episodes of television I saw this year, all from the same show.

10. The Good Place (NBC)
The Good Place has reached that weird place where sometimes something has been so consistently praised and well reviewed that suddenly everything I read about it as reactive and harshly critical and I have a hard time figuring out if the show is actually falling off or had overlooked shortcomings all along or if people are just nitpicking out of boredom. But even with the show kind of write itself into a corner where they can't possibly rewrite the rule book for season 3 as dramatically as they did for season 2, it's been thrilling to watch them tie the show into knots and keep finding ways to make these characters funny.

11. Killing Eve (BBC America)
Phoebe Waller-Bridge created two hilarious British comedies in which she starred, "Fleabag" and "Crashing." But I was still surprised at her moving behind the camera for a gripping drama about a spy's obsession with an assassin, and how wonderfully Waller-Bridge's gift for strange, funny dialogue was maintained with Sandra Oh's performance of much more tense and action-driven material.

12. The End of the F***ing World (Netflix)
The End of the F***ing World is narrated by a teenage psychopath who kills animals and decides to move up to humans, but then falls in love and ends up on an odd adventure with his would-be victim. I love the 18-21 minute episodes, not every story needs to be dragged out as long as possible.

13. You (Lifetime) 
Like The End of the F***ing World, You is narrated by a murderous pyschopath, except it takes the concept a bit further by having Joe actually kill several people, all the while being played charmingly by former teen idol Penn Badgley and rationalizing his actions eloquently in voiceover. I was uneasy at first about the idea of a show taking the 'unreliable narrator' idea to such an absurd extreme, but Lifetime's best scripted show since UnReal is appropriately kind of a smart prestige cable take on all the stories of stalkers and abusive men that make up Lifetime's many original movies. I'm amazed they actually set the story up well to continue with a second season on Netflix.

14. Escape At Dannemora (Showtime)
Jail breaks are the kind of thing that lives in our imagination as cool Thin Lizzy and ridiculous implausible stories like the FOX series Prison Break, but the 2015 inmate escape was one of those big news stories that seemed stranger than fiction. And seeing actors like Benicio del Toro and Patricia Arquette bring it to life onscreen in Ben Stiller's miniseries has really helped flesh out the whole weird love triangle at the heart of the story. It may feel a little premature to put this 7-part miniseries on the list after only 4 episodes have aired, but it really is that good.

15. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW)
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend got about as dark as a show with regular musical interludes could get last year. And this year they've managed to bring the story back from the brink a little bit as they've headed into the 4th and final season, but it's bittersweet to think about a show this good voluntarily wrapping up their story so soon.

16. Counterpart (Starz)
Starz had the good judgment to greenlight 2 seasons of Counterpart right off the bat, so the second one started this week picking up right where the first ended in April. We've seen a lot of actors play twins lately, but there's something altogether different and wonderful about J.K. Simmons playing the same man in two parallel dimensions, men who lived the same life for 30 or so years and then went on completely divergent paths. My favorite thing about Counterpart, though, is that one dimension is 'Alpha' and the other is 'Prime' -- essentially, people on both sides think they're in the real world.

17. Random Acts of Flyness (HBO)
The only genre of television that you can halfway accurately slot Random Acts of Flyness into is sketch comedy, but even its funniest segments tend toward a particularly bleak kind of gallows humor, and there a lot of vignettes that prioritize texture or emotion or fleshing out the theme of a given episode. Terence Nance smashes all his ideas together in this show as beautifully and disorientingly as a Jimi Hendrix or De La Soul album.

18. Bob's Burgers (FOX)
I always feel like I'm whistling past the graveyard that I note that Bob's Burgers still hasn't shown signs of strain even at 9 seasons and 160 episodes, that I'm just daring them to become a Simpson's-like hollow self parody. But the Belcher family is still somehow the same as it's always been without repeating itself too much, "Nightmare on Ocean Avenue Street" and "Bobby Driver" made me laugh about as hard as any episode of television this year.

19. Speechless (ABC)
It really drives me crazy that Minnie Driver doesn't win Emmys for this show or even get nominated, the whole show is so good but especially her. I think one thing I love about family sitcoms is that it shows you how many different ways there are to be a mom and a dad, give or take comic exaggeration.

20. Santa Clarita Diet (Netflix)
Horror comedy is a genre that was once niche in film and nearly nonexistent in television that has really blossomed in recent years, and it's great that we can have shows like Stan Against Evil, Crazyhead, iZombie, and Ash Vs. Evil Dead all going on around the same time. Santa Clarita Diet is my favorite, though, because it's probably the most consistently touching show about a loving family besides Speechless, even while people are eating each other and Nathan Fillion's talking severed head serves as comic relief.

21. American Vandal (Netflix)
American Vandal was my #1 show last year and the unique novelty of the show's style and approach gave it an element surprise that can never be matched. But the second season was in many ways equally ingenious, and spun a more grilling true crime mystery than the first season, with pitch perfect performances by Travis Tope and Melvin Gregg.

22. Vida (Starz) 
Vida, about two latina sisters who find out that their recently deceased mother was gay and have to decide whether to save her bar or let the neighborhood around it further fall victim to gentrification, packs so many hot button issues into just the basic premise that it sometimes feel like it could collapse under the weight of all its relevance and resonance. But Melissa Barrera and Ser Anzoategui anchored a really great ensemble that helped make all the show's heavy moments feel real. My wish for the second season is that Alonso Ruizpalacios directs more than one episode, his work on the pilot was really striking.

23. The Good Cop (Netflix)
Netflix is slightly more trigger-happy with cancellations than they were a few years ago, but it's still a little shocking when they can a show just a couple months after its first season, especially when it's as entertaining as The Good Cop. I can't fault anyone for just assuming a show starring Tony Danza and Josh Groban wouldn't be worth checking out I guess, but Andy Breckman put together a comedic mystery show that was often as enjoyable as his best known creation, Monk.

24. The Break with Michelle Wolf (Netflix)
The bubble of topical comedy mostly starring Daily Show alumni hasn't burst yet -- Hasan Minhaj's show just debuted and a couple more are in the pipeline. But two of my favorite shows from this crowded field, The Break With Michelle Wolf and The Opposition With Jordan Klepper, both got canceled over the summer after less than a year. And it really bummed me out, because both shows had developed a sharper, meaner voice than the often smug tone that it's so easy to fall into when it takes so little effort to dunk on the president. And Michelle Wolf in particular was a hero for comedy this year for killing the White House Correspondents Dinner hosting gig (somewhat literally, given that she may be the last comedian to host for a long time) and refusing to apologize for it.

25. Casual (Hulu)
After Parks & Recreation and New Girl jumped forward a couple years for their final seasons, I rolled my eyes at Casual doing something similar in their final season, until I realized how subtle their running jokes about the near future (a hopeful glimpse at life after the Trump administration implodes) were. But the fast forward also allowed the arrested development of Tommy Dewery's character to progress a little bit, which gave a little more emotional resonance to a show that I used to regard as prickly and unsentimental to a fault.

26. Wanderlust (Netflix) 
As a longtime admirer of Toni Collette who could not stomach United States Of Tara's bullshit, I was delighted to see Collette get a perfect TV vehicle in this funny, strange, sometimes emotionally intense 6-part series about a middle-aged couple's decision to see other people.

27. Mosaic (HBO)
A TV show that doubles as an app sounds like something that's doomed to not function well as television. But if you never told me that Steven Soderbergh's HBO murder mystery miniseries was also a choose-your-own-adventure mobile phone game, I never would've guessed, it's got the signature odd color palettes, clever plotting and great performances from relative unknowns (Devin Ratray, Jennifer Ferrin, and Bridey Elliott) that I've come to expect from Soderbergh's best work.

28. UnReal (Lifetime) 
After an amazing debut season, UnReal had a rocky patch with a far less acclaimed second season, power struggles behind the scenes, and a long break between seasons. With the pressure on, the third season delivered both as a course correction and as a continuation of the show's tradition of always upping the ante of the drama. And Caitlin FitzGerald deserves a lot more recognition this year for being an essential anchor of both Sweetbitter and the third season of UnReal.

29. Atlanta (FX)
Pretty much everyone involved in Atlanta has seen a huge career boost and lots of other big projects and opportunities. But I'm especially happy for Brian Tyree Henry, whose consistently incredible, understated performances, as much about his facial expressions as his dialogue, in the second season completely anchor the show at this point even as increasingly ambitious stylistic experiments kind of swirl around him.

30. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon) 
The second season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel strains a little to adhere to a formula where Midge does a standup set in every single episode, even if she's just improvising one in the middle of her day-to-day life. Still, it's often a deliriously entertaining show because of the sheer force and charm of Rachel Brosnahan's performance.

31. Grace And Frankie (Netflix) 
Actors start getting shifted into supporting roles as parents and grandparents of protagonists by the time they turn 50. So there's something kind of beautiful about one of the funniest shows on TV having 4 stars who are all around 80 years old.

32. Channel Zero (SyFy) 
Between American Horror Story and Black Mirror and even an upcoming Twilight Zone reboot, horror anthology series have never had more cachet than they do now. But I think SyFy's series,, each season a 6-episode adaptation of creepypasta story, deserves way more recognition. In 2018 the show aired both its 3rd and 4th seasons, and "Butcher's Block" and "The Dream Door" were probably their strongest stories to date, with the latter introducing an unforgettable monster in Troy James's performance as Pretzel Jack.

33. Pose (FX)
Ryan Murphy shows tend to have so much unapologetic glitz and artifice that I kind of get overwhelmed by the sensory overload and stop caring about the characters or the story. But Pose struck a different balance, where the emotion of the story was right under the surface of all the flash and extravagance. I still want Murphy to hire writers who are better at dialogue, though.

34. Great News (NBC)
30 Rock writer Tracey Wigfield's didn't reinvent the wheel enough to fully establish its own identity in 2 brief seasons before NBC canceled it. But it was still just a delight to watch John Michael Higgins and Andrea Martin and, weirdly, Nicole Richie fire around those fast ridiculous one-liners at each other.

35. Westworld (HBO)
The second season of Westworld definitely didn't measure up to the first one, it just felt like there were too many big pieces being moved around a chessboard for the show's grandiose overarching vision that may or may not pay off in the years to come. But when the show zoomed in for episodes that focused on one particular character or storyline, it found its voice again.

36. GLOW (Netflix) 
Often you don't really know which shows are building a serious following until the second season starts and you find out how many people had been waiting for it, especially in the streaming era, where Netflix releases seasons all at once and doesn't tell anyone how many people watched it. So while GLOW got a decent amount of attention last year, I really didn't know how big it was until the huge buzz around the second season's arrival. And it continued to be a wonderfully entertaining period piece, although I felt like when they did an entire episode of the show-within-a-show it was kind of a letdown that I hope they don't repeat in the future.

37. Castlevania (Netflix) 
At this point you really know what pop culture detritus from your youth can be adapted into something altogether different and entertaining. And I never thought that a cartoon based on a Nintendo game I played when I was 10 could be as sharply funny, or as bloody, as the first two seasons of Castlevania have been.

38. Trust (FX) 
Trust was the bridesmaid to All The Money In The World in the competing recent adaptations of the John Paul Getty III abduction saga. But I thought it was by far the more memorable one, thanks to Danny Boyle's vivid direction and one of the best performances of Brendan Fraser's career.

39. Sorry For Your Loss (Facebook Watch) 
I'll confess that I'm deeply annoyed that there are so many different streaming services offering original programming now and that I have to watch some of them on my laptop and not my TV, and I particularly dislike supporting anything Facebook does. But Sorry For Your Loss is a really compelling and insightful and emotionally thorny show about grief with a powerhouse performance from Elizabeth Olson.

40. Sharp Objects (HBO)
Sharp Objects may actually be the rare novel that could've been done more justice as a 2-hour film than as a series, given the way the plot was slowly sprinkled through 8 episodes of a miniseries and tested the patience of people who loved every minute of Big Little Lies, which was also directed by Jean-Marc Vallee. But once I adjusted to the unique rhythm of Sharp Objects, and the shards of Led Zeppelin songs Amy Adams blared on her car stereo in every episode, I wound up feeling like a supporter of a show that had its share of detractors.

41. Maniac (Netflix) 
As with Sharp Objects, I'm inclined to be grateful that Maniac has movie-level talent making a 8-to-10 hour miniseries, but ultimately I have to admit it would probably be just as good or better as a 2 hour feature. Still, there are few people I'd rather watch when they're on a roll these days than Emma Stone, and she had a lot of fun with the dream sequence episodes.

42. Alone Together (Freeform)
With Difficult People gone, Alone Together filled a little of its niche for me as a great mean little comedy about two platonic friends who just kind of sit around ruthlessly zinging each other and everyone around them. Esther Povitsky, who's been memorable in a very small role in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, gets lots of room to be hilarious in this show. Here's the crazy thing: I put this show on the list just based on the first season, not realizing that Freeform had since aired a second season and then canceled it, so I still have a bunch of episodes to look forward to watching.

43. Forever (Amazon) 
As a whimsical show about the afterlife created by Parks & Recreation producers, Forever kind of feels like the less rewarding younger sibling of The Good Place. But it features a typically great Maya Rudolph performance that culminates in her singing "This Is How We Do It" in the final episode. And the standalone episode "Andre and Sarah," starring Jason Mitchell and Hong Chau, was TV's best one-off love story since Black Mirror's "San Junipero."

44. The Deuce (HBO) 
The second season of The Deuce reminded of Halt And Catch Fire's second season in that the period piece took a turn towards its female characters having more power and agency in an era and industry in which, in reality, the true stories about women were probably a little less inspiring and encouraging. And I couldn't help but feel catered to by a season which jumped forward to the late '70s, used Elvis Costello's "This Year's Girl" as the theme song, and ended with an awesome montage set to The Pretenders' "Mystery Achievement."

45. Fresh Off The Boat (ABC) 
Constance Wu's starring role in a huge box office hit this year felt like a reward for her work as one of the funniest actresses on TV for the last few years. Someone should probably tell ABC, though, who moved her show to thankless Friday nights, and let Fresh Off The Boat run a couple too many episodes where it felt like Wu's character Jessica had more lessons to learn than her kids.

46. Single Parents (ABC) 
2018's slate of new fall network shows was weaker than usual -- at this point I'm halfheartedly keeping up with The Rookie and Manifest, but the only show I'm pretty sure I'm going to keep watching for as long as it's on the air is Single Parents. New Girl creator Elizabeth Meriwether has managed to translate her established comedic rhythm to a show that otherwise doesn't feel too similar, with a great ensemble cast anchored by Taran Killam, Brad Garrett and Leighton Meester.

47. Outcast (Cinemax) 
Veteran character actor Reg E. Cathey died in February, but over the summer we got two great final performances from him, as the best thing about the second season of Luke Cage, and as one of several great performances in the exorcism drama Outcast, alongside guys like Brent Spiner and M.C. Gainey.

48. Divorce (HBO) 
The first season of Divorce kind of came and went for me without leaving much of an impression, but in the second season I found myself really starting to care about the characters and feel like it was less of a broad satire and more a relatable slice of life with a typically great performance from Thomas Haden Church.

49. Jessica Jones (Netflix) 
With Netflix's Marvel series getting canceled left and right the last few months, I'm glad that Jessica Jones got its third season underway before the axe started to fall, because the second season, while not as memorable as the first, continued to have by far the best dialogue of any of these shows.

50. The Affair (Showtime) 
The Affair is still one of the most unique shows on TV and I'm always curious to see what they do next. But as the show gears up for its 5th and final season next year, I have a lot of conflicting feelings about how the 4th season ended the arc of one of the show's main characters, putting them through one tragedy and heartbreak after another and then, abruptly, a horrible and violent death.
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