Small screen, big stories, much bingeing: My 10 favourite TV shows of 2018

For a man who loves his TV, this year proved to be quite the challenge.
As I tried to balance watching lots of movies, reading more books and listening to as many songs as normal, which is a considerable amount, I found keeping up with all my usual TV shows, let alone sampling new ones, quite the challenge.

I’m not alone.

An article in EW points out that 495 scripted shows were made in the US in 2018, an 85% increase since 2011, an impossible amount for anyone to keep up with, let alone someone like me who’s trying to juggle a whole lot of other media as well.

Still, enough regret about what I didn’t get to watch yet aside – sorry Happy, Insecure S3, Outlander S4 and Glow S2 to name but four – since I did get to watch lots of shows including stalwarts like The Flash, Doctor Who (Jodie Whittaker is awesome!), The 100Fear the Walking Dead, Schitt’s Creek, Grace and Frankie, Superstore, and Colony (may it RIP) and a number of new and returning shows, the top 10 of which have made it on this years best of list …

ALTERED CARBON

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

“We are all fond of fairytales.

Oh, I don’t mean those charmingly barbed and dark morality plays that we have Disneynified so they are little more than quaint stories with an appealing message; I ‘m talking about those societal-wide delusions that we all take onboard as we grow up, the ones that speak loftily of progress, evolution, growth and advancement.

The ones that envisage us always getting better.

While we might like to cling to them, especially in these currently trying times where down is up, dark is light and everything appears to be going backwards with a swastika affixed to it, shows like Altered Carbon are having no truck with them, in ways astonishingly honest, emotionally-resonant and violently confrontational.”

Here’s my full review of Altered Carbon.

THE KOMINSKY METHOD

(image via IMP Awards)

“Let’s be honest – growing old doesn’t look like a whole heap of fun.

Sure you have the wisdom of all those hopefully-happily accumulated years, a nice line in public transport discounts and the time to shop for all those bargains that evade the more time-pressed of us.

But there are downsides, such as death of friends and loved ones (hopefully not yourself), the effects of past mistakes, whether personal, financial or professional, coming back to haunt you and the unnerving sensation that your body spends its off-hours coming up with new and ingenious ways to flush its usability down the sink.

All these aspects of growing old and more are explored in The Kominsky Method, a 8-episode series recently-released on Netflix, which explores the lives of two old friends (both in age and longevity of their friendship) who are finding that, far from supping of the fruits of a long-lived life, their lives are not quite what they signed for.”

Here’s my full review of The Kominsky Method.

THE CURIOUS CREATIONS OF CHRISTINE MCCONNELL

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

“There is something immensely appealing about anyone who is (a) happy to subvert established tropes and sensibilities and (b) who does it flair, imagination and a willingness to challenge established ideas and remake them in their own image.

Or even better, cook them.

Christine McConnell, the royal icing-pumping star of Netflix’s latest breakout hit, The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell, has ghoulishly stylish appeal aplenty, her combination of innocent ’50s glamour, Halloween proclivities and frosted creativity proving there are “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy” and thankfully one of them, for those of us that crave the quirky and the different, is this remarkable lady.”

Here’s my full review of The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell.

LOST IN SPACE (2018)

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

“Buckle up folks! This is not your childhood’s Lost in Space.

Not that that’s a bad thing – after all for all its kooky loveliness, idiosyncratic appeal and sufficient beloved catchphrases to power a thousand comic-cons for millennia, Irwin Allen’s 1960s journey into the stars was not without its flaws, and the 1998 cinema iteration aside, it’s fascinated this long time fan for many years to see what could be done with bright-and-shiny CGI and some modern storytelling sensibilities.

Wonder no more, good people, for the answer is here in the form of ten new episodes that give a decidedly grittier, ensemble-oriented, and might I say, far more grounded and human take on things, recasting the Robinsons as a fractured, struggling family who make it into space barely intact only to find circumstances propelling them far away, not only from their destination of Alpha Centauri but all kinds of existential wishes and goals.

It’s dark, brooding, action-packed and knowing, a marked departure from the previous series campness and engagingly fey melodrama, that turns everything you know about being lost in space on its head and then some.”

Here’s my review of Lost in Space (2018).

FEAR THE WALKING DEAD (season 4)

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

“Do zombies like to meditate?

Likely not, what with all that constant rambling and shambling and stumbling aimlessly going on; but Fear the Walking Dead? Oh, it likes it a great deal.

After a worrying first episode, where the main cast of Fear were mostly absent as the show devoted an entire episode to introducing Morgan (Lennie James) aka a cynical attempt to get rusted-on The Walking Dead fans to sample the slow-paced, more-reflective spinoff, we were back with Madison (Kim Dickens), Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), Nick (Frank Dillane) & Luciana (Danay Garcia) and, rather surprisingly, traitorous Victor (Colman Domingo) in their new idyllically bucolic home in a baseball stadium (hence the title).

Given the rampant violence and The Walking Dead-ness of the introductory episode, you could have been forgiven for thinking that new showrunners, Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg, who also wrote “Another Day in the Diamond”, had tried some weird Frankenstein-ish experiment to mash together the thoughtful humanity of Fear with the blood-and-guts violence of Walking.

That may still come to pass, of course, since the Steven Moffatt of The Walking Dead universe, and yes I mostly mean that in a pejorative sense, Scott M. Gimple, is an executive producer of Fear, with a very real chance of influencing its DNA with his bloodily unthinking, clumsily-written approach to things.

Episode 2 though looked blessedly free of some narrative botches, with the episode introducing us to the peaceful community, Madison has constructed, replete with running water electricity, cows, sheep and chickens, crops and even showers and eggs for breakfast.”

Here’s my full review of S4, E2 “Another Day in the Diamond”.

BARRY

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

“We’ve all been there.

A life choice that seemed perfectly reasonable at first is now onerous and burdensome, an existential noose around the neck that is either going to crush you or choke you, or both, and your only choice is to find an alternative, one you can actually live with.

Easier said than done in most cases, especially if you’re Barry Berkman/Barry Block and you have spent your post-military career carrying out hits on “bad people” (easier for your conscience if you see them that way) in partnership, and trust me, this is a very loose concept, with one Monroe Fuches (Stephen Root), a supposed friend who in reality is anything but.

Add loneliness to this simmering brew of dissatisfaction and you have a full-blown life crisis, one that forms the emotionally-resonant core of Barry, created by Alec Berg and Bill Hader, who stars at the hitman with a troubled soul.

Of course, leaving the life of low-rent hitman behind is easier than done, and when Barry ends ups in L.A. to kill a would-be actor, and gym junkie Ryan Madison (Tyler Jacob Moore) and trails him to his weekly acting class, he realises that perhaps the stage is the place for him rather than staring down the targeting scope of a gun.”

Here’s my full review of Barry.

ATYPICAL

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

“There is something utterly freeing and refreshing about Sam Gardner (Keir Gilchrist), the protagonist on Netflix’s Atypical.

An 18-year-old senior on the autism spectrum, Sam is a reassuring presence for all of us, regardless of who we are or our circumstances, that it’s entirely okay to be yourself, and that, all messaging to the contrary, there is no such thing as normal.

Though Sam is growing in leaps and bounds in his understanding and experience of love, sex, life beyond school and life as a member of a typically functionally dysfunctional family – that’s all the good ones right? – and season 2 sees him becoming ever more independent, though not always successfully, he still remains an outlier to what we in the neuro-typical community might see as normal, everyday social niceties.

But that is not a bad thing; he is a reminder, a salient one in a world where the mainstream is still placed on a pedestal and differences are not even close to being universally embraced, that each of us must forge our own path through life and that mistakes, missteps and poor judgement is common to us all.

In fact, in season 2, Sam’s family – over-protective, emotionally-starved mum Elsa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), dad Doug who made great progress in embracing who his son is, and track star close sister Casey (Brigette Lundy-Paine) – are all struggling to get life humming along.”

Here’s my full review of Atypical season 2.

COLONY

(image courtesy USA Network)

“There’s no such thing as a quiet moment (or six months for that matter) in the apocalypse, alien or otherwise.

But goddamn it, the Bowmans, plus Snyder (Peter Jacobson) who’s supposedly seen the light and wants a life away from the Hosts and their Vichy-like hold on collaborative humanity – SPOILER ALERT! He’s LYING! See that smoke? That’s his pants most definitely on fire – are giving it a red-hot go.

As “Maquis” opens, we find neatly-shaven Will (Josh Holloway), rebel-to-the-end Katie (Sarah Wayne Callies), restless elder son Bram (Alex Neustaedter), taciturn, eternally-resentful Charlie (Jacob Buster) and Treasure Island-reading Gracie (Isabella Crovetti-Cramp) living it up deep in the forest north of now-renditioned (aka destroyed in its entirety) L.A. with a bucolic je ne sais quoi.

They have chickens, home-cooked meals (by Snyder), water fetched for them (by Snyder), a log cabin that looks like something you’d have a relaxing weekend in … and oh yeah, a crushing sense that the other jackboot is about to fall and leave back where they started.

But they ignore all that – well, mostly; Bram is monitoring broadcasts by rebels which have a Lost-like numbered sequence being read out by a woman and nothing else and despite toeing the official Bowman line that everything is hunky-dory, Katie is uncomfortable being way out on the sidelines – and to build a life way out on the margins of the world.

The only problem with that avowedly chilled lifestyle? The world, which remains in the grip of vice-like alien control, enforced by compliant, ambitious humans all too eager to sell out their fellow Homo Sapiens for a rung on the galactic ladder, doesn’t want to play along.”

Here’s my full review of Colony S4 E1 “Maquis”.

THE GOOD PLACE

(image via IMP Awards)

“Much as I am a fan of sitcoms, there is a dearth of entries in the genre that manage to be both hilariously funny and immensely clever.

When you think of shows that satisfy both criteria, shows like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Cheers, Frasier, Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm what is immediately apparent is that the creators have managed to hold the two seemingly-disparate elements in audience-pleasing tension, proving that it is possible to simultaneously tickle the funny bone and engage the mind.

To this august number, and other besides, you can continue to add The Good Place, a witty, endlessly-malleable exploration of life after death which has entered its third season on NBC (USA) and Netflix (internationally) with its philosophical head held high, its characters are lovably-flawed and yet capable of of surprising change as ever, and its sense of the humourously-absurd firmly in place.”

Here’s my review of The Good Place season 3.

Z NATION

(image via Z Nation season 5 wikia (c) syfy)

Z Nation is that rare apocalyptic TV show – emotionally-resonant and heartfelt but also off-the-wall crazy and surreal in all the ways you imagine the end of the world would be. Even better than that though, in amongst all the silliness and insanity, is an affirmation of the importance of friendship and family with Roberta (Kellita Smith), Doc (Russell Hodgkinson), 10K (Nat Zang), Addy (Anastasia Baranova) all close in a way that I haven’t seen in many other shows of its ilk. It’s also grown tremendously too, starting out as Sharknado-nuts at the beginning (both the movies and show are made by the same production company) and maturing  to tell some really impactful stories while going full more on the comedy.

Here’s my preview of Z Nation season 5.

So in case you’re wondering, and how could you not, what other people are ranking as their favourite shows of the year, here’s a Top 10 list from US TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz, of which I have managed to watch a grand total of ONE.

For the record, Atlanta, starring the multi-talented Donald Glover, is #1.


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