“Television is becoming a collage – there are so many channels that you move through them making a collage yourself. In that sense, everyone sees something a bit different.”
– David Hockney
There was a time when working for television was labelled a “demotion,” a professional death sentence for movie stars whose careers were on an irreparable descent.
Today, we have Meryl Streep joining HBO‘s Big Little Lies, Idris Elba returning to BBC One as DCI John Luther, and Henry Cavill beginning work on Netflix‘s fantasy series The Witcher.
There was a time when it was thought for a show to succeed, it needed to start every September, end every April-May, and run at least 20 episodes per season.
Today, fans wait over 18 months for an eight-episode season of Game of Thrones, and remain loyal to BBC One’s Sherlock–even after a two-year break between seasons.
There was a time when television meant “The Big Three,” HBO went off-air at 11 pm, and “water cooler” moments before the VCR could be a very select club at the office.
Today, cable and streaming have turned “The Big Three” into “The Big 333;” with the DVR, on-demand, and binge-watching making any time a great time to talk television.
Yes, it can be said that “The Platinum Age of Television” comes with a price: as more shows saturate the pop culture landscape, the more difficult it is for individual shows to stand out. When choosing our top selections, it felt like we were trying to find ten needles in a pile of needles–and nearly as painful when you see what almost made the cut:
Now here’s a look at Bleeding Cool‘s top television picks for 2018:
#10 The Good Place (NBC)
Shows are always a toss up as to when they hit their stride. Some start great, some achieve greatness, and others start strong, falter, but then really get back on track and find their footing later on. NBC’s quirky comedy, The Good Place is decidedly in the latter category.
Now halfway through its third season, the series is a high-concept comedic look at the afterlife starring Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. The first season was reminiscent of Pushing Daisies in the witty dialogue, colorful and stylized world and characters, and the story that packs an emotional punch.
Why should you be watching this? Other than the fact it’s forking hilarious, it is a seriously tight combination of storytelling, improv, and dedication to the craft of making quality television. It doesn’t rely on cheap laughs or schtick to remain relevant because it is always relevant.
Everybody dies. It’s a fact. But before you find out what really happens after we go, do yourself a favor and check out The Good Place. It’s a safer (and hilarious) peek at the life that may or may not be waiting for us after this.
– Adriel Porter
#9 Barry (HBO)
What if the thing you were really good at was killing you inside? What if the thing you loved was actually something you were really terrible at? Bill Hader’s Barry is a hitman trying to get out of the business by becoming an actor – and that makes him in a sense totally relatable: we all feel this about our jobs and lives sometimes. Hopefully, most of us aren’t actually murdering people for money, though…
Hader more than lives up to the hype around his performance, and the Emmy nominations the show has earned are more than well-deserved. The supporting cast is fantastic, and includes The Good Place‘s D’Arcy Carden as another member of Barry’s acting class. It’s a short season of only eight episodes – but it’s all killer, no filler. The series also offers some really wry looks at both the Hollywood and acting cultures, giving it some satirical heft.
Then there’s that “thing” that happens at the end of the season that sets-up some very “interesting” possibilities for the second season…
– Andy Wilson
#8 Legion (FX)
Legion is to traditional television what poetry is to prose storytelling or jazz is to top 40 radio. The show is visually arresting. It is weirdly both connected and disconnected from itself at all times. Does that sound confusing and yet intriguing at the same time? Then I perfectly described Legion. I think.
– Joey Mills
#7 The Americans (FX)
One of the best surprises in a drama series came from FX in 2013 with their 80’s-set spy show The Americans. Starring Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as a pair of married Russian spies posing as the all American couple in Washington DC. Covering the Soviet-American side of the Cold War during the ’80s, the show dives deep into the whys and hows of various covert missions on both sides of the equation. Yes, there are also Middle Eastern ties throughout the timeline.
Some of the absolutely best scenes that I wasn’t expecting from the series have Russell and Rhys as a very believable couple- the tooth extraction scene from s3 episode “Open House” is one of the most uncomfortable and yet incredibly hot things I think I’ve ever seen on tv.
It’s interesting also to note that Russell and Rhys became a real life couple during the show, and welcomed their first child together during production of season 5.
Aside from the personal side of the pair, their onscreen chemistry over the past several seasons of The Americans has been absolutely captivating.
Few shows are given such a grand opportunity to plan out the end, the exit, and I’m so glad this one did.
While the series ender received high praise from the critics’ circles, it was very The Sporanos- an ending I personally disliked.
– Mary Anne Butler
#6 Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access)
When done properly and with the right guiding hand, Star Trek provides that quintessential lens in which we can glimpse at our true potential, of what we can be – if we can only get our crap together and overcome our petty differences that continue to divide us. A series like Star Trek: Discovery does exactly this, but with a fresh new wrapping that disallows even the most seasoned Trek viewer foreknowledge of what’s to come.
– Leigh Kade
#5 The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
For me, one of the standout aspects of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale is that its take on a dystopian societal landscape stands out from others – it is not that far removed from the barbarism we see around us today. But the series goes beyond being just another “government vs. the people” drama by also showing us how we serve as our own “prison guards” – taking for granted what little we are given – and demonstrating how doubt, inaction, and mistrust helps fuel a manipulating establishment.
The quality of the performances and writing is superb – with both the series and lead Elisabeth Moss (Top of the Lake, Mad Men) more than deserving of their numerous award-winning accolades. For a series dealing with such heavy, thought-provoking issues, the pacing never gets stagnant and I find the themes tackled by the series as unapologetic as Arthur Miller’s The Crucible – increasing my appreciation for it even more.
– Tom Chang
#4 GLOW (Netflix)
So a Netflix series about a long-defunct (and mostly forgotten unless you’re into bygone wrestling eras) women’s pro-wrestling league from the 1980s – doesn’t sound like the kind of thing that will keep drawing you back from episode to episode, but showrunners Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch have created an interesting blend of characters and drives as the cast tries to find their way through a post-Women’s Lib era and into acceptance as serious performenrs rather than a sideshow curiosity.
The engagement comes from their out-of-the-ring drives and personalityes with sharp writing makes Glow a regulaar addition to any current Netflix binge-worthy list.
– Bill Watters
#3 Westworld (HBO)
While reboot and re-imaginings of films continue to struggle with finding legitimacy, in recent years television has found a way to breahte new life into old properties. From Ron D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina to Lost in Space, there’s been a surge of new spins.
Now having completed it’s second season, Westworld is another of HBO’s genre golden children, delivering on ratings (holding at #3 in their current lineup of active series), transforming the original premise of Michael Crichton’s 1973 original film into a sprawling mythology and “what’s going on” of the week.
Lifting liberally from the trope of “who’s an android vs. a real person” with top level production and solid casting, you stay hooked as much to unravel the mysteries as no less than three distinct timelines are being shown and you’re never quite sure when they are relative to each other. Lost and BSG fans will find this series playing all the right notes to keep you hooked.
– Bill Watters
#2 The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime Video)
What makes The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel work is that it’s a perfect marriage of script-writing and performance. Not everyone can grasp Amy Sherman-Palladino’s dialogue, but star Rachael Brosnahan makes it seem effortless. Say what you will about where the story takes these characters, but whenever Brosnahan is on stage you can’t help but feel like this is how good tv should always make you feel.
– Jeremy Konrad
#1 Doctor Who (BBC)
Doctor Who was the best show this year because it told stories that needed to be told, but in a way that only Doctor Who could tell them. These stories were funny, poignant, heartbreaking, and hopeful – and yes, they were also stories that only this Doctor could tell. The Doctor’s regeneration gave us a female Doctor – but the change was so much more than just anatomy, clothing, and a higher-pitched voice.
The Thirteenth Doctor is friendly and loving, but also vulnerable and unsure. She is not only concerned with saving the universe and those who populate it, but doing so in a way that ensures that the universe remains a place worth saving. This Doctor doesn’t surround herself with companions – she surrounds herself with a “fam” filled with marvelously complicated, well-rounded, and independent characters in their own rights.
This was not a “business-as-usual” season of Doctor Who – and it made for some truly great television.
– Erin Wilhelm