2018 has been quite a year for television, especially for Netflix, who has been kicking out some really great shows. Hulu and Amazon are not far behind though, with The Handmaid’s Tale and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Check out Mxdwn’s picks for the top television shows of 2018.
Created by John Wells and Paul Abbott, Shameless stars Emmy Rossum (The Phantom of the Opera, The Day After Tomorrow) and William H. Macy (Fargo, Magnolia). The story centers around a deadbeat dad, Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy), but mainly features his children who are left to survive on their own: Fiona (Emmy Rossum), who serves as “mom” and head of household, Lip (Jeremy Allen White), who over time also helps take the responsibility of the family, Carl (Ethan Cutkosky), Debbie (Emma Kenney), and Ian (Cameron Monaghan). Each of the characters has a struggle that evolves over the course of each season, revealing an astoundingly intimate portrait of their lives. The gritty realism and unapologetic nature of the show are what draws viewers in and keep its ratings high.
– Rachel Beede
Loosely based on the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, Netflix’s GLOW has won over viewers consistently with their highly entertaining female-centric stories and at times, the heartfelt exploration of the ups and downs of womanhood. Season two brought attention to how women navigate spaces built by men in a very distinct meta and topical fashion. Much of the season’s plot revolved around a television show finding its place much like the series itself. The dramedy further explored the central character’s life changes within their professional endeavors as well as their personal ones- a small departure from the previous season’s focus on humor, character growth, and plot development. So far, Netflix hasn’t announced a renewal for a Season 3.
– Ashton Hughes
8. The Good Place
Since Season 1, The Good Place has rebooted its main premise several times over and has successfully shifted the understanding and perceptions of humanity. All the while, it never ceased to subvert the audience’s expectations in a refreshing manner. In the third season, the series continued its originality streak without ever becoming remotely predictable- a huge feat for most prime-time television series.
After the season two finale Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Tahani (Jameela Jamil), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), and Jason (Manny Jacinto) were introduced to the possibility that the world we all live in was actually the Good Place and they were just messing it up for everyone else. An interesting concept considering the show’s penchant for exploring deeper existential philosophies. By the start of the recently aired third season, the quirky bunch found themselves given a second chance at becoming good people on Earth.
Despite its seemingly complicated premise, The Good Place has won over critics and viewers effortlessly through its much-needed messages of acceptance, respect, and love. A philosophy that should be encouraged more in the hearts and minds of humanity today.
– Ashton Hughes
7. Stranger Things
Stranger Things has introduced us to our favorite misfit kids who take on the Demogorgons of the Upside Down. Season two was just as captivating as its predecessor. Chief Hopper (David Harbour) and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) developed somewhat of a father-daughter relationship this time around. Newcomers Billy (Dacre Montgomery) and Max (Sadie Sink) move to town with the latter growing close to Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and his friends.
Will’s (Noah Schnapp) return home is not as pleasant as we thought it would be. Having been possessed by the Mind Flayer, Will’s family and friends destroy the creature all the while dissecting their own relationships and figuring themselves out.
Towards the end of the season, all the kids attend the Snow Ball where we find that the Mind Flayer is still alive in the Upside Down and is right over the school. A whole year has passed since season two ended on Netflix. The Duffer Brothers promise season three will be even bigger and better in 2019.
– Raman Sidhu
Atlanta is one of Donald Glover’s many brilliant ideas that we get to bear witness to. With numerous awards including an Emmy and a Golden Globe, the show follows Glover’s character, Ernie, who manages his cousin Paper Boi’s (Brian Tyree Henry) rap career. Along with Paper Boi’s close friend Darius (Lakeith Stanfield), the three try to overcome obstacles all the while landing themselves in funny, yet chaotic scenarios.
The second season offered a more raw, rather intense look at reality. Robberies, heartbreak, and discrimination graced all 11 episodes for the latest season. While Ernie was trying to make things work out between him and Vanessa (Zazie Beetz), Paper Boi was learning and even failing on how to handle his newfound fame.
– Raman Sidhu
5. The Handmaid’s Tale
Based on the 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, the series takes place in a not-too-distant future after an environmental disaster causes widespread infertility. An extremist religious cult in the United States stages a coup, establishing the totalitarian state of Gilead. In a desperate attempt to repopulate a devastated world, the few remaining fertile women, called “handmaids” are forced into sexual servitude. One of these women, Offred/June (Elisabeth Moss), is determined to survive the terrifying world she lives in and to find her daughter who was ripped from her arms.
The first episode of season two starts exactly where season one left off: with Offred in the back of the Eyes’ van, unsure whether she’s being rescued, arrested, or carted off to her execution. For a full minute, there is only complete silence and passings of small flashes of lights through the windows. The audience is shown flashbacks of the “before” Gilead. The handmaids learn again, but maybe perhaps in the most brutal way yet, that disobeying Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) has serious consequences. Offred’s (June’s) pregnancy, however, protects her from Aunt Lydia and Gilead’s wrath.
The audience gets a chance to be taken into the horrible, death-ridden colonies, where Emily (Alexis Bledel) is. Meanwhile, we begin to see June attempting to adjust to life in hiding while grappling with the true extent of Gilead’s crimes against humanity. She questions the relationships between mothers and daughters as she prepares to escape Gilead for good. The audience also gets a glimpse into what Canada has become- a safe haven for Americans escaping Gilead.
Season two is filled with striking visuals and twists, and much more brutal tactics than before. This season steps beyond the book to further continue the story. You can check out the series, streaming now on Hulu. The third season is expected to premiere in April or May of 2019.
– Briauna Zimmer
4. The Haunting of Hill House
This Netflix original which is a mix of drama, horror, and mystery swept many viewers off their seats this year with its amazing cinematography, well-written script, and talented actors/actresses. The Haunting of Hill House explores a group of siblings who, as children, grew up in what would become one of the most famous haunted houses in the country. As adults, they are forced back together in the face of tragedy when one of them dies unexpectedly.
The viewers are given the full depth of the story with flashbacks of the past to when they lived at Hill House. This is done with much taste and fluidity. The thing that makes this story frightening is not jump scares or loud noises, it is the ideas they present us with. The concept and the story.
The drama/horror/mystery stars Michiel Huisman (Steven), Carla Gugino (Olivia), Elizabeth Reaser (Shirley), Kate Siegel (Theo), Lulu Wilson (Young Shirley), and Mckenna Grace (Young Theo).
– Briauna Zimmer
3. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
The Amazon original, created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, is set in 1950s Manhattan. It centers around Miriam “Midge” Maisel (Brosnahan); a sunny, energetic, sharp, foul-mouthed Jewish girl who had a traditional and steady life mapped out. Her perfect life, however, was turned upside down when her husband left her for his secretary. Not long after this news, she stumbles drunk onto the stage at a comedy club in her rob and nightgown and soon discovers her un-denying comedic abilities and decides to use this newfound talent to help her rebuild a different life for herself. With the help of her comedy manager, Susie Myerson (Alex Borstein), who is the complete opposite of her in every way, she begins picking up the pieces while heading into a new, more exciting life.
Mrs. Maisel won the 2018 Golden Globes for Best Comedy Series and best actress (Rachel Brosnahan) in a comedy. It is nominated for the same awards in 2019 with the addition of best supporting role for Alex Borstein. The second season of the story features elements of women striving for success in a male-dominated field as well as social class divisions and the questioning of the role of women in society. Even though it is set within the 1950s, these issues still resonate with viewers today.
– Rachel Beede
2. The Americans
The Americans, which undertook in its sixth and final season earlier this year, is one of the closest examinations of a domestic partnership under fire — the familiarity that develops from living next to someone for so long, that sort of instinctive dynamic in which you can infer their thoughts before their spoken and feel confident in doing so. How that relationship develops its own language, one that is unspoken, exchanged through bodily interpretations and glares and crinkles in their brow. The Americans is one of the few modern era television shows that examines this through the bifocals of a tension-riddled narrative that is meant to expand upon the inner-workings of a successful domestic partnership.
And a lot of the final season echoes with the same vigor as The Sopranos, in which various characters are trying to escape their professional and moral trajectories. Its a show littered with characters defined by their willingness or inability to change, and it inevitably is a show doing one of those great things that great TV shows do which is using your story to tell a bigger one. Perpetuating a continuing thematical or allegorical examination through the foundation of a riveting story, and The Americans do it with that domestic partnership, an evaluation of the rise and the inescapable end in of the USSR. No union is guaranteed to be permanent. No marriage is guaranteed. It is the unspoken language that decides those debates, and that is why it is one of the best shows of 2018.
1. The Last Kingdom
This Netflix original is a chaotically brutal show that examines the “Viking Way”: waging wars with no repercussions for cruelty, for barbarity, or morality. And fans of the show keep coming back for that reason in part, but the show’s best attributes derive from its thematical treatments of community, of tribalistic tendencies, and how these differing brutish cultures both coincide and conflict with one another. It is a melting pot of savagery, and this an inherently fascinating for any kind of viewer, I think.
It is the continuing study of that very thing, that crux in this riveting display of mayhem that keeps people coming back, and its helmed beautifully with most of the show’s best aesthetical parts being competitive with mainstream shows like Game of Thrones and others. Though not exactly on par due to budgeting issues, The Last Kingdom remains amongst the top of the best of 2018 with its central investigation on man’s continual combatants within itself, that hunger for individuality amongst community, the searching for a higher power, and how all of that gunk can both corrupt and mend mankind into something for the better or, as we know all too well, for the worse.
It’s not wrong to describe HBO’s 8-episode miniseries Sharp Objects as a small-town murder mystery but to downplay the show to such a minimal description would be a disservice to the dexterity in which this story is told. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who helmed the award-winning Big Little Lies, and written by the great Marti Noxon, the ingenious mind behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sharp Objects is adopting a tale from Gillian Flynn’s novel, a story that at its center is one about the family ties we share, how they grip so tightly, how those pulls and tugs can leave scars.
It starts strongly, and, like most of today’s TV, it stumbles in the middle. Luckily, it finalizes with shock and awe, instantly shoving you into a re-watch binge to see the signs and the breadcrumbs that revealed the hidden truth lying in front of you the entire time.
American Horror Story: Apocalypse
This season of American Horror Story (AHS) has been much anticipated with its connection to its season 3 plot, Coven. Once the episode “Forbidden Fruit” premiered it was essentially “Coven: Part 2”.
In AHS: Apocalypse, viewers are brought back to three years before the end of the world happens, to when Outpost Three was The Hawthorne School for a male coven of warlocks to practice and learn magic. Which is basically considered the equivalent to Miss Robichaux’s Academy for the female witches. The professors at The Hawthrone School soon discovered Michael Langdon’s (a connection to Murder House) abilities to be equal to that of a supreme. The warlocks summoned the witches to an emergency council meeting to discuss Langdon and how they wanted the witches to perform the Seven Wonders of Witchcraft- a necessary and dangerous test to prove you are the Supreme. Very few witches are worthy of taking it as death is a likely probability if they aren’t powerful enough. They all soon discovered his abilities far surpassed that of a supreme and that he was the literal spawn of Satan.
This season perfectly continued the Coven plot while intertwining Murder House as well as Hotel. It is definitely one of its superior seasons. Although this season feels suitable for the ending of the show, next season is already much anticipated.
– Briauna Zimmer