It has been a fantastic year of television so the 25YL staff are going to have to make some tough decisions this award season! On the panel we have: Laura Stewart, Matt Armitage, JC Hotchkiss, Martin Hearn, Brien Sponaugle, Paul Billington and Caemeron Crain. So let’s see what their choices are…
Favorite New Show of 2018
JC: It goes without saying since I covered it for the site that my favorite new show was indeed The Alienist. I was riveted from the first frame to the very last. It had everything I needed after being on the high that was Twin Peaks: The Return. Outstanding acting from Daniel Bruhl, Dakota Fanning, and Luke Evans, the story became deeper because of their performances. The show stayed pretty close to the novel, with a few changes, but all in all the show was a solid win and I loved every minute of it. Stay tuned for news about Season 2 that was announced recently. I will definitely be covering it for 25YL.
Matt: Meta-narratives and high-falutin’ concept drama is the order of the day now, with Netflix throwing sacks of cash at anyone with a directorial pedigree and a non-linear script. All of which is great, but sometimes you just want to submerge yourself in something absorbing, fun, and character-driven; with a plot that provides a vehicle for all these ingredients. For a lot of people this year, that show was Killing Eve, but for me it was Succession. Set against a familial power struggle to grab the reins of power from their father Logan Roy (Brian Cox), the patriarch of a vast media conglomerate, it may sound old school but the writing and acting is second to none. There are standout performances from pretty much all the cast including Matthew Macfadyen (of Spooks fame) as Tom, and Kieran Culkin as Roman, capturing the languid, spoiled, and power-hungry natures of their characters perfectly. Created by Jesse Armstrong, co-creator of the UK’s Peep Show and writer for The Thick of It; give Succession one episode, and if it doesn’t make you want to instantly watch another, then I’ll eat my hat. (Disclaimer, I do not own a hat).
Honorable mention goes to Wanderlust, written by playwright Nick Payne, and starring Toni Collette.
Laura: Sharp Objects really wowed me this year. The adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel was just the kind of mysterious, psychological thriller that I love. With stellar performances from Amy Adams and Patricia Clarke that even though it may have been a slow burn, watching them was so enthralling that the time just flew by for me. I hope it wins all the awards.
Honorable mentions to The Haunting of Hill House for is unique style of storytelling, and to Castle Rock for capturing that Stephen King feeling perfectly.
Martin: Dietland. I knew nothing of the novel this show was based on and in all honesty, I only tuned in because Joy Nash (Senorita Dido from Twin Peaks) was playing the main role. Boy am I glad I tuned in!! A story full of important and relevant themes such as body shaming, misogyny, society’s obsession with weight loss and feminism. The performances were outstanding and the fact that this show was cancelled after just one season is the biggest tragedy of the TV year.
Brien: Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger. This is the best show on television that you are probably not watching. I don’t know anyone else who watched it anyway, and even the Facebook group I joined for it is practically dormant. It’s so good though. I was genuinely surprised by how much I liked this show. I read a smattering of the comics back in the day, but could never quite get into them.
What I love about the series is the constant juxtapositioning of the evolving stories of Tandy (Dagger) and Tyrone (Cloak), the mirroring between them and the way they weave in and out of each other. After all, that’s the point of the premise. She is light and he is darkness, yet she’s the trailer trash thief and he’s the upstanding rich kid. They both have a light and a darkness that waxes and wanes as they deal with the events of the series.
I don’t want to make this sound like it’s a typical superhero show though, whatever that would be these days. The story and the characters are what move the action along, their powers are almost incidental for most of the season. They were constantly surprising me with each episode, and making me look forward to the next.
Paul: Favourite new show? I think this year I missed out on a lot of new shows, and either rewatched older ones or saw new seasons of my favourites. I will say that I really started to enjoy Barry, but I haven’t yet finished it. I know it has a debt to Grosse Point Blank but I think it was a great vehicle for the underrated Bill Hader as Barry, and ex-Fonz Henry Winkler kills it in his role leading the acting class that the disillusioned Barry signs up to (whilst trying to distance himself from his hitman roots). I also enjoyed Altered Carbon on Netflix, which started out as so derivative that it may as well have increased its opening titles by 300% in length in order to include all the movies/TV that ‘inspired’ it… But having said that, get past that first episode and it begins to develop its plot and characters into something reasonably new and always stylistically intriguing. Worth a watch.
Caemeron: Homecoming. Based on Gimlet Media’s podcast (which I have, I should admit, not listened to), Amazon’s program features Julia Roberts, Stephan James, Bobby Cannavale, and others (Sissy Spacek!). I must admit that I have never been a very big fan of Julia Roberts, personally, but she does an amazing job here, as does Stephan James as he holds his own against what I am seriously suggesting is the best performance of Julia Roberts’ career.
The story focuses on an experimental treatment for returning soldiers suffering from PTSD, but is also importantly a mystery. Something happened, and we are drawn along by wondering what is was exactly, as the show cuts between the present (or future?) and the past (or present?)—I’m not quite sure why they placed the “past” events in 2018, to be honest, but maybe that will become clear later.
The series is directed by Sam Esmail, of Mr. Robot fame, and he does a brilliant job. One of my favorite things is how he makes you watch the credits, by subverting the algorithms that would otherwise move you to skip them. He also employs a narrow frame to great effect. Listen to this podcast where he talk to Mark Frost, if you haven’t already.
Each episode is tight, coming in around 30 minutes, which makes Homecoming rare in a structural sense, as well as a thematic one. I can definitely see why this show is being nominated for awards.
Maniac. I thought the show was hilarious. Justin Theroux and Sonoya Mizuno, in particular, cracked me up. Also, Azumi’s style is amazing. As I wrote in the piece I felt compelled to write about it, it was the frame, or the world-building, that grabbed me more than anything else. But, also, the heart of the story—centering on Jonah Hill and Emma Stone’s characters—was great, and touching. (Also, this was my pick until I watched Homecoming).
Most Disappointing New or Returning TV Series
Caemeron: 3%. I loved the first season of 3%, to the point where I not only recommended it to basically everyone I know, but I rewatched it right before the second season was set to hit Netflix. I was thinking about writing about it for the site, even though it felt like it had a small audience. In its first season, the show brought us into a world where a small portion of the population (3%) gets to live on an island that is supposed to be utopic: no crime, etc. To get there, though, one must make it through “The Process”—a series of trials that is open to all once they reach adulthood, meant to test their worthiness. Season 1 was truly great as it followed characters through that process, which also clearly is intended to test things like an individual’s morality, and allowed the viewer to wonder about whether this system was truly fair: a process open to all that results in a radical inequality. Of course the answer was always going to be no, but Season 2 made this a bit too on the nose. I honestly almost didn’t finish it. And, yet, I would still recommend Season 1 to you in a full-throated way. Just maybe stop there.
Laura: House of Cards. It pains me to say it as I have loved the show since the beginning and I really wanted it to be great without Kevin Spacey who was rightly pulled from the show due to allegations of sexual misconduct throughout his career. It is perhaps fair to say that it had been going downhill for a while before this scandal, but this latest series is just dreadful. The story is so fantastical (even by modern political standards which is saying a lot!), the dialogue is terrible, the new characters are deeply unlikable and wooden. It’s lost its class and has become a parody of itself, unfortunately. Nevertheless, Robin Wright is still brilliant, but her overuse of ‘breaking the fourth wall’ and talking to us the audience just ruins it for me.
Matt: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Season 1 was a delight, focusing on Rachel Brosnahan’s Midge, as her fairytale world in ‘50s New York falls apart, and she discovers a love for stand-up comedy.
Season 2, while still worth watching, dissolved somewhat into a quirky soap opera, with unnecessary set-pieces in Paris and the Catskills; the focus on Midge being diluted far too much with side plot, and a tendency for it to become the Tony Shalhoub show. Alex Borstein as Susie, her manager, shines as ever, but her character is tragically underdeveloped, which is a huge error in judgement in my opinion.
Paul: The X-Files. I loved David Duchovny’s performance but felt that Gillian Anderson really missed the mark and infused Scully with a weariness bordering on catatonic. She is capable of so much more. I did actually enjoy these episodes more than the previous limited series, but feel that Chris Carter can no longer write for his own show. The man who delivered classic episodes such as Duane Barry, Anasazi and Post-Modern Prometheus gave us a ridiculous ending with My Struggle IV—with enough drawn-out running around to enter the cast into the London Marathon. Such as shame.
JC: I wanted to love The X-Files so much. So much, but alas it just did not cut it for me. I don’t think anything but the original will ever work for me personally, but I had such high expectations and unfortunately, they were not met; not even halfway. My love for Mulder and Scully will always be there. I wanted to believe, but belief went out the window after episode 4.
Martin: For me, it has to be American Horror Story: Apocalypse. I haven’t been a fan of the past couple of seasons of this (Roanoke and Cult) so it was great and refreshing that Apocalypse started out so strong as it felt like a return to the show’s roots. They kept this up for at least six episodes but it soon returned back to a messy, rushed, and inconsistent story which was hugely disappointing and why it’s on the list for me. Fingers crossed they take note of what doesn’t work in the show and come back with an epic season in 2019.
Brien: The X-Files. Truthfully, I do not have a lot of time to watch TV, so I’m pretty selective in what I watch. At first, that left me pretty well stumped for this category. Then, while perusing a list of 2018 television shows for ideas, I ran across “The X-Files” and all my repressed memories of this hopefully last season came flooding back. Oh good, now I have an answer, yay.
What can I say that has not already been said about this atrocity? The writing was terrible. The acting was terrible. The directing, filming and editing-–-all terrible. It was like a parody done by someone who hated the original series, except not that good. The one exception being “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat”, which was strangely brilliant, but one episode out of ten is a terrible track record.
Now I have to get those awful car chase scenes out of my head again. Bleh.
Favorite Overall Show of 2018
Brien: Westworld. Season 1 of Westworld set a high bar, but season 2 cleared it by a pretty wide margin. There were so many amazing moments that still stand out in my mind 6 months later. The fate of poor Teddy. The meeting between Dolores and Maeve. The flawed James Delos hosts. The Ghost Nation one-off episode. Shogun World (which, come on, should have been named “Eastworld”, amiright?). This is a show I’m going to want to go back and re-watch someday; the kind of show you’d want to own on Blu-ray.
Reading through some of the 15% “rotten” reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, I can empathize with the critics who just felt put out by too much puzzle box-level audience manipulation, but I’d also respectfully disagree with them. Most of the storylines were surprisingly straightforward, compared to season 1. Bernard’s thread was the only one they really did a lot of playing around with, but frankly, that’s to be expected. Shows like this force you to slow down and watch hard. It’s the whole point. There’s deeper stuff going on here, messages about humanity, morality, and philosophy. There were a lot of good shows this year from a storytelling standpoint, but Westworld continues to check that box and move beyond it. If season 3 finally takes us off-world, as it seems to promise, the possibilities for this show are endless.
Paul: Daredevil (season 3). I have only really followed a couple of comic books in my life, and Daredevil was pretty much the core one. This season took everything that Daredevil means: the picking yourself up no matter what life has to throw at you “It’s not how you hit the mat – it’s how you get back up”; coping with a disability or physical/mental health problem; fighting against powers larger and more political or manipulative than you can ever be; the realisation regarding the value of friends and family/surrogate family.. It was masterful in its performances, cruel and redemptive in its storyline, unhurried in its larger plan, expansive in its soundtrack. It fired on every cylinder, and as it’s now revealed to be its final season, it hurts that much more that it was a clear winner in Marvel’s output—be it TV or film.
Caemeron: BoJack Horseman. When I finished the most recent season of BoJack Horseman, I found myself asking myself: do I think that the best show on television is this one about a talking horse(man)?
The answer is yes, probably. It’s a strange thing. I’ll admit to hesitating to start watching this show years ago because of the animals as people aspect, but I have to say now that it works in a way that is hard to pin down. For whatever reason, the fact that BoJack is a horse, Princess Carolyn is a cat, Mr. Peanutbutter is dog, etc., just works for whatever reason.
But what makes the show great isn’t that, but the way it explores the dynamics of depression and addiction. This is actually a very dark show; one that might make you laugh and cry not only in the same episode, but potentially in the same moment.
In its most recent season, this year, it further moved to explore the power dynamics of Hollywoo(d) in a way that I found to be more insightful than perhaps anything else I have seen in the wake of #MeToo.
Laura: It’s a toughie, but I think I’m going to go with Legion. I don’t think the second series is as good as the first—its definitely slower and more dialogue driven than the action-packed psychedelic season 1, but it’s still completely brilliant. Few shows make your mind work quite so hard while being so humorous and smart. Perhaps only Twin Peaks has done it better. What I love about it is that it doesn’t feel like the X-Men at all, it’s not your typical superhero show, it is completely unlike anything else on TV, both aesthetically and dramatically. The casting is just perfect. I could watch Aubrey Plaza all day long.
Matt: Going to have to go with Succession again. I enjoyed a lot of TV this year, but while I enjoyed a lot of it intellectually, Succession was the show I really enjoyed. It is a guilty pleasure that doesn’t make you feel dumb while watching it.
JC: The Alienist. I know I sound like a broken record but it was truly the only show I looked forward to every week. The historical content was so accurate. The detail in design (costume and set), the cinematography, sound design, felt like you were watching a film. I know I mentioned the three lead actors above, but the supporting cast was also on point. You had Michael Ironside as JP Morgan, and Grace Zabriskie as John Moore’s grandmother. You must binge this show before Season 2 comes in 2019. You will not be disappointed.
Martin: It’s been a year packed full of amazing TV and picking just one favorite has been an exceptionally hard choice. I don’t like to bring politics into TV discussion but it’s been a horrible year for it in the UK with the never-ending saga of Brexit plus it’s been an equally tough year for me personally so I wanted to choose something that brought a smile to my face this year so I’m going with Cunk on Britain. Philomena Cunk was a character created by Black Mirror’s Charlie Brooker and hilariously played by Diane Morgan. In a mockumentary style show, Philomena is a roving reporter that doesn’t know what she’s talking about and attempts to inform viewers the history of the “United Britain of Great Kingdom” right from its arse end to an uncertain future. Her mispronunciation of words and facts, her asking experts in the field “Who are you and what’s your game?”, and her telling us that Britain was once attacked by a crazy woman named Spanish Amanda (she means Spanish Armada) actually had me laughing so hard I had tears rolling down my cheeks. Whilst I do love most TV genre’s it’s important to have a good laugh once in a while, funny comedy is rare these days, and nothing has made me laugh in a way quite like this did.
Favorite Performance in a TV Show
Martin: I’m going to have to go with Dietland again and Joy Nash for her performance as lead character Plum Kettle. Joy delivered an emotional and moving performance as Senorita Dido in Twin Peaks despite not actually saying anything so I was excited to see what she could deliver in a main role. She did not disappoint! After the season was over it genuinely felt like I had been on Plum’s journey with her as I’d laughed with her, got angry with her and most importantly I’d emotionally connected with her story which is all down to Joy’s superb and heartfelt character portrayal.
Brien: Brendan Scannell (Heather Duke, Heathers). So here’s another show that you didn’t watch, because Paramount screwed up so royally with this show, and just couldn’t seem to stop themselves from constantly making it worse. But it was actually a good show. No really. Sure, not great, but it was a solid “good”, and as I said in my review of it, I believe it added a chapter to the legacy of Heathers without taking anything away from the original. You should watch it, everyone should watch it.
One of the best choices they made with this re-imagining was making Heather #2 a gender queer male, originally named “Heath”, now going by “Heather”. What a freaking genius idea. And the cherry on top is that Heather Duke steals the scene in every scene she’s in. Even in their complete incompetence, Paramount recognized that much, filming extra bits with Heather Duke as episode recaps they released on YouTube during the airing.
Caemeron: Rhea Seehorn (Better Call Saul). If you had told me that Vince Gilligan’s spin-off from Breaking Bad would be better than the show that inspired it a few years ago, I would not have believed you. But at this point, I believe that is the case. I would even recommend Better Call Saul to people who haven’t seen Breaking Bad. I’d love to read something written by someone who watched this prequel series first, if there is anyone in the world willing to do that; wait until this is over before watching Breaking Bad for the first time. Regardless, the performances here are just stellar, even without the regular presence of Michael McKean, and the narrative just provides one satisfying gut-punch after another. It’s not an easy show to watch, but it is definitely well worth it.
In terms of those performances, though, Rhea Seehorn’s Kim Wexler stands out. She’s been great throughout the series, but in this season in particular, the subtle ways in which she communicated how Kim was feeling about Jimmy’s behavior was transcendent. Just take the last scene, for example. The look on her face tells you everything you need to know; the way her excitement turns into…something else. Give Rhea Seehorn all of the Emmys, please.
Laura: I think it has to be Amy Adams for Sharp Objects. She portrayed Camille perfectly, the alcoholic and seriously messed up anti-hero that we all need in our lives. Such a perplexing and contradictory character, much of which Adams played only with her eyes, expressions and stance.
Matt: Matthew Macfadyen as Tom Wamsgans in Succession. It would have been easy to write and portray the fiancé of Shiv Roy (Sarah Snook) simply as a brown-nosing gold-digger. Succession manages to have an entire cast of people who compete for the accolade of “Most Massive Twat”, while also escaping the one-dimensional portrayals you normally get in dramas about the rich or famous. Tom at first glance appears to be a pathetic wannabe desperate for the attention of Logan Roy, but as the first episode continues you realise there is greater depth to him. He loves his fiancé, probably, but you’re not quite sure if he loves her just for the connection she can give him to the power of the Roy family. It’s in his exchange with cousin Greg where he spends minutes toying with him, being an asshole, then claiming he’s joking, then doing it again, and again. You being to wonder if he’s actually a sociopath. It’s rare for characters to come alive so quickly in a pilot, and Succession manages this with nearly all it’s main characters. As the series progresses, the characters only get more complex, and Macfadyen takes his weird multi-layered character and runs with it, putting in my favourite performance of the year. It’s possible I also just like weirdos.
JC: Dakota Fanning shined as Sara Howard. She embraced the role of a woman in a very man’s world but gave us moxie. She embodied what an independent woman at that time would look like. Her backstory gave her depth, and Fanning did rise to the occasion by making her human. A running theme throughout The Alienist is vulnerability and letting people see our human side but also our dark side. Fanning gave us both sides in spades throughout. In my eyes, her performance was award-worthy, but we all know my picks for awards (*cough* Kyle MacLachlan) work out.
Paul: I am going to say Deborah Ann Woll in Daredevil and Elizabeth Olson for Sorry For Your Loss.. The emotional range of these two ladies was exceptional – and my belief in their characters was absolute. A comic book show doesn’t often get seen as ‘proper TV’ but I’m sorry, I would hold Deborah’s Karen Page up to any other performance out there. And Elizabeth’s depiction of sorrow, joy, fear, confusion, loss.. was incredibly moving and honest. Congratulations to both!
Most Hotly Anticipated Show of 2019
JC: There is so much new television coming out in 2019, my head is spinning. I am looking forward to (and crossing my fingers) that Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen far surpassed the disappointing film that was released in 2009. I think ten years is enough time to make people forget and get excited about a new take. TNT is doing amazing original television in the limited series realm. They have even given it a name, the TNT “Suspense Collection”. Since I was such a fan of The Alienist, I’m really looking forward to I Am The Night with Chris Pine. It is also executive produced by Patty Jenkins, director of Wonder Woman. She also is rumored to have directed a few episodes. It is a six episode series and it premieres on Monday, January 28th. I will definitely be watching.
Matt: The OA for sure. It may have its critics that dismiss it as nonsense, but if it is then it’s glorious nonsense. Convoluted plotting, mysterious powers, mystical dance moves. Let’s hope this drops early in 2019 to kick off the year in style.
Laura: I am really looking forward to Watchmen as Damon Lindelof will no doubt make it a masterpiece, but it’s not my number one choice—that falls to The OA. I adored the first series, and I have been so eagerly awaiting Brit Marling’s return as The Original Angel, especially after the cliffhanger we were left with. There are so many wonderful characters in this show, and so many mysteries remain, it’s without a doubt the show that just ‘fits’ me, a bit like Twin Peaks always has and always will. I hope The OA can have the same effect the second time around.
Caemeron: Mr. Robot. As much as I love Black Mirror and am looking forward to it returning, Mr. Robot has been on my shortlist of the best shows on TV since it began. 2019 will see the show conclude, and while I don’t know what awaits Elliott Alderson or others I sort of can’t wait.
This show has rigorously explored questions about perspective, personal identity, and late capitalism. It has also presented computer hacking in a way that is more realistic than anything else I have seen, even if I don’t know precisely how realistic it is because I don’t know how to do that stuff.
Regardless, there is nothing I look forward to more in the coming year than the conclusion of this show, which is certainly one of the best to be currently airing on TV.
Brien: Good Omens. Most Neil Gaiman fans have already been in ecstasy for over a year now due to last year’s American Gods series. I know I stand alone in this assessment, but I just couldn’t stand that show. I actually stopped watching part way through, which I never do. It’s my least favorite Gaiman novel, and the series managed to make it worse.
But Good Omens? Oh my Neil. I love that book, one of the few books I’ve actually gone back to and re-read. I’ve been waiting for the BBC to make some cheesy BBC-ish version of it ever since that first read (like they did with the charming Neverwhere). This is going to be so much better. I hope so anyway. I’m a sucker for angels as literary characters and stories that dip into that rich mythology, and Neil Gaiman is a master of that art. The chemistry between Aziraphale and Crowley seems to be well captured in the trailer, which is probably the most important part. Oh, I hope they don’t screw this up.
Martin: While I am really excited for The OA to return I think I’m a tiny bit more excited for the BBC adaptation of War of the Worlds. I’m a huge fan of the novel and movies but this one will be staying a little closer to the original story by having it set in London during the Edwardian era with new characters being created for the story. As much as I love the American versions set in a modern-day setting I think it will be really interesting to see this play out in a period setting.
Paul: Oh that’s a tough one. I think it’s between The OA and Watchmen. I was fascinated by season one of The OA and its overall mythic background and real-world drama. I am eager to return to that world and hopefully be beguiled by some answers and yet more mystery… As for Watchmen—a big fan of the graphic novels and the Directors Cut of the movie (for all it’s internet-critic-spun faults). As a fan of Mr Lindelof (Lost, The Leftovers etc) I would be mad not to be intrigued by how he will approach the material and what the series could achieve using Alan Moore’s cult (mainstream now?) classic.
So they were our Staff’s opinions, now we would love to hear yours! Leave a comment on our social media and tell us what you think have been the best and worst moments in Television 2018.