The 10 Best TV Shows of 2018

Atlanta, Killing Eve and The Good Fight were among this year’s most riveting series

The best that TV had to offer in 2018 included BoJack Horseman, Killing Eve, Atlanta, The Americans and The Handmaid's Tale.
Photo Illustration: Dianna McDougall; Sources: Netflix, BBC America, FX, Hulu

As everyone knows by now, there are more scripted series on TV than ever before, with this year’s tally likely topping 500. But while Peak TV has ushered in an era with an unprecedented amount of great TV shows—and not enough time in the day to watch all of them—the number of truly exceptional programs has perhaps even declined this year, in part because a few top-tier shows, like Better Things and The Crown, were MIA.

However, 2018’s lineup of the top 10 shows—which only includes two returning series from last year’s list—still holds its own. Watching television in the Peak TV era can be overwhelming, but not when it comes to these incredible programs, which proved time and again how powerful, wondrous and innovative the medium can be. Be sure to binge these exceptional series before the 2019 lineup starts rolling out in just a few weeks.

10. Homecoming (Amazon)

In this time of streaming/cable bloat, where some shows' episodes are now feature-length, a half-hour drama is something to celebrate, no matter the quality. But this drama—based on the popular fictional podcast about a case worker (Julia Roberts) helping a soldier (Stephen James) readjust to civilian life—also boasts exceptional work on both sides of the camera. Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail, who directed the entire season, brilliantly channels the paranoia from ’70s thrillers like The Conversation and The Parallax View, proving that sometimes, less is more.

9. The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)

Season 2 of Hulu’s searing adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel couldn’t quite live up to its revelatory first year, but it came close. While I’m still not sure how I feel about the finale’s controversial ending—or how long the series will continue without running out of gas—this season was filled with striking visuals and twists that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. There was fascinating work from Alexis Bledel, Ann Dowd and especially Yvonne Strahovski, but Elisabeth Moss continues to do most of the heavy lifting here, saying more with a glance than many of her peers do with pages of dialogue.

8. Pose (FX)

I knew that Ryan Murphy’s drama about the underground ball culture in 1980s New York would be able to pull off the glitzy ballroom scenes, which are right in the Glee creator’s wheelhouse. But I was pleasantly surprised by how moving the show was under that surface—particularly the sixth episode (“Love is the Message”), which is a tour de force for Billy Porter as ball emcee Pray Tell. Boasting the largest regular cast of trans actors ever for a series, Pose is brimming with life and vitality (no small feat, given the specter of AIDS that hangs over the proceedings), and could end up rivaling The People v. O.J. Simpson as the premier work of Murphy’s career.

7. The Good Place (NBC)

Anyone who claims that broadcast TV can’t compete with cable or streaming has obviously never seen NBC’s sensational serialized comedy, which never fails to surprise and delight as it takes us from the afterlife to the real world and back again (often all in the same episode). I’ve lost track of how often the series—which follows the efforts of Kristen Bell and her insanely gifted costars as they try to get into “the Good Place”—has hit the reset button, but the cast sells every bonkers twist. That includes the most recent glorious episode, in which D’Arcy Carden’s afterlife assistant Janet ended up simultaneously channeling four human characters.

6. Better Call Saul

When first announced as the series it spun off from, Breaking Bad, ended its run in 2013, no one saw this coming. With each season somehow even stronger than the one before it, Better Call Saul could end up being almost as incredible as the hall-of-fame show that inspired it. This year solidified Jimmy McGill’s inevitable metamorphosis into his Breaking Bad alter ego, Saul Goodman, and Bob Odenkirk continues to give the performance of his career as Jimmy/Saul’s descent accelerates. But the series’ true MVP could be Rhea Seehorn’s riveting Kim Wexler, Jimmy’s lawyer girlfriend, who—considering that the character is never referenced in Breaking Bad—is likely to end up as Better Call Saul’s most devastating casualty.

5. BoJack Horseman (Netflix)

This animated series fine-tuned its mix of pathos and razor-sharp humor during its first year, managing to up the emotional stakes with each subsequent season. Using BoJack’s new cliched antihero detective drama, Philbert, as a backdrop, this season perfectly balanced the silly (Aaron Paul’s Todd creates a sex robot named Henry Fondle, who becomes CEO of the streaming service and the sublime (the “Free Churro” episode, in which Will Arnett’s BoJack delivers a heartbreaking eulogy for his deceased mother).

4. Killing Eve (BBC America)

We’ve seen countless cat-and-mouse stories over the years about male agents chasing serial killers who get too involved in the hunt, but we never knew how delightful an all-women version of that could be until Phoebe Waller-Bridge brilliantly adapted Luke Jennings’ Villanelle novellas about an MI5 operative (Sandra Oh) tracking an assassin (Jodie Comer) around Europe. Suddenly, all of those way-too-familiar tropes felt new, fresh and far funnier than they should have been. What a sensational start and a well-deserved comeback for Oh.

3. The Good Fight (CBS All Access)

In its solid first year, The Good Wife spinoff was concerned mainly with proving—successfully—that the franchise still had plenty of life in it, even without Julianna Marguiles. But in Season 2, the legal drama had far loftier aspirations: putting its pedigree aside to focus instead on being one of TV’s most superb series. It’s the first, and best, fictionalized chronicle of what it’s like to navigate the law in this crazy, surreal political world under President Trump. Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) is never quite sure whether the latest political scandal in the news is actually real or just part of a microdosing-induced hallucination. There aren’t many shows that single-handledly justify the cost of subscribing to another streaming service, but The Good Fight absolutely qualifies.

2. Atlanta (FX)

Having a breakout first season is one thing (I named Atlanta the best new show of 2016), but very few freshman phenoms are able to top themselves in Season 2. That was no problem for Donald Glover and his team (including director Hiro Murai), who delivered a stunning, wildly inventive sophomore season in which anything was possible, from a bizarre excursion in the woods, to a wild goose chase involving Paper Boi’s (Brian Tyree Henry) barber, to the year’s best episode: the surreal, terrifying “Teddy Perkins,” featuring Glover, in whiteface, as a pale, reclusive pop star. From one episode to the next, you never knew what you were going to get—only that it would be unlike anything else on television.

1. The Americans (FX)

I picked this show—about a pair of ‘80s undercover KGB spies (Matthew Rhys and Kei Russell) masquerading as a suburban family in D.C.—as the best TV show of 2016. After last year’s creative hiccup, in which the series was downgraded to “honorable mention” status, the drama is back in the top spot as it saved some of its best for its last season. Modern serialized dramas are often judged, fairly or not, by whether they can “stick the landing” with their finales. The Americans nailed it, and while (spoiler) the body count might not have been high, the emotional causalities were astronomical. The show never got its proper due from Emmy voters, but history will prove that The Americans was one of the all-time greatest modern-day dramas, alongside shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Sopranos.

Honorable Mentions

These 10 shows came oh-so-close to making the list, and this stellar group would have made a formidable top 10 lineup of its own. If you aren’t watching any of these shows already, it’s time to start:

American Crime Story: Versace (FX), American Vandal (Netflix), Barry (HBO), Big Mouth (Netflix), The Deuce (HBO), The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon), My Brilliant Friend (HBO), One Day at a Time (Netflix), Sharp Objects (HBO) and Succession (HBO).

Check back on Wednesday for the 10 Best New TV Shows of 2018.

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