Tim Goodman: The 32 Best TV Shows of 2018

6:00 AM 12/14/2018

by Tim Goodman

An under-discovered Amazon treasure, a boundary-pushing broadcast comedy, a riveting nature doc and a delightfully quirky Australian import were among the Hollywood Reporter TV critic’s favorites of the year.

From left, 'The Americans,' 'The Good Place,' 'Killing Eve'
From left, 'The Americans,' 'The Good Place,' 'Killing Eve'
Courtesy of FX; Colleen Hayes/NBC; Courtesy of BBC America

In a world where you can't get to everything, can't finish many things and are constantly excited about new things, it's probably pointless to feel regret about missing certain series if you're a TV critic.

Still, it happens. But not always in the way you’d imagine. Best of the Year lists have long since become a "best I've seen" list, and you might think I’d have more FOMO about not being up to date on the high-profile series popping up on other critics’ round-ups (Pose, Sharp Objects, The Assassination of Gianni Versace, etc.). I do feel some, though sometimes there was never an impetus for me to start a certain show, while others are still sitting on my to-do list provoking ever-mounting guilt (Humans, Babylon Berlin, The First and, yes, Sharp Objects).

Actually, the worst thing about Peak TV is the list-confusion that it creates, as people will say "you forgot" a series when you actually left that series off on purpose (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, The Handmaid's Tale, etc.), liked a series but wanted to tighten up your list (too many examples to mention) or didn’t have time to start a certain series (or several hundred). This year I actually did forget to catch up with something, which is both galling and weird since it's been a favorite in the past (Humans). 

The good news is, we live in a world where catching up is the new norm.

Here then, my Best TV Series of 2018:

  1. 32
    32

    Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams

    Amazon

    Courtesy of Amazon Studios

    Shows that launch in January are often forgotten, and this series not only had to overcome that obstacle (and its clunky title) but also comparisons to Black Mirror which, while not entirely unfair, are lazy. It's possible for two sci-fi anthology series to occupy similar spaces in a vast universe. And more than enough of the series' 10 episodes proved, with their creativity, that they indeed belonged.

  2. 31
    32

    Forever

    Amazon

    Colleen Hayes/Amazon Studios

    A "small" series that meditated on marriage, happiness, death and coupling, with lots of ambition and a unique idea that probably needs another season to be fully realized. But an interesting exercise that stood out from the crowd.

  3. 30
    32

    Wanderlust

    Netflix

    Courtesy of Matt Squire/BBC

    Creator and writer Nick Payne's fresh take on a marriage, love, sex and companionship was artful and entertaining, small in scope but relatable on all levels.

  4. 29
    32

    Westworld

    HBO

    Courtesy of HBO

    Don't overthink it. That's the key. There were hiccups, but not enough to deter my interest, and the over-reliance on time-shifting didn't undercut the momentum, which eventually set up a possibly great third season as well. It's an overanalyzed series, but one I've yet to tire of watching tear through an hour.

  5. 28
    32

    Altered Carbon

    Netflix

    Courtesy of Netflix

    Another January launch, and Netflix took its time renewing this, but here you'll find epic popcorn goodness, a whole lot of creative ideas (most of them executed well) and a sense of world-building wonder. Later episodes didn't hold up as well, but the concept is solid and the reinvention aspect is sci-fi gold.

  6. 27
    32

    Brooklyn Nine-Nine

    Fox

    Courtesy of FOX

    Canceled by Fox after five seasons and resurrected by NBC for next year, this is one of the few network series I find myself still watching, even if I don't catch it right away. Like Bob's Burgers, this has been a series it's easy to take for granted — but you're always reminded of its enduring, standout quality when you return.

  7. 26
    32

    Bob's Burgers

    Fox

    Courtesy of FOX

    What do you say about a classic that rewards you with a chatterbox of funny lines every time you remember not to take it for granted and actually watch? Oh, right, that it's legendary. Still delivering comedy on all levels, from oh-that-was-really-smart to utterly ridiculous, then heartfelt and subtly (or not so subtly) visual. Yeah, no big deal, just week after week for (looks it up) … nine seasons.

  8. 25
    32

    Get Shorty

    Epix

    Courtesy of Epix

    What season two essentially proved was that season one wasn't a fluke and that Chris O'Dowd and Ray Romano (and oh wow, Lidia Porto) were pretty amazing at taking what creator Davey Holmes gave them and dashing off to unexpected but often ridiculous places.

  9. 24
    32

    Casual

    Hulu

    Courtesy of Hulu

    An elegy about families and relationships, about growing up and out of yourself, about the constraints of happiness and how it’s defined. This was a little series that slipped under the radar but bloomed through four funny and surprising seasons. Maybe none better than the last.

  10. 23
    32

    The Terror

    AMC

    Courtesy of Berlin International Film Festival

    Well, that came out of nowhere. Let's make a series (albeit based on a book) about the lost Royal Navy expedition of 1845! Think of it — boats! Ice! Hunger! Well, ultimately all of that turned out to be insanely riveting and much different than you would think.

  11. 22
    32

    GLOW

    Netflix

    Erica Parise/Netflix

    This series always leaves you wanting more episodes when it's finished, which is a positive even if you wish the storylines would be spread around a little more among the talented ensemble. But GLOW was stronger in its second season and started finding its stride, especially when it realized a story about female wrestlers really could be about anything, as the whole is greater than the sum of its parts — and its premise.

  12. 21
    32

    Lodge 49

    AMC

    Credit: AMC

    Like a funky colored flare in the night, this series from author Jim Gavin stood out because its town — quirky, optimistic, shambling, filled with zen — was so utterly unlike anything else. At the time, the worry was that nobody would find it. They did, they will continue to and the reward is a bugle call to your positivity.

  13. 20
    32

    A Very English Scandal

    Amazon

    Sophie Mutevelian

    Although this tight and bright (three episodes, totaling three hours) romp through the decidedly weird true-life story of a British politician isn't as heartbreaking as Patrick Melrose, it has a similarly tricky tone. You enjoy the hell out of it only to pause at the inner heartbreak that caused all the entertaining emotional oscillations, and it leaves you gutted.

  14. 19
    32

    Patrick Melrose

    Showtime

    Ollie Upton/SHOWTIME

    A sad and mournful story of a ruined boy turned man told with searing humor, delightful debauchery and that kick in the face from Benedict Cumberbatch's performance that reminds you while you're enjoying it all how desolate the emotional landscape has been on the journey. It catches you, that.

  15. 18
    32

    The Man In the High Castle

    Amazon

    David Berg/Amazon Studios

    The most relevant Trump-era drama on TV benefitted from finding its way, creatively, while doing so when its cautionary content was the most necessary.

  16. 17
    32

    Kidding

    Showtime

    Erica Parise/SHOWTIME

    I'm surprised more people haven't embraced this touching, brutally funny and inventive little show. I think that might have something to do with Peak TV, but I hope that Kidding, a sardonic send-up of humanity that’s also richly infused with humanity, will eventually be discovered and celebrated.

  17. 16
    32

    Homecoming

    Amazon

    Tod Campbell

    Well, I figured out where to put it on this list after much thought and, despite some issues, I remain impressed by the scope and ambition here, but also the little details that pop on repeated viewings. Everybody is on their game here.

  18. 15
    32

    Mr Inbetween

    FX

    Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

    Like The End of the F***ing World, this Australian import is something of a master class in dramatic depth and pacing, with none of its six episodes rolling past 26 minutes. Creator, writer and star Scott Ryan is a breakout revelation and director Nash Edgerton infused each incredible episode with indie-movie life. What they accomplished here stood well out from the crowd.

  19. 14
    32

    The Deuce

    HBO

    Paul Schiraldi/HBO

    David Simon, George Pelecanos and this superb cast have taken the sex industry and the grimy, skeevy streets of New York and captured an era, an industry and a number of intriguing lives without every making it feel cheap or manipulative.

  20. 13
    32

    Dectectorists

    Acorn

    Courtesy of BBC

    What series is going to claim the spot on all my lists that this one did through the years? Mackenzie Crook (creator, writer, star) and Toby Jones put three lovely seasons of small-town, big-life ideas into the ether. What a wonderful gift.

  21. 12
    32

    It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

    FX

    Courtesy of FX

    The most overlooked or taken-for-granted series in TV history? Yeah, I'd vote that way. It's also the funniest and most relentlessly creative of all comedies. The season 13 (!) finale was so crazy and so good; an interpretive dance scene (where Rob McElhenney yet again goes the extra mile for his show) was a case in point.

  22. 11
    32

    Blue Planet II

    BBC America

    Like the first installment (and both installments of Planet Earth), this is one of the great nature documentaries of our time. It's mind-boggling and beautiful what gets captured here.

  23. 10
    32

    Barry

    HBO

    Courtesy of HBO

    Like Killing Eve, this is a kind of wabi-sabi experiment where the imperfections and implausibilities that shouldn't work end up fueling its greatness. Barry is a genre-exploding tonal nightmare turned dream. Here's hoping it can keep this up in the future, but if not, wow, what a season this was.

  24. 9
    32

    Better Call Saul

    AMC

    Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures

    Bleakly beautiful. Here we are four seasons through a miracle — a prequel to top-five all-time great drama Breaking Bad that in theory should have had no business working. But then it became something other, something unto itself. What an impressive achievement.

  25. 8
    32

    Succession

    HBO

    Courtesy of HBO

    It's not the show (a tale of a family of 1-percenters) you think it is. It's way better than you might have imagined. It shape-shifts between drama and comedy. It surprises at every turn, most notably in the last three episodes. The writing is fantastic, the tone so exacting that the acting needs to be note-perfect, and is. A stunning piece of television.

  26. 7
    32

    Atlanta

    FX

    Guy D'Alema/FX

    This series has never just been a TV show. Continuing the auteur-as-explorer-and-rulebreaker avenue it first opened for Louis C.K. all those years ago, FX just lets Donald Glover do whatever he wants. And he wanted to do a lot of things in season two, each more surprising than the last. And then the season ends. Perfect.

  27. 6
    32

    Killing Eve

    BBC America

    Courtesy of BBC America

    This gender-flipped spy vs. assassin series is arguably the feel-good TV story of 2018, proving that you can be funny, flip, intelligent and relentlessly entertaining and crazy fun to watch, all in one.

  28. 5
    32

    The Good Place

    NBC

    Colleen Hayes/NBC

    The best combination of smarts and comedy on television, period. Creator Mike Schur is deviously clever, selling moral philosophy and ethics wrapped in a sitcom to a country that embraces anti-intellectualism like a religion. He's doing God's work.

  29. 4
    32

    The End of the F***ing World

    Netflix

    Courtesy of Netflix

    A lean tour de force that averages 20 minutes per episode, this series embarrasses so many others that are fat with pointless or boring scenes. Start to finish it was perfect, a darkly funny look at teen isolation and the importance of being loved.

  30. 3
    32

    Counterpart

    Starz

    Nicole Wilder/Starz

    I'm hoping the second season (which started in December) can keep up the frenetic pace, clever plotting and ambitious worldview of the first remarkable season being rewarded here. Counterpart is an espionage thriller with a paranormal element that at first seems off-putting and then drives the whole affair. J.K. Simmons is all-world, any-world.

  31. 2
    32

    Patriot

    Amazon

    Amazon Studios

    Easily the best drama you're not watching (yet). Last year it was No. 6 on my list and this second season, even with two fewer episodes, was just as brilliantly imagined. Sad spies have never been so entertaining. Melancholic, hilarious, inventive and intelligent. If not for the legacy making of The Americans, this would have been No. 1.

  32. 1
    32

    The Americans

    FX

    Patrick Harbron/FX

    How could this not be the No. 1 series? It's an all-time Hall-of-Fame first-ballot top-five drama, and we haven't had one of those since Mad Men ended, so this choice was actually very easy. Great writing, great acting, great directing. And it stuck the landing — right through the heart.