The Best TV Shows of 2018 So Far
We’re about halfway through 2018, but thanks to Peak TV, you could go the rest of the year without watching anything new and still have plenty of shows to sustain you well into 2019. It can be almost stressful trying to decide which series are worth your binge-watching time, which is where we come in, with our list of the 10 best TV shows of 2018 — so far.
It’s not just the quantity of TV that’s overwhelming, but the fact that so many shows are so beloved, making it nearly impossible to see everything — two things to keep in mind when reading our list. Because of the increasing number of TV shows, and the fact that I am just one human person with one set of (thankfully) working eyeballs, you might find that your favorite show didn’t make the cut. Since there are only 10 slots, take comfort knowing a few of mine didn’t make it, either — and it’s my list.
There are also a handful of shows that aren’t far enough into their run just yet to qualify for the list, but are still worthy of a shoutout, and you’ll find those at the bottom of this post along with the other honorable mentions. Without further delay, here are the 10 best shows of 2018 (so far), in no particular order because the mere act of selecting 10 was stressful enough:
1. The Handmaid’s Tale
Moving into the second season, there was some apprehension about The Handmaid’s Tale going beyond Margaret Atwood’s source material. But if there was ever any doubt that expanding this heartbreakingly relevant narrative was a mistake, the first 10 minutes of the Season 2 opener put those fears to rest real quick — and immediately replaced them with a sequence so stressful and so devastating that I had to discuss it with my therapist. (Setting it to Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work” felt like we were being simultaneously soothed and tortured.)
In addition to exploring life in the Colonies (spoiler: it’s horrible) and Moira and Luke’s life as refugees in Canada, Season 2 deepens the complicated relationship between Offred (Elisabeth Moss) and Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski). Showrunner Bruce Miller had his work cut out for him taking the story beyond Atwood’s tragically timeless novel, but the real accomplishment is in the series’ effectively empathetic depiction of Serena Joy — complex doesn’t even begin to describe what looks increasingly like the worst case of Stockholm Syndrome ever documented on screen. In the ninth episode, “Smart Power,” Serena’s labyrinthine personality gives way (just a little) in what feels like an aptly unsettling companion piece to #MeToo.
Watching Noah Hawley’s surreal take on the X-Men comic book series of the same name can feel like wearing one of those finger traps that you get by trading in tickets at a putt-putt place. The more you struggle, the harder it is to find your way out; it’s only as difficult as you make it out to be, which is to say that there’s nothing particularly confusing about Legion. It just appears confusing. Season 2 follows David (Dan Stevens) & Co. as they try to figure out a way to stop the Shadow King — a viral villain who has broken free of David’s mind, and yet still exists as more of an idea than a man. With pitch-perfect narration by Jon Hamm, Season 2 examines how that idea comes into existence with a sort of “origin of the species” documentary within the show. The show’s cerebral bent and the slippery, entirely subjective nature of thought allow for Jemaine Clement and Aubrey Plaza to return (and the latter to continue slaying it on a weekly basis).
Like Season 1, the sophomore installment of Legion is sort of like the Muppet Babies version of David Lynch — perhaps more so than ever before, with a musical dance sequence to rival that of the first and sequences that transform basic human concepts into surreal mindf—ks. Just remember what David Lynch says about how we watch and understand movies: We don’t need any answers or explanations because what just happened on screen is whatever we thought just happened. “The film is the thing,” he says. In this case, the show is the thing.
I can’t possibly write about the second season of Atlanta without quoting Angelica Jade Bastién’s excellent essay on how Donald Glover and his writers explored black identity through the language of horror. For Vulture, Bastién writes: “Glover and his collaborators don’t unpack blackness for an audience, white or otherwise, that’s unfamiliar with its vernacular. Instead, they mine the fraught internal dynamics of how these individual characters live with their blackness in an environment that can often be hostile toward it.” Named after the time of the year, pre-holiday season, that Atlanta residents refer to as “Robbin’ Season” due to the uptick in thefts, Season 2 is permeated with dread, turning otherwise banal incidents into moments loaded with potential terror — a perceptible, specific feeling that could never really resonate with a white audience (a compliment, to be sure).
Like Bastién, I was also taken with three episodes in particular: The great “Helen,” directed by Amy Seimetz, which explores Van’s (Zazie Beetz) relationship with her own black identity, as well as her relationship with Earn; “The Woods,” which sends Alfred on an urban odyssey through the titular forest and out the other side in a striking allegory for his ascension to fame; and “Teddy Perkins,” which stars a completely unrecognizable Glover as an eccentric, reclusive music icon who has grown to resent his own blackness so much that he’s essentially turned himself into a white man. Despite the obvious connection to Michael Jackson, “Teddy Perkins” has more in common with maudlin white horror stories about fame, like Sunset Boulevard and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? It’s every bit as surreal and sorrowful as it is unexpected, and it makes me even more eager to see how Atlanta swerves in Season 3.
4. The Americans
It was all building to this. With longform television, there’s always a danger of delivering a story where the journey was far more rewarding than the destination, but The Americans was never content with being typical. The final season jumps ahead in time to find the Jennings’ marriage in a bit of nebulous emotional turmoil caused by Philip’s “retirement” from their work, while Paige begins to do some light spy work with Elizabeth. The biggest question surrounding Season 6 isn’t whether or not good ol’ Stan will finally realize that his friends and neighbors are actually Russian spies — it’s whether Philip and Elizabeth will make it out of this together, if their love for one another is as powerful as their sense of patriotic duty, and, beyond that, what that patriotism actually means. These are such basic questions, but as always, The Americans — with a powerful assist from its exceptional cast — handles them with agility and the necessary emotional complexity.
Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys are better here than ever before, and a real asset in a show that’s long been dedicated to the art of showing, and not telling, when it comes to the emotional evolution of its characters. But Holly Taylor may have been the low-key MVP all along, as evidenced by her wordlessly devastating final scenes, which offer a glimmer of hope for a family with no choice but to stand divided.
5. Killing Eve
As a hardcore Hannibal fan, I seriously hope that everyone else still loudly mourning the loss of Bryan Fuller’s series is watching Killing Eve. We may never see another season of Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter’s twisted love story, but the new BBC America series from the genius Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag) is here to fill that grotesque hole in your heart. Sandra Oh stars as the titular Eve, an MI5 security officer who becomes obsessed with tracking down a mysterious female assassin named Villanelle (Jodie Comer). Like other cat-and-mouse thrillers, this one examines the idea that those who successfully capture sociopaths might not be that far off from their targets — but that’s where the comparisons end. Killing Eve is, like Villanelle, far from typical: Eccentric, riveting, darkly alluring and weirdly…cute. The back-and-forth between Eve and Villanelle is crackling with perilous chemistry. Is it weird that I want to see them make out?
If you’ve watched Documentary Now! on IFC or The Skeleton Twins, then you’re probably not surprised in the slightest that Bill Hader is more than just a talented comedic actor — he can really act. HBO’s new half-hour series, created by Hader and Silicon Valley’s Alec Berg, is the perfect showcase for the former SNL star’s range. Hader plays the eponymous Barry, a veteran Marine-turned-hitman who joins a local acting class to fulfill his unlikely dream of becoming an actor. Throughout the show’s first season, Barry has to contend with the fallout from a hit gone wrong, the Chechen mob (NoHo Hank is a f—king treasure), his narcissistic acting coach (a fantastic Barry Winkler), and a tenacious cop who’s getting a little too close for comfort. It may be a comedy series, but Barry is more serious than you might assume, especially as it explores the effects of trauma and PTSD on its protagonist’s psyche.
There’s only one episode left before Season 2 of Westworld comes to an end, but I feel justified including it on this list. The sophomore season of HBO’s sci-fi series has been surprisingly divisive among fans and critics, and I’ll be the first to admit that Westworld isn’t quite the show that I hoped it would be — it’s certainly more invested in the ol’ mystery box format than pondering the unanswerable existential quandaries of our existence. But hey, we’ll always have The Leftovers for that.
Still, there’s plenty of poignancy and breathtaking, human drama to be found in the (occasionally heavy-handed) labyrinth of Westworld. “Akane no Mai,” which finds Maeve on a cathartic journey through Shogun World with the Japanese echo of herself (Rinko Kikuchi), is easily one of the season’s best. And while it’s been fun to speculate about Season 2’s endgame, all that theorizing pales in comparison to the experience of watching “Kiksuya” — an episode so beautiful and so thematically powerful that it became an instant television all-timer for me. “Kiksuya” had everything I ever wanted Westworld to be: A heart-rending exploration of humanity and the cyclical nature of violence and trauma, as seen through the eyes of someone perceived as less than human.
8. Queer Eye
In these dark AF times, we desperately need a shining beacon of hope; something to show us that humanity is salvageable, that empathy still exists, and reinforces the belief that love and kindness will see us through. Since the Mister Rogers doc is a movie, I’m talking about Queer Eye. The second season of the Netflix revival follows the gang around Georgia as they zhoosh up a cancer survivor and devout Christian woman who spends more time helping others than herself, a twenty-something who has a hard time taking responsibility for his shortcomings (relatable content alert!), a bartending dad, and a transgender man who recently had top surgery — the latter of which has elicited complicated feelings from some trans viewers.
But part of what makes Queer Eye so special is that its hosts aren’t exempt from flaws: Tan learns valuable lessons about the trans community, Bobby has to reconcile with his past in the church to overcome his own judgment, and Antoni — bless his precious soul— barely cooks. Perhaps the only thing more delightful than trashing Antoni’s “cooking skills” is Jonathan Van Ness, the group’s grooming expert and the purest embodiment of joy. After two seasons I am thoroughly convinced that everyone needs their very own Jonathan to follow them around and tell them how beautiful and perfect they are every day. The world would be a much better place.
9. The Good Place
Speaking of better places: The Good Place is easily the greatest comedy on TV right now. Creator Mike Schur (Parks and Rec) had his work cut out for him after that major Season 1 twist, but his irreverent afterlife sitcom managed to be even smarter and funnier in Season 2. D’arcy Carden’s Janet remains the most hilarious and weirdly relatable character in this medium or any other, but every single actor on this show is delivering the best work of their careers. Ted Danson’s arc in particular has remained surprising, and guest stars like Maya Rudolph and Jason Mantzoukas (MAXIMUM DEREK!) have proven that it’s possible to steal scenes in a show packed with scene-stealers. The wait for Season 3 is almost as agonizing as the things they do for fun in the Bad Place.
10. Dear White People
The sophomore season of Justin Simien’s Netflix series — based on his film of the same name — remained every bit as enlightening, thoughtful, and witty as the first. It’s hard not to feel like a show titled Dear White People isn’t geared — however derisively — toward the education of white people, much like the eponymous radio show hosted by Sam (Logan Browning). But to say as much feels like the result of my own inherent whiteness, which is why the only character I can honestly relate to is Gabe (John Patrick Amedori) — and why the episode 8 fight between Sam and Gabe resonated with me and opened my eyes to the limitations of good, socially-aware intentions. Like Atlanta, Dear White People grapples with concepts of black identity and the cost of assimilating into a predominantly white culture. Sam, like Van, is of mixed heritage, adding another layer to her ongoing struggles, both internal and external, among her classmates at school. In addition to episode 8, this season’s highlights include a complex and powerful arc for Coco in episode 4, and an exploration of toxic black masculinity in episode 5 (which introduced me to a term I’d never heard before, and I imagine most white people aren’t aware of, either).
Honorable mentions: The Last Man on Earth (it is a crime that we will never know what happens after that insane cliffhanger), American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace (I am just as surprised as you are), Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Dietland, Pose, Silicon Valley (without T.J. Miller, it’s better than ever), and Wild Wild Country.