Happy New Year!
What better way to bring in 2019 than by looking back at what an amazing year 2018 was for television, and oh yes it was a very incredible year! 2018 was the pinnacle of the “Peak TV Era” – offering more television options than ever before on more channels and streaming platforms – and 2019 is just going to bring us more content! As hard as creating a top 10 list from over 500 + scripted series, miniseries, television movies, and reality shows is extremely difficult, but here are the my choices that stood out from the crowd.
10. Bird Box – Netflix
Netflix has some kind of genius algorithm that even the top TV industry analysis and prognosticators haven’t cracked yet, and that’s how they know their audiences so well. Netflix, in a very clever way, dropped what may just look like a 2 hour psychological thriller, but this movie, starring Sandra Bullock, blew up the internet over the recent holiday. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram were overcome with memes, quotes, and pictures of people with blindfolds on replicating the movies’ madness. I have to be clear, I’m not putting Bird Box on this list because it’s a groundbreaking piece of art. If you want a true psychological thriller movie, I will direct you to watch A Quiet Place, in which this has been compared to. Nowadays, everything on TV doesn’t necessarily need to be a phenomenal creation to be a smash hit, but I do suggest checking out Bird Box before everyone returns to work because there is no escaping the conversation and has firmly planted itself in the zeitgeist of the American media. When people mention Bird Box and immediately close their ears and say “wait, wait, don’t tell me, I haven’t seen it yet!” it’s a sensation! No matter if you liked it or not, this is going to be the first water cooler show of 2019, the movie that all your colleagues and friends are taking about and there’s nothing worse that being left out of the conversation!
grown-ish – Freeform
Watch out world, she’s grown now!
When black-ish premiered in 2014, it drew many comparisons to The Cosby Show for portraying the life of an affluent African-American family in our country. While black-ish tackles issues that The Cosby Show never did, the similarities are endless. The mirror image of these two shows continued when oldest daughter Zoey was spun-off to her own show that followed her to college – just as The Cosby Show sent (second oldest daughter) Denise to college on A Different World.
I was hesitant at first with this spin-off because if you go back to older episodes of black-ish, Zoey (Yara Zahidi) is the least developed character on that show. She’s just the typical caricature of the older, prettier older sister who most often times cares about herself than anyone else. How could this character carry a show? Would we want to see her on her own? The answer is an overwhelming yes! Zahidi carries this show like she’s been waiting for it her whole life, I guess it makes sense since she recently started college herself and has a lot of experience to draw from. The reason why grown-ish works is because Zoey is finally around another people her age, other characters that she can relate to. Placing Zoey in situations that would be out-of-place on its original (teenage drug use, underage drinking, sex) and honestly explores what its like being away from home for the first time, going through new experiences, missing your parents and not wanting to admit it, making new friends that are entirely different from yourself, and growing into a new and different person from those experiences. While doing so, it gives Zahidi a lot more room to grow Zoey into a fully formed character, something that would have never been done on black-ish. Coupled with its young, talented, and extremely diverse cast and a catchy theme song from co-stars Chloe x Halle, it’s simply a great way to spend 30 minutes with a character you knew, but didn’t knew you loved so much.
*** If the grown-ish/A Different World comparisons aren’t just jumping out at you, just check out the amazing theme song tribute to A Different World debuting for grown-ish season 2 premiering January 2nd at 8/7c on Freeform
8. Mr. Inbetween – FX
If you haven’t heard of Mr. Inbetween, don’t worry that’s why I’m here! This six episode Australian crime drama premiered quietly on FX in September. Scott Ryan stars as father, ex-husband and hitman-for-hire, but Ryan carries this drama with bits of offbeat humor, humility, and understanding on why he does what he does for a living – to hold people accountable for the wrongdoings they’ve done. The best part is that this series is a half-hour long, so it’s extremely easy to binge watch, go check it out!
7. Maniac – Netflix
Maniac was the addictive drug of the fall season. I only refer to this Netflix miniseries as a drug because it focuses on Owen (Jonah Hill) and Annie (Emma Stone) as people who are in a pharmaceutical drug trial for two different reasons, Annie because she’s trying to score free drugs to overcome a crippling life-changing event, and Owen to help cure his on mental illness. Over the course of its fast-paced ten episode journey, you constantly wonder what’s real and fiction in the characters’ mind, and it’s absolutely exhilarating. While some episodes were more effective and fun to watch than others, Maniac draws you in and makes you pay attention to each scene to make sure you follow the storytelling precisely so you as the viewer don’t question what’s real and what’s fake. The tone and style jumps from quasi-modern day New York City, to 1950’s noir, to the faded jeans decade of the 80’s, all the way back to a mid-century era, and does it with ease where you know understand Annie and Owen’s journey, but also questioning it at the same time.
Maniac wasn’t the easiest 10 episodes to get through in 2018, but it was one of the most fun and exhilarating shows to watch because it allows the audience to get an honest look at mental illness, and what it can do to the human mind and spirit, because at the end of the day, Maniac is exploring the human mind, how it works when it’s healthy, abused, and the effects that traumatic events have on our lives. It’s just done in a superb way by doing it in a comedic, dramatic, and chaotic way from beginning to end.
6. Superstore/The Good Place – NBC
Yes, I know these are two different shows, so it’s kind of cheating, but since they both air back-to-back on NBC, I figured it’s alright to count them as one, right?!
If you know me beyond this blog, I have been singing the praises of Superstore since it’s start in 2015. Following an eclectic crew of employees in a big box Walmart-type retailer, is one of the most honest and humbling shows on television, following working-class people in middle America who hate their jobs, and the people and headaches who come with it, but it supports their livelihoods so they roll with the punches and make the best out of any bad or weird situation that may pop up while working in retail (and as someone who worked in year for six years throughout high school and college, I can relate to every story on this wonderful show).
Starring America Ferrera and Ben Feldman, Superstore has placed many of its characters in real life situations that normal Americans go through on a daily basis, but it rarely portrayed on TV. One of the best episodes so far this season is when Amy (Ferrera) finally has her baby and is excited to take maternity leave, but unbeknownst to her that her medical insurance will only allow Amy to have her baby in a subpar hospital, and only covers three days of maternity leave, not three months like she originally expected due to a temporary lapse in employment with her company, Cloud 9.
It wasn’t heartbreaking that Amy couldn’t have her baby in a nicer hospital or that she couldn’t take a longer maternity leave, it was the fact that this is a real issue in America and Superstore shed an unexpecting light on it. A lot of people can’t afford proper and decent health benefits to support themselves and their families. Even though by the end of the episode, her boyfriend Jonah (Feldman) paid for the nicer hospital for her, and her boss (the cartoonish Mark McKinney) worked his magic with Human Resources so Amy could have full maternity leave, it highlights the fact that Americans are suffering every day to raise they families with little to no health care coverage, and working full time jobs just to barely get by in life. Coming from someone who has experienced that throughout childhood, it’s amazing to see on TV, and that these people aren’t being portrayed as lazy or unintelligent, but as honest, hard-working human beings.
The Good Place has hit a stride this season and it’s not slowly down! The biggest oddball on television, The Good Place continues to twist the minds of its viewers led by the (Golden Globe nominated) Kristen Bell in this comedy about the afterlife and goes to new heights as episodes progress. If you like constant hilarious and irreverent pop culture references and one-liners, The Good Place is the show for you!
5. Succession – HBO
I didn’t think I was going to fall as hard in love with Succession like I did. I thought it was too close in relation to Showtime’s Billions, but after consistently seeing rave reviews all over the internet I had to try it out, and I am so happy I did.
Succession teeters on the line, ever so gently, between comedy and drama it will make your mind spin and wonder what genre it really is. As it follows the Roy family as they run their international media conglomerate, this sprawling epic family drama captures money and greed in America and how it plays out within the family unit. The family is dysfunctional as they come, and it bust your funny bone wide open how often they tell each other to go f*uck themselves, as it was each family member’s first sentence spoken. The quick quips back and forth at each other, mixed with the fast-paced sequences, and tight editing of the series will have you covering your mouth up with laughter every single episode. The absolute best thing about Succession hands down is Kieran Culkin, the youngest, smartest, funniest, and as confident (and sometime cocky) member of the Roy family. Culkin recently received a much deserved (and surprise) Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance By an Actor in a Series, Limited Series, or Motion Picture Made for Television. He’s the actor I’ll be cheering for a victory on Golden Globes night!
4. Sharp Objects – HBO
Even though I didn’t read the book by Gillian Flynn, the miniseries adapted for television by Marti Noxon (Orange is the New Black, GLOW) and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (Big Little Lies), follows Amy Adams as a St. Louis journalist sent back to her small hometown to investigate the murder of a local girl, but has to face demons from her own past in the process. Some of Sharp Objects’ most endearing quality was its slow-paced, dark mystery thriller elements that kept the show entertaining and authentic. Adams, along with her co-stars Patricia Clarkson, Elizabeth Perkins, Chris Messina, and Matt Craven elevated the material that may have been too dark for some audiences, but all actors gave amazing and grounded performances to their characters.
For someone who didn’t read the book, which the miniseries follows very closely, left the shock factor right up until the end. The scene after the credits (if you watched that far), wasn’t in the book but closed out the miniseries with the perfect circular narrative that wrapped everything up in a quick 30 second flashback and left me with my jaw on the floor, rocking back-and-forth as I cradled my knees thinking what the hell just happen.
Homecoming – Amazon
It’s always excited when a big movie star finally makes their way to television, so when Julia Roberts signed onto Homecoming, it was a big deal! Homecoming is prestige television to the max. It has a 1970’s feel to it that makes this television show feel more interesting, authentic, and familiar despite it being set in modern-day.
We go on a mysterious ride that follows veterans home from the war, but before they return to their families, they go to a rehabilitation clinic, “Homecoming,” to help them ease back into life as a civilian. Sounds like a great idea, right? Well your feelings will quickly change as this ten episode first season continues to be irresistible as the season continues. Roberts, with the help of co-stars Stephan James, Bobby Cannivale, Shea Whigham, and Sissy Spacek wastes no time delving into this story of this too good to be true rehab center, and the problems and corruption that lay behind the curtain of big money corporations.
The most exciting thing about Homecoming is its half-hour run time! Like Mr. Inbetween mentioned above, is such an innovation! We are ingrained that drama series are to be one hour in length (or more sometimes), and comedies are half-hour in run time. Comedy series have been slowly breaking that rule for over a decade (Glee, Shameless, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) but drama series aren’t quite there yet! Hopefully that will change with Homecoming. the half-hour elements adds to the intrigue of this series. No unnecessary plot lines, no unnecessary characters or needless dialogue, it just follows the simple philosophy less is more. In the peak TV era, we need more shows like Homecoming.
2. Atlanta Robbin’ Season – FX
TEDDY PERKINS! That is all.
1. Killing Eve – BBC America
I don’t know how many words can express my love, affection, excitement, joy, infatuation with Killing Eve, which hands down wins my vote as the best thing on TV in 2018! Killing Eve elevated the psychological crime thriller to new heights, thanks to the amazing chemistry, banter, and complicated foreplay between stars Sandra Oh (Eve Polastri) and Jodie Comer (Villanelle).
Based off the Codename Villanelle series of books by Luke Jennings, Phoebe Waller-Bridge adapted this fantastic series for television and wrote two strong women as the leads in this cat and mouse spy thriller. Eve (Oh), is a M.I.5 officer who is trapped behind the desk, but goes out of her way to find the an assassin (Comer), and in the process both become deeply obsessed with each other. Both characters are portrayed by strong and talented actresses that show how they both can be destructive, and show their strength at the same time.
I have been a Sandra Oh from her days on Grey’s Anatomy (Dr. Christina Yang was one of the most interesting, complex, and funny characters on that show to date), and it was wonderful to see her stepping into this role bringing that same energy to Eve as she did to Dr. Yang. Oh bounces from every emotion on the emotional spectrum seamlessly throughout the series and gives Oh one of the best acting opportunities of her long career.
Comer doesn’t fade into the background as Villanelle, but jumps in headfirst playing this psychopathic, sociopathic Russian assassin with such ease that it will chill you to your bones. The way she blankly stares, speaks softly, walks and kills with no emotional empathy is quite terrifying – she’s awesome! As creepy as she can be, Villanelle also has a softer side that was shown throughout the series, and she’ll play with your heartstrings as her character does something horrific, but Comer’s charm and innocence also has you rooting for her in someway. Who wants to actually root for the villainess psychopathic Russian assassin?
Killing Eve won the hearts and minds of millions of Americans this year from critics to every day TV watchers. Ratings were through the roof when the show aired during the spring months, wrapping up its first season with steady week-to-week growth that hasn’t been seen since the first season of Empire, which has earned Killing Eve a much awaited second season set to premiere in 2019. It’s looking to be a heavy hitter during awards show season, getting nominations from all the major awards thus far, including the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild, and the Critics’ Choice Awards. Sadly, Jodie Comer has been egregiously snubbed at a few of these awards shows, but I’m confident the Emmys will right this wrong later next year!
Let’s all look forward to a happy new year of TV watching in 2019!