This month, as year-end lists abound, the most common and accurate sentiment being shared about the TV of 2018 is that there was a lot of it. To put it in perspective, this was the year that Netflix alone released a new episode of (by my own count, and excluding co-productions and continuations) at least 175 different original series. That means that a single streaming service alone is making as much TV as all of TV used to make once upon a time. Folks, that’s unprecedented.
How do we wade through all this? How do we as viewers find meaning in content so ubiquitous that some of it must be meaningless, and so overwhelming that we could binge watch our lives away and still miss some of the best stuff out there? I don’t know if I have a good answer for you, but I the best we can do is try to find something we love and share it with the world. In a weird way, the muchness of TV this year almost made it feel small again, as those of us around the proverbial Film School Rejects watercooler debated, discussed, and spoiler warning-ed our favorite shows until they became each others’ new favorites as well. And now, as the year comes to a close, we’ve polled the group to present our choices for the 25 best shows of 2018.
Half levity, half heaviness, and wholly thoughtful, this list of the best the small screen has to offer also manages to represent the boomeranging state of the world we’re living in today. Read on for our picks.
25. Doctor Who
Doctor Who’s eleventh season introduced us to our thirteenth doctor, Jodie Whittaker, who became the first woman to take on the role in the show’s 55-year history. Other switch ups include abandoning its traditional serial-based storytelling in favor of a series of standalone episodes where the Doctor and her companions encountered a talking frog, weaponized bubble wrap, an award-worthy guest appearance from Alan Cumming as a historically accurate queer King James I, and Rosa Parks in a powerful trip to America at the dawn of the Civil Rights Movement that became an instant fan favorite. Things were just as exciting behind the scenes where new showrunner Chris Chibnall assembled the sci-fi series’ most diverse writers room ever, and Segun Akinola took over the show’s composing duties from Murray Gold, who has composed for every season of the show since its reboot in 2005. Akinola had the very unenviable task of retooling one of the most iconic British songs–the Doctor Who title sequence. Meanwhile Whittaker had to prove herself to an audience of fanboys eager to see her fail but her take on the beloved Time Lord with her radical empathy, otherworldly intelligence, and aversion to guns, was a major win for the franchise because despite all of these changes to its formula–or more likely because of them–Doctor Who enjoyed its highest ratings in years. – Naomi Elias
24. The Great British Bake Off
We’re now one full series removed from The Great British Bake Off’s transition from BBC to Channel 4, which means it’s time to admit some harsh truths. First, while the goofy charm of former hosts Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc were a big part of what made the show popular, new hosts Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig are a revelation, retaining all of the show’s signature positivity but adding a dash of welcome absurdity to the whole affair. And second, while people’s fears that The Great British Bake Off would be reduced to its worst impulses under the commercial auspices of Channel 4 have ultimately proved unfounded, there are a few warning signs to keep an eye on. In this series, Paul Hollywood shook too many hands, the bakers were unnecessarily asked to complete a challenge outside the tent, and a few of the food challenges seemed designed to contemporize the bakers’ products (despite the fact that this season’s diverse and international cohort, like always, brought their own cultural and dietary designs into their bakes). One the whole, this season of The Great British Bake Off proves that the show’s formula of kind-hearted people baking their asses off remains a much-needed balm for viewers around the world. Truly, if it isn’t broken, do not fix it. – Matthew Monagle
23. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
The highly anticipated follow up to a fantastic first season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel was the kind of fun, jovial show that we needed to end out the year. The second season took us to places I never expected the show to go, namely Paris and an extended stay at a lake resort. I was along for the ride wherever the show went because nothing could be too horrible that Midge couldn’t wriggle her way out of it and it would always be a good time. This season continued to follow Midge’s fledgling comedy career, but it also expanded the audience’s understanding of the supporting characters of the show. Midge’s father, Abe Weissman, really took over the second season and was a hilarious rival as scene-stealer throughout every episode. We got to see Susie with her family in a vulnerable scene that we didn’t have in the first season. This season even made me care about Joel a little bit! The show is safe at times, but it never claimed not to be and we love it as a delightful getaway from serious dramas on TV. – Emily Kubincanek
In its second season, the trippy little superhero show on FX put on its dancing shoes, took a weird road trip, and chased some ancient evil around worlds and heads alike. We were treated to all the same weirdness of the first season, but this time with a massive light-show dance party involving Jemaine Clement and Dan Stevens. That alone is worth watching. And if you’re the kind of person who watched a bit of the first season, then gave up because of the show’s hyper-dense plot and disorienting narrative structure? Here’s the secret: it’s a much easier binge watch. Break out your FX app and do it. – Neil Miller
21. Castle Rock
Enigmatic, visually striking, well-acted, and occasionally frustratingly obtuse, Castle Rock might be the closest we have to a modern day Lost. The show, which was created by Sam Shaw and Dustin Thomason, was surrounded by intrigue from the start as it promised to incorporate the stories and universe of Stephen King into an original narrative. Season one followed a lawyer named Henry Deaver (André Holland) as he returned to his less-than-welcoming childhood hometown of Castle Rock, Maine to investigate the recovery of a nameless man (Bill Skarsgard). The season’s emotional high point is a masterpiece episode called “The Queen,” which tells the point-of-view story of dementia-stricken Ruth (Sissy Spacek). Skarsgard, meanwhile, anchors the series with his glassy-eyed pull, playing a potentially evil character who’s classic King, even as he avoids being pinned down by the author’s canon. – Valerie Ettenhofer