The Best TV Shows of 2018 So Far

The year's half over. When did that happen?

Best Tv Mid

The year’s half over. When did that happen?

It feels like it was just last week we were putting together our first quarter list of the best television 2018 had to offer. But here we are, three months later and up to our necks in quality TV. As before, several of our favorites are feel-good comedies that help stave off the news of the outside world, if only for 22 minutes at a time. But there’s also room for darker, more complex and disturbing content–maybe those extra hours of sunlight are to thank.

A lot of our picks are new on the scene, while some are in their second, third, or even sixth season, cementing their place in the cultural conversation about what is, to say the least, a very interesting second half of a decade.

So without further ado, and in no particular order, here are our top TV shows of 2018 so far:

The Terror (AMC)

The Terror

The fictional account of the British Navy’s real failed search for the Northwest Passage in the mid 19th century, The Terror came out of nowhere this spring as one of the finest acted, most emotionally gripping dramas on TV. It’s drawn parallels to the critically-acclaimed Band of Brothers, in no small part because of its ensemble cast of as yet relatively unknown powerhouse performers. As our Matthew Monagle has said, this may very well be our roster of leading men for the next decade. Because The Terror is all about the performances. There’s one demon bear, sure, and the blank, defeating the power of the Arctic ice, but the real danger lies, as you may well expect, in the hearts of men. The Terror is a slowly building study in dread and despair, in which the greatest shock comes in how long everyone manages to hold it together. It’s beautifully tense and unabashedly emotional, and it’ll make you appreciate the summer sun like nothing else. It’s pure drama at its finest. – Liz Baessler

One Day At A Time (Netflix)

This multi-camera sitcom follows a real modern family if ever there was one. There’s mom Penelope (Justina Machado), a sassy yet loving nurse who also happens to be veteran with PTSD and a single parent. There are two kids: stubborn, smart activist Elena (Isabella Gomez) and suave, sweet younger brother Alex (Marcel Ruiz). There’s the landlord, Schneider (Todd Grinnell), a wealthy Canadian cool guy who’s one of the only holdovers from the ’70s sitcom that inspired this one. Then there’s Rita Moreno. The actress somehow still feels like she’s in her prime even at the age of 86, bringing spirit and elegance to her role as melodramatic matriarch Lydia, the family’s traditional Cuban grandmother. As the family undergoes challenges that are in turn hilarious and devastatingly real — the show doesn’t shy away from of-the-moment topics like immigration and post-election racism — Moreno and Machado pour their hearts into these performances as two women who are so much stronger than they should ever need to be. – Valerie Ettenhofer

Atlanta: Robbin’ Season (FX)

Donald Glover is on fire. So much so that we’re getting a little concerned about him. But the man seems to know what he’s doing, and as long as he doesn’t burn out, we’re all here for it. Because if Atlanta: Robbin’ Season has proved anything, it’s that Glover is only getting better. Atlanta has always been brilliant, but the sophomore season of the acclaimed show has achieved new levels of artistry. Still ostensibly following the rise of cousins Earn and Alfred on the rap scene, Robbin’ Season devotes much of its time to standalone episodes that feel more like short films that just happen to star Atlanta characters. The most remarkable is of course “Teddy Perkins.” Already in my book as the best episode of the year, it won’t be easily unseated. A Gothic horror featuring Lakeith Stanfield’s Darius as the unprecedented straight man, and Glover utterly unrecognizable as the enigmatic and terrifying title character (whom he reportedly embodied through the entire shoot), “Teddy Perkins” is near perfect. If Atlanta: Robbin’ Season had ten unremarkable episodes and “Teddy Perkins” in the middle, it would still make the list. Instead, it’s eleven episodes of incredible nuance and artistry, no two the same. This list may not be ranked, but Atlanta: Robbin’ Season is definitely my top show of the year. – LB

Westworld (HBO)

Westworld Maeve

Some TV series are content telling straightforward stories that tackle simple ideas in linear fashion, but others come from the minds behind films like Memento and The Prestige — films where time and perception are manipulated for our viewing pleasure — meaning words like “straightforward” are banned from the writers’ room. Westworld still tells fairly simple stories about greed, love, loss, and the human pull towards violence, but it finds additional engagement by telling them in seemingly complicated ways. In a world where most of the hundreds of shows available feel alike, Westworld stands apart for its bold narrative swings that require an audience to remain focused and earn the “aha!” moments. Its second season continued to play fast and loose with timelines, maybe excessively so, but the result is a series of woven narratives that come together in the end with a mix of tragedy, escape, and possibility. Its ongoing questions about what it means to be human, both for the better and the worse, continue to fascinate, thrill, and appall in equal measure. We are flawed, and our creations — children, society, hosts — will always carry that same burden. Of course, as heavy as all of that sounds, the show’s still entertainment, and to that end there are stunning action sequences, beautiful visuals, and the ongoing presence of puzzles to solve, meaning if philosophy doesn’t quite do it for you just wait five minutes for splendors of a more visual variety. – Rob Hunter

Killing Eve (BBC America)

Killing Eve

BBC America’s new breakout show saw week-by-week gains in viewership for each of its eight first-season episodes. The show is a word-of-mouth powerhouse and for good reason. A sexy, exciting blend of action, drama, and psychological thriller elements, Killing Eve is the rare spy show that doesn’t stop to catch its breath. Sandra Oh gives a can’t-miss performance as a lively, determined MI5 agent who becomes obsessed with a female assassin after a chance encounter. Jodie Comer, as said international assassin, dominates each scene she’s in with an intimidatingly awesome mix of femininity and casual sadism. The show shifts easily from quippy comedy to disturbing violence, and its ability to do both light and dark justice has earned it comparisons to BBC America’s late, great hit, Orphan Black. This increasingly tense play on the cat-and-mouse chase consistently zigs when you expect it to zag, and is all the better for it. – VE

Legion (FX)

Legion R

Back in April, I asked whether Legion was brilliant or just willfully obtuse. Now the season has finished, and I’m still not sure I have an answer. But whatever Legion is trying to do, it’s going for broke doing it, and I can’t help but admire it. With time travel, dance-offs, and a minotaur that’d scare Mark Z. Danielewski, it’s already bizarrely artistic in a way that can’t be ignored. And new elements, as big as Navid Negahban’s addition as Amahl Farouk or as small as Aubrey Plaza’s new blue contact lenses, have made the show a joy to watch, if not to follow. But the most fantastic moments are driven by the expert use of original pop music covers by Jeff Russo and Noah Hawley. One mid-season moment, already the most disturbing of the show, is made absolutely horrific when it’s set first to Tom Petty’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More” and then R.E.M.’s “Superman.” For a show so heavy on style and visuals, Legion has an uncanny ability to nail down emotion when it wants to. – LB

Pose (FX)

Pose

The most telling thing I can say about FX’s new show Pose, which is produced by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk along with newcomer Steven Canals, is that it makes me feel the same tentative hope and delight as the early days of Glee. After detouring down several dark alleys (on Glee, American Horror Story, and elsewhere), Murphy & co. finally seem to be ready to head back into the light. Pose is set in 1980s New York City ballroom culture — think Paris Is Burning — and follows close-knit found families of the dance and drag scenes. In a historic move, the cast and crew include many trans women of color, Dominique Jackson, M.J. Rodriguez, and Janet Mock among them. Pose has only aired four episodes, but so far it’s been surprising in all the right ways. While similar shows have over-explained their central conceit or fallen into the familiar pattern of hurting their LGBT characters for the sake of drama, Pose keeps it real when it counts — a central character is diagnosed with HIV in one of the very first scenes — but still leans towards humanity and optimism at every opportunity. – VE

Another Period (Comedy Central)

Another Period

Having just ended its third season, Another Period is quietly making some of the best outrageous comedy on TV. Created by and starring Natasha Leggero and Riki Lindhome, the turn of the century “reality show” has a loaded ensemble cast that’s only heightened by its endless cycle of recognizable guest stars. Sometimes there are so many famous comedians onscreen it’s hard to know where to look. But where it could become overwhelming, the show powers forward with a gloriously raunchy look at the high and low society of turn-of-the-century Newport, RI. Part social commentary, part senseless comedy, the latest season of Another Period grapples with such issues as the public perception of female beauty, immigration, and losing the spark of romance when you discover the love of your life isn’t your twin sibling after all. Unapologetically brash and remarkably feminist at its core, Another Period is wonderfully funny, and I sincerely hope it comes back for a fourth season. – LB

Dear White People (Netflix)

Dearwhitepeople

Justin Simien’s college-set satire is bolder and better than ever in its sophomore season. The show continues the familiar conceit of its first season, with each episode centering on a different character at a historic East coast college that’s home to casual racists, BLM activists, and everyone in between. This season fleshes out its characters with care, first and foremost confrontational, bi-racial heroine and “Dear White People” podcast host Sam (Logan Browning). It’s sharply funny, surprisingly emotional, and takes on the heavy task of translating even the most subtle nuances of conversations about race and identity into something that’s digestible in a half-hour dramedy format. Surprisingly, the cerebral show’s best moments often feel more like a gut-check, as in the masterful Coco-centric fourth episode and the finale, which features an unforgettable performance by Tessa Thompson. – VE

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox)

Brooklyn99

Brooklyn Nine-Nine came into the limelight this spring first for being canceled by Fox, and then for being picked up by NBC a mere 24 hours later. But it’s worthy of attention for so much more than that. The world is a scary place, but when you’re watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine, you feel like everything’s going to be alright. The detectives in the precinct respect each other, and they love each other, and there’s nothing quite as soothing as sitting down with them for half an hour. But as easy as it goes down, it’s also a showcase of tight, effective sitcom writing. The 2018 half of the fifth season charmed the pants off everyone with its long-awaited Peralta-Santiago wedding, sure. But it also featured the excellent episode “The Box.” Abandoning the show’s usual ensemble format, the episode takes place almost entirely in a holding cell with Jake, Captain Holt, and a murder suspect, This Is Us’s Sterling K. Brown. The episode is one of the show’s best, a clear departure from the usual format that still sticks close to its core values. It’s a great sign that the show’s still got it, and might even branch out to become a little more experimental in its upcoming network move. But even if it doesn’t, I’ll always come back for more of what the Nine-Nine has to offer. – LB

A Series of Unfortunate Events (Netflix)

A Series Of Unfortunate Events Season Teaser

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not sure who the Netflix adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events’s intended audience is. The adventure comedy’s second season is unrelentingly dark, gorgeously designed, full of double-entendres, and functions as a thinly veiled allegory about the pervasiveness of fake news and bumbling leadership. Still, it’s safe to say that the Peabody-winning adaptation of an equally dark kids’ book series is — despite what meta-narrator Lemony Snicket (Patrick Warburton) tells you — well worth the watch for anyone who can bear it. For the uninitiated, the series follows three mysteriously orphaned children — industrious Violet, bookish Klaus, and teething Sunny — as they’re transferred from one unhelpful guardian to another, all while evil Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris) employs increasingly outlandish schemes to gain control over their inheritance. In its second of three planned seasons, ASOUE is a clever, noble-hearted show about the small flicker of personal hope each child holds, which can be either stoked or extinguished as they grow. It’s also home to some sneakily great writing, like when the kids are forced to travel to a mysterious town and an adult says, “I imagine they’ll draw lots, like in the wonderful Shirley Jackson story!” – VE

The Good Place (NBC)

Michael Schur is on this list twice, and no one should be surprised. Delivering the feel-good antics Schur is known for, and that we so desperately need, The Good Place also deals masterfully in mystery, secrets, and fantasy. Since it takes place in the afterlife, anything is possible, and nothing is off the table. This makes attempts to unearth the layers of what’s going on all the more exciting. And whether or not you see the twists and turns coming, the show is so charming and unlike anything else that its mystery is just the cherry on top. (Westworld, while on this list, could learn a thing or two). There’s nowhere else on TV that you can get relationship advice, philosophy lectures, and spontaneous cacti all under one roof. The Good Place is returning this fall in the (supposed) real world, and I’m so forking ready. – LB

The End of the F***ing World (Netflix)

The End Of The F***ing World James Alyssa

This Netflix original, which first aired last year on the UK’s Channel 4, is a Trojan horse in the best possible way. Promotional materials portrayed it as a love story between a teen girl and her edgy classmate who happens to be a psychopath. I would’ve passed on that, but luckily Charlie Covell’s road trip story grows beyond its gimmick quickly to become something complex, lovely, and heartbreakingly human. Alex Lawther and Jessica Barden are aces as the odd couple, whose attempt to run away from home quickly (and with a wry, dark twist) turns into a life on the run. The show is equal parts nihilism and romanticism, the two ideals perfectly exemplified by an incredible soundtrack that includes everyone from Hank Williams to Fleetwood Mac to several crooning, doo-wop groups. TEOTFW wears its influences on its sleeve, from Wes Anderson to True Romance, but it also wears them lightly: this compact, visually and emotionally striking show is still a one-of-a-kind treat. -VE

The Americans (FX)

The Americans Finale Photo W

“At the height of the Cold War, two Russian agents pose as your average American couple, complete with family.” This brief synopsis seems simple enough, but six seasons later and that setup has evolved into one of the medium’s finest dramatic series and one of the most breathtaking series finales. The show beautifully captures the dynamic between family members across both the mundane and the extraordinary — assassinations, blackmail, infidelity, the fine art of wig attachment so they don’t come loose during frantic sexual shenanigans — and finds deep wells of insight into both American life and people in general. Sharp writing and brilliant performances make every moment engaging, but the series has also been consistent in delivering electrifying sequences of action and suspense. This final season turns everything, from the family drama to the life and death stakes, all the way up to eleven resulting in moments of tension and heartbreak that rival the best shows of the past decade. For its final episode, the series finale leaves viewers holding their breath… in fear, in anticipation, and in distress that we’re having to say goodbye to characters we’ve come to know, love, and despise. They may have been imposters, but they were family all the same. – RH

Barry (HBO)

An assassin and his mark walk into an acting class. Thus begins HBO’s Barry, whose eight-episode first season serves as an extended, messy punchline for that initial setup. Barry is an earnest Midwestern military veteran who became a hitman after returning from Afghanistan, played with wide-eyed innocence and emotional richness by Bill Hader. The show manages to be several things at once, including a silly but insightful skewering of Hollywood, a highly specific situational comedy (Barry makes the wonderful choice to let the bad guys be funny, and none are funnier than Anthony Carrigan), and a heady exploration of what it takes to get a “fresh start.” Though it sometimes feels meandering in the way that cable comedies can, the series picks up the pace in adrenaline-spiking later episodes, and it’s clear that co-creators Hader and Alec Berg have a well-planned, exceptionally watchable story on their hands. – VE

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW)

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Nathaniel Is Irrelevant

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has had a great early 2018. It’s been renewed for its final season, due to start in the fall, meaning it will get to tell the story of its fourth act, despite perennially low ratings. It toured the country with its first ever live show, which I can personally attest was absolutely amazing. And, of course, it also delivered an amazing second half of its third season. Highlights include a daring mid-episode time jump, a perfect callback to season two’s intro, and, most importantly, an unprecedented confrontation with the series’ title and theme — against the judgment of everyone around her, central character Rebecca Bunch has to make the case, legally, that she isn’t a crazy ex-girlfriend. This season has shown not only new layers of darkness but also new levels of self-awareness and intentional, carefully-crafted writing. Praise be to the TV gods that it’s going to continue through to its intended conclusion. – LB

Queer Eye (Netflix)

Queer Eye - Netflix

Netflix’s reboot of the 2000’s lifestyle makeover show plays like a warm hug, an hour of comfort food even as its central conceit involves getting its unstylish subjects out of their comfort zones. The show works partly thanks to an unrehearsed vibe that brings about authentic moments of emotion and rarely seen male vulnerability. Mostly, though, its success can be credited to the well-casted, diverse, and complementary new “Fab Five,” five gay guys who specialize in areas of improvement from cooking to personal style to grooming and beyond. The beauty of the show comes from its rare ability to genuinely bring people together across political, racial, sexuality-based, and gendered lines. The men the Fab Five makeover mostly live in rural Georgia, which couldn’t be more different from some of their own metropolitan stomping grounds, yet they quickly win over the hearts of the self-proclaimed rednecks, blue-collar workers, and southern Christians whose lives they take over — and they even manage to steal ours along the way. – VE

Liz has an MA in English and a lot of time on her hands.