Doing these annual lists has definitely screwed up my media consumption habits. Late November through mid January has become a mad sprint, where I re-interrogate all the albums I enjoyed, catch up with the Oscar bait/indie/foreign films that are hard to see in the warmer months, and finish up a few massive games so I can feel good about writing about them. The one department in exception is my favorite shows, where, since I diligently keep up-to-date, my list is pretty much set months in advance. So the most consistently reliable entertainment medium for me becomes the one I’m least excited to write about. To help me get over that humdrum attitude, this year I’m going to try to passionately pitch these shows to you, instead of just writing about why I like them. Is that really that different? Let’s find out!
Agents of SHIELD
The Venture Bros.
BoJack Horseman deserves your attention for its stalwart dedication to wrestling with problems – both personal and systemic – that probably can never be cured. The lead, eponymous former sitcom star BoJack, is constantly battling his depression and addiction problems, often self-sabotaging for understandable, if not totally sympathetic reasons. This latest season also gave a lot of screen time to Diane, BoJack’s best friend, who is dealing with her own frustrations with misogyny, racism, and morality. This is all to say nothing of the show’s daring dedication to experimental storytelling structures that take advantage of the unique opportunities that come with being in an episodic medium. Equally an exploration of pop culture and philosophy, there’s a ton of depth under BoJack Horseman‘s veneer of funny talking animals… Not that the show isn’t wacky and hilarious.
Netflix’s revival of Queer Eye states in its opening moments that the original show was about tolerance but the 2018 version is fighting for acceptance. That sounds pretty lofty, but I have a hard time imagining anyone not being inspired by this show’s relentless positivity. The new Fab Five – Antoni, Tan, Karamo, Bobby, and Jonathan – each have their own specialty, but they share a warmth and infectious drive to help the people they meet each episode. And those people receiving makeovers (not just straight guys anymore) universally are good people who just need a little help taking control of their looks, living situations, and lifestyles. Like all my favorite reality TV, Queer Eye does away with almost all negative emotion and presents a world where things are always getting better. If you need a 42-minute pick-me-up, look no further.
The best pitch for Barry is that it’s an inverse Breaking Bad: a ruthless criminal tries to reinvent his life as a regular guy. Bill Hader plays a lonely hitman who takes a job in Los Angeles that leads him into a group of aspiring actors. Bitten by the performing bug, Barry decides he wants to leave his murderous ways behind and become a thespian too, but his old life won’t let him off that easily. The cognitive dissonance of trying to balance one life that demands anonymity with another that craves celebrity is echoed in the show’s tone, which can show violent killings as mundane and goofy acting classes as dire. Plus, the show has a top-notch supporting cast, including Sarah Goldberg, Anthony Carrigan, Paula Newsome, and dramedy superstars Stephen Root and Henry Winkler. It’s funny, it’s violent, it’s HBO.
The third and final (at least on Netflix) season of Daredevil was perhaps the show’s strongest. At the very least, it’s up there with the first – which means it might also be the best thing to come out of Netflix’s entire Marvel experiment. Partially that’s due to Vincent D’Onofrio’s return as Kingpin of Crime Wilson Fisk, who starts the season still in prison but becomes one of the most terrifying mob boss villains you’ll ever see thanks to an intense performance and the writers’ willingness to keep giving him wins. But the best part of the show is Charlie Cox, who remains just terrific as Daredevil. Once again, the show explores this super hero’s conflicting beliefs in Catholicism, due process, and vigilantism, but that’s hardly a tired plotline and seeing him begin the season broken and slowly rebuild himself is delightfully compelling. While Agents of SHIELD remains a guilty pleasure, I would recommend anyone who is interested in seeing super heroes on TV start with the Daredevil trilogy – it’s probably the best we’re going to get for a while.
The much-lauded Marvelous Mrs. Maisel‘s second season is mostly a step forward for the show. More attention is given to the stellar supporting cast and additional time with Alex Borstein, Marin Hinkle, and Tony Shalhoub is undoubtedly a good thing. The rehabilitation of the Joel character was also necessary, but appreciated, as was a surprisingly fun turn by guest star Zachary Levi. I still personally think that Midge’s standup is borderline apocryphal, since it makes her so much funnier than her contemporaries, but I can’t really justify complaining that a comedy is funny. I like shows about comedians and with Louie and Master of None, uh, very necessarily no longer something I’m interested in, I appreciated having something to fill that hole in my life. If you’re like me, get ready to turn that clock back to 1959!
It’s a great time to catch up with The Expanse, as 2018 was the year it was cancelled by Syfy and then picked up by Amazon. This series is set in a future where mankind is divided out among the solar system, with most people associating themselves with either Earth, Mars, or the asteroid belt. The show is based on a series of books, typically covering each novel in one and a half seasons… Except for this latest season, which the showrunners knew could have been the last, so it covers both the back half Caliban’s War and the entirety of Abaddon’s Gate. Basically, a lot of the stuff the show was building up for two seasons popped off this year, and then it went on in an even crazier direction. Like Game of Thrones before it, this sprawling adaptation has really come into focus now that it’s clear just who the important characters are, and it’s really entertaining if you’re willing to go through the effort to keep all these people and places straight in your head.
It’s amazing how The Good Place keeps getting better. In 2018 we got to see the amusing and unpredictable end to the show’s second season as well as the first half of its increasingly inventive third season. This is a heavily serialized show with a surprising number of special effects, but the one thing it does share in common with its sitcom forebearers is a delightful core cast the you can’t help but love watch play off each other. D’Arcy Carden (criminally underused in Barry) is especially having a great third season, which has given her the opportunity to both perform a heavily choreographed fight scene and play imitation versions of the entire cast. The only thing that feels off about this show now is how it still seems like it would fit in so much better on a streaming service rather than network TV… Like, I bet this is an amazing binge. Oh well, at least The Good Place has already been renewed for a fourth season so I don’t have to beg NBC not to cancel it this year!
The thing that everyone wanted to happen finally happened this year on Better Call Saul, and I bet they were as devastated as I was to see it unfold. Jimmy and Mike both broke bad in the latest season, which is also the one most tied into Breaking Bad, and watching these men commit to the path of evil after so many attempts to find another way was inevitable, but still, it’s tough. Which is good shit. I love stories where someone does the wrong thing but it’s justified well enough that you’re not screaming at the TV. That kind of arc is really hard to write. The show’s other strengths remained this year: the masterful performances, the deliberate pace, the inventive camera angles, the clever editing decisions. What can I say, it’s getting easier every year to make the case that this is Vince Gilligan’s best show.
2018 was Robbin’ Season in Atlanta, but also the year a lot of the talent involved in the show rose in prominence. Donald Glover had Solo and “This is America,” which was directed by series regular Hiro Murai; Lakeith Stanfield followed his success in 2017 with the terrific Sorry to Bother You; Zazie Beetz nearly stole Deadpool 2; and Brian Tyree Henry had maybe the best year of them all, showing up in, among others: BoJack Horseman, Widows, If Beale Street Could Talk, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. But the best thing any of them did was Atlanta, which grew bigger, bolder, and smarter in its sophomore season. It’s one of the funniest, scariest, trippiest, most enraging, enlightening, entertaining shows I’ve ever seen. And it’s only been 21 episodes so far.
It took Colin and I forever to finally put The Americans to bed, but you don’t have to follow in our footsteps, the whole thing is available on Amazon Prime. This is a show so sexy that its central characters got together and started a family in real life. A show so thrilling that its tensest moments are conversations, despite the fact that it includes a fair share of brutally gruesome violence. A show so tastefully made that you won’t even think about Donald Trump despite it being the story of Russian spies manipulating American politicians… At least, you won’t think about him that much. The final season of The Americans was easily my favorite of the show’s entire run, which you’d think would be a given, but other shows that were similarly built on deception, like Lost and Dexter, totally crumbled under the pressure of the truth getting out, so props to Joe Weisberg and company. If you believe there is any chance you would enjoy this show, you have officially run out of excuses.