I don’t know how many Top Ten TV posts I’ve written that dropped the phrase the “Golden Age of Television” but I’m going to keep doing it until it feels wrong. An issue with this outlook is it makes it hard to write a new intro to every year’s list. What can I say about the landscape that I didn’t say last year or the year before that? How about a shoutout to the quality of shows over a wide variety of platforms? I have shows on my list from Netflix, Adult Swim, AMC, Amazon Prime, HBO, FX, Cinemax. That’s right CINEMAX. When I was a kid Cinemax was the porn channel. Now they have a show from the King of the Hill guy. Who knows where next year’s best shows will come from. Penthouse TV? Only time will tell.
Shows I didn’t watch because I’m a big dummy:
The Good Place
Escape at Dannemora
Better Call Saul
All of The Americans
And now the list!
I love that Maniac stars Jonah Hill and Emma Stone. I love it because a lot of people will check out the show on name recognition alone. Then after watching for a few minutes they will discover that this Swedish adaptation from Cary Joji Fukunaga is one of the most bizarre, artsy, and inaccessible shows of 2018.
“Inaccessible” isn’t a word that most would consider a selling point but Maniac doesn’t operate like most shows. The plot concerns two damaged strangers (Hill and Stone) who participate in a pharmaceutical group study that studies dreams. As the dreams play out these two people’s dreams become linked and together they share a series of bizarre adventures. They become a married couple in ‘80s New York trying to steal a lemur, 1940s con artists scamming a seance, agents involved with an extraterrestrial and more. Episodes vary from an hour to a half hour, the show shifts pace, goes in and out of dreams and the real world and is a mess so alluring you have to see it to believe it.
Joe Pera is Garrison Keillor for millennials. Pera’s comic persona—though it’s hard to know where the character begins and ends—is that of a midwestern choir teacher who loves to muse about the simple pleasures in life. Pleasures like breakfast and collecting rocks. Part mockumentary and part sitcom, we follow Joe in each 15-minute episode as he teaches us about iron, dancing, and the Rat Wars of Alberta, Canada (1950-present) to name a few topics. In between these segments, we get to meet Joe’s friends and neighbors and enjoy all the pleasures of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Grab a sweater and get cozy. This is comfort TV at its best.
I’ve always been impressed with the multitude of subjects Mike Judge has taken on as a writer and director. He’s covered teenage adolescence, suburban life, working in an office, working in a factory, the tech industry, idiots in the future (more like present *pats self on back), and now music.
Tales from the Tour bus is an animated docuseries created and narrated by Judge about the lives on and off the road of some of the most famous and infamous musicians of all time. Featuring extensive interviews and reenactments (all animated) Judge gives us a slice of humor and history with the best music stories you’ve never heard. While the first season focused on country music, season two is all about the funk. Tell me this, “Do you want to hear about how the band Parliament drove through the set of Night of the Living Dead and thought it was real?” if you answered yes, check out this show.
This has “Show John starts to watch and then gives up on after episode two written all over it.” The Terror is a slow-moving period-piece on a network that’s seen better days. Except I forgot to mention this show has a fucking scary-ass monster in it. A quick recap if you’re unaware, The Terror is a horror-drama, based on the book by Dan Simmons, based on the true story of British Captain John Franklin who along with 129 men and two ships, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, went missing in the Canadian Arctic in 1845. What happened to them? Well according to the novel and show, they became stuck, frozen, and hunted down by a monster known as the Tuunbaq.
Ciaran Hinds plays Captain Franklin though Jared Harris is the central character. Harris plays Captain Francis Crozier a lovelorn soul who becomes thrust in a role of leadership after a tragic occurrence. The show plays like a history lesson come to life, a violent history lesson with monsters, but you still feel like you learn a lot. I’m impressed the show doesn’t disappoint on the monster either or the ending for that matter. Not to mention that even though it is a “monster show” The Terror has some of the best acting on TV this year.
Though Netflix only gave us half a season that’s all it took to remind me how much I missed the “old” Kimmy Schmidt. I say “old” because I was losing faith in the show as it clung to boring story arcs that took away from the freeform irreverence of the show. Thankfully season 4’s plot takes a backseat to the gags and the show is free to have fun again. Highlights this season have included the Making a Murder-esque episode “Party Monster: Scratching the Surface” about the fall of DJ Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm) aka DJ Slizzard. Also, “The Capist” a TV crime show Titus lies about creating that stars him and Greg Kinnear. The show is back this month which will end the series and though it will be missed it’s good to see it will likely go out on a high note.
The show is all about watching Rachel Brosnahan slay every scene she’s in. Her charm and wit and stage persona make her one of the best comedy mavens on modern TV. I love the production and look and feel of the show as well. My only issue is filler. I like the supporting cast of Mrs. Maisel but that doesn’t mean I need to spend an extended amount of time with them. Not when there is a far more interesting character and story in Brosnahan’s Mrs. Maisel character. It makes me wish the show was a half hour so we could just focus on the standup. That being said I do appreciate the romanticism of late ‘50s New York and have admiration for the show’s ambition. Not a lot of shows go for that retro feel and actually live up to it. Mrs. Maisel shoots for the stars.
Why did I watch this? I saw a cool commercial for Homecoming with Radiohead’s “Everything in its Right Place” last fall and I was like “Hey, I look cool things.” So I checked it out. Based on the narrative podcast from Gimlet Media, Homecoming is about Heidi Bergman (Julia Roberts) a therapist at the Homecoming Transitional Support Center, an organization that readjusts soldiers to civilian life. What begins as a slow burn drama about PTSD evolves into a winding mystery as we repeatedly jump several years into the future with Heidi working as a down on her luck waitress living with her mom (Sissy Spacek) with no memory of Homecoming. An agent from the Department of Defense played by Shea Whigham investigates in the future narrative and attempts to unravel the dark secrets of Homecoming.
Developed for television by Sam Esmail of Mr. Robot fame, Homecoming is an homage to ‘70s conspiracy thrillers like The Parallax View and Three Days of the Condor. Homecoming even goes as far as to include a soundtrack featuring nothing but movie scores from the ‘70s and ‘80s. The show is unabashedly stylish in its music, cinematography, and pacing. The half-hour format works perfectly in giving you the right amount of information, not boring you, and getting you ready to hit play on the next one. I really need to go back and watch Mr. Robot and if you like Mr. Robot you should definitely try Homecoming.
Sometimes I get a feeling a show will be good before it airs a single episode. That feeling isn’t always right. I thought Trust was going to be a great show. What made me optimistic about Barry was my love for Bill Hader. One of SNL’s most versatile players of the last decade I’ve always wanted to see Hader do more drama. We got a taste in The Skeleton Twins and in Barry we get even more.
Barry is billed as a comedy and it is funny. Though more so Barry is a razor-sharp dramatic thriller. Not since Breaking Bad or Dexter have I felt this on edge about someone getting in over their head with crime and the fear of being found out. In this case, the crime being murder. I don’t feel the need to synopsize the show but if you don’t know Barry is a killer for hire who tries to abandon his profession to pursue acting in Los Angeles.
What’s crazy is the acting scenes are just as nerve-wracking as the killing scenes. Like they took the two highest stress professions and married them together in a way that works better than I ever could have imagined. In terms of supporting cast, Henry Winkler has received a great deal of praise as Barry’s stuffy acting teacher. I’d also like to give a shout out to Sarah Goldberg as Sally, Paula Newsome as Detective Moss, and the unsung hero of the entire show Anthony Carrigan as the Chechen gangster with a heart of gold Noho Hank.
Number two might seem high for a low stakes stoner comedy that I’m sure is only watched by TV critics and myself. But I rank my favorite shows by how excited I am to return episode after episode. If I like a show but put it off for months and months, do I really like it that much? Lodge 49 I finished in about a week. It’s not a show with crazy twists or an intricate plot. Rather it’s a world with likable characters that I love to visit time and time again.
Lodge 49 is about a Southern Californian beach bum, Dud (Wyatt Russell), looking for meaning in life. At the beginning of the show, Dud’s dad has been dead for a year after a surfing accident, which most assume to be a suicide to avoid debt that has now been inherited by his sister Liz (Sonya Cassidy). Dud is homeless, unemployed, and he can’t even surf after a snake bite that never properly healed. Then he discovers Lodge 49, a fraternal lodge with a rich history where he feels accepted. Dud befriends the elder members of the club, in particular, a plumbing salesman named Ernie (Brent Jennings) going through a mid-life crisis. Dud explores the history and mysticism of the storied lodge while improving himself along the way. Lodge 49 is a goofy and lighthearted “drama” about the importance of camaraderie in the face of hardship. It was my most pleasant surprise of 2018.
One day I walked in on Sean and Colin watching the “Teddy Perkins” episode of Atlanta and instantly knew I had to have this show in my life. I’ve made it no secret on this blog that I’m a horror fan and I can say proudly that “Teddy Perkins” the best piece of horror storytelling in all of 2018. Yes, that includes TV shows, podcasts, books, and movies. Atlanta is the master of the bottle episode. I mean, that’s what 75% of the episodes are. Any given cast member can singlehandedly carry a story. Donald Glover and his ace director Hiro Murai and writing staff can cover any topic and tone, any genre, and make it feel fresh with a Black perspective we haven’t seen on TV until now. I watched both seasons this year and could have binged it all in a weekend if I wanted to. It’s that good cause it’s all about that paper boi.