As stated before, this has been one hell of a year for TV. As much as we love going to the multiplexes, we are also getting our best fix for entertaining complex characters while sitting on the couch. While we already gave you the list of the best new TV shows, there have been episodes from both existing shows and some the new shows that have completely immersed us in the characters and have been buzzed about either in social media (our new watercooler), or in person the next day at work.
It’s almost impossible to nail down any specific order for which is “the best,” many of these are just too good to fairly quantify, so this is by no means a list counting down to the best episode, just a full list of what was without a doubt the best TV offered us in 2018.
Here are the 15 best TV shows in 2018:
The X-Files: “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat”
While the new season of The X-Files show that the cult classic is completely past its prime, that doesn’t mean that it still can’t produce standalone “Monster of the Week” episodes that knock it out of the park. Instead of a monster, “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” tells us about “The Mandela Effect.” For those who don’t know, the Mandela Effect is a weird collective False Memory that we all have, like for example: many people stated that they distinctly remember Nelson Mandela’s funeral in the 1980s, even though he died in 2013. For one, I did not know about The Mandela Effect, so after watching the episode, I was going crazy on YouTube and Wikipedia for a few days, completely floored by what I thought I knew and The X-Files managed to once again be engaging in their weird comedic way.
The Good Place is a show that has continued to be inventive episode by episode. First off, it turns out Elanor and her friends were not in The God Place, but in The Bad Place after all at the end of the first season. The second season had them managing to try and stay out of the Bad Place and actually lure their demon friend Michael (a criminally underrated performance by Ted Danson) on the side of the angels through friendship. This season, they are in the real world after a reset. Each episode this season has been fantastic. None more than the latest episode “Janet(s), where they all had to go into “intelligent personal assistant” (“Not A Robot”) Janet’s “void.” The only catch is that Janet is the only being in this realm. This leads actress D’Arcy Carden to deliver a tour de force performance as she assumes the personalities of all the other characters and plays off against each other with perfection.
The Handmaid’s Tale in bleak and often depressing, but that doesn’t mean it’s not some damn fine television! As The Commander and the evil people of Gilead through their systematic rape and control of all fertile women in what was the United States pretty much make every episode awful, the episode “Smart Power” finally allowed June and the good guys to have a moment to shine. On a diplomatic trip to Canada, The Commander finally is in a place where they aren’t on top of things. Once letters from Handmaids are released to the public, all diplomatic ties are cut, June’s husband almost beats the Commander, and he even comes face to face with Moira, as she reminds him he’s a rapist. Nothing’s better than seeing a bully quietly run away.
Netflix is still crazy for canceling Daredevil after the outstanding third season. Not only did the show return to season one form (complete with the black mask), but they managed to outdo themselves once more. Daredevil is famous for their single take hallway fight that was awesome technical filmmaking. Season two upped the ante with one that went through multiple floors. However, season three said, “hold my beer” as they filmed an eleven-minute single take fight scene as Matt faced off guard and prisoners bought off by The Kingpin. How they were able to do that sequence in one take, who knows? But it was damned impressive.
Why more people don’t watch this show is a travesty. I’ll admit, a show about white millennials as they go through their relationships in Southern California in a weekly musical is not something that I would imagine as on my to-do list, but Crazy Ex-Girlfriend manages to be a very well done, entertaining, and complex television show. While Rebecca brings the comic chops for her “crazy” antics (like flying from New York to West Covina (Caaalllliiiiffffoooorrrrnnnniiiiiaaaaa) for a man), the show does a great job also highlighting very serious issues. And no issue is more on the table than mental illness, especially in “I Never Want to See Josh Again” as Rebecca had had it with her life and her illness and tries to commit suicide. The episode centered on her spending time with her mother, who she found out was slipping her some antidepressants, so she heads back to California. While on the plane ride home, she thinks about her life and all her problems and decides just to end it by taking the whole bottle of antidepressants. The episode ends with her ringing the flight attendant button and just before passing out tells the flight attendant “I need help” as the episode fades to black. It was dark and real, and no happy songs could remove that.
We all knew Jack was going to die on This Is Us. After all, he’s not been any of the present day timeline episodes and all the characters have talked about his legacy. It’s been teased for a whole season, but now we finally get to see the episode where Jack dies. In the present, it’s the 20th anniversary of Jack’s death, so it’s a somber Superbowl Sunday for the Big Three. In the past, we finally get to see what happened. While we all thought he was going to have burned in a fire, it wasn’t the fire that killed him, but the smoke inhalation triggered a heart attack. The entire sequence is tense since we know something bad is going to happen. Mandy Moore gives one hell of a performance as Rebecca when she finds out her husband died when they thought everything was fine. In addition to Jack’s death, the episode introduces a third timeline, one that’s in the future in a very clever way.
Throughout its many, many seasons, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia has always joked about Ronald “Mac” Macdonald’s sexuality. The season twelve episode “Hero or Hate Crime” finally had Mac come out of the closet. At first, it was as a joke, but then Mac finally came to terms with it. For much of the rest of the twelfth and thirteenth season, his sexuality was not on the forefront though. That all changed in “Mac Finds His Pride.” Where Frank wants to use Mac for his Gay Pride Parade float to promote their bar. Mac just doesn’t want to do it. Frank makes it his mission to help Mac “find his pride,” hence the title. Mac describes being gay as dancing with God, and God is a woman, which Frank doesn’t get. Frank tries to get him to at least come out to his father in jail. Mac tried, but doesn’t have the courage, so he instead shows his father (and all the prisoners) a dance rendition with a woman (who is God), in the most beautifully shot and choreographed dance numbers.
Kudos to Rob McElhenney for busting his ass on the dance number as it was beautiful. At the end of the episode, while his father doesn’t accept him, Frank through tears in his eyes says “now I get it.” We all do.
While I’m one of the true believers of The Walking Dead, who will never leave the show, even I can admit that it had been lagging for the last two seasons. Ever since the introduction of Negan and The Saviors, the show has just been cruising and needed some sort of reset to bring it back to its greatness. It was announced last summer than actor Andrew Lincoln would be leaving the show, so many fans were really not looking forward to the new season. While the season has been better than most, Rick leaving was sure to leave a black mark on the show, after all, he was the main character. However, his departure was handled with care. A near death Rick managed to reminisce about his past, complete with guest stars from past fan favorites in Rick’s hallucinations. The big twist was that Rick didn’t die though. Instead, he was saved by Jadis/Anne to be taken to who knows where (will surely be revealed in one of the three planned Walking Dead movies AMC has in store for us), allowing Rick to go off into the sunset to fight another day. The even bigger twist is that after Ricks departure, we have a time jump, meet a new group of people (who are awesome in the comics), and now baby Judith is a colt shooting, katana-wielding preteen “Lil Ass Kicker.” This opened up so much for The Walking Dead to go forward with…. And we’re just starting the Whisper War!
Westworld: “Kiksuya/Akane no Mai”
The second season of Westworld was uneven at best. While we are still on board with the machine uprising of the western theme park. However, something just felt “off” in the show’s second season. That doesn’t mean that it didn’t have outstanding episodes. It’s ironic that the two best episodes from the second season didn’t have to take place in the wild, wild west part of the theme park (well, sort of). Instead, the two episodes “Kiksuya” and “Akane no Mai” take place in a different part of the park (or with different characters. “Akane no Mai” introduces us to “Shogun World” another theme park where the super-rich can exist in the world of ancient feudal Japan. The episode continued to move character development for Mauve and her “administrator” abilities continued to grow and also introduced Rinko Kikuchi as the robot Akane who had her own story. While “Kiksuya” spent time in the Westworld theme park, it instead focused on the Native Americans of the Ghost Nation, who at this point were just “bad guy” robots thanks to how the “narratives” play out. The show stands out as is focuses on Zahn McClarnon as Akecheta and just about all his scenes are done in the Lakota language, a first time for a TV show to give such a prominent role and almost exclusively feature Native Americans.
The new Doctor Who, while met with skepticism by some fans (with The Doctor being a woman), it has been a breath of fresh air. Not only is The Doctor a woman, but her companions are also equally diverse. And old white man, his adoptive black disabled grandson, and a Pakistani woman tag along with a female Time Lord throughout space and time: don’t get more diverse than that. This opened the door for Doctor Who to tackle more diverse storylines, and of course, race could be tackled in a smart way. Whenever Doctor Who has tried to approach the subject before, it wasn’t done as well as it should be, so I was skeptic about an episode focusing on Rosa Parks done by a bunch of British folks. However, the episode was exceptional. Going back in time to Alabama in 1955, the Doctor and her companions are trying to stop a time-traveling white supremacist from stopping Rosa Parks famous moment in Civil Rights history. While sometimes to ensure that history plays out the way it’s supposed to in previous episodes, The Doctor will try to “steer” history to be the way it’s supposed to. Instead, this time in the pivotal scene, the Doctor and her companions have to do nothing. It’s not up to them to change history, they just have to let Rosa Park’s courage run its natural course They even want to help Rosa not endure the humiliation and abuse by white people when ordered to get to the back of the bus, but to ensure that everything plays out, they have to just sit there and let Rosa Park take a stand and change history all by herself.
Netflix’s Bojack Horseman continues to be some damn fine television. Who knew a show about anthropomorphic animals in “Hollywoo” could be so engaging and showing the dark side of alcoholism and loneliness. Has-been actor making a comeback Bojack Horseman has gone through the motions throughout its five seasons, and many of his issues can be summed up to his relationship with his parents. While his father has been out of the picture for years, his relationship with his mother was explored this season and completed with her death. The episode “Free Churro” is almost entirely Bojack delivering his mother’s eulogy at her funeral and is pretty much a half hour or Will Arnett delivering a rambling eulogy for his mother her either loves or hates depending on where he is in his ad-libbed speech. Bojack’s stream of consciousness covers many issues he’s been dealing with ranging from freedom, empathy, to even the television show Becker (how it had all the right pieces, but never got better). The climax of the episode in true Bojack Horseman fashion, is that he was at the wrong funeral!
Hulu’s Castle Rock provides a plethora of Easter Eggs in the Stephen King universe as it focuses on the fictitious town where so many of the great horror writer’s stories have been in. While it’s great for fans, the show stands on its own with rich characters and great writing. No episode is stronger than “The Queen” which focuses on Ruth (Sissy Spacek), the adoptive mother of protagonist Henry, who has been suffering from dementia in her age. This episode shows us events from Ruth’s perspective, and adds to it as her disability is frightening to experience. Many of us young viewers just don’t understand dementia because we (hopefully) won’t have to deal with it until we are old. Sissy Spacek carries the episode in an Emmy-worthy performance as she travels through time within her mind and tries to make sense of her life as she remembers (or misremembers) things and we can’t help but feel for her and afterward have a new appreciation for people who go through this disease.
Netflix gave us one hell of a show with The Haunting of Hill House, a show we didn’t even know we wanted. Each episode is laced with great writing, excellent drama, and even more scares. In a year where horror is making a comeback, this show delivers across the board. The fifth episode “The Bent-Neck Lady” gives us the origins of the scary ghost that has been terrorizing Nell her whole life. While Nell died in the first episode offscreen by committing suicide (all the Crain children have problems), this episode gives us an extensive background as we learn all about her life up until her death when she went back to the haunted house that psychologically damaged her and her family. Nell has been seeing this figure of a woman with a crooked neck her whole life, which has led to her having sleep paralysis. Not all is bad, we get to see her wedding and temporary time where she was happy. But ultimately, Hill House has been calling her, which leads to her suicide back at the house. Turns out, Nell IS the Bent-Neck Lady and after hanging herself, her spirit has been “falling” all this time from the hanging (hence the broken neck) and trying to warn her younger self, therefore terrorizing her and continuing the cycle.
The thing with Atlanta, is you can’t place it in a box. The show is supposed to be a comedy, but it has so many great moments of pure drama as it focuses on Earn as he tries to take his cousin “Paper Boi” to the next level of a rap career along with friend Darius. The episode “Teddy Perkins” takes a departure from the departure from the comedic moments of the show and instead, delves into psychological horror. Darius (Lakeith Stanfield), responding to a message board advertisement to purchase a piano goes to a mansion owned by a famous musician named Benny Hope. He is immediately greeted by Teddy Perkins (Donald Glover in Michael Jackson face), who is suffice to say, “weird.” Teddy is basically a mirror-verse version of Michael Jackson, unhinged, needy, and at any minute could snap. While warned to leave by his friends, Darius stays because he wants the piano. Teddy Perkins shows us the dark side of how Michael Jackson achieved stardom, being forced by an abusive father to achieve greatness, he’s a maniac you are afraid for but feel sorry for at the same time. Darius even says to Teddy when talking about pain and greatness, “Not all great things come from great pain. Sometimes it’s love. Not everything is a sacrifice… Your dad should’ve said sorry… [but] it’s not an excuse to repeat the same shit over and over.” The episode, filmed with no commercial interruptions, gave Stanfield a chance to show off his dramatic chops, and also allowed Donald Glover to uniquely terrify us.
It’s kind of a cheat to have two episodes of The Haunting of Hill House, but “Two Storms” is an outstanding episode that has to be on this list. Not only is this episode dialogue and character development heavy as we deal with two different moments in the Crain Family (a power outage in the past and Nell’s wake in the present), in which the Crain family have some big issues to deal with, but the technical filmmaking and cinematography of the episode is outstanding. If you through the Daredevil single-take mentioned early was good, “Two Storms” had a seventeen-minute tracking shot that not only changed timelines, but also set changes, ghosts appearing and disappearing, and extensive drama carried all during that time. Just to watch it was marvelous and you will want to watch it two or three times to try and figure out who it got pulled off. Series creator Mike Flanagan shared a behind-the-scenes featurette on how they were able to pull it off, and even seeing how the sauce is made, it’s still outstanding. The cast brings their A-game in this episode because the family fighting is done with exquisite acting for the present episodes and once again the child actors are able to deliver some solid performances as they search for their missing sibling in the past. I still wanted to see that giant wolf they spoke of seeing offscreen though…