My Favorite Television I Watched in 2018

Here are the best shows I watched over the course of 2018.

Detroiters Seasons 1 & 2 (Comedy Central)
It’s always my luck to get into a show as soon as the network decides to cancel it. That is also true of the best thing I (re)watched on this list which you’ll see at the end. Detroiters is a show co-created by and starring Sam Richardson (Veep) and Tim Robinson (SNL). The series tells the story of best friends Tim and Sam who are running Tim’s dad’s advertising agency after his father ends up having a nervous breakdown and is committed. So the duo goes about creating advertisements for clients that aren’t something you’d see airing outside a local market. However, the show isn’t even really about the workplace; its strengths are the friendship between its two central characters and the highlighting the city of Detroit. The comedy here is not meant to shock you, but it also isn’t without an edge, it’s a wonderful balance you don’t find too often anymore. You can’t help but genuinely feel good after watching an episode.

Kidding Season 1 (Showtime)
From my review:
I didn’t immediately fall in love with Kidding, but over the course of this first season I warmed up to it and have to come to regard it as one of my favorite shows of the year. Jim Carrey is front and center as Mr. Pickles, and he plays to his strengths of deep pathos. You can’t help but recall Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but I also felt strains of The Truman Show in the relationship between Jeff and Seb, the controlling producer who seeks to make Jeff into the best possible marketable product. Carrey manages to fool the audience throughout, maintaining a very earnest persona but always leading into brief explosions of frustration that are then tamped down. Jeff is a time bomb but is trying to defuse himself.

Haunting of Hill House (Netflix)
From my review:
Flanagan took a pretty standard concept: “A group of disparate people gathers in a haunted house to study its horrors” and reinvented it so brilliantly by turning those people into siblings. Immediately the emotional stakes of the story are amped up. You have the evil presence in the house that feeds on the fears of individuals and when they are related it makes sense that those fears are shared or are in conflict with each other. When a horror story carefully takes its time to lay out the human stakes of its characters, then the evil has a real sense of urgency. I care about the person on the screen; therefore, I empathize with their emotional and physical plight.

Channel Zero: The Dream Door (Syfy)
From my review:
Pretzel Jack is played by contortionist Troy James whose body bending skills make Jack so profoundly unsettling. In the middle of the season, there is an attack by Pretzel Jack that has him crab walking down a narrow hallway and overtaking a completely stunned bystander. There’s no way I can convey in words how profoundly unnerving the visuals of this moment are. However, as horrific as Pretzel Jack is, when you examine his design it still looks like a Seuss-ian children’s creation which befits his origins in the series. The designers walk that fine line between silly and monstrous so well.

Channel Zero: Butcher’s Block (Syfy)
From my review:
Butcher’s Block does something I love horror to do. It presents us with incredibly twisted ideas or images and refuses to explain them to us. In the first episode, Alice is visiting a home of concern to the local social services office. There is a moment where the camera pans so that we can see behind the drywall and what we see is horrific. As soon as I saw that, I thought I hope this never gets directly addressed or explained. Thankfully it never does. It is just allowed to exist as an unsettling moment to add layers of atmosphere to the story.

Forever (Amazon Prime)
I thought I had an idea of what Forever was from its trailer. Then I watched episode one and realized the show was something different. Then episode two started, and I changed my expectations for what I was going to develop. I got to episode three and shifted my thinking once again. Then you get to episode six and find not a single one of the main characters from the rest of the series. Alan Yang, one of the minds behind Master of None, delivers an unassuming, nuanced examination of relationships. Maya Rudolph stars with support from Fred Armisen and Katherine Keener, and this is one of the best displays we’ve gotten of Rudolph in a leading role. She showcases her ability to walk that line between comedy and drama with superb skill. Forever appears to be a sleeper of 2018 but one worth your time.

Flowers Series 1 (Netflix)
From my review:
A stop at a petrol station ends up being the critical moment where he tries to ply her with roadside tea and misshapen scotch eggs. Maurice finally explains that he is having a “dark period” and confesses that he can’t seem to get past it. He fails to explain what is going on in a way that Deborah can understand, and she finally reveals that she has become sadder because of Maurice. He fights to find the words and settles on:

“It’s like this invisible monster with no shape, no form. But, it’s loud, and it’s fierce, and it never ends.”

When you have been in a relationship with someone for many years, it almost becomes harder to empathize. You know them in such intimate detail that you are in danger of not listening to them anymore.
(Reviews: Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3, Episode 4, Episode 5, Episode 6)

Maniac (Netflix)
From my review:
The first striking thing about Maniac is the brilliant world-building. The series imagines a modern-day world whose technology did not evolve much beyond the early days of Apple and IBM computers. The internet doesn’t exist as an online presence, rather an offline one. When Owen can’t pay for a subway ride, he has the option of using an AdBuddy. This is an actual person who carries a briefcase full of ads that they read to the customer while they go about their day, essentially living pop-up ads.

Castle Rock Season 1 (Hulu)
From my review:
Castle Rock is a uniquely King creation, a haunted town. Horror has no shortage of haunted houses and specific buildings, but King has always enjoyed playing across an entire community, infusing every little picket fenced house with evil. Castle Rock is not a town at the height of its horrors, but it has settled into a comfortable malaise with them. A suicide or tragic accident doesn’t get the attention it used to because the constant loss and pain have battered the townspeople for so long.

Atlanta: Robbin’ Season (Season 2, FX)
From my review:
Al has one of the best episodes in the season with “Woods,” a story that begins with Al spending time with a lady friend named Sierra. She is fully exploiting social media to her advantage as a burgeoning musical artist. Sierra also espouses a philosophy of treating yourself like the famous person you want to be which sees Al ending up uncomfortable in a manicurist’s chair. Eventually, he storms out after a heated conversation and ends up embarking on a near-biblical night of doubt and self-realization. “Woods” is an episode that deals with the way people create their impossible mazes and then struggle to escape them.

AP Bio Season 1 (NBC)
AP Bio is not a perfect show by any means, and I am on record as not liking pretty much every network television sitcom. The performance of Glenn Howerton is what carries the show for me, I loved him as Dennis on Always Sunny, and he is playing a variation of that character here. However, it’s the aesthetics of the series that kept me coming back. Cinematographer Blake McClure has worked alongside series creator Mike O’Brien to create a textured, pastel color palette that makes the world of AP Bio very engaging. There are still flaws that need to be worked out which is worldbuilding of the town of Whitlock and fleshing out a larger supporting cast (a la Pawnee).

Dark Season 1 (Netflix)
From my review:
The itch Dark scratches is that of the puzzle box and not the often disappointing ones of J.J. Abrams. The clockmaker H.G. Tannhaus (the name is an apparent double homage) could be a stand-in for the series co-creators Odar and Friese. Dark plays out like an intricate clockwork, each delicate piece clicking into the next, the audience unable to see the whole at first but as gears turn the larger picture emerges. From episode one there is no attempt to obscure that we have supernatural phenomena present. The specifics are pulled into focus with each subsequent chapter, and the finale opens up a lot of new avenues for exploration in the second season.

Barry Season 1 (HBO)
From my review:
As our title character gets deeper into the craft of acting, his emotions rise to the surface. At first, his tragic line delivery is played for laughs, the typical stiff lousy actor. There’s a moment near the end of this first season where Barry is forced to do something so horrible that it breaks him. Immediately after he has to rush to the theater for a performance and his most raw performance emerges. In the aftermath, he’s praised by his teacher and colleagues, but Barry and we know there is nothing to celebrate here, that everything that came out of him on stage is the kind of pain you never get over.

Utopia Series 1 & 2 (rewatch, Channel 4)
From my review:
He makes the final move to sink into the darkness of the Network’s ideology; he closes off his mind to any other form of thought. We risk our humanity and our empathy when we come to value a dogma as the most fundamental thing in our lives. When self-reflection and critical thinking is abandoned then so too goes what makes us us. Then we no longer maintain a sense of self. Instead, we’re talking points steering an empty shell.
(Reviews:
Series 1Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3, Episode 4, Episode 5, Episode 6. Series 2Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3, Episode 4, Episode 5, Episode 6)

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