Pen15 Season 1 (2019, Hulu) Written by Maya Erskine, Anna Konkle, Sam Zvibleman, Jessica Watson, Andrew Rhymer, Jeff Chan, Gabe Liedman, and Stacy Osei-Kuffour Directed by Dan Longino, Andrew DeYoung, and Sam Zvibleman
It’s 2000; Maya and Anna are starting middle school. The two young ladies have been friends for as long as they remember, but nothing will test the strength of their friendship more than this time in their lives. They must deal with boys, parents in crumbling marriages, band, cliques, periods, and their first multi-night sleepover. The thing is, Maya and Anna are played by two women in their early 30s recreating their youth. While the characters in the universe of the show see thirteen-year-old girls, the audience is fully aware of the reality of the actors in the roles.
Arrested Development Season 5 Part 2 (Netflix) Written by Mitchell Hurwitz, Hallie Cantor, Richard Day, Evan Mann, Gareth Reynolds, Chris Marrs, and Jim Vallely Directed by Troy Miller
In 2003 Arrested Development debuted on Fox and was a breath of fresh air in the television landscape. It combined elements of classic television like Soap and the banter of The Golden Girls (where Mitch Hurwitz cut his writing teeth). There was a labyrinthine plot that rivaled Lost and inspired just as many rewatches. Arrested was the first show where I saw callbacks to jokes that hadn’t happened yet. The primary example being all the foreshadowing about hands in season 2 that led up to Buster’s hand being eaten by a loose seal. The show was referencing an event that hadn’t happened yet, but these visual gags and pieces of dialogue would be heightened when fans went back to the episodes for a second time. It was some truly brilliant and inspiring television. Then we reach today.
True Detective Season 3 (HBO) Written by Nic Pizzolatto, David Milch, and Graham Gordy Directed by Jeremy Saulnier, Daniel Sackheim, and Nic Pizzolatto
In 1980 two children go missing in a small Arkansas town. The detectives assigned to the case are Wayne Hays and Roland West. Hays is a stoic and determined investigator having spent his tour of duty in Vietnam as a tracker, wading deep into the jungle often alone. West is a more boisterous personality, a hard drinker, and a man who knows how to navigate the political game that makes up policing. The two men find themselves going down a rabbit hole of dead-end leads as they race against the clock to locate the children. In 1990, after the case is rushed to a close by the district attorney a new lead emerges that brings Hays back from a desk job. These new revelations confirm doubts Hays had about the person ultimately charged. However, they also create a whole new host of questions and confusion about what happened to the kids. Finally, in 2015, Hays is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and the passing of his beloved wife, whom he met back in 1980. Hays’ son has worked with a true crime television series to have his father sit down and be interviewed about the case that has haunted the old man for so many years. As Hays’ mind slips away his hold on the present begins to crumble and soon finds himself pinballing across decades in his brain, finally intent on uncovering the truth.
Big Little Lies – Season 1 (HBO) Written by David E. Kelly Directed Jean-Marc Vallée
Madeline Mackenzie is a wealthy woman living in Monterrey, California where she spends her time shuttling her youngest daughter to school and playdates while helping produce a local production of Avenue Q. On the first day of school, Madeline meets Jane, a single mom who has just moved to town. During pick up, the daughter of Renata Klein, a fellow power mom, accuses Jane’s son of choking her during class. This moment sets off a series of conflicts between Renata and Madeline, who stands up for Jane. Meanwhile, Madeline’s friend Celeste is dealing with an increasingly abusive husband, trying to hide her bruises and wounds when going out for coffee with friends. Throughout the series, we’re given flash-forwards to the night of a murder that happens at a school fundraiser, slowly learning the details and which of our female leads was involved.
Big Little Lies (HBO) Season 1, Episode 1 – “Somebody’s Dead” Written by David E. Kelly Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée
There is so much television I hear I should watch and with 24/7 streaming services abounding it can quickly become overwhelming. To finally get a taste of all these great shows I will start doing TV Tryouts. Each month I will watch a couple of pilot episodes of series I have been hearing rave reviews about and see if that first episode can hook me to keep watching. Now, an argument you might make is that you have to view the first six or entire first season before a show “gets good.” To that, I say, “I just don’t have the time.” A television series should have strong enough writing that its characters, dialogue, and plot naturally compel me to keep watching. If it doesn’t then that’s ok, plenty of shows for everyone.
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.
American Horror Story: Apocalypse (2018) Written by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, James Wong, Manny Coto, Tim Minear, John J. Gray, Crystal Liu, Adam Penn, Josh Green, and Asha Michelle Wilson Directed by Bradley Buecker, Jennifer Lynch, Loni Peristere, Sheree Folkson, Gwenyth Hordor-Payton, Sarah Paulson, and Jennifer Arnold
The season opens with the destruction of the world. Bombs fall. Humanity is depleted with only the wealthy and their servants surviving in secret bunker sprinkled around the world. The survivors of Outpost 3 while away the days doing nothing and being tortured with adult contemporary music from the 1970s. Then Michael Langdon arrives, an agent of the Collective, the secret society behind the bunkers and possibly the end of the world. Langdon interviews the survivors one by one, searching for some factor unrevealed to the audience. One lowly unassuming servant seems to possess a spark beyond her station, and this intrigues him. However, things go south, and a series of deaths lead to the surprise arrival of some familiar faces of a season gone by. Also, then most of the season is a flashback taking place before all this happens.