2018 was another milestone year in TV, with the number of scripted series produced alone approaching the overwhelming 500-mark. Spend less time scrolling and more time binging with Brig’s handpicked selection of the best of the box. Just ten series that represent television’s Golden Age, with killer dramas, zany comedies, gripping documentaries and a number one pick that’s too good to miss.
10. Sharp Objects
Amy Adams cut her teeth on the small-screen bit-part circuit before earning her leading lady stripes but Sharp Objects marks a stellar return to the medium. Adams stars in a tailor-made role as journalist Camille Preaker, who returns to her hometown to investigate the murder and mutilation of two teen girls. The events force Camille to confront her childhood trauma, the death of her sister, which permanently fractured her family.
The premise is familiar but the execution and script, from director Jean-Marc Vallee (Big Little Lies) and writer Marti Noxon (UnREAL), draws you in with a non-linear structure and a slow burn story, that marinates in the small-town intrigue and damaged characters lives. This won’t be for everyone, I initially gave up early on, but stick with it for the great performances and a breathless final episode. Keep an eye on NOW TV for Sharp Objects returning.
9. The Good Place
From the relentlessly bleak to the dependably delightful, The Good Place remains one of the smartest, funniest and most charming comedies on TV. In a year dominated by sophomore series that peddled similar storylines (yes, The Handmaid’s Tale), The Good Place constantly reinvented itself, season-to-season, even episode-to-episode.
The six-strong cast, led by Ted Danson and Kirsten Bell, pull off the down-right ridiculous but also nail the emotional dynamic that makes this philosophically charged series so compelling. D’Arcy Carden’s Janet has been the latest season’s MVP; the mid-season finale is one of the strangest and funniest single episodes of 2018 thanks to her showcase performance. Embrace the poetic weirdness and catch all episodes of The Good Place on Netflix or watch S1 on Thursdays at 9pm on E4 and All4.
8. One Day at a Time
A hidden gem in the Netflix crown, One Day at a Time subverts the broad strokes tropes of multi-cam sitcoms by tackling heartfelt and topical storylines, like immigration and identity, with plenty of laughs. The series follows the Cuban-American Alvarez family, consisting of matriarch Lydia (the legendary Rita Moreno), single-parent Penelope (Justina Machado), her two kids Elena and Alex (Isabella Gomez and Marcel Ruiz) and their quirky yet never grating building supervisor and shoulder-to-cry-on, Schneider (Todd Grinnell).
A perfectly balanced sitcom that serves as a televisual Trump anti-dote in its modern immigrant story, One Day at a Time deserves – demands – to be seen by more. Catch the first two seasons on Netflix before S3 on February 8th and for more from Brig on the show, read a full review of S2 here.
Donald Glover’s seminal slice-of-life comedy returned for a wildly inventive second series, adopting an anthology approach that made each episode a genuine surprise. Accommodating a cast of fresh-faced megastars (Brian Tyree Henry, Lakieth Stanfield and Zazie Beetz) meant that each got centrepiece episodes that ranged from the wonderfully bizarre Michael-Jackson-Gothic-house infused ‘Teddy Perkins’ to the Glover-Beetz two-hander ‘Helen;’ a cringe-inducing half hour that unpicks their relationship against German festival backdrop.
It’s hard to pinpoint Atlanta’s genius; it exists in a space of David Lynchian surrealism with authentic observations of struggle, race and relationships. Look out for Atlanta returning to NOW TV and the second series is also expected to air on BBC Two and iPlayer in 2019.
6. American Vandal
Who shot JR? Who killed Laura Palmer? Who drew the dicks? American Vandal solved TV’s best whodunnit in a generation in its glorious debut season, that saw Dylan Maxwell wrongly framed for some phallic graffiti. The second and final season could have been a simple rehash of the documentary satire, but the absurd premise of the mysterious “turd burglar,” a location swap to a preppy private school and a healthy self-awareness topped the comedic smarts of its first outing.
Netflix understands its young audience better than any broadcaster (see also Big Mouth and 13 Reasons Why) as Vandal taps into the generation of Instagram detectives and true-crime conspiracists, offering a recognisable world reflection to its teen viewers, amidst the absurdity. All two wonderful seasons of American Vandal are available to stream on Netflix.
5. Wild Wild Country
The only non-scripted entry on this list because the story of the Rajneeshpuram would be branded a fictional stretch. This six-part documentary became a word-of-mouth sensation when in debuted in March, as the decades old events of Antelope, Oregon unfolded for seemingly the first time in the cultural domain.
In the early 1980s, Indian guru (Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh) constructs a desert paradise in the Pacific Northwest with his followers, that spirals into bioterrorism and mass wiretapping, as the 50-strong locals and state fight back. A truly unbelievable tale told with stunning cinematography and incredible access to those involved, especially Bhagwan’s assistant and smirking puppet master, Ma Anand Sheela. Get binging the engrossing Wild Wild Country on Netflix.
The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling were back for another round, in a more creatively confident second season. Capitalising on its insanely funny cast, GLOW became a true ensemble comedy that found satisfying and poignant arcs for all its lycra-clad characters as they struggled to keep their wrestling show on the air. Glow is more than comfort watching, outside the silliness of the ring, the series isn’t afraid to let its characters fail and grow.
Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin and Marc Maron all gave tremendous performances, expertly balancing heavy-weight material, with episodes centring on consent, single-parenting and fractured families, alongside hilarious moments, especially episode eight’s spoof ‘GLOW’ telecast. With a third season on the way, watch all episodes of this note-perfect comedy on Netflix.
3. Derry Girls
Netflix comedies might have dominated this list, but Lisa McGee’s Derry Girls is a homegrown delight and Channel 4’s best comedy since Catastrophe. The Troubles are the backdrop to the lives of four friends and a “wee English fella,” played perfectly by a cast of relative newcomers, as they navigate the coming-of-age pitfalls.
The scripts don’t waste a word, with every big set-up – like the dog pee tears of a Virgin Mary statue – or simply tea time squabbles landing hilariously across six magnificent episodes. Derry Girls joins the pantheon of British comedy greats in its ability to make you laugh and cry. Derry Girls returns for a second series in the New Year with the box set available on All4, and, funnily enough, globally on Netflix.
2. Killing Eve
A sprawling cat and mouse drama, Killing Eve landed in the UK with huge fanfare from across the Atlantic, and rightfully so. Phoebe Waller-Bridge pitted the alluring assassin Villanelle (an astonishing Jodi Comer) against everywoman intelligence agent Eve, played by a career-best Sandra Oh.
Avoiding the rigidity of police dramas that has plagued British TV for years (even present in smash hit Bodyguard), Killing Eve presented two fully-rounded, complicated and funny women, that never lost the characters in the ensuing chase. Tense. Human. Odd. Hysterical. Killing Eve defies convention thanks to the singularity of Waller-Bridge’s unmatched tone and charm. The complete collection is available to watch on the BBC iPlayer with a second season recently wrapped filming.
The best TV show that you’ve never heard of. Never have truly terrible people been so fun to watch as the Roy family, a Murdoch-esque media mogul dynasty, lead by Brian Cox’s Logan, struggle for power: over the company and each other. Succession was met with a modest response when it debuted over the summer, but each episode improved on the last, and was a bona-fide great by the pulse-pounding finale.
Part black-comedy, part Shakespearean drama, creator Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show) makes you care for the venomous 1%-ers. Jeremy Strong’s Kendall, an entitled, smoke-and-mirrors chump is a standout; a Greek tragedy of a character whose fall from grace is captured with the year’s most visceral performance. Kieran Culkin’s despicably sleazy Roman and Nicholas Braun’s Cousin Greg, an affable window for the audience who slowly stoops to the bottom, are particularly brilliant creations.
I haven’t stopped thinking about this show since I watched it, you won’t either. The acid-tonged series will return to NOW TV before the second season or splurge on the box set if you can: it’s worth it.