It’s December, and that can only mean one thing: IT’S TIME FOR YEAR-END LISTS! It truly is the most wonderful time of the year. Throughout the month I’ll be revealing my “Best of…” lists, ranking the top movies, television shows, albums and more of 2018. Today, my favorite TV shows/series of the year.
The past 12 months have proved to be another strong year for television, despite major franchises like “Game of Thrones” and “Stranger Things” delaying their returns until 2019. As the second Golden Age of Television continues to flourish, the gap between original content from streaming sites and network shows only grows wider, both in quantity and quality.
It’s interesting to note, but not necessarily surprising, that two of my favorites are Netflix Originals, one is an Amazon original, one is from FX and only one is a product of the Big Three television networks.
Also, before anyone gets outraged, there’s still a significant amount of television I’m still planning on getting around to, like “Homecoming,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Ozark” Season 2 and “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.” Between school, football, movies and TV, there’s only so much time.
Let’s get down to business.
5. “American Horror Story: Apocalypse”
It’s about time AHS gave us a quality season! It’s been over four years since Ryan Murphy gave us “Coven,” the last season worth remembering, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the show’s caliber increased with the return of our beloved witches. Contrary to what the Avengers say, “Apocalypse” may be the year’s most ambitious crossover event – blending the stories of season one, “Murder House,” and season three, “Coven.” Pitting Cordelia Goode (Sarah Paulson) and her witches against a grown-up Michael Langdon (Cody Fern), the murderous Antichrist from “Murder House,” this season explores what we were all left wondering at the end of the series’ first season: will this toddler actually usher in the end of days? “Apocalypse” features familiar faces from seasons past, tons of exciting easter eggs and the first compelling villain since Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto). Despite this season’s success, I’m still begging AHS to get back to its roots and give us something truly scary. It is “American Horror Story,” after all.
Best Episode: “Return to Murder House” (S8, Ep6)
4. “The Good Place” Season 3
Holy mother forking shirtballs this show is good! I binged all three seasons of TGP within the last two weeks, so this ranking is somewhat of an amalgamation of the series. After flipping its plot completely upside down to end season one, creator Michael Schur revolutionized the show once again to end season two and kickoff this year. After escaping the Bad Place but with demons hot on their tale, Michael (Ted Danson) sends the gang back to Earth, giving them a second chance at life, in hopes they’ll do enough good to punch their own tickets to the real Good Place. But without any memories of their time in the afterlife, Michael and Janet (D’Arcy Carden) must head down to Earth, too, to push Eleanor (Kristen Bell) and the gang in the right direction. While season three had a bit of a slow start, the final two episodes before the mid-season finale were some of the series’ best, highlighted by phenomenal performances from Carden.
Best Episode: “Janet(s)” (S3, Ep 9)
3. “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan”
Tom Clancy’s classic analyst-turned-spy hero was reincarnated once again this year, as John Krasinski followed in the footsteps of the likes of Sean Connery, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck. Amazon has a lot of work to do to compete with Netflix’s original content, but “Jack Ryan” is a step in the right direction. In season one, Ryan is unexpectedly thrust into the middle of an elaborate, international terrorist organization after discovering a series of suspicious bank transfers. Krasinski is excellent and continues to distance himself from nice guy Jim Halpert, plus Abbie Cornish’s Cathy Mueller is extremely strong. The show’s greatest strength lies in its cinematic appeal, as it feels more like an eight-hour movie than eight individual episodes. Despite a few subplots that stray from the show’s central focus, “Jack Ryan” delivers a thrilling story of international espionage.
Best Episode: “The Boy” (S1, Ep7)
2. “The Haunting of Hill House”
“The Haunting of Hill House” is easily one of Netflix’s best original creations. After the Crane family moves into a historically haunted house (WHY?), the family is quickly driven apart, leading to the death of Olivia Crane (Carla Gugino), the mother. But the horrors don’t stop there, as tragedy follows each of the five children into adulthood, and after Nell’s (Victoria Pedretti) apparent suicide, the family is finally forced to face its demons. Unlike so many others shows that cram their first few episodes full of character development and exposition, Hill House takes its time setting the stage. Each of the first five episodes tell the story of one of the Crane children, equally detailing their experiences at Hill House and how their traumatic childhood continues to haunt them into today. Hill House is likely the best horror series I’ve ever seen, as it explores both the supernatural along with the human experiences of death and grief, and how each can be terrifying in their own ways. The show’s sixth episode, “Two Storms,” may be the best episode of television all year. The episode lasts 57 minutes, but includes just five continuous takes, the longest of which lasts 17 minutes. It’s truly a masterpiece in both directing and filming.
Best Episode: “Two Storms” (S1, Ep 6)
1. “Big Mouth” Season 2
Dramatically switching gears here, the return of Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg’s shockingly crude and outrageous chronicle of the struggles of puberty ranks above them all as the year’s best television. It would have been easy to coast on the hilarity of last year and follow the similar storylines, but instead, season two introduces new characters, delves deep into emotions and tackles new topics, like shame, depression, Planned Parenthood and, most importantly, boobs. The majority of the season explores the newly discovered Shame Wizard’s (David Thewlis) manipulation of middle schoolers suffering from extreme horniness, culminating in a disastrous school sleepover. Kroll and best friend John Mulaney’s voice acting versatility continues to be equally amazing and entertaining, and the uber-talented cast doesn’t have a single weak link. Despite the extreme awkwardness and foul-mouthed humor, “Big Mouth” is brutally honest and actually quite poignant, normalizing the traumatizing events we all go through in middle school. It seems odd to say that a show with dancing tampons and hormone monsters serves a greater purpose, but it really does. This show will resonate with everyone, whether you’re reflecting on the terrors of puberty or struggling through it as you watch, but either way, it urges viewers to find confidence and comfort in themselves and their bodies.
Best Episode: “Dark Side of the Boob” (S2, Ep 8)
“American Vandal” Season 2
Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Raleigh, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.