Nick’s Top Ten TV of 2018

31st December 2018

Only seems like ten seconds since the previous one, but I’m terrified to inform you that it is top ten television shows time yet again. 2018 is nearly over and as ever, I have watched a lot of TV, much of it on warring streaming services, and it’s time we had a chat about it.

If you want to compare and contrast previous years, you can do so with these handy links:

So that makes this the seventh countdown – is it wrong that I’m already thinking about how we’ll commemorate covering a whole decade?

But for now, let’s begin the countdown. As ever, the MFV year-in-review podcast hasn’t come out yet, so this might slightly spoil my preferences in that list – although I’ve actually rewritten the list since then as I mulled my taste over and over, so there’s still some surprises. And as ever, it’s my opinion, I do what I like.

#10 – Daredevil

None of the Netflix-Marvel-Defenders shows made it onto this list last year. The closest contender was probably Punisher, which I liked, but even that didn’t quite press my buttons enough. Well, they’re back for 2018, with the third season of original flagship Daredevil.

After a misguided turn into generic ninja-clubbing with last season’s regrettable Hand storyline, Daredevil season 3 returns to the elements we liked from the first season – gritty crime, angsty man-pain and big dramatic acting from both Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock himself and Vincent D’onofrio as Kingpin. The story mostly worked, and even spread itself across the season in an even, watchable way rather than leaving a long, barren, tedious middle stretch.

Of course, this number ten spot is a bittersweet award for Daredevil since the show has been cancelled, as part of what looks like a widespread cull of this whole franchise. Sorry, guys. I liked a few of you, but maybe you shouldn’t have invested so much in that terrible Hand arc. (Although the mass murder of these shows looks like it might be as much corporate Disney/Netflix rivalry as quality control.)

Stats Corner: Daredevil was last seen at #7 in 2015 with its first season, the last widely recognised good one, although it was beaten in the charts by its stablemate Jessica Jones which soared in at #1. The only Defenders-adjacent show to make the chart since then was Luke Cage in 2016.

#9 – Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Hey, it’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend! Last year’s #1, down at #9! What happened there?

I still like this show a lot – basically any series which includes 2-3 decently produced comedy songs a week is going to have a decent chance with me – and it beat a lot of other shows to get to even this point. But I’ve not loved the show quite as much this year, although the handful of episodes chronicling the main character’s full-bore breakdown in the tail end of season 3 were well done. But the rest of it seemed to drift a bit free of its moorings. I still like it, but I don’t feel like I quite love it. Which is a shame.

But it’s ending at the end of the current fourth season, so I’m obviously going to still watch that to see what happens. And as long as they continue to produce songs as funny as this one from last season, they’re at least doing okay.

Stats Corner: See above.

#8 – The Good Place

Yes, everyone, yet again the lower half of the chart is made up of stuff that was higher up in previous years. New things soon!

But The Good Place is also still on, and if the start of the current third season had been as strong as the ending of the second, I imagine it’d be higher. But although I can still respect their experimental drives and character-comedy, it’s start to feel less like the well-oiled machine of previous years and more like they’re just… throwing stuff at us?

In a funny, whimsical enough way, and I can’t help but respect a US mainstream comedy willing to do this amount of weirdness, but I’m not sure the twists and pivots feel quite as controlled and resonant. Yet another material example of the fact that wackiness by itself doesn’t work and you do need some control somewhere.

Stats Corner: Last seen at #4 last year.

#7 – Better Call Saul

A small drop from last year, which I think signifies my broad feelings on Better Call Saul nicely – it’s still a well written, carefully crafted work of character drama. It’s just that this fourth season didn’t quite live up to the lifetime-highlight material from the previous one. The major character they wrote out at the end of the year provided a good tension in the show, and his absence is definitely felt.

Plus there’s a crime subplot which sets up a major element for Breaking Bad, and although it’s nicely enough written, I’m not quite sure it serves any purpose beyond setting up that aspect and keeping the Mike character occupied.

Still, the huge turn taken by the main character at the end of the run is very promising and I’m interested to see how much more petrol they’ve got in the tank. Certainly five seasons is around when a show of this type would normally consider wrapping up.

Stats Corner: Down from #5.

#6 – Legends of Tomorrow

Way back in 2016, I included an entry on this very list for Flash, Arrow and Supergirl, remarking that Legends of Tomorrow (or Ledges of Tomoz to its friends) was very specifically not included in that listing, as it was the one show from that family I wasn’t massively enjoying.

Well, they sure got their own back.

Because although the other three often have good patches (Supergirl is on an interesting run right now), Legends of Tomorrow is now getting the spotlight to itself. Since the start of the third season, in late 2017, Ledges has leaned hard towards a comedy/drama overly silly meta-comedy direction which has been an absolutely treat. No plot twist too silly, no image too absurd. Yet somehow, the characterisation remains strong and you still really care about them.

Like, I genuinely don’t know how they’ve pulled this off. But especially if you enjoy a particular kind of anything-goes silliness vibe from your comics, Legends is worth checking out. There might be other superhero adaptations that are arguably better shows (in fact, there might be one coming up on this list quite soon), but for pure all-the-fun-of-comics daftness, current Legends of Tomorrow is one of the only shows in the current crop to pull it off this well.

Oh, and they’ve recently added the DCTV version of John Constantine (played by Matt Ryan) to the cast, and he’s great fun.

Stats Corner: Even that past entry specifically excluding Legends only made #7, so they’ve done well here.

#5 – Orange Is The New Black

A long-standing presence on this chart, Orange Is The New Black managed to reinvigorate itself a little in its sixth year, sending the core cast off to supermax in the wake of the riot, where they faced a new level of heavy security and guard brutality.

Some longstanding characters vanished and I did miss them, but on the other hand, I can’t pretend the cast wasn’t growing bloated, and the newly focused storytelling they managed in this season suggests it was probably worth it.

Of course, this kind of soft reboot suggested they’re either ramping the show up to run for a few more years or turning it towards an ending, and it turns out to be the latter. We’ve had a press release confirming the seventh season of OITNB will be the last.

And although this show will go down as one of my favourites in the current generation, the list of TV shows which run more than eight seasons and stayed good is pretty short. If they can keep up this level of quality and give us a strong ending, I’ll be happy.

Stats Corner: #1 in 2014 and 2016, before dropping to #9 last year. Interesting to see where this final run lands us.

#4 – Legion

One of last year’s big new discoveries, Legion is that higher ranking superhero adaptation I mentioned earlier. A surreal drama about David Haller (played by Dan Stevens), a phenomenally powerful mutant telepath struggling with his powers, a painful mental illness and a showdown with the deadly Shadow King.

It’s a surreal, slow, looping show, determined to show us its idea of mental illness via flashbacks, surreal scenes, weird symboism, and with a great cast even outside Stevens. It’s not quite Twin Peaks level of good-surreal, but it comes impressively close. Dropping a few places this year as there’s a hint of the Difficult Second Album here, a few choices that don’t work or beats that feel too strung out in pretentious ways, but still, it’s really compelling, one of those shows where I’m pleasantly surprised they’ve gotten away with making it.

And there’s a third season coming next year, following up on this year’s gamechanging dark turn of a cliffhanger. I don’t know where they go next, but I’m definitely up for finding out. To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised to discover it’s also a planned final season, as ratings reportedly haven’t been great, but if they make three good years and provide a real ending, that’ll do me.

Stats Corner: Dropping a tad from #2 last year.

#3 – Killing Eve

New BBC America spy show Killing Eve was definitely one of the “buzzzier” (hate that word, yup) shows of the year, generating a huge amount of interest from its thrilling spygames between Jodie Comer’s Villainelle and Sandra Oh’s Eve. Notable not just for doing all that well, but for giving both of those parts to memorable female actresses, it was a fantastic run.

I didn’t super-love the ending, which is why it doesn’t quite get top two (full disclosure – I changed my mind on the end on the order of the top three between recording the MFV end-of-year podcast and writing this), but the show as a whole is too good to not still be pretty heavily honoured. Comer’s showy, steely performance as the baddie is especially memorable, while Oh does a lot to stop the relatable protagonist character coming over as the boring one.

Showrunner Phoebe Waller-Bridge is stepping back for next season which is always a worrying prospect, but hey, I’ll see what the replacement does.

Stats Corner: NEW ENTRY.

#2 – Westworld

HBO’s up-budget scifi series about a cowboy-themed robot theme park may not have a Game of Thrones-sized place in the general consciousness, but those of us who love Westworld seem to really enjoy it. A strange slowly-unfolding puzzle of a series, this year’s second run seemed to challenge a few viewers with a slow start.

Personally, I waited until it was a couple of weeks from finishing to mainline the whole thing, and I’m feeling good about that decision as I loved it. Really got into its characters and showed a robot people moving towards a strange destiny, asking important questions about their creators and ultimately… well, I guess that would be a spoiler. But it was always gonna be interesting seeing how they moved this show on without just repeating themselves, and I think they might’ve managed it.

Now I just want to see what happens next.

Stats Corner: First season placed #2 in 2016.

#1 – GLOW

I know GLOW started last year, but I foolishly neglected to actually watch it. Instead, I crammed the first two seasons in 2018 and, as often happens when I do that, the series left a huge impression on my soul and shoved it way up to the top of the list.

This is a based-on-a-true-story drama about the Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling, an all-female wrestling show, and the behind the scenes trials and dramas of it all. It’s on the lighter end of the comedy-drama spectrum, each episode is an easily digestible half hour, but the big emotional moments still land hard when they come. Especially in the second season, there’s some character pay offs that landed hard for me and I came away very invested in the whole crew.

It comes from the same production house as Orange Is The New Black, and although it’s not the same showrunner, they do the exact same enjoyable comedy beat where a serious moment is undercut by one of the cast members piping up to talk about banality, and I’m a sucker for that vibe.

So in short, yes, GLOW is my TV show of the year, looking forward to the upcoming third season.

Stats Corner: IN AT THE TOP.

Honourable Mentions

This was a hard chart to pare down, not to mention placing them in order once I’d done that. But it also meant there were a lot of honourable mentions, such as…

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina was the last item to be cut from the final list of 11, simply because although I love its teen-goth-Satan aesthetic a huge amount, I never felt the plot and characters came together enough for me to really get invested.

No Doctor Who this year, because I found a chunk of the series a bit drifting and plotless. A few really great episodes though, it may well be back.

Even if they didn’t quite make the ten, some good comic adaptation action this year, including fun seasons for Agents of SHIELD and Runaways, plus both Arrow and Supergirl coming back with strong starts in their end-of-year runs.

Oh, I also enjoyed Derry Girls and End Of The F**king World.

And lastly, I watched The Leftovers and the first few seasons of The US Office. They’re all great, but ineligible.

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Moderate Fantasy Violence © Nick Bryan & Alastair JR Ball 2016