Friday, April 05, 2019

COLUMN: Best of 2018 - TV

In true nerd fashion, the end of my year is always spent making lists and arguing with friends over the best pop culture moments of the past twelve months. Last week, it was tough to even find ten albums worth mentioning. This week, I'm listing my picks for the best TV shows of the year. This, it turns out, was equally as hard, but only because SO MUCH great television came out in 2018 that it's near impossible to narrow the list down to ten. Here goes nothing.

#10 - Big Mouth (Netflix) - This crass animated adult series from Netflix follows the changing bodies and adolescent woes of a pubescent pack of middle-schoolers, and it's one of the funniest things you'll ever see. With voice talent from Nick Kroll, John Mulaney, Maya Rudolph, and some of the biggest names in comedy, "Big Mouth" throws SO many rapid-fire jokes at you that it's probably unhealthy to binge more than an episode or two in a row. 

#9 - Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW) - Cheers to the CW for keeping this low-rated, critically-acclaimed musical comedy afloat for four seasons. As we approach the series' final episodes, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend isn't pulling ANY punches. Envelope-pushing, rule-breaking humor still runs amok, but the show's heart and emotional sincerity still shines through. The only crime is that Rachel Bloom hasn't won an Emmy for being the most awesome person on TV.

#8 - Survivor: David vs. Goliath (CBS) - Survivor was a fun show that ushered in the age of reality TV -- for about two seasons until we all got super sick of it. Now astonishly on its 37th season, the show somehow managed to assemble its best group of castaways in years. Backstabbing, scheming, and blindsides were EVERYWHERE this year, and the result was arguably the show's most entertaining season to date. Was it skilled casting or just dumb luck? Who knows, but it sure was a fun ride.

#7 - Everything Sucks! (Netflix) - The only thing that really sucks is that Netflix gave up and cancelled this fantastic coming-of-age series after just one season of awkward adolescence and unlimited charm. It now joins "Freaks and Geeks," "Firefly," and "My So-Called Life" in the annals of shows pulled WAY too early.

#6 - Life In Pieces (CBS) - The most consistently funny sitcom on television still hasn't found the wide audience it deserves, but thankfully CBS hasn't given up on it. Despite starting as an obvious clone of ABC's "Modern Family," "Life in Pieces" quickly surpassed it in quality, originality, and laughs. Thomas Sadoski and Zoe Lister-Jones are the funniest actors you don't know by name, trust me. The new season starts soon, don't miss out on this fragile gem.

#5 - Riverdale (The CW) - You either love "Riverdale" or you hate it. I'm all in, as the show loosely based on the Archie comics takes campy melodrama to the next level. Don't believe me? This season, Archie's in a prison fight club after being wrongfully convicted of murder. Betty's being given psychotropic drugs by an order of evil nuns. Veronica's opened a casino speakeasy in the basement of Pop's Chock'lit Shoppe, and Jughead's busy running the local biker gang. All this while the town falls prey to an evil knock-off of Dungeons & Dragons that twists the minds of those who play. The Riverdale writer's room must be amazing.

#4 - Barry (HBO) - It was a sad day when the amazingly talented Bill Hader left "Saturday Night Live," but it was worth it for his star turn in "Barry," a show that single-handedly reinstilled my faith in the struggling HBO. Hader plays the title role, a hitman who follows one of his marks into an acting class and discovers his love for theater. It sounds like an SNL bit, but with smart writing, unique characters, and nonstop existential crises, "Barry" is a darkly comedic treat.

#3 - The Haunting of Hill House (Netflix) - Finally, a spooky TV series that hits the right marks. Shirley Jackson's 1959 novel has been adapted umpteen times, but this one sets aside most of the jump-n-scare moments in favor of an unsettling character study of a family trapped by grief... and ghosts. It's compelling, creepy, and occasionally terrifying -- and the scariest part is when you realize you've wasted an entire day binge-watching the whole season at once.

#2 - The Good Place (NBC) - In this amazing era of ground-breaking, risk-taking, go-for-broke television, I never thought the most daring and unconventional show would be found on primetime NBC. Following the antics of four recently deceased strangers trying to earn access to heaven, "The Good Place" is a Philosophy 101 class reborn as a sitcom. You'll laugh 'til you're sick -- but you'll do it while learning about Immanuel Kant. If my old philosophy instructor had been half this funny, I might have remembered something from his class.

#1 - The Flash (The CW) - These days, all you have to do is stick a superhero into a movie to make a billion dollars at the box office. TV execs aren't dumb, and they've been trying every which way to cash in on the craze. Some (like the Marvel shows on Netflix) end up too dark and gloomy for a wide audience. Others (like the CW's Supergirl) feel like afterschool-special morality plays draped in a cape. But "The Flash" gets the recipe just right. It's funny without being hammy, dramatic without being dour. Its heroes face devastating challenges with courage and heart, and good always prevails over evil. Great TV shows don't always have to be works of art. Sometimes they just have to be the ones you look most forward to watching every week. If you're missing "The Flash," you're missing the most entertaining show on TV, period.

And that's a wrap on 2018, folks! Forget those old acquaintances, bust out the noisemakers, have a wonderful New Year, and if I can pry myself away from the TV, I'll see you in 2019.

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