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2018 TV Superlatives

The best twists, the best shirts, the biggest flex, the best cult member, and all the rest of the greatest, worst, and most from the year in television

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Spoiler alert

Because of the sheer abundance of great TV in 2018, even after discussing the best shows, episodes, and performances, there’s still plenty to highlight. So here’s the rest: The best, most, worst, and least of this year on the small screen.


Worst Creative Decision: Rick’s Exit From The Walking Dead

Andrew Lincoln’s exit from the show was revealed to fans months in advance, which meant that AMC could properly promote one of the biggest TV events of the fall. Even if you gave up on The Walking Dead years ago, your curiosity was likely piqued for one final look at the Grimes family patriarch (you didn’t miss much in the preceding seasons; he fought Jeffrey Dean Morgan a lot and achieved a modest dad bod).

So, how does Rick go out? With a hero’s send-off: He triumphantly saves his group from a huge zombie horde by sacrificing himself in an explosion and—wait, is that a helicopter?

WHAT THE HELL! About as quickly as Helicopter Ex Machina saved Rick from the jaws of death, AMC revealed that Lincoln would be leading a Rick Grimes movie trilogy, as part of a larger effort to expand The Walking Dead Cinematic Universe. It’s an abomination. Rick, your thoughts?

Same. —Miles Surrey

Best Black Mirror Episode: “Windmills,” Maniac

At the time this piece was published, we still didn’t have any new Black Mirror this year. That may change with the rumored release of “Bandersnatch” (a post-Christmas special?) on December 28, but until then we’ll have to settle for the second episode of Cary Fukunaga and Patrick Somerville’s relentlessly inventive Maniac. For a Netflix show, Maniac felt an awful lot like channel surfing, with each installment having its own distinct vibe — ’80s crime caper, Lord of the Rings–style fantasy, etc. “Windmills” is essentially a riff on lost-in-New-York American cinema classics like Midnight Cowboy or Panic in Needle Park, with Emma Stone’s Annie running around town, looking for her pharmacological fix. Over the course of her journey, she crashes a chess match between a dealer and a chess-playing animatronic koala, does business with an identity thief who operates out of a Chinatown storefront, and has a heart-to-heart with her father, who lives inside of a sensory deprivation chamber called “A-VOID.” It’s a bleak vision of an alternative present, made all the more disturbing because of how outright plausible it all is. —Chris Ryan

Best Party: Ballroom Scenes, Pose

For a show that made history just by existing, Pose was occasionally a little gun-shy when it came to being radical. That’s why the drag ball scenes, which could sometimes number several an episode, represent the show at its best: They’re when Ryan Murphy, Steven Canals, and their collaborators stop explaining their characters’ world and start rejoicing in it. Simply by showing black, brown, queer, and trans people in total command of themselves and their space, Pose creates a thrilling counterpoint to a world that won’t accommodate its heroes. —Alison Herman

Best Shirts: Noel, The Great British Baking Show

Maybe this isn’t a hot take, but: The new hosts on The Great British Baking Show are better than the old ones. I liked Mel and Sue just fine; they are without a doubt the originators of closing your throat and saying “bake” in a funny way. But they never quite elevated the experience of watching GBBS.

On the other hand, Noel Fielding—of the Mighty Boosh and “I’m Old Gregg” fame—is a reason to watch. He’s turned baking interstitials into brilliant 10-second skits; he’s made Paul Hollywood a fraction less chilly; in Season 9, he drew a picture of a cat saying the word “fuck” on one of the contestant’s recipe papers, and then said, “That one’s got a foul mouth.” And he flexes on us day in and day out, with the freshest wardrobe of print button-downs I’ve ever seen.

In 2018, “What will Noel wear next?” was the question that drove me to zoom through two seasons of GBBS in less than a week. —Andrew Gruttadaro

Best 9-1-1 Emergency on 9-1-1: LSD Brownies

Picking a favorite emergency on the Fox emergency-responder procedural 9-1-1 is (I assume) a lot like picking a favorite child: You love all of them, but secretly, one just stands out above the others.

I can’t deny a soft spot for the second-season emergency where the firefighters themselves—gasp!—were the ones in need of a rescue.

There was something in the brownies (it was LSD) sent to the station, along with the many gifts the firefighters receive from grateful citizens. This was 9-1-1’s gift to all of us. If you aren’t watching network television’s wackiest procedural, spend your holiday with the brave people protecting Los Angeles from destructive earthquakes, naked people angry at their spouses on highway billboards, and drunk women sticking their heads in tailpipes. At this rate, the show’s two seasons away from a redux of Roland Emmerich’s 2012. I can’t wait. —MS

Best Oner: Daredevil Season 3

The TV oner is en vogue: an auteurist flex that straddles the line between gimmick and storytelling device. (Shout-out Cary Fukunaga!) And while Mike Flanagan delivered a couple of excellent single takes in the sixth episode of Haunting of Hill House’s first season, it’s Netflix’s dearly departed Daredevil that takes the 2018 oner throne.

In a nearly 11-minute take—which, according to showrunner Erik Oleson, didn’t have a single hidden cut—in the third season’s fourth episode, Matt Murdock maneuvers his way through a prison, trying to uncover more dirt on Wilson Fisk. Unlike Season 1’s hallway fight that put Daredevil on the map, this oner isn’t just about the fight choreography—though, no surprise, there’s still a visceral thrill in seeing Matt slowly worn down from all the prison pummeling. Midway through the action, he pauses for a chat with an Albanian prisoner, who has important information on Fisk. It’s a crucial revelation woven into the narrative in the midst of all the chaos, rather than the oner serving as a flashy detour just for the sake of it. It’s what these TV moments should be striving for, and what makes Daredevil’s cancellation by the streamer all the more devastating. —MS

Best Fight: Hospital Room Argument, GLOW

One of my ironclad Rules of Television (patent pending) is that you can judge a show by the quality of its shouting matches. They’re when hours’, even years’, worth of character development comes to fruition, ideally resulting in a wrenching confrontation between two people whose perspectives the viewer understands equally find themselves at an impasse, with neither entirely to blame. (Think the hotel room blow-up from The Leftovers, or basically any episode of Gilmore Girls.) That’s why, on a show with multiple, unitard-clad wrestling matches per chapter, the climactic airing of grievances between Ruth (Alison Brie) and Debbie (Betty Gilpin) stands out as the best fight sequence of GLOW’s sophomore season. One slept with the other’s husband because she resented her success; the other clung to her wronged-woman status as an excuse to ignore her own shortcomings. Nobody won, but then again, no one was supposed to. —AH

Best Twist: Jane the Virgin

What’s that? The over-the-top, meta soap opera explicitly modeled on Spanish-language telenovelas ended its penultimate season with a major twist? Yes, it’s predictable, but sometimes one must leave these things to the experts. [Inserts one final spoiler warning to avoid getting doxxed.] The final-shot revelation that Jane’s dead husband Michael is, in fact, not dead is one of the oldest gotcha moments in the book. The way Jane the Virgin sells it is by situating said reveal in a nuanced, totally realistic emotional context: What does this mean for Jane’s relationship with Rafael, the final point in their love triangle? Does it count for something that Rafael is the one who told her, because he felt obligated to? Does Michael have an excuse for putting Jane through several years of hell? We won’t know until next year, but Jane’s fusion of the fantastical with the pragmatic remains intact. —AH

Most Oblivious Love Interest: Harvey Kinkle, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

The bar for Harvey is extremely low: Teenage boys are not known for their smarts! But the warning signs are all over the series that something strange is going on in Greendale, especially with Harvey’s girlfriend Sabrina. “You get this face when you’re thinking stuff over, and I always wonder what it is because you look so serious,” he says to her at one point. If not witchcraft, this oblivious legend should be suspecting something.

It’s not helping matters that actor Ross Lynch provides Harvey with one expression for the entire season. I’ll call it … despondent puppy?

Diyah Pera/Netflix

It just might be avant-garde. —MS

Truest Detective: Carey Mulligan, Collateral

Typically, TV detectives are hollowed out by the depravity they’ve witnessed. Not so for Carey Mulligan’s Kip Glaspie, the London cop at the center of David Hare and S.J. Clarkson’s socio-political thriller, Collateral. Kip is full of life, both literally (six months pregnant), and philosophically. Despite the suffering she encounters — murder, refugees hiding in storage containers from human traffickers, institutional corruption — she sees detective work as social work: She is trying to help.

I personally thought Collateral was a jewel, but I know some people felt it was a bit all over the place. Hare poured all of his observations and anxieties about modern British life into a whodunit. But you could distill all the show’s concerns down into one beautiful scene between Mulligan and Ahd Kamel, who plays the sister of the murder victim at the center of the mystery. I have never seen an interrogation scene like it. Mulligan looks Kamel in the eyes and says, “You have to trust the kind of person I am. That’s what it comes down to. You have to look at me … It comes down to people.” The miracle is you actually believe her. —CR

Best Impressions: D’Arcy Carden, The Good Place

D’Arcy Carden is often the MVP of shows, despite being in a role player position. Her trainer character on Broad City is hilarious; her try-hard nervousness as a party host in the fourth chapter of Barry made the episode; and of course there’s Janet, who can steal an episode with one gleefully delivered line. The Good Place’s December 6 episode, “Janet(s),” finally put Carden in the spotlight, and man, was it perfect. The impressions of her companions were spot-on—Jason-Janet discovering his-her boobs was a highlight—and you never tired of seeing Carden at work, a feat that’s not exactly easy to pull off when you’re playing five characters at once. —AG

Most Overt Product Placement: Oreos, Lost in Space

The Robinson family is stuck on a planet in the far reaches of space, with little hope of being reunited with their colony ship. It’s a stressful ordeal—good thing they can unwind with some of Nabisco’s delicious Oreo cookies!

Product placement has never seemed so out of place. I eagerly await Season 2, when the alien robot finds a mysterious engraving on his chest that looks like the Squarespace logo, while Will Robinson discovers that the best part of Spotify Premium is that you can stream previously saved music offline! —MS

Biggest Flex: “Free Churro,” BoJack Horseman

In the uphill battle to differentiate itself from the many, many, many other series about sad, privileged men and the reasons behind their misbehavior, BoJack Horseman typically has a built-in advantage: a wacky, infinitely adaptable cartoon universe that counterbalances armchair psychology with upbeat, offhand sight gags. “Free Churro” abandons this leg up entirely, then somehow makes its self-imposed handicap seem like more than an exercise. Written by series creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg, the episode consists almost entirely of the title character’s eulogy at his late mother’s funeral. Even more than “Two Storms,” the Haunting of Hill House episode that also turns grief into a claustrophobic capsule, the stillness and visual minimalism of “Free Churro” stands out, because it’s in such contrast to the visual cacophony of the rest of the show. Like the famed, silent underwater interlude from Season 3, it’s a “look what I can do” moment—except this time, instead of capitalizing on its medium, “Free Churro” opts to disregard it. A stunt, in both senses of the term. —AH

Most Likely to Make Me Revolt Against Capitalism: Diet Coke Commercials

First, Britta from Community told me that I should do whatever the fuck I want, so long as it makes me feel good. (An extremely dangerous ethos to adopt, even if it only means drinking a drink linked to heart problems.) Then, Dennis Quaid’s son made a bad joke about the can-can. Then, the taxi driver from Deadpool said “feisty” in a way that made me ball up my fists until my palms began to bleed. And then a redheaded guy made a joke about being a redhead. This all happened over the course of one day—because these goddamn Diet Coke commercials run ALL THE TIME. Please, as we head into 2019, make it stop. —AG

Best Guest Star: Hong Chau

In another era, Hong Chau would have followed up her breakout in Downsizing with a series of equally robust supporting roles, possibly culminating in the lead role of an indie or three. In the Peak TV Era, Chau opted for something much savvier: taking some choice guest parts in a few critically acclaimed TV shows. “Andre and Sarah,” her bottle romance with Jason Mitchell, was the one universally acclaimed episode of Forever, an otherwise divisive show; Pickles, the fun-loving waitress pug she voiced on BoJack Horseman, plays a crucial role in the arrested development of a key character; Audrey, her capable assistant on Homecoming, starts as wallpaper and turns into something much more sinister and more interesting. Chau benefits from these shows’ prestige; the shows benefit from her talents. It’s a new kind of path to stardom. —AH

Biggest Variance: Who Is America?

At its best, Sacha Baron Cohen’s Showtime show peeled back the absurdity of the country we live in and the people we’ve somehow agreed to put in charge of it. Dick Cheney signed a waterboarding kit; a gun rights activist made a guide to using firearms for children; a state legislator from Georgia pulled down his pants in the name of fighting ISIS. But Who Is America? was just as full of segments that seemed misguided, mean-spirited, and bereft of an overarching point. Cohen is one our most successful scam artists, but he’s still a better comedian than he is a social commentator. —AG

Best Real Estate Bought by Dark Money: McMafia

AMC

Look, I get that a life funded by links to the Russian mafia, Mexican drug lords, and Israeli arms dealers might be what some call … ethically questionable. But that’s a really nice apartment that Juliet Rylance is crying in! —CR

Biggest Cry for Help: Kelly Reilly, Yellowstone

We gotta do better by Kelly Reilly. Yet again in 2018, she was stuck playing the hard-nosed bitch who doesn’t give a damn and who can drink as much, fornicate as much, and be as depressed as the men in the room. There was even a scene in Yellowstone in which Kelly Reilly stripped naked, grabbed a bottle of wine, and set out to take a bath in the middle of a crowded ranch. Because profound reasons, I guess. —AG

Best Shared Universe: Narcos: Mexico

There was a lot to love in Narcos: Mexico, especially Diego Luna’s lead performance as ascendant drug lord Félix Gallardo. Narcos: Mexico is a new chapter for the popular Netflix series, set in the early ’80s, with the action moving from Colombia to Mexico, and signalling the rise of a little-known Guadalajara cartel soldier with the nickname El Chapo. But the Narcos brain trust wasn’t quite done with the Colombia story, and in Episode 5 there’s a reunion of sorts with some significant players from past seasons: namely, the Cali cartel bosses and Pablo Escobar. It’s one part fan service, sure, but it also draws chronological, geographical, and thematic connections across South and North America, painting a portrait of parallel dynasties, with similar ambitions and shared adversaries. —CR

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