Sam Esmail (Mr. Robot) adapted Homecoming—a psychological thriller podcast about a caseworker trying to remember what happened at a mysterious government-contracted facility—for Amazon this year. The show, starring Julia Roberts, is expertly crafted, and its twists and turns are a fitting callback to the paranoia cinema of the 1970s. Yet, TV was so good this year that Homecoming didn’t crack the top 10. The list:
10. The Haunting of Hill House: Pound for pound, it’s hard to remember a book, movie, or television show that delivered as many scares per minute as Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House. To me, the tone of the final episode was incongruent with what came before, but some superb moments (looking at you, episode six), helped the series to stand out.
Speaking of that ending, for those who have already seen Hill House, check out this piece on the original conclusion. Serious spoiler warning for those who haven’t braved the show yet.
9. Bodyguard: The British political thriller has drawn apt comparisons to 24. The show is as gripping as Jack Bauer’s adventures (and only six episodes!), just don’t think too hard about its tangled plot.
8. Better Call Saul: Better Call Saul is the ultimate retread. No one hates spin-offs more than me, and yet, there is an undeniable level of magic in that Alberquerque writers’ room. Breaking Bad is likely on TV’s Mount Rushmore, and somehow a spin-off show about lawyers is threatening to overtake it.
7. American Vandal: I try to avoid adding repeat shows to this list unless they are unquestionably brilliant (see above). I can understand wanting to avoid American Vandal on account of its dick jokes and scatological humor, but if you’re obsessed with true crime documentaries, it’s your duty (no pun intended) to watch it anyway.
6. The Americans: The Americans aired its sixth and final season over the spring, and although the series never reached the highs of season four again, it was an achievement nonetheless. The series didn’t end with a bang or a karmic comeuppance as many hoped, it ended as it lived: quiet, tense, and introspective.
5. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is Amy Sherman-Palladino’s best work to date. The second season isn’t quite as marvelous as the first, but it’s still one of the most sheerly pleasurable shows on TV.
4. The Little Drummer Girl: South Korean director Park Chan-wook is one of the best working filmmakers. Seeing the person behind Oldboy and The Handmaiden take on a morally ambiguous international thriller written by the world’s preeminent spy fiction author is a gift.
3. Killing Eve: A smart, sexy, feminist spy-thriller. Need I say more? (Well, I did anyway.)
2. Atlanta: Following a stellar first season in 2016, Atlanta is back from its star’s Star Wars sabbatical. The show, rife with feature film-worthy concepts squashed into 30-minute episodes, is the rare serialized comedy where stand-alone episodes can blow you away without requiring any backstory. Season two’s “Alligator Man,” “Helen,” “Barbershop,” “Teddy Perkins,” and “FUBU” all fit this bill or come close.
As an experimental comedy with little to no formula, Atlanta hits an astounding amount more than it misses. Even the misses contain themes deserving of their own examination. Plus, it’s a treat to see stars like Brian Tyree Henry, Lakeith Stanfield, and Zazie Beetz before they get too big for the small screen.
1. Succession: Television shows, by nature, take time to start humming. TV is a medium where stories will build on previous tensions and relationships as the shows themselves try to carve out a niche. HBO’s Succession was startling because, after only three episodes, the show was a well-oiled machine. From there, Succession could only be one thing: the best show on television.
A tonal mixture of Mad Men and Veep, Succession follows the Roy family, owners of ATN (a Fox News/News Corporation-parallel). As Rupert Murdoch-like patriarch Logan Roy nears retirement-age, his four children vie for power and control of the family legacy. On paper, this sounds like a formula for office-based tedium, but name-dropping executive producer Adam McKay (director of Anchorman and The Big Short) may give you a better idea of what lies in store.
Succession is anything but tedious. It’s big, loud, and melodramatic while maintaining a cutting, quotable, and satirical sense of humor. It will stun you with its wit and the three-dimensional thought behind every character. 2018 had a lot to offer, but nothing satiated every desire quite like Succession.