The new Fab Five improved upon the classic ‘Queer Eye.’
What we watched — and listened to — on the small screen in 2018
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Executive Editor
We live in a media world now where what we think of as TV, as movies, as old and as new, have begun to blur lines. Is a remastered version of a cult 1960s TV show, newly-available on a streaming platform, any less new than the latest season of This Is Us… or the debut episode of a first-season broadcast show?
All are new to you.
But with so much tube out there to be consumed — on broadcast, cable, premiere cable and digital online platforms — there’s simply too much for any single human to consume.
Which is why we have critics. Humanity is incidental, but not required.
And it’s why I limit by Tube year-end list only to shows that debuted in the U.S. within the previous 12 months (well, actually, November–October, to allow myself time to keep up with late additions to the bingeverse). Yeah yeah, we all already know how great The Americans is, but even if it had a great final season, why not give first-time shows a chance to find their audiences? There’s too many of those already. (Seriously. And the source of most new TV shows, to be totally honest, is Netflix — every other platform pales by comparison. A Netflix account and HBO Go are about all you need to get lost in the ether.)
And so, from sitcom to drama, variety to reality to documentary, miniseries to Podcasts, here are my top new shows of 2018, in ascending order.
10. Random Acts of Flyness (HBO). If you can figure out a way to describe what this show is, I welcome it. A hodgepodge of skits, satire, music, experimental video and who-knows-what, this late-night variety show recalled the days of Monty Python, only woke.
9. Grown-ish (Free Form). This cable-based spin-off from ABC’s primetime sitcom Black-ish follows the oldest Johnson daughter Zooey (Yara Shahidi) during her freshman year of college. Appearing on the Free Form network — the rebranded ABC Family — it could have played it safe with lame tween memes. But instead, it tackles real young-millennial issues about relationships and self-reliance with a lot of attractive and diverse cast members.
8. Mindhunter (Netflix). Filmmaker David Fincher has well-established bona fides as a master of the criminal mind mystery (Se7en, Zodiac, Gone Girl), and this 10-part series (scheduled for a second season in 2020) — which he produced and directed episodes of, is part and parcel of that skill-set. Set in 1977, it follows the incipient days of the FBI’s efforts to detect serial killers, as seen through the eyes of an enthusiastic but doubt-ridden young agent (Jonathan Groff). It’s a methodical series with a long arc, feeling like a mix of Law & Order and The X Files, with the added horror that it’s based on real people who go bump in the dark.
7. Serial (Podcast). Technically, this may seem like just another season of an already-lauded Podcast. But as an anthology show, I give it a pass because each season is unique. The third season of this groundbreaking series is not quite up to the level of the first — which startled everyone with a tale of a man in jail for a murder he didn’t seem to have committed — but this time, in covering a year in the life of a courthouse in the Midwest, we got a broader perspective about the nature of the justice system, and it was shocking.
6. Wild Wild Country (Netflix). If you’re old enough to remember the name Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, you probably have a vague sense of a cult fueled by sexual freedom and financial monkey business that took root in the American West, then collapsed and fell off the radar. But the truth of what went on is far more complex and compelling, and ultimately leaves you torn. This documentary miniseries explores the shocking background of the failed colony known as Rajneeshpuram and how great — and terrible — it was. The central figure of Sheela is one of the most fascinating figures to appear on screens in 2018.
5. The Last O.G. (TBS). Tracy Morgan returned to television following his near-fatal car accident with this woke and hilarious comedy from co-creator Jordan Peele (Get Out), about a drug dealer released from prison after 15 years trying to make his way in world that has changed radically. It’s a funny and often meaningful sitcom that goes places many shows, especially those on basic cable, shy away from.
4. Sharp Objects (HBO). Amy Adams plays a reporter who left her hometown, and the twisted upbringing that haunts her still, only to return decades later to pursue a story about a missing girl. In following leads, she unearths bizarre goings-on in the town, as well as in her own home. Adams is great, but it’s Patricia Clarkson as her manipulative mom who glues your eyes to the screen.
3. The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (FX). Darren Criss of Glee proved his acting chops in this latest miniseries from Ryan Murphy. Although Gianni Versace (played effectively by Edgar Ramirez) gets title treatment, it’s the story of his murderer, Andrew Cunanan (Criss), that propels the story, fed by the homophobia of the era and how Cunanan was as much a product of his time as a sociopathic fiend.
2. Queer Eye (Netflix). The reboot of this iconic makeover show ends up being less about lifestyle and grooming, and more about the emotional connections we form in coming to terms with our own humanity… Uh, wait… are we talking about a reality TV show?! Indeed. A new cast of Fab Five — more diverse, more emotive, more introspective — change the lives of a dozen-plus clients, and if you don’t find yourself crying at least twice an episode, you might want to seek counseling.
1. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime). It was a close call between first and second place on this list, but the scope of the writing, design and concept of this new series, from the creators of Gilmore Girls, put Mrs. Maisel over the top. Rachel Brosnahan plays a young Jewish mom and wife in late-1950s New York who finds herself divorced and unemployed, so delves into the world of standup comedy in the coffeehouses and Rathskellers of Greenwich Village. (One supporting character on the show? An up-and-coming, pre-junkie comic named Lenny Bruce.) It’s smart, laugh-filled and unique — and the series I most savored episode to episode in 2018.
Honorable mention: Pose (FX); Disenchantment (Netflix); Godless (Netflix); Barry (HBO); Killing Eve (BBC America); Nanette (Netflix); Castle Rock (Hulu); Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj (Netflix); Lost in Space (Netflix); Bodyguard (Netflix); 2 Dope Queens (HBO) .