This has not, by recent standards, been a particularly great year for television. Between quirks of the calendar (everyone laying down for the Winter Olympics, Better Call Saul moving to late summer, Game of Thrones taking the year off altogether) and notable disappointments (RIP, Here and Now), there just hasn’t been the depth of quality we’ve grown accustomed to in the age of Peak TV. But the absolute best up the year’s halfway point – particularly where assassins, spies and rap stars were concerned – was awfully good. In alphabetical order, here are 12 of the best TV shows of 2018 so far.
One of the great TV dramas of this era offered one of the great finales: a stunningly non-explosive conclusion to its spy family saga, where all the violence was emotional and unrelenting. There were a few slow spots getting there, but the resolution to Philip and Elizabeth’s time in America was everything we needed – even if it was nothing we expected.
Atlanta’s debut season was one of the best and boldest in recent memory– and Year Two topped it by being more cohesive all around, with the experiments by Donald Glover and company feeling even sharper and more surprising. Every episode (at least in its own small way) kept track of Paper Boi’s rapidly-increasing fame and the strain it was putting on Alfred and Earn’s partnership, making the last few episodes hit like a ton of bricks. And the departures from that story included the riotous “Barbershop,” about the indignities a man will put up with for a good haircut, and the riveting “Teddy Perkins” – the year’s best episode so far – a tragic pastiche of the lives of Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and other iconic black singers.
It’s A Funny Thing About Assassins, Part One: SNL alum Bill Hader teamed up with Silicon Valley’s Alec Berg for this blackest of black comic stories about a depressed hitman (Hader) who finds new life when he stumbles into a Hollywood acting class. As the series explored the narrow divide between killing on stage and killing in real life, it never hid from the tragic impact of Barry’s day job.
The comedy with the funniest cold opens on television may have given us its most hilarious yet with Jake Peralta conducting a police line-up in a Backstreet Boy singalong. And that wasn’t even the unequivocal highlight of Brooklyn’s 2018 output, which also saw an episode-length interrogation as a nod to Andre Braugher’s Homicide days, the best joke ever told involving Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and the sweet, ridiculous wedding day for Jake and Amy Santiago. Fox canceled it, NBC saved it – and there was much deserved rejoicing.
What could have been shameless Gen X nostalgia – one more Karate Kid sequel, this time checking in on Daniel (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny (William Zabka) as middle-aged men who can’t let go of their high school rivalry – instead kept twisting, turning and finding new life in this very old story. Much better and more engaging than it had any business being.
More often than not, this mash-up of sci-fi and Cold War spy-drama tropes was just a showcase for the work of J.K. Simmons, playing two different versions of the same man, each shaped by life in a parallel universe. But when you have the chance to watch an actor this great play multiple roles in the same show, that’s more than enough. And later episodes did a good enough job fleshing out the two worlds and the supporting characters in each that it became more than just a star vehicle.
In the third year of a planned four-season arc, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend embraced its title more fearlessly than ever. The 2018 episodes taking Rachel Bloom’s impulsive lawyer to some dark places, as she grappled with her borderline personality disorder diagnosis and the understanding that no romance could magically fix her. The show’s flair for comedy, drama and irresistible song pastiches – recent titles include “Fit Hot Guys Have Problems Too,” “Buttload of Cats” and “Nothing Is Ever Anyone’s Fault” – remains wonderful.
A sick, tragic, remarkably sweet teen romance between a boy (Alex Lawther) who fancies himself a budding serial killer incapable of feeling anything and a girl (Jessica Barden) who keeps self-destructing because she feels everything far too deeply. Adapting the comic by Charles S. Forsman, writer-producer Charlie Covell kept finding sad, acutely observed twists and turns in James and Alyssa’s doomed fugitive adventure – the ending was so perfect, we can only hope Netflix doesn’t ruin it by trying to make another season.
The big twist at the end of Season Two couldn’t hope to be as shocking as the “This is the Bad Place” revelation from Season One. But the four dum-dums’ journey through the afterlife and beyond was even sillier and more satisfying than what we got a year ago. The show’s metaphysical comedy has developed a mastery of what makes its human and supernatural characters tick, and how they drive each other crazy. Plus, it gave us the worst alias in TV history: Jake Jortles.
Even in a less soul-crushing version of real life, it would probably feel hard to sit through the seemingly bottomless cruelty depicted throughout the fundamentalist dystopia on display in Handmaid’s Season Two. But then every time I question the creative longevity of the series – or my own masochism for continuing to watch it – Alexis Bledel or Yvonne Strahovski or, especially, the otherworldly Elisabeth Moss will do something so spectacular that I’ll say, “Oh, right: That’s why I’m still watching.”
It’s A Funny Thing About Assassins, Part Two: Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge gave us the year’s most pleasant surprise: a cat-and-cat chase about obsession, murder and haute couture, as Sandra Oh’s frazzled intelligence analyst chased Jodie Comer’s childlike killing machine across Europe. It’s a thriller, a comedy and a very fractured love story all rolled up into one addictive package.
Traditional multi-cam sitcoms aren’t what any of the cool kids are doing these days, but One Day continues to demonstrate how durable, versatile and exciting this ancient format can be even in 2018. The Season Two final, “Not Yet,” was a series of increasingly powerful monologues as loved ones tended to Rita Moreno’s comatose Lydia, while other episodes deftly shifted back and forth between old-fashioned punchlines and hot-button social issues.