The 20 Best TV Shows of 2018 - Rolling Stone
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The 20 Best TV Shows of 2018

TV critic Alan Sepinwall shouts out the cream of this year’s Peak TV crop, from inventive streaming originals to smart network reboots and everything in between

best tv 2018

For a while there, it seemed like 2018 would be the year when the Peak TV bubble burst — qualitatively, anyway. High-profile new shows disappointed (RIP, Here and Now), while some veteran favorites hit a sophomore slump (Legion) or took the year off altogether (Game of Thrones).

On the whole, TV’s batting average over the last 12 months was lower than it’s been lately. Some of the excesses of this programming explosion are getting worse, not better, with seasons and episodes that are too long for the stories being told, and every canceled show this side of Work It being revived in some form, with mixed success.

When I began to assemble this list(*), I expected to find a lot of quality concentrated at the top — most of it from shows that had already made my mid-year Top 10 — but not the depth that’s made winnowing down these lists a struggle of late. Instead, I kept being reminded of one gem after another until I wound up with a batch of Honorable Mentions(**) nearly as long as the list itself. There are plenty of shows from the usual suspects like FX, HBO and Netflix, but also international series and ones from relatively new players in the original content game like YouTube. Some are wildly original ideas, others brand extensions that put enough thought into what a familiar title means in 2018 to justify their existences.

(*) Note: The order is slightly different from the Top 10 that appears in this month’s print edition of Rolling Stone. That’s because at deadline time, I hadn’t yet seen enough episodes of the fifth-place show to realize just how special it was.     

(**) Lodge 49 (AMC), Maniac (Netflix), Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (CW), Billions(Showtime), Counterpart (Starz), Bob’s Burgers (Fox), F Is For Family (Netflix), Sorry For Your Loss (Facebook Watch), It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX), Speechless (ABC), The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu), Brockmire (IFC), GLOW (Netflix), The Magicians (Syfy), Detroiters (Comedy Central), Kidding (Showtime)

The maddening thing about this era is all the shows there just isn’t time to finish before compiling this list (Deutschland 86) or to get around to at all (an apologetic wave to America To Me, Dear White People and a bunch of others). The wonderful thing is that it’s hard not to stumble into something entertaining no matter where you step, as if you were Sideshow Bob and the good shows are the rakes.

amy adams top tv sharp objects

Anne Marie Fox/HBO


Sharp Objects (HBO)

Oh, great. Another grim drama about murdered girls. Not so fast! We’d never seen this topic tackled this way: Amy Adams pushes herself to the emotional limit as a reporter confronting the childhood that made her into a self-harming adult; writers Marti Noxon and Gillian Flynn strip Flynn’s novel to its sparest and most relentless form; and director Jean-Marc Vallée plays with time so we feel trapped in Adams’ character’s past along with her. Gripping, startling, unforgettable.

barry top tv 2018

John P. Johnson/HBO


Barry (HBO)

The year’s unexpected hot new trend: serio-comedies about eccentric assassins (see also: Killing Eve). Bill Hader was a revelation in this story of a hit man working through his depression by taking an acting class — intense and vulnerable in a way that felt far removed from how we’ve seen him on Saturday Night Live and in movies. Henry Winkler was magnificent as Hader’s new teacher, and the series threaded the needle between light showbiz spoof and something darker that understood the full consequences of Barry’s day job.

big mouth netflix



Big Mouth (Netflix)

This animated comedy about middle-school boys and girls wrestling with their own hormones — and the so-called Hormone Monsters and Shame Wizards that control them — remains as empathetic as it is filthy. Big Mouth has enormous pity for kids suffering the mortifications of puberty even as it takes joy in finding bizarre and graphic ways to illustrate their many confusing thoughts and desires. In a voice cast loaded with talent (including co-creator Nick Kroll, Jenny Slate, John Mulaney, Jordan Peele and others), Maya Rudolph is a special treat as the overwrought Hormone Monstress, whose elaborate pronunciations of things like “bubble bath” and “pharmacist” are dripping with the pain, indignation and sheer inappropriateness of an adolescent girl barely in control of herself. Big Mouth could so easily be a dumb, crude show, but it’s so damn smart and sweet.

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill - Better Call Saul _ Season 4, Episode 9 - Photo Credit: Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Nicole Wilder/AMC


Better Call Saul (AMC)

The Breaking Bad spinoff has long been two shows in one. This year, the show about Jimmy McGill’s moral descent into Saul Goodman was sharper and more powerful than it’s ever been, particularly in how Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn played the emotional tug of war between Jimmy and his girlfriend, Kim. (And no program on television does montages better.) The show’s more straightforward prequel material, however, began to have the feel of boxes being checked, as Mike helped Gus build Walter White’s future drug lab. Still, even that endeavor had a brutal payoff. When Saul is at its best, as it frequently was this season, it’s much closer in quality to its iconic parent show than it has any business being.

Episode 2 (debut 11/19/18) "I Soldi (The Money)": Elisa Del Genio, Ludovica Nasti.

Eduardo Castaldo/HBO


My Brilliant Friend (HBO)

On one level, this adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s bestselling novel about two girls growing up in the Fifties on the outskirts of Naples couldn’t seem like more of a departure from HBO’s greatest hits. It’s in Italian with subtitles, its perspective is wholly female (good luck telling the blur of male gangsters and love interests apart) and its focus is on the almost imperceptible shifts in the girls’ friendship. But if the material and presentation seem far removed from The Sopranos or Deadwood, the depth, artistry and world-building feel heartbreakingly close. One of the year’s final big premieres has turned out to be one of its best shows.

Villanelle (Jodie Comer) and Eve (Sandra Oh)

BBC America


Killing Eve (BBC America)

This cat-and-mouse game starring Jodie Comer as a fashion-forward hit-woman and Sandra Oh as the messy spy obsessed with her, had a high degree of difficulty from the get-go: It had to feel real and exciting and scary while making room for the quippy dialogue and smart observations about how women interact that typified creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s previous series, Fleabag. Thanks to the sharp writing and two dazzling lead performances, it was all of those things at once. A fabulous debut.




BoJack Horseman (Netflix)

The animated title character spent this year starring in the kind of cliché-ridden, thematically-hollow antihero drama that modern TV offers up in spades. But where show-within-a-show Philbert was a ruthless parody of all those series that celebrate toxic masculinity, BoJack Season Five was a smart and sad interrogation of the problem (for both television and humanity). The show’s ability to toggle between the ridiculous and the tragic remains unparalleled. One moment Todd will be caught in a slapstick fight involving barrels of lube; the next, Princess Carolyn will be painfully revisiting the choices that led to her being childless in middle age, or BoJack’s drug addiction will spiral out of control again. Philbert is a joke; BoJack Horseman is the goods.

THE AMERICANS -- "Start" -- Season 6, Episode 10 -- (Airs Wednesday, May 30, 10:00 pm/ep) Pictured: (l-r) Lev Gorn as Arkady Zotov, Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings, Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings. CR: Patrick Harbron/FX

Patrick Harbron/FX


The Americans (FX)

They stuck the landing. That’s harder than it seems, even for one of this decade’s most consistently taut, melancholic and beautifully acted dramas. The series about deep-cover Soviet agents in Reagan’s America had always been equal parts character study and spy thriller, and both halves demanded an ending worthy of all that Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys and friends had accomplished over the previous six years. The finale more than lived up to the task — and delivered devastating effects in unexpected moments. Good luck hearing “With or Without You” on the radio anytime soon without freaking out.

ATLANTA Robbin' Season -- "North of the Border" -- Season Two, Episode 9 (Airs Thursday, April 26, 10:00 p.m. e/p) Pictured: (l-r) Lakeith Stanfield as Darius, Donald Glover as Earnest Marks. CR: Guy D'Alema/FX

Guy D'Alema/FX


Atlanta (FX)

Donald Glover’s hip-hop comedy was so strange and surprising in its first season that a sophomore slump seemed inevitable. Instead, Year Two was even better than the first, weaving a subtle narrative thread about trouble in Paper Boi and Earn’s partnership around each episode’s formal experimentation. One week, Atlanta could be a riotous illustration of the difficulties a black man will endure to hang on to a good barber. The next — as in 2018’s single best episode, “Teddy Perkins” — it was a surreal, horrific meditation on the intersection of abuse, genius and racial self-loathing among some of the 20th century’s greatest black musical stars. Atlanta can be whatever it wants to be: the funniest, scariest and/or most thoughtful show on TV.

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