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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.

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

2

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

1

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.