Roush Review: The Top 10 Shows of 2018
Patrick Harbron /FX, John P. Johnson/HBO & Amazon Prime Video
10. One Day At A Time
It’s almost impossible to pick a favorite in a boom time for the family sitcom. ABC alone has so many winners. I admire the resilience of The Conners and the bold social consciousness of black-ish and am a sucker for the rambunctious charms of the nostalgic new The Kids Are Alright, while still missing the hilarious Hecks of The Middle.
But no show of this type entertained and moved me as memorably as Netflix’s seriously funny reinvention of Norman Lear’s 1975–84 classic by Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce. Following the ups and downs of a Cuban-American family in Los Angeles, One Day at a Time confronts big issues like hate speech, teen sexuality, guns in the home and depression without seeming self-important. You root one episode at a time for single mother and military vet Penelope (dynamic Justina Machado), and when her own scene-stealing mom, Lydia (Rita Moreno, never better), pursues U.S. citizenship with signature gusto, we’re so proud we could pop. Stream it on Netflix
The category is…inclusion! Making history by casting more transgender performers than any scripted show before, Ryan Murphy’s audaciously authentic extravaganza does them justice in a divine fable set amid New York’s 1980s underground ballroom culture.
As Glamazons, including the ferocious Elektra (Dominique Jackson) and protégée Blanca (Mj Rodriguez), strut in flamboyant voguing competitions, heralded by outrageous emcee Pray Tell (Billy Porter), Pose looks beyond campy catfighting to become at heart a family drama about rival house “mothers” tending nests of nurturing refuge for their outcast “children.” Together, they stand up to prejudice with pride in an era wracked by the AIDS epidemic. Heartbreak is leavened with fierce attitude in a show that’s anything but a poser. Stream it on FX+
8. The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
So much more than just another true-crime docudrama, Versace takes a baroque deep dive into a killer’s pathology. Ryan Murphy’s lurid limited series uses a compelling reverse chronology to peel back the origins of depraved delusion that drove Andrew Cunanan (a revelatory performance by Darren Criss) to his murder spree, culminating in the 1997 shooting of openly gay celebrity designer Versace (an affecting Edgar Ramírez).
The series juxtaposes Versace’s hard-earned success and randomly tragic end with the preening Cunanan’s toxic narcissism, further warped by the corrosive homophobia of the 1990s. As Cunanan’s obsession with fame and fortune leads him to stalk the fashion superstar living the life he feels he deserves, we learn of his lesser-known victims: closeted men of privilege and insecure younger dupes who fell for his seductive brand of self-promoting fantasy. The details are far less familiar than the O.J. Simpson trial, the subject of Crime Story’s renowned first season, but Versace feels just as relevant. Available for purchase on iTunes, Amazon
What a piece of work is Barry Berkman, the burned-out hit man who’d rather be slaying them onstage. Starring, cocreated by and with some episodes directed by Saturday Night Live veteran Bill Hader, Barry is a personal triumph and a literal scream.
Grisly action sequences collide with slapstick comedy in a daringly offbeat hybrid of suspense and wry humor as Barry reclaims his will to live through acting — if only his avaricious handler (Stephen Root) and murderous clients would let him quit the killing game.
Hader is weirdly engaging in his intensity, whether learning lines and combating stage fright or fending off attackers with cold-blooded cunning. He’s very nearly upstaged by the great Henry Winkler, gleefully hamming it up in a career-high role (earning him his overdue first Emmy) as Gene Cousineau, a pompous yet endearing nincompoop of an acting coach. When Barry reveals his dark true self to Gene, it’s lauded as great acting. Guess what? It kind of is. Stream it on hbogo.com, hbonow.com
Colleen Hayes/NBC & Prime Video
6. The Good Place and Forever
These inventive, fantastical comedies, among the most original series anywhere on TV, earn side-by-side placement for their hopeful spirit, mind-bending high concepts and goofily philosophical approach to eternal life and love. We’d call them the pinnacle of existential sitcoms if it didn’t sound so pretentious—which these shows are absolutely not.
In its third season, NBC’s The Good Place came down to Earth for a while to escape the decidedly mixed signals of a fractious afterlife. But the show never lost its whimsical grounding in the desire of its Soul Squad, supervised by the chipper Michael (Ted Danson), to prove themselves worthy of a heaven that we now suspect may not be worthy of them.
A similar anything-goes quality is at play in Prime Video’s Forever, a rom-com like no other. It explores the marriage of June and Oscar (Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen) when circumstances alter their routine…well, forever, in an enchanting parable of undying affection and tested loyalty. Stream The Good Place on nbc.com, Hulu; past seasons on Netflix; stream Forever on Amazon Prime Video
Not since 24’s heyday has my pulse raced, and the edge of my couch received such a workout, as during this improbably riveting and proudly berserk conspiracy thriller, which was a ratings blockbuster in the U.K. It’s easy to see why. From the opening reel, when Sgt. David Budd (Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden, impressively anguished) defuses a terrorist threat aboard a passenger train, action and emotion go hand in sweaty palm and rarely let up. Tension builds when Budd, barely managing his PTSD, is assigned to protect a hawkish home secretary (Keeley Hawes) whose unpopular policies make her a target, and Budd a perfect fall guy. What comes next would be over the top if Bodyguard even knew where the top was. Stream it on Netflix
4. The Kominsky Method
Laughter and tears mingle effortlessly in Chuck Lorre’s poignant and pungently amusing character study, an oh-so-human comedy about aging that gains irreverent dignity and melancholy heart from the polished, deeply felt performances of Michael Douglas (as revered Hollywood acting coach Sandy Kominsky) and Alan Arkin (as feared talent agent Norman Newlander). Their barbed bromance travels well-worn but eternally relevant paths of wrenching personal loss, humiliating financial and bodily failures, and other indignities of Father Time. “It hurts to be human,” Norman rants to Sandy’s students, who applaud as if survival were an acting choice.
Sardonic Sandy and curmudgeonly Norman are an endearingly odd couple worthy of Neil Simon, and Lorre’s unapologetically old-school method of mining sentiment from broad humor has never felt so authentic. Stream it on Netflix
3. Killing Eve
Who’s the cat and who’s the mouse in this picture? A fair question that dogs the funky, sexy, always surprising first season of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s viciously entertaining and darkly comic spy thriller (based on novels by Luke Jennings). As international assassin Villanelle, a playfully amoral and willfully unpredictable lethal weapon of uncertain origin, Jodie Comer is more than a match for Sandra Oh, as frazzled MI6 agent Eve Polastri, in a bloody game of mutual and sexually charged obsession. Fiona Shaw as Eve’s mercurial and possibly compromised boss is the third leg in a feminist triangle of gaudy global intrigue. Refreshingly brisk in an age of narrative bloat, BBC America’s Killing Eve kills with its devilish humor, shockingly brutal twists and dazzling star turns. Stream it on Hulu
Amazon Prime Video
2. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Can she ever talk! And joke. And banter. And quip. Midge Maisel would be too marvelous for words — if words weren’t her stock-in-trade, delivered with dizzying speed and wit.
Showered with awards and accolades, Amy Sherman-Palladino’s brightly colored and delightfully smart-mouthed comedy is nostalgic yet progressive (and bawdier than you’d expect) in its hilarious account of a 1950s housewife who finds her calling, and her voice, as a bold and brassy stand-up comic.
While this is a fabulous star vehicle for Rachel Brosnahan as Mrs. Maisel, who’s torn between family tradition and career ambition on her road to the big time, she is buoyed by one of TV’s finest, funniest ensembles. Tony Shalhoub and Marin Hinkle are perfection as her unaware parents; Alex Borstein steals every scene as her ferocious manager; Michael Zegen is touching as the husband who dumped her and seeks forgiveness; and Zachary Levi is dashing as the new beau who, like the rest of us, just can’t get enough of Midge.
Stream it on Amazon Prime Video
1. The Americans
Some series are better off for not going out with a bang. FX’s brilliant spy drama The Americans was true to its morally ambiguous self with the chilly, bitter and haunting final episode.
Death might have been a gentler punishment for Russian spies-next-door Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) than the aching void they face upon returning to their unwelcoming motherland, together yet alone, in the bleakest of open endings. John le Carré couldn’t have scripted their exodus from America, where they’d been embedded long enough to plant roots and raise a family, with more shattering consequence.
First, a showdown with FBI agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), the neighbor they’d befriended and betrayed to the core. He somehow couldn’t pull the trigger on these fugitives, who now included daughter and reluctant recruit Paige (Holly Taylor). When Paige abandons her parents on a train platform just short of a border crossing, the shock is real, the severing of a final family tie both fitting and cruel. Fighting a losing battle for a crumbling empire, these fascinating and troubling antiheroes get more than they deserve: our sympathy.
Stream it on Amazon Prime Video, FX+
TV Insider and TV Guide Magazine's Senior TV critic Matt Roush has made his picks for the best shows on TV in 2018.
Click through the gallery above to see which series made his list! And check out the video below where Matt walks us through his choices.