Almost 500 scripted shows aired somewhere on television or streaming in 2018. Those are just the scripted shows, too, not the reality shows or game shows or anything else we might have enjoyed in the past year. Needless to say, we’re in an era where there’s arguably too much TV. We only say “arguably”, because at the end of the day, we’re never going to complain about the Golden Era in which we all presently live.
Years from now, when the bubble inevitably pops and the networks become more discerning once again, we’ll be talking about what a wild time it was, when every major website writing about television could manage a different year-end list full of unique series and largely avoid overlapping. When you could turn on your TV and have access to dozens of legitimately game-changing series at any given time. When some of the best art that will likely ever be made within the medium was coming out in deluge form, classic seasons of TV sometimes debuting three to four deep on the same day.
It’s dizzying after a while, but whenever this time of year rolls around, we’re always compelled to remember that we live in a time of very real blessings when it comes to TV. Every network is an embarrassment of riches unto itself, and even if it gets tough to remember all the things you’ve enjoyed in the age of the binge from time to time, we have to. After all, if you only remember the best shows, how many other great ones are slipping by along the way?
Needless to say, culling down our top 25 shows of 2018 took a lot of thought and a lot of work. As many tend to do, we’ll surely be chewing on this list in the months to come. But it’s an absolutely bonkers time for television right now, and we feel privileged to be able to follow along with it in whatever way we can. Without any further preamble, here are our favorite shows of the year.
HONORABLE MENTION: WWE NXT
Showrunner: Paul “Triple H” Levesque
A Quick Word: Yep, NXT is on this list. We couldn’t quite justify adding it to our main ranking, considering that wrestling shows hardly function on a traditional television timeline. There are no season finales, no real points of divide between one “series” and the next, and it’s also an hourly pro wrestling show. At least two of our voting critics were adamant that it be included somewhere, so here we land.
MVP of the Show: Johnny Gargano, by a landslide. Sure, Tomasso Ciampa achieved the level of crowd heat where his entrance music for most of 2018’s first half was just the sound of loud booing. Sure, Aleister Black returned from an inopportune injury to pay off this summer’s outstanding “Who Attacked Black?” story in rousing form. But Gargano, a longtime indie presence, ascended to a higher level of wrestling stardom this year on the strength of one incredible in-ring performance after the next. That’s not just the wrestling, although he’s been crushing that; his character arc from January to now is as compelling as any American wrestler has ever had on TV, and his physical performance of it both in and out of the ring is what took it to that rarefied level.
Must-See Episode: As much as we’d love to recommend just about any standalone hour of the show, we’ll go with our favorite of this year’s live specials, Takeover: WarGames. It’s essentially a four-match card in which every long-running story is given more than enough time to breathe. And if you care about professional wrestling in any casual way, there’s something for you here, whether the character-based storytelling of Gargano-Black, the star-being-born moment of Dream-Ciampa, or the sight of a beautiful, tiny man built out of abs and aerodynamics hitting a double goddamn moonsault off the top of a cage.
Why We Binge: Some will roll their eyes at our inclusion of NXT, and y’know, fine. American wrestling on television, particularly the WWE brand of it, has not looked great in a long time. Whether it’s the most famous wrestler in history being kind of a piece of trash, the presence of a McMahon in the Trump cabinet, the lavishly paid shows for a Saudi government that killed an American journalist, or any of the other reasons a person stopped watching WWE (and usually wrestling with it), it’s not what it used to be by a long shot. But in its modest, indie-looking way, NXT presents a different future for the medium, one which might not be so embarrassing to share with polite company. One that people will be excited about again. Whenever you hear a lapsed fan talking about wanting the energy of the Attitude Era back, it’s (hopefully) not the crash TV storytelling and the drooling misogyny they’re nostalgic about. It’s a show full of wild characters that gives every single one of them, from the very top to the very bottom, something exciting to do. NXT has that energy, so why not give it a shot?
25. Queer Eye/Salt Fat Acid Heat
MVP of the Show: This is an odd case, because we’ve combined two shows that characterize the welcome surge of “nice” reality television into one, Netflix-occupied slot on our list. We could probably be coerced into picking an MVP from within the Fab Five, though it would be quite the heated conversation. This writer is partial to the gentle, often unseen ministrations of Bobby Berk, who takes so much of his charges’ lives into consideration when re-outfitting their homes, but an argument could be made for any (well, almost any) of the quintet. They’re most delightful en masse, and Queer Eye does fine work of giving each of them a chance to shine, explore, and be insanely charming.
Still, this format demands a choice, and our choice is Samin Nosrat. The relaxed, intoxicating energy of Salt Fat Acid Heat made it one of autumn’s most surprising pleasures, and much of that energy comes from Nosrat herself. A cooking show that’s also a travel show that’s also a how-to show that’s also, in a way, a thoughtful look at the way one woman approaches the pleasures of cooking, tasting, and learning, Salt Fat Acid Heat depends wholly on Nosrat’s passionate but easy-going approach to her subject. She invites you in, makes you comfortable, and urges you to stay for as long as you like. The Fav Five are an event. Samin is just living her (admittedly extraordinary) life, and welcoming you into it.
Must-See Episode: Even the dry-eyed Queer Eye installments are lovely, but several of the show’s chapters take the makeover format and extending it to something more akin to a makeover of the soul. Of those five-alarm weepers, the best is unquestionably “God Bless Gay”, in which the Fab Five visit the town of Gay, Georgia (population: 89), to help Tammye, a cancer survivor, teacher, and devoted member of her church and community, who lost her mother to cancer just a year before and now wants to bring her openly gay son back into the fold. To say more about this episode is to diminish its power, so if you haven’t seen it yet, get thee to “God Bless Gay”. If you have, you already remember Tammye vividly, and do not need our help.
Why We Binge: Because both Queer Eye and Salt Fat Acid Heat make the world seem more pleasant, and not in a way that’s merely aspirational. Silly though some may be, Queer Eye’s episode-ending “hip tips” offer one little thing viewers can do that may make them feel better, happier, more confident, or more in control of their lives; it’s as though the Five find time amidst their televised makeovers to makeover their viewers, one French Tuck or face mask at a time. Nosrat’s approach is even more accessible, because while her destinations may be far-flung, the foods she focuses on are often simple, and her show is as much about learning to enjoy as learning to cook. Wonderful, active, warm shows that basically scream “self-care” are an effective antidote to a shitty, shitty year. So yes, this is cheating. We didn’t want to exclude either series, and so found a way to justify pairing them up. But their similarities are essential, and their value immense. Binge, and be happy.
24. Cobra Kai
Where to Watch: YouTube Premium
MVP of the Show: Ralph Macchio mostly sat shotgun to Pat Morita in all of the Karate Kid movies, and now he’s doing the same for the great William Zabka. As an older and not-so-wiser Johnny Lawrence, Zabka gets to chop through layers of pathos that his character really only got in the last three minutes of the 1984 original. When we first find him in Cobra Kai, he’s a drunk loser slumming it around L.A., and his scenes as a low life only get better with each passing episode. However, watching him come to terms with his failures and using his own cautionary tale to inspire others is what makes the show such an intriguing twist on the original formula. He’s neither good, nor bad, he’s human.
Must-See Episode: While there’s no greater joy in this series than being first reintroduced into this world again with the pilot, the way the past informs the present in the eighth episode, “Molting”, is just clever writing all around. Writer Michael Jonathan Smith really capitalizes on the core strength of Cobra Kai by revealing things aren’t as black and white as the original movie portended. Johnny and Daniel LaRusso (Macchio) both have skeletons in their dojo closet, and they contend with them throughout the episode, namely through their own apprentices. By the end, you’re not really rooting for one side over the other, you’re just watching two incredible narratives play out in tandem.
Why We Binge: Cobra Kai stands tall above its flimsy premise. After all, any passing fan has heard of the tongue-in-cheek fan theories about how Daniel is the real jerkstore of The Karate Kid. This series does even more with that theory by tearing a page from Jason Katims’ Friday Night Lights, relying less on pre-destined roles and leaning more into life’s moral grey area. Everyone’s an asshole at some point in their lives, and Cobra Kai never shies away from that reality, but there’s a flip side to that notion in that everyone also has a chance to turn things around. That’s the balance of life and a lesson that too many often forget. Good or bad, sinners or saints, we’re all waxing on and off.
23. The Expanse
Showrunner(s): Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby
Where to Watch: Formerly Syfy, now Amazon Prime
MVP of the Show: Three seasons in, The Expanse has cultivated quite the set of fan-favorite characters, from Shohreh Aghdashloo’s foul-mouthed political pragmatist Chrisjen Avasarala to Wes Chatham’s well-meaning sociopath Amos. But this time around, we have to give the trophy to new arrival David Strathairn as duplicitous Belter pirate Klaes Ashford, the Oscar nominee making the most of the futuristic creole the show has envisioned for its faction of characters who’ve spent their entire lives out in space. He also makes for the best kind of villain – one driven not by greed or malice, but simple conflict of ideology. We sincerely hope they find room for him in season four.
Must-See Episode: The dense, Game of Thrones-y nature of the show makes it hard to just jump in, but The Expanse offers a nice, accessible soft reboot by way of mid-season episode “Delta-V”, featuring a months-long time jump, the appearance of a mysterious alien ring no one understands yet, and a darkly funny subplot featuring a Belter “rock-hopper” slingshotting his way through the ring just to impress a girl (to startlingly gory results). It’s a great entry point for those who don’t want to start from the beginning, resetting the status quo and reintroducing its characters in new contexts and dynamics, and sets off a seven-episode arc that would have served as a great end to the series had it not been miraculously renewed.
Why We Binge: Sure, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is a billionaire madman responsible for horrid working conditions in his factories and the consolidation of ridiculous amounts of wealth…. But he did renew The Expanse, so even Steven? The former Syfy property slowly but surely became a cult favorite among the hard sci-fi set, a near-future political drama/military thriller/detective story that eschewed lasers and aliens for intersectional politics and a Martian-like adherence to the realities of space travel. Miraculously, the show keeps getting better with each successive season, bringing feature-quality production values and a novel approach to space opera to a tale that, at its core, is just Syriana with spaceships. Now that the show has a second life thanks to Bezos’ godlike intervention, it may well be time for an Expanse-aissance.
Showrunner(s): Tanya Saracho
Where to Watch: Starz
MVP of the Show: As tempting as Eddy’s flautas sound, we’d be lying if we didn’t admit that Emma (Mishel Prada) is the anchor of this promising first season of Vida. The older-sister-with-a-tough-shell trope is as old as time, but hardly ever do we see it coupled with so many vulnerable solo moments as well (that killer scene where a vibrator sesh turns into a full-on ugly cry comes to mind). Prada’s performance feels utterly combustible, as if Emma will either propel the Hernandez family forward or be the flame that burns everything to the ground.
Must-See Episode: This season has some telenovela-level drama, and the season’s penultimate episode, “Episode Five”, is when it all comes to a head. Karla corners Lyn at the yoga studio about that whole sleeping with her baby’s father thing (which, by the way, I couldn’t help but thinking these girls should have had their come-to-Jesus moment before the yoga). Eddy, the one person in town who seems legitimately difficult to piss off, basically calls the Hernandez sisters stone-cold bitches to their faces. But it’s Mari and Emma’s heart-to-heart in their jail cell that feels so cathartic. If those two can make amends, there just might be a light at the end of the tunnel.
Why We Binge: You can count the number of Latinx-leading shows on the air on one hand (and, hell, you probably don’t even need the whole hand), so the hunger for representation was probably most early viewers’ gateway in, but the real artistry of Vida is the naked honesty that showrunner and writer Tanya Saracho manages to capture. In only six episodes, the four women at the center of the show have heartbreaking — and relatable — arcs that feel fully realized and respectful to the women who share their experiences.
21. BoJack Horseman
Showrunner(s): Raphael Bob-Waksberg
Where to Watch: Netflix
MVP of the Show: It might be fun to point out other compellingly broken characters like Mr. Peanutbutter or Princess Carolyn (and saying Esteemed Character Actress Margo Martindale might just be cheating), but BoJack himself remains the withered, self-destructive core to the show’s bittersweet meditations on celebrity and self-perception. Five years in, BoJack remains as beautifully rendered as ever, a self-centered horse endlessly waffling between doing the right thing and holding on to the last vestiges of his wounded ego, let loose in a Hollywoo environment that continually encourages his worst impulses.
Must-See Episode: BoJack Horseman is no stranger to high-concept episodes, but “Free Churro” might be one of its best, an episode-long eulogy given by BoJack ostensibly to his now-dead mother, Beatrice. It’s a heartbreaking confessional about the rifts he and his mother experienced, made ever more tragic by the gut-busting realization that he’s, in fact, at the wrong funeral.
Why We Binge: Five seasons in and BoJack Horseman maintains its hold as one of the most consistently good, searingly adult animated shows of the 21st century. A delectable mixture of goofy animal puns and gut-wrenching treatises on postmodern malaise, Raphael Bob-Waksberg shows no sign of letting up, or giving BoJack a real happy ending. That might just be for the best; after all, we learn as BoJack does, one aching realization of our own human foibles after another.
20. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Showrunner(s): Rob McElhenney
Where to Watch: FXX
MVP of the Show: Rob McElhenney has rarely been the best performer on his own show. That’s no sin in an ensemble as talented as It’s Always Sunny’s. But in Season 13, McElhenney not only stepped up his game with another insane body transformation, but took his character, and the show, into bold, new territory, whether it be topical, meta, or dramatic. The peak of this approach came in “Mac Finds His Pride”, the season finale where McElhenney drilled down to the uncertainty, insecurity, and pathos of Mac in an extended interpretive dance that very well may be the series’ magnum opus. Either way, McElhenney offered viewers the heartrending culmination of Mac’s thirteen-year journey and a superlative capstone to the season.
Must See Episode: While “Mac Finds His Pride” was an instant classic, “Times Up For The Gang” — the show’s episode-length take on the current anti-harassment movement — was another outstanding installment in season 13. To tackle the issue, It’s Always Sunny enlisted Community veteran Megan Ganz (who joined the show last season) to pen the episode. And in the shadow of her own public #MeToo call out, Ganz spotlights how badly The Gang misunderstands the movement, its principles, and, you know, basic human decency, while using that to highlight how badly all three are needed. At the same time, the episode never sacrifices comedy for commentary, managing to make its points trenchantly, while letting the show’s trademark transgressive humor keep things hilarious in the process.
Why We Binge: Most shows run out of gas by the time they hit double-digit seasons, especially ones that made their bones by being raunchy or controversial when they debuted, as time and the culture catch up with them. Instead, It’s Always Sunny delivered another outstanding season. Even apart from its mind-blowing shift to sincerity in the finale, and its topical takes on everything from sexual harassment and LGBTQ acceptance to women-led reboots and escape rooms, the show proved that it’s still pitching its fastball more than a decade after it debuted. Whether it’s a classic caper when “The Gang Gets New Wheels”, the metatextual reflections on clip shows and Dennis’ departure, or a comic summation of the entire city of Philadelphia and sports fandom writ large, the show continues to be ambitious, bold, and consistently uproarious — an accomplishment that’s all the more impressive for a series wrapping up its thirteenth season on the air.
19. Castle Rock
Where to Watch: Hulu
MVP of the Show: Sissy Spacek’s Ruth Deaver spent the first several episodes of Castle Rock lost in herself, her dementia rooting the majority of her interactions in a sense of dreamlike incoherence. But, slowly and gracefully, Shaw and Thomason gave weight to her musings, as well as a beautiful, mind-bending metaphor for the aging, dissolving mind. Spacek commits to the role with wonder and confidence, capturing every emotion on the spectrum of a character whose mind won’t allow her to stick with one for long.
Must-See Episode: Speaking of Spacek, Castle Rock’s best episode was the one built entirely around her. It finds a resigned Ruth dislodged from time, looping her way through life events both warm and traumatic that often bleed into scenes we’ve seen earlier in the season, thus giving them a renewed context. There’s a graceful, elegiac quality to the episode, as well as an ingenuity that allows it to both stand on its own and factor into the show’s overriding mythology.
Why We Binge: Because, duh, we love Stephen King. But, hey, even if we didn’t host a Stephen King podcast, we still would’ve been stoked for this series, if only for the way it found new, innovative ways to play with existing IP. Castle Rock didn’t pivot off a single King story, but several of them, choosing to build an original narrative around the town where the author has set a number of his novels and short stories, integrating new characters with established ones.
While the references to King’s work could be heavy-handed (Jane Levy’s Jackie Torrance was the show’s one glaring misfire), they only rarely got in the way of Shaw and Thomason’s overarching narrative, which remained gripping, scary, and deeply emotional up until its ambiguous ending, which, though frustrating, is certainly thought-provoking. Still, the show sought not to replicate King so much as capture his distinctive essence, and it did so. The characters are rich, the story ambitious, and the town itself every bit as unsettling as we’d imagined it.
18. Lodge 49
Where to Watch: AMC
MVP of the Show: It just wouldn’t be right to ignore the fact that Bruce Campbell himself shows up halfway through the show’s inaugural season as “The Captain,” a charismatic property developer who wraps our heroes up in cockfights, scams, and hostage situations involving chloroform and penguins. Groovy.
Must-See Episode: Episode four, “Sunday,” is a great showcase for Lodge 49’s deeply original quirkiness, as the lodge members suddenly finds a mysterious room with a robed mummy (sorry, “reliquum corpus”) and try to figure out what to do with it.
Why We Binge: Lodge 49 is a difficult nut to crack; the best Todd VanDerWerff can get to pinning down the show’s mercurial essence is “Don Quixote for scuzzballs.” But Jim Gavin’s quirky, hard-to-pin-down dramedy crafts a weird world of mysterious fraternal orders, seals blocking traffic, and people being impaled by narwhal statues. There’s more than a bit of that Coen Brothers magic in here, a sun-soaked Long Beach mix of Fargo and The Big Lebowski and Raising Arizona where even the most well-meaning are driven to desperation by the vagaries of debt, disease and the vagaries of late capitalism. Wyatt Russell’s ostensibly the star, a charming lead who becomes more like his movie-star dad with each inviting smirk, but he’s just the ornate ring that grants you entry into Lodge 49’s endearingly strange universe.
17. DC’s Legends of Tomorrow
Where to Watch: The CW
MVP of the Show: Season Four brought on perennial Arrowverse also-ran John Constantine into the regular cast, and he’s fit into the rest of the gang like, well… gangbusters. Matt Ryan’s charismatic demon-hunter is a perfect match for the Waverider’s gang of misfits, bouncing well off captain/former lover Sara Lance and gruff Mick Rory.
Must-See Episode: While the show’s fourth season continues the show’s ascent to madness, Season Three (which also aired this year) gave us “Guest Starring John Noble”. It’s a fleet-footed adventure that starts with the Legends saving young Barack Obama from a murderous psychic gorilla, and ends with a plan to save off the apocalypse by having real-life Lord of the Rings-era John Noble read off lines to impersonate the season’s Big Bad (also voiced by John Noble). I can’t think of a more perfect example of Legends’ idiosyncratic strengths.
Why We Binge: With Greg Berlanti’s Arrowverse going on six or seven shows at this point, they needed something to do with all those side characters they don’t have time for anymore. Thus, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow was born, a goofy time-travel adventure show starring a rotating cast of superhero backbenchers with tongues firmly planted in their cheeks. This year saw the show grow even further into its silly strengths, seasons three and four delighting with everything from talking Elmo-like dolls with godlike powers (“Beebo loves you!”) to rainbow unicorns impaling hippies at Woodstock. If that kind of whirling-dervish wackiness is your jam, Legends of Tomorrow has jars to spare.
Showrunner(s): Sam Esmail
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime
MVP of the Show: What a cast. You have Julia Roberts in the leading role in her first television performance. You have Bobby Cannavale pitch-perfect as the douchebaggiest of all douchebag bosses. But the real revelation is Stephan James as Walter Cruz, a military vet coming to the Homecoming facility with a terrible mix of PTSD and survivor’s guilt. In this dialogue-heavy script, James holds his own against Roberts. It’s no wonder she falls for him. We do too.
Must-See Episode: As if the cast wasn’t star-studded enough, “Toys” throws in another dynamo: Marianne Ragipcien Jean-Baptiste as Walter’s very-concerned and very-not-going-anywhere-without-answers mom. But beyond this first intrusion from the outside world, “Toys” is the first episode where Sam Esmail’s tightly composed frames feel not just creepy, but outright dangerous. At every turn of Heidi’s encounter with “Hunter,” we’re just screaming at her to run. But at least we have definitive proof for what we knew all along: Anyone who talks to you at the laundromat is a total psychopath.
Why We Binge: We were skeptical that the television adaptation could live up to the intimate voyeur feeling of the original 2016 Gimlet podcast. But, to its credit, Esmail and Roberts are almost religiously faithful to the original script. It feels like a respect to artists everywhere to see big names take a product that works and enhance it rather than own it. The visuals, the sound design, the performances — everything here feels like a master class in mood and raising tension. Also with a return to the 30-minute format, this shit is like popcorn. Just maybe don’t eat the popcorn.
Where to Watch: Netflix
MVP of the Show: In the show’s hit first season, you could entertain a whole debate on this topic. Given the show’s tendency to give at least a little face time to almost every member of its sprawling ensemble, there were any number of fine candidates. Yet this season, it feels thematically appropriate that Alison Brie doing some of the best work of her career as a version of Ruth who’s finally aspiring to more is cut down at the knees by Betty Gilpin. If the first season was as much as anything a chronicle of Debbie finally deciding what life she’d rather be living, season two followed the trajectory of a woman being forced to realize just how difficult living among the greener grass can really be.
Must-See Episode: One of the crucial tenets of wrestling, as a storytelling medium, is being able to trust your partner or partners in the ring. Whatever animus might exist between you, that shit gets checked behind the entrance curtain, because in the ring your fellow competitors are entrusting you with their physical safety. The brutal conclusion of “Work the Leg” feels inevitable, then, given the way in which every moment of the episode builds to it, and how the character beats between Debbie and Ruth from the whole series so far seem to lead them to that ankle lock in the middle of the ring.
Why We Binge: GLOW might have broken out initially as that extremely ’80s Netflix series about pro wrestling, but what’s more heartening about the show’s second season is its escalated understanding of what makes pro wrestling something a bunch of nerds (and perverts, and TV executives) get excited about. You show up for the pomp and the circumstance and glitz, but what keeps you around are the characters, and the ways in which the medium gets you to invest in even the smallest stories at the bottom of the show. In its sophomore frame, GLOW found that same appeal and the balance within. Everyone from Marc Maron’s irreparably flawed Sam to Sheila the She-Wolf got to grow, build, and put together an outstanding show, only to have it all blown up for them. Ah well, that’s the wrestling business. On to the next gig.
14. The Terror
MVP of the Show: By its nature, The Terror is even more an ensemble show than many that are so described. This isn’t the story of, say, Walter White and all the people in his orbit. This is the story of two ships on a doomed expedition; to capture the horrors that await the shipmen with even moderate success, the cast must be sprawling and full of compelling performances. Throw a dart at a cast photo and you’ll hit a winner. Still, every vessel needs its leadership (heh) and the three men who begin the series at the top of the totem pole—played by Tobias Menzies, Ciarán Hinds, and Jared Harris—are among its brightest, scariest lights. Of those, Harris has the heaviest load to bear, and the once-and-former Lane Pryce turns in another performance in which the character’s dark night of the soul is illuminated for all to see.
Must-See Episode: There’s a very good chance that you, dear Reader, have not yet seen so much as a minute of one of the year’s best television shows. This series is so uniformly strong that any episode could easily be called the best, and while the finale “We Are Gone” includes the show’s most haunting images and its most powerful punch, we cannot help but direct you to “Go For Broke”, a startlingly assured pilot that introduces the series’ chilling color palette, tone of relentless yet compelling dread, and a cast of finely drawn characters who prevent the series from sinking into the frozen waters of depressing tedium. You so desperately want them to find a way out of this mess that, even though their doom seems assured from moment one, watching “Go For Broke” and the chapters that follow is an active experience, one that demands your empathy, your anxiety, and your own sense of goddamned human frailty. That all begins in episode one.
Why We Binge: TV has forced us to ask lots of questions over the years. Who shot J.R.? What’s in the Hatch? Why did they think it was a good idea to give Ross Geller a pet monkey? Such questions can be thrilling, and The Terror seemed at first glance to be a series with such a question of its own: What happened to the men of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror when they were lost in the Northwest Passage?
But what we learned from The Terror—besides the fact that you should probably never name a ship Terror if you want things to work out well for those on board—is that its most central questions were of a very different nature. What is civilization? What is death? Is it physical, or spiritual? Can one occur without the other? When is survival not worth the cost? And one more asked by another series further up this list—what do we owe to each other?
Masterfully executed, as well acted as anything on TV in this or any year, and the kind of horror that gets into your bones and doesn’t leave for hours, The Terror deserves your time. Just don’t watch it without a parka.
13. Sharp Objects
Showrunner: Marti Noxon
Where to Watch: HBO
MVP of the Show: Sharp Objects, the Southern gothic mystery based on Gillian Flynn’s 2006 novel, is, deep down, some theatrical and almost comically dark melodrama. Its story of an alcoholic reporter’s investigation into two brutal murders in the small Missouri town where she was raised gives way to over-the-top expressions of violence, twisted school pageants, eerie dollhouses, and a slew of garish, old-money socialites that includes her overbearing mother, Adora, in their ranks.
This would’ve been some seriously campy shit had it been made a few decades earlier, but director Jean-Marc Vallée gives it the air of high tragedy, his dreamy, melancholic style evoking the beats of a restless mind; sounds and images flood his frames, allowing the past to emerge not in flashbacks, but as manifestations of lingering trauma. Some might tire of Vallée’s reliance on the gimmick, especially those who enjoyed his work on HBO’s Big Little Lies, but it’s undoubtedly powerful, not to mention perfectly suited to this particular story.
Must-See Episode: Sharp Objects stuns in moments rather than episodes, whether it be in set pieces like the Calhoun Day play or the languid sounds emanating from Alan’s stereo. The show is a mood piece more than anything, with the town of Wind Gap being a place you drift into rather than forcibly enter. That said, the finale, “Milk”, serves as a strong, cathartic payoff to the show’s (fairly predictable) mystery. And you can’t beat that final beat and post-credit sequence, the ugly, ugly likes of which might be one of the scariest things I’ve seen all year.
Why We Binge: Because there’s something so rich and lived-in about this world. The level of talent HBO assembled for this project is astounding: Vallée gives the show weight, but writers like Flynn and showrunner Marti Noxon have such a firm grasp on the world that it’s hard not to be seduced by its dry, lemony menace. Amy Adams, meanwhile, gives a compellingly grim performance, itself a counterpart to Patricia Clarkson’s mannered Adora and Henry Czerny’s cucked-to-hell Alan. And let us please not forget the work of production designer John Paino, who’s just as responsible for the show’s immersion as any of the aforementioned. Some shows thrive on story; Sharp Objects lives and dies in Wind Gap.
12. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Showrunner(s): Aline Brosh-McKenna
Where to Watch: The CW
MVP of the Show: We could go for Rebecca, or Paula, or even beloved bicon Darryl Whitefeather, but the character with the highest delight-per-minute (DPM) has to be Danny Jolles’ hapless lawyer George. Whether he’s bringing smoked meats to a camping Nathaniel or singing a little ditty while pouring his coffee, we agree it’s … George’s Turn!
Must-See Episode: It’s a ballsy move to recast one of the show’s leads and bring them back in its final season after the original actor left, but Crazy Ex pulled it off wonderfully with Skylar Astin’s debut as returning love interest Greg Serrano in “I’m Not the Person I Used to Be”. Instead of ignoring the recasting, the show leans hard into it, mining it for surprisingly emotional subtext about the ways we change, and how people perceive our new selves. Hello, New Greg, nice to meet you.
Why We Binge: We’ve given a lot of real estate to Crazy-Ex Girlfriend on this here site, and for good reason. Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna’s brilliant, emotional, insightful musical rom-com achieves a rare alchemy of insightful jabs at the conventions of sitcoms and musical theater, while treating its characters with incredible intelligence and respect. It’s a show in touch with its emotions, endlessly curious about showing the ugly truths of our interactions with each other, and the cyclical ways our own flaws come back to haunt us. Plus, there are ABBA parodies about touching penises. What’s not to love?
11. The Haunting of Hill House
Showrunner: Mike Flanagan
Where to Watch: Netflix
MVP of the Show: The virtue of The Haunting of Hill House’s cast is in the manifestation of their internal confusion. Each of them is quietly grappling with the realities of their youth: Did their father kill their mother? Was the house they were renovating haunted? Did a woman with a bent neck float over me at night? They all have answers, but nobody trusts them. One of Hill House’s more brilliant moments is in how it causes the audience to feel similarly. If you thought you saw something lurking in the background of a shot, something that perhaps subsequently disappeared, well, you’re not crazy. Flanagan packed his frames with hidden ghosts, serving not only to heighten the themes and cultivate atmosphere, but also to make this shit rewatchable as hell.
Must-See Episode: Easy. The sixth episode, “Two Storms”, was not only an emotional stunner, but also a technical one. Flanagan filmed as if it were one continuous take — it was actually five, with the longest take clocking at 17 minutes — and the stunt gave the episode, which unfolds at spirit-ridden funeral, a breathlessness that suits the general sense of anxiety and exasperation pervading the scene. “There was no room for error at all, and if we made a mistake, we had to start over,” Flanagan told Vulture. Watch closely and you’ll see Timothy Hutton, who plays Crain patriarch Hugh, trip over a few lines, a fumble that, by virtue of Michiel Huisman’s in-character, in-the-moment annoyance with it, only serves to increase the tension. Incredible stuff.
Why We Binge: Mike Flanagan is undoubtedly one of the vanguards of modern horror, notable specifically for his ability to produce resonant stories and effective scares while operating within a soulless studio system. Sure, he has saccharine tendencies and leans far too hard on CGI, but he’s a technical whiz who, perhaps most importantly, understands that scares don’t exist in a vacuum; characters, motivations, and relationships matter.
The Haunting of Hill House is, in many ways, a masterclass in his particular brand of horror, which tends to blend spirits and familial trauma until they’re indistinguishable. The Crain family’s struggle between whether or not the ghosts of their childhood were real or, rather, mental spectres born from the death of their mother reflects the grieving process and its impact on memory. Flanagan’s saccharine side flares up in the series’ final episodes, when long, reflective monologues begin to permeate the proceedings, but it’s also refreshing to see horror and drama merged with such care.
Because, in the end, this thing is pure, unfiltered horror. Find me a freakier spirit this year than that tall, floating man with the cane. You won’t.
Showrunner: Jesse Armstrong
Where to Watch: HBO
MVP of the Show: Where to start? Succession’s got a deep, rich ensemble, which is surprising considering the show is so hyper-focused on the Roy dynasty—an amalgam of the Murdochs, Redstones, and Trumps—and the wildly wealthy corporate types in their direct orbit. Characters such as those might sound dangerous in our increasingly corporatized culture, but rest assured that Succession isn’t here to make you like these people or even ogle at their lavish lifestyle (honestly, the show makes pains to emphasize its sterility). Instead, Armstrong’s pen cleverly relies on the grandiosity of each Roy’s personality and how that clashes with their own sense of cultural disconnect.
Brian Cox, Jeremy Strong, Kieran Culkin, Sarah Snook, and Alan Ruck each find moments both sly and volcanic in their turns as the core family, but it’s the perspective provided by outsiders like ladder-climber Tom (Matthew Macfayden) and desperate, doofy Greg (Nicholas Braun) that captivates most. Not only do the pair form a hilariously toxic bond, their status as Roy hangers-on allows them to serve as identifiable links to the outside world as we know it. It’s a wonder, then, to watch both actors cautiously tip-toe into the 0.0001%, where they’re forced to either corrupt standard ideas of morality and, especially in the case of Greg, indulge in the kind of Machiavellian antics that help them stay there.
Must-See Episode: The event everyone assumed might have been the season’s finale surprised us all by occurring in episode six, allowing Armstrong to guide Succession into murkier, infinitely more compelling waters. All of it comes to a head in the season finale, “Nobody Is Ever Missing”, when Tom and Shiv’s wedding sets the stage for each character to drop their gold-flecked, intricately curated facade, if only for a second. Some emerge stronger, others emerge broken. Along the way, the seeds for what’s bound to be a razor-sharp sophomore season are cunningly planted. A Connor Roy presidential campaign? Yes, please.
Why We Binge: Because, like it or not, the show is about America as we know it. Wealth is being consolidated, media conglomerates are impacting politics, and power is a sword that’s increasingly being sharpened by personal slights petty revenge (see: Trump, the Redstones). Succession is a hilarious satire of these people, yes, but it’s also a shockingly empathetic one, exploring sickness, privilege, and resentment as they manifest in a family that’s been raised to prize the bottom line over anything else. The Roys are fucked. Does that mean the rest of us are, too? We might be better off not knowing the answer, but Succession sure helps the medicine go down.
09. The Assassination of Gianni Versace
Showrunner(s): Ryan Murphy
Where to Watch: FX
MVP of the Show: After stealing the screen on Glee, Darren Criss had been noticeably absent from most of Ryan Murphy’s ensuing productions, what with the exception of two episodes on American Horror Story: Hotel. Now we know that Murphy was simply saving the best for later, seeing how Criss’ role as real-life serial killer Andrew Cunanan is the type of career-changing opportunity that any young star might salivate over. The drooling’s mutual, though, as one of the strangest feelings all year long was being both charmed and terrified by Criss on a weekly basis. No doubt influenced by the sordid, hot stuff protagonists of any given Bret Easton Ellis novel, Criss exudes a deadly, charismatic energy that legitimizes the series, saving it from being another maudlin exercise from Murphy. Even when the show sags, and it does, Criss never slouches.
Must-See Episode: One of the draws of Versace is the way in which Murphy and writer Tom Rob Smith ably paint perspectives. It would have been so easy to simply follow the footsteps of Cunanan — and we probably wouldn’t have opposed, given Criss’ performance — but they didn’t. Instead, like the first season of American Crime Story, the action pivots between its revolving door of supporting characters, which winds up providing weight for many of the themes this series dances around. The best example of this is in the season’s fifth episode, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”, where the focus isn’t even on Versace or the murders, but on the affairs of U.S. Navy lieutenant Jeff Trail (Finn Wittrock). It’s a surprisingly patient meditation on the titular policy and its harrowing effect on Trail’s life, whose death is made even more tragic given the in-depth context.
Why We Binge: Stylish, sensual, and curiously affecting, The Assassination of Gianni Versace is a genuine statement from Murphy. On the surface, it’s a total distillation of the veteran producer’s worst tendencies — his hit-or-miss brand of melodrama, his ensemble of larger-than-life caricatures, and his manic, sweeping gesticulations at cultural commentary — but there’s a surprising depth to the glitz and the glam. That depth is drawn though the eyes of Cunanan, who serves as a deadly window into a thriving scene hampered by society around it. It’s a tricky line Murphy toes, and one that hasn’t been without its share of controversy, but he comes out on top, delivering a lavish and sobering portrait of queer culture, not just for yesterday, but today. In hindsight, it was something of a prologue to his next block of historical television in Pose.
08. One Day at a Time
Where to Watch: Netflix
MVP of the Show: One Day at a Time is the kind of series that deeply invests itself in making sure that you love every single character, from the main cast to the two-episode guest stars, as much as humanly possible. That makes it quite a stretch to pick just one member of the stellar ensemble, but then, most shows also don’t have Rita Moreno among their ranks. The veteran performer of every entertainment medium you can think of does outstanding work throughout season two, grappling with a family she’ll always try to understand but rarely can right away, as well as her own encroaching mortality, no matter how hard she might try to stay young of heart. The season finale, “Not Yet”, addresses that latter topic head-on, and Moreno’s poignant work is proof that the cast is so much of what makes this show truly special.
Must-See Episode: In the tradition of so many three-camera sitcoms (including its original namesake), One Day at a Time takes on the major social issues of today, and in a format audiences can more easily relate with. Unlike many of them, it’s incredible at addressing those issues in ways that never feel anything less than genuine. “Hello, Penelope” is an especially haunting example, as Justina Machado’s military veteran Penelope decides to quit her depression medication cold-turkey so that she won’t have to risk endangering a promising new relationship by bringing her PTSD into the equation. From the second she begins, dread hangs heavy over the proceedings, and that she’s eventually forced to confront more than withdrawal is hardly a surprise. Yet the nuance with which “Hello, Penelope” approaches the subject is rare, not just for this genre but for any show on television.
Why We Binge: There are only so many ways a person can call a show “special”, and lord knows we’ve tried this year when it comes to One Day at a Time. The idea of selling a 2018 audience on a laugh-track sitcom about a loving Cuban-American family that teaches each other digestible lessons seems almost impossible, but what the showrunners have done is almost Sisyphean in its modest way. Into that format has emerged a show about generational divides, gun ownership, sexual expression, PTSD, modern divorce, modern dating, and a web of Latinx diasporic conversations that most shows on TV aren’t even sniffing around. There’s still a wacky neighbor, sure, but in a time where “sitcom” is starting to be recklessly thrown around as a pejorative, here’s proof of just how good the form can still be.
07. Better Call Saul
Where to Watch: AMC
MVP of the Show: Rhea Seehorn’s Kim Wexler has often been marginalized throughout Better Call Saul, but that’s not the case in Season Four. Following her existential breakdown at the end of the third season, Wexler spends most of this season finding herself again as she floats around a flavorful legal wasteland. If anything, she has the more legitimate hurdles of this ensemble, namely because she’s the only one trying to go about life in a clean way. That is, until she realizes those parlor tricks of Jimmy McGill’s (Bob Odenkirk) make life much, much easier. Seeing her not only take these kind of shortcuts, but enjoy them enough to start leaning upon them, adds another layer of tragedy to the series, especially since Wexler’s narrative is really the only one in Better Call Saul that has no defined ending yet. For all we know, she could wind up dead or working at Cinnabon, too.
Must-See Episode: Once again, Gilligan and Gould proved they still have enough puzzles in the closet to dust off and keep our minds working. Whether it’s Jimmy’s ensuing smoke and mirrors or Mike Ehrmantraut’s (Jonathan Banks) latest assignment, Better Call Saul, like Breaking Bad before it, is always a treat for the eyes and nerves, chock full of witty escapes and stunning montages. Yet the two also still know how to deliver those crushing, dramatic blows and season finale “Winner” bruises hard. The most shocking thing about these moments is that they’re steeped in prequelitis. After all, we know Jimmy is going to take up the Saul Goodman name, just as we know that Mike’s going to have to take out the trash, but getting there is what makes the difference, and Gilligan and Gould tread lightly in connecting the dots, so that when they finally do… Yeah, drama!
Why We Binge: For AMC, Better Call Saul is an extension of Breaking Bad, which is why we get all the exhausting backstories on Los Pollos Hermanos, something that really reared its ugly head in Season Three. However, Gilligan and Gould found a way to compromise in Season Four, dipping ever so slightly in the novelty of Remember When, while placing a larger emphasis on This Also Happened. Given the news about a Breaking Bad movie sequel, we know that this is less a series and more of a franchise now, and while that may have seemed exhausting or even taxing a year ago, that’s just not the case after watching Season Four. It’s clear that Gilligan and Gould still can mine original stories from the source material, and in an age where IP is the skeleton key to getting stories on the screen, you gotta root for the guys who know all the right parlor tricks to make it work.
06. The Good Place
Showrunner(s): Michael Schur
Where to Watch: NBC
MVP of the Show: Janet may have lost some of her powers on Earth, but she’s still Season Three’s clear MVP. Whether she’s taking down an entire bar of demons Matrix-style or all four members of the principle cast are turned into Janet look-alikes, D’Arcy Carden let’s us know her rendition of Janet is no one-hit robot.
Must-See Episode: “The Brainy Bunch”, hands down. While the season’s individual forays are interesting — we spend time with Eleanor’s mom and we commit crime with Jason’s dad — the show’s always best when the entire ensemble gets to play off each other. And it’s always a plus — well, for the dark side — when head-demon Trevor (Adam Scott) gets to join in the fun, and uh, mix things up.
Why We Binge: Well, because sometimes it really feels like we, the viewers, are the ones in The Bad Place, and we’re terrible people and take joy in seeing Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason suffer instead of us. No, but really The Good Place feels like a relief in such a rage-filled news cycle. And somehow in an oversaturated market with 10 million things vying for our attention, The Good Place has broken through to mass fandom in a way only a handful of current shows have. Just think, in an alternate dimension, they might already be on Season 236. Those forking bastards.
Where to Watch: HBO
MVP of the Show: It’s lazy to just say the titular character is the best part of the series, but it’s true with Barry. Although the show’s littered with larger-than-life characters that often steal the screen, there’s just no topping Bill Hader. As the Marine-turned-hitman-turned-actor, Hader has so many jackets to wear in each episode, and he looks great in ’em all, particularly when he has to be a stone-cold killer. No disrespect to the Saturday Night Live veteran, but he’s not exactly the first choice in anyone’s heads to be a murderous machine, which is why his mechanical disposition in the role is so alarming. Yet it’s more than just simply standing still or moving fast; no, you believe Hader’s seen some shit, and that tumultuous past informs every move.
Must-See Episode: Any comedy tackling dark material runs the risk of suffering from tonal issues, only that hasn’t been a problem for Barry. The show shifts between laughs and gasps with startling ease, and there was no better example of this than “Chapter Seven: Loud, Fast, and Keep Going”. After surviving the most harrowing experience of the season, Barry must deal with the messy aftermath, which involves his partner Chris Lucado (Chris Marquette) threatening to clear his conscience by going to the cops. Obviously, that can’t happen, and so, what happens instead is one of the most shocking scenes on television all year, and Barry’s immediate reaction is why Hader is collecting nomination after nomination.
Why We Binge: “I’d kill for that role.” That’s the big joke, right? In some respects, yes, but Barry is more than just a sly commentary on the dog-eat-dog nature of making it in Hollywood. It’s a taut half-hour of television that manages to feel like a greatest hits of its very form. It’s a spy show at one moment and a romantic comedy the next. It’s amorphous, really, strung together by this undercurrent of dread that seems to suggest that life is really just one long punchline, that we’re all just out here killing each other to make ends meet. Whether that’s true or not, who knows, but it’s relatable, which may be why the series grooves over so many beats without skipping a single one. It’s a shame Robert Altman’s not around to watch it.
Showrunner: Ryan Murphy. It was co-created with Brad Falchuk and Steven Canals.
MVP of the Show: You can read our interview with Billy Porter, Consequence’s TV performer of the year, here. The rest of the cast is also excellent, and Mj Rodriguez (Blanca) and Indya Moore (Angel) in particular give unforgettable performances, but Porter’s turn as Pray Tell is an all-timer.
Must-See Episode: The Janet Mock-directed, Mock and Ryan Murphy-written “Love Is The Message” is one among many standouts in the back half of Pose’s uniformly excellent first season, but since it contains one of the year’s best scenes in this or any series, it ekes out a lead. Porter and Rodriguez get the chance to show off their musical bonafides, as well as their dramatic chops, when Blanca performs at a cabaret Pray Tell has organized for the residents of an AIDS ward in a hospital; by the time they raise their voices together at the end of The Wiz’s “Home”, “Love Is The Message” has earned every inch of its title.
Why We Binge: If you look at Pose piece by piece, it’s a family drama, plain and simple. We meet the people in the family, we see how they’re connected or how they come to be so, and we watch as the characters step into or out of the spotlight, their individual arcs moving together like a braid. It’s all very Parenthood. Yet it’s that familiarity of form that actually makes Pose the revolutionary series that it is. Featuring the largest cast of trans actors in series regular roles in the history of scripted television, Pose doesn’t bother to argue that the stories of Blanca, Angel, Pray Tell, Damon, Elektra, Lil Papi, and the rest of its ensemble are worth telling. It does not feel the need to convince anyone of their humanity. It treats it as fact, which is what it is.
Then there’s the fact that Pose, which peers into the ballroom scene in New York City during the AIDS crisis, has only become more timely and relevant over the course of a very shit year. It would be easy to assume that in this political moment, any series centering on the struggles of the queer and trans communities would be rife with despair. But Pose treats the joys and tragedies of life with equal importance. It’s wildly entertaining, deeply moving, downright inspiring, and important to this moment. It’s one of the year’s best, and we can’t wait for Season Two.
03. Killing Eve
Showrunner(s): Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Where to Watch: BBC America (or Hulu, at least for now)
MVP of the Show: Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer. If you think it’s a copout to avoid sidelining one of the show’s two leads, you haven’t yet watched Killing Eve. As Eve, a low-level MI-5 operative, Oh imbues one of television’s most stock types (an ambitious criminal investigator) with a sense of deeply felt eccentricity. She’s not weird in the Sherlock way, she’s weird in the “you’ve never seen anyone like her on TV before” way. As Villanelle, Comer delivers the kind of flashy performance for which awards shows live. She speaks multiple languages, she delivers handfuls of 2018’s best line readings, and she’s a mix of darkly funny and truly, genuinely terrifying. But as the show eventually teases out, these are symbiotic performances. What each awakes in the other is undeniable, and Killing Eve forms them as perfect inverses of one another.
Must-See Episode: From the second Eve inadvertently meets cute with Villanelle in the pilot, it’s clear that there will be consequences for that before long. But most shows wouldn’t begin with them as quickly, and as cruelly, as Killing Eve does with “Don’t I Know You?”, the show’s third episode. David Haig’s sweetly taciturn Bill seemed like a secondary player who’d be key to the show’s story going forward, the expert MI-5 veteran whose presence would help Eve crack the case of the faceless female assassin. Instead, as Eve and Bill draw ever closer to Villanelle, they don’t yet know her well enough to know that they’re walking face-first into a trap. The look on Comer’s face as Bill sits trapped in the nightclub, too far from Eve to retreat and too close to Villanelle to live, is as horrifying a moment as TV has witnessed all year.
Why We Binge: Waller-Bridge is the kind of comic mind capable of expanding our understanding of that definition, and anybody who watched the unyielding Fleabag knows it. Killing Eve is in a class of its own on TV right now, swinging from pitch-black comedy to genuine pathos to moments of strangling fear with a tonal command unseen anywhere else on the small screen. In a lot of ways, it’s pretty much everything any viewer could want a TV show to be: it’s funny, sexy, violent, whip-smart, thoughtful, consequential, and it trots the globe with regular aplomb. It’s also an entirely unique being in a crowded medium, and much like the singular women at its center, we’re kept rapt with waiting for their continued adventures.
Showrunner(s): Donald Glover
Where to Watch: FX
MVP of the Show: This season, for as great as the show’s central quartet consistently are, it’s Brian Tyree Henry by a mile. If the show’s first season was the story of Earn attempting to come up from the drudgery of everyday hustling, season two followed Paper Boi’s discovery of how compatibly thankless the view still is from the top (or, at least, closer to it). The actor’s deadpan exhaustion has always made for great comic fodder, but here he molds it into something far more palpably exhausted. Getting a bag is hard. Keeping it is even harder. And trying to grow it? That all depends on how much of a man’s personhood and soul he’s willing to trade in the exchange.
Must-See Episode: In a lot of ways, we could just type “Teddy Perkins” here and move on. Even people who don’t watch Atlanta have probably seen, or at least know about, the show’s foray into surrealist horror in the middle of its unnerving second season. But in that same vein, the one that’s kept us talking all year has been “Woods”, the show’s late-season exploration of just how lost Paper Boi has found himself in his constantly changing world. As he moves from vapid dates to violent threats to the insufferable demands of “fans” looking to get another piece of a man falling apart in real time, Atlanta makes one of its most trenchant statements yet about the actual pitfalls of fame.
Why We Binge: For a show to do what Atlanta did with Robbin’ Season is remarkable. Even in the age of prestige television, when a show with enough buzz can get its audience to follow it just about anywhere, Glover and his expert team of performers, writers, and directors offered a defiant fuck-you to any and all expectations. What the show seems to be aiming for now is no less authentic to its central story, but also stands as an uncommonly textural and emotional journey into dialogues about hip-hop, race, America, and so many other high-level ideas. From week to week, watching the second season as it aired, you didn’t know what you were going to watch each week. You didn’t have a clue. And it was about as exhilarating as watching a season of TV in the Golden Era has been.
01. The Americans
Where to Watch: FX
MVP of the Show: In Season Six, everyone was on their A-game, and you could tell by a cursory glance. Matthew Rhys nearly tore off his arm from wearing Philip’s conflicted feelings on his sleeve. Keri Russell poured all of Elizabeth’s anxieties into each and every drag of her million cigarettes. Noah Emmerich left Stan looking like a forgotten stack of worn-out calendars. And Holly Taylor wrestled through each scene like an empty bottle of Xanax. Again, everyone was firing on all cylinders — sometimes literally, ha — which is why it’s just impossible to name any one character. So, let’s instead use this space to applaud the great and oft-ignored Keidrich Sellati, whose role as Henry was every bit as emotional and compelling, even if it was small..
Must-See Episode: You could honestly make an argument for any episode this season, but there’s no denying that ending. It’s never easy sticking to a landing, and Weisberg and Fields experienced zero turbulence on their way down. “START” is an essential swan song, not only for the series but for the Golden Age of Television, and it never wastes a single second as it tragically splits the family apart. Everyone’s in on the moment, too, but they’re too self-aware to be self-aware about it, and that respect toward the gravitas of each moment is why the final hour is so affecting. in the end, though, it’s all about that split, the way “home” and “family” become hollow terms to these characters, despite them all being exactly where they need to be.
Why We Binge: It’s not easy ending a show, especially diamonds like FX’s The Americans. For six seasons, Weisberg and Fields maintained one of the most essential (and underrated) dramas on television, charming critics with its uncanny attention to character and themes. Although the penultimate fifth season drew criticism for meandering around the Big Finale, the sixth and final outing doubled down on the tension, proving to be the sweaty final lap everyone wanted.
But, it wasn’t all just spy games, even if there were plenty of harrowing scenes. No, the show’s most affective facet has always been the connections between its characters, and Weisberg and Fields played those out seamlessly. Seeing the Jennings slowly ripped apart is worse than any death that could have taken place on screen, particularly when we watch the stony bromance crumble between Stan and Philip in that now-iconic parking garage scene. Just tragic.
Yet also prescient. At a time when America finds itself in an identity crisis, The Americans proves that this isn’t anything new, that things change, life moves on, and nothing is sacred. That final shot says it all, as Philip and Elizabeth finally return home to Russia, coming face to face with a country that’s both familiar and alien to them. Still, they can’t run from the changes, they can only contend with them, and that feeling isn’t just palpable, it’s enlightening.