Best TV of 2018 (Part 2)
Feature by Louis Rabinowitz.
TV is swelling with sci-fi in 2018. It’s practically bursting at the seams with spaceships and aliens. Yet so much of today’s science-fiction, even Doctor Who, rests on the softer end of the spectrum, where sci-fi is a useful handwavey tool for more grounded storylines rather than the very point of the story. Enter The Expanse, remarkable above all for waving the flag for extremely nerdy hard sci-fi, filled to the brim with granular detail and complicated world-building, while still remaining resolutely tethered to emotional and empathetic character work. In The Expanse, giddy revelations about ancient alien civilisations and weighty philosophical debates about warfare and responsibility sit comfortably among the simple tale of a nice botanist trying to get back to his missing daughter, or a kindly pastor discovering her passion for adventure amongst the stars. The visual effects are ace, the pace is thrilling and relentless, and it’s adapting its source material, which offers fuel for several more years of engaging stories, with the perfect balance between fidelity and relaxed pragmatism. There’s nothing not to like. Even better, after its own cancellation and revival malarkey, it’s flown free of the restrictive coop of SyFy and onto the green pastures of Amazon Prime for future seasons.
GLOW started very well last year, but moved to the next level in this year’s second season. It’s a simple show with a simple premise and classic conflicts, but that’s what works so well about it; its narrow focus allows it to execute its ideas with a level of finesse and grace that other shows simply can’t match. Take a large cast of likeable, well-defined characters, all of whom the viewer is encouraged to root for due to their good-hearted nature and underdog status. Add a timely feminist focus upon the suffocating difficulties of launching female-fronted entertainment within a patriarchal system, and the insidious ease through which harassment and misogyny become normalised and wholly endorsed behaviours. Add a touch of romcom, but only to add underlying tension to the conflicts which the show holds more important, and never to subsume the central narrative. In the finale, make sure to stage an increasingly ambitious televised wrestling battle which culminates the season’s central conflicts and opens up a completely new and fascinating status quo for the next season.
The Good Place
No show can maintain genius forever. In The Good Place’s third season, it’s perhaps not the freewheeling creative juggernaut that it was in its first two years. Yet it’s still consistently funny, smart and rewarding, with the rewardingly frequent bouts of brilliance and ingenuity that lured viewers into this beguiling show in the first place. Even if season three ramped up the show’s predilection for shifting location and status quo to the point where it has become genuinely impossible to summarise its premise, Good Place is rewarding for being one of the rare shows on TV where there’s little to no point in predicting what could possibly come next. And it’s still accomplishing the extremely precise task of jamming complex philosophy into simple, empathetic 22-minute character-driven stories, and somehow delivering an experience that’s satisfying alone and admirable in its long-form ambition. Realistically, the brilliance of Good Place years one and two was lightning in a bottle they caught twice. The fact that we still have a version of this show that’s very, very good, is perfectly satisfying.
Legends of Tomorrow
Legends has perhaps been unfairly pigeon-holed as a show that started out wholly straight-laced and gritty, when its first season wasn’t without its zany indulgences. The joy of the latter seasons, year-on-year, is how it coaxes out that anarchic energy that lay somewhat concealed in its first go-around and continues, incessantly, to amplify it with age. 2018 in Legends brought even more delights to the mix; from the addition of John Constantine to the mix as a regular, a time-loop story for the ages, a surfeit of ridiculous magical monsters of the week, an adorable and angst-free LGBT couple, Kid Flash, a sudden shift to workplace comedy, and, perhaps most importantly, Beebo, the wholly lovable blue plushie who became a model for a magical being of pure light with which our heroes suplexed a time demon into an exploding blue heart. Nothing on this show would make any remote sense to an outsider, but for those who click with its psychedelic, increasingly meta sensibilities, it’s a relentlessly fun and creative slice of superhero television that still out-achieves its more conventional peers at granular and intimate character drama. For a show which left 2018 on an episode where the main cast members became singing puppets, cats, and stars of two separate all-male/all-female 80s action TV shows, that might appear difficult, but Legends continues to make its exceedingly difficult job look easy on the regular.
The Haunting of Hill House
2018 was the year of the revolutionary stealth one-two punch of A Quiet Place and Hereditary, and a Halloween reboot that actually worked. But cinema has always been a comfortable home for horror. It was how 2018 brought accomplished and engaging horror to TV, a medium with a tempestuous relationship with the genre, that really marked it out, and the show that everybody wound up talking about was Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House. To assess Hill House solely as horror is to do the show a significant disservice. To assess it as a compelling family drama and a minute study in grief and the hereditary nature of mental illness with occasional intrusions from ghosts is perhaps closer to the mark. The horror element is merely a tasty bit of seasoning on a show that’s pretty terrific at everything between the jump scares, serving to literalize and make frighteningly tangible those demons lurking underneath the carefully presented facades of the characters.
By Casey Riggins.
- 12 Monkeys ended the complex time-travelling sci-fi drama with an emotive season that somehow managed to tie up the loose ends from the past few years.
- Cobra Kai surprised almost everyone by actually not being a Youtube train wreck, instead it was a hugely fun and often hilarious updating of The Karate Kid franchise.
- Counterpart is a smart spy thriller few have seen, despite its star billing of J.K. Simmons, but those who have are hooked by its multiple universe spanning premise.
- Ozark delivered a tense and twisty sophomore season of the crime drama. Its often grim nature enlivened by some superlative acting from Jason Bateman and Laura Linney.
- Sharp Objects was a slow-burn character whodunnit based on the novel by the same name, featuring a powerhouse performance from Amy Adams.
- The Terror was relentlessly bleak horror loosely based on the doomed real life expedition, but the real terror was the lengths man will go to to survive…