The best tv shows of the year

Lucien Waugh-Daly

As multiplex cinemas remain dominated by comic-book heroes and endless remakes, prominent Hollywood talent continues to head to the small screen, resulting in yet another year of terrific TV offerings catering to a vast spectrum of tastes. But while there are always a handful of big shows that dominate the discussion among young viewers, here are 8 shows from 2018 you might not have seen, that are more than worth diving into as the Christmas break from college approaches.

Co-created by Adam McKay (The Big Short), Succession takes a screwball approach to the New York media elite. A Rupert Murdoch-style billionaire facing retirement must choose one of four obnoxious adult children as his corporate heir. Succession is like Arrested Development with billionaire cocaine addicts: we are somehow delighted and charmed by the outrageous in-fighting between these despicably manipulative siblings. The cast are stellar, and the intelligence and energy of the labyrinthine, wordy teleplays is reminiscent of Aaron Sorkin with a touch of Armando Iannucci. Meanwhile, Donald Sutherland and Brendan Fraser starred in Danny Boyle’s miniseries Trust, an electric adaptation of the infamous Getty kidnapping. Trust is a historical drama with a rock n’ roll sensibility: both a nail-biting, relentless crime thriller and a fascinating deconstruction of excessive wealth and the downfalls of fame and fortune.

Also this year was Alan Ball (Six Feet Under)’s little-seen Here & Now, an ambitious and tediously-confrontational social drama about a diverse adoptive family in present day Portland. Ball throws every 2018 social issue into the cauldron of ideas – PC culture, religious extremism, gender identity, fake news – along with some funky superstition about butterflies and volcanoes. It’s a messy and unsubtle experiment, but ultimately a very entertaining one that captures the unfocused state of American liberalism like little else has managed to.

Donald Glover’s meandering, soulful urban poem Atlanta stepped up a level in its second season, diving into the heart of contemporary black America and validating Glover as a cinematic auteur unequalled in his vibrant melding of personal and political statement. Yet Atlanta is not an inherently serious show, and is strongest when returning to its absurdist comedic roots. Jim Carrey fans were justifiably excited about Kidding, a 10-episode comeback vehicle for the one-time comedy superstar, the story of a beloved children’s entertainer called Mr. Pickles and his public collapse into enraged lunacy following the death of his son. Carrey grounds the show with his enigmatic central performance, but it’s Kidding’s surprisingly sensitive exploration of how TV affects people’s lives – with episodes touching on drug addiction, cancer and the death penalty – that sets it apart from other postmodern comedies.

The creators of Glee and American Horror Story applied their format of campy cynicism to the procedural drama with 9-1-1, as we follow a team of emergency responders on an array of utterly ridiculous, often ripped-from-the-headlines incidents across Los Angeles. Angela Bassett and Peter Krause are among the strong personalities rushing to save an assortment of idiots from perilous scenarios, usually of their own making.

Two animated programmes, both on Netflix, made an impact during autumn. Big Mouth, one of last year’s breakout animated shows, improved hugely in its second run of episodes, expanding its horizons beyond the humiliating trials of puberty, introducing compelling depictions of mental health and modern sexual culture into its bizarre canvass of Hormone Monsters and Shame Wizards. It’s a show about being 14 years old that’s targeted at an audience well past that stage of their lives. While Bojack Horseman wasn’t on top form this year – with only its bloated, heavy-handed funeral monologue episode Free Churro creating any real cultural waves – it remains one of the sharpest satires around, utilising its cast of animated animals to touch upon the #MeToo movement and digging further into the dark mindset of America’s most depressed celebrity horse.