There is, objectively, way too much goddamn television about in 2018. Much of it is fantastic, that’s one of the upsides to this era of so-called Peak TV, but there’s also a lot. Thousands upon thousands of shows, hundreds of which are seemingly required viewing, spread across dozens of genres and channels, and almost all of which have tens to even hundreds of prior episodes to storm through before you can even get fully caught up on the show that at this second is Must See Television. It’s a commitment watching television nowadays, is what I am trying to say, and attempting to cobble together a consensus Best list from this landscape is utterly absurd. Which is why we here at Set the Tape haven’t even bothered to try.
Instead, as the time dial crosses over into the second half of the year, we have invited a bunch of our writers to share their individual favourite television shows that have aired up to now. The year’s only half done, many big names are yet to return or debut – Sharp Objects, premiering Sunday/Monday, tell your friends! – and yet it’s hard to argue about 2018 being anything but another banner year for the good old tellybox. Or tellyphone, or tellycomputer, or however you’re watching the increasingly blurry definition of television these days. I suspect these will look radically different once we reconvene in December to look back on the year as a whole, so why not let us know if we missed your favourite show so far in the comments below! We probably have, because there is way too much goddamn television about!
Cult hit iZombie continues to hit us in the gut with a heart-wrenching fourth season. Episodes such as “And He Shall Be A Good Man” and “Insane the Germ Brain” in particular is tear jerking enough to even make Blaine (David Anders) and his henchmen cry. Liv’s (Rose McIver) courageous mission as Renegade puts her in the crosshairs of the tyrannical Fillmore-Graves, while her partner Clive (Malcolm Goodwin) battles to keep his relationship with the now zombified Dale (Jessica Harmon) on track. Both of these developments set the characters in a compelling direction leading them to make potentially life altering decisions in the finale.
Meanwhile, everyone’s favourite medical examiner Ravi (Rahul Kohli) continues to work on a cure and girlfriend Peyton (Aly Michalka) tries to persuade the government not to nuke Seattle in order to eliminate the zombie threat – guess she can count herself lucky she’s not got to sit opposite President Trump. The finale itself may eliminate one threat but with nuclear annihilation still a possibility, the worst is still to come. The fifth and final season can’t come soon enough. – Daniel Taylor
One of the major small screen success stories of 2016, Atlanta sought to go bigger, bolder, and a whole lot weirder during its return earlier this year. Creator, writer, director, and star Donald Glover may have recently blown up YouTube as “This is America” alter-ego Childish Gambino, but it’s on the original tube where he continues to showcase his best work.
Part of the recently booming, rapidly-evolving 30-minute dramedy craze – Louie, Barry, Mozart in the Jungle et al. – Atlanta’s second season saw its experimental approach come to the forefront, with off-the-wall structures, character studies, and deep dives into a plethora everyday themes, encompassing race, family, celebrity, poverty, and wealth. Backed by an all-black writing staff (including his younger brother, Stephen), Glover’s commentary on the African-American community’s place in, and navigation of, modern America is beautifully dark, shockingly humorous, and depressingly relevant. Made not to conform to accessibility – even deliberately causing its audience to struggle at times – Atlanta thrives due to its willingness to push boundaries backed by both hard-hitting reality and surreal experiences. And what exactly do Glover’s surreal experiences look like? Three words: Teddy. Fucking. Perkins. – Nicholas Lay
The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale
About two-thirds of the way through the inaugural episode of Netflix’s The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale, I finally realised just how much I had missed The Soup, which this is effectively the return of in all but name. Specifically, it was when Joel threw to a montage of people in South Korean soap operas being hit by vehicles of various kinds, a several minute collection of clips they had supposedly collected over the course of 3 weeks of production. He introduces it with the promise that “this may stop being funny a couple of times, but don’t worry, it circles back.”
That, in a nutshell, is the appeal of both shows. McHale stands in front of a green screen, plays only barely out-of-context clips mostly from vapid reality shows, and then makes fun of them, but the ribbing, no matter how venomous it may appear, is actually good-natured. It’s clear that McHale and his writers find genuine enjoyment in the existence of television’s lowest-common denominators, much in the same way Mystery Science Theater 3000 has for janky B-movies of dubious quality, and that rubs off on the viewer. That marriage of rubbernecking and legitimate base enjoyment of television that’s largely dismissed by critics with self-described “taste.” And whilst The Joel McHale Show imports many of The Soup’s prior problems wholesale, I still love that specific kick I get from tuning in every week. – Callum Petch
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
In the fifth season of Marvel’s flagship television series, Coulson (Clark Gregg) and his team, captured in the finale of season four, found themselves transported 90 years into the future. Unfortunately things haven’t gone well, with Earth being destroyed, those that survived huddling inside a network of tunnels, ruled over by the Kree. We see humanity on its knees, close to extinction, ruled over by a harsh alien master in the grimmest that the show has ever been. In the second half, which aired this year, the team manages to get back to their own time but are struggling to break away from the time-loop that will result in the destruction of Earth, pushed to breaking point as they are cut off from help, fighting against the forces of Hydra and an alien threat.
In defiance of how that sprawl may sound on paper, this season was actually the S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s tightest in terms of storytelling. Despite a loss in budget, what they do have is put to good use towards the end of the season, when a giant alien battleship crashes into Chicago, and we get a super powered battle with the fate of the Earth on the line. With the best story-line the show has given us, a focus on their core characters, and some great connections to Infinity War, the fifth season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. demonstrates why the show is still one of the best comic book series on television. – Amy Walker
Lost in Space
It’s official. Netflix has remade the 1960s classic television show Lost In Space, and they’ve done a truly first-class job. The new series retains many of the elements of the original show while also inserting some justified and quality modern updates. While it is a long overdue remake of beloved science fiction, the classic musical score, humour, heart, and very real danger are still around to make this first season a fun ride. High-calibre acting and character moments help drive the viewer to stay connected. This first season takes us on a bit of a different journey than the initial season of the original, but firmly plants itself in the original’s storyline in good time. This remake represents a diversion from the popular paranormal Netflix originals, and that’s a good thing as Netflix has proved it can do big, action-filled sci-fi with this iteration of Lost In Space. – Caleb Burnett
Horror television programmes are few and far between. For every The Exorcist – which is bloody marvellous – there is a The River. For every The Walking Dead – which was marvellous at one point – there is a Fear The Walking Dead. For every Hannibal, there is a The Mist. Ad. Nauseam. When a Ridley Scott executive produced AMC mini-series started to quietly build hype, I resisted getting my hopes up too much given past experiences. Oh ye of little faith.
The Terror is set in the 1840s as two British Royal Navy ships, the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus, trudge through the Arctic in search of an elusive trade route known as the Northwest Passage, led by Captain John Franklin (Ciarán Hinds). They soon get stuck and spend winter in the frozen tundra. One winter turns to two. Loyal British stiff upper lips turn to rumblings of discontent, which moves closer and closer to outright mutiny. The death of an Inuit is met by spiritual consequences in the shape of a monstrous polar bear. Even if we get away from the palpable atmosphere and intense sense of dread that permeates the intoxicating beautiful scenery, it is just a magnificently paced, written and performed series. Jared Harris puts in a career-best performance and steals the show. The BT TV exclusive series can rue the fact that it is not made by HBO for its relatively low viewing figures because there is no doubt that if this had been featured on Sky Atlantic, Channel 4 or BBC, it would be rated far higher than it already is. – Owen Hughes