TV lists

Set the Tape’s Favourite TV Shows of 2018

It’s official: there is too much goddamn TV nowadays.  That’s not me being facetious, American cable channel FX – home of Atlanta, Legion, The Americans, and basically another prime contributor to the problem they’re calling out – funded an actual study whose results clearly demonstrate the absurd rise in original scripted programming over the years.  Combining network stations, basic cable outlets, premium cable channels, and those 9,000,000 different streaming services vying for your monthly income, there were 495 original shows in 2018.  More than ever, everyone wants a piece of the pie and everyone wants to be that lucky show which breaks through into the mainstream conversation to become a true watercooler sensation.  Equally more than ever, however, ain’t nobody got time for that.

I guarantee, readers, that there will have been no consensus pick between those of us who participated in the site-wide survey of our favourite shows of 2018.  In fact, I’d even go so far as to claim that there wouldn’t even be a single show on our lists or ballots that every one of us watched this year!  I personally didn’t start watching The Good Place until about a fortnight ago and still haven’t touched the new She-Ra, I’m atrociously behind on everything!  Therefore, think of this roundup as a series of individual and rather personal recommendations rather than some sort of Best Of list.  You won’t find Atlanta on here, nor will you find The Handmaid’s Tale, nor Doctor Who, nor GLOW, nor the dearly-departed-then-gloriously-resurrected Brooklyn Nine Nine.  Several entries that our writers wanted to pick were already covered in the Mid-Year Report, so go compare and contrast these two articles and see if anything you don’t recognise takes your fancy.  After all, there’s a lot of TV out there, and a lot of that TV is really fucking good. – Callum Petch


This Country

Every few years, a comedy comes along which just captures something. Peep Show understood the post-90’s malaise of the late-twentysomething. Catastrophe gets the absurd, complex emotions of marriage and parenthood. This Country quite brilliantly exposes the boredom of modern British country life with the expanse of growing social issues in Tory Britain. Filmed and framed with a significant debt to Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s The Office (another of those comedies which found a niche to mine), This Country features real life brother/sister Daisy May and Charlie Cooper as unemployed cousins, both largely uneducated, trying to exist in a tiny corner of the Cotswolds where nothing ever happens. This may sound bleak but the characters of Kerry and Lee ‘Kurtin’ Mucklowe are so well observed, both a mixture of poignant pathos and plain unremitting idiocy, the show is a delight in just how funny the majority of its episodes are. It returned for a second season and a special this year, with a third season on the way, and while it has courted awards attention, it hasn’t yet seeped into the popular consciousness as Peep Show or The Office did, but it truly deserves to. Let’s hope 2019 is its year. – Tony Black


Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been something of a hidden gem for the Marvel Cinematic universe. With several shows having been cancelled over the last few years, S.H.I.E.L.D. has become Marvel’s longest-running television series, managing to go from strength to strength with each and every season, introducing new characters and concepts that have changed the universe in big ways. Season five of the show was no exception in this, transporting the team of heroes into the far future where the Earth has been literally broken apart. Forced to fight against evil alien overlords, the team must learn what happened to the planet whilst also finding a way back home to prevent this future from coming to pass. Once back in their own time they are once again on the back foot, on the run from the government and a coalition of their past foes. Created when executive producers Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tanchareon and Jeffrey Bell thought it might have been their last season, season five of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. felt like a best-of series, one that brought back so many of the things that made the show great whilst also managing to tie into the events of Avengers: Infinity War in a satisfying way. – Amy Walker


The Good Place

This is a golden age of television, for sure, but it always seems as if the so-called great shows are the ones that are on Netflix, HBO or Hulu.  Sometimes, however, the old guard can still surprise you and something dazzling, original and brilliant can come from the least likely place. So it is that The Good Place, an NBC comedy, an American network television comedy no less, can surprise, delight and, in the best possible way, shock.  There’s a world where The Good Place was simply just an afterlife comedy. Instead of finding a formula and sticking with it, the series constantly pulls the rug out from under the audience with twist after twist, shock after shock, and, as its second season concluded and its third began in 2018, still managed to retain its brilliance. Some criticism has been levelled at season three by some, but it remains as dazzling as ever, taking chances and massive risks that, in the shape of mid-season finale “Janet(s),” may have not only delivered its greatest ever episode, but also just made D’Arcy Carden the best comedic performer on any television series in the world. – Eamon Hennedy


American Vandal

If you thought that TV couldn’t get any better than a true-crime documentary satire spilling over with dick jokes, then you’re going to want to hold on to your butts. Because with season two of American Vandal, Netflix deposits a true-crime documentary satire packed solid with poop jokes. Student film-makers Peter Maldonado and Sam Ecklund return to investigate a series of horrendous poop-related crimes committed at a high school by the mysterious ‘Turd Burglar’, beginning with the cafeteria lemonade being spiked with laxatives – with explosive consequences. It might not sound particularly high-brow but, actually, it kind of is. Series masterminds Dan Perrault and Tony Yacenda have created a perfectly pitched observation of the true-crime genre, complete with its awkward interviews, messy detective work, and potentially exploitative aspects. The premise is intriguing, the writing witty and compelling, and it’s played so straight that it’s almost believable. It also has something to say, commenting on a range of teen-related issues, from personal identity to social media, just as season one raised real questions about the criminal justice system. Whether you come for the mystery and stay for the poop jokes or vice versa, adding American Vandal to your watch list is not a defecate decision. – Wendy Attwell


BoJack Horseman

Four years now, I have been going into the latest season of BoJack Horseman with the fear that this was going to be the season where it finally dropped the ball.  That this was going to be the season where show creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg and his phenomenally-talented team of writers and animators were finally going to screw up the high-wire balancing act of scathing critiques against Hollywoo celebrity culture, painfully honest examinations of depression and mental health, and utterly hysterical comedy.  That this was going to be the season where they finally careen off a cliff.  Instead, season five saw BoJack taking even more risks, plugging itself into the zeitgeist more than ever before, and grappling with its own existence as a show about miserable self-destructive people, many of whom refuse to actively better themselves or own up to their mistakes, that can be used as justification for shitty behaviour by exactly the kind of people who fail to understand that explanations don’t equal excuses or endorsements.  And in its golden moments, which were abundant, they produced some of the best animated television of the decade: the eulogy episode that should finally win Will Arnett his bloody Emmy, the brutally true payoff to the season’s #MeToo plotline, everything to do with Philbert (the show’s vicious parody of Peak TV auteur-worshipping anti-hero dramas with questionable episode lengths), and Diane finally becoming the true star of the show all along.  No other show speaks to me like BoJack does.  Maybe next year I’ll learn to trust in it more. – Callum Petch


Killing Eve

Killing Eve makes TV writing look so easy, perfectly balancing tension, character, plot and humour without feeling jarring in the slightest. Phoebe Waller-Bridge takes her unique voice, as established in her sitcoms Crashing and Fleabag, and lends it to this adaptation of Luke Jenning’s stories of MI5 analyst Eve (Sandra Oh) tracking down assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer). Within the first few scenes, the show uses humour and tension to reveal the quirks and foils of its main two stars, and you feel and root for them in equal measure. Oh has great comic timing and makes eye-eyed confusion an art form, Comer oozes manic psychopath as if it comes naturally, and their dynamic relationship that develops is expertly crafted, converging at just the right time for maximum impact. The supporting cast work hard to flesh out the show’s world – Fiona Shaw, Darren Boyd and Kirby Howell-Baptiste adding their own unique character whilst Kim Bodnia makes an always-welcome appearance as Villanelle’s handler, Kostantin. From the direction, the writing, the cast and the set/production design, a lot of love goes into Killing Eve and it pays off with what is one of the best shows of 2018. Nothing else has a fighting chance. – Matt Latham


Norsemen

You’ve probably skimmed through Netflix, like I have, and seen Norsemen on the recommended list assuming it’s just another Game of Thrones knock-off that won’t be anywhere near as good – a sweeping historical epic that combines Norse mythology and magic into 10 hour-long episode slogs. Well, you’re wrong. The Norwegian comedy series (yes, comedy) may have some of the most majestic landscapes on the planet at its disposal and shoots them with the cinematic gusto of a Peter Jackson movie, but this is not a fantasy yarn. Set in a small Viking community around 790AD, Norsemen was created by Jon Iver Helgaker and Jonas Torgersen as a parody of the portrayal of Viking culture. Headed up by the weedy chieftain Orm (Kåre Conradi) who constantly vies with the dumb but likeable Arvid (Nils Jørgen Kaalstad) to lead the clan, with Orm’s wife and Arvid’s shield-maiden Frøya (Silje Torp) stuck between them, the cast is brimming with hilarious and strangely relatable characters. The Roman slave and actor Rufus (Trond Fausa), who is used to better treatment, provides many of the show’s best lines. With scenes shot simultaneously in both Norwegian and then again in English, Norsemen crosses cultures like few other comedy shows can. Nearly a fifth of all Norwegians watched the first season (around a million people) and now both seasons of the show can be watched here in the UK on Netflix. – Owen Hughes


The X-Files

Season 11 of The X-Files chronicled what will likely be the end of Mulder and Scully’s second act, recovering from the oft-maligned Season 10 of 2016 coming out of their past and pushing the pair forward into the series’ ever-beguiling mythology instalments, those bookends being darker and more tragic than ever before, whilst many of the standalones had a somewhat lighter tone. Mulder and Scully are older and wearier in some ways, but they also seem more comfortable with their unusual lives and even seemed to enjoy their crazy work in ways their younger selves might not have so readily accepted. Most of the episodes of the season weren’t continuous with each other, but did explore common themes, including the phenomenon of doubling or having two selves: doppelgängers in “Plus One,” doubling of consciousness in “Ghouli,” two sets of mirrored characters in the conspiracy in “My Struggle III,” among others. For a season about Mulder and Scully in the second halves of their lives, this phenomenon of doubling was fascinating, fun, and provocative whilst also exploring ideas of justice versus mercy and selfishness versus sacrifice. It was not a perfect season, but it was one worthy of more stories and a future glimpse at Mulder and Scully in the third act of their lives. Whatever happens in our world, they will always have interesting mysteries to solve in theirs. – Marlene Stemme


Superstore

Attention Cloud 9 Shoppers: Not all the witty, sharp and hilarious comedies are on premium cable and streaming services. Old-fashioned broadcast networks such as NBC are now offering a special on superbly-written, expertly acted, wonderfully plotted extremely funny TV comedies. For an unbeatable bargain, you too can enjoy watching the hilarious antics of the employees within America’s favourite department store – Cloud 9’s. Our very own crew of dedicated staff featuring Amy (America Ferrera), Jonah (Ben Feldman), Dina (Lauren Ash), Cheyenne (Nichole Bloom), Matteo (Nico Santos), Garrett (Colton Dunn) and eccentric manager Glenn (a terrific Mark McKinney working with his best ensemble cast since his Kids in the Hall days) guarantee all shoppers complete customer satisfaction – and a large supply of laughter. Cloud 9 also offers loyal viewers one of the finest workplace comedies since NewsRadio, The Office and Parks and Recreation. This is one offer Cloud 9 visitors won’t want to pass up. Once you visit this Cloud 9 Superstore, you won’t want to shop (or miss a weekly special) anywhere else. – Jason Sheppard


Missed any of your personal favourite shows of 2018?  Got recommendations for us to check out?  Share our opinions anyhow?  Hit the comments below and get to talking!  Keep checking back on Set the Tape all week for more Listmas articles like these!

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