It’s been a tough year for me, dear readers, as you’ve probably noticed by my months-long absence. But I assure you, I’ve been glued to the TV as much as ever. It has been a welcome distraction from the tribulations life tends to throw my way now and again to make sure I’ve been paying attention. There happens to have been a swift succession of them in the past few months however, causing me to neglect certain outlets. Nonetheless, I’m grateful to those who have tuned in again after so long a hiatus. As 2018 draws to a close, I have rounded up my top TV picks of the year. These are the shows that gripped me, drew me in, had me hooked, and managed to make their mark long enough not to be forgotten come New Year’s Eve 2018. In no particular order:
I could wax lyrical about how much I enjoyed this show – a chilling adaptation of Caleb Carr’s best-selling Victorian detective novel – but I already have. Even after all these months it still remains one of my top picks for the year.
Bojack Horseman (season 5)
Not as gut-wrenchingly devastating as the previous seasons, but Bojack hasn’t lost his touch. It’s still as funny, witty and almost as heartbreaking as ever. Who’d have thought a cartoon horse could be the most relatable character on TV…
While awaiting the hotly anticipated second season of Making a Murderer, I got my teeth into Netflix’s other controversial true crime documentary, The Staircase. The three-part miniseries follows the trial of Michael Peterson who was convicted of the gruesome (apparent) murder of his wife. Unlike MaM, there is no ‘did he? didn’t he?’ polemic that the film-makers try to string out. Instead, it is woefully apparent that Michael did not kill his wife. The failure of the justice system and the toll it takes on Michael is frustrating and baffling. Need something to get incensed about? Watch this, and mind your step on those stairs.
Making a Murder (season 2)
I’m not sure what I expected from the second helping of the Steven Avery/Brendan Dassey judicial roller coaster ride, but I was kinda nonplussed by this season. The twists and turns of season two didn’t quite have the same effect as the first series, as like most fans of the show (I imagine) I had been following the retrials/rulings/appeals in real time. But for me the most telling sign that it wouldn’t live up to the hype was that I was five episodes into what I thought was the new season when I realised I had accidentally been watching the first season. I did wonder why there was so much exposition… It’s one of my picks for the year purely because I’d been waiting for it to air for so long.
The Haunting of Hill House
2018 has been a turning point for horror on the big screen, what with Hereditary and A Quiet Place giving us nightmares earlier this year by turning the genre on its head. Then along came The Haunting of Hill House and gave me a whole new bunch of reasons not to sleep at night. The show re-imagines the classic horror tropes and plays with time, perspective and the audience’s mind all while managing to tell a story that is actually relatable… and damn scary.
Arrested Development (season 5)
Another season of a long-running Netflix original that had kept viewers waiting. Fans were hoping season 5 could redeem itself from a shaky last season. Thankfully I wasn’t disappointed. The Bluth clan were as unhinged and as petty as ever and ongoing jokes were seamlessly and faithfully revisited.
A big-budget, high-concept Sci-Fi series – what’s not to love already? (Let’s not talk about Lost in Space). With thrilling special effects and inspired dystopian cityscapes that Fritz Lang would be proud of, Altered Carbon thoughtfully navigates quite profound themes surrounding identity, for example, without sacrificing any of the action. Joel Kinnaman as newly cycled former rebel hero Takeshi Kovacs also happens to be my body goal for 2019. Just waiting for the technology to catch up.
This Country (season 2)
Leaving Netflix behind for a bit, BBC iPlayer treated its remaining young viewers to a new season of quirky mockumentary This Country. The Cooper siblings are back as the lovably moronic West Country youngsters Kerry and Kurtan Mucklowe. Following an award-winning debut, this season delves into the lives of the peripheral characters resulting in comedy gold. Just five seconds of the first season was enough to crack me up for days.
People Just Do Nothing (season 5)
The final season of BBC’s flagship mockumentary brings things to a natural end I felt, but left scope for a possible spin-off. For a show that follows the lives of deluded pirate radio DJs in West London, it was a concept that ran the risk of becoming tired or over-done. Ending on season 5 was the right thing to do, although I’m not totally against a spin-off series, maybe featuring Steves and Chabuddy if their call centre outgrows Nana’s flat.
The Courtney Act Show
A festive, queer extravaganza courtesy of Dame Edna’s naughty little sister (probably more like granddaughter) Courtney Act on her rapid rise to fame in the UK. Think Danny La Rue meets RuPaul, with all the quintessentially British campness our grandmothers used to love. I was lucky enough to be in the audience when this was filmed and it was clear the producers were going for that old-school variety vibe. Does this mark the dawn of a new era of TV variety? Probably not, but it was fun to watch.
Jodie Comer has really made a name for herself playing puckish assassin Villanelle in this gripping spy thriller, while Sandra Oh as her secretly enamoured foil made for the partnership of the year in my opinion. A great cast, well-paced plot, and here’s hoping for a second season.
The painted wolves episode in particular has all you could ever want from a gripping BBC drama. The only difference being it was all real and they weren’t even human. A nice follow-up to the Attenborough epics such as Blue Planet and Planet Earth, highlighting the plight of some of our world’s most endangered, and most fascinating creatures.
Queer Eye (seasons 1 & 2)
The first season proved such a hit that they churned out a second in a matter of months. The Fab Five swooping in to fix the lives of dead-beat straight men with a good haircut, skincare routine and well-sliced avocado never loses its charm.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
Following the OJ trial anthology series, this dramatisation of the murder of fashion designer Gianni Versace was a sexy yet chilling look at what made Andrew Cunanan a cold-blooded killer. It has since whipped up some controversy around the accuracy of events – apparently Donatella was not happy – and Darren Criss has been accused of ‘stealing’ a gay part. Nonetheless, Cunanan’s story is fascinating and it comes to life so beautifully thanks to a stellar cast.
Sabrina (The Chilling Adventures of)
I’ll admit it. I got sick of Riverdale pretty quickly and the only reason I gave this a chance was thanks to Melissa Joan Hart-era nostalgia (she’s not in it). Anyway, I’m glad I did. Although it took me a while to get over the fact that Salem isn’t a smart-mouthed sidekick, I loved the occult themes and sheer fun of it all. Chance Perdomo as Sabrina’s pansexual reclusive cousin is one to watch too. My main issue with the show, however, is the universe is inconsistent. Namely, what witches can and can’t do seems to change with each episode, as though the writers never bothered to consult their ‘Bible’ or whatever the witch version of that is.
Another highly anticipated series makes my list, this time for the debut of Jodie Whittaker as she steps into the role of the renowned Time Lord. Many fans no doubt watched the first episode with nervous excitement, but – being one of the most-viewed TV moments of 2018 – Whittaker proved a real hit. She has really made the role her own and is every ounce the Doctor. Admittedly, her ‘classic’ episodes are yet to come but this series did not disappoint. Particular highlights for me were the witch hunt episode (featuring Alan Cumming as the flamboyantly pious King James) and the Rosa Parks story (written by Noughts and Crosses author Malorie Blackman).
House of Cards (season 6)
With Spacey out of the picture, Frank having been ingloriously killed off before the season even begins, Claire can now take her rightful place in the Oval Office and Robin Wright can take her place as the show’s real star. Her performance is simply divine as the ice queen of Washington trying to build her own legacy away from Frank’s shadow. You don’t miss Spacey one bit.
The ABC Murders
Say goodbye to the clean-cut, well-oiled Poirot of Suchet’s era, this is the famed Belgian sleuth past his prime. The BBC’s adaptation is dark and gritty with Ripper Street vibes. As one of the first scenes of this three-parter goes: “I was a little concerned when I first saw you”. But John Malkovich has totally embodied a new, 2018 Poirot with his downplayed, brooding performance.
Big Mouth (season 2)
Big Mouth is the kind of show I wish was around when I was a scared angsty teen ‘going through changes’. Nick Kroll’s animated comedy is refreshingly candid and painfully relatable. David Thewlis as the Shame Wizard was a particular highlight from this season and it was good to finally put a face to my internal monologue.
Westworld (season 2)
Another second season that did not disappoint. This time the robots have taken over and we get to see other parts of the park. The visuals this season are simply stunning. The plot is a little easier to follow this time though, but the writers continue to play with the audience’s sense of time. Thandie Newton as Maeve really drives this show. No wonder she’s in line for a New Year Honour.
A late contender in this year’s picks and one I used to fill time during the festive gooch – that void between Christmas and New Year. It’s not normally the kind of thing I’d watch, but its dark romcom premise had me hooked from the first episode. Starring Gossip Girl’s Penn Badgley, it’s a harsh yet intriguing critique of modern relationships.
As Seen On TV
An honourable mention this year, and a show that got me through some hard times this summer, is not a new show by any sense of the word. Nonetheless, it gained quite the following and screenshots and quotes from it continue to appear on my Twitter Feed. You may be surprised to learn that I’m talking about Victoria Wood’s As Seen On TV. Victoria’s death back in 2016 left a gaping hole in British comedy, but I’m so glad her work has earned a new audience thanks to Netflix. Here’s the show that perfected TV meta satire with trips to the farcical Acorn Antiques, the hilariously mundane spoof documentaries, and the queen mum of sass Kitty and her talking head monologues. Victoria Wood was clearly a lover of British TV. She knew it inside out and this show acts as both a commentary and a love letter to the telly we were all brought up on (even though its original airing predates my birth by seven years). Whenever I need a good chuckle, I stick on the Ballad of Barry and Freda. In fact, with 2019 just hours away, that’s what I’m going to do.
Happy New Year.