Monday, December 17, 2018

The 15 Best Shows that Aired on the Broadcast Networks in 2018

With 2018 coming to a close, now is the time to reflect on the year that was before we venture into the future of 2019. This entire week I will be mentioning the various shows that delivered strong and compelling seasons this year. These picks are my recommendations for what shows viewers should be watching on the various television platforms now available.

According to FX network research released this past week, there were 495 original scripted shows that aired in 2018. That set a new record in the era of Peak TV - though the growth is slowing down with only an increase of eight shows from 2017. Moreover, the broadcast networks contributed 146 shows to that overall total. That was actually a decline from the 2017 record of 153. However, these channels have mostly been steady over the last few years with the total fluctuating between 145 and 153. That's despite all of the increased competition from the other platforms in this business over the past decade. Broadcast television is still strong even though it's the area of the business that many are walking away from. It's not always home to the edgiest content any more. These shows struggle to get any awards attention. In fact, only a small handful have the buzz and acclaim necessary to mount a successful campaign. But that doesn't mean that audiences can just write off these shows either. They still provide a valuable service to the audience that remains loyal to them.

This year also marks a significant change to year-end coverage on this site as well. For the first time, the lists will not be ranked. That system was always so arbitrary and varies according to taste. Moreover, there are so many shows out there that are made for a specific audience. Shows aren't built for everyone anymore. Only a few even have broad audiences in their live debuts. Most of the data is collected by the networks after the fact with the audience not always knowing just how successful any show is actually performing. As such, I've highlighted these 15 shows as the best of the broadcast networks. They are each worthy of checking out. Many of them have appeared on the Best of the Year lists before. Some won't be surprising at all. And yet, all of them were compelling television that was rewarding to myself as a viewer. That makes it so special for me to be spotlighting them as the best of this slice of the medium. Plus, the other areas of the industry will be featured in their own posts this week. Again, there is just so much television to enjoy that it's best to just spread the love around to as many as possible.

ABC's Black-ish

Despite series creator Kenya Barris making the move to Netflix and an episode being permanently shelved by ABC, this family comedy starring Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross continued to chug along telling compelling stories about how families grow in the modern world. It even took on an ambitious four-episode story that flirted with the idea of the central couple, Dre and Bow, getting a divorce. Not everything works but this show remains a quality highlight that is just fun to enjoy.

The CW's Black Lightning

The launch of the fifth show based on a DC Comics property on The CW could seem like overkill for the network. However, this drama starring Cress Williams immediately set itself apart with its approach to social issues that affected its tight-knit family of African-American superheroes. Plus, it approached its titular hero from a different perspective as a middle-aged man trying to ensure that his daughters and the city don't fall victim to the same mistakes that he has made over the years.

FOX's Brooklyn Nine-Nine

In 2019, the Andy Samberg-led comedy will be airing on a new network after FOX's sudden cancellation in May. It's reasonable that NBC made that pick up because its associated production company actually makes the show. But it's just more fun to think that the show was rescued because it was operating on a creative high during its fifth season. This year saw Jake and Amy get married while Holt was campaigning to become the police commissioner. Plus, the entire ensemble saw numerous and hysterical adventures.

The CW's Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

The musical dramedy created by and starring Rachel Bloom is now firmly in its end game. The conclusion of the third season planted the seeds for the story of the fourth and final year. It's a time for immense change and maturity for the characters as well. They are all dealing with their own issues and trying to figure out just how much blame can be placed on their psychological conditions having a name. Moreover, the musical numbers are just as imaginative and inventive as ever before.

ABC's Fresh Off the Boat

This was a huge year for Constance Wu thanks to her lead performance in the hit film Crazy Rich Asians. And yet, fans of this comedy have known that she is a deserving star for the last few years. This family comedy centered on an Asian-American family continues to tell such specific stories about these characters while still making it very universal to a broad audience. Plus, it had a powerful LGBTQ-presence with an episode dealing with what's appropriate attire for a school dance. 

NBC's The Good Place

It continues to be absolutely miraculous how this existential comedy starring Kristen Bell and Ted Danson balances such silly hijinks with questions about big philosophical questions. And yet, the show only continues to get better with age. Each episode reveals more depths to these characters even if they keep getting rebooted and forced to live the same scenarios over and over again. The narrative's briskness ensures that it never stays too long in one plot point or location which has been such a thrilling highlight for a show destined to make the audience think and feel at the same time.

The CW's Jane the Virgin

Even though viewers are preparing to say goodbye to this gem in 2019, the telenovela spoof led by Gina Rodriguez continued to offer crazy plot twists and grounded character beats earlier this year. It once again went to an extreme place with a season-ending cliffhanger that seems to defy any rational argument while leaving the audience in pure agony waiting for the answer. But through every twist, the audience cared because of the genuine emotions on display through the confidence of the cast and writers operating at peak form.

NBC's Late Night with Seth Meyers

Over the last few years, Seth Meyers has really become such a powerful and important voice in late night television. Every night, he brings expert analysis to the day's headlines while ensuring that everyone still laughs at how ridiculous real-life has become as of late. Plus, he continues to share the wealth with breakout writing performers like Amber Ruffin and Jenny Hagel. "Amber Says What?" and "Jokes Seth Can't Tell" are fantastic segments whenever they are featured on the nightly show.

CBS' The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Not to let Seth Meyers be the only shining star in late night television, Stephen Colbert also continues to excel with his version of the Late Show. He has fully come into his own as the host of the format with some of the most thought-provoking and detailed interviews on all of television. He can hold his own against any number of guests from the comical to the seriously political. Plus, his commentary about the day's events is also much needed in the hopes of understanding everything that's been going on.

The CW's Legends of Tomorrow

The silliest superhero show took things up another notch this past year. The drama's third season was easily its strongest top-to-bottom run so far. Plus, fans went absolutely crazy with their love for Beebo, a stuffed animal that nevertheless produced one of the most insane and hilarious segments during the finale face off with the season's big bad. The fourth season has taken things in a new, promising direction by showing just how disturbing some classic magical creatures truly are while teasing things out in a slower, more deliberate fashion.

NBC's Making It

The new reality-competition show hosted by Parks and Recreation alums Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman truly is the American version of The Great British Baking Show. It was so absolutely joyful and inspiring to watch. It was feel-good television at its best. Sure, it was still a competition where crafters were eliminated each week. But it was empowering because everyone had a compassionate attitude that wanted everyone to succeed no matter what the challenge they were tasked with was. That was truly special.

CBS' Mom

The sitcom got a nice press boost this year thanks to star Allison Janney's win at the Academy Awards for I, Tonya. But the comedy continues to make the list of the best of broadcast because it continues to be that rare show filmed in front of a live studio audience that knows how to work the formula while still boldly pushing into new directions. It continues to incorporate drama in compelling ways while ensuring that things don't become too repetitive for the characters despite their constant struggles with addiction.

NBC's Superstore

The workplace comedy really intensified the will-they?/won't-they? aspect of its two main characters - played by America Ferrera and Ben Feldman - this past year. Even though some of the storytelling felt familiar, it was still so absolutely hilarious and specific to these characters as they struggled to maintain some dignity while continuing to work at Cloud 9. Moreover, the ensemble just continues to be stellar with everyone being able to handle even the most absurd and out-there plot with the ability to bring in the laughter.

NBC's Timeless

The twice-cancelled drama returns with a two-hour series finale later this week. But its greatness this year was evident long before the confirmation that the story would be concluded in a way that would satisfy fans. The second season of the time travel series took the show to new heights because the creative team knew that they couldn't hold back on any story they wanted to tell. That meant that big developments happened in each episode that surprised the audience with just how thrilling and genuine it was for everyone to witness.

NBC's Trial & Error

The legal mockumentary had a tall order of producing a second season that was equal to its first. But it managed to surpass those expectations by creating an even more absurd season this year. Kristin Chenoweth proved to be a worthy successor to John Lithgow as the individual arrested and put on trial for murder. In fact, it was easily one of the best comedic performances of the year. It was such a hidden gem that people need to seek out in order to fully appreciate every single silly joke and crazy but inspired plot twist.