Thursday, December 20, 2018

The 15 Best Shows to Air on the Streaming Services 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 streaming services contributed 160 of them - which marks a staggering growth of 43 shows from 2017. This was a landmark year for the streaming services. They have officially surpassed the broadcast networks and basic cable as producing the most original scripted content. If it felt like there was a new show coming out every week on Netflix, Amazon or Hulu, it was probably true. These services have announced themselves as the future of this business. Everyone is now trying to get into this space. They are making significant investments in streaming and wanting to hold onto the rights to stream their own shows. That may only make it more competitive in the future for all of these services to survive. Right now though, they are absolutely thriving. With all of that content, it's impossible to watch all of it. But there is now the understanding that there is a show out there for everyone. This truly has become the era of choice for the consumer.

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 streaming services. 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.

Netflix's American Vandal

This documentary spoof took everyone by surprise in 2017 with its first season. It elevated the material of simple dick jokes to something much more profound. The series proved it wasn't just a fluke. The formula could be repeated for a second season that was somehow even more nuanced and pointed than the first. This show simply understands the generation that has grown up with social media. But it also delights with so many poop-based puns as well when it is trying to solve its overall mystery.

Amazon's A Very English Scandal

This limited series starring Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw blended so many different genres together. It was a period drama about real-life politician Jeremy Thorpe and the scandal that eventually took down his career. But it was also one of the funniest shows of the year and the most intense with the extent he was willing to go to cover up his affair with a man. The performances were terrific but the writing was the true showcase that covered all of the emotions in the human condition without losing sight of any of them.

Netflix's Big Mouth

This is yet another show on Netflix that finds surprising depth to material that can be considered low-class and crass. It's fundamentally a story about the awkwardness of going through puberty. And yet, it's so imaginative with that premise as well. It presents so many complicated situations for its animated characters while ensuring that the audience has a fundamental sense of empathy for them. They may act terribly a lot of the time and believe they need to be punished. But everyone will feel better as soon as Maya Rudolph says "bubble bath."

Netflix's BoJack Horseman

This year saw a significant animated push by Netflix with that trend only continuing to grow in 2019. However, this show about a talking horse who is also an actor remains above all else. It features some of the best visual jokes of all of television. But it's also a compelling insight into the industry itself with the awareness that is lacking in so many shows out there. Plus, it can have these long conversations about loss and the pursuit of love in ways that are both profound and incredibly tragic without losing their humor.

Hulu's Casual

This comedy starring Michaela Watkins and Tommy Dewey finished its run this year with its fourth season. The final episodes even took the story into the future. The technology was still recognizable with only a few references made to pop culture. But the interest remained squarely on the characters to see how time has changed their relationships. Some patterns are hard to break. That was painfully clear during the final arc. But it was also so wonderful to see them try to make better choices as well.

Netflix's Dear White People

Justin Simien's series adaptation of his film of the same name already proved itself to be one of the best shows depicting issues of race amongst the young generation. However, its second season found new ways to explore the consequences of its characters' actions while ensuring that they stood up for their beliefs. It is a rough world in which they live in. But it remains aspirational as well. The audience roots for these characters to figure out their lives while remaining active with what's going on in the world.

Netflix's The End of the F***ing World

One of the very first shows to actually air in 2018 also happened to be one of its best that withstood the test of time. This show proved that episodes don't have to be endless in order to tell a compelling story. This comedic drama starring Alex Lawther and Jessica Barden featured only eight episodes that had an average length of 20 minutes each. It was such a compact story but a very enriching and complicated one. This show took the audience on a considerable journey that was basically built for a binge model.

Amazon's Forever

Maya Rudolph is featured in two shows on this list. That's so impressive. Big Mouth and Forever couldn't be further apart either. One is a visually explosive animated comedy. The other is a mediative study about the lasting impact of marriage and the human condition. And yet, she brought so much humanity to this role. It was a change of pace for her as well. Everything was so serious and absurd at the same time. It all made since though because of the way Rudolph invited everyone along on the journey.

Netflix's GLOW

The second season of the '80s wrestling comedy only continued to get more raucous and rambunctious. It revealed new depths to some of the supporting players like Bash and Tammé. But it also remained so focused on its core trio of Ruth, Sam and Debbie - played phenomenally by Alison Brie, Marc Maron and Betty Gilpin, respectively. The season experimented with its format for some truly unique and fun episodes. But the audience remained just as invested in the drama going on both in and out of the wrestling ring.

CBS All Access' The Good Fight

The Good Wife spinoff starring Christina Baranski and Cush Jumbo had a perfectly solid first season. However, it got significant better in year two. It had such profound confidence with the stories that it was telling. It had a perspective that was vastly needed in our complicated world. It handles issues of the current presidential administration better than any other scripted show out there. That's truly saying something. It just felt more free and emboldened this year. That led to a number of really delightful moments and surprises.

Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale

This drama carried the crown of being scarily resonate to the modern world despite it taking place in a future dystopia in its first season. It may no longer quite hold onto that title. The second season absolutely took things in directions that were solely to ensure the longevity of the premise. However, the performances were just as powerful as ever before. This ensemble is truly spectacular. And yet, the work that Elisabeth Moss and Yvonne Strahovski did in Season 2 needs to be singled out especially.

Netflix's The Haunting of Hill House

Loosely based on the novel by Shirley Jackson, this drama was one of the most terrifying but empathetic shows of the year. It earned the thrills that it produced. But it also earned the character-based twists that ensured that the audience was enthralled with everything that was going on. It too has a very deep ensemble with a number of performers who could be signaled out for what they did. However, the writing and direction really should take the spotlight here because it was so compelling to watch every second.

Amazon's Homecoming

Julia Roberts coming to television was a big deal for 2018. Julia Roberts giving one of the best performances of her career in this show was even better. This half-hour dramatic mystery based on the podcast was so intricate and ominous. However, every unsettling note was hit perfectly thanks to the woman leading the mission with confident and powerful direction from Sam Esmail. The way that everything was framed to the audience was one of the most clever storytelling techniques seen in this medium to date.

Amazon's The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

The hourlong period comedy created by Amy Sherman-Palladino had a huge night at the Emmys in September with multiple wins including Best Comedy. Its second season debuted only earlier this month. However, it was a solid follow-up to what came before. Sure, this dialogue may not be for everyone. But it's so upbeat and visually pleasing as well. That too is an infectious quality that ensures that this show isn't like all the other prestige and precocious shows out there. It earns the laughs that it's going for even when Mrs. Maisel's life isn't going as well as she hopes.

Netflix's One Day at a Time

It took rebooting a 1970s comedy for the current industry to realize that there is still a ton of life left in the multi-camera format. That became immediately clear with this reboot starring Justina Machado and Rita Moreno. Moreover, the second season only continued to play to the strengths of the cast and the format. It delivered episodes that were absolutely heartbreaking with the dramatic moments that the cast were expressing. But it was so rewarding to spend time with this Latinx family just trying to create the best life possible as a family.