The Voice‘s “Best Of” section would be incomplete without all the amazing shows and seasons that came out in 2018. When it comes to all the binge-watch-worthy series, Halftime will always deliver.
Barry Season 1
Barry finds a pretty perfect balance between dark satire, quirky character comedy, and violent thriller, juggling the three tones with a surprising amount of ease, as we follow a hitman (Bill Hader) who travels to LA for a hit job only to get sidetracked by a new desire to become a theatre actor. At its heart, it’s a story about a guy discovering how to be human again after it seems like he’s gotten bored with his sociopathic vocation. Making his directorial debut, Hader never really breaks from the standard “cinematic television” visual template that’s become HBO’s bread and butter, but when the violence pops off, he allows the assassin to transform into a lethal monster via rather excellently staged set pieces. It’s safe to say that Barry could be HBO’s next addiction-worthy series, delivering a healthy dose of affecting pathos along with its belly laughs and brutal violence. While we’re asked to tag along with a veritable Grim Reaper, he’s a roving massacre artist who’d rather hang up his scythe for a chance at feeling alive once again, even if it’s while pretending to be someone else. Nobody tuned in to Barry expecting a treatise on the unshakable evils of man, yet that’s where the show leaves us: hanging on by an emotional thread, breathless and unable to comprehend where it can even go from there. By reconfiguring the half-hour comedy into a potent mixture of existential angst, pulp thrills, goofy comedy, and horror movie despair, Hader has crafted something wholly unique that’s also undeniably accessible by mainstream standards.
Westworld Season 2
One thing Westworld shares with Game of Thrones, besides a massive budget and outsized ambition, is a second season that plays like the series is coming into its own. Both had inaugural seasons that felt like a lot of table setting in service of something epic to come, and both have sophomore years that start to deliver on that promise. In the case of Westworld, that means near-constant war: there’s bloodthirsty battles and the promise of death—permanent death, for humans and hosts alike—hiding around every corner. There’s a sense of real stakes now and vaguer mysteries about what it all means have been mostly replaced by more grounded and compelling ones. While the first season was HBO’s first success in metaphysical storytelling, season two traffics in complex storytelling and philosophical matters under the guise of an action-adventure, filled with incredible setpieces, visually stunning aesthetic juxtapositions, fun new adventures, and performances for the ages. These come together to bolster what is already a compelling, thought-provoking, and even at times heart-wrenching story that propels the philosophical and technological themes of the first season to new heights. The name Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) gave to his new narrative right at season one’s end was “Journey Into Night,” and the season two premiere appropriately takes that title, as this is an even bleaker trip into the dark side of humanity and inhumanity alike. One of the overriding questions is whether achieving big goals means sacrificing what makes people good—whether titans of industry or great leaders are remorseless and sadistic by nature, or whether there’s something about existence that infects us as we move through it, planting seeds of pessimism to help steel our hearts against the cruelties of life. Westworld season two goes to some unsettling and unpleasant places, but as it settles into a chaotic groove, the show is becoming a thrilling mind-bender, laced with just enough intellectual resin to give all that bloodshed a savvy frisson of wit.
Man in the High Castle Season 3
People don’t talk about this show enough. I don’t understand why The Americans always gets award nominations and this show doesn’t. The third season of High Castle continues the narrative of Nazi resistance fighter Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos) and provides a new twist to the plot in which the existence of alternative universes provides a possibility for even more fascist domination. But this also gives the resistance a chance to defeat the Nazi regime and restore America to peace. While it’s not exactly a good escapist show for modern times, it’s certainly a wake-up call for those who are still unphased by rising authoritarianism in the world today.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Season 2
Holy hell this show is good. I mean like really good. Lead character Miriam Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) is impossibly hilarious, charming, and relatable despite her flawlessness. In the show’s second season, we see Miriam fully pursuing her comedy career, discovering how sexist that career field is, and maybe even finding love along the way (suck it Joel (her ex-husband (but also just wait until the end)). And even with the show’s brilliant humor and perfect plot lines, one of the best parts of it is the design of the show itself. It’s 1950s New York, complete with period costumes that are almost as beautiful as the Hollywood actors who wear them, as well as a Catskills camp getaway that reminds the viewer of Dirty Dancing (1987), only a little more clean cut. So, in summary, season 2 is the ideal follow-up to an already spectacular show.
This was the creepiest, most disturbing piece of television I have ever seen, and oh my god it was incredible. Amy Adams plays terrible journalist Camille Preaker who returns to her hometown to report a story about a murder and ends up intertwined in the investigation herself. The amount of plot twists and turns makes it one of the most exciting shows of the decade, and the impeccable acting (where’s Eliza Scanlen’s Emmy nom?!) puts it in the realm of television acclaim. It’s the kind of show that will leave you thinking about it long after you finish, wanting to go back and rewatch scenes, reading think piece upon think piece to try to fit together the plot lines. And that’s the true marker of terrific TV.
Here’s the thing, and I know it’s a hot take to many, but reality TV is usually pretty bad, actively dumbing down America’s youths. You can hate me for saying that as much as you’d like, but the fact is that anything entertaining about reality TV that isn’t a game-show stems from feeling smarter or feeling a sense of superiority to whatever is happening on screen, which not only isn’t much to say but also is fairly negative. However, Queer Eye manages to step outside the mold to create touching on-screen instances that are teachable moments, as well as be uplifting and cathartic. This second season of a remake Queer Eye in which gay guys improved the style of a straight guy is a completely new premise that perplexed many. But the energy from the various Queer Eye cast members has manufactured national trends, like saying “YASSSS QUEEN,” as well as given a further audience to the LGBT community’s plight, both through Netflix and working based out of Atlanta, GA. Queer Eye stands out from both reality television as well as scripted television because their mission truly is to improve their subjects lives as well as the perception of the gay community. Its second season is both worth watching as a feel-good type of show as well as an underrated one.
—Inès de Miranda
American Vandal Season 2
I’ve already written about this show several times for Halftime. Season 1 was my pick for the best television of 2017 in last year’s Halftime wrap-up. I’ve written about how criminally underrated it is, how the Emmys are stupid and only gave it one measly nomination despite its critical acclaim, and how the show is a nearly perfect mockumentary. I wrote all of these, however, before Netflix made the worst decision of 2018 and cancelled the show. American Vandal season 2 maintains the true-crime mockumentary format from the first season, this time with the goal of figuring out who the turd burglar is. Oh, yes, you read that right. Turd burglar. The crimes in season 2 are all poop related, and it is stupid and glorious. I was nervous going into the second season because I didn’t know if they’d be able to follow what was essentially a flawless first season. Thankfully, the second season measured up. It is intelligent, it is funny, and it proves that the writers didn’t just get lucky the first time around. No, they’re immensely talented and deserve much more credit, shine, and awards than they got. And they certainly didn’t deserve a cancellation. Season 2 of American Vandal was the best sophomore season of a show I think I’ve ever seen. How they managed to avoid the sophomore slump is beyond me, and the fact that Netflix cancelled it is so disappointing. But, at least I got two perfect seasons of television to re-watch over and over again.
Image Credits: IMDb