In 2016, over 400 television shows were aired or released. In 2018, that number has jumped to at least 555, which we know thanks to this handy spreadsheet made by Liz Shannon Miller. The Netflix-ification of television is truly upon us: the networks have a desperate desire to compete with the streaming giant, and they're doing so either by throwing every idea against the wall and hoping it finds an audience, or by launching their own streaming services... with limitless capacities for more content. As SNL recently summarized in their Netflix parody, "We're spending billions of dollars and making every show in the world. Our goal is the endless scroll. By the time you reach the bottom of our menu, there's new shows at the top, and thus the singularity will be achieved."
And television isn't just exponentially growing with new programming—any show with any sort of core fanbase could be brought back to life as a reboot (Murphy Brown, Charmed, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), spin-off (The Connors, Young Sheldon), or whatever hybrid monstronsity Kevin Can Wait turned into became before it was mercifully cancelled. There are over 20 more such zombie shows coming in the next year, with unlikely reboots of Conan the Barbarian, Gone Baby Gone and...The Bone Collector? Like the Greyjoys are found of saying: "What Is Dead May Never Die" (also, "Shut Up, Theon").
So it has become increasingly difficult to sift through—let alone watch—all the shows in the endless stream. TV critics seem increasingly burned out by the quantity of shows, and peak TV seems to have flattened out somewhat—the average show might now have a better baseline than shows 20 or 30 years ago, but there's not quite the same flurry of innovations and daring programming happening like there was five or six years ago.
Still, there are plenty of great shows to recommend—and below, you'll find ten such dramas and ten such comedies. Maybe you'll discover something you haven't heard of, maybe it'll inspire you to finally watch a show you've been putting off, maybe you'll have your own recommendations, or maybe you'll just want to argue in the comments section.
Methodology: I didn't include any late night programs or talk shows (otherwise, the essential Last Week Tonight and a reinvigorated Late Show with Stephen Colbert might crack the comedy top 10), no reality shows (sorry Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, sorry Queer Eye), no web series, and no documentaries. And no Dogs, Netflix's delightful six-part docu-series on various dog/human relationships that made me weep like a child (Ice & Zeus & Rory FOREVER).
And of course, as stated above, I can't watch everything. Here are my BLIND SPOTS: I've heard very good things about AMC's limited series' The Terror and The Little Drummer Girl and hope to catchup on them during the holidays. I've yet to see a single episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, though I've never been a Amy Sherman-Palladino superfan]. I've got no idea how to watch The Good Fight, which has gotten some really nice end-of-year write-ups. Despite Rectify being one of my favorite shows of all time, I just don't know if I have the emotional bandwith to watch the grief-stricken Sorry For Your Loss. And I had not even heard of Showtime's America to Me before reading the NY Times' writeup. [ed. note: Ray Donovan is a really good show, but Ben laughs every time I suggest it.]
But then there are the 50+ shows I did, somehow, find the time to watch all or part of... and not all of them were great. So we have the MOST DISAPPOINTING SHOWS of the year (note: this is very different from "worst show of the year," which probably was Here & Now, in case you were wondering): Sacha Baron Cohen returned to TV and popular culture with Showtime's Who Is America? that was one-third laugh-out-loud brilliant satire, and two-thirds groaningly painful to watch. The Last Man On Earth was a show that swung wildly between silliness and depression, but it ended its fourth season with a big question mark, and was cancelled before Will Forte got to finish it the way he wanted (someone give Forte another show stat). Forever offered us an incredible performance by Maya Rudolph, and otherwise was like the worst possible version of The Good Place.
And the two biggest disappointments: either something went very, very wrong behind-the-scenes on Camping (which is...very possible), or bringing the very particular social dynamics of the original English show to America got completely lost in translation. Either way, despite having so many enjoyable actors involved, it was a slog watching this show. And then there was The Romanoffs, Matthew Weiner's much-anticipated followup to Mad Men on Amazon that was a mess, filled with illogical twists, thin characters and overly long runtimes, despite some often beautiful cinematography and performances.
Now (a lot of) HONORABLE MENTIONS: Hugh Grant gave a very splendid performance in A Very English Scandal. Maniac and Trust both had very good individual episodes, even if the shows on the whole never quite came together. Elisabeth Moss gave a typically incredible performance in the frustrating second season of The Handmaid's Tale. My Brilliant Friend is looking like one of the best adaptations of the year, and Pose was one of the best new shows of the year. The long-delayed new season of Arrested Development was actually pretty hilarious (even if it got overshadowed by a lot of off-screen drama). Insecure and Silicon Valley remain always enjoyable viewings. The romcom lover in me fell hard for British exports Lovesick and The End Of The F***ing World, two very different kinds of modern romances. And if you could get into its rhythms, Sharp Objects was a fantastic Southern gothic with a one-of-a-kind performance from Amy Adams.
And so, here are the DRAMAS that moved and compelled me:
10. Escape At Dannemora: Dannemora was an engrossing retelling of the 2015 Clinton Correctional Facility prison escape, one that did not shy away from the darkest, most complicated aspects of its three primary subjects, while also retaining the vibes of a classic '70s escape movie. Benicio del Toro brought one of his many strange and memorable supporting characters to the forefront of the story as Richard Matt, and Paul Dano captured the determined, uneasy usefulness of David Sweat. But Patricia Arquette was the messy heart of the piece, who transformed her body, her movements and her voice to become Joyce "Tilly" Mitchell, a woman equally imprisoned by her circumstances and worst instincts.
9. Billions (season three): If you're going to go on and on about how great Succession is (and I will—see below), you better pay respect to the king. During its first seasons, I thought Billions was an enjoyable guilty pleasure rather than a truly great show. I was wrong: between the deep well of supporting characters who pop up again and again (long live Spyros) and the underlying criticism of capitalism and the dick-measuring rich dudes who worship at its feet, Billions is both ridiculously watchable and ridiculously good TV. Add in Asia Kate Dillon's utterly compelling and conflicted non-binary character Taylor Mason, Paul Giamatti's ridiculously fun scenery-chewing performance, and the show's insistence on shedding plot whenever things get too stale—no wonder this is the only show on television Metallica, Mark Cuban and Salt Bae all want to make a cameo on.
8. Succession (season one): Media mogul Logan Roy and his family are the exact midway point between the real life Murdochs and Arrested Development's the Bluths (just with more cursing). Every member of the extended Roy clan is an asshole of some sort, and creators Jesse Armstrong and Adam McKay invited us to laugh at their grotesquerie even as it slowly, subtly, makes us kinda like these assholes. The show was really firing on all cylinders by the last couple episodes, especially whenever it could get the bulk of the cast in the same room together, as with the aborted family intervention in "Austerlitz," the bachelor party from hell in "Prague," or the world's stupidest wedding in the two-part finale.
7. Killing Eve (season one): In the hands of a lesser writer, the core story of Killing Eve—messy-but-brilliant investigator tracks a psychotic hit woman across Europe—could have turned out like any generic TV thriller. But thanks to the quippy dialogue and twisty set pieces of Phoebe Waller-Bridge's show, it turned out to be one of the most delightful surprises of the year. Stars Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer have such undeniable chemistry, their cat-and-mouse tension felt like it could have just as easily turned into a high-concept romcom... and maybe that's where we're headed in season two?
6. Homecoming (season one): This Amazon show—based on the hit podcast series of the same name about a caseworker at a government facility and a soldier attempting to return to civilian life—had so much to recommend about it. It contained the best Julia Roberts performance in over a decade, a breakout role by Stephan James, and the perfect use of the underrated Shea Whigham. It embraced its paranoid '70s thriller vibes, which was aided by the knockout work of director Sam Esmail, who was able to use a ton of showy shots all in service of the story. And perhaps best of all, it was the extremely rare thirty minute drama, a true streaming pleasure amidst a never-ending queue of overly-long hour+ shows.
5. The Deuce (season two): David Simon and George Pelecanos' show continued to explore the historical development of pornography and examine how capitalism drove the exploitation and misogyny at the heart of the sex industry in season two. Skipping ahead to 1977, where disco, shag haircuts and the adult movie industry were thriving, the show got deeper, and relied a little less on James Franco and a little more on standouts such as Maggie Gyllenhaal's riveting hooker-turned-director Candy. Also great among the very big cast: Gbenga Akinnagbe's Larry Brown and Emily Meade's Lori, both of whom found themselves struggling to adapt their identities to the changing times.
4. Lodge 49 (season one): This is the new show that I have been telling everyone I know they have to watch (mostly because no one has heard of it), even though I know not everyone is going to be able to get on its very particular wavelength. It's one part California stoner noir, one part meditation on the recession, and one part Pynchon-esque comedy. Mostly, it's a hangout show about Dud (a ridiculously charming Wyatt Russell)—a ne'er-do-well surfer who greets the world with eager curiosity and a generosity of spirit that belies a deeper depression—as well as his more practical sister Liz (standout Sonya Cassidy), Dud's unlikely mentor Ernie (Brent Jennings, playing a heartbreaking toilet salesman), and the local club that brings them all together. It is an elusive but grounded show with very little in terms of typical "plot"—it's more interested in how people connect with each other after grinding out their days amidst an economic downturn, with just a tiny sprinkle of magical realism thrown in.
3. American Crime Story: The Assassination Of Gianni Versace: The first edition of this anthology series tackled the OJ Simpson case by inserting reflections of society today, with standout episodes commenting on racism, sexism and reality TV. The second season, which started with the titular death of Versace and then worked backwards to show the other victims of Andrew Cunanan, was a less familiar story that may have been even better. It paid attention to the lives of the forgotten victims of Cunanan (played by a remarkable Darren Criss), while probing the homophobic culture that existed in the '90s, juxtaposing Cunanan's closeted killing spree with Versace's open sexuality and rise in the fashion world. It questioned why people didn't care about the killings at the time, and whether they would care now.
2. Better Call Saul (season four): Saul has long since escaped from the shadow of Breaking Bad to become its own thing: a complex and brilliantly-made show about process, denial, elderly care law, and Chicago sunroofs. But with the end of the superlative fourth season—in which Jimmy & Kim's relationship got more complicated, Mike became more enmeshed into Gus Fring's empire, and Jimmy ultimately adopted the legal name of Saul Goodman to practice law in the future—you're gonna be hearing a lot of people saying Saul is now as good as, if not better, than BB. In the best episodes this season—like "Something Stupid" and "Coushatta"—there was a perfect melding of understated storytelling, zippy montages, and emotionally-resonant writing.
1. The Americans (season six): FX's brilliant show about Russian spies posing as an all-American family in D.C. in the 1980s ended its six season run on the top of its spygame. After a somewhat muted fifth season, this one stormed out of the gates with a fantastic premiere in which Phillip and Elizabeth found themselves living very separate lives (all while Paige got sucked more and more into the spy life). The major relationships—and the central marriage—on the show were all pushed to the brink right up until the monumental finale, which put the bitter in bittersweet one heartbreaking scene after another. Mixing spy shenanigans with intimate character work, it was the kind of slow burn, deeply-felt show that doesn't come around all that often—and the final season had some of its finest moments.
And the COMEDIES that cracked me up every week:
10. Brooklyn Nine-Nine (season five): For years, I took the Nine-Nine for granted. I always admired its hilarious rapidfire cold opens and felt that Andre Braugher deserved all the supporting actor awards in the world for his dry line readings. But after it was cancelled by Fox, I rewatched the excellent fifth season—which included genre-bending episodes ("The Box," "Show Me Going") mixed in with lovely storylines about coming out ("Game Night") and the usual goofy storylines about pyramid schemes, food trucks and Halloween—and realized that it really is the closest thing we have to a Parks & Rec successor. Thankfully, it'll be coming back for a season six on NBC in the new year (even though Chelsea Peretti's Gina is leaving for good).
9. Bob's Burgers (season eight/nine): Even as it nears its tenth season on air, Fox's animated comedy remains the best show about a loving family of weirdos on television (animated or not). Bob's picks up on all the sweetness and absurdity (and musicality!) of the first seasons of The Simpsons, but grounds those stories with a family unit who actually really like spending time with each other and accept each other's foibles. Highlights in 2018 included "V for Valentine-detta," in which the family rallied to help Tina deal with heartbreak; "Boywatch," in which Tina signed up to be a junior lifeguard just to meet boys; and "The Taking of Funtime One Two Three," in which Louise leads a heist at the arcade.
8. It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia (season thirteen): Over thirteen seasons, Sunny has unexpectedly bucked the trend of most live-action sitcoms (it never got bad!), making it the most consistently funny show on TV. Despite Glenn Howerton (Dennis) being in a few less episodes this season because of AP Bio, the show never felt like it lost a step, churning out another bunch of great episodes, including the uproarious #MeToo seminar of "Time's Up for the Gang," the claustrophobic madness of "The Gang Escapes," the identity politics bottle episode "The Gang Solves the Bathroom Problem," and the sincerely touching finale "Mac Finds His Pride," in which Mac finally came out to his dad through the power of dance.
7. Glow (season two): Season two took a closer look into the lives of the spectacular supporting cast of Glow while deepening the complex female friendship between Alison Brie (Ruth) and Betty Gilpin (Debbie), which serves as the heart of the show. It was a tougher look at the compromises and exploitation the women faced in Hollywood, as well as funnier than season one—especially episode eight, in which we are treated to a "complete" episode of GLOW, is one of the most delightful things you'll see on TV this year.
6. High Maintenance (season two): At its best, High Maintenance offers a wide-ranging portrait of NYC as if you set up a camera in your own cramped apartment then passed it to your neighbor. The show is able to capture the thing that keeps us all tethered to the city grind, all without whitewashing the mundane struggles, the exuberant hustles, and the narcissistic shittiness that comes hand-in-hand with everyday life here. We learned more about The Guy than ever before this season (which included some reflections of creators Katja Blichfeld & Ben Sinclair's real life break-up) in episodes like "Scromple" and "Googie," and also were treated to some of the funniest episodes of the series in "Fagin" and "#goalz."
5. Barry (season one): Barry, a star vehicle for elastic SNL vet Bill Hader, was billed as a comedy about a hitman having a crisis of conscious while taking acting lessons. That show would have probably been funny enough as is, but Hader and co-creator Alec Berg mined the tension between the two worlds to wring real drama and pathos out of Hader. It's hard to imagine how the show will work in season two—partially because of how perfectly self-contained the first season was, partially because the ending may have gone too dark—but as long as Henry Winkler's wonderful acting coach Gene Cousineau is there, we'll be watching.
4. Big Mouth (season two): A lot of people slept on this brilliant show—which explores the enduring awkwardness of adolescence with both warmth and gross-out humor—when it debuted last year. I can't recommend it enough for people who enjoy their comedy swinging between earnestness and utter perversity. Nick Kroll, John Mulaney, Maya Rudolph, Jason Mantzoukas, Jessi Klein and the rest of the illustrious voice cast were joined this season by newcomers Gina Rodriguez (as Nick's crush Gina) and David Thewlis (as The Hormone Monster's enemy The Shame Wizard, who gets in all the kids' heads by the end of the season). Best of all, there were unforgettable individual episodes like the mid-season highlight centered around Planned Parenthood. You'll never hear "Groove Is In The Heart" in the same way.
3. The Good Place (season two/three): After a dramatic chase across the cosmos to end season two, the best forking comedy currently on network TV hit Earth for the first two-thirds of season three. The show has become a masterful blend of blissfully silly recurring gags, existential humor, and surprisingly sincere ethical debates. It hit new highs in episodes including "Jeremy Bearimy," in which Chidi's mind temporarily was broken after he learns how time works, and "Janet(s)," a showcase tour de force for D'arcy Carden.
2. BoJack Horseman (season five): BoJack remains the funniest, most ambitious comedy on TV, one that also happens to be a bittersweet rumination on people's ability (or inability) to change. It may even have had its best season yet (although they really haven't had a bad season yet, besides a slow start to season one). This year, the show examined the Hollywood machinery that springs up to protect "bad men," with BoJack descending into pill addiction as his real life blurred with his role on a generic prestige TV show as Philbert. Diane struggled with her identity as a Vietnamese-American as she also went through with her divorce. Mr. Peanutbutter buried his emotions by jumping into a hasty new relationship. After a few starts and stops, Princess Carolyn finally adopted a baby. And Todd became an executive at WhatTimeIsItRightNow.Com and had some wacky adventures with the unforgettable Henry Fondle.
1. Atlanta (season two): The first season of Donald Glover's impossible-to-pin-down show was such a perfect mix of the profound and the silly out of the gate, it was hard to imagine how it could get even better. And yet with Robbin' Season, every episode seemed to top the one before it. Oftentimes, the four lead characters—Earn (Glover), Al/Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry), Darius (Lakeith Stanfield), and Van (Zazie Beetz)— were spun off at different points for their own separate adventures, whether it was buying pianos, getting haircuts, running away from alligators, or hitting to Drake's mansion. The moods were distinct and disparate—"Teddy Perkins" was pure horror, "Barbershop" was Coens-esque comedy, "Woods" had a cloud of depression hanging all over it—but it was thematically unified, with a subtle overarching story about Earn and Al's relationship and their hustle. If you put a Schnappviecher to my head, I'd say it was the best show of the year.
What did you love to watch this year?