Here is our list of the top 10 television shows for 2018 with some new arrivals, some old favorites and a couple of surprises along the way…
By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer
2018 was an interesting year for television.
There were more choices than ever before on all sorts of different platforms from linear television to seemingly a billion streaming services all vying for our attention this year.
Some series that always get attention like ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Strangers Things’ weren’t around during 2018, which opened up the field to a whole new crop of contenders.
Perhaps the best part about 2018 was the cornucopia of new series that debuted, giving us all sorts of shows to look forward to season 2 in 2019 and beyond.
In fact out of our list of the top 10 shows, half of them were new series, which means that a strong sophomore season from all of them are going to make 2019 a very busy group of shows to judge next year.
With that said, let’s get to our list of the top 10 television shows of 2018…
10 ) Atlanta
Donald Glover’s brainchild continues to be one of the best and most creative series on all of television. It’s impossible to know how much input FX makes on this series but it really feels like they hand Glover a blank check and tell him to go have fun with it. And that’s exactly what he did with season one and he’s back for even more in season two. There’s even a particularly haunting episode titled ‘Teddy Perkins’ that will leave you with eyes-wide open and your jaw appropriately on the floor as you witness this particular story unfold. Glover might be one of the most creative people working in Hollywood right now thanks to his work on ‘Atlanta’ and his side project as rapper Childish Gambino and here’s hoping we get even more from him in 2019 and beyond.
9 ) Mayans M.C.
The spinoff to the popular FX series ‘Sons of Anarchy’ had a lot of expectations going into the first season and while there were some rough spots, all in all creator Kurt Sutter delivered by delving back into this outlaw motorcycle world. Set in the aftermath of Jax Teller’s death, ‘Mayans MC’ circles around EZ Reyes, an ex-convict just out of prison, who is has just joined his brother’s MC along the California-Mexico border. EZ is trying to acclimate to his new life while keeping a massive secret from just about everybody he loves while also dealing with the fact that the girl he loved in high school is now the wife to the leader of the Mexican cartel, who just so happens to fund his MC. There’s just enough relation to ‘Sons of Anarchy’ that this show feels familiar but not too much where it feels like ‘Mayans MC’ is stuck relying on its predecessor. There’s also a nice twist in the season one finale that definitely ties back to ‘Sons of Anarchy’ that sets up all sorts of questions about what lies ahead in season 2.
8 ) The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
Set in the same universe as ‘Riverdale’ but airing on Netflix, ‘The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’ ended up being even better than the show that preceded it. Based in the town of Greendale, Sabrina Spellman is a sixteen year old girl who is about to be forced to choose between the life she’s always known as a teenager pretending to be mortal or the new existence she’s been expected to choose as she finally comes of age to become a witch. ‘Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’ has a similar tone to ‘Riverdale’ with all the pretty teenagers you could stare at but the stories are much richer and more developed with a plot line that runs throughout the season that is enthralling as much as it is a mystery that you just can’t wait to unravel. This is definitely one series The CW should have overpaid to get but instead Netflix will now reap the benefits. In fact the show has already been picked up for two more installments just to give you an idea of how well received the series has been thus far.
7 ) Daredevil
It’s sad to note at the start of this review that ‘Daredevil’ has been cancelled and may never see the light of day due to the ongoing conflict between Disney and Netflix. If there’s one positive out of this situation it’s that ‘Daredevil’ season 3 ended up as possibly the best of the entire series. Following the events of ‘The Defenders’, Matt Murdock is a broken man convinced that he can no longer life two lives split between a lawyer in Hell’s Kitchen and a vigilante sworn to protect it by any means necessary. Matt is then faced with the reality that his greatest enemy — Wilson Fisk aka the Kingpin — is being released from prison and will soon be back in his penthouse just a few blocks away from where he lives. Toss in a truly chilling origin story for the villain known as ‘Bullseye’, a campaign for district attorney and Karen Page getting too close to the stories she’s reporting yet again and this ends up being a volatile batch of episodes that will have you itching to just binge watch the entire season in one day.
6 ) GLOW
The second season of the comedy-drama loosely based on the 1980’s all women’s professional wrestling show ‘GLOW” was in many ways superior to the first 10 episodes, which were also outstanding. This season saw the conflict grow between the two lead characters played by Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin, while their personal lives continued to spin out of control as well. Season 2 of ‘GLOW’ even manages to involve a ‘Me Too’ story that seems relevant in the 1980’s where this show takes place just as much as the headlines that were dominated by that topic in 2018. While the first season was building up to ‘GLOW’ actually making something out of nothing with this fledgling group of professional wrestlers, the second season puts them in the ring quite often except this time they are fighting for their very survival.
5 ) Yellowstone
Another new series lands in our top five for 2018 as ‘Yellowstone’ became the first real breakout hit for the Paramount Network after rebranding itself from the testosterone driven Spike TV. Starring Kevin Costner in the lead role, ‘Yellowstone’ follows a family from Wyoming, who just so happen to own the biggest and most profitable ranch in the entire state. Now that affords them a lot of power but it also finds them a lot of enemies including a land developer who wants to drive them out to modernize the state while a local Native American community is determined to take back the land they believe that same family stole from them. Written by Taylor Sheridan — who is responsible for ‘Hell or High Water’ as well as ‘Wind River’ — this series really is a modern day western with a ton of drama, plenty of A+ performances from a stellar cast and a look at a part of America that doesn’t always land on television these days.
4 ) Cobra Kai
Reboots, remakes and sequels are all the rage these days but unfortunately the majority of them are just cash grabs on nostalgia or a sad attempt to recreate the fervor that once surrounded the original. Whatever the reason behind making ‘Cobra Kai’ — the television sequel to the popular 1980’s ‘Karate Kid’ movies — ended up being a stroke of genius. This time around, the focal point of the series was on Johnny Lawrence, the asshole bully who picked on Daniel LaRusso in high school only to get crane kicked by him in the karate tournament he was supposed to win. Fast forward to 2018 and Johnny is a down on his luck handyman with a son who barely wants to speak to him and bills piling up. He still rolls around in the same car he drove in high school and hair metal is his preferred type of music. As you could probably guess, Johnny eventually decides to return to his karate roots by opening a new Cobra Kai dojo in town and that puts him in direct conflict with his old rival Daniel, who has gone onto live a great life while owning a string of car dealerships in his adopted hometown. Before long, Johnny and Daniel are at odds with each other once again while a teen cast that includes their kids adds in a little extra drama away from the old karate rivals. ‘Cobra Kai’ was billed as a comedy — and there are definitely some funny moments — but this is also a true callback to the original ‘Karate Kid’ films that every kid growing up in the 1980’s had on repeat.
3 ) Counterpart
One part science fiction, one part spy thriller, ‘Counterpart’ was a new series on Starz that should have earned JK Simmons at least a few award nominations for his dual role as Howard Silk and his counterpart from an alternate universe. The story goes like this — at some point in the past, our universe splintered into two identical versions with a doorway in Germany that allows people to crossover from one to the other. The people from the alternate universe are exact replicas of the people from our side except as time goes on everybody begins acting or living in different ways from their counterparts. The alternate universe also dealt with a crippling flu that wiped out a huge part of the population and people there are convinced it was unleashed on them by our side, which has created an unbelievable amount of tension between the two governments involved. Needless to say when you start watching assassins crossover from one universe to the next and an elaborate plan that involves killing people from our side and replacing them with their counterparts from the alternate universe, you can see why this is turning into a rather nasty little war. It’s a very involved series with a lot of moving parts but pay close attention and ‘Counterpart’ will pay off with every single episode including a pulse-pumping, heart stopping finale.
2 ) Billions
The top show of 2017 is back near the top of the list in 2018 as well because ‘Billions’ has rarely skipped a beat since it’s first season on the air. In season 3, the two lead characters on the show — Bobby Axelrod and Chuck Rhoades — were forced to face some awful truths about themselves and their motivations for doing what they do. Bobby was facing trumped up criminal charges while his marriage was falling down around him. Meanwhile, Chuck was trying to survive under the thumb of a new attorney general while secretly moving against him and setting up his own future in politics. ‘Billions’ is the kind of show you can watch over and over again because every viewing offers something new to talk about the next day. It may be a line from one of the characters or just a particular scene that’s haunting in execution but ‘Billions’ is a series that sticks with you days after you’ve watched it. Sometimes that’s the best kind of television out there.
1 ) Better Call Saul
By now anybody who has watched ‘Better Call Saul’ understands that this prequel more than holds its own when compared to its predecessor in ‘Breaking Bad’, which is routintely regarded as one of the top five television shows of all time. What ‘Better Call Saul’ has managed to do is take a secondary character in Saul Goodman and give him nuance, back story, compelling complimentary pieces surrounding him and enough conflict that makes you hope this show keeps going, although we all know it has an end date in sight.
‘Better Call Saul’ season 4 took the show to new heights as perpetually torn attorney Jimmy McGill took more steps than ever before in his journey to becoming the sleazy strip mall attorney who will eventually become a money launderer and criminal cohort to Walter White and Jesse Pinkman.
The latest season was equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking with some of the best storytelling this show has ever displayed. Obviously, Jimmy’s transformation into Saul Goodman is inevitable but watching his own moral compass twist around like a clock was better than ever this past season and witnessing the evolution and pending doom of his relationship with Kim Wexler was riveting.
Then there was the early stages of Gus Fring building his meth super lab that was overseen by his newest henchman Mike Ehrmantraut. The majority of the season was spent with the lab being constructed, which may not sound all that interesting, but when you dig into the German work crew brought over to build the underground facility combined with Mike’s meticulous job keeping an eye on them, you just always wanted to see more.
And finally the introduction of the latest Salamanca to arrive in New Mexico was a teaser to what lies ahead because that name was only mentioned once in ‘Breaking Bad’ and it had Saul Goodman begging for his life. The development of that character in season 5 as the show moves closer and closer to a finale will be vastly interesting.
All in all, ‘Better Call Saul’ truly was the best show on television in 2018 from the acting to the stories to the development of the characters — this was as flawless an execution from start to finish that you’ll ever see on the small screen.
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