Television's highs and lows of 2018

<i>The Americans</i> / <i>The Walking Dead</i> / <i>Jesus Christ Superstar: Live in Concert</i> / Megyn Kelly / <i>Bodyguard</i> / Roseanne Barr
The Americans / The Walking Dead / Jesus Christ Superstar: Live in Concert / Megyn Kelly / Bodyguard / Roseanne Barr

Being an avid television viewer in the age of #PeakTV means that for every show you actually do tune in for, there are three or four that go on your “To Be Watched” pile. If anything, the amount of binge-worthy TV shows only increased in 2018, as streaming services — now including YouTube! — continued to churn out must-see content to compete alongside your favorite cable and network series. To help you accomplish your 2018 TV goals in 2019, Yahoo Entertainment has assembled this handy guide to the highs and lows of the year in television. Better get binging! — By Ethan Alter, Adam Lance Garcia, Kevin Polowy and Gwynne Watkins

HIGH: The Good Place

It’s a miracle that NBC’s increasingly complex afterlife comedy is still so forkin’ funny after three seasons on the air. The first half of the current year moved the action back to Earth, as the central quartet of Eleanor (Kirsten Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and Jason (Manny Jacinto) tried to do a little self-improvement with the frequent interference of Michael and Janet (Ted Danson and D’Arcy Carden). They may have failed, but the show itself continues to find new and novel ways to evolve and grow into a bigger, funnier version of itself.

LOW: The Walking Dead is on life support

Danai Gurira as Michonne and Andrew Lincoln as Rick in <em>The Walking Dead. </em>(Photo: AMC)
Danai Gurira as Michonne and Andrew Lincoln as Rick in The Walking Dead. (Photo: AMC)

We don’t need the ratings to tell us that AMC’s zombie series is experiencing a serious brain drain. Heading into Season 9, The Walking Dead promised an epic farewell to original star, Andrew Lincoln, but his last episode turned out to be an annoying tease for more spinoffs. But Lincoln may have been the lucky one, as the folks left behind are on a mothership that’s taking on more and more water. The show’s probably not in danger of an immediate demise, but it may be time to consider last rites.

HIGH: The Haunting of Hill House, Episode 5: “The Bent-Neck Lady”

The sixth episode of Netflix’s hit horror series gets a lot of praise for its technical prowess, choreographing the action so that it unfolds via multiple long takes put together to resemble a single continuous shot. But if you ask us, the show reaches its creative apex in Episode 5. The brilliance of “The Bent-Neck Lady” is in the way it expertly weaves together the various threads of the story from the first half of the season, and then in a single image, raises the stakes for the remaining episodes. Your mileage may vary on whether or not the final episode delivers on the promise of this one, but we can guarantee that the final shot of “The Bent-Neck Lady” will make you sit up and take notice.

LOW: Marvel and Netflix are splitting up

Charlie Cox in <em>Daredevil</em> (Photo: Netflix)
Charlie Cox in Daredevil (Photo: Netflix)

When 2018 began, Netflix had a full team of Marvel’s Defenders, plus a gun-toting wild card. Flash forward to the end of the year, and we’re just down to two: Jessica Jones and The Punisher. Both sides have been pointing fingers at each other as to why Iron Fist, Luke Cage and Daredevil were kicked to the curb, with theories ranging from Disney’s soon-to-debut streaming service to Netflix’s unhappiness over the creative direction of the different shows. Until a new home is announced, we’ll just have to find our single-take hallway battles somewhere else.

HIGH: The Tony Awards

Broadway’s annual awards extravaganza continues to be the very model of a modern major awards show, one that the Emmys and Oscars alike would do well to take lessons from. Anchored by a dynamic duo of hosts — Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban — the 2018 Tonys featured such standout “gotta watch it live” moments as the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., serenading their drama teacher with songs from Rent, and a series of gorgeous acceptance speeches from the Angels in America cast. And in contrast to this year’s Emmys, the best show won.

LOW: The Emmy Awards

It’s strange how a celebration of TV’s finest television frequently results in TV’s worst awards show. Hosts Michael Che and Colin Jost set the tone for the evening when they whiffed the opening monologue, which was followed by a parade of yawn-inducing (and disappointingly undiverse) winners and acceptance speeches. The only bright spots were a spontaneous wedding proposal and seeing TV legends Henry Winkler and Betty White school the room on what true star power looks like.

HIGH: The Doctor Who Season 11 Premiere

It only took 55 years, but the time traveling Doctor finally regenerated into a woman. Jodie Whittaker’s 13th Doctor proved that the hopeful and heroic Time Lord is a character beyond gender. Written by new showrunner Chris Chibnall, the season premiere not only had to introduce Whittaker, but also our new TARDIS team—Graham (Bradley Walsh), Ryan (Tosin Cole), and Yaz (Mandip Gill)—and set the stage for a completely different, and very promising, new era. While the rest of the season never truly lived up to the premiere’s promise, Whittaker (and, somewhat surprisingly, Walsh) kept us coming back each week.

HIGH: Killing Eve

Jodie Comer as Villanelle and Sandra Oh as Eve Polastri in <em>Killing Eve </em>(Photo: Everett Collection)
Jodie Comer as Villanelle and Sandra Oh as Eve Polastri in Killing Eve (Photo: Everett Collection)

Orphan Black may have died and gone to clone heaven, but BBC America struck genre gold again with this bloody addictive crime drama, which could also be titled An Officer and a Psycho. Sandra Oh won a historic Emmy nomination for her performance as MI5 employee Eve Polastri, who becomes singularly focused on Jodie Comer’s deadly assassin. Clocking in at exactly eight hours, Killing Eve makes for a perfect 9-5 binge while everyone else in your office is on vacation.

HIGH: The new British invasion

Killing Eve wasn’t the only British import that rocked our world this year. Netflix nabbed two terrific productions, the Richard Madden-led action series, Bodyguard, and the cult “crazy teens in love” series, The End of the F***ing World. Meanwhile, Amazon Prime scooped up the period political thriller, A Very English Scandal, featuring Ben Whishaw and Hugh Grant in their second-best performances of 2018, after Paddington 2. If you keep sending ’em across the pond, we’ll keep watching ’em.

HIGH: Jesus Christ Superstar: Live in Concert

John Legend as Jesus in<em> Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert </em>(Photo: Getty Images)
John Legend as Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert (Photo: Getty Images)

The best live television musical since Fox’s Grease Live! in 2016, NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar was given a stripped-down staging that eschewed Broadway grandiosity in favor of a dynamic, rock-concert vibe. It was an ideal presentation for the 1970 rock opera, which was conceived as an album and works best when audiences can focus on the songs. It doesn’t hurt when those songs are performed by wildly talented vocalists. With John Legend as Jesus, Sara Bareilles as Mary Magdalene and Broadway star Brandon Victor Dixon in the challenging lead role of Judas, the Easter special attracted nearly 10 million viewers and 13 Emmy nominations, winning five.

LOW: Roseanne goes down in Twitter flames

The Roseanne revival was going to single-handedly save network television … until it imploded in a single, awful Tweet. The show went on — without Roseanne Barr — but despite strong reviews, The Conners has mostly failed to recapture its predecessor’s ratings magic. On the plus side, the cast now knows to stay the heck off Twitter.

HIGH: Sharp Objects

Amy Adams as Camille Preaker and Patricia Clarkson as Adora Crellin in <em>Sharp Objects. </em>(Photo: HBO)
Amy Adams as Camille Preaker and Patricia Clarkson as Adora Crellin in Sharp Objects. (Photo: HBO)

Author Gillian Flynn is a master of damaged-women crime stories, and HBO’s Sharp Objects took her debut novel to twisted new heights. The Southern Gothic miniseries starred Amy Adams as an alcoholic journalist who returns to her hometown to investigate a crime, forcing her to confront a dark past and a family that is not what it seems. Patricia Clarkson gives one of her best-ever performances as the lead character’s brittle socialite mother, and director Jean-Marc Vallée’s dreamlike frames are loaded with ominous details, including hidden words that had fans obsessively sharing theories and screenshots.

LOW: The Megyn Kelly experience

One day she was there, and the next day she was gone. So ended Megyn Kelly’s brief, tumultuous tenure at NBC, where she reportedly managed to irritate her Today show colleagues and failed to attract the viewers that the network assumed would follow her over from Fox News. Even without the misguided choice to opine about the appropriateness of blackface at Halloween, Kelly’s days at NBC seemed numbered.

HIGH: Better Call Saul

Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler and Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill in <em>Better Call Saul</em> (Photo: Everett Collection)
Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler and Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill in Better Call Saul (Photo: Everett Collection)

In its fourth year, Better Call Saul came this close to meeting up with the Breaking Bad timeline, including a flash-forward that fills in a gap from its parent show. But even as the finale implied that Jimmy McGill has finally become Saul Goodman once and for all, there are still some pieces of the larger puzzle that need to be snapped into place. And you don’t have to know what’s in store for Jimmy to be riveted by his downfall, and the ripple effect it has on the people around him. Breaking Bad depicted how a seemingly good man could break bad; Better Call Saul assumes that we’re all already broken — it’s how we choose to put ourselves back together, and who we become when we do.

LOW: Must-Flee Fall TV

It’s no secret that network television is often the place of last resort for TV creators in the cable/streaming era. 2018’s fall lineup was a case study in new shows that too often felt like leftovers. And yes, some of those titles — including NBC’s Manifest and CBS’s FBI — have carved out decent-sized followings. But the medium’s ongoing creative revolution definitely isn’t being televised on network TV.

HIGH: The Americans series finale

Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings and Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings in <em>The Americans </em>(Photo: Everett Collection)
Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings and Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings in The Americans (Photo: Everett Collection)

The most shocking thing about the final episode of FX’s brilliant, pitch-black espionage drama is that no one died. Instead, undercover KGB agents Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (played with astonishing depth and range by Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell over six seasons) met an arguably worse fate: the loss of their children. The haunting series finale was a near-perfect episode, combining jaw-dropping revelations — the family unmasking themselves to their CIA-agent neighbor, their daughter Paige’s decision to stay behind as her parents flee to Russia — with elegiac moments of reflection, including a powerful montage set to Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms.” The show’s lingering mysteries, particularly regarding a character who may or may not be a double agent, will have fans talking for years to come.

LOW: The X-Files series finale

OK, so the last episode of The X-Files revival’s second season wasn’t technically billed as a series finale. But when your lead actress makes it clear she’s not coming back (again), you know your show is over and done with. And based on how they treated Dana Scully in the finale, we can’t blame Gillian Anderson for getting the heck out of Dodge. In an eye-rolling turn of events, Scully discovers she’s pregnant moments after bidding farewell to her other son, William. It’s an irritating capper to a season that had some solid highs (including another Darin Morgan episode), but some series-worst lows. Let’s follow Anderson’s example and lock these Files up for good.

HIGH: These shows revived our hopes for reboots

<em>She-Ra and the Princesses of Power</em>/<em>Chilling Adventures of Sabrina/Cobra Kai/Star Trek: Discovery </em>(Photo: Netflix/Everett Collection/CBS)
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power/Chilling Adventures of Sabrina/Cobra Kai/Star Trek: Discovery (Photo: Netflix/Everett Collection/CBS)

There’s a good reason to be scared of TV’s ongoing reboot craze (see why below). But just when we thought we were out, great revivals like She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Star Trek: Discovery — all of which have the added bonus of putting terrific female characters front and center — pulled us back in. And then there’s Cobra Kai; when it was announced there’d be a YouTube series spinning off The Karate Kid, doubters were ready to dismiss it as a cash grab for two off-the-radar actors. Oh, how wrong we were. This incredibly entertaining binge fest ingeniously reverses the roles of hero-turned-villain Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and villain-turned-hero Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka). It’s a leg-sweepingly great show.

LOW: (Don’t) Reboot this

We don’t want to live in a world without Cobra Kai in it. On the other hand, we’d be perfectly fine without more Murphy Brown, Magnum P.I., Charmed and Lost in Space. Those four revivals illustrate the perils of extending shows beyond their natural life cycle without a strong concept and/or cast to prop up the existing brand name. And in the case of Murphy Brown, a lukewarm revival can leave us wondering if the original run was really as funny as we remember it.

HIGH: Second seasons that raised the game

<em>GLOW</em>/<em>Dear White People/Black Lightning/Atlanta </em>(Photo: Netflix/CW/FX)
GLOW/Dear White People/Black Lightning/Atlanta (Photo: Netflix/CW/FX)

The sophomore slump is a real thing, so kudos to the following shows for not only equaling their first seasons, but surpassing them. In their respective second years, the Netflix shows GLOW and Dear White People did an expert job juggling their large casts, and grew even more confident exploring larger social issues without sacrificing any entertainment value. The CW’s best superhero show, Black Lightning, doubled down on social commentary as well; in its best Season 2 episodes, the series harkens back to the ’70s, when comic books wrestled with real-world problems. Donald Glover, meanwhile, tossed out the rulebook when crafting Atlanta‘s second year. With every episode seemingly tackling a new genre — and many of those episodes only following one character, despite the fact that the show was set up as an ensemble — Atlanta continues to get better and better and better. The “Teddy Perkins” episode, a horror show pitting Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) against an unrecognizable Glover in the mysterious title role, is downright brilliant and deserves to be studied.

LOW: The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2

Working without the safety net of Margaret Atwood’s book was always going to make The Handmaid’s Tale‘s second year a dicey proposition. And the creative struggle was all too real as Season 2 unfolded, as the storytelling ran aground on repetitive conflicts (including two failed escape attempts) and an overabundance of torture as a plot device. The good news is that Atwood recently revealed she’s working on a sequel to her novel, so maybe she shared advanced copies with the writing staff before they started Season 3.

HIGH: Amazing transformations

Sacha Baron Cohen in <em>Who Is America?</em>/Patricia Arquette in <em>Escape at Dannemora</em>/Darren Criss in <em>American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace</em> (Photo: HBO/Showtime/Everett Collection)
Sacha Baron Cohen in Who Is America?/Patricia Arquette in Escape at Dannemora/Darren Criss in American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace (Photo: HBO/Showtime/Everett Collection)

A number of familiar TV faces underwent an extreme makeover in 2018, in service of transformative performances. Oscar-winner Patricia Arquette turned heads in Ben Stiller’s acclaimed Showtime prison drama, Escape at Dannemora, playing real-life convict Tilly Mitchell. Meanwhile, Ryan Murphy’s latest American Crime Story serial, The Assassination of Gianni Versace, remade Glee‘s dashing Darren Criss into an emotionally disturbed killer. And while the comedian Sacha Baron Cohen is no stranger to changing his appearance, his latest series Who Is America? featured some remarkable transformations that fooled everyone from Dick Cheney to Sarah Palin.

LOW: Saturday Night Live can’t quit Alec Baldwin (even though it should)

Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump was an inspired bit of stunt casting that has long since lost its inspiration. Sure, Baldwin’s buffoonish portrayal still generates headlines and POTUS hate-tweets, but it’s just not funny anymore — which could double as a criticism of SNL‘s approach to political humor in general these days. Any chance of a recall campaign?

HIGH: So many one-word wonders

You’ve already heard how good HBO’s Barry is — just see the pair of Emmy wins it nabbed for Bill Hader and Henry Winkler. So let this be a reminder not to miss HBO’s sharp-witted satire, which takes the “hitman with a heart of gold” archetype and gently, thoughtfully, flips it on its head. Barry‘s channelmate, Succession, isn’t the show you expect it to be either; the Adam McKay-produced series starts off as a send-up of a major Murdoch-esque media family, and then boldly ventures into new territory — although we’re obviously not going to tell you how. While we’re at it, don’t let anyone spoil the surprises that await in Julia Roberts’s twisty thriller Homecoming or the Maya Rudolph/Fred Armisen “comedy” Forever, both of which are streaming on Amazon Prime.

LOW: Netflix keeps canceling talk shows

Michelle Wolf (Photo: Getty Images)
Michelle Wolf (Photo: Getty Images)

Apart from being funny, what do Joel McHale, Michelle Wolf and Chelsea Handler have in common? They all joined Luke Cage, Iron Fist and Daredevil on the Netflix unemployment line this year. The streaming service has been trying to launch its version of a talk show for some time now, but can’t seem to commit to a host whose name isn’t David Letterman. At least Daily Show veteran Hasan Minhaj is still yakking it up on Patriot Act … for now.

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