The end of the year is almost upon us, dear readers, so the time has come for me to make a couple of big ol’ end of year lists – celebrating the best offerings from both the small and big screens. Passing judgement on these cinematic/televisual offerings is surely the highlight of my year and, just like last year, I will now delve into what I enjoyed watching most on the humble small screen in 2018.
This year, unless I’m missing some out (apologies to them if I have!), I’ve gotten around to watching around 26 shows but many of them I didn’t review. Lazy me! So here are the ten that I appreciated the most – maybe they’re not the definitive best of the year (no, I didn’t see Bodyguard or The Haunting of Hill House and I’ll probably get around to watching Mrs. Maisel S2 next year) but these ten are tops in my eyes!
The Handmaid’s Tale (Series Two) – I don’t think that it’s as good as the amazing first series and now that they’ve gone “off book”, there’s a danger that the show is veering off the “tried and true” track but this consistent series is still well respected, beautifully shot and important with stellar acting and the episode with June alone in that huge house was an amazing instalment.
But they are planning TEN seasons and I’m not so sure about that!
Killing Eve (Series One) – I don’t think that I fell as head-over-heels in love with this critically adored show as others did (frankly, I thought that the show got a little bumpy after about episode four) but thanks primarily to the excellent performances of both Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer and the very memorable characters they gave us, Killing Eve turned out to be a most unique series full of dark comedy, an imaginative story and a wonderfully intriguing cat & mouse dynamic at the heart. I just hope that we get more of that in the next season.
Better Call Saul (Series Four) – I still think series two is the best so far but this new season of Jimmy McGill’s antics is really great too, even if he spends most of his time selling burner phones rather than working towards becoming Saul. It remains a consistently exciting series (though I still maintain that those who think it’s better than Breaking Bad are nuts) and the very best moments come from Mike and the German workforce – literally laying the foundation for Walt and Jesse.
The Top Ten (in alphabetical order)
The Alienist (Series One)
I don’t generally have much interest in the days of Jack the Ripper, of films and TV shows which take place in foggy old London where a nasty killer is on the loose, but despite my prejudice, The Alienist turned out to be an unpredictable and very well written show with several strong performances at the centre. The mystery surrounding the elusive killer – the gruesome way he murders his young victims and the question of just what could have motivated him to do such things – is intriguing and the big mystery is maintained right up until the end. The show’s design is effective and the central trio is strong: Daniel Brül is great as the anti-social tortured genius, Luke Evans is charismatic as the assisting illustrator and Dakota Fanning often steals the show from everyone as the brave and intelligent secretary/aspiring detective – as evidenced by Brimstone, she’s becoming a particularly remarkable actress these days!
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Part One) (REVIEW)
Despite never having really seen the 90s series, coupled with the fact that I thought that this show might end up being too “young adult-y”, Sabrina ended up being a colourful, imaginative and just plain enjoyable series with a fun cast and an engrossing storyline, one that isn’t afraid to get dark when it needs to. Kiernan Shipka (who was my only real reason for giving this show a go) carries the show well and fellow cast members, like the wicked Miranda Otto, the lovely Lucy Davis and the typically mad Michelle Gomez, manage to entertain as well.
But damn that blurry camerawork!
Daredevil (Series Three)
I thought that the second series of Daredevil was one of the greatest superhero shows that I’d yet seen and for the majority of this third outing, I was all prepared for it to be almost as good but not quite. Ultimately though, the third series of Daredevil is probably strongest that the show’s ever been as the characterisation is particularly strong, letting several characters get their own solid arcs, the fight choreography is accomplished (especially with that excellent single take riot scene), there are proper, tangible stakes and the show introduces several great new characters such as Sister Maggie, Ray Nadeem and of course, Ben Pointdexter who is such a memorable and well written antagonist and his “backstory episode” (“The Perfect Game”) is the best part of the series in my opinion.
So Daredevil is clearly as strong as it’s ever been, one of the strongest shows that Netflix has given us so far, and surely we can look forward to a fourth season that will let this perfect superhero show keep burning brightly and . . . oh no, wait a minute, it was CANCELLED! A travesty.
GLOW (Series Two) (REVIEW)
Building on the foundation laid down by the first series, GLOW‘s sophomore outing improves on its predecessor by including a greater amount of wrestling scenes, ramping up the fun factor and making sure to include some socially relevant storylines, especially in an episode that features a certain sleazy, harassing producer who instantly reminds us of . . . he who shall not be named. It’s bright, it’s entertaining, the characters are wonderful, and “The Good Twin” is one of my favourite episodes of the year. Paging Mr. Mickey Rourke . . .
Keeping Faith (Series One) (REVIEW)
Alongside Hidden, this was another valiant attempt by BBC Wales to bring us a dark, moody, complex crime thriller – a piece of Cymru Noir, if you will – but while Hidden was far too gloomy and pedestrian for its own good, the first series of Keeping Faith definitely got it right as, along with a very engrossing mystery at its centre, it greatly benefited from colourful cinematography, a dash of humour, and a terrific, multifaceted central performance from Eve Myles, playing the relatable solicitor and overencumbered mum who gets dragged into her husband’s shady dealings. It has a solid story, impressive acting and overall, this was the televisual equivalent of a really good crime novel that you don’t want to put down.
The Little Drummer Girl (REVIEW)
Though it may have lost some viewers with its complicated plot, this adaptation of John le Carré’s novel is a slow burning, intriguing and very intense thriller that boasts some tense and dramatic scenes, neat cinematography, and a trio of accomplished performances – especially from the mighty Florence Pugh whose star continues to rise and if there’s any justice, she’ll be rewarded with a BAFTA nomination for her excellent performance in this.
Sneaky Pete (Series Two)
It’s a bit of a shame that Bryan Cranston didn’t come back but the second outing for Amazon’s master conman Marius gives us another big, exciting, twisty turny plot, a dangerous villain who’s fond of forcing people to drink acid, and a whole host of colourful characters which includes Jane Adams as the clever mama hustler who gives Marius a run for his money. So just . . . trust in me . . . it’s an easy show to get lost in and enjoy, given the engrossing, dark, complex plot and game performances.
Star Trek Discovery (Series One) (REVIEW)
This sleek, glossy, visually stunning series is a mighty fine addition to the wonderful Trek franchise and in this new series, we have a strong lead in Sonequa Martin-Green’s Michael Burnham as well as several other great characters like Doug Jones’ cautious Lt. Saru, Michelle Yeoh’s mentoring Capt. Georgiou, and (hello to) Jason Isaacs’ morally flexible Capt. Lorca. It may lose its way with a few of its plot threads (especially the one relating to Ash Tyler and the Klingons) but the story here is ultimately an engaging and adventurous one and overall, it’s a confident step forward in the franchise that I love so much.
One with the first f-bomb in Trek history.
Trust (Series One) (REVIEW)
Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World told the story of the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III and the reluctance of his incredibly rich grandfather to pay the ransom but, with the benefit of a ten episode run, Trust managed to tell the story with noticeably more pizzazz, coherence and style, bringing us a saga that’s choc full of tense drama, great cinematography and several superb performances, including a scene stealing Brendan Fraser on remarkably terrific form as the fourth wall breaking, bible quoting, cowboy hat wearing, livewire of an investigator. I definitely learned a lot more than I did with Scott’s film.
Vanity Fair (REVIEW)
With a thoroughly entertaining leading performance from the talented Olivia Cooke, playing the clever, sly and manipulative (anti) heroine Becky Sharp, ITV’s adaptation of Thackeray’s novel is this year’s War and Peace (though it’s not quite as impressive) and it succeeds in telling the story to an audience who may not have been previously familiar with it (like me). It’s a decently written and colourful miniseries, everything you’d expect a literary adaptation to be, and the cast sure is a lively one, including the aforementioned Ms. Cooke and a really fun, scene stealing turn from Martin Clunes.
So there’s my list highlighting some of my favourite tales from the small screen. Join me at 6pm on New Year’s Eve for my big celebration of 2018’s very best (well, in my opinion anyway) cinematic offerings. There have been plenty this year!