10 TV shows from 2018 to binge-watch
It’s the holidays which hopefully means some well-earned down-time, whether just off from work or visiting family. It’s a good opportunity to veg out in front of the couch and burn through a season (or multiple seasons) of TV shows. In this era of Peak TV there is too much to choose from. While we recommend popular, award-winning shows like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, The Americans, Better Call Saul, Bojack Horseman, Homecoming, Sharp Objects, Big Mouth, Atlanta: Robbin’ Season, and more, I picked 10 shows that haven’t gotten quite as much attention that are worth binging. (There are actually 11 picks, as I lumped the two that are probably the most well-known on the list together.) My picks include quirky spies, corporate comedies, oddballs, misfits, drug-fuelled debauchery and more. Happy binging!
Tales from the Tour Bus (Cinemax)
Mike Judge, the guy behind Beavis & Butthead, King of the Hill and Silicon Valley, created this mostly animated, very enjoyable music documentary series that focuses on some of the most infamous characters and stories in outlaw country (Season 1) and funk (Season 2). Each episode is dedicated to a different artist — including Jerry Lee Lewis, George Jones & Tammy Wynette, James Brown and Rick James — and new and old interviews become animated recreations of the events. While the series is definitely funny, this isn’t a joke to Judge, who clearly loves this music, and some of the episodes have their poignant moments too, amidst all the sex and drugs and great music.
Killing Eve (BBC America/Hulu) / Barry (HBO)
Two of 2018’s best shows revolved around assassins and deftly walked the line between drama and comedy. Killing Eve was probably the surprise (and surprise hit) of the year, created by Phoebe Waller-Bridge (of Amazon’s brilliant Fleabag) and based on Luke Jennings “Villanelle” novels. Low-level MI5 officer Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) becomes obsessed with catching psychopath assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer), who is leaving a trail of bodies all over Europe, while Villanelle becomes obsessed with Eve. Killing Eve is wickedly funny but can turn breathlessly thrilling, or shocking, on a dime. The series doesn’t quite maintime the high mark of it’s crackerjack first two episodes (both written by Waller-Bridge), and there are a couple eye-rolling plot developments but the show is too much fun — with amazing performances from both leads — to quibble.
Barry meanwhile, seemed like it was going to be Grosse Pointe Blank: The Series at first, with its half-hour length and an SNL star as its creator/lead. Bill Hader clearly had a much darker series in mind, however, with this story of a loner, low-level hit man who wanders into an acting class taught by has-been Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler) and finds a family in this troupe of not-very-good would-be thespians. There are definitely some very funny moments — like Barry doing the “ABC” scene from Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross (it’s not your average read on the scene), but the show deals with the psychological damage of his job and the choices he makes and gets very heavy. It’s an ambitious, great-looking show — Atlanta collaborator Hiro Murai directs four episodes — with standout, Emmy-winning performances from Hader and Winkler. No spoilers but the show seemingly paints itself into a corner in the finale, to the point where it feels like a series finale, but Barry is so assured in its premiere season it will be exciting to see where it goes next.
Joe Pera Talks With You (Adult Swim)
Joe Pera has an unmistakable, awkward style — like an 80-year-old Midwestern grandpa trapped in the body of a 30-year-old by way of Andy Kaufman — that can be divisive in his standup, but is used to perfect effect in his funny, charming Adult Swim series Joe Pera Talks With You. In it, Joe plays a fictional version of himself where he’s a high school teacher in Michigan. Life is slower there — much slower — and each week, talking to the camera (aka You), Joe tells us about different aspects of his life, be it breakfast, his interest in Michigan’s mineralogical makeup, or The Rat Wars of Alberta, Canada. This show created my favorite single episode of TV of 2018: “Joe Pera Reads You The Church Announcements” in which he hears The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” for the first time and discovers the joy of rock n’ roll. (I’ve watched it at least five times.) It may take you a couple episodes to acclimate to Joe’s easygoing, laconic world, but with episodes only 12 minutes long, it’s not too much to ask, and the entire season is shorter than Mission Impossible: Fallout.
Lodge 49 (AMC/Hulu)
Lodge 49, created by acclaimed fiction writer Jim Gavin, is a real shaggy dog story that’s more about vibe than it is about plot. Set in Long Beach, CA, the show follows down-on-his-luck former surfer and pool cleaner, Dud (Wyatt Russell), who ends up joining fraternal order The Lynx (who are kind of a more all-inclusive Masons, Shriners or Elks). He finds camaraderie amongst the lodge’s diverse, if dwindling, membership and may find that there’s more to this secret club than meets the eye. Russell (son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn) is great in the lead, and the Lodge is populated with all sorts of great character actors, including Bruce Campbell, and Kenneth Welsh (who was Windom Earle on Twin Peaks). Speaking of Twin Peaks, there is definitely some of David Lynch’s lighter side to Lodge 49, as well as The Big Lebowski and Northern Exposure. There is a story, but it goes at its own pace…which will seem less slow in binge mode than watching week-to-week. Also: this show has an amazing, surprising soundtrack (Broadcast! Felt!).
If you need another quirky spy drama, Amazon’s Patriot is like no other series. Its whimsical tone is almost as if Wes Anderson took on John Le Carre. It centers on John Tavner (Michael Dorman), an agent who goes into “non-official cover” (NOC) at a Midwest piping firm in order to thwart a terrorist organization from getting their hands on a nuclear weapon. (It involves a lot of work trips to Luxembourg.) Tavner is so psychically damaged by his job, he writes rambling folk songs about the terrible stuff he has to do for his country — and becomes popular on the Amsterdam coffee house circuit. (The songs are weaved into the show’s montages.) Patriot is certainly the only show to use a Vashti Bunyan song as its opening credits theme. The show, which gets even better in its second season, looks fantastic and is populated with a great cast, including Kurtwood Smith (Red on That ‘70s Show), Terry O’Quinn (Locke on Lost) and Debra Winger. Like its deep undercover lead, Patriot feels entirely off the pop culture radar — many of my TV-savvy friends had never heard of it. Sometimes it’s Miranda July level quirky, but it’s more often than not brilliant.
Little Drummer Girl (AMC)
Speaking of John Le Carre, AMC’s adaptation of his 1983 cold war novel The Little Drummer Girl is just about perfect. Set in the late ‘70s, it follows young british actor Charlie (Florence Pugh) who meets a man (Alexander Skarsgård) while on holiday in Greece. What seems like a fling becomes a recruitment for a covert agency, run by Michael Shannon, who are hoping she’ll infiltrate a terrorist cell. Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, Stoker) directs the entire miniseries with an exceedingly confident, stylized, sometimes psychedelic, hand. You need that as you’re as disoriented as Charlie as to what’s going on at first, but Chan-wook lays out the puzzle pieces masterfully. Pugh is terrific as Charlie and it’s nice to see Shannon not playing a bug-eyed, wound-tight monster for once.
Corporate (Comedy Central)
The soul-sucking world of multinationals has long been a source of satire, and makes a particularly bleak and funny backdrop for Comedy Central’s Corporate. Matt Ingebretson and Jake Weisman, who co-created the series, star as Matt and Jake, two Junior Executives in Training at Hampton DeVille, a company whose slogan is “We Don’t Make Anything. We Make Everything” and is run by ruthless CEO Christian DeVille (Lance Reddick, aka Lt Daniels on The Wire). They face a daily onslaught of humiliations, clueless bosses, red tape, and meaningless corporate-speak. Their only work allies are HR administrator Grace (Aparna Nancherla) and the company’s social media guy (Baron Vaughn, the current voice of Crow on Mystery Science Theater 3000). Corporate may not be for everyone — it is almost relentlessly dark and, like Black Mirror, not that far removed from the real world — and makes The Office (or even Office Space) look like TGIF fare. (A surreal streak cuts the sting just a little, with a distinct Robocop/Fight Club sense of humor.) If you have the stomach for it, though, it is wickedly funny. Plus: Ty Segall wrote the theme song.
You may not think you want to watch a show about a bunch of unlikable, unbelievably wealthy assholes, but HBO’s Succession proves otherwise. Created by British television veteran Jesse Armstrong (Veep, Peep Show, Black Mirror), it’s loosely based on the Murdoch empire, with Brian Cox as Logan Roy, the aging head of media conglomerate Waystar Royco, whose impending retirement has his various offspring scheming to be the successor. Those include recovering addict Kendall (Jeremy Strong), youngest Roman (Keiran Culkin) who is more interested in having fun, and daughter Siobahn (Sarah Snook) who is the black sheep of the family, working PR for a Bernie Sanders-esque politician. There’s also Alan Ruck (Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) as Connor, their half-brother who lives in New Mexico, and Siobhan’s sycophantic boyfriend Tom (Matthew MacFadyen) who tortures the only person lower than him on the food chain, Logan’s dimwitted nephew Greg (Nicholas Braun). None of these people have any business running the company. There are corporate retreats, weddings at castles, ortolan bunting dinners, secret anything-goes clubs, and disaster after disaster. Like Veep and The Thick of It, profanity is an art form here, and the cast are all up to the challenge. It’s about as dark as you can get and while the characters are all terrible people, the show isn’t what I’d call mean-spirited, per se, and is one of the most deliciously funny shows of the year. If you’ve liked Yorgos Lanthimos’ new film The Favourite, you’ll like Succession. Like Barry, it’s finale sets up a second season whose tone seems like it’ll have to be much more serious, but we’ll see.
Ryan Murphy, the creator of American Horror Story, Glee, Nip/Tuck and more, is behind this FX series about the LGBTQ ball culture of late-’80s New York City. Rivals House of Abundance and House of Evangelista face off, while the show juxtaposes their members’ struggles against the AIDS epidemic and rise of real estate and corporate tycoons like Donald Trump. Pose broke ground with the largest transgender cast ever to feature on one show, and have included a number of breakout performances. Pose is unlike any show Murphy has done before, in no small part due to sharing vision with co-creators Brad Falchuk and Steven Canals, as well as Transparent alum Janet Mock and writer/producer Our Lady J. It’s not as flashy as you might expect from the subject matter and the creator of Glee, either, putting the human drama front and center, rich with outsiders, misfits and created families living in a city where reinvention is its greatest attraction.
Very loosely based on the Norwegian series of the same name, this Netflix limited series was one of the best surprises of 2018 and one of the biggest wows since the first season of Mr. Robot. Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga (who helmed the first season of True Detective) and written by Patrick Somerville (The Leftovers), Maniac is a dazzling sci-fi head-trip that was like nothing else this year. Set in an alternate universe where some aspects of technology stopped around 1985, Emma Stone and Jonah Hill star as two star-crossed paid subjects in a drug trial run by eccentric scientist Justin Theroux who claims he can fix any mental ailment with a series of pills. (Is there a little Eternal Sunshine here? For sure.) The structure of the drug trial allows for almost short films within episodes, across myriad genres (heist, fantasy, period dramas) and allows Fukunaga and Sommerville’s imaginations to run wild. Maniac manages to be funny, touching, sad, shocking and thrilling, and while viewers may not know where it’s heading, the creators never lose sight.