TV critics had another tough year — first, to keep up with all the TV shows currently available and two, trying to whittle down their “Top 10” lists to just ten. As it has been noted in the last couple of years, it was agonizing and difficult to try to determine which TV shows warranted a slot on my “Top 10” list. It is a struggle I have faced for many years as a TV critic, but it also something that yields interesting results. It makes me realize what shows I truly enjoy and why I spend my valuable time with them.
In an era of over 500 original, scripted TV dramas in 2018 — after combining traditional broadcast and cable television with those offered online through streaming services — no one can truly watch all the TV shows available. I made a determined effort to try, but even I could only manage watch about 245 TV shows during the past year. So, in an effort to provide full disclosure, I did not watch all 555 of the scripted TV shows in 2018. (For those wondering, I was up to about 275 TV shows in prior years, but this year I found that it was just harder to keep up. So 2018 was year of decreased TV viewing. That is what we have come to: watching less TV. Go figure.)
Of the 245 shows I did watch, I have done my best to weigh each on a fair scale to select which shows earned a spot in my “Top 10” list and the following reflects that criteria:
– fearless storytelling
– highly entertaining
– water-cooler factor
– clearly ascertainable “hero” and “heart”
– strong female characters
– empowered female characters
To briefly explain, “fearlessness” in storytelling means a willingness to tackle the topic or subject of their story head-on with no regrets.
“Highly entertaining” is pretty self-explanatory — the viewing audience must enjoy watching the show and are not just enduring it.
“Consistency” means that each episode must stand on its own. Lots of TV shows have one or two great episodes and then fall-off the creative-cliff the rest of the season. So maintaining the momentum of a strong, well-written season is crucial as well.
The “water-cooler” factor is also essential. People must be talking about the show. It must be part of the zeitgeist and inspiring passion in those who watch.
There had to be a clear “hero” and a reason to care about the characters — the “heart.” There are simply too many shows that forget we want to root for someone and we want to care about the characters.
Last year, I added one final bit of criteria: the show had to not only have strong female roles, it had to empower those female characters. This should be a given in any TV show, but now more than ever, this criteria needs to be spelled out and recognized as crucial to any top TV show.
So that is my criteria. It actually sets a high bar and it made it a bit easier to see which TV shows truly earned a spot on my “Top 10” list for 2018 — and here are the TV shows that made it:
Tiffany’s Top 10 TV Shows of 2018
The Good Fight (CBS All Access)
12 Monkeys (Syfy)
The Americans (FX)
The Man In The High Castle (Amazon)
Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access)
Because it helps to know what shows were contenders for the “Top 10,” here are the runners-up in 2018:
Into The Badlands (AMC)
Doctor Who (BBC America)
The Expanse (Syfy)
Younger (TV Land)
Agents Of SHIELD (ABC)
Mary Kills People (Lifetime)
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon)
The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
Sharp Objects (HBO)
Jessica Jones (Netflix)
Youth & Consequences (YouTube)
The Magicians (Syfy)
Wynonna Earp (Syfy)
Suits (USA Network)
The Bold Type (Freeform)
Grace & Frankie (Netflix)
Keeping Faith (Acorn)
Better Call Saul (AMC)
The Rookie (ABC)
Santa Clarita Diet (Netflix)
C.B. Strike (Cinemax)
Sacred Lies (Facebook)
Everything Sucks! (Netflix)
The Orville (Fox)
Note: For those curious, HBO’s Games Of Thrones did not air in 2018 and was not eligible for this year’s list.
Also, keep in mind, that there are a lot more TV shows that I love and adore (e.g., Cobra Kai and American Vandal) that just did not rise to the level of depicting women in significant and empowered roles.
As a bit more explanation, here are a few more reasons my “Top 10” shows warranted recognition for their achievements in 2018:
KILLING EVE (BBC America)
A newcomer to this list with its freshman debut, from the start, KILLING EVE was a runaway success. It smartly showcased women in virtually all leading roles and made each so complex and rich that you couldn’t take your eyes off them. There was at its heart, a dual seduction: the cat-and-mouse affair between a serial killer/assassin-for-hire and the detective determined to stop her; simultaneously there was the seduction of the audience who watched riveted in the dance of their deadly game. Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer were sublime and superb. Just as wonderful to watch were Fiona Shaw, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Olivia Ross, Susan Lynch and Yuli Lagodinsky. All the female characters of KILLING EVE were essential, rich and deeply flawed. It was a cornucopia of women that when woven together created an exquisite tapestry. KILLING EVE also posed an interesting dilemma of whether we wanted the villain caught. We were as conflicted as Sandra Oh’s character Eve, as like her, we had all fallen under Villanelle’s spell. KILLING EVE kept us guessing, fearful and hopeful all in the same breathe. Quite an impressive feat.
THE GOOD FIGHT (CBS All Access)
In a daring second season, THE GOOD FIGHT was audacious, bold and fearless. It knew its strength lie in its female characters and it showcased each fabulously — from Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) to Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo) to Maia Rindell (Rose Leslie) to Liz Lawrence (Audra McDonald) to Marissa Gold (Sarah Steele) — we followed them thorough the daily chaos that they unflinchingly embraced and conquered. From literal bombs and bombshell surprises, each was faced uncompromisingly and with finesse. Hats off to the remarkable women who portray these incredible characters. It is fascinating watching them rule the legal world with such ease and confidence.
12 MONKEYS (Syfy)
Making its third appearance on this list, 12 MONKEYS holds a soft spot in my heart and my love of this clever and amazing sci-fi series only grew through its final season. The revelry and charm infused in 12 MONKEYS’ core-DNA only made us to love it more. With characters effortlessly stealing scenes, the cast was a delight to embrace and appreciate in every scene they were in. But what made the show so special and stood-out so clearly were its women — Cassandra Railly (Amanda Schull), Jennifer Goines (Emily Hampshire,) Dr. Katerina Jones (Barbara Sukowa), Olivia Kirschner (Alisen Down), and Hannah Jones (Brooke Williams). Faced with the daunting and seemingly impossible task of saving time itself from catastrophic apocalypses, viral outbreaks, and from being rewritten or erased forever, these women raced head-long into every challenge and sacrificed everything to protect and save those they loved, as well as the entirety of humanity. No man stood in their way, and better yet, they stood side by side with them and all were stronger for it. 12 MONKEYS was a lovingly well-crafted science fiction tale of doom and destruction that allowed love to blossom and grow, and, in the end, reminded us what we all should be fighting for in our own lives.
FEAR THE WALKING DEAD (AMC)
Making its second consecutive appearance on this list, AMC’s FEAR THE WALKING DEAD is still a show to be reckoned with. As noted before, FEAR THE WALKING DEAD is bone-chillingly ruthless and takes no prisoners in the game of survival. In a shocking move, in its fourth season, the show killed off two primary characters mother Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) and son Nick Clark (Frank Dillane), leaving daughter Alicia Clark (Alycia Debnam-Carey) as the sole survivor of the Clark family, which the audience had followed since the Clark family was thrust into the zombie-apocalypse. With audacity and aplomb, FEAR THE WALKING DEAD introduced several new characters to fight alongside Alicia and together they became the essential heart-beat of the show. With death a frequent winner, it is with some hesitancy that the newer characters were welcomed, but each was ultimately embraced in large part due to a perfect meld of character and casting. The new standouts included Luciana (Danay Garcia), Althea (Maggie Grace), June (Jenna Elfman), Charlie (Alexa Nisenson), and Sarah (Mo Collins). Each had to learn was that alone, they die — and together they stand a chance at surviving. Yet it is not enough to just survive, each had to find a reason to live. Watching each of these strong women discover their inner strength and that reason to live was powerful. It reminded the audience that we also have to make those discoveries in our own lives or we won’t survive. As noted before, the ultimate lesson from FEAR THE WALKING DEAD is: we all have to conquer our fears.
THE 100 (CW)
Speaking of facing fears, no other show does that as effectively as the CW’s post-apocalyptic drama THE 100. Marking its fourth appearance on this list in the past 5 years, THE 100 earned a spot yet again with its terrifying portrayal of humanity picking up the pieces after a second nuclear apocalypse. The women of THE 100 are truly invincible: Clarke (Eliza Taylor), Raven (Lindsey Morgan), Octavia (Marie Avgeropoulos), Abby (Paige Turco), Harper (Chelsey Reist), Indra (Adina Porter), Echo (Tasya Teles), Niylah (Jessica Harmon), Gaia (Tati Gabrielle), and newcomers Madi (Lola Flanery) and Diyoza (Ivana Milicevic) — and all exceptionally portrayed. It has been said that “the future is female” and THE 100 proves that. In the quest to determine who shall lead, the power is wrestled and taken by those who are natural leaders. THE 100 showcases the many ways that women become leaders and how it serves humanity to welcome them as such. It also acknowledges that no character is without flaws, but that does not stop them. The show does a remarkable job illustrating how women work together, even with enemies, to ensure their mutual survival. The women of THE 100 simply accept each arising challenge and conquer it. It was never simple nor easy, yet they do whatever it takes to save lives and survive. The goal is always to survive and thrive, no matter what the cost. With that example, I would follow the women of THE 100 anywhere.
THE AMERICANS (FX)
A welcome return to this list for the fourth time, THE AMERICANS ended its run on a high note. While rooting for the enemy is no easy feat, time and time again, THE AMERICANS convinced its audience to do just that. It is the ultimate “honey trap” as THE AMERICANS seduced us and earned our trust so skillfully that we cheered for Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings’ success, even to the detriment of our own county. It truly made us question our loyalty. I am still conflicted at my own firm belief that Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Phillip (Matthew Rhys) should have been allowed to spy upon, kill agents, and elude the U.S. government for nearly two decades. What does that say about me that I happily rooted for the enemy? That is the guilt of being trapped by THE AMERICANS’ “honey pot.” We were supposed to fall in love with them. We are supposed to want them to succeed to our own detriment. It’s crazy, but for the first time ever, it was clear and understandable how human we all are that we would fall for such an obvious tactic. But that was the secret to their success: love. Even so, it was not until the very end that it became clear that it was all for Elizabeth. Philip would have left the spy business long ago, if not for the love of his wife, and only returned to the spy game in order to ensure her safety. Philip ultimately gave up everything just for her. That is the power of love for a phenomenal woman. Credit must be recognized for Keri Russell’s mesmerizing performance as well. Without that, it would have been impossible to believe that Philip, or anyone else, could so effortlessly sway so many people into doing heinous acts without a second thought. Then just as craftily portrayed were the other women on THE AMERICANS: Paige (Holly Taylor), Martha (Alison Wright), Nina (Annet Mahendru), and Claudia (Margo Martindale). We fell under their spell as well. Hats off to all of them for performances that are seared into our hearts.
Returning to this list for its second season, WESTWORLD is the ultimate conundrum: the majority of its characters are not even human. Most of its characters are robots possessing an uncanny artificial intelligence that allows each to pass as human and walk among us without a second thought. It is the jaw-dropping performances of it characters that captivated us and convinced us that we should root for them in their quest for autonomy and self-determination. From the icy determination of Delores (Evan Rachel Wood) to the protective mothering of Maeve (Thandie Newton) to the inquisitiveness of Elise (Shannon Woodward) to the ruthless business sense of Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) to the cursed trials of Clementine (Angela Sarafyan) and the doomed fate of Emily (Katja Herbers), it was impossible to take our eyes off them for their stories were like ever-shifting sands in the wind, and human or not, we desperately wished for each to succeed. In them, we see reflections of our own lives and fervently wish them triumph against the odds as they tenaciously pursued their own lives, free from control and oppression. It is a strength that we all hope to find that will carry us though the insurmountable obstacles before us. For if they can do it, we can. WESTWORLD is a labyrinthine story of love, autonomy and free will. I admire how it makes each of us look in the mirror and question what we see and desire to see, and if that can be made a reality.
THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE (Amazon)
In its first appearance on this list, the third season of THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE was a shocking yet exhilarating tale of resistance. In the world of THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, reality itself is questioned. It dared to posit: what if the lives they were living were not the way it was supposed to be? From its first season, mysterious film reels kept cropping up depicting a world where the allies had won World War II. This was not the reality that our heroes found themselves living in at all. Instead, they were living in a world where the Japanese and Germans had won World War II. Yet for one woman, Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos), that glimpse into another alternate world via the film reel was life-changing. It took her on a journey of self-discovery that opened her eyes to the possibility that the entire world could be changed, different. It could be better, happier and safer for all. In its third season, Juliana was no longer on the run from this distortion of the reality which she had grown up amongst, and it was a promised life that she should have that she began to run towards. The rise of Juliana Crain was exhilarating to behold. She became the tipping point for an entire world — a destiny she embraced. It was not just for herself. Juliana realized that she had the ability to change the world, and their entire reality, if she so chose. So she did. THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE is a brilliant tale of a young woman’s awakening to the possibility of changing her life, and the whole world in the process, and she does not even hesitate. It is awesome to behold. Change begins with one small step and the determined decision to make it. I eagerly anticipate what the next season will bring in Juliana’s extraordinary journey.
STAR TREK: DISCOVERY (CBS All Access)
In the second half of its first season, STAR TREK: DISCOVERY continued its fearless journey to confront an insidious traitor — one that had crossed from a mirror dimension to steal a Starfleet ship and persuade disgraced Starfleet officer Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) to join in a traitorous coup. That dastardly plan was ultimately foiled, but the twisty tale of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY’s first season was incredible to behold. Simultaneously, following the individual path of Michael Burnham, her journey was equally as impressive. Fierce and unflinching in her portrayal as aspiring-hero to traitorous-villain and then to reluctant-hero, Sonequa was mesmerizing. As noted previously, the theme of second chances and predetermined fate resonates throughout the series. Michael, despite significant set back in her life and obstacles to overcome, remained undeterred and her resilience and self-empowerment remains a testament to the credo: “never give up.” Similarly, the story arcs for Tilly (Mary Wiseman), Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), L’Rell (Mary Chieffo), and Admiral Cornwall (Jayne Brook) were multilayered and surprising. Each were strong and looked to as leaders. It is fantastic to see women in these powerful roles in a series that illustrated how capable and valued women are in battle and strategic decisions.
LOST IN SPACE (Netflix)
Another impressive new entry in its freshman year is the new space drama LOST IN SPACE. In a modern retelling of the classic science fiction tale of a family stranded together in space on a foreign planet, LOST IN SPACE is a pure joy to watch as it showcased strong, independent and free-willed female characters that can fend for themselves in any situation. From Maureen Robinson (Molly Parker), who is mission commander, to her capable daughters Judy (Taylor Russell) and Penny (Mina Sundwall), as well as the enigmatic Dr. Smith (Parker Posey), the women on the show were not only respected, but their aid was frequently needed to get them out of life-threatening situations; and each did not wait to be asked, they just did whatever was necessary. That self-initiative and inventiveness is admirable and a wonderful example of how women should be treated in all aspects of life. Women can do anything. We just need to write and show it more on screen. Kudos to LOST IN SPACE for making it look so easy and delivering a riveting and cheer-worthy show in the process.
Each and every one of the shows that made it on my “Top 10” list earned its spot. I could rave about each for pages and not be be done. I recommend that if you are not watching these shows that you take the time and watch. The same goes for the “runner-up” shows; each just as worthy in its own way of praise and accolades.
There are hundreds of other worthy and delightful and fantastic TV shows on television right now. Just because they are not mentioned here doesn’t mean each of those is not worthy of your time. I happily watched 245 TV shows in 2018 and am looking forward to seeing where each of those go in 2019 — as well as embracing many more new shows debuting in the next 12 months.
This is a rich and rewarding time to be a TV viewer and critic. Embrace it all. Savor it all. And have a wonderful time. I do.
P.S. As a refresher and reference, here are my Top 10 TV Shows of 2017:
Game Of Thrones (HBO)
Big Little Lies (HBO)
The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
Black Sails (Starz)
Mary Kills People (Lifetime)
Colony (USA Network)
Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access)
P.P.S. Also helpful, here are my Top 10 TV Shows of 2016:
12 Monkeys (Syfy)
The Good Wife (CBS)
Bates Motel (A&E)
The Americans (FX)
Orphan Black (BBC America)
Stranger Things (Netflix)
Better Call Saul (AMC)
Downton Abbey (PBS)