What a (Half of a) Year
EW critics Kristen Baldwin and Darren Franich spend most of their day bantering with each other as they devour as much TV as possible. (The life, right?!) Here’s a peek at their online conversation about their favorite shows of the first half of 2018.
Kristen's No. 10: Queer Eye
KRISTEN: Can you believe it, Darren? We’re already halfway through the year! In many ways, 2018 has been a trial, to say the least, but one saving grace in the morass of news-cycle negativity is the blessed release of good TV. Which brings me to the No. 10 show on my list: Netflix’s Queer Eye. This reboot of the 2003 makeover show is pure joy from start to finish — and it always leaves me with a happy tear in my eye. (Or streaming down my face.)
Darren's No. 10: Adventure Time
DARREN: I’m also a big fan of Queer Eye, Kristen, as we discussed in our happy-cry conversation about the show’s premiere. But my No. 10 is a different kind of entertaining escape. And in fairness, it’s only BARELY in the top 10, because it’s barely aired this year at all. Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time — the long-running sci-fi/fantasy/videogamey/musical saga about a boy, a dog, the pals they love, the monsters they fight, and the monsters they love — just aired four episodes back in March. That’s a collective running time of roughly half a Westworld. But all the episodes shined with Adventure Time’s eccentric trademarks: sweet fairy-tale logic, twisted dark humor, full-blown cosmic adventure, an ability to create and puncture myths in under 11 minutes. The series finale’s coming later this year, and darn it, now I have tears in my eyes.
Kristen's No. 9: The End of the F***ing World
KRISTEN: It will probably make you cry harder to learn that I have never seen an episode of Adventure Time, but I know how much you love it and it is my half-year resolution to watch before 2018 is over. Moving on to my No. 9, which aired in 2017 in the U.K. but debuted in the U.S. in January (so it counts!) is The End of the F***ing World. While the premise sounds very bleak — sociopathic teen boy goes on a road trip with very unhappy, troubled teen girl, all the while intending to murder her — this comedy delivers a very British blend of dark humor and shy sweetness. The lead, Alex Lawther, is a deadpan delight, and even though the finale is quite ambiguous, I hope there isn’t a season 2 — because sometimes stories should just end.
Darren's No. 9: Queer Eye
DARREN: I keep a steady list of “Foreign Shows to Watch on Netflix” on my desk, and End of the F***ing World has been on there for months, right next to W1A, Original British House of Cards, and That German Show About Time Travel Caves. With your stellar recommendation I’ll get to World immediately, but there’s one Netflix show that cut right through the streaming service’s churn. My No. 9 is Queer Eye, for all the reasons you’ve stated and more. The fantastic new cast (All hail Bobby Design!) honors the spirit of the original Fab Five, even as they take this franchise in a more emotionally open, let’s-hug-to-prove-there’s-still-goodness-in-this-world direction.
Kristen's No 8: Brooklyn Nine-Nine
KRISTEN: Speaking of proof of goodness in this world (!), my No. 8 is the brand new NBC series Brooklyn Nine-Nine! I’ve already written a lot in the past few months about the show’s many strengths (funny, hopeful, inclusive, so damn funny), so I’ll keep it simple and say Brooklyn Nine-Nine is the best comedy on broadcast TV. Long may it reign!
Darren's No. 8: Blue Planet II
DARREN: If only all canceled TV shows could get the Kristen Baldwin resurrection bump! On a much less hopeful note, I’m tempted to call my No. 8 pick the best post-apocalyptic show on television. Blue Planet II, David Attenborough’s latest docuseries, is a portrait of marine life — and, inevitably, a portrait of how that life is impacted by us climate-changing humans. But it’s the opposite of a bummer! This is thrilling, moving, ludicrously beautiful brain-vegetable TV. You WILL weep for the walrus.
Kristen's No. 7: Cobra Kai
KRISTEN: Oh man, animals in peril. That is always a tough (but necessary) watch. There is no obvious segue from the death of the planet to my No. 7 show, so here goes: If you had told me a few months ago that a YouTube Red sequel to The Karate Kid would move me to tears more than once, I would have said, “What is YouTube Red?” and “Bosh!” in that order. But the fact remains, Cobra Kai — about grown-up Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence and their families — is a truly engrossing family dramedy.
Darren's No. 7: Dear White People
DARREN: What delights we owe to reboot culture! Your No. 7 is a deep sequel to a generational classic film, while my No. 7 is an expansive variation on a recent movie. Season 2 of Netflix’s Dear White People is a brilliant satire that’s also a sensitive character study, full of cinematic invention. It can be hysterically funny, and it can perfectly pinpoint our modern hysteria, every episode generating dozens of profound ideas about contemporary African-American life (and America, period).
Kristen's No. 6: Barry
KRISTEN: Wow, is 2018 the year Hollywood finally cracked the reboot code? (Don’t answer that.) Of course, for all of the countless (and often disappointing) reboots and revivals, there are still some truly original ideas out there, including my No. 6 show on the list: HBO’s Barry. As a depressed former Marine-turned-hitman-turned terrible actor, star (and co-creator) Bill Hader gives a deeply felt performance, while Henry Winkler and Gotham‘s Anthony Carrigan deliver some of the dark comedy’s most brilliant moments.
Darren's No. 6: The Handmaid's Tale
DARREN: I’ll talk more about Barry soon (spoiler alert!) but first I have to sing the peculiar praise of my No. 6. Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale has made some elaborately depressing moves this season, and I understand the critique that it’s become a weekly exercise in brutality. But the bathtub-full-of-pain extremity always feels grounded in compelling you-are-there tension. Elizabeth Moss’ suffering has reached Passion of the Christ levels. It’s the best horror show on television.
Kristen's No. 5: The Handmaid's Tale
KRISTEN: Tension is the operative word. I honestly think my blood pressure goes up a few points every time I watch an episode of Handmaid’s, but the drama is so compelling and urgent, it’s worth it. The Handmaid’s Tale lands at No. 5 on my list. The show has done an excellent job of expanding the world of Margaret Atwood’s book in season 2, and I’m as anxious as ever to know what’s going to happen next.
Darren's No. 5: Corporate
DARREN: My No. 5 is barely less dystopian — but much funnier. Comedy Central’s Corporate is a maniacal workplace comedy, juggling the existential despair of the modern office drone with a chaotic humor encompassing dark-as-a-black-hole gags (9/11 jokes! But, like, funny 9/11 jokes!) alongside cheerful absurdity (a Black Mirror parody that doubles as a lacerating critique of Black Mirror fandom). It was little-seen, but the network blessedly ordered a second season. Catch up now, people!
Kristen's No. 4: Howards End
KRISTEN: Huzzah for second seasons of little-seen shows! It is the stuff that TV critic dreams are made of. The No. 4 show on my list was also dreadfully underwatched, but I choose to believe it will live on as weekend-binge material in years to come: Starz’s adaptation of E.M. Forster’s Howards End. Starring the absolutely wonderful Hayley Atwell (and featuring another excellent turn by Alex Lawther), this four-part period piece was a brisk and beautiful take on the eternally relevant classic.
Darren's No. 4: The Good Place
DARREN: Meanwhile, on NBC, Michael Schur (the busy sitcom demi-god who co-created Brooklyn Nine-Nine) is working on a new classic that already feels eternally relevant. My No. 4 show, The Good Place, wrapped up its second season this year with a sequence of episodes that reset the afterlife sitcom. They went to Hell! They went between Heaven and Hell, to Maya Rudolph’s office! They went…well, somewhere else, precise location coming in season 3! No show makes me laugh harder, think deeper, or laugh harder about deep thinking.
Kristen's No. 3: The Good Fight
KRISTEN: Is it weird that I found The Good Place‘s version of hell kind of appealing? There are days when it beats our current reality, amirite? My No. 3 show shares a surrealistic streak with The Good Place (and a portion of the title), but it very much takes place in the here and now: The Good Fight. Having come to this CBS All-Access series blind in season 2, I am consistently stunned at how seamlessly it blends good old-fashioned lawyer-show drama with off-kilter, alt-reality twists. And the cast! Please give Christine Baranski all the Emmys.
Darren's No. 3: The Good Fight
DARREN: We’ve done it, Kristen! We’ve reached TV-critical parity! My No. 3 is also The Good Fight. I love how co-creators Michelle and Robert King have taken the crackling structure of a brilliantly paced lawyer show and twisted it to match our twisted times. This show deserves a golden shower…of Emmy awards!
Kristen's No. 2: Killing Eve
KRISTEN: Ba-dum-bum! Now I’m really intrigued, because I was thinking Good Fight would be your No. 1! (If it is Lost in Space, you’re dead to me.) Anyhow, moving on to my No. 2: BBC America’s Killing Eve. A female-driven spy drama about obsession, love, and (wo)man’s capacity for evil, this gem from creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge is a suspenseful, funny thrill from start to finish. I’m usually allergic to the phrase “tour de force,” but I’ll take a Claritin and declare that Killing Eve features tour de force performances by stars Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer.
Darren's No. 2: Barry
DARREN: Lost in Space is number 1 on a list, but not this list. (Quite the opposite!) For my No. 2 pick, allow me to signal-boost a show you’ve already praised. I figured Barry was a one-joke sketch concept, “a hitman taking acting class.” But the show takes acting SERIOUSLY. The hilarious Hollywood striving leading into a sincere, Shakespeare-soliloquizing portrait of the actor’s tormented art. And it takes the hitman stuff very seriously: Who knew Bill Hader would make such a compelling, horrifying action hero? Two things happened in the back half of Barry‘s first season that truly shocked me — more than I’ve been shocked by anything on TV this decade. By the very twisted ending, I realized I was watching a modern Los Angeles noir epic — and I was still laughing at NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan), the breakout TV character of this half year.
Kristen's No. 1: The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
KRISTEN: Honestly, is NoHo Hank TV’s most likable Chechen mobster ever? I hope he and Barry stay friends in season 2. Well, Darren, we’re at my No. 1 show of the year (so far), and it will likely not come as a surprise to you: FX’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story. Though named for the famous designer, Versace used his murder to tell the stories of Andrew Cunanan’s earlier victims, and to examine the societal prejudices and neglect that rendered the gay community so vulnerable during Cunanan’s crime spree. Also no surprise: The cast and the performances were remarkable, and if Darren Criss (who played Cunanan) and Judith Light (as the wife of one of his victims, Lee Miglin), do not win big come Emmy season, it will be (ahem) a crime.
Darren's No. 1: Atlanta
DARREN: Here we are, EW’s TV Critics, running the unofficial FX fan club. I’m so glad you’ve chosen one of the network’s sweeping American epics as your favorite show of 2018 so far — because I’ve chosen another one! In its incandescent second season, Atlanta conjured up a new kind of event TV. The ongoing saga of Paper Boi (wonderful Brian Tyree Henry) and his cousin-manager Earn (creator/man-who-does-everything Donald Glover) rewrote its own rules every week: Now a surreal odyssey into the woods, now an outrageous stoned girls’ night at Drake’s house, now a tense haunted-house allegory, now a freaky high school tall tale about the proverbial Sin of Fake FUBU. In blatant disregard for all the scripted series piling up on my watch list, I’ve watched every episode of this season twice — which, mathematically, could make Atlanta my top TWO shows of the year so far. Hope they’re okay settling for first place.