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The 20 Best TV Shows of 2018 (So Far)

TV Lists Best of 2018

In my recent reconsideration of the (most recent) “Golden Age of Television,” I made reference to the “peak TV” that never peaks. I’m not sure it’s ever been truer than it is for Paste’s staff and contributor poll on the best TV shows of the year so far, in which more than 50 titles received at least one vote. For 20 slots! In June! (Any series to air at least one new episode before May 31 was eligible for our list.) The result is an embarrassment of riches, including multi-cam sitcoms (One Day at a Time), puzzle-box blockbusters (Westworld), reality TV shows (Queer Eye), near-canceled comedies (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) and many, many more, capped by a trio of series so gobsmackingly good I had to catch my breath watching them. “Idiot box”? I think not. —Matt Brennan

20. Black Lightning
Network: The CW

Greg Berlanti’s Arrowverse (just recently valorized by a $400 million cash contract made to keep the universe-runner around until 2024) has been an undeniable success for The CW—and for the DC universe on screen—but it has not, historically, had a great deal to say about the deeply rooted prejudices of the real world that have conspired to create the violence and terror that shape places like the Glades in Green Arrow’s Star City, or that are mirrored in the bigotry metahumans face by “normal” society. Salim Akil and Mara Brock Akil’s newest addition to the fold, Black Lightning, takes that challenge head on, positioning endemic racism and systemic inequity as the central evils a real superhero would find himself (or, in the case of Nafessa Williams’ Thunder, herself) up against, and using those injustices, and the tensions they cause within not just communities but individual families (Black Lightning, as played by Cress Williams, is father to two superpowered daughters), to tell a compelling, heady story about what it means to do what is right, in a world that resembles our own more than any superhero story to date (although Freeform’s Cloak & Dagger may give the show a run for its money). Plus, its soundtrack? Double platinum. —Alexis Gunderson

19. On My Block
Network:   Netflix  

Sometimes the vision behind a show is so bold and so new that it’s hard to know what to make of it. This is the case with Netflix’s On My Block, which came out of the gate playing so many chords from so many different genres and with such ballsy teenage confidence that even though it was impossible to tell just exactly what this screwball coming of age/gang violence/treasure hunting/shots fired/shades of Rudy/quince-planning ultra-diverse comedy set in inner-city L.A. was, it was obvious that it was worth watching the hell out of. Every performance is fantastic, from the tightly-wound Ruby (Jason Genao) and Jamal (Brett Gay) to the anxiously feminist Monse (Sierra Capri) and chill Cesar (Diego Tinoco) and Olivia (Ronni Hawk) to the wildly brassy Jasmine (Jessica Marie Garcia), but it’s their chemistry as an ensemble that pulls it together. Their chemistry, and, of course, the soundtrack, which bangs. The show has already been renewed for Season Two, so if you’ve heard horror stories about the first season’s cliffhanger (it’s a big one!), don’t be afraid: Binge in peace. —Alexis Gunderson

18. Legion
Network: FX

The last few years have seen, if not the creation of the bat-shit crazy fantasy, at least its blossoming. Shows like Preacher, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and Happy! are all packed with the weird, the impossible and the insane, each seemingly trying to outdo the others. Each character is more outlandish than the next: an Irish vampire, a holistic assassin, an imaginary flying unicorn voiced by Patton Oswalt. But the champion of bat-shit crazy TV is FX’s Legion, whose characters, both real and imagined, meet in an actual ward for the insane. The first season of Legion proved that Marvel was willing to experiment with a very different kind of superhero show from their movie, ABC and even Netflix formulas. But the second season has somehow found a new gear of surreality now that David and his friends work for the shadowy Division III that was hunting them down in Season One. It’s headed by a guy wearing a basket on his head who communicates through a trio of mustachioed Auto-Tuned mechanical women. The security forces are made up of children. And the story is often broken up with eccentric interstitials narrated by Jon Hamm. Like all good bat-shit crazy TV shows, every scene feels like a riff on the dream sequences from Twin Peaks. But what really separates Legion from its absurdist brethren is acting and writing usually reserved for the rarified airs of prestige drama. Dan Stevens, Rachel Keller, Aubrey Plaza were all given scenes to ravenously devour, and Navid Negahban was introduced as the year’s best villain not named Killmonger. But it’s creator Noah Hawley’s vision, ambition and impishness that has made a comic-book show about mental illness so bleak and yet so fun. —Josh Jackson

17.One Day at a Time
Network:   Netflix  

I’ll admit I was nervous about the second season of One Day at a Time. The show was such a surprise sleeper hit in its first season. How would it do now that it had buzz? The answer is, “Even better.” The warm-hearted, full-throated update of One Day at a Time, which follows a Cuban American family in Los Angeles, grew more confident, more nuanced, more thought-provoking, more sexy. With its combination of the topical and the timeless, the silly and the sincere, the multi-cam sitcom has become the leading engine of the form’s revival. Covering everything from LGBTQ rights and immigration to dating and depression, the series is anchored by the two extraordinary women at its center: Rita Moreno and Justina Machado, whose chemistry as mother and daughter find fullest in expression in two wrenching late-season entries. These women are so vibrant and authentic that while watching them you have to remind yourself that they’re just characters on TV. If the inseparable pair aren’t nominated for Emmys next month, there should be a steward’s inquiry. —Amy Amatangelo and Matt Brennan

16. High Maintenance
Network:   HBO  

The only thing that binds us together more than needing to take the edge off are the edges that need sanding in the first place. High Maintenance, HBO’s lovely and low-key weed delivery comedy, finds the upward ambitions of people at every level endearing rather than off-putting—and that’s just one of the many ways it seems to take a shine to the entire human race. By placing its nameless protagonist in the heart of Seinfeld-esque NYC bottle scenarios, the show uses warmth to broaden its humor and its humor to generate warmth. It’s a perpetual motion machine of good times, all thanks to its genuine interest in everyone’s life. It’s not nosiness, it’s care. (OK, maybe a little of both.) You might be a little impaired to breach these walls of etiquette, but once you do, everyone’s happy you did. —Jacob Oller

15. Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Network: FOX

The buzziest story about Brooklyn Nine-Nine this year was, obviously, its eleventh-hour rescue by NBC following its cancelation after five seasons on FOX. But as I wrote after the finale, that rescue is but the last piece in the series’ five-year puzzle of demonstrating weekly the comedic value of unapologetically compassionate, empathetic storytelling that is unafraid both of taking big swings and of letting its resident clowns achieve significant growth—things we saw most acutely this season in Rosa (Stephanie Beatriz) coming out to the 9-9 as bisexual, and in Jake (Andy Samberg) and Amy (Melissa Fumero) getting married. Like any successful long-running comedy, of course, Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s got the jokes to back that fussier emotional stuff up, but it has become a successful long-running comedy because of that fussier emotional stuff. As Captain Holt told Rosa after her big reveal last fall: “Every time someone steps up and says who they are, the world becomes a better, more interesting place. So… thank you.” Thank you, Brooklyn Nine-Nine. We can’t wait to welcome you back next year. —Alexis Gunderson

14. Westworld
Network:   HBO  

Westworld debuted with some big shoes to fill. The would-be successor to HBO’s Game of Thrones got weird fast and didn’t care who was along for the ride. There’s something commendable about that, even if its first season offered more frustration and pretension than fun. Its sophomore season shakes off the shackles of expectation and embraces the characters that (against all odds) dot its endless mysteries with pockets of genuine depth. Rather than having to answer a trick question, viewers have been allowed to experience the android-driven theme park/bacchanalia in the context of the people (and robo-people) living in and around it. Some of the best female performances on TV are lodged inside a show which was so male-gazey in its first season that the irony is as thick as its plot—but if ever there was an award for Most Improved Series on Television, Westworld deserves it. —Jacob Oller

13. The Last Man on Earth
Network: FOX

Will Forte’s endearingly deranged apocalypse comedy, scrapped by Fox in May alongside the since-revived Brooklyn Nine-Nine, was always too weird for this world. A singular juxtaposition of humor both screwball and gallows, The Last Man on Earth ended prematurely with its Season Four finale, its last scene a microcosm of its strange sense of humor: Faced with certain death at the hands of a gang of masked marauders, Phil “Tandy” Miller (Forte) simply exclaims, “Oh, farts.” The five-time Emmy-nominated comedy had a way of making us laugh at death, with its raggedy band of survivors—one of network comedy’s most underrated ensembles—coalescing to become as lovable as any family on TV. Despite its painfully unresolved ending, The Last Season on FOX was a delight, highlighted by stand-out guest appearances from Kristen Wiig and Fred Armisen, raised (read: nuclear) narrative stakes and copious Shawshank jokes. Oh, farewell, Last Man. —Scott Russell

12. The Good Fight
Network: CBS All Access

There’s not a show I’ve wholeheartedly loved more in 2018. The second season of The Good Fight made me downright giddy. The 10th episode, which featured not only the return of Mike Colter as Lemond Bishop and Dylan Baker as Colin Sweeney but also Alan Alda as a well-respected lawyer out for blood, was a delicious “greatest hits” parade of the show’s magnificent recurring characters. Even though Adrian (the fabulous Delroy Lindo) had been shot, I watched the entire episode with a huge grin on my face. While its predecessor The Good Wife lived in a politics-adjacent world, The Good Fight fully embraces that we all now are living in Trump’s America. Understanding that so many of us feel held hostage by the current administration, each episode’s title corresponds to the number of days into the Trump presidency. There are episodes devoted to immigration, #MeToo and, yes, even the pee tape. There’s a subversive hilarity to the crazy-but-not-so-crazy-given-the-world-we-live-in news reports Diane (Christine Baranski) tunes into. By jettisoning the lingering aspects of Maia’s (Rose Leslie) case early on, the show freed itself to take on everything and anyone. Lucca (Cush Jumbo) had a baby. Marissa (Sarah Steele) became a full-fledged investigator. Diane tried micro-dosing. (Sidebar: Can someone make a Diane’s laugh a ringtone? Thanks.) There was even a terrific spoof of Schoolhouse Rock explaining how a President can be impeached. The freedom of being on a streaming platform and only having 13 episodes per season has given the show a vibrant undercurrent of taking no prisoners. Since the show can now swear, I will, too: The Good Fight is out of fucks to give, and It. Is. Glorious. —Amy Amatangelo

11. Jane the Virgin
Network: The CW

Everything about Jane the Virgin deserves a superlative: Best Dressed/Best Secure Masculinity (Rogelio de la Vega). Best Human/Best Daydreams (Jane Villanueva). Best Colors (I see you, Miami!). Best Antagonists (I don’t know how we deserve Justina Machado and Brooke Shields, but here we are). Best Twins (Yael Grobglas). Best Tooth Fairy (Yael Grobglas). Best Baby Bi (Yael Grobglas). Best Narrator (Hola, Latin Lover). Best Immigration Story (Alba). Best Cancer Story (Xiomara). Best Identity Crisis (Rafael). Best Mom (all of them). Best Michael?!? (SOMEHOW ALSO YES). Best, best, best, all the way down, with Season Four finishing up stronger and with more emotional complexity and earned plot twists and character growth than any season yet. If television as a whole is on its way to being collectively brighter, kinder, and more interested in fun (and editor Matt Brennan is pretty certain it is), then I will have no problems spending the next decade shouting about how it was Jane the Virgin that got it all started. —Alexis Gunderson

10. Silicon Valley
Network:   HBO  

Much was made over last year’s departure of T.J. Miller and what Mike Judge and Alec Berg’s tech comedy would be without the presence of the comedian’s brash, pot-smoking clod, Erlich Bachman. But from Dinesh’s (Kumail Nanjiani) Tesla obsession and his deep, unresolved need to make friends to Richard’s (Thomas Middleditch) innate ability to alienate everyone he ever meets, we hardly missed the buffoonery. The fact that the show both lampooned liberal California’s distaste for organized religion and also had its characters talk of decentralizing the Internet just when we’re all most concerned about privacy is every excuse to make its Bitcoin score go up. —Whitney Friedlander

9. The Handmaid’s Tale
Network:   Hulu  

The Handmaid’s Tale
Network: Hulu

It’s not every day that an adaptation of a literary novel does justice to its source material, much less exceeds it, but Hulu’s managed to capture Atwood’s esthetic and concept while expanding its reach, turning characters that risked being a little too allegorical into breathing human beings. In the dystopian landscape of Gilead, a fundamentalist Puritan regime has taken over a large part of the Northeast, and the few fertile women left are captured, tortured, and forced to bear children for wealthy, sterile couples. The series follows Offred (Elisabeth Moss) in her fight to survive, flee, fight the regime from the inside. Impeccably cast and beautifully designed, The Handmaid’s Tale pulls off the remarkable trick of making a 30-year-old speculative fiction seem blisteringly current while giving us a treatise on the nature of power that will stay relevant, for better and worse, for a long time to come. —Amy Glynn

8. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Network:   HBO  

John Oliver’s comedy/news show could have set things on autopilot as they soared into their fifth season, spending each week unpacking the diplomatic boondoggles or backassward decisions being made by the Trump administration. You know, like most late night talk shows do these days. While our fearful leader does make regular appearances on the show, Oliver and his team tend to pivot quickly away from that shitshow and continue their breathtaking work diving deep into equally important stories that have real world implications. In this season, that has included the strangely right wing tone of the Italian elections, the NRA’s bizarre TV network, and the rise of cryptocurrencies. And when the show does spotlight our current administration, it does so with a well-attuned nose for White House bullshit and some unapologetic absurdism, like creating a children’s book about the same-sex relationship between Vice President’s pet rabbit and another bunny named Wesley. Of all the graduates of The Daily Show, Oliver is the one who took the lessons of his former boss Jon Stewart to heart, leading his crusade against the powers that be with intelligence, scathing wit and an endless supply of empathy. —Robert Ham

7. Queer Eye
Network:   Netflix  

The makeover sensation re-sweeping the nation had one step for revitalizing its instructional, self-actualizing formula: Just add empathy. The new Fab Five for Netflix’s Queer Eye reboot (composed of Tan, Jonathan, Antoni, Karamo, and Bobby) broke ground and introduced superstars. The makeovers were great, sure, but the personal drama inherent in each episode offered far more catharsis than throwing away relaxed-cut jeans. Hearts were warmed, guacamole was made, thirsts were trapped. Politics were implicit and gave the show a vitality beyond its reality roots, supporting specific, actionable lifestyle tips with therapeutic sessions of active listening and personal development. We might be lazy Netflix-bingeing slobs. But with the wonderful new Queer Eye, at least we can watch other people grow. —Jacob Oller

6. Barry
Network:   HBO  

As messy as things get in the inaugural season of Barry, there’s not a hair out of place in the staging, directing and acting of this utterly brilliant hybrid show from former SNL star Bill Hader and sitcom vet Alec Berg. The eight episodes weld together genres that often make for uncomfortable bedfellows, putting a dark comedy and moments of giddy slapstick around a bloodsoaked thriller and a bitter satire about not-very-talented actors striving for celebrity in Los Angeles. What’s even more surprising is that every joke lands, as does every white knuckle moment that comes from watching hit man Barry Berkman (Hader) try to reform himself and connect with other, non-murderous humans. Every last moment of the show is heightened thanks to the stellar cast, including Henry Winkler as the egomaniacal acting teacher Gene Cousineau, Sarah Goldberg as the even more egotistical wannabe actor Sally Reed, and secret weapon Anthony Carrigan playing the eternally optimistic and strangely sweet Chechen mobster Noho Hank. This first season was so perfect in its execution and conclusion that I often struggle to decide whether I want Hader and Berg to stop there or hope beyond hope that they make more. Whichever road they choose will be the right one. —Robert Ham

5. Killing Eve
Network:   BBC America  

While star Sandra Oh maintains that this new cat-and-mouse crime drama is not an allegory for female friendships, there’s no arguing that there’s something relatable and enticing about the international caper—not just for women, but for all humans. (It had almost unheard-of high ratings during its run this spring). Maybe it’s Oh and her co-lead Jodie Comer’s chemistry and ability to ace creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s cadences while bringing their own gifts for deadpan humor to bear on the scripts. Maybe it’s that it passes the Bechdel test with flying colors (most dialogue about male characters is said mockingly or cuttingly). Maybe it’s just always fun to watch really talented, well-dressed actors grapple with concepts like obsession, danger and elaborate murder. —Whitney Friedlander

4. The Good Place
Network: NBC

From the (highly GIF-able, culturally à propos) moment in Season One’s “Michael’s Gambit” at which Eleanor exclaims, “This is The Bad Place!,” The Good Place has made the bonds of friendship its central subject. I lost count of the number of times in the latter stages of Season Two that characters referred to each other—sincerely, lovingly, tauntingly, grudgingly—as “friends,” or “mates,” or “pals,” or “buddies”: after eluding capture in “Leap to Faith”; while attempting to board the balloon in “Best Self,” during Michael’s interrogation in “The Burrito.” The conceit of the season’s sublime stretch run, in fact, through philosophical exercises, public roasts, impromptu parties, and an encounter with God (Maya Rudolph), is a series of tests in which the main quartet, almost by definition, can succeed only together, never alone. This is, to me, the most ingenious feature of Michael Schur’s madcap invention, the poignant concrete upon which the series constructs its dizzying tower of food puns, dropped names, moral quandaries, plot twists. A lively, merry, deliriously funny No Exit, suffused with new hope, The Good Place assents to Sartre’s notion that Hell is other people, but understands just the same that Heaven is other people, too. —Matt Brennan

T1. The Americans / Atlanta / The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
Network: FX

One is a period espionage drama that transposes kin and country until the two become indistinguishable. One is a surrealist horror-comedy about the black experience in America. One is a potent, political, possibly even dangerous reconsideration of what it means to be called “faggot,” and then what it means to become one. That the year’s finest drama, comedy, and limited series to date aired on the same network is enough to suggest FX’s place as the medium’s most fruitful venue for creative expression, besting competitors AMC, HBO and Netflix, to say nothing of the Big Three broadcasters. But in The Americansinstant-classic final season, in Atlanta’s fairy tale provocations, in The Assassination of Gianni Versace’s bracing quest to queer convention, FX’s brilliant year also reaffirms the importance of leadership, from writers’ rooms to boardrooms and all the places in between: Since the days of The Shield, CEO John Landgraf has quietly emerged as one of the most influential figures in American pop culture, and his network’s unmatched artistic achievements in the first half of 2018 will be remembered as his pièce de résistance. —Matt Brennan

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