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The 10 Best New TV Shows of 2018 (So Far)

TV Lists Best of 2018

At a moment in which more new TV shows premiere each month than even the most committed couch potato can possibly keep up with, you’d think it’d be harder to choose winners and losers. But three breakout series so dominated the balloting that the real question was whether they’d crack the top echelon of our list of the 20 Best TV Shows of 2018 overall. (They did.) You probably won’t be surprised to find Killing Eve, Barry, and Queer Eye below. The others, though, are far from orthodox. What can we say? TV contains multitudes.

10. Corporate
Network: Comedy Central

For when The Office is just too chipper and Office Space has become too much of a cliché—and for all people who think about jamming pens in their legs every time they’re called in to sit through one more tone meeting or bonding retreat—there’s Corporate. The shiny black heart of American greed has rarely been more seen than it is as depicted in Pat Bishop, Matt Ingebretson and Jake Weisman’s laugh-cry half hours. Whether it’s Lance Reddick as testosterone-raging boss man Christian DeVille, Aparna Nancherla as jaded HR administrator Grace, or Ingebretson and Weisman themselves as lower-level office mates who are this close to a suicide pact, it’s a wonder Corporate isn’t a documentary. —Whitney Friedlander

9. Counterpart
Network:   Starz  

Creator Justin Marks’ espionage drama sucks you in with a gimmick—Why have one J.K. Simmons on screen when you can have two? Especially when his characters bicker much of the time because one is considerably more Alpha?—but amidst all its Cold War-meets-science fiction complexities, Counterpart has much more to offer than a story about rogue agents from an alternate universe who are sent here to kill us. Thanks in no small part to characters like Nazanin Boniadi’s Clare, the show offers a richly detailed and thought-out take on revisionist histories, terrorism by those who do not see themselves as terrorists, governmental cover-ups and even whether we can really know our own spouses. —Whitney Friedlander

8. Cobra Kai
Network: YouTube Premium (formerly YouTube Red)

Cobra Kai is a real television show. Maybe this is obvious to some of you, but when YouTube Premium first announced a TV series based on The Karate Kid story, the whole thing sounded like a joke: at best a campy, kitschy paean to 1980s nostalgia, at worst a crass money grab. The 10-episode series is neither. Instead, it’s a rich story that revisits Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) 34 years after Daniel’s crane kick won him the karate tournament. But, as suggested by the title—which takes its name from Johnny’s dojo—the show has flipped the script, putting Johnny at the center. “My whole life went downhill with that kick,” Johnny says in the premiere. One of the biggest takeaways is that it’s all about perspective: My favorite moment in Cobra Kai finds Johnny re-telling the entire plot of the first movie from his point of view. Just as Wicked helped us see The Wizard of Oz from the Wicked Witch’s angle, Cobra Kai is Johnny’s story. The show hasn’t received the buzz it deserves because who the heck is paying for YouTube Premium? But those of us who did tune in witnessed Zabka giving what will easily be one of the year’s best performances, bringing depth and nuance to a character he hasn’t played in decades. His Johnny is a study in contradictions, stuck in the past but struggling to do right by his future. Cobra Kai is the year’s most delightful surprise. Wax on. —Amy Amatangelo

7. Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas
Network:   HBO  

Among the dozens of shows being produced in 2018 that endeavor to put a comedic spin on current events or poke at the issues of the day with an ironic twist, Wyatt Cenac’s freshman series has emerged as the most thoughtful and the most quiet. Problem Areas is also the most deeply felt, as the former Daily Show correspondent and his team spend each episode of its first season looking at the massive problems concerning policing in America from different angles. Cenac visits communities in Oklahoma, New York and Washington State and lets the officers, citizens and non-profit workers take the lead in helping viewers understand how the people who are supposed to protect everyday Americans are often causing more harm than good. It says so much about how much Cenac is leading with his heart on Problem Areas that, on a show that bears his name, he tends to push the spotlight away from himself onto people who have been affected by and are trying to correct our deeply broken justice system. —Robert Ham

6. Ugly Delicious
Network:   Netflix  

The Virginia-born child of Korean parents, David Chang is deeply interested in how foodways travel, intersect, and melt together. Chang is not a Bourdanian. His journey is different. He isn’t looking for mastery or a high-level view of Where the Good Stuff Is. He’s looking for non-judgment. And he’s having a hard time finding it, even—perhaps especially—within himself. The term “fusion” has a connotation of force, evoking atomic bombs or very painful things that get done to messed up bones. Chang inhabits, questions and celebrates the nature of fusion cuisine, the intersections of tradition and the endless search for novelty, and redefines “authenticity,” which for him isn’t always about going to the origin of something so much as understanding it as part of a huge mosaic. Ugly Delicious is wise, funny, unpretentious and fascinating. —Amy Glynn

5. 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

4. 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

3. 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

2. 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

1. 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

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