This year, as in all years, there was just too much to watch.
Catching everything just didn’t prove viable. So I dropped a few shows that are clearly good but were no longer grabbing me — shows like “BoJack Horseman,” “Better Call Saul,” “The Deuce” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” I’d stepped off “The Americans” train seasons ago. And (with no reluctance) I quickly gave up on the clammy theatrics of HBO’s gothic murder mystery “Sharp Objects.” Though I regret I’ve yet to try out the reportedly great FX series “Pose,” as well as the second season of CBS All Access’ “The Good Fight.”
Let this serve as an upfront apology: If your favorite show didn’t make my list, I’m sorry. My reserves of time and attention are ever fleeting. (I have to make all these lists, after all.)
That said, I still watched a lot of fantastic stuff. These were my favorite TV shows of 2018.
The list amounts to a diverse crop of series — dispersed evenly across comedy and drama, and broadcast, cable and streaming. Maybe your favorite show didn’t make the cut, but maybe (hopefully) this list gives you a few ideas on what to catch up with over the holidays.
1. “Atlanta” (FX) Donald Glover’s endlessly inventive series had one of the best debut seasons in TV history. Season 2 was even better.
Over an ingenious string of episodes that experimented with format, genre and perspective, “Atlanta” made a masterpiece. Despite their varying tones, the chapters hold together as a complete story. Highlights included an American horror story with Glover in heavy makeup; a farcical quest to get a haircut; and a haunting half-hour wherein Paper Boi gets lost in the woods, which might stand as the best “Atlanta” episode yet.
2. “The Good Place” (NBC)
No show so gleefully (and deviously) blows up its premise and reinvents itself again and again. In Season 3 of “The Good Place,” our heroes found themselves back on Earth, trying to live good lives and prove that “bad” people can live correctly if they’re nudged in the right direction. But after a few eps, the show abandoned that setup to do something entirely different. The midseason finale concluded brilliantly, offering even more possibilities to explore this ever-expanding world. There’s never been a network sitcom like this, not in the whole forkinghistory of television.
3. “Killing Eve” (BBC America)
With “Killing Eve,” showrunner Phoebe Waller-Bridge (“Fleabag”) took the template of a cat-and-mouse crime thriller and made it really, really funny.
Sandra Oh plays a bored security op who gets a second wind when she’s tasked with hunting down a sociopathic assassin (Jodie Comer). The two soon grow obsessed with each other, professionally and maybe sexually.
“Killing Eve” pulls off a kind of miracle: It manages to be a clever, eccentric dramedy about two driven, brilliant women trapped in a toxic relationship, but it also does the edge-of-your-seat thriller stuff better than any show on TV.
4. “Succession” (HBO)
I tell ya, I wasn’t expecting much of this drama about a media-mogul family fighting for power after its patriarch (Brian Cox) suffers a stroke. But a few episodes in, I realized I was watching it all wrong. Despite its hints of gripping melodrama, “Succession” is a comedy. And one totally in tune with the past work of its producers (Adam McKay and Will Ferrell).
It’s just funny as hell — an irresistible mockery of the misery and machinations of a woefully out-of-touch 1 percent. Yet the cast is so good, they make you want to empathize with these evil bastards.
Getting to watch the Roy family destroy each other made “Succession” appointment viewing. HBO Sunday nights were relevant again, even with “Game of Thrones” on a break.
5. “My Brilliant Friend” (HBO)
Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels are one of the great achievements of modern literature. And HBO’s adaptation of the first book (with more to come) is an ideal realization of the characters and world Ferrante created. The series tracks the lifelong friendship and rivalry of two women, starting in primary school in a small Naples town. The show (and the books) offers a rich tapestry of melodrama, exploring a community’s entanglements across multiple families and generations. It’s the kind of complex and finely observed show you want to get lost in.
6. “The Little Drummer Girl” (AMC)
In the pantheon of John le Carré adaptations, this one ranks pretty far up there, near the heights of the Gary Oldman “Tinker Tailor” movie. Set in the late-’70s, this six-part miniseries follows a team of Israeli operatives trying to catch a Palestinian terrorist. Their plan involves an elaborate ruse, for which they’ll need the help of a fiery actress named Charlie (Florence Pugh). Along the way, Charlie gets a little too deep into her role, falling for her handler (Alexander Skarsgård) and perhaps over-empathizing with the terrorists she’s trying to stop.
Pugh is a star. And Michael Shannon (playing the Israelis’ morally flexible spymaster) is a delight. But the series’ most salient factor is its style. South Korean director Park Chan-wook (“Oldboy”) puts all these pieces on a meticulously planned chessboard, with an exquisite production design and eye-catching color palette that make sure “Little Drummer Girl” is always a pleasure to look at.
7. “Big Mouth” (Netflix)
Nick Kroll’s animated comedy about a group of pre-teens going through puberty is so dirty, wrong and transgressive, and yet still somehow manages to be sweet, sincere and wise.
It’s an instant coming-of-age classic, drenched in dirty jokes and bodily fluid and featuring an all-star cast of voice actors — including Kroll, John Mulaney, Jessi Klein, Fred Armisen, Jordan Peele, Maya Rudolph, Jason Mantzoukas, Jenny Slate and Andrew Rannells, as well as guest spots by Kristin Wiig (as a talking vagina), Jon Hamm (as a plate of scallops in a dumpster) and Nathan Fillion (as Nathan Fillion).
Viewer discretion advised on this trailer, obviously.
8. “Superstore” (NBC)
Set at a fictional discount store called Cloud 9, “Superstore” focuses on the lives of its minimum wage grinders, calling attention to the struggles of working-class Americans without ever patronizing them (or forgetting to make you laugh). It’s a throwback workplace sitcom with a subversive streak.
How a show on Comcast’s NBCUniversal managed to become TV’s sharpest satire of capitalism, corporatization and class warfare is beyond me. But I’m grateful it did.
9. “GLOW” (Netflix)
Netflix’s ’80s-set dramedy about the world of female professional wrestling got bigger, better and darker for its sophomore season, giving more attention to characters outside its lead trifecta of Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin and Marc Maron. The show patiently set up the pieces for satisfying emotional arcs in and out of the wrestling ring, all roads leading to a perfectly outrageous soap-operatic finale that delivered on all fronts.
10. “Lodge 49” (AMC)
Such a weird, wonderful show. Set in Long Beach, California, it’s about an ex-surfer dude named Dud (Wyatt Russell) who finds meaning as a member of a crumbling fraternal lodge, where a plumbing salesman (Brent Jennings) takes him under his wing. Meanwhile, conspiratorial (and perhaps supernatural) forces are at play. Things get weird. Then Bruce Campbell shows up.
“Lodge 49” is a one-of-a-kind show, one that splits the difference between magical realism and a buddy comedy. In the end, it’s about a few dudes trying to find a sense of purpose and belonging in a country that’s lost its sense of community.
11. “Babylon Berlin” (Netflix)
Early this year, Netflix picked up the first two seasons of this stylish and wildly ambitious German detective noir, set in Berlin shortly before the Nazis rose to power. The plot involves porn-picture blackmail and a runaway train car filled with gold, and that’s just as fun as it sounds.
12. “The End of the F***ing World” (Netflix)
A comedy about a pair of troubled teens who hit the road to embark on a life of crime (and perhaps murder). It sounds grim, but over the course of its eight episodes, this becomes something much sweeter than you’d expect.
13. “Homecoming” (Amazon Prime)
Julia Roberts and the director of “Mr. Robot” made this playful, formally unorthodox thriller set at a facility for soldiers returning from war. Roberts plays a caseworker who gradually realizes her employer has a more nefarious agenda than helping veterans assimilate back into civilian life. Roberts hasn’t been this good in years, and Stephan James (playing a troubled vet) gives one of the year’s breakout performances.
14. “Barry” (HBO)
A hitman named Barry (Bill Hader) gets the acting bug while doing a job in L.A. A ridiculous acting coach (Henry Winkler) becomes his guide. Things go wrong for everyone. “Barry” is a darkly funny and Coen-esque comedy, but it’s also capable of devastating dramatic moments, due in no small part to Hader’s versatility.
15. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (Fox)
I stand by the theory (my own) that Hitchcock and Scully are the true main characters of this show. For its next season, “Nine-Nine” is moving from Fox to NBC.