Continuing the trend of recent years, the best television shows of 2018 mostly require cable or a subscription to a streaming service to watch, with traditional network TV struggling more and more to stay relevant. That being said, this year’s best-of list sees a disproportionate amount of entries coming from streaming (Netflix in particular). The Big N, the one that doesn’t make video games starring princess-rescuing plumbers, has ten entries on the good part of this list, with only one landing on the bad side, while Amazon only shows up once on the list. Interestingly, an out-of-left-field newcomer to the field of internet-based television services is YouTube Red, whose Karate Kid reboot Cobra Kai surprised viewers and critics alike and made people actually pony up a few bucks for the mostly-free service. With CBS All-Access gearing up a new Captain Picard-based Star Trek series, and Disney set to launch their long-awaited streaming service next year, don’t be surprised if 2019’s best TV shows list features an even more eclectic mix of service providers.
As far as what style of show critics liked best in 2018, it’s a mixed bag, really. There’s a little of everything, including political thrillers, sitcoms, fantasy animation, social satire, fictionalized re-tellings of real events, reality competitions, and shows that completely defy easy classification. The worst, on the other hand, are a mix of shows that fall into lazy tropes and shows that set out to do something unique, but completely missed the mark. Here are the 20 Best (And 5 Worst) TV Shows Of 2018, According To Rotten Tomatoes.
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25 Best: Atlanta: Robbin’ Season (98%)
2018 was a huge year for the multi-talented Donald Glover. In film, he played a young Lando Calrissian in Solo: A Star Wars Story, in music, he made headlines as Childish Gambino with the breathtaking video for his single “This Is America,” and on television, Atlanta (the series he created and stars in) followed up its astounding first season with an equally-great second.
Known this year as Atlanta: Robbin’ Season, the show continues to be one of the most groundbreaking on television in the way that it plays with the very format of television, all while still delivering a compelling tale about race, class, and ambition in the face of adversity.
24 Best: The End Of The F***ing World (98%)
Not much about Netflix’s The End of the F***ing World would’ve been possible on network television, or even on most cable stations, from the vulgar title to its extremely dark premise: two troubled teenagers run away from home and embark on a twisted road trip, with one of them planning to end the other’s life at some point.
Things don’t get any less disturbing for these two as they travel around and encounter equally messed up people, and as long as you have the stomach for it (and are willing to laugh at situations that you know you shouldn’t be laughing at), it’s one of the most compelling eight episode stretches of television you’re going to find this year.
23 Best: American Vandal (98%)
Ever since This Is Spinal Tap basically invented the concept of the “mockumentary,” the genre has been used to parody all types of subjects, situations, and cultures. While it is most commonly associated with sitcoms like The Office and Modern Family these days, there are still people making more subtle mockumentaries with much bigger fish to fry.
American Vandal might have seemed like a one-and-done premise, but its second season, which focuses on solving the mystery of laxative-spiked lemonade at a Catholic high school, was every bit as hilarious and biting. Unfortunately, Netflix decided not to renew Vandal for a third season, though its producers are trying to find a new home for it – and we sincerely hope they do.
22 Best: The Americans (99%)
It’s fitting that FX is home to some of the best “prestige television” on the air right now as 2002’s The Shield was one of the first shows that really made people sit up and take cable networks seriously for compelling, original television, at a time when cable series still had to fight hard for Emmy consideration.
Bringing Keri Russell triumphantly roaring back to television, The Americans was created by a former CIA agent, and it shows, as only someone with intimate knowledge of the world of spies, counterintelligence, and espionage could’ve crafted this incredible, twist-filled drama across its six seasons and through its spellbinding series finale this past May.
21 Worst: I Feel Bad (27%)
I Feel Bad has a promising enough premise, being about the comprises that women in today’s world have to make in the quest to “have it all” and the ways that those compromises make them unhappy.
Where the show goes wrong is that it lets the misogynistic workplace (where protagonist Emet is railing against) and the men within it take over the show, and it starts to feel more like a celebration of them rather than a condemnation. On top of all that, none of the humor seems to land, making for a show that completely misses its premise, its talented star, and its audience.
20 Best: Better Call Saul (99%)
Although we all had no reason to doubt the talent of Vince Gilligan after he created and steered one of the greatest television shows in history, spin-offs aren’t always a sure thing; and spinning off from a show like Breaking Bad is seldom even attempted, let alone done right.
Yet, here we are, four seasons into Better Call Saul and it continues to demolish our expectations. Finally giving longtime on-the-fringes comedian Bob Odenkirk the star vehicle he’s always deserved, Saul seems to only get better with each passing season as we continue to watch the gradual transformation of down-on-his-luck, sad sack Jimmy McGill into full-blown shyster Saul Goodman.
19 Best: The Deuce (99%)
There have been a lot of movies that touch on the so-called “golden era” of the provocative film industry, but not since Boogie Nights has a there been such an unflinching look at the rise of what might be the industry that America has the most complicated relationship with in HBO’s The Deuce.
Bringing in Hollywood heavyweights James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Deuce aired the second of its planned three seasons in 2018 and has critics fawning, though that’s probably not surprising coming from David Simon, who also brought us critical darlings Homicide: Life on the Street and The Wire.
18 Best: GLOW (99%)
While Donald Glover gets most of the attention and acclaim among the Community alumnus, Alison Brie has also been quietly building up an impressive resume that includes fantastic, and often unexpected, roles.
A fictionalized version of the 1980s all-women’s wrestling league that shared the show’s title, GLOW is executive produced by Orange Is the New Black creator Jenji Kohan and continues that show’s tradition of bringing strong, complicated female characters into a medium that still has far too few of them. As it stands, Netflix has confirmed at least one more season of GLOW, which has us doing back flips off the top ropes.
17 Best: Barry (99%)
A lot of Saturday Night Live graduates end up having minimal success because many of them sit around and wait for other people to write things for them. The ones that tend to actually have strong post-SNL careers are the ones that put pen to paper and create and usher their own projects. A perfect example of that is Bill Hader’s brilliant black comedy, Barry, one of the best things starring an SNL alumni in a long time.
The story of a struggling hitman who stumbles into community theater, Barry is not only the perfect showcase for Hader, but it also makes great use of character actor veterans like Stephen Root and Henry Winkler.
16 Worst: The Neighborhood (24%)
The thing about sitcoms is that all you need is the thinnest of hooks to get people to give the show a chance, and as long as the writing is there, people will keep coming back. The Neighborhood doesn’t try anything drastically new or original (it’s about a family living in a neighborhood that they stand out in and the culture clashes that result from it), but it at least brings some television veterans to the table by way of Cedric the Entertainer and Tichina Arnold.
Unfortunately, a talented, likable cast can only take a show so far, and The Neighborhood‘s writing just doesn’t rise above the show’s lazy, uninspired jokes or premises.
15 Best: Homecoming (99%)
Major movie stars have been making the jump to the small screen for a long time now, and the stigma that was previously attached to that move is long gone. However, there are still actors of a certain level in which starring in a TV show becomes big news, and Julia Roberts is such an actor.
Created by Sam Esmail (whose Mr. Robot will come to a close next year) Homecoming sees Roberts as a caseworker who finds out that the transitional facility she previously worked for isn’t what it seemed. Roberts is at the top of her game here, as are co-stars Stephan James, Shea Whigham, and Sissy Spacek.
14 Best: Nailed It! (100%)
There is no shortage of reality cooking competitions, even with what is available on Netflix, but Nailed It! still stands alone in an overcrowded genre.
With its lighthearted vibe, comedian host, and constant fourth wall breaking, Nailed It! is a breezy watch that forgoes the pretentious, self-serious vibe of most other cooking shows and reminds us that the kitchen is supposed to be a place to have fun in rather than be intimidated by. It also helps that it’s the rare cooking show where the average viewer feels like they’d be better than the contestants – and they are probably be right.
13 Best: Love (100%)
It’s not just Alison Brie and Joel McHale that Netflix brought along to its family from Community, they also invited Gillian Jacobs, who stars in the brilliantly understated romantic comedy Love.
One of the things that a platform like Netflix allows is letting a show really take its time and build at its own pace, not requiring things to hit the ground running from the first episode. But, let Love and its subdued style wash over you and you’ll soon find it to be one of the best representations on TV today, as it pertains to what dating and relationships are like for us normal, flawed people.
12 Best: Cobra Kai (100%)
Nobody saw any aspect of this show coming; not its premise, not that it would be on YouTube, and not that it would be totally awesome. But, Cobra Kai has proved to be one of the most pleasant surprises of the year and demonstrates a brilliant, non-obvious way to revive a beloved property.
Other than looking a bit like, well, a YouTube show from time to time (it definitely doesn’t have Netflix or HBO money behind it) Cobra Kai has as much heart as anything else on television right now and it’s completely worth paying for… at least one month of YouTube Red just to binge the first season.
11 Worst: Living Biblically (18%)
After years of sitcom success, it’s hard to blame Johnny Galecki (Roseanne and The Big Big Theory) for trying his hand at producing and helping to usher in a show of his own. However, he squandered his clout by choosing a dud like the already-canceled Living Biblically.
To be fair, the premise is interesting, but like The Neighborhood, the show quickly devolved into tired sitcom tropes that wouldn’t have saved even the most novel of setups. The only good thing to come out of this show is that it got star Jay R. Ferguson into the orbit of Galecki, leading to Ferguson’s standout turn on The Conners as Darlene’s boss/boyfriend.
10 Best: She-Ra and the Princesses of Power (100%)
When the first images of Netflix’s She-Ra reboot made the rounds, a whole bunch of adults suddenly had strong opinions about a cartoon that wasn’t remotely aimed at them. One of the common digs was the supposedly cheap look of the animation and how it was particularly laughable, but if anyone who remembers the original She-Ra as having top-notch animation has the rosiest rose-colored glasses of all time.
Those that actually did the unheard of thing and gave She-Ra and the Princesses of Power a fair chance found a show that not only far surpassed the original, but can stand side-by-side (quality-wise) with shows like Steven Universe and Adventure Time.
9 Best: Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return (100%)
Mystery Science Theater 3000 has always felt like the kind of show that has an extremely rabid fanbase, but could never seem to find a network that truly appreciated it or knew what to do with it. After far too many years away, MST3K made its triumphant Kickstarter-fueled return to a place that finally feels like the perfect home for it: Netflix.
With a perfect cast, comprised of people with an obvious love for the originals, MST3K: The Return has already had two outstanding seasons, with the most recent batch of episodes venturing into movies that some of us may have actually seen and unironically loved at one time.
8 Best: The Bold Type (100%)
2017 felt like something of a transitional year for the network previously known as ABC Family, seeing the end of some of its biggest series (Pretty Little Liars, Switched At Birth, and Baby Daddy) and launching what is currently its best original show, The Bold Type, which aired its second season this year.
Though it’s easy to make the obvious comparison to Sex and the City, The Bold Type may feature independent, fashion-focused women living in New York City, but the similarities end there. Well, except for the fact that both shows feature a stellar cast, whip-smart writing, and a refreshingly realistic look at love and friendship from a woman’s perspective.
7 Best: Big Mouth (100%)
Created by comedian Nick Kroll, and featuring the ridiculously talented cast of himself, John Mulaney, Jenny Slate, Jordan Peele, Maya Rudolph, and Fred Armisen, Big Mouth definitely takes advantage of Netflix’s virtual lack of content restrictions with its realistically frank depiction of middle schoolers going through puberty.
While far too many “cartoons for adults” make the mistake of thinking that just having animated characters say explicit things is funny by default, Big Mouth is genuinely hilarious and finds legitimate context for all the gross-out humor and situations. If you’ve let the show’s admittedly off-putting look cause you to scroll past it, you’ve been missing out on one of the funniest things on TV right now.
6 Worst: Insatiable (12%)
Given the Netflix lovefest that this list inadvertently turned into, it’s easy to forget that not everything that the service puts onto its platform is gold. In fact, a lot of it wishes it could even be bronze-plated.
When Netflix is good, it’s excellent, but when it’s bad, it’s absolutely abysmal. The current go-to example of the latter is Insatiable, a show that makes so many offensive, completely tone-deaf decisions that it almost feels like its creators just made a list of ideas that would upset most people and then tried to build an edgy, teen comedy around it. This would’ve barely been acceptable in 1998, let alone 2018.
5 Best: Vida (100%)
The primary reason to read a list like this is to see where your favorite shows rank, but it should also be to discover a new show that you hadn’t heard of before and are inspired to check it out; and hopefully Vida is such a show for you, unless you are already a fan.
Starz hasn’t yet had as many great originals as HBO or Showtime, but it’s getting there, and Vida is a big one. Focusing on a pair of sisters and the information they uncover about their late mother, Vida is a show for anyone who has ever struggled to belong or has had to confront their own identity. So basically… everyone.
4 Best: One Day At A Time (100%)
A lot of people probably write off One Day at a Time by lumping in other Netflix shows that are revivals of past series. But, unlike Fuller House, which relies on nostalgia to mask its uninspired writing and cruise-control acting, One Day at a Time completely re-imagines a classic show and manages to build it into a truly great modern one.
Of course, the original One Day at a Time was much better than Full House, so there’s that. There’s also its tackling of issues most sitcoms wouldn’t touch, from immigration to mental illness, and deals with them in an honest way that never devolves into “very special episode” territory.
3 Best: Dear White People (100%)
With a title like Dear White People, Netflix’s adaptation of the 2014 movie was bound to rub a lot of people the wrong way as soon as it was announced. Many even threatened to cancel their Netflix subscriptions over the mere existence of the show, which should be surprising to no one that those are exactly the type of people that should be watching this daring and brilliant series.
With examples of black students being unable to nap on a university couch without the police being called on them, a show about black students struggling with race issues at an Ivy League school feels almost too relevant.
2 Best: The Good Place (100%)
The Good Place was one of those shows whose original premise seemed to severely limit the potential longevity of the series. And then, a brilliant twist near the end of the first season reinvented the show and allowed for a completely fresh second season, which was another premise that probably couldn’t sustain more than a single season.
So, against all odds, The Good Place managed to successfully change course yet again for season three, doing things that would’ve caused a series in less capable hands to jump the shark, but instead, just kept it as creative and hilarious as it has always been. Can they do it a fourth time? We’re betting they can.
1 Worst: The Alec Baldwin Show (0%)
While talk shows are an institution as old as television itself, there are certain things that make the successful ones work. Mainly, they have to come on later in the evening, usually after the local news. The last time a network attempted a prime-time talk show was NBC’s ill-fated The Jay Leno Show in 2010, and if Leno can’t even make a prime time talk show work, who can?
Not Alec Baldwin, apparently. The Alec Baldwin Show is the only TV show this year to earn a goose egg from Rotten Tomatoes, which is saying something if you’ve watched a lot of TV in 2018. Baldwin should just stick to hosting The Match Game.
What’s your rating of the TV shows on this list? Sound off in the comments below!