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Villanelle in prison on Killing Eve / Polygon illustration
Villanelle (Jodie Comer) in prison on Killing Eve.
BBC America via Polygon

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The best new TV shows of 2018

From hitmen to death metal-loving red pandas, here is the best TV from the year

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As new companies and new streaming platforms enter the competitive TV space, there’s an overwhelming amount of episodic storytelling happening every day. To help sort through it all, we’ve put together a list of the best new TV shows that premiered in 2018, from breakout hits like Killing Eve and Barry to shows you may have missed, including Joe Pera Talks With You and The Terror.

No matter what kind of show you’re looking for — comedy, drama, something in between — we’ve got you covered.

A Very English Scandal - Jeremy Thorpe waving his hat Sophie Mutevelian/Blueprint Television

A Very English Scandal

In a landscape in which news about the very nature of news is king, A Very English Scandal is particularly potent. The series takes a scandal from 1970s Britain and, while not quite rehabilitating its subjects, sheds some new light on them in lieu of the ridicule the case garnered when it first broke.

When Jeremy Thorpe (played here by Hugh Grant) was accused of the attempted murder Norman Scott (Ben Whishaw), a scandal erupted not just from the fact that a member of Parliament had attempted to orchestrated a potential homicide, but also the discovery that Thorpe was gay. The series, written by Russell T. Davies and directed by Stephen Frears, makes no excuses for Thorpe (or for Scott), but offers a little more context for their actions based on the sexual politics of the time. Bolstered by tender performances from both leads, A Very English Scandal is a touching, compelling piece of work. —Karen Han

Stream on Amazon Prime
Rent or buy on Amazon

Aggretsuko - Retsuko screaming into a microphone Image: Sanrio/Netflix

Aggretsuko

Though an animated series based on a Sanrio property might sound flimsy, Aggretsuko is nothing short of a delight. The show chronicles the entry of a 25-year-old anthropomorphic red panda named Retsuko into office life, and the salary struggles and gender politics therein.

The twist, as suggested by the series’ title, is that the mild-mannered Retsuko vents her frustrations after work by singing death metal at a karaoke bar. Screaming about anything from being a wage laborer to her (literally) piggish boss, Aggretsuko provides a painfully relatable portrait of getting by in the workplace — a feat that’s even more impressive given that each episode is a bite-sized 15 minutes. —KH

Stream on Netflix

Barry - Barry, Fuches, Goran and Hank John P. Johnson/HBO

Barry

As the age of the TV antihero (Mad Men, Breaking Bad) seeingly comes to an end, Barry takes up the mantle, putting a fresh spin on the typical bad-but-good-guy formula. The show stars Bill Hader as Barry, a listless hitman who finds purpose when he accidentally stumbles into a Los Angeles acting class. Hader, who also wrote and directed a good chunk of the season, shows off not just a remarkable ability to meld his comic and dramatic chops, but a flair for sharp, cinematic directing as well.

With stalwart character actors like Stephen Root, Anthony Carrigan and the transcendent Henry Winkler filling out the cast, the show delights until it (emotionally) distresses, unpacking everything from expectations in dating to trying to make it in a creative field to the consequences of being a killer by profession. —KH

Stream on HBO
Rent or buy on Vudu | Amazon

Forever - June and Oscar dancing at a bowling alley Colleen Hayes/Amazon

Forever

Amazon’s Forever was sold on the back of the twists contained within it, but the show’s true surprise is just how earnest it is about the nature of love. Starring Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen as a married couple, the show digs into how they cope with wanting different things out of life (and death), and possibly even wanting other people.

The questions the series asks about love and marriage aren’t necessarily new, but certainly haven’t been discussed in this particular way before, and Rudolph, who provides the beating heart of the show, is magnificent. If you want to test the waters before diving in, try the series’ sixth episode, “Andre and Sarah,” which mostly functions as a stand-alone with Andre Mitchell and Hong Chau, and showcases the earnestness that runs in the show’s blood. —KH

Stream on Amazon Prime

julia roberts in amazon’s homecoming Amazon

Homecoming

Broadly speaking, Homecoming is a puzzle box. That it’s directed by Mr. Robot’s Sam Esmail may immediately suggest a degree of impenetrability, but the Amazon series forgoes unnecessary complications, instead focusing on telling a relatively simple story through the use of careful visual and aural flourishes.

Drawing from old conspiracy thrillers as well as the show’s origins as a podcast, Esmail uses every trick at his disposal to follow Heidi Bergman (Julia Roberts) as she is forced to confront her former life as a therapist to veterans at a mysterious government facility known as Homecoming. In the end, however, the series has less to do with covert operations, and more to do with the nature of memory and relationships between people. And though Roberts is wonderful, the highlight of the show is the cast surrounding her, from Stephan James as one of her former patients, to Shea Whigham as the man trying to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. —KH

Stream on Amazon Prime
Rent or buy on Amazon

Joe Pera reads you the church announcements in Joe Pera Talks With You Adult Swim

Joe Pera Talks With You

Joe Pera is the kind of avuncular, genteel, 30-year-old senior citizen who chooses babysitting a 5-year-old over partying on New Year’s Eve. Joe Pera is the kind of midwestern sweetheart who falls in love with The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” a decade after he would have lived in his own teenage wasteland. Though it’s hard to imagine this sweater-clad good neighbor-type celebrating a wasteland of any kind — Joe Pera would rather study and explain the history of Alberta’s rat war.

Joe Pera Talks With You isn’t just a series of 11-minute meditations on going to church, or leading a school musical, or getting help falling asleep. It’s a show which finds absurdity in that mundanity, a kind much unlike the rest of its Adult Swim cohorts. There’s beauty in its celebratory magnification of good people. There’s a lot of seriously great humor in it, too, because the simple life is often a very silly one.

This show will also make you very hungry for pancakes. Be prepared. —Allegra Frank

Stream on Adult Swim
Rent or own on iTunes | Vudu | Amazon Prime | Google Play | YouTube

Kidding - Mr. Pickles holding up peanut butter and jelly sandwich puppets Erica Parise/Showtime

Kidding

There’s a mix of sweetness and strangeness to Kidding that would be transfixing even if it didn’t star that paragon of sweetness and strangeness, Jim Carrey. As Mr. Pickles, a children’s show host fairly obviously meant to be a mirror of Fred Rogers, he takes full advantage of the mix of sweet naïvete and grotesquerie we’ve grown to know him to be capable of, as the part demands an almost meta-reckoning with his past image and work.

The series isn’t all smooth sailing, but there’s so much that’s utterly unique about it (that Michel Gondry — with whom Carrey worked in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind — was involved with the series shouldn’t come as a surprise) that the show’s flaws can’t bring down the fantastic highs it reaches. —KH

Stream on Showtime

Killing Eve - Villanelle in pink tulle dress on couch BBC America

Killing Eve

Girls just want to have fun, and sometimes that fun involves a little international espionage. Starring Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer, and written by Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Killing Eve puts women front and center in the kinds of action-oriented or borderline unlikable roles usually reserved for men.

When the assassin Villanelle (Comer) starts to crop up more and more often on MI5’s radar, officer Eve Polastri (Oh) develops an obsession that, sooner rather than later, becomes mutual. As the two women’s orbit grows closer and closer, so too does their back and forth grow more and more dangerous, leading to a finale that, like the series as a whole, neatly and deliciously subverts all expectations set for it. —KH

Stream on Hulu or BBC America
Rent or buy on iTunes | Amazon | Google Play | YouTube

wyatt russell in lodge 49 Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

Lodge 49

Bit by bit, Wyatt Russell has been building up his leading-man bona fides (including in this year’s Overlord), and Lodge 49 — while patently weird — is some of the best evidence yet that Russell is destined for great things. The AMC series, which finds Sean Dudley (Russell) drifting through life until he comes across a mysterious lodge, hits on heavy themes while maintaining a lightness of tone, its warmth belying the emotional fragility that lies underneath.

As characters float in and out of his periphery — and manage the debts they all seem to owe to each other — Russell serves as an anchor, holding down the fort as despair and delusion (and more than a little hint of fabulism) threaten to send the whole affair floating away. —KH

Stream on AMC
Rent or buy on Vudu | Amazon | Google Play | YouTube

Maniac - Owen holding up a photo to an ad featuring Annie Michele K. Short/Netflix

Maniac

There’s something depressing about the thought that the creation of Maniac was even partially algorithm-based, an origin story that’s becoming more and more common in the streaming era. Still, the series deserves a shout-out for the moments of inspiration; between reanimated corpses crafted from memories of a dead loved one or the acknowledgment of the power of platonic love, the retrofuturist odyssey distinguishes itself from its TV peers.

In Maniac, Jonah Hill and Emma Stone star as Owen Milgrim and Annie Landsberg, who end up participating in a pharmaceutical drug trial that taps into their dreams in order to help work through their emotional traumas. In the process, Owen and Annie travel through worlds that range from a Lord of the Rings-esque fantasy-scape to middle America, while a group of scientists and a sentient computer try to keep them apart. —KH

Stream on Netflix

Janelle Monáe in Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams Elizabeth Sisson/Amazon

Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams

Most assessments of Amazon’s anthology series (which aired in the U.K. in 2017 but premiered stateside at the beginning of 2018, hence its inclusion here) will include comparisons to Black Mirror. The jump isn’t unwarranted — they’re both sci-fi series that posit various dystopias as a way of addressing the broader human condition, particularly with regards to reliance on technology — but it doesn’t quite hold up under closer inspection.

Electric Dreams, produced by Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica), is a more hopeful show, and more dreamily constructed (no pun intended) than its Netflix counterpart. Featuring performances from the likes of Janelle Monáe and Bryan Cranston (as well as a truly standout turn from Timothy Spall in the series’ best episode to date), Electric Dreams feels like a panacea rather than a damnation. —KH

Stream on Amazon Prime
Rent or buy on Vudu | Amazon | Google Play | YouTube

patricia clarkson and amy adams in sharper objects Anne Marie Fox/HBO

Sharp Objects

Small-town shows can be like snow globes: picturesque, perhaps inviting, but easily shaken — hard, harder and then harder still — until they’re left depleted or broken.

Sharp Objects, adapted by Marti Noxon (UnReal) from Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn’s book, is like this. Built on a murder mystery, the HBO series is really the portrait of a Southern community so rife with secrets that need to be shaken loose, and when they are, what bleeds through is pain that’s self-inflicted, endured and occasionally imagined. The story of three generations of powerful, even dangerous women holding onto their hurt is as mesmerizing as it is hard to watch. As a tight, quick, complete miniseries, it is so worth that watch, even when it hurts. —AF

Stream on HBO Go
Rent or buy on Vudu | Amazon

Logan and Connor in tuxedos at a gala on Succession Peter Kramer/HBO

Succession

As with its characters, there’s much more to Succession than meets the eye. The story of a family-run media conglomerate thrown into chaos by the question of succession (what else), it delves into more than just rich-people problems, growing past a razor-sharp sense of humor (the show was created by Jesse Armstrong of Peep Show and The Thick of It) into a drama of gothic proportions.

Succession also features some of the standout performances of the year, though to name just one would beg naming them all. Prodigal son Kendall (Jeremy Strong); cocky younger brother Roman (Kieran Culkin); beggar at the feast Tom (Matthew Macfadyen); clueless cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun); the list goes on and on. —KH

Stream on HBO Go
Rent or buy on Vudu | Amazon | Google Play | YouTube

The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix Steve Dietl/Netflix

The Haunting of Hill House

A two-hour haunted house movie has one goal: deliver a spooky mood and a steady stream of scares drawn from the great beyond. A 10-episode haunted house television series needs a different agenda, and horror auteur Mike Flanagan rises to the challenge, sustaining the undead tension from start to finish as he spins Shirley Jackson’s source material into an exploration of grief and familial combat.

Flanagan set the internet aflame when he revealed that nearly every frame of The Haunting of Hill House contains at least one ghost lurking in the shadows. That attention to detail expresses itself where it really counts: carving out character backstories — from an author cashing in on his family’s legacy to a psychic therapist with commitment issues to a struggling addict coping with ghastly nightmares — and building an extended metaphor with more weight than a jump scare. The Haunting of Hill House often crescendos with supernatural set-pieces and dazzling camerawork (one episode is shot in what is presented as a single long take, drifting between present day and the past), but it gets under your skin as characters’ lives are consumed, then resurrected. —Matt Patches

Stream on Netflix

The Terror - Paul Ready as Dr. Henry Goodsir Aidan Monaghan/AMC

The Terror

If this list were ranked, The Terror would be at the very top. The first season of AMC’s new anthology series is nothing short of a marvel, defying genre conventions and expectations to deliver one of the most remarkable shows in recent memory. Adapted from Dan Simmons’ novel of the same name, the series puts a sci-fi/horror spin on the events of the Franklin expedition, in which two British ships set out in 1845 to try to discover the Northwest Passage, never to return.

The show, which stars Jared Harris, Tobias Menzies, Ciarán Hinds and Paul Ready, serves not only as a horror story (rivaling The Thing and any of David Lynch’s work) but as a cautionary tale against colonialism, and anyone who would try to invade and trample over pre-existing life. As the episodes (and their attendant horrors) progress, the seeds planted in the early hours of the series return in full force, weaving a tapestry that’s stunning to behold — and unmatched in 2018. —KH

Stream on AMC
Rent or buy on iTunes | Vudu | Amazon | Google Play | YouTube