Getting back into Year in Reviews after a break last year, 2018 in television was one filled with wonder with shows new and old. Some ending, some just beginning to intrigue us, some continuing to delight us after a few seasons. One thing all these have in common is that they brought a lot of warmth, heart, intrigue, tears and happiness to our screens. These are my Top 10 Favorites for 2018.
10. Christmas Made for TV Movies of Hallmark and LifetimeChristmas films on television have been a staple of the season and more and more seem to be made every year. We know they can be predictable, filled with common romantic tropes, and may be a little corny. But in today’s day in age, these can be welcome and lovely things and that is often what these films provide: sweet and heartfelt escapism wrapped in cozy and festive warmth. In this year’s abundance of holiday fare, 5 in particular stood out.
A Veteran’s Christmas re-pairs Eloise Mumford and Sean Faris who co-starred in another favorite Christmas With Holly. This story follows a Marine recently returning home, unsure of her place and missing her dog who was part of her canine unit, who stumbles into a small town and falls in love with a kind judge and the entire town who embraces her. It’s a tender and sweet story and the two actors play beautifully off each other. And any true dog lover will no doubt shed tears at its happy conclusion.
Christmas Pen Pals stars Sarah Drew and Niall Matter who have a sweet chemistry and play former college sweethearts who both sign up for a holiday Pen Pal project in their hometown. It’s a lovely little story with a very romantic tone and fine acting.
Christmas Perfection with Caitlin Thompson and James Henri-Thomas is cute as can be, romantic and truly, truly funny. For the Captain Swan fans out there, I felt like I was watching a CS AU come to life to a degree so I was in heaven. But even without that comparison, it’s an absolutely delightful gem following a woman who is obsessed with having everything perfect including a little Christmas village she puts up every year. When she and her best friend argue over her need for perfection she suddenly wakes up in her village, where it’s Christmas every day, her parents are back together and everyone is Irish! What follows is pure, silly, but perfect Christmas perfection.
Once Upon a Christmas Miracle is based on a true story of a young woman who needs an organ transplant and miraculously find a donor from a stranger whom she then forms a strong connection with. It’s a sweet and moving story, made ever the more lovely because it’s based on two real people. True kindness and sacrifice can come from anywhere and it’s a beautiful reminder than can restore your faith in the humanity of others.
And lastly, Christmas at Pemberley Manor is a light take on the Pride and Prejudice story made enjoyable by its warmth, sweet take on the classic story and likable actors Michael Rady and Jessica Lowndes. In keeping in the Christmas mood I must also recommend the other past Christmas films with Rady, whom is wonderful in all he does, Christmas in Homestead and A Joyous Christmas. While Lowndes is equally lovely in the ever romantic December Bride which pairs her with When Calls the Heart’s ever talented and handsome Daniel Lissing.
9. Happy TogetherIt’s been a while since I’ve found a comedy that is light and sweet and truly makes me laugh out loud. What I want most when watching a sitcom however is to feel happy watching it, and just like its namesake, I most certainly do. A great deal of this show’s charm is due in no small part to the its leads, the hilarious and charming Damon Wayans Jr. (whom I just adore in everything he does) and Amber Stevens West, an equally funny and effervescent scene partner. The two play a happily married couple who are simply adorable in that they feel like a real couple in their natural chemistry and attempts to seem cool for their house guest, an Australian pop star they open their home up to when he wants to feel normalcy in his life. Rounding out the laughs come from Stephanie Weir and Victor Williams who play West’s parents, two doctors with no filter and a lot of time on their hands now that they’re retired. The show is wacky but heartfelt and always leaves me feeling good. I hope more audiences discover this show because it’s a sheer delight.
8. Fuller House
Getting back into form, the fourth season of the Netflix family comedy was filled with lots of heart, more wacky adventures from the “She-Wolf” pack, DJ and Steve finally trying to make it work as a couple complete with a fun little musical number (DJ and Steve 4ever!) and hilarity and tenderness with Kimmy acting as Stephanie’s surrogate. Other highlights included Danny going back to Wake Up San Francisco with Rebecca, replacing the egotistical male co-host, Jesse embracing being a stay at home father, and Charlie’s Angels’s themed “70s” cruise on the SS Papouli (a sweet nod to the great grandfather from the original series). What makes Fuller House work is that it does not take itself too seriously, but rather unabashedly embraces its corniness. But what made this season enjoyable was that, like it did in Season 1, when it had its more serious moments, there was so sign of parody or goofiness- in particular when Kimmy gives birth with Stephanie right beside her to welcome her baby into the world, and when DJ’s middle boy Max, known for his one liners and over top antics, shares a very grounded and moving moment about deeply missing his father. Fuller House remains a welcome little gem.
7. The Marvelous Mrs. MaiselFull disclosure, when the second season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel was released at that end of 2018, I binged watched the first and second season in extremely quick succession, so this praise is a bit about both seasons. Forever a fan of Amy Sherman Pallidino’s Gilmore Girls, I am not surprised how much I adore this similarly fast talking, delightful, colorful and sweet, meaningful and poignant, funny and effervescent, female empowering, and yes completely marvelous, series. Each episode is like stepping into a candy colored, bubbly musical time machine to the 1960s which is fun and lively, but not without turmoil or drama. At times it feels heightened in true Pallidino style, at other times completely grounded in very real, relatable truths about life. The best comedians are ones that observe life and can find humor in the everyday, and that is what Miriam, aka Midge does, who stumbles into comedy after her husband leaves her out of the blue and she learns to picks herself up and discovers even more about herself along the way. She has to fight to be accepted and that is something that a modern audience can still relate to. Led by incredible Rachel Brosnahan, the show’s second season continues on what season 1 so well established, but continues to grow and evolve as Midge struggles in finding her place while not losing what is important to her, while her family is dealing with their own issues that relate not only to Midge but their own journeys in life. It’s lovely and fun, moving and marvelous! p.s can we please bring back the name Midge, because it’s too cute.
6. This is UsFor fans of This is Us, 2018 will always be the year that finally revealed how Jack Pearson died, and it was as heartbreaking and tough to watch as we imagined. The cause was something so trivial as a malfunctioning crock pot, but the reason was something that is embedded into Jack’s character- putting others and what they care about above himself, even sacrificing his own safety. And the fact that it was delayed, giving the Pearson’s (and the audience) a false sense of peace and relief made it all the more devastating. And it’s the moment that Rebecca’s learns and sees her husband is gone that will remain one of the most heart wrenching (and brilliantly performed of the series). But Jack’s death wasn’t the only thing that was profound about This is Us in 2018. On the contrary, each and every interweaving and multi-generational storyline was captivating to watch, from the beginning of Rebecca and Jack’s love story, to his time in Vietnam with his brother, to Kate and Toby’s journey to have a child, and their individual journeys dealing with job woes and depression, to Randall and Beth’s struggles as they foster a child and begin and end careers, to Kevin’s evolving film career and desire to learn more about his father, and to the mysterious twists and time jumps, the lives of the Pearson family remain ones that are ever relatable and moving.
5. The Good PlaceThe Good Place is one of the cleverest, funniest, sweetest and most profound shows on television, with one of its finest qualities being that in its absurdity lies relatable truths and complexities about choices, free will, and the human condition- with both characters that are and are not human, which is remarkable. It tugs at our heartstrings and makes us laugh so hard we cry. The cast is absolutely stellar and hilarious while managing to infuse authenticity in the more grounded moments with each other- in both season 2 and 3- especially as this group travels back to earth and must learn about themselves and what it means to be, most especially, an empathetic person. Like Michael Shur’s previous shows, this series, infuses heart and realism, in this case despite the concept, and everyone who watches is all the better for it. The Good Place is utter joy.
4. ManifestIntriguing, melancholy, gripping, and thought provoking, the comparisons to LOST were inevitable, but let it be said that Manifest is its own show and one that mixes and perfectly balances unexplained phenomena, crime procedural and family drama, matched with an impressive cast led but the wonderful Josh Dallas and Melissa Roxburgh as brother and sister Ben and Michaela Stone, who returned home to a world that had changed so much. Of course we all want to know what happened to Flight 828 that caused them to somehow become lost in time to the rest of the world and lose 5 years. Ben and his son return to a family that grieved and grew and learned to move on, Michalea heartbreakingly returned to learn the man she was planning to marry, has now married her best friend. Ben’s son Cal, who had been suffering from cancer, returns home and miraculously begins responding to treatment. But in truth it’s not just the Stone family drama that leaves us so captivated. It’s also the questions of what caused this anomaly and is there some grand conspiracy behind everything? But most especially one of the most profound aspects of Manifest is that it leaves the audience with the question of “what if?” What if you returned to a world much changed and how to do begin to live your life again where it feels like you have been left behind or no longer fit? And if you are beginning to feel a purpose (which we see in the callings each of the passengers experiences) in a way that cannot rationally be explained, do you follow or fight it? The contrasting perspectives of Ben and Michaela, and the ways they all seem connected showcase these questions beautifully and intriguingly so, and make this show not only one of the best new shows, but best overall shows of the year.
3. A Series of Unfortunate EventsThe Netflix original series based on the children’s books of the same name is dark and filled with gruesome scenarios that befall the unfortunate Baudelaire orphans, and yet it remains sweet and touching. If you are a fan of the series Pushing Daisies, you will no doubt enjoy this one as well as it is not only similar in tone and visuals, but it also shares director and executive producer Barry Sonnenfeld. The first season was incredible and so too was 2018’s second season. The highlights of the series include a steampunk-esque visual feast for the eyes, its intelligent writing, which actually gives you vocabulary lessons in each episode in a way that is so entertaining you crave it, hilarious absurdity, and an amazing cast of both leads (led by incredible Neil Patrick Harris and the fantastic group of Baudelaire siblings Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes and Pressley Smith) and guest stars (which in Season 2 includes Nathan Fillion, Tony Hale and Sara Rue.) The story of the Baudelaire children may be an unfortunate one but you will not want to “look away” as the theme song and narrator (the wonderfully sardonic Patrick Warburton) often advises the audience to do. Instead you find yourself deeply invested and rooting for these children who are wise, mature and intelligent beyond their years not only in terms of being well read and clever but emotionally as well. The three all have their special strengths that they utilize as they continuously must escape the clutches of Count Olaf surrounded by people who will not always listen, while trying to maintain their own courage, faith and humanity. The contrast of the absurd situations, breathtaking visuals and profound meaning of this material is astonishing. And having watched Season 3 already, it’s an indisputable truth that A Series of Unfortunate Events will also be on next year’s list for the best in television.
2. A Discovery of WitchesWith the exception of the show that is at #1 on this list, it’s been a long time, since a series has so quickly and thoroughly captivated me from the very beginning. Between the amazing cast, beautifully locales and exquisite cinematography, there is so much to be mesmerized by. Although I have watched similar media at times, I would never call myself someone who LOVES witches or vampires or the supernatural the way some do, but perhaps that is because, while A Discovery of Withes is undoubtedly about witches, vampires and demons existing right alongside side us who are completely unaware of their existence, in truth these really feel like a metaphor for what every human can experience, relate to, or sympathize with: fear, prejudice, courage, friendship and above all else love. For this show is about learning to cast aside those fears and prejudices and learn that we all equal, because we all can universally understand the desire and right to be accepted and loved. And this series is most especially a love story- a kind of Romeo and Juliet love story between a witch and a vampire, two species who have always been on opposite, adversarial sides, who are instantly drawn to each other and form a unbreakable bond and love that transcends all, and defies obstacles, and proves that LOVE knows no bounds. The love story between Diana Bishop and Matthew Clairmont is already a beautiful and profound one that I am certain will continue to enthrall in the coming seasons as there will be one for each of Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy. Both strong, passionate characters, who are surrounded by equally enthralling characters, Diana and Matthew love and protect each other with and open heart, a mutual respect and admiration, and a strength to overcome all that might separate them, because blood may be crave worthy, and fear may be easier than bravery, but love is what truly satiates every thirst or desire, fuels our inner courage, and ignites our very souls.
1. TimelessTimeless is a magical show. And although 2018 brought the series to a close, it will live on in a way that is immeasurable. This series is the perfect blend of adventure, history, humor, drama and mystery with amazing characters and relationships. Timeless brings history to life with both well known figures, but also nuances and individuals who are not, illuminating eras and inspiring people, while managing to enthrall its audience, never going for cheap shocks but rather interesting twists. It’s a labyrinth of wonder and the way it continued in 2018 with its second season was the most magical part of television in 2018. Season 2 may have done some things a bit differently with a bit less focus on the “Time Team” unit together on missions, but the individuals highlighted such as Hedy Lamarr, Alice Paul and Robert Johnson, and evolving relationships still remained the heartbeat of the show, encapsulated in the series finale movie where saving Rufus was paramount, Wyatt and Lucy finally came together in love and Flynn went on his incredible final journey of heroics and redemption- all of which were not only captivating but so moving. The show’s ending montage set to Joseph William Morgan’s cover of the song “Time After Time” resulted in many a tear, as we watched the beautiful journey of all of these characters through time: The love, the loss, the strength, the courage, the perseverance, the belief in each other, and the hope for a beautiful future where history is not forgotten, but preserved, and learned from laying the foundation for whatever is yet to be. And above all you see that history is made up not only of events but people. In this case it’s a about professors, scholars, soldiers, scientists, inventors, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, daughters, sons. Heroes. This moment was a exquisite showcase of what makes this show so profound, special, and above all Timeless.