My top TV shows of 2018

Most TV I watched last year were actually shows that had come out a few years back. Basically I’ve been catching up. So for this list I just wanted to review new shows or new seasons out in 2018.

Here were my favourites.

Killing Eve

The story goes: MI5 Desk analyst Eve (Sandra Oh) gets tangled up in the hunt for a psychopathic assassin called Villanelle (Jodie Comer) in an unexpected and delicious manner. Now this show came somewhat out of nowhere accompanied with much hype, and rightly so as it’s fantastic. The writing was nuanced and inventive, but it lived or died with the performances of the two leads, Oh and Comer. The dynamic between their characters made for some of the show’s best moments. Comer in particular, astounded me – beautiful, precocious, deadly. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Daredevil season 3

They say you should always go out on a high and, boy, did this show do so (Disney have since cancelled it, damn them). In this final season our hero Matt Murdoch aka Daredevil (Charlie Cox) finds he’s got both the rising power of Wilson Fisk aka Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio) to deal with, as well as the highly unstable FBI agent Ben Poindexter aka Bullseye (Wilson Bethel). All whilst he’s been stripped of his suit and is wanted by the police. So we go back to basics. After a slightly unsatisfying season two and the underwhelming first (and only) season of the Defenders, this final chapter on the devil of Hell’s Kitchen feels like a welcome return to form, anchored by strong performances from Cox, D’Onofrio and Bethel.

The Deuce season 2

The first season of this show put the lives of pimps, escorts, bar men and the mafia in New York’s ‘deuce’ area in the late ‘70s under the microscope. It was created by the guy behind The Wire, David Simon, and it’s a show very much in that mould, following a host of characters as their lives intertwine and intersect. With season 2 they move the timeline on five years to the point where some of the characters have moved beyond street walking to become porn actresses and, in the case of Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a bona-fide porn director. The other character you could call a lead of the show, Vince (James Franco), now owns a nightclub, bar and massage parlour, although he’s beholden to the mob and conflicted about his line of work. As with any of Simon’s shows the way he juggles character and story is masterful, the worlds he builds feel real and the characters flawed and human. Audiences agreed and the show will be back for a third and final season.

Westworld season 2

Westworld season 1 showed us a world where a theme park exists populated by AI ‘hosts’ that are indistinguishable from people. It was like the Wild West, and rich humans could go there and live out fantasies killing the hosts and soforth. The conflict arose when the hosts began to retain memories each time they were brought back to life. Then they began to rebel. Season 1 played out across multiple timelines with multiple characters, some host some human. Season 2 continued this, but upped the ante, adding more timelines, flash backs, forwards, sideways, timelines within timelines, worlds within worlds. Imagine the films Inception and Momento had a baby and got drunk and you’re halfway there. Thoroughly confusing but still utterly compelling to the point where you begin to think that any moment they’ll lift the curtain and it’ll all make sense. But it doesn’t, and by the end you don’t much care, as the journey was such a blast.

Altered Carbon

Based on a 2002 novel, this was another of Netflix’s forays into sci-fi; which may have left some of us viewers nervous, as they’re a bit hit and miss in this genre. This show, thankfully, was fantastic. Taking place in a cyberpunk future where a person’s personality/mind etc can be loaded into a ‘stack’ implanted at the base of the neck, effectively meaning they can switch bodies and live forever, or at least the rich can. We start with Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman), a sort of mercenary investigator, resurrected from ‘death’ and called in to investigate the actual (yet not successful) murder of one of the wealthiest men in the universe, 300-year-old Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy). There’s sex, violence, cool tech, Kinnamon scowling, Kinnamon’s abs, what’s not to like? Also, for the second season, Anthony Mackie will be in the lead role.

Billions season 3

US Attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) versus hedge fund billionare Bobby Axelrod (Damien Lewis). That’s sort of all you really need to know about this show. Chuck goes after Bobby, gets him tangled up in various legal issues. Bobby fights back, he schemes, he works the market as best he can. Season 2 was interesting in that Chuck and Bobby found their paths diverge somewhat, with Chuck moving more into politics and Bobby trying to avoid jail time and losing his company. The show did find some inventive ways to bring them together at times, getting perilously close to tipping over into ridiculous melodrama. That said, both Giamatti and Lewis are phenomenal actors and any opportunity to watch them face off is a delight.

Top ass-kicking actresses on TV that I like lately

Lately, I’ve started to become dimly aware of something. A lot of TV shows I’m currently watching seem to have not only a decent gender balance in general, but also well-written female characters in leading roles. Perhaps this has been the case for a long time, but, somehow, I’ve just noticed it. Maybe these characters have always been present, but perhaps in the past just to serve the journey of the male characters? Sort of mild fridging, or pre-death fridging perhaps? But now, in the golden age of streaming TV with Netflix and Amazon Prime, and in the age of #metoo and #timesup, female characters seem to have more agency. Are we at some sort of turning point? I asked this in a recent post about action women in film, and I think the same applies to TV.

It’s kind of a refreshing and exciting place we find ourselves in, from a storytelling point of view. At the very least, as recipients of said stories.

So with that in mind, below are a selection of characters that have entered my TV watching world in various guises, from women that plot and scheme, through to those that straight up fight, to those that code and those that build. TV people take note, more of these characters please. Modern storyelling needs them, now more than ever.

Thandie Newton
As Maeve in Westworld

As one of the AI ‘hosts’ of Westworld, Maeve starts out as a madam in a brothel, but quickly becomes one of the show’s key characters, breaking her programming and fighting back against her creators. She evolves to the point where she controls other hosts and has them do her bidding in a mission to rescue her daughter.

Hannah New
As Eleanor Guthrie in Black Sails

Eleanor, following in the footsteps of her father, runs a black market operation out of Nassau, dealing with cut-throat pirates day in day out. And, in an environment where the only other female characters of note are prostitutes, she cuts her own path as a canny businesswoman, striking unsavoury deals with dangerous pirates to keep her enterprise going.

Kathryn Winnick
As Lagertha in Vikings

Married to a farmer with big ambition and King-in-waiting, Ragnar Lodbrok, Lagertha starts the show as a shield maiden, but makes her dismay clear when Ragnor leaves her behind during his first raids on England. She’s firmly part of the team on the next raid and remains a key figure throughout the show, growing in power to become the Earl of a nearby area, as well as a key figure in the viking raids on Paris. Whilst she’s a fierce warrior on the outside, she’s really an emotionally complex and thoroughly interesting character. Her fractious relationship with Ragnor is one of the most compelling and watchable things in the show.

Lindsey Morgan
As Raven Reyes in The 100

As the youngest zero-G mechanic to come through the ranks of humanity’s last survivors in space, Raven is clearly smart as hell, highly capable and about as tenacious as you can get. Not only does she launches herself in a tiny rocket to get to Earth, she builds homemade bombs to fight the ‘grounders’, and bests a homicidal AI through a combination of frantic coding, no sleep and a lot of coffee. And she does most of this after being shot in the spine and having to relearn how to walk.

Mackenzie Davis
As Cameron Howe in Halt and Catch Fire

Cameron enters the show early, being recruited by Lee Pace’s stuffed shirt ex-IBM sales guy to build a PC that’ll blow the big boys out the water. She acts as a good foil to the show’s buttoned-up, tightly wound male characters, in that she dresses like a geek, listens to punk rock and heavy metal whilst coding and does things very much her own way, to the chagrin of the men.

Maggie Siff
As Wendy Rhoades in Billions

Maggie is a psychiatrist tasked with ensuring the traders of Bobby Axelrod’s (Damien Lewis) hedge fund remain ruthless and committed when it comes to their work. She’s equally close to Bobby as well as his arch nemesis, Chuck, the District Attorney hellbent on destroying him – who also happens to be her husband. Oh, and on the side she’s a Dominatrix in the bedroom, giving Chuck a spanking when he gets out of line.