2018 was certainly the year of “procrastibaking,” otherwise known as “anxiety baking.” But it seems our inclination to coat our worries in powdered sugar spread to TV producers as well. The year abounded with not just heartwarming food shows, but shows that focus on emotional catharsis only to gift us with surprisingly sweet endings. Both your Netflix account and your oven know that you need a big, perfume-scented mom hug this year. These were my favorite shows in a culturally fraught but bittersweet year. (Ironically, I did not pick the show Sweetbitter. Loved the book. Show was meh.)
Set in a Japanese-influenced “alternative present,” Maniac focuses on a postmodern yet very Freudian psychological experiment. Emma Stone and Jonah Hill reunite after their Superbad romance to play misfit characters with emotional baggage and untapped vulnerability. While the show could have gotten absorbed in its own set design and agile directing, it instead doubled down on the relationship at its core, which plucked more than a few of my heart strings. While you want to hate this show for being so clever, you have to love it.
Donald Glover is truly the modern epitome of a renaissance man. While Atlanta has always been both funny and genre-bending, the latest season showed that he and his crew are anything but predictable. “Teddy Perkins” and “Barbershop” still have a part of my brain racing to appreciate their nuance, originality and relevance.
Did I know I wanted to watch Julia Roberts flirt with a young veteran in a dystopian mystery that plays on the nature of memory? No, I did not—but apparently I did. Homecoming is a bit of a slow-burn, focusing on less on gritty conflicts and big reveals and more on the moments that keep coming to the surface even though you don’t know why they matter. Can’t wait for the podcast-to-TV-show phenomenon to become a common thing.
In my opinion, Gillian Flynn’s fantastic novel Gone Girl was done a horrible injustice by its Ben Affleck-fronted film adaptation. Luckily for fans like me, HBO was there to show how a Flynn story can really sing onscreen. Sharp Objects stays true to the book it was inspired by, and Amy Adams brings depth and imperfection to her character, as usual. Who wasn’t haunted by this show this year? “The woman in white!”
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
I can sum up this show fairly quickly: great show—horrible name. Its funky lettering repelled me for all of last year, but this year I broke down and fell in love. Rachel Brosnahan truly has heroic acting range, as the last time I saw her on House of Cards she certainly was not doling out witticisms in pearls with a pot roast in her hands. Season two of this show ups the ante, covering the idea of an artist woman not just letting her family know she’s an artist, but revealing they’ve inspired some quite raunchy material.
The Adventures of Sabrina
I was a major fan of the Melissa Joan-Hart-era Sabrina, and I could not believe my eyes when I watched Kiernan Shipka’s adaptation. Today, her beloved aunts Hilda and Zelda worship Satan, her cat is a terrifying goblin-creature and she may or may not slit a classmate’s throat at one point. Honestly, the Christian right is sleeeeeping if they aren’t boycotting this show! It’s that great.
Half of my co-workers are OBSESSED with Terrace House and the other half never want to hear about it again. But this Japanese answer to The Real World is a life-changing phenomenon that you will not want to miss. A bit mumblecore in nature, it focuses on the cautious romances between members in the house, dotted with flirtatious ski-trips and tear-soaked birthday parties. I hope they make a Terrace House cookbook someday because they’re always making each other the best food. Totemo sugoi.
We never tire of King Lear-inspired family dramas, and Succession gives us yet another. Told with adroit attention to vulnerability and psychology, this show feels like a cross between The Sopranos and everything Aaron Sorkin has ever made, but with less hurried paper passing in transitions. The final episode is incredible.
The Handmaid’s Tale
Season two of The Handmaid’s Tale cemented this show’s legacy as one of the best, and also shows it can succeed once it moves past its source material. The violence is gut-wrenching, but its imagination and humanity make it hard to look away.
The Archie adaptation we did not know we wanted continues to please all fans of Gossip Girl, this time with extra music and never-ending murder mysteries. It keeps getting better and better, in my opinion.
Salt Fat Acid Heat
I loved Samin Nosrat’s cookbook of the same name, reading it cover-to-cover after enjoying her presence in Michael Pollan’s books. That cookbook opened my eyes to the fact that I should use way more salt and caramelize the heck out of my meat. What I did not realize was what an absolute joy she is as a TV host. Not only can she speak several languages, she just has an infectious warmth and an ability to connect with everyone. My only critique of this show is that it should be longer!
SNL cast members continue to push TV in interesting ways. One of my favorites this year was Bill Hader’s Barry, which features a hit man who decides to become an actor. It could have been a solid comedy, but it pushed the drama to the point where it won over fans of Better Call Saul.
The Last O.G.
Tracy Morgan is a gift to the world, and it was super scary when he got in such a bad car accident recently. Luckily, he’s back with the irresistible Tiffany Haddish to deliver some quality sitcom dramz.
While I didn’t always “love” this show, Paul Rust and Judd Apatow’s Netflix drama ended on a fantastic note.
David Chang’s restaurant empire has earned him many ardent fans, and a couple serious critics, like writer / chef / TV producer / ex-lawyer / fashion designer / jack of all trades Eddie Huang. But in Ugly Delicious, Chang lets us see who he really is, defends his approach to food and best of all, lets his mom make fun of him at the grocery store. One of my favorite moments is when he tells his pizza-expert friends that he gets Domino’s once a month. I felt so validated.
Teenagers know what’s up, and following their cues led me to Elite. This Spanish drama focuses on a private school that brings in kids from different backgrounds on scholarship, and murder ensues. It’s a great show to jump into once you’re fresh off Riverdale.
The Good Place
Watching The Good Place is my happy place. This show is written by some of my favorite comedians, like Megan Amram and Joe Mande, and features one of my favorite people of all time, Ted Dandson. It’s imaginative, goofy, self-aware and just lovable.
The Great British Baking Show
Even after Mary Berry left the show, it managed to retain its wonderful Britishness. It’s still the star baker of my heart.