As usual at this time of year, TMINE is busily packing its bags to get ready for its annual Christmas break. We’re not there yet, though, as everything will continue until Friday.
But barring minor miracles, unless it turns out Chicago ILL, Dogs of Berlin or Tideland have been cruelly overlooked, there’ll be no shows that are both new and excellent for me to review this year, which means I can at last unveil this year’s TMINE’s Top N programmes, where N is a positive integer that I’ve more or less picked at random each year. This year, N=14, you’ll be excited to hear. Can you guess what they are?
There’s certainly been some interesting new arrivals, whose presence in the Top N you’ll probably have been able to predict in advance – I’ve certainly dropped a few hints throughout the year. But there’s a few surprises in there, I think.
As always, a caveat: I’ve not watched every TV programme broadcast or acquired in the UK this year and I barely watched any live TV, so there are almost certainly some good shows that that I’ve left off the list. There’s also a show or two that got made ages ago but which never made it to the UK or my viewing queue until this year, so it’s entirely possible some quite oldies have made it onto the 2018 list. And, of course, there are a few shows that started well but I’ve not finished yet, so aren’t eligible for the list (honourable mention to the likes of Plan Cœur, for example)
So best not to think of this as the definitive “Best new TV shows from around the world of 2018″, so much as just the top “TMINE would recommend to a friend shows of the ones I’ve watched in 2018”.
As always, too, feel free to leave your own recommendations in the comments, on your own blog or on the TMINE Facebook page. Just for reference, here are previous years’ Top Ns:
And now, to the top N…
Impulse (YouTube Premium)
Just a year ago, YouTube Red as it was then was pumping out complete rubbish with budgets barely worth of a short video on… YouTube. This year, YouTube Red rebranded as YouTube Premium and also hit the big time with not one but two highly impressive shows.
Impulse sees Maddie Hasson playing mardie teenage girl Henrietta (aka Henry) who’s moved to the small town of Weston in New York state with her single mum (Missi Pyle). Dad left years ago and now commitment-phobe Pyle moves from guy to guy looking for ‘the one’ who might be good to both her and Hasson. She’s found a possible keeper – widower Matt Gordon – who has his own teenage daughter (Sarah Desjardins) and all would be fine, were it not for Hasson’s extreme mardiness and the fact she’s starting to have fits that doctors are finding hard to diagnose.
Hasson hooks up with local sporting hero Tanner Stine, but when things start moving too quickly for her, she asks him to stop… but he won’t, causing her to fit again. However, this time her fit somehow crushes the truck they’re in, paralysing Stine and instantly transporting Hasson back to her bedroom, along with bits of the truck. What’s going on? What will happen to Hasson? What will happen to Stine? And how will Hasson’s new ability to teleport evolve?
However, Impulse is more like a season of Friday Night Lights than anything very sci-fi – it even looks like it, too. Indeed, it’s very rarely a series about teleportation, instead being an intimate, sometimes moving examination of small town life and how a sexual assault can affect it, the importance of sports, the difficulties of family relationships, the difficulties of integrating two families with teenage children and the difficulties (and simplicities) of being an outsider.
It’s also a crime story and although you might not realise it until the very end of the season, it’s also a superhero origin story. I really enjoyed it and would thoroughly recommend it for anyone who likes their sci-fi to be thoughtful and based around people as well as ideas.
Episode reviews: Season 1
Cobra Kai (YouTube Premium)
Who’d have thought a sequel to the 80s martial arts franchise The Karate Kid with most of the original cast would be so good?
Overall, it’s like a mature, moderately more realistic and nuanced reworking of The Karate Kid from the point of view of the bad guys at the Cobra Kai. It shows why downtrodden kids might embrace the bad while still thinking they’re good, because at least they don’t get mistreated any more by the mean kids. It also shows how history can repeat itself, sometimes deliberately, sometimes because past events end up funnelling us into certain types of behaviour. Good can become bad, bad can become good, but everyone still has shades of grey. But you’ve got to have a code or else you’ll go astray.
It’s also properly funny at times, such as one scene in about episode seven or eight that ends up with breakfast. I won’t say more, but it’s how they get to breakfast that makes it work.
While the coordination of the karate fights is a little clumsy and the karate seems to almost become capoeira at times, Cobra Kai also manages to not only rework the movie’s plot and homage it, but to honour its karate philosophy. There’s also a lovely tribute episode to Pat Morita and while Elisabeth Shue doesn’t make a reappearance, other actors from the movie do and are very welcome, and Shue’s character is actually well referenced by the plot. Plus Ed Asner cameos.
I have to say, I was really impressed by the whole season. It’s a genuinely good bit of television, as well as something that respects its source material while not repeating it or sticking slavishly to it. The set-up for the second season (already commissioned) is really good, and I’m also hoping for fine things from the LaRusso daughter next season, too, given her display towards the end.
The Haunting of Hill House (Netflix)
Supposedly a remake of both the original book of the same name and classic movie The Haunting, The Haunting of Hill House is more a masterclass in and sampling of techniques to tell slow-burn horror without recourse to simple ‘quiet, quiet, bang’ techniques. Set in two different time periods, it sees a family move into an old house in the 90s to renovate it and sell it off; in modern times, however, we know that some terrible things have happened, leaving everyone either dead or permanently traumatised. The series then shows us what happened in the past and how that past is now catching up with the present.
It’s been a long while since I’ve watched anything that genuinely frightened me. The Haunting of Hill House was that show and while there are mistakes and a divisive ending, if you fancy being scared witless by intelligent horror, this is the programme to do it.
The Punisher (Netflix)
Unplanned-for spin-off from Netflix’s Marvel’s Daredevil that sees The Walking Dead‘s Jon Bernthal play the titular anti-hero/vigilante who only wants a quiet life below the radar until he learns that something he did in Afghanistan while still a marine might have been the cause of his family’s murder. Naturally, he takes matters into his own hands and seeks to punish the bad guys. However, not being a superhero, just a well armed man with special forces training, that’s not as easy as he thinks it will be, even with former NSA programmer Ebon Moss-Bachrach to help him.
While other Netflix Marvel shows were focused on more obviously diverse characters, The Punisher initially seemed like it would simply be an appeal to the alt-right and ‘angry white men’. However, it actually turned out to be an interesting musing on men, class and the nature of soldiering, with long scenes simply about men talking about their feelings. While the show overall is quite meandering, it’s scenes like this that give it a real centre and real meaning, when it could have been something so much less.
If you don’t mind The Punisher not doing much punishing but working out how to be a good father, then The Punisher is a surprisingly smart affair that’s worth watching.
Episode reviews: season 1
Just as YouTube Premium proved it could produce noteworthy programming this year, Amazon finally showed it could produce an entire series, not just a couple of episodes, of high quality TV. Homecoming may have a flimsy plot, but in the hands of Mr Robot‘s Sam Esmail, it’s a breathtaking visual delight. It sees Julia Roberts playing a psychiatrist at a facility for helping returned veterans deal with PTSD. But we also see a few years later when a complaints investigator turns up to Roberts’ new place of work, a coastal diner, wanting to know what happened to one particular vet. Was Roberts up to no good? Is she covering something up? Or is something else happening?
As well as visual homages and trickery from Esmail, the show has one of the best soundtracks around, carefully culled from numerous classic movies, so you’re in for a musical treat as well.
Episode reviews: season 1
Mystery Road (Australia: ABC; UK: BBC Four)
Follow-up mini-series to the movie of the same that sees impressive, implacable man-mountain Aaron Pedersen playing an aboriginal detective from the big city investigating the disappearance of a backpacker in a small rural town. An incisive look at communities and which social groups are open and accept other social groups, it’s also a socio-economic and historical examination of Australian life, as well as a visual treat.
Mr InBetween (Australia: Showcase)
Cracking debut piece by Scott Ryan that sees Ryan playing a criminal ‘odd jobs’ man. Need a debt recovered? He’s your man. Need someone killed and the body disposed of? He’s your man.
The show’s interest is in a man who seems all smiles until the moment of truth. He’s a decent enough father to his child, whom he still manages to spend time with, despite the divorce. He keeps a dog, plays video games at home and is willing to do a mate a big favour if he needs it – like ‘admitting’ to his mate’s Russian wife that that DVD of porn she found was actually his, not her husband’s. He even helps with the care of his brother, who’s in the early stages of motor neurone disease.
But when it’s time to roll, he’ll do what’s necessary and he’s terrifying. When a young protégé on his first job starts roughly up an ordinary man who can’t pay, Ryan simply gets the man’s wallet out, looks up the address and pockets the family photo he finds, still smiling. It’s enough to get the money.
The six episode pass very quickly and Ryan’s writing is impressive enough to attract the great and the good of Australian acting. But it’s Ryan himself and his mesmerising performance are the key to the show’s success.
Au service de la France (A Very Secret Service) (France: Arte; UK: Netflix)
A sort of Mad Men meets W1A set in the world of spying. Hugo Becker (Baron Noir) plays a naïve idealistic Frenchman recruited to the French secret service, after which he’s instantly submerged in the bureaucracy of an organisation that’s got certain old-school ideas, as well as almost Kafka-esque rules of its own
The show sends up French attitudes of the era, with several episodes involving yet another (always unnamed) African colony of France wanting independence and everyone except Becker being astonishingly, ludicrously racist about Africans (“Without French doctors, how will you survive?” “We have doctors of our own”). Everyone’s surprised that Becker can speak languages other than French, and when it turns out that the best agent in the service is actually the glamorous Joséphine de La Baume, her boss is considered mad for wanting to promote her.
Becker’s appealing, the rest of the cast amusing, and the script is subtler and sparkier than you might expect.
Happy! (US: Syfy; UK: Netflix)
When Happy! first started, it seemed a relatively obvious bit of Grant Morrison dadaism. “I know, let’s partner a gritty, hard-boiled killer and a cute little flying unicorn! Imagine the meta-fun and the explicit violence we can have!” But after eight episodes, the series is a shoo-in for this year’s list of TMINE’s Top Shows. How did this come to be?
The show’s has two strands. About 50% is Christopher Meloni staggering around as a Very Bad Detective, pulling faces and generally sending up the conventions of grimdark comics, all in a small-screen version of Crank – you know, the nice Jason Statham movie. Here the show is incredibly violent, profane and sexually edgy. I’m surprised it was allowed on basic cable, to be honest.
The other 50% of the show slowly evolves into Toy Story 3. It doesn’t start that way, with Happy the imaginary flying Unicorn-Donkey more irritating and Scrappy Doo-ish than genuinely cute. It doesn’t help that his CGI is a bit of a work in progress, either. But by about episode three, little Happy is a genuinely lovely character and a source of a very sweet form of humour. And better animated.
Combined, those strands give you a show that’ll have you wincing, laughing and even weeping buckets of tears for a sock (no, really). Give it a watch – give it at least three, maybe four episodes to hit its stride – and you’ll have a great time.
Counterpart (US: Starz; UK: StarzPlay on Amazon Prime)
A cold war between two opposing superpowers who face off against each in Berlin. The twist? The two superpowers are parallel Earths and everyone has a ‘counterpart’ who’s just like them, including mild-mannered JK Simmons. Or are they identical? Have the two universes diverged? If so why? And if we could meet each other, would be our own best friend or our own worst enemy?
Generally superb bit of spying that has a drop in quality in episode two, but is otherwise excellent. Give it a whirl, assuming you can get through all the hoops needed to watch it.
Corporate (US: Comedy Central; UK: Comedy Central UK)
Without a doubt the funniest Comedy Central programme I’ve ever seen, Corporate is a biting, nihilistic look at working for a giant corporation. Starring show creators and writers Matt Ingebretson and Jake Weisman as two junior executives at a genuinely evil mega-corporation, the shows alternates between pastiching the soul-destroying, abusive nature of corporate culture and the desire for the sweet release of death from said culture. Also in the cast are Lance Reddick (The Wire, Fringe) as the company CEO and Anne Dudek (House, Covert Affairs) as one of our ‘heroes’ mid-level bosses.
You (US: Lifetime; UK: Netflix)
Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl because she’s the one and they’re made for each other. It’s the plot of every good romcom and Gossip Girl‘s Penn Badgley certainly thinks he’s Harry in When Harry Met Sally. Except he’s actually a murderous stalker in a surprisingly smart series about male entitlement and patriarchy and he’ll do anything to protect her, even from herself. The show has you wanting the two to get together, so conditioned are we by rom-coms, as Badgley goes through the normal motions of chasing the girl of his dreams; it’s just we also don’t want them to get together because we can guess what might happen when reality and fantasy collide.
The Terror (US: AMC; UK: AMC UK)
The first season of this sci-fi/horror anthology show is an odd choice: a period drama that’s a twist on the lost expedition of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror to find the northwest passage, where the two ships end up trapped and facing something out in the ice and snow. Despite that being the show’s ostensible terror, however, the show’s real horror comes from the bleak, lifelessness of the unforgiving landscape and what people will do to survive.
Episode reviews: season 1
Titans (US: DC Universe; UK: Netflix)
The first programme from the US’s nascent DC Universe streaming service is actually a surprisingly credible and interesting look at some of the DC comic book world’s lesser known heroes, as well as some of its more important ones but from a different perspective than the one we’re used to at the movies. It sees original Batman sidekick Dick Grayson shed his Robin persona to become a Detroit police detective. However, it’s not long before he’s having to protect a teenage girl – who has somewhat demonic qualities – from a whole bunch of people who want her dead (or worse). Along for the ride is an alien who’s lost her memory (Starfire) and a new, shapechanging hero (Beastboy) who lives with some odd friends.
The first episode is excellent and after a few bumpy episodes caused by some bad choices of villains and supporting heroes, as well as some standalone episodes designed to launch other DC Universe shows such as Doom Patrol, the show quickly soars off to become one of the current members of TMINE’s Recommended Viewing list. I mean it’s got Wonder Girl in it from episode 8 onwards, so how could it not be?
Be warned, though – not only is it surprisingly sweary, its fight scenes are impressively gritty and there’s a lot of blood, so it’s not one for the young comics fan, who’d be better off watching Teen Titans Go To The Movies.