The Best TV Shows of 2018 (So Far)

Photo: Netflix, FX and Showtime

In the past, Vulture has traditionally shared a list of the best TV shows of the year so far at around the midpoint in the 365-day calendar. Last year, we did the same thing but continually updated the list on a monthly basis, both as a service to readers and also to help us keep our TV clutter properly organized. (The shows that didn’t “spark joy,” Marie Kondo–like? Those didn’t make the cut.)

For 2018, we’re making another change: We’re starting the process earlier by publishing our “best TV shows so far” list at the end of April. Why? Because, as illustrated by the fact that the summer movie season basically started while it was still snowing in parts of New York, traditional methods of marking time have lost all meaning. So we may as well go ahead and get this thing started.

A quick note about our selection methodology: Nonfiction and scripted series are both eligible, but only after a season has aired in its entirety. (That’s why surefire picks like Atlanta, The Americans, and The Handmaid’s Tale aren’t included just yet.) Because the focus is on this calendar year, shows that debuted in 2017 and ran into this year were ruled out if more than half of the season’s episodes debuted prior to January 1. This is a consensus list by both Jen Chaney and Matt Zoller Seitz, whose individual lists at the end of this year may differ.

The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (FX)

Producer-director Ryan Murphy’s most uncompromising, mysterious, off-putting, ultimately devastating mini-series is the story of an assassin’s journey through misery and derangement that doubles as an expose of American homophobia in the 1990s. The most daring thing about it is its structure, which starts with the killing of Gianni Versace and works its way gradually backward through time, a gambit that cements a feeling of awful inevitability even as it explores cultural root causes. —Matt Zoller Seitz

The Chi (Showtime)

Lena Waithe’s drama about a working-class, predominantly black Chicago neighborhood is the kind of drama that’s barely made anymore. Taking its cues from Robert Altman, Spike Lee, and such life-of-the-city ensembles as The Wire and Treme, it is driven almost entirely by characterization and atmosphere, interlinking narratives by theme and feeling and not solely by the whims of plot. —MZS

Divorce (HBO)

After a patience-trying first season, Divorce returned for its sophomore year with Jenny Bicks, formerly of Sex and the City, as showrunner; central couple Frances (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Robert (Thomas Haden Church) officially divorced and trying to co-parent while pursuing new romances; and a lighter, funnier touch that didn’t shy away from how complicated it is to undo an “I do.” Divorce may be about a marriage that can’t be salvaged, but as a series, it has patched things up quite nicely. —Jen Chaney

Flint Town (Netflix)

Cinematographers Zackary Canepari, Jessica Dimmock, and Drea Cooper spent a year embedded with the police department of Flint, Michigan, but what they ended up with was deeper and more delicate than a portrait of a town shattered by water pollution, governmental incompetence, and financial neglect, as valuable as that would’ve been on its own. Charting the everyday effects of politics on everyday citizens (including police officers who are more often asked to be social worker than enforcers), this docuseries is a straightforward portrait of how race and class affect our perceptions of everything from mundane traffic stops and delinquency to police brutality. —MZS

Jesus Christ Superstar (NBC)

Just try watching this staging of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s musical without getting the images as well as the music stuck in your head. The sheer energy of this production, co-directed by Alex Rudzinski and David Leveaux, would’ve been arresting on its own — sung-through musicals might be better suited for live television than ones with a book, though it’s not always easy to tell because of all the commercial breaks — but the scrupulous attention paid to camera movement, lighting, and staging puts it over the top. John Legend’s Jesus, Brandon Victor Dixon’s Judas, Sara Bareilles’s Mary Magdalene, Norm Lewis’s Caiphas, and Jin Ha’s Annas round out a multicultural cast of lead actors with matinee-idol quality. The climactic image of the crucified Jesus disappearing into the cosmos, his departure matted by a cross made from slowly converging rectangles, is a stunner. —MZS

One Day at a Time (Netflix)

The revamped Norman Lear comedy continues to set a reboot gold standard at a moment when we’re swimming in reincarnated TV shows. Like season one, the second season uses the traditional sitcom format to explore everyday problems (teaching kids the value of a dollar) as well as more serious social ones, like gun control and the stigma around mental health. Every episode is funny and warm, but never feels as though the material is being dumbed down for mass consumption. It’s the rare show that’s simultaneously comforting and challenging. It also has a great cast, including the legendary Rita Moreno — come on, it gets no better than that! — and a season finale that will crack your heart in two, then sew it back together again. —JC

On My Block (Netflix)

It’s rare that you encounter a situation comedy that feels as wholly new as On My Block, created by Awkward’s Lauren Iungerich, along with Eddie Gonzalez and Jeremy Haft. Set in a South Central Los Angeles neighborhood and starring a cast of young actors of color, this uncategorizable and very addictive series somehow manages to combine the madcap energy of Seinfeld and Malcolm in the Middle with a gritty, tender strain of urban melodrama. The core cast might be the next-generation, multicultural answer to Freaks and Geeks. —MZS

Queer Eye (Netflix)

Is the updated version of the Bravo reality series intentionally manipulative? Yes. Does that make it less enjoyable or heartening to watch the five new Queer Eye experts help men become their better selves while accepting gay men into their lives? For the most part, no. This socially conscious–lite makeover show wants you to cry, and it’s so charming and heartfelt in its intentions and execution that you do, without hesitation. One could argue that a divided America needed Queer Eye to prove that conservatives and progressive can bridge the gulfs between them, and maybe that’s true. I’d also argue we needed a series that forced us to have both an intense discussion about culinary expert Antoni Porowski and that answered the question, “Is it possible that a firefighter who looks like a cross between Chris Hemsworth and Smith Jerrod from Sex and the City actually works in the small town of Covington, Georgia?” with a resounding yes. —JC

Seven Seconds (Netflix)

This short-lived crime drama from The Killing creator Veena Sud is about the effect of one death on a community, but it’s suffused with the sort of workaday grit and attention to social reality that evoked Sidney Lumet thrillers about civic corruption like Prince of the City, The Verdict, and Q&A. The storytelling balances elements of the police procedural, the panoramic 19th-century novel, and the ’40s movie melodrama, and the whole comes together beautifully in an ending that offers some measure of redress for grieving people but also an awareness that problems that have been festering in the body politic for generations can’t be waved away. The entire cast is impressive, and Regina King’s turn as the mother of a boy killed in a hit-and-run accident is a standout. —MZS

This Close (Sundance Now)

An under-the-radar charmer, This Close is a romantic dramedy whose most important relationship is the platonic one between best friends Kate (Shoshannah Stern), who’s engaged to a guy that may not be right for her, and Michael (Josh Feldman), who is gay and struggling with a recent breakup. What makes it groundbreaking is the fact that both characters are deaf, a fact that defines how they relate to each other and the world around them, but also is just one of many adjectives that could be used to describe these multifaceted characters. This Close is observant, well-acted, and, in what really counts as high praise given the persistence these days of TV bloat, a concise binge-watch that does precisely what it needs to do in just six 30-minute episodes. —JC

Wild Wild Country (Netflix)

You’ve really got to cross a lot of hurdles to qualify as one of the more bonkers things on TV right now. But Wild Wild Country, a docuseries that dissects the bizarre tale of the clash between the Rajneeshees, members of a religious community that settled in Oregon in the 1980s, and the locals increasingly disturbed by their presence, more than leaps over them. If each episode were nothing more than just a basic recounting of the WTF moments in this saga — wait, Rajneeshee leaders contaminated local salad bars and poisoned well over 700 people in one of the largest bioterrorist attacks in U.S. history? — it would still be pretty absorbing to watch. But sibling directors Chapman and Maclain Way treat all of their subjects with respect, making the viewers constantly question their perspective on the villains and victims in this story. —JC

The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling (HBO)

Overseen by writer-director Judd Apatow, one of countless artists mentored by the late Garry Shandling, Zen Diaries is no mere biography or delayed wake, but a consideration of what it means to commit to being a complex and ever-evolving artist, and a mensch on top of it all. Although the production is aided immensely by what looks like complete access to Shandling’s professional and personal archives (including never-before-seen photos, home movies, letters and diary pages), it is ultimately Apatow’s control of tone and rhythm that makes the entire thing sing. It’s acerbic, compassionate, tough-minded and inquisitive — or maybe you could call it Shandlingeseque. —MZS

The Best TV Shows of 2018 (So Far)