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Retrospect: TV Shows in 2018

2018 was a really stellar time for television. Personally, it was a time of transition for me (keep up, I swear). There were a lot of great shows and in particular a lot of great comedies. Some shows seemed like they were exactly my cup of tea – like Manifest – but frankly, they didn’t click with me for one reason or another. I watched several shows that didn’t quite make the cut here but came very close, like Tidelands and Steven Universe – and some others that even had particular episodes that would have made this list but couldn’t quite get there.

This will showcase my Top 9 episodes of television shows of 2018. I judge episodes because television shows are huge, lumbering, and complicated and different people write and direct different episodes. And episodes should contain self-contained story elements and can be dated – unlike most seasons which air over months and usually arc over a year. Before I get started I have three runners up; Town Hall from Superstore, Rhonda, Diana, Jake, and Trent a season two episode of The Good Place, and the one that bummed me out the most to cut; Dreams in a Witch House which is the best episode, far-and-away of the first season of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

9. Toxic WorkplaceSuperstore

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If you haven’t been watching this NBC comedy and have an interest in labor and workers rights, get your ass on Hulu and watch this right now. A lot of people think the hook for this show is the will-they-won’t-they from the two leads, but for me, the thing that hooked me was the way they tackle workplace issues including pay gap, maternity leave, and toxic environments. This episode, in particular, sees workers being pitted against one another to keep them busy, creating fabricated tension while dealing with workplace relationships. One employee goes “above and beyond” her assigned duties with no recognition, no guidance, and how that stresses her out. It’s not a perfect episode, but it highlights a lot of what I love about the show in general.

8. The Austere Academy part 2A Series of Unfortunate Events

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My very favorite detail about the book series by Lemony Snicket is the mystery box style storytelling that takes a backseat to character arc and development (sounds an awful lot like Lost), but my second favorite thing is the meta-elements of the writing. The Austere Academy part 2 embodies these elements in a cute tongue-in-cheek way where the characters almost look at the camera in style reminiscent of The Office. This episode also makes a lot of headway into the deeper mysteries of VFD by showing a picture of the Baudelaire parents and Quagmire parents. But the most important part of this episode is that of a repeated and deeply personal phrase that should be said out loud by most people but is also incredibly powerful in these dark times. “In a world governed by corruption and arrogance, it can be difficult to stay true to one’s philosophical and literary principles.” It’s something you don’t need to hear twice.

7. What’s Past is PrologueStar Trek: Discovery

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Discovery has the best first season of any Star Trek. Fight me. Star Trek is notorious for having moderate to weak first seasons – and that’s fine and Discovery isn’t perfect by any means, but it is far and away the best first season. What’s Past is Prologue represents a significant turning point in the series where Lorca, the captain of the titular Discovery, is revealed to be from the Mirror Universe and on top of that has been plotting all along. In a clear violation of the Prime Directive Burnham dethrones the Emperor, tampers with foreign technology, has Lorca killed, destroys a massive ship, and kidnaps a Mirror version of her dead mentor. This episode is a hell of a ride and feels like the culmination of so many amazing threads. Second, to this is the end of Vaulting Ambition, the episode right before with the Lorca reveal which is an incredibly powerful and amazing moment. Yes, it is, you Discovery naysayers. You guessing a twist right before it happens means it was told correctly and the seeds were laid well.

6. Danger, Will RobinsonLost in Space

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The second Netflix Original on this list, but not the last (foreshadowing, ooh). I’ll preface this by saying I never watched the original show from the 60s, but as a youngster, I did watch the 1998 film several times – a lot of people didn’t love that take, and I have no idea why (or care) because I thought it was amazing. The new show is quite a bit different, particularly the dynamic between the robot and the family – and the show obviously expands on the need for survival and surrounds itself with otherworldly mystery but also has a serious twist with Dr. Smith. The first season is a self-contained mystery box that keeps giving by the inch in order for everything to come together in an exciting finale – this episode that ends with a brand-new mystery box that the robot had been eluding to the whole time; danger in a new galaxy.

5. A Fractured InheritanceThe Good Place

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This episode of the worlds greatest moral comedy focuses on human change in unique way. Eleanor attempts to confront her mother in an attempt to spark change from the abusive, toxic personality she used to have while raising Eleanor. But it turns out that her mother has already changed for the better and is now a good person, but instead of being happy Eleanor becomes enraged and jealous that her mother was capable of change this whole time but feels unworthy of that change. Eleanor learns to deal with this because her new step-sister will now have a happy, positive childhood. This episode is a whirlwind of emotions but really digs into what being capable of change means, and what it means to those around us. The Tahani sub-plot focuses on the relationship with her sister, which is also very touching when she realizes that the inspiration for her sister's art is the strained relationship between her and her parents, just like Tahani. If you don’t watch The Good Place (why? Why? Seriously, why?) watch this episode if you’ve gone through a dramatic behavioral change in your life to see how they may have affected people in ways you didn’t realize.

4. The BoxBrooklyn Nine-Nine

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The Box is the perfect bottle episode in a comedy. The performances by Samberg and Braugher are excellent, but the guest appearance by Sterling K. Brown is absolutely perfect. This episode contains more jokes executed to perfection than dozens of other episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which is saying something because the show fires on all cylinders constantly. In The Box a dentist is brought in with a thin alibi, motive, means, and opportunity but the DA needs something stronger; so Peralta brings him in to interrogate and to get him to confess. As Holt says during the episode; “An interrogation with a ticking clock and everything on the line.” Almost every line in this episode is a set-up or a punchline with no in-between. This is my second favorite (foreshadowing!) episode of this season, but might also be among my top five episodes in the show.

3. Locked DownOne Day at a Time

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Representation matters. Locked Down is one of my favorite episodes for a lot of reasons but the most important reason is that Penelope’s gay daughter shares a nerdy kiss with her non-binary partner on screen and that rules. We need more shows run by people brave enough to do that kind of thing and unfortunately Netflix canceled One Day at a Time which is a shame because the third season was far and away the best. In Locked Down Penelope is ready to have a date with her secret boyfriend as the rest of the family leaves for various events for the evening. She’s getting ready to get rough when everyone comes back in due to a neighborhood lockdown and an escaped convict. That’s right, this too is a bottle episode. Penelope introduces everyone to Max while Elena and Syd share their first kiss on the balcony under helicopter light.

2. Two StormsHaunting of House on the Hill

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Full stop, this show isn’t for everyone. And I get that. It can be scary, but I love that it doesn’t rely on jump scares (even though it’s got some good ones), but instead, it deals in anticipation, atmosphere, and tension. But this episode is a masterclass of all those things and visual storytelling that kicks it up to 11. The parallels that are drawn between the present story and the flashback show elegance and masterful character-driven decision making that pushes the plot to the next arc in a cunning way. As the family comes together for the funeral of their deceased sibling the haunting memories of what happened at Hill House become more clear, and these effects start to bleed into the background of the conversations in the funeral home and also in the flashbacks at Hill House. This Netflix Original (good gods, there were 4) is top notch acting, storytelling, visual appeal, and character development and if it weren’t for another show released this year, they would be my favorite dysfunctional family on television.

1. Show Me GoingBrooklyn Nine-Nine

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This episode had me in tears practically from the beginning. That doesn’t sound like praise, but I swear it is. In this episode, there’s an active shooter situation at a hotel, and Rosa responds and is involved in the situation – except none of the scenes are from Rosa’s point of view. Instead, this episode revolves around the rest of the detectives at the precinct listening in via radio as the situation unfolds and they worry about their friend from a distance. Each character struggles with not knowing, worrying, and dealing with the stress of not knowing whether she’ll come out alive. I love Jake, and I think his evolution as a character has really hit home for me in a way that no other character can and this episode sort of spotlights that change in responsibility and as a pseudo-leader. He’s not in charge, but everyone likes him, and he’s friendly to just about everyone (more thoughts on this in a future post), and the rest of the squad looks up to him. But this episode shows his struggle, and it’s something that a lot of people suffer from; wanting to do something or fix something. After hearing about Rosa, Jake’s first instinct is to fix the problem by getting a bunch of guns and driving to the shoot out against the captain’s orders. But the reality is that Jake needs to be there to help the others through their struggle and their pain – he comes to realize that that’s the best thing he can do as a leader and as a friend. So, he orders a dozen pizzas and offers to be there. It’s something we all need to learn, but more importantly, this is an inherent toxic masculinity trait that a lot of men deal with and need to learn to quell.

Now that we’ve gone through shows, books, and board games the only thing I have left for 2018 is movies which I’ll get to soon. Thanks for sticking with me, I’ll do a progress update soon – I swear. March has been crazy productive.

Will Sobel