There’s been some absolutely banging TV in 2018. From the new season of Doctor Who (come on Jodie!) to the emotionally turbulent Kiri on Channel 4, to binge-worthy Netflix originals like Home and Mindhunter, to the latest iteration of Queer Eye.
Better Call Saul Season 4
Not that they are comparable (though people really love comparing them), but Better Call Saul has surpassed the dizzying heights that Breaking Bad reached in it’s climactic seasons. Better Call Saul has been climbing higher and higher since it’s incarnation, but this season Vince Gilligan and the team have really stepped up the stakes.
There’s an effortless to Better Call Saul which is rarely seen in television programmes. Gilligan takes his time letting the story unfold, there’s no rush for events to happen or for the consequences of actions to take hold. One of the story arcs this season involved the building of Gus’ underground meth lab – something which could have been completed inside one episode. Yet Better Call Saul labours over the small details – the logistics, the manpower, how the workers will live etc. It makes mountains out of molehills and is divine for doing so.
Then there is the chemistry between Jimmy and Kim. You’d be hard pressed to find an opening scene which explains the relationship between two people than the split-screen ‘Somethin’ Stupid’ pre-credits sequence. My favourite part of season 4.
BBC’s runaway success of this year is Killing Eve, the show that everyone couldn’t get enough of. As well as it’s biting sense of humour, Killing Eve was a nail bitingly tense and highly rewarding thriller. Even better – season 2 is coming in 2019.
Fresh from her magnum opus Fleabag, Phoebe Waller-Bridge created one of the most enticing, slick and darkly funny series to hit the BBC in years in the form of Killing Eve. With performances from the excellent Jodie Comer, Sandra Oh and Fiona Shaw, an incredible array of locations across Europe, and enough double crossing to keep us guessing for weeks – Killing Eve is the feminist masterpiece we’ve all been waiting for. I know I’m not the only one who was secretly hoping Villanelle and Eve were going to run off together into the sunset…
The only other thing to say about Killing Eve is that I bought a TV licence just so I could watch it and I have precisely zero regrets.
Wild Wild Country
As documentary series go, Wild Wild Country has to be the best of this year. A cult I had never before heard of, the followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh were a fascinating and disturbing people to follow. Especially Sheelah.
A good documentary needs compelling and intriguing characters, and Ma Anand Sheela, right hand woman to cult leader extraordinaire Bhagwan, is exactly that. A woman of integrity, motivation and a desire to succeed – one never knows exactly what one is getting with Sheela. At times, she seems to be a reasonable person but the stories which filter through from other Rajneesh members tell a very different story.
A tale of clashing cultures, NIMBY-ism and obsession – Wild Wild Country weaves a riveting story throughout it’s arc. Never giving away anything too soon, directors Maclain and Chapman Way keep us guessing for most the season, only to completely floor us in the last few episodes.
Bojack Horseman S5
Every season of Bojack Horseman is brilliant, because… it’s Bojack. Always ready to give us some excellent commentary on celebrity culture, depression, addiction and relationships – season 5 is no different.
Yet, in a way, season 5 is very different to all those that came before. With the added layer of dialogue surrounding the #metoo movement (coincidentally the only show that has actually used #metoo as a jumping off point rather than a cheap storyline), Bojack slides slowly from someone we identify with to someone we might all be enabling.
The more we get to know Bojack, Mr Peanutbutter, Princess Carolyn, Todd and Diane, the more we begin to see more of ourselves in each one of them. How is it that the show about a cartoon horse has become the best representation and refraction of what it means to be human?
In her first move to television, Julia Roberts starred as Heidi Bergman in Sam Esmail’s new Amazon series – Homecoming. Esmail, best known as the brain’s behind Mr Robot (also Amazon), is similar tonally to his previous work yet tackles very different issues.
Set predominantly in the Homecoming facility where military personnel are seemingly recuperating on their return from war zones, Homecoming sets up an utterly compelling dialogue about PTSD, therapy and capitalism. Roberts’ Heidi was a counsellor at the Homecoming facility which we see through flashbacks, but is now struggling to come to terms with what it is she has been a part of.
The format is integral in making Homecoming as compelling a watch as it is. Half an hour episodes mean that it never overstays its welcome, the editing is snappy and the pace never lets up. Flitting between present day and the past (with subtle differences in frame sizing) keeps the tension throughout. Roberts is phenomenal, as is Stephan James and Bobby Cannavale.
Norsemen Season 2
This little known show is the only show about Vikings you need in your life right now. Or ever. Unlike an Amazon show of the aforementioned race, Norsemen is a comedy to end of all comedies – it’s Game of Thrones meets The Office, or some other similarly odd analogy.
Focusing on a small Viking town of Norheim in 790AD and the going’s on of the people who live there, Norsemen critiques and revels in Viking culture to wildly hilarious results. After the failings of Chieftain Orm in season 1, Arvid is now in charge and he has a lot of decisions to make. Mainly regarding his love life. Combined with the pillaging and the conflicts with other tribes (mainly the now no-handed Volk), life isn’t so easy for these Vikings.
The humour is subtle and nothing short of genius. My favourite moment of the season was Volk’s henchman checking his wrist (empty of any watch as it is 790AD after all) and then stating ‘I just like to look at my wrist when people are late’.
Special Mention: Inside Number 9 Live
Making live episodes of TV is becoming a bit of a ‘thing’ right now. Eastenders have done it, TOWIE have done it, even The Simpsons have given it a shot. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see Inside Number 9‘s live episode well… actually live, but I can only imagine it must have been even better than watching it via catchup.
It’s the most meta of meta, as introspective as it can possibly be – in a way that Inside Number 9 does better than any other show. The four series strong show has a way of pulling the proverbial rug out from underneath you every single time, and the live episode is no different. It does so in a way which also makes you question what it is exactly you are watching.
Starting with a seemingly run of the mill episode (an old man trying to return a lost mobile phone to its owner) suddenly becomes something altogether different. Several programming issue cards later (provided by BBC2) it’s not clear at all whether we are watching a live show or a complete digital meltdown complete with the ghosts of Granada studios. It’s basically brilliant. This is the best way to do a live episode – Pemberton and Shearsmith have done it again.