2018 in Television: A Round-Up

The FilmSoc team looks back at some of 2018’s prominent TV shows, some latest seasons and some new underrated releases.

There is no skirting around the fact that we are now well into 2019. Plenty of new and delightful shows have come out since the start of the year, and perhaps the gems of 2018 have been buried in the instant gratification of new Netflix shows coming out every other weekend. Nevertheless, the Filmsoc blog team got together towards the beginning of the year to write some flash reviews of our favourite shows of 2018. Read, reminisce, and perhaps you will wish revisit some shows that you binge-watched that one March weekend when you had an essay to write but couldn’t be bothered. Here is to more, hopefully somewhat mindful, watching in 2019!

Westworld Season 2 (Xinyi Wang)

The problem with Westworld that stood out in season two was its insistence on pulling an aha! pseudo-intellectual rug from under its audience’s feet. It remains one of the most captivating television shows out there, however it did also feel as if Nolan and Joy want to always one-up their audience: constantly challenging notions and concepts, usually leaving viewers rather confused and tired.

Season two always promises a revelation in the finale that whips its world and characters towards a new, unforeseeable direction while posing more questions – a fine, exhilarating device that is, for the most part, used brilliantly.  However, by opting for a circular narrative, working with even more timelines than before (are they simply refusing to create chronologically linear stories?), the season as a consequence suffers from narratively useless filler episodes that ultimately do not contribute to the finale, where twists edge dangerously close to “for the sake of it”. This is an issue that Westworld needs to overcome in the future.

It is not to say that the show is not a marvel in terms of production and narrative design – the episode ‘Kiksuya’ is a complete stand out that deserves all the praise it received, while the main cast continue to shine in their roles. Character arcs and dynamics are developed in interesting directions, and altogether Westworld continues its fascinating path: diving into questions of free will, humanity and cognition.

The Good Place Season 2 (Sabastian Astley)

Leading on immediately from its incredible twist, The Good Place Season 2 constantly reinvents itself, developing and transforming the show’s core concepts at an incredible rate. The show’s infusion of casual philosophy alongside an ever-developing cast, constantly evolving from episode to episode, helps to highlight The Good Place as one of the most original shows of 2018.

Call My Agent! / Dix pour cent Season 3 (Emma Davis)

This fun French television gem fills the hole in my heart that HBO’s The Newsroom left behind. As in everyone is a terrible person and shouts a lot. It’s taken an incredibly funny premise – of the slapstick and frustration comedy in French show business – and used it to tell the messy stories of mixing professional and personal lives. The third season is impressive in showing how the show can evolve from its initial case-of-the-week of a client causing trouble to commentary on the ridiculous French movie industry and geographic inequality of French society.

The End of the F***ing World (Pihla Pekkarinen)

This show is kind of like Scott Pilgrim, but with more swearing and violence. The End of the F***ing world was born from a graphic novel, and the original format seeps through the frames and graphics of the show. Alex Lawther is brilliant in his deadpan performance of a self-diagnosed teenage psychopath, and Jessica Barden, while somewhat overshadowed by Lawther, manages to lose her self-consciousness enough to portray a character so unlikeable that you end up rooting for the one who wants to kill her. Despite losing itself a little in the second half, as the macabre aesthetics are pushed aside to create a supposedly more heartfelt, yet unfortunately hollow, love story,  the cliffhanger finale ties the show together; leaving the audience with the perfect cocktail of bittersweet satisfaction. However, as a fan of self-contained TV shows, I am not thrilled about the second series currently being filmed: I have no doubt it will spoil the ambiguous ending of the first series, and am therefore doubtful the show will be able to maintain its charisma.

Riverdale Season 3 (Sabastian Astley)

Honestly, this show is the definition of nonsensical – place it against its freshman season and you will find two different productions entirely. Bizarrely enough, this is exactly what makes the latest season so extraordinary. Weaving in a cornucopia of plots – satanic cults and their use of ‘Gryphons and Gargoyles’ and a megalomaniac criminal taking over the town – throwing in musical episodes, and even an 80s-drenched flashback episode, Robert Aguirre-Sacasa suggests that there are no limits for Archie and his friends to explore. I’m sure you’d struggle to find another show that is unashamedly as strange as this.  

The Last Kingdom (Ælfwine the Precarious)

Granted the dubious honour of a Netflix purchase, The Last Kingdom’s fate was in the balance. At the BBC it was a suitably grounded and surprisingly historical venture, outshining Game of Thrones by the very murk of its lustre; much like the earlier seasons of Thrones, it is a series focused more on political machinations than flighty distractions of High Fantasy. Would Netflix sex it up with magic and mystique, kill the gylden gos with a Valyrian axe? Despite the introduction of a Norse spellstress, the thankful answer is a clear no. The Last Kingdom remains a grim, violent, and (still! vaguely!) historical traipse through Anglo-Saxon Britain.

Sharp Objects (Thomas Caulton)

Confronted with childhood traumas and her oppressive mother, tormented reporter Camille Preaker spirals into self-destruction while trying to uncover the truth about the gruesome murder of a young girl and the vanishing of another in the small Missouri town of Wind Gap, isolated in the heartlands of confederate America. The slow-burn narrative cuts deeply, maintaining an iron-fisted grip on the audience’s attention while drawing us further and further into Jean Marc-Vallee’s bleak and sultry vision. The masterful direction and unwavering visual style elevate Gillian Flynn’s source material, offering a relentless and mesmerising experience that establishes itself as one of 2018’s finest releases.

Bodyguard (Maeve Allen)

Jed Mercurio’s Bodyguard was nail-biting brilliance on the BBC. When David Budd (Richard Madden) is assigned a new role as bodyguard to the Home Secretary (Keeley Hawes), he must put aside his personal politics for her protection. Book-ended by terrifically tense scenes of attempted terrorism, this Sunday night series was a thrilling tale of forbidden love and crooked conspiracy. The story swerved and surprised, leaving the audience suspicious. Who should we trust? Is Keely really dead? When will I marry Richard Madden? It was Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: a properly perfect thriller.

The Assassination of Gianni Versace (Alexandra Petrache)

Delectable, decadent, disturbing: The Assassination of Gianni Versace carries itself magnificently, with an opulent production design and great acting all-around. Darren Criss puts on a stellar performance as Andrew Cunanan (the man who assassinated Versace) and manages to innovate his character; bringing out a new facet every episode, carving out a textbook psychopath with a lingering touch of madness. The viewer is taken on a journey that makes them feel pity, sadness, exasperation, disgust and fear. Some might even find it difficult to watch. The direction and plot are tastefully composed, albeit slightly convoluted at times. All-in-all, a great show gilded in gold, emotion and blood.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine Season 6 (Alexandra Petrache)

I must say I wasn’t sure Brooklyn Nine-Nine would manage to keep its comedic mojo for a 6th season – it somehow felt that Jake and Amy’s wedding sealed the end of the show. However, Season 6 is a bang! Slightly shy in the first episode, testing the waters with the return, it keeps picking up and even though the tone of the jokes is similar to the previous seasons, they feel refreshed and even funnier. The relationships between characters also develop and take slightly unexpected turns. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is crisper than ever before – I definitely recommend being loyal and watching on.

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