Television

The TV Club, 2018

Entry 3: I felt really starved of well-made series.

Patrick Melrose.
Patrick Melrose.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Showtime.

Wow, I’m tired. I think “I’m tired” might be the sentence I’ve said the most in 2018, actually. Reading over the titles you both are touting, there are multiple that I haven’t even seen—Lodge 49? Babylon Berlin? The Terror? I haven’t seen an episode of The Magicians in years. I feel certain that I should know what Ugly Delicious is—but maybe I’m confusing it with Nailed It! or—what’s the other one with a food-ish title—Insatiable? I reviewed at least one of those. Like so many other Netflix shows, I crammed an entire season of it into my eyeballs between the Monday to Thursday of my work week, and then barfed out a review for Friday morning, when the full season dropped. I feel like a demoted foodie: I got into this job for the filet mignon, but I’m stuck reviewing fast food.

Here’s my list. A careful observer will notice that The Tale is a movie, but I claimed it for TV because it never had a theatrical release—and because HBO did not, in my opinion, give that film the promotional campaign it called for.

1. The Good Place
2. Killing Eve
3. Atlanta
4. BoJack Horseman
5. Patrick Melrose
6. Blue Planet II
7. Pose
8. High Maintenance
9. The Tale
10. Succession

I got on a weird high horse for my list. Most of the shows that I thought about and even cried over the most this year—Sharp Objects and My Brilliant Friend being the best examples—ultimately disappointed me in some way. The final episode of Sharp Objects really, really didn’t work for me; My Brilliant Friend never quite got off the ground the way I hoped it would as a fan of the books. I avidly watched each episode of Better Call Saul, but there are whole segments of that show that I am not invested in, even though Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould still put together TV suspense like no one else. The Americans, which in all likelihood would have been my No. 11, turned in a fantastic final season of what I’ve always seen as a flawed show. There were few perfect gems out there, and yet, perfect gems are what I crave; they’re the shows I want to recommend to others. I want to call attention to work that is not just bold but also rigorous, to show-making that is exquisite and complete.

That is the best explanation I have for why Showtime’s Patrick Melrose is so high on my list, a show that in other years would have been an also-mentioned miniseries tucked somewhere behind my No. 20. In so many ways it was just a well-made series, but God, I felt really starved of well-made series.

It doesn’t help that in a scramble to locate whatever show is going to appeal to my publication’s readership, watching TV this year has felt like a futile treadmill—digging through episodes looking for treasure, with no guarantee that there is any treasure to be found. It’s like a demonic game show where the clock is always ticking. Every minute I spend watching Jack Ryan—for a review that just got me yelled at on the internet for a week straight—is a minute I don’t spend watching Random Acts of Flyness or The Little Drummer Girl, two efforts I really wanted to devote more attention to. The Friday that House of Cards came out was also the Friday that Homecoming came out—as well as the fifth episode of The Romanoffs, a new episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a new episode of Speechless, and several new episodes of unexpected ratings hit Live P.D. That’s just Friday, and that’s not even everything debuting on Netflix on just that Friday. I’m combing through one eight-hour season, trying to assess what value it has; meanwhile, a whole barge full of content is floating right by me, with who knows what buried within. And if I feel that way, I cannot imagine how hard it is for the average viewer—or maybe I can, because at Thanksgiving, they all told me. Most of my holiday season is people telling me they didn’t like the last thing they watched on Netflix. I am very extremely not shocked.

I think that my current mood amounts to just complaining, so before I continue much longer on that vein, I’ll cede my time to you, Tara. But my last observation is simply that HBO had a lock on the back half of my top 10—and as I mentioned, Sharp Objects and My Brilliant Friend were close calls for me too. What is it about HBO that its programming this year all clustered in the No. 8 to No. 15 spots for me? I really have no idea. I’m hoping one of you can tell me.

Oh, and as you can see, Todd, I did watch Jack Ryan. It was pretty dumb!

Cheers,
Sonia

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