The Best TV of 2018

Josh Larsen

The Good Place

An eschatological sitcom, The Good Place continued to be a brilliant mashup of magical wit and moral philosophy in its second and third seasons. This show is best experienced if the twists are unknown, so read ahead with caution. In Season 3, the six main characters—the "soul squad," anchored by Kristen Bell's spunky/snarky Eleanor—are given a second chance at life on Earth. While the season got off to a slow start as the humans attempted a research-based ethics project, things ramped up in the “Jeremy Bearimy” episode, a work of comic and metaphysical genius. When four of the squad members discover they've all died before and that Michael (Ted Danson) and Janet (D'Arcy Carden) are afterlife entities, the revelation sends everyone into existential crises. Yet it ultimately prompts the six strangers-turned-soulmates to help significant others on Earth reach the “Good Place.” Though critical of common (mis)conceptions of a Christian heaven and hell, The Good Place strongly affirms Christ's ethic of “love your neighbor as yourself.” Indeed, this soul squad seeks to serve people and extend grace with the dedication and methodology of Christian missionaries. (Joel Mayward)

Kim’s Convenience

While Canadian viewers have been enjoying Kim’s Convenience for a few years now, it came to Netflix in the United States in 2018. The show is notable not only because of its representation of a Korean immigrant family, but also because of the ways spirituality and church are woven into this family’s life. The affection the main characters have, not only for their immediate family (including the proud father and his distant son), but also for others in their church and community, makes them seem like the kind of people you’d want to spend time with. I especially appreciate the way their struggles with vanity and pride versus generosity and relationship sometimes take place at church functions. It’s a well-rounded representation of church life that isn’t dismissive of belief, but mines its complexities for comedy. The other relationships in the show also reveal different ways love can be expressed—among family, coworkers, and in one painfully delightful will-they-or-won’t-they romance. (Bethany Keeley-Jonker)

The Last Man on Earth

Apocalyptic stories tend to raise existential questions: who are we, why do we follow social rules, and what would it take for those rules to change? The Last Man on Earth aired its final season in 2018 after building its cast from the titular last man (Will Forte) to a small band of people with a mix of character strengths and flaws who stick together because the alternative is total isolation. Watching the characters weigh values like loyalty, mercy, justice, and care alongside very human feelings such as annoyance, bitterness, fear, and disgust led to plot developments that held a mirror to our own pettiness, as well as our capacity for love. The characters had to move past legitimate fears and hurts from past deceptions and rejections to forgive and help each other when they really needed it, in a way that reflects the attitudes God asks of us: to forgive as those who have been forgiven. What started as a silly premise—a man alone in the world making a margarita pool and hanging famous paintings in the mansion he has co-opted—ended with a small community asking themselves: what would be a good life? What would be a good society? (Bethany Keeley-Jonker)

Lodge 49

Television specializes in giving us ersatz families: workplaces, neighborhoods, and households that make us feel as if warmth and connection can be achieved every hour, on the hour. Few shows have been as open about the demon of alienation that stalks that comforting illusion as the nearly indescribable Lodge 49. Dud (played by the disarming Wyatt Russell), a Long Beach ex-surfer suffering from a snakebite that won’t heal, stumbles on a fraternal organization called the Order of the Lynx. It’s full of the detritus of mid-century respectability—salesmen, security guards, paraprofessionals—clinging to their open bar and pseudo-arcane rituals. Is there something real behind the dime-store mysticism, and can “Squire Dud” and “Luminous Knight”/plumbing salesman Ernie (Brent Jennings) find it before Lodge 1 in London shuts their underperforming chapter down? Lodge 49 conveys the yearning we feel for a glimpse behind the material veil into the true nature of things, the brief flashes of a shining reality that sociologist Peter Berger called “a rumor of angels.” But even more than mystery, the show is about the hope for community. Called together by a power unseen, we find a higher calling, a quest, and a fellowship—if we dare to believe. (Donna Bowman)


The sad spy in the suit, John Tavner, is back. Patriot, the surreal comedy-drama brainchild of Steven Conrad, is all about espionage gone wrong. While this year’s second season is darker and less whimsical than the first, it is no less skilled in its dissection of incompetency. More often than not, the bizarre situations experienced by intelligence officer Tavner (Michael Dorman) are due to the very humanity of the characters. Difficulty and serendipity alike arise out of their desire to please someone, their ambition, their pity, or their desperate need for friendship. To a backdrop of folk tunes and the Beastie Boys, Patriot slows us down to the human pace of international intrigue. The camera tightens in on each face and literally lets us see through several characters' eyes, shining a light on the image of God behind each act, revealing how we are both knit together and “deceitful above all things.” Patriot is broken and beautiful, revealing humanity as unworthy of the love of God even as it reflects him. As Leonard Cohen sang: "Ring the bells that still can ring / Forget your perfect offering / There is a crack in everything / That's how the light gets in." (Chris Wheeler)

Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj

On his new political comedy show for Netflix, Minhaj, a Daily Show alum, plays a prophetic role, challenging some of America’s most cherished idols: its warped political relationship with Saudi Arabia, its addiction to fossil fuels, its larger-than-life companies such as Amazon. Minhaj’s on-camera persona is electric, practically vibrating as he draws on the energy of his live audience, striding across the stage in a manner somewhere between a megachurch pastor and a hip-hop star. But Minhaj doesn’t only speak truth to power; he asks probing questions of a nation he clearly loves. How did we get here? What would it take for us to repent and move in a more consistent, compassionate direction? In the Bible, God proves more than capable of fielding—and abiding—Job’s queries or the psalmist’s laments disguised as questions. (“How long, Lord?”) America hasn’t proven quite as willing to take questions, or even pose them, but Minhaj asks anyhow, hoping to prod the country into becoming a better version of itself. He exhibits faithful civic engagement, showing that patriotism and constructive criticism, love and rebuke, lament and laughter, can and should live side by side. (Aarik Danielsen)

Sharp Objects

HBO’s Sharp Objects portrays our memory’s ability to reshape the past and inform the present. Adapted by Jean-Marc Vallee from Gillian Flynn’s novel, the series follows reporter Camille Preaker (Amy Adams), who returns to her Missouri hometown to investigate the murders of teenage girls. Back in the house of her troubled family, Camille grapples with inescapable trauma. Sharp Objects visualizes the persistent past with two striking motifs. Using match cuts that transition between two scenes by focusing on a similar figure from both, Vallee shows history imposing itself. When adult Camille opens the door of a shed, her teenage self (Sophia Lillis) enters, experiencing again a troubling sexual encounter. Likewise, shots lingering on scars covering Camille’s body—words like “MERCY” and “VANISH” carved into her skin—manifest her self-loathing. No matter how hard Camille wants to escape, memories dictate her identity. Sharp Objects powerfully captures the shame we all feel when haunted by past sins, a despair for which Christians have an answer. The Good News of redemption is that our scars, self-imposed or otherwise, do not define us. It is by Jesus’ wounds that we are healed, freeing us to be image-bearers of God. (Joe George)

Topics: TV