TV’S BEST AND BRIGHT­EST

In the wealth of of­fer­ings, 25 shows stand out

USA TODAY US Edition - - LIFE - Kelly Lawler

Here’s to the year in tele­vi­sion. ❚ The small screen brought us more than one quirky as­sas­sin, a turd bur­glar, a prison break, births, deaths, big hair, big beards and the end of the Cold War, in a man­ner of speak­ing. ❚ With the ex­plo­sion of con­tent from broad­cast, cable, and stream­ing, the sheer amount of TV was so over­whelm­ing, you might have missed some of the most thrilling and beau­ti­ful se­ries. ❚ Among hun­dreds of shows this year, here are 25 that stood out from the rest. If you try re­ally, re­ally hard, you might be able to get through them over your hol­i­day break. ❚ OK, maybe not, but it’s a nice to-do list for 2019 (be­fore all the new shows start in Jan­uary, that is). 1. ‘The Amer­i­cans’ (FX)

One of the best TV shows of the past decade, “The Amer­i­cans” de­liv­ered a swan-song sea­son with more sub­tlety and grace than even its most de­voted fans thought pos­si­ble. “The Amer­i­cans” was a se­ries about in­ter­na­tional es­pi­onage, and the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of the spy­craft it de­picted play out on the po­lit­i­cal stage even to­day. But it was also a deeply per­sonal drama about mar­riage and fam­ily, about who and what de­mands our loy­alty, and whether in­di­vid­u­als mat­ter more or less than a cause. Ever the re­al­ists, writ­ers Joe Weis­berg and Joel Fields of­fered no an­swers to these big ques­tions, but the stun­ning se­ries fi­nale achieved clo­sure none­the­less.

2. ‘The Good Fight’ (CBS All Ac­cess)

It’s worth sub­scrib­ing to CBS All Ac­cess if only to see this spinoff of “The Good Wife,” which has sur­passed its pre­de­ces­sor in so many ways. Dozens of se­ries have strug­gled for rel­e­vancy since the 2016 elec­tion by name-drop­ping Pres­i­dent Trump, but “Good Fight” is the only se­ries that cap­tures the ex­haus­tion of our cur­rent chaotic cul­tural mo­ment. That feat is thanks to the writ­ing of cre­ators Michelle and Robert King and the per­for­mance of star Chris­tine Baran­ski, who still finds new shades to at­tor­ney Diane Lock­hart even after play­ing her for nine years.

3. ‘Amer­i­can Van­dal’ (Net­flix)

Net­flix’s mock­u­men­tary be­gan in 2017 as a pitch­per­fect par­ody of true-crime doc­u­men­taries, equal parts hi­lar­i­ous and evis­cer­at­ing as two teen film­mak­ers in­ves­ti­gated a high school prank. Sea­son 2 was all that and so much more, shift­ing to in­ves­ti­gate a se­ries of ex­cre­ment-re­lated “pranks” that were both a great source of scat­o­log­i­cal jokes and more se­ri­ous crimes. Laced in with poop puns and con­spir­acy the­o­ries was a shock­ingly deep por­trayal of the lone­li­ness of ado­les­cence. “Van­dal” of­fers the kind of em­pa­thy rarely given to teenagers, on­screen and in their real lives.

4. ‘Es­cape at Dan­nemora’ (Show­time)

With Ben Stiller be­hind the cam­era and Pa­tri­cia Ar­quette in front of it, Show­time could do no wrong in its fic­tion­al­ized retelling of the 2015 prison break in up­state New York. Seven re­mark­ably taut, thrilling and heart­break­ing episodes make “Dan­nemora” an ac­com­plish­ment that is so much bet­ter than you might have ex­pected when it was an­nounced that this scan­dalous story was get­ting the Hol­ly­wood treat­ment.

5. ‘Killing Eve’ (BBC Amer­ica)

There is a unique joy in find­ing a new tele­vi­sion show that com­pletely sur­prises you, from its writ­ing to its per­for­mances to its di­rec­tion to the names on the poster. San­dra Oh, long rel­e­gated to best-friend roles, fi­nally got the star turn she de­serves as a messy spy, with Jodie Comer’s as­sas­sin as a foil that could match her pow­er­ful act­ing. The spy vs. hit­woman drama had a tiny au­di­ence, but its sup­port­ers were loud enough to send Oh and writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge to the Emmy Awards. The big­gest crime of the year is that they missed out on the prizes.

6. ‘One Day at a Time’ (Net­flix)

The fam­ily sit­com is alive and well these days, but none is bet­ter than this re­boot of the Nor­man Lear clas­sic. A cel­e­bra­tion of the multi-cam­era for­mat, in which episodes are filmed in front of a live au­di­ence, “One Day” is also a cel­e­bra­tion of love. When the se­ries took a more somber turn in the ex­quis­ite Sea­son 2 fi­nale, the writ­ing still kept its in­cred­i­ble heart and hope even as the char­ac­ters (and view­ers) cried buck­ets.

7. ‘The Good Place’ (NBC)

Three sea­sons in, the lov­able quar­tet at the cen­ter of NBC’s ex­is­ten­tial sit­com are still on a quest to be good peo­ple. The se­ries it­self, how­ever, has no trou­ble be­ing good. Just re­newed for a fourth sea­son, “Good Place” has a re­mark­able abil­ity to rein­vent it­self as it races through plot and planes of ex­is­tence, main­tain­ing whip-smart writ­ing and af­fect­ing per­for­mances along the way. The only show that can make phi­los­o­phy both re­lat­able and hi­lar­i­ous, watch­ing “Good Place” feels like go­ing on an ad­ven­ture.

8. ‘The As­sas­si­na­tion of Gianni Ver­sace: Amer­i­can Crime Story’ (FX)

Com­pared with its O.J. Simp­son­themed pre­de­ces­sor, the new in­stall­ment of FX’s true-crime an­thol­ogy se­ries landed a bit qui­etly, but it was no less art­ful. The op­er­atic and tragic story of spree killer An­drew Cu­nanan (Dar­ren Criss, in an Emmy-win­ning turn) gave equal at­ten­tion to his most fa­mous vic­tim, fash­ion de­signer Ver­sace, and the or­di­nary men who had their lives cut short. Told in re­v­erse chrono­log­i­cal or­der, Cu­nanan’s life and crimes only be­came more dev­as­tat­ing as the show went on.

9. ‘Crazy Ex-Girl­friend’ (CW)

The bal­lad of Re­becca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) is about to come to an end, and it’s a bit­ter­sweet prospect for fans of CW’s mu­si­cal dram­edy. The se­ries’ fourth and fi­nal sea­son be­gan with just as many pret­zels and mu­sic videos as be­fore, but as “Crazy Ex” winds down, it has be­come a qui­eter jour­ney for Re­becca. Still, you can’t help but root for some peace and sta­bil­ity in her life, as she comes to terms with her iden­tity. Even with­out as much schem­ing and twist­ing as be­fore, the se­ries re­mains sharp as ever.

10. ‘Su­per­store’ (NBC)

We should all pay more at­ten­tion to “Su­per­store.” NBC’s sit­com about em­ploy­ees at a big-box store in St. Louis is akin to “Cheers,” a work­ing­class com­edy that doesn’t pan­der or pa­tron­ize. The se­ries has been re­li­ably hi­lar­i­ous, thanks in large part to an ex­cel­lent cast in­clud­ing Amer­ica Fer­erra, Ben Feld­man, Lau­ren Ash and Nico San­tos (who also stole scenes in “Crazy Rich Asians” this year). The se­ries has grown tremen­dously, re­mind­ing view­ers that “will they/won’t they” re­la­tion­ships can still be funny and ro­man­tic, and that sit­coms don’t have to be de­press­ing to be smart.

PATRICK HARBRON/FX

“The Amer­i­cans” stars Matthew Rhys and Keri Rus­sell.

EL­IZ­A­BETH FISHER/CBS

Chris­tine Baran­ski leads “The Good Fight.”

TYLER GOLDEN/NET­FLIX

Tyler Al­varez and Jimmy Ta­tro on “Amer­i­can Van­dal.”

TYLER GOLDEN/CW

Rachel Bloom stars in CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girl­friend.”

SO­PHIE MUTEVELIAN

BBC Amer­ica gave us “Killing Eve” with San­dra Oh.

SO­PHIE MUTEVELIAN/BBC/BBC STU­DIOS 2018

Jodie Whit­taker is the Doc­tor.

‘Es­cape’s’ Beni­cio Del Toro

Edgar Ramirez

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