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From Wild Wild Country to Sacred Games, here are the top 10 TV shows of 2018

From Indian originals such as Sacred Games, riveting documentaries such as Wild Wild Country, and prestige dramas like The Haunting of Hill House, here are the top 10 TV shows of 2018.

weekend binge Updated: Dec 24, 2018 18:33 IST
Rohan Naahar
Rohan Naahar
Hindustan Times
Best TV Shows 2018,Best Shows 2018,Sacred Games
Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Osho and Emma Stone in stills from Sacred Games, Wild Wild Country and Maniac.

As all-encompassing as online streaming seems to have gotten in 2018, traditional networks are hardly out of the game. As far as sheer quality of content goes - and certainly, a better success ratio - HBO is still the reigning champion in television.

While Netflix and Amazon cannibalise each other with content, HBO - and to an extent, even Showtime - remains as event-driven as ever. And that’s the strategy they need to pursue if they want to stay relevant in these highly competitive times. Virtually everything is available to audiences around the world, simultaneously; at once providing them with and robbing them of choice.

But if you want to watch Game of Thrones, you know exactly when it’s on. So regardless of where you are in the world - snuggling in bed on a New York evening or groggily waking up before dawn in New Delhi - for one hour, as you watch flaming naked women fly dragons, you are united.

As with most things in the world of film and television, 2018 has been a year of change. Most notably for us, it was during this year that we got our first wave of original content produced by international players such as Netflix and Amazon. While recent CNN data suggests that local streaming sites such as Hotstar and Sony retain a majority of the audience share in the market - thanks in no small part to the sports events that they hold the rights to - local content is, unfortunately, still lagging far behind.

But there’s hope for the future. Here are the top 10 television shows of 2018, in no particular order.

Barry

Over its eight episode first season - a second was greenlit almost immediately after the premiere - Barry walks a tightrope tonally. It’s part drama, part satire and part dark comedy. And it juggles genres just as deftly as it switches tones - Barry goes from being a hitman comedy to a farce and from farce to love story, often in the same scene. There are Russian gangsters, Bolivian gangsters and cops trapped in a middle age crisis. There are jealous actresses and trigger happy soldiers. And they all come together because of Barry and his newfound passion in life: acting.

Dark Tourist

Hosted by David Farrier, a self-proclaimed poor man’s Louis Theroux, Netflix’s travel docu-series takes viewers on an unusual adventure to the world’s most dangerously morbid places. Over the course of eight episodes, the mild-mannered Farrier visits former members of Colombia’s Medellin Cartel and infiltrates a nuclear fallout zone near Fukushima. He chats with young men and women who believe they’re vampires - they’ll drink your blood to prove it - and takes a serial killer tour in the US. It’s addictive stuff.

Sharp Objects

After the release of Gone Girl - the film adaptation more than the book - author Gillian Flynn was criticised for being anti-feminist. Her protagonist (or antagonist, depending on how you choose to look at her) was a cruel psychopath, a one-woman-army out to teach a lesson to the Playboy-model-dating Ben Afflecks of the world. For decades, we’d seen men of all shapes and sizes have somewhat of a monopoly on negative characters. And then along came Gillian Flynn, and she asked, “Why can’t women be bad, too?” Amy Adams is a perfect Flynn heroine in Sharp Objects.

Sacred Games

Is there any place for decency in this world, Netflix’s first Indian original series asks, especially if the world itself is a casualty of crime, corruption and communalism? And if there isn’t, is the world worth fighting for? Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane - who share directing duties - have made a classic noir story, complete with layered central characters, a damsel in distress of a city, and corruption that goes all the way to the top. Overpowering all else, as he usually does - for no fault of his own, mind you - is Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Sacred Games brazenly exposes what India is capable of - cinematically, politically, and ethically.

Wild Wild Country

It seems like Wild Wild Country came out ages ago, doesn’t it? But despite having been released earlier in the year, Netflix’s shocking documentary series remains as controversial as ever. On several occasions, I found myself questioning the authenticity of what was unfolding on screen. And in one disturbing moment that I was utterly unprepared for, I wondered whether I wanted to continue watching at all. To an outsider, which most of us are likely to be, witnessing the sort of blind devotion that Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh’s legions of followers displayed towards him can be unsettling. As one law enforcement official says in the show, “When people are under pressure, most react out of fear.”

The First

The trailers, clips and virtually all promotional material for The First - including the poster, which bravely ignores the involvement of star Sean Penn and instead shows a rocket blasting off into space - have been misrepresenting the show. For example, The First isn’t a show about humanity’s - ahem - first manned mission to Mars - well, it is sort of about that, but not in the ways that you’d expect. Think of it as Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar - a difficult film that encapsulates everything that is right and wrong about the legendary filmmaker - but with its first act stretched out into roughly eight hours.

Maniac

The genre-hopping oddity that is Cary Joji Fukunaga’s Maniac, is a show for the patient viewer. It’s about identity and destiny. It will most definitely not work for everyone, but that’s what makes it so special. “The combination of hubris and idiocy is inconceivable,” says Sally Field’s character in one scene. I couldn’t have described the show better myself.

Eli Roth’s History of Horror

Amid the soul-sucking drudgery of 2018, there was one show that injected passion into matters that were slowly starting to become irrelevant in the larger scheme of things. While we sit here, talking about make-believe worlds and fictional characters, the Earth is being destroyed, economics are collapsing and new dictators are being born. But why don’t we, for just a few hours, unwind with director Eli Roth, who tracks down some of the most legendary names in horror movie history, and geeks out with them? Soul-sucking creatures, however, will be involved.

The Fourth Estate

Director Liz Garbus’ four-episode documentary series is quite the achievement. She gained unprecedented access into the New York Times newsroom during the first year of the Donald Trump presidency, which was - and continues to be - even in India, a highly volatile subject. The series not only provides an insiders look at how news is made (well), but also offers a glimpse into the insane situation Americans have landed themselves in.

The Haunting of Hill House

Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House is perhaps the best ghost story of the year, and maybe even the defining piece of horror of 2018. Writer Stephen King, who is undoubtedly the foremost authority on American horror and whose work has directly influenced the show, between taking potshots at President Donald Trump on Twitter, called Haunting of Hill House ‘a work of genius’. What’s scarier than a fanged ghost shrieking at your face? I’ll tell you. It’s to watch a lonely lady perform a waltz all by herself, weaving in and out of the empty hallways of her creaky old mansion - and then realising that she’s dead.

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The author tweets @RohanNaahar

First Published: Dec 24, 2018 15:37 IST