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What was the best TV of 2018?

As 2018 comes to a close, we continue our review of its best art. Two TV critics, NPR’s Eric Deggans and Vanity Fair’s Sonia Saraiya, join Jeffrey Brown discuss the year’s highlights in TV, both traditional and otherwise.

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  • William Brangham:

    It's the start of a long holiday weekend, and that likely means you and your family might be doing some binge watching in the coming days.

    So it's a perfect time for Jeffrey Brown to give us a sampling of the year's best TV, traditional and otherwise.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    It's utterly impossible for anyone to keep up with all the offerings on television and streaming these days, but we have asked the impossible of two leading TV critics, to give us a few of the year's best.

    Eric Deggans is with NPR. And Sonia Saraiya is with "Vanity Fair."

    Welcome back to both of you.

    So, we asked you for your list. You both had "Killing Eve," which is ®MD-BO¯BBC America.

    Eric, you start. Why did you love that one?

  • Eric Deggans:

    So this is an espionage show that turns every convention about espionage thrillers on its head.

    Sandra Oh is amazing as this sort of desk-bound low-level worker for British intelligence who somehow figures that how to track this amazing super assassin played by Jodie Comer, and somehow they have this mutual attraction, that they're attracted to each other in a way.

    And they're — a cat-and-mouse game kind of evolves where they're each trying to catch each other and trying to avoid each other. And I just think it's a wonderful subversion of all these espionage thriller tropes that we…

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    OK, we have got a short clip. Let's take a look.

  • Sandra Oh:

    I said it was probably a woman. Victor Kedrin was a misogynist and a sex trafficker. He may not have considered a passing woman a threat. She must have been able to get close.

  • Actress:

    Thank you. Thank you, Eve.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Sonia, why did you love this one?

  • Sonia Saraiya:

    Just the fact that it's a woman tracking another woman. And then, of course, Jodie Comer, who plays the assassin, figures out that this woman is trying to catch her. And so she starts, like, stalking her back.

    And there's something really interesting there about the way that women compete with each other, which is a different sort of subtle kind of aggression. And I think the show is, like, very funny, actually, in how it presents these two women competing and sort of trying to one-up each other.

    It's a very fun, very unpredictable show in that way.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    OK, so out of the, let's say, millions, Eric, give us one or two other favorites.

    Eric Deggans So I loved "Barry," which is a show on HBO by Bill Hader, who used to be on "Saturday Night Live."

    And he plays this guy who's sort of working as a low-level assassin. And he decides he wants to try being an actor when he follows a guy that he's supposed to kill into an acting class. And it's the darkest of dark comedies, but somehow Bill Hader makes it work.

    I also loved "Homecoming," this wonderful show starring Julia Roberts on Amazon, where she plays this woman who's kind of a frazzled middle management person running a program that's corporate-run, but funded by the government that's supposed to be helping U.S. soldiers.

    But, slowly, she figures out there's a dark side to the program. It's a wonderful, fast-paced, short-episode drama.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    OK, Sonia, what have you got for us?

  • Sonia Saraiya:

    So, my favorite show of the year is "The Good Place," which is now in its third season on NBC.

    It's a network sitcom where everyone's died, which is a really weird premise. But Kristen Bell is the lead. And the demon that is imprisoning them in hell, more or less, called the Bad Place on the show, is played by Ted Danson, you know, TV comedy veteran.

    It's a really funny, really weird show about existential crises. All of the characters have to grapple with the fact that they weren't good when they were alive, and that's why they're in the Bad Place. But then they're trying to figure out loopholes to maybe escape it. It's a fun show.

    And then my other pick is this drama on FX called "Pose," which is a — it's kind of a period piece set in the '80s. It takes place in the queer ballroom scene in New York, which was where all of the drag queen culture that you see on like "RuPaul's Drag Race," the verbal tics of that community all started in this scene that was all of these people who were marginalized out of their own communities and their own families, and came together to find a way to create a community.

    Such an incredibly inclusive show, but also, like, really heartrending. It takes place at the height of the AIDS crisis. It's a really interesting show, worth checking out.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    OK, so that's a good segue, because we asked both of you to pick a great performance that stood out for you.

    And, Eric, you picked the actor M.J. Rodriguez in "Pose."

    Let's take a look first at a clip.

  • M.J. Rordriguez:

    Do you know what greatest pain a person can feel is, the greatest tragedy a life can experience? That is having a truth inside of you and you not being able to share it. It is having a great beauty and no one there to see it.

    This young boy has been discarded. And he is so young. He believes that it has something to do with who he is.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Eric, what did you love here?

  • Eric Deggans:

    So, when you watch "Pose," and you see this great story that Sonia described unfold, you have a sense that you're seeing a star born, when your watch M.J. do what she does so well, playing Blanca.

    She — she, of course, you could tell from the clip, does some amazing acting work. But we're at a point now where there's a lot of pressure and advocacy to have transgender characters played by transgender actresses and actors.

    And she's doing an amazing job proving the kind of authentic performance you get when you take care and you make sure to cast people who are transgender in transgender roles. She's just done an amazing job on the series.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    All right, Sonia, you picked Amy Adams, well-known from films, as well as television, in "Sharp Objects," the drama.

    Let's take a look at a clip first.

  • Miguel Sandoval:

    Wind Gap, what it's like?

  • Amy Adams:

    Oh, OK.

    Well, it's at the bottom of Missouri, Bootheel, spitting distance from Tennessee.

  • Miguel Sandoval:

    I know where it is. I asked what it's like.

  • Amy Adams:

    Small. Population's held at 2,000 for years. Only real industry is hog butchering. So, you have got your old money and your trash.

  • Miguel Sandoval:

    Mm-hmm. Which one are you?

  • Amy Adams:

    Trash from old money.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Sonia, very different from what we have seen her do before, I think, hmm?

  • Sonia Saraiya:

    Oh, absolutely. It's like the dark side of Amy Adams.

    But Amy Adams does such a great job of showing you how vulnerable and how fragile this character is. And the story takes her back to her hometown, where she has to confront a lot of hard truths about her family and about the place that she's come from.

    And so you really get to see — Amy Adams takes you on this journey into like this character's, like, worst nightmares. And she's really just such an incredible performer. It's a real treat to watch her in "Sharp Objects."

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    All right, so finish with that question we like to ask, the show that was completely and, you think, sadly overlooked, the one you really want to tell us about to go back and look for.


  • Eric Deggans:

    I would say "Sorry For Your Loss," which is a show that's on Facebook Watch.

    And it stars Elizabeth Olsen. You may remember her from the Avengers movies as the Scarlet Witch. But this is a very tender and emotional drama, where she plays a young widow who's lost her husband and is struggling to cope.

    Janet McTeer plays her mother. Kelly Marie Tran is great as her adopted sister.

    And it's just a sense of what happens to a family when you have a tremendous loss, and then you have someone who's struggling to cope and how it can affect everyone in that family. And it's on Facebook Watch, which is a new platform that people may not be used to watching original shows up.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Yes, just another new platform for us to get used to, huh?


    Sonia, what's your choice?

  • Sonia Saraiya:

    So, mine is actually a film, but it was a film that was never released theatrically.

    It's called "The Tale." Laura Dern stars in it. And she's playing actually the director of the film who created a fictionalized story of the process that she went to when she realized that a relationship that she had when she was 13 years old was actually this terribly exploitative and abusive one, but then also shows you, as an adult, how she starts learning how to grapple with those memories and trying to understand what it means to be a survivor of sexual assault.

    And I think it delves into a lot of stuff that we talk about in the news right now in a very personal and heart-wrenching way. It's absolutely worth checking out.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    All right. I don't know how you two do it, keep up with all of this, but thank you for helping us out.

    Sonia Saraiya, Eric Deggans, thanks again.

  • Sonia Saraiya:

    Thank you.

  • Eric Deggans:

    Thank you.

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