Top Television 2018: Paul Asay and Kristin Smith’s Year-End Picks

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Fun fact: About 495 scripted television series were reportedly aired in 2018. If true, that’s a new record—up from the old record of 487 set last year, which in turn was up from the previous record of 455 set the year before.

That’s a lot of television. And even for Plugged In’s intrepid television reviewers (that’d be me and my tireless cohort Kristin Smith), it’s too much for us to see everything. As much as Kristin tried.

But we did see and review a lot this year—more, in fact, than we’ve reviewed in Plugged In history. And some of what we turned our eyeballs to wasn’t all that bad.

There’s no such thing as a perfect television show. Every single one listed below comes with caveats, and at least one has some significant issues—so much so that we had a healthy debate on whether we should include it on this list at all. (No blood was shed.) But sometimes even difficult shows can contain strong messages, and we wanted to acknowledge that here.

So with that preamble out of the way, let’s dig into our picks, shall we?

DuckTales (Disney): No, Scrooge McDuck didn’t bribe me to put this show on the list (though with a net worth of an estimated $65.4 billion, he’s welcome to try). Disney’s new DuckTales is pretty delightful—a worthy successor to the fondly remembered 1980s original while still feeling new, fresh and clever. The old gang’s all back, from nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie to intrepid chauffer, Launchpad McQuack to, of course, Scrooge himself. Together, they go on adventures and maybe even learn a featherweight moral or two. In an age in which most television shows swim in murky mires of muck, it’s nice to paddle around Scrooge’s moneybin for a while.

Star Wars: Resistance (Disney): When Rey was still picking through wreckage on the planet Jakku and Finn was just another nameless Stormtrooper, opposition was already solidifying against the evil fledgling First Order. Disney chronicles the early stages of that resistance in this logically titled animated show, focusing its force on pilot Kazuda Xiono (Kaz for short) and his cadre of friends. This well-crafted cartoon features lots of action and occasional violence, and characters do sometimes insult one another. But according to Kristin’s review, these same characters learn some valuable lessons along the way, too, as they display lots of righteous courage in opposing a growing danger.

Living Biblically (CBS): This show—based on A.J. Jacobs’ book The Year of Living Biblically—didn’t last that long: CBS cancelled the show after just one season, and the last episode aired this July. Too bad: this sitcom, centered on  film critic (!) Chip Curry who turns to the Bible to make him a better person, offers a rare combination of honest-to-goodness comedy mixed with a bit of wisdom. Honestly, I was dreading reviewing the show when it first came out. I thought the point might be to make fun of the Bible and those who believe in it. And while Living Biblically did rib the religious at times (and engage in a bit of swearing and off-color jokes), it showed that the Good Book is more than a good read: It made Chip a better person, and the world around him a little better, too.

Manifest (NBC): Living Biblically wasn’t the only show to engage with faith this year. NBC’s hit mystery-thriller did, too. ‘Course, when your plane lands five years after it was scheduled to, you’re bound to consider divine design a bit more closely, right? Characters talk about God and fate as they unpack this strange mystery, talk to priests and, yes, even read the Bible. Why, a Bible verse (Romans 8:28) was instrumental in the show’s very first episode. Manifest is hardly perfect, but it’s cleaner than a lot of dramas out there. And even as it makes you wonder what happened to Flight 828, it encourages you to wonder—positively—about other things, too.

Daredevil (Netflix): Family friendly, Daredevil ain’t. In a superhero-besotted age filled with high-flying do-gooders like Captain America and Black Panther, Netflix’s take on the blind Marvel superhero gets gritty and grim. It’s violent. It’s bloody. It’s often profane, and Season 3 finds its titular hero at his darkest point yet. But here’s the thing: Daredevil’s deeply religious, too (even as he struggles with his faith this season), and the show’s very turmoil allows it, and us, to think about faith honestly, painfully and sometimes beautifully. Again, this show isn’t for everyone, and it certainly isn’t for children. But for some adults, Daredevil can help us see the power of faith in a strangely moving way.

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