(Photo by Syfy; BBC AMERICA; Netflix/Courtesy Everett Collection)
The past year has offered 12 TV seasons Certified Fresh at 100% — including The Good Place, Cobra Kai, Vida, and Dear White People — of 110 overall that are Certified Fresh. A voracious TV consumer could simply work their way down the list of every Certified Fresh TV show of 2018, or have a look at Rotten Tomatoes’ staff picks. Our editorial staff has considered the year in television and curated a list of series that may not have met the criteria for Certified Fresh, but nonetheless have captured our imaginations and earned our recommendation anyway.
What It Is: In the 23rd century, after colonizing the solar system, humans make first contact with an alien race. But rather than meet face-to-whatever, the interaction occurs via the ancient, extinct race’s super-advanced A.I. technology, which humanity struggles to understand, communicate with, and ultimately control.
Why You Should Watch It: It’s been 10 years since Syfy’s Battlestar Galactica remake from Ronald D. Moore (Outlander) went off the air. The series, which topped our list of the 100 best sci-fi series of all time, won worldwide fans through its gritty space-opera storylines about the human struggle with and against intelligent machines. The BSG world felt lived in, and its characters, both human and machine, presented a seemingly viable space-based future.
The Expanse, which Amazon dramatically rescued from cancellation this year, is BSG‘s very worthy successor in offering a similarly complex sci-fi tale with engaging characters and award-worthy production design. It stars Steven Strait, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Dominique Tipper, Cas Anvar, Wes Chatham, Frankie Adams, and Thomas Jane. Why the show hasn’t enjoyed the same level of worldwide appeal is one of the series’ greatest mysteries.
Commitment: around 25 hours
Picked By: Debbie Day, TV Features Editor
What It Is: In this dry, sometimes unexpectedly somber HBO dark comedy, a professional killer for hire from the Midwest travels to Los Angeles for a hit and stumbles into an acting class, where he not only discovers a community of aspiring actors who welcome him but also begins to imagine a quieter, more normal life.
Why You Should Watch It: Thanks to his up-for-anything enthusiasm and easygoing charisma — not to mention his impeccable comedic timing — SNL and Documentary Now alum Bill Hader has earned a sizable fanbase over the years. Those fans were always going to show up for Barry, no matter how good (or bad) it was. Fortunately, the series does a magnificent job balancing Hader’s natural boyish charm and his less frequently utilized — but still incredibly effective — proficiency at communicating deep pathos (see: The Skeleton Twins), and he’s aided by a stellar ensemble that includes Stephen Root, Anthony Carrigan, Sarah Goldberg, and Henry Winkler in one of his finest roles in years.
Barry begins with a funny idea, infuses it with real emotional investment, and tosses in a few “Oh, sh–!” moments just to keep you on your toes. Hader and Winkler have already taken home Emmys for their efforts, and they’re both up for Golden Globes next, so now is as good a time as any to see what all the fuss is about.
Where to Watch: HBOGO
Commitment: A little over 4.5 hours
Picked by: Ryan Fujitani, Sr. Editor
What It Is: While investigating a pornography ring, Inspector Gereon Rath (Volker Bruch) discovers a web of conspiracies with huge implications for Germany as a whole.
Why You Should Watch It: The idea of the Weimar Republic (the era of German history that spanned from the end of World War I until the rise of the Nazis) has exerted a powerful fascination to this day. It was a time that produced a flowering of artistic expression — from the Bauhaus Movement to The Threepenny Opera, not to mention such cinematic masterworks as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu, Metropolis, and The Blue Angel — and a moment of (relative) tolerance for LGBTQ people. It was also a time of political upheaval, during which a democratic government attempted to hold together a nation struggling with extreme economic insecurity, a time when communists and fascists brawled in the streets. Historians dispute some elements of this narrative as myth, but while Babylon Berlin may be imperfect history, it’s exhilarating entertainment. Its Berlin is all bright neon and dark shadows, decadent parties and sudden outbursts of violence, mysteries and underground plots. We all know the horrible ending to this story, but the characters in Babylon Berlin don’t, and seeing this tumultuous period through the lives of regular people living in the moment gives the whole thing an air of haunting pathos.
Where to Watch: Netflix
Commitment: Just shy of 16 hours
Picked By: Tim Ryan, Review Curation Manager
What It Is: This badass British spy thriller follows two female leads — MI5 intelligence officer Eve (Sandra Oh) and international assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer) — who become obsessed with tracking each other down.
Why You Should Watch It: There’s a reason Oh is getting finally getting her long-deserved award recognition for this role: She’s phenomenal as a mild-mannered government employee who heads up a task force to find a female assassin (an also-phenomenal Comer), beginning a deadly cat-and-mouse game between the two women. The BBC America series is also frequently incredibly funny, thanks to sharp writing from creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag).
Commitment: About 5.5 hours
Picked By: Jean Bentley, Assistant TV Editor
What It Is: A raw mob epic set in 1919 Birmingham, England. Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy), a World War I veteran and leader of the “Peaky Blinders” gang, has started the family business of running a bookie service as well as providing local muscle.
Why You Should Watch It: This gritty crime drama will keep you glued to your screen as Tommy tries to build his empire and cement his legacy, all while facing the ever-changing landscape of the new century post-WWI. Guns, gambling, influence, politics, and the streets — this show has it all. Great costume and set design lure viewers into 1919 England to experience the region’s post-war trauma. See how far Tommy will go to make a buck and gain power and the collateral damage his family must endure because of it. The series did not offer a new season to U.S. audiences in 2018, but with season 5 coming in 2019, now is a perfect time to binge it.
Where to watch: Netflix
Commitment: About 24 hours
Picked By: Shane Crocker, Motion Graphic Designer
What It Is: This comic book–adapted Netflix series from the creator of Riverdale is a dark reimagining of the Sabrina, the Teenage Witch story. Half-witch, half-mortal Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) refuses to sacrifice her human relationships in order to keep her witchy powers and must navigate the boundaries between the mortal and supernatural worlds.
Why You Should Watch It: If you’re the kind of witch who wishes Halloween could be a year-long holiday, look no further than Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. This show has plenty of campy magic and glamorous gore, but it’s more than flashy spells and Satanic references. Each of Sabrina’s allies — her aunts, cousin Ambrose, human friends, and demonic frenemies — has their own depth and intrigue, which makes their world colorful and worth a deep investment. It’s ultimately a coming-of-age story: Watching Sabrina come into her own, and change minds to do so, is exciting, empowering, and fun. She makes some big mistakes along the way, but who can blame her? She’s only just learning to play with hellfire.
Where to Watch: Netflix
Commitment: About 11 hours
Picked By: Sophie-Marie Prime, USC’s Rotten Tomatoes Fellow
Why You Should Watch It: Much has been written about how Better Call Saul is an ode to the everyday (crime and dubious legal practices notwithstanding). They couldn’t be more different, but if you’re a fan of BCS, 2018’s Forever will appeal just as well. Created by Alan Yang of Master of None and featuring prolific comedic actors Rudolph and Armisen (do they ever sleep?), the show poses big questions while simultaneously offering tiny details for viewers to chew on long after the final episode of this compact series ends. Avoid spoilers as much as possible before indulging in this series, which somehow marries banality and longing to great effect.
Where to Watch: Amazon
Commitment: 4 hours
Picked By: Sara Ataiiyan, Review Curator
What It Is: Schitt’s Creek is an amalgam of everything that is good and holy about Canadian entertainment.
Why You Should Watch It: Led by Eugene Levy, his gorgeous son Dan, and their beautifully thick eyebrows, Schitt’s Creek follows the Rose family, their fall from grace, and their new life in a tiny town surrounded by some of the most wonderful, eccentric, and underrated characters on TV. The series is a rare bird: both funny and heartwarming, while completely insane and totally relatable. In watching, I have laughed so hard I cried, but I have also cried so hard that I had to laugh (specifically, season 4, episode 6). The relationships, the chemistry, the number of wigs Moira owns, Alexis’ vocal fry, and so on — everything about this show is so perfectly curated that you would be hard pressed to find anything else like it on television.
Commitment: About 20 hours
Picked By: Zoey Moore, Community Manager
What It Is: Loosely based on a Norwegian show of the same name, Cary Joji Fukunaga’s mindtrip of a miniseries delves into the depths of the human mind with humor, heart, and just the right amount of heady conversations to keep you thinking.
Why You Should Watch It: It’s the kind of show that can delicately explore the fragile folds that are the human mind and mental health, while still provoking a fully belly laugh (usually followed by a cathartic cry). Between Emma Stone and Jonah Hill’s melancholy chemistry, the singular force of confidently neurotic nature that is Sonoya Mizuno, and Justin Theroux and Sally Field‘s “special” parent–child relationships (truly something to behold), you feel for each character you meet. For a show about anxiety and depression, it’s refreshingly present. There are no endless flashbacks or flash forwards, even with some of the more cerebral elements. You share moments with the characters as they have them, making for an engaging, emotional viewing experience. Oh, and there are elves, therapy robots, tons of wild accents, unexpected mammals, and a neat retro futuristic feel that’s at once nostalgic and current. It may sound kind of heady, but trust us, it’s worth the trip.
Where to Watch: Netflix
Commitment: 6.5 hours
Picked By: Haña Lucero-Colin, TV Curation Lead
What It Is: A reality series documenting the real lives of six roommates in Japan.
Why You Should Watch It: For those who hate traditional reality TV and want insight into Japanese culture, this is your show. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of love triangles and conflict, but it’s more civilized. It’s the ultimate comfort watch! When you catch up with this season, there’s previous Terrace House series (“Boys and Girls in the City” and “Aloha State”) to enjoy!
Where to Watch: Netflix
Commitment: There are 42 episodes available from the most recent season, all around 30 to 40 minutes each — and it runs through 52! The time commitment is A LOT, but SO worth it.
Picked By: Eileen Rivera, Sr. Director of Production
What It Is: Based on the graphic novel of the same name, Nick (Christopher Meloni), a degenerate hit man and ex cop, gets beaten up by mobsters only to wake up in the hospital seeing a cheerful blue unicorn named Happy (Patton Oswalt). Nick learns Happy is the imaginary friend of a kidnapped little girl named Hailey, who is being held captive by a demented Santa Claus. Happy won’t stop bothering Nick until they find Hailey and bring her to safety. Nick’s harsh, aggressive behavior clashes with Happy’s childlike mentality, creating a blend of violent dark humor living in each episode.
Why You Should Watch It: Happy! is a solid mix of dark humor and violence — all set in a Christmas-centric world. It is the true opposite of everything we usually watch during the holidays. Through the season Nick gets into trouble with the mob, his former police partner, and his previous romantic partners, but it’s the absurdity of all these scenarios that keep you hooked. One of the most rewarding aspects about the show is the deeper you get, the wilder it becomes, from murderous side characters to a Willy Wonka-type corporate overlord. Happy! is not for the faint of heart and is truly made for fans of antiheroes. The casting is also particularly fun, as Meloni is the polar opposite of his Law & Order: SVU character. Think: the crazy cook in Wet Hot American Summer, but darker and more twisted.
Commitment: About 6.5 hours
Picked By: Jason Blagman, Assistant
What It Is: Rich, sexy Spanish teens clash with working-class students at their elite private school, leading to murder.
Why You Should Watch It: Gossip Girl meets Big Little Lies meets Skins meets Cruel Intentions meets The O.C. meets Veronica Mars meets … well, basically every single other of the very best teen dramas for this Spanish-language soap-to-end-all-soaps. The eight-episode season features overachieving teens doing teen things like vying for a scholarship, having sex, doing drugs, blackmailing, and murder. The private-school uniforms evoke Gossip Girl, the class clashes evoke The O.C., and the murder-mystery at the center, featuring flash-forwards to the teens being interrogated by police, is very BLL. Elite is addictive and pulpy and will most certainly keep viewers up late trying to figure out who killed [spoiler]. Pro tip: If you don’t speak Spanish, Netflix will usually default to the dubbed version. To avoid that travesty, and make sure you select the “European Spanish” audio track.
Where to Watch: Netflix
Commitment: About 8 hours
Picked By: Bentley
What It Is: A kind of Fargo for the South of England, Happy Valley focuses on policewoman Catherine Cawood’s (Sarah Lancashire) personal and professional lives in the struggling, drug-ridden town for which the series is named. Each season comes with a different mystery, extended across that season’s six episodes, and while they’re dark and twisted fun, the show’s true focus is Cawood’s past – particularly the rape and murder of her daughter by the convict Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton) – and its refusal to stay buried.
Why You Should Watch It: There is a reason Lancashire was at one time Britain’s most highly paid TV actress: her Cawood is one of TV’s great creations. She’s tough as nails at work, and at home, and yet is only ever barely holding it together, and Lancashire’s performance is revelatory for those unfamiliar with her work. She’s as compelling a TV anti-hero as any of the guys you’d find on AMC or HBO. Lancashire is well matched by a supporting cast that includes Siobhan Finneran (Downton Abbey‘s sinister O’Brien) as her sister Clare, who is coping with sobriety, and James Norton as the menacing Royce, whom anglophiles might recall swooning over in Grantchester and War and Peace, and who is rumored to be in consideration to replace Daniel Craig as James Bond. It can be dour, nasty stuff, but series creator and writer Sally Wainwright infuses it with just enough heart, humor, and quirk – this is small-town-TV-England after all – to make it utterly bingeable. Happy Valley is another Netflix title that didn’t release a new season in 2018, but will in 2019, making now a great time to binge.
Commitment: 12 hours
Picked by: Joel Meares, Editor-in-Chief
What It Is: A look inside the underground ball scene in the 1980s, made famous by the documentary Paris Is Burning, in which competitors from various “houses” walk, dance, and/or perform in drag to win big trophies and bigger boosts social stature.
Why You Should Watch It: That Pose is genuinely groundbreaking – it features a largely transgender cast, many of whom have not acted professionally before – was reason enough for many to tune in when the Ryan Murphy series premiered on FX in 2018. That it was genuinely thrilling, romantic, and ultimately moving was the reason most stayed on for all 10 episodes. Murphy’s series plays out like Fame at times, and like an episode of Drag Race at others. Which is to say there is as much new-to-New-York excitable pluckiness as there is shade being thrown around. The ball scenes are dynamically staged, with outrageous costumes (the pilot’s royalty-themed ball is a particular treat), and dangerous levels of fierceness. But what makes Pose something special are its softer moments, away from all that voguing. Moments like when Elektra, played by Dominque Jackson, who was a genuine house “mother” during the 1980s, grapples frankly with whether to undergo sexual reassignment surgery. Or when Billy Porter’s Pray, who hosts the ball nights, keeps bedside vigil for his ailing lover. Porter, nominated for a Golden Globe this year, is a series standout, along with Indya Moore, whose complex relationship with married boy from the ’burbs Stan (Evan Peters) will break your heart.
Commitment: 10 hours
Picked by: Meares