We’re still not done with our Best Of Geek TV list here at GodHatesGeeks! We’re only a few days away from Christmas, and we got one more gift for you dear readers about the best of the best and what to find on the small screen from the past year.
5. *TIE* Happy! (Syfy)/The Umbrella Academy (Netflix) – It’s been another extremely good year for comic-book adaptations. Bryan Fuller and Grant Morrison did a spectacular job expanding the original 96 pages of Happy! into an opening season that was propulsive, surprisingly emotionally resonant, and easily the most batshit show on television. That being said, it was a matter of serious curiosity what they were going to do for an encore. I honestly wasn’t even sure that they should come back, but they somehow managed to dig even deeper with serious escalation into young Hailey (the incomparable Bryce Lorenzo) and Amanda’s (Medina Senghore) narrative arcs while Christopher Meloni’s madcap Nick Sax burns down the city trying to save them. An average episode of this season found Sax and his partner Detective McCarthy (Lili Mirojnick) in a nursing home beating the hell out of around sixty or so geriatric Nazis in their eighties in an orgy of hyperviolence that takes a hard charge at the ridiculous lengths of Tarantino or classic Woo.
Patrick Fischler pulls this insane about-face trick making his terrifying Smoothie somehow endearing and even simultaneously creepier as he spends the season trying to become best friends with Sax’s pre-teen daughter. And Christopher Fitzgerald’s Sunny Shine might be the most charismatic-while-horrifying antagonist since Hopkins’s Hannibal Lecter. So many bravura performances anchored by Patton Oswalt’s eponymous animated blue imaginary horse, who loses his innocence along the way but manages to hold onto his boundless optimism. In a season of absolutely bonkers creative decisions, the final scene of the season lays waste to all that has come before with the most wonderful cameo of the year, to the point that when Syfy cancelled the series the day after the finale, I was basically just relieved because there was nowhere else to take it. 5/5
The first two volumes of Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá’s The Umbrella Academy are some of my favorite comics of the past twenty years, but Steven Blackman emerges from the second-season writers’ room of Fargo to craft an ensemble piece that improves upon the original series in every way (with the tragic exception of skipping the original #1 mission when the kids went up against Zombie Gustav Eiffel; I will never in a hundred years understand how you get this gig and then don’t just film every panel of that first issue). Tom Hooper and Ellen Page anchor a wonderful cast while demonstrating that it’s possible for a family to love each other even while tearing itself apart and that the end of the world doesn’t have to be inevitable. It’s hard to even say who the breakout character is because they all do such great work.
Robert Sheehan’s Klaus is probably my favorite, but you’ve got to love Aidan Gallagher’s Number Five, teleported in straight from a Wes Anderson movie to save us all from apocalypse. Emmy Raver-Lampman gives a heartfelt performance as Allison, and Cameron Britton, and Mary J. Blige (?!?) imbue Hazel and Cha-Cha (respectively) with far richer depth than there was time for them to convey in the panels and pages. The only series on this list that’s actually returning, I can’t wait to see where this one goes, but I hope it’s Dallas, Texas. 5/5
4) Preacherr (AMC) – I wrote at length for this hallowed website on both the season premiere and finale, (MOODY, maybe link those here?) so all I will add is that Sam Catlin did a wonderful job paying respect to the original source material without being beholden to it, bringing a what-seemed-like-really-quite-unfilmable Vertigo classic to the small screen, and the talented ensemble of Dominic Cooper, Ruth Negga, Joseph Gilgun, Ian Coletti, Graham McTavish, Pip Torrens, Noah Taylor, Julie Ann Emery, Mark Harelik, and featuring my man Tyson Ritter as Humperdoo/Jesus Christ Himself, praise His name!, those folks should win the award for lifting each other and making each scene as great as it could possibly be through the crackling lightning of their on-screen chemistry. It was the time of the preacher in the year of One-Nine, now Jesse and Tulip have left us behind.
3) Legion (FX) – If The Umbrella Academy is a formal Wes Anderson take on the classic New Mutants archetype, then Legion is shrieking David Lynch directing Grant Morrison’s New X-Men: surreal, non-linear, and relentlessly uncommercial, a panoply of rainbow psychedelia exploding across the screen. Things took a very bad turn at the end of last season, which was hard to stomach even when you go back to the original Claremont/Sienkiewicz greatness and remind yourself that David Haller was never a hero and Noah Hawley and Dan Stevens have just been giving us the lovely scenic route before finally, inevitably, barreling headlong into darkness. This show was unlike anything else on television, composing its own visual language on the fly while providing some of the most memorable shots and sequences of the decade.
Last year, I watched the closing sequence of Chapter 14 easily twenty times, if not probably thirty. Composer Jeff Russo performs this incredible moody cover of that old The Clique song “Superman” over a montage of the first fourteen episodes of the show, and it was the best damn thing that happened on television in 2018. When this season hit, I told myself that they did not have to hit that height again, I shouldn’t set myself up for disappointment, but I cannot overemphasize how hard the chills and goosebumps rippled across my body at the end of Chapter 24 when David answers a question about regret by intoning the first verse of Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding?” before the show hits heretofore unimagined heights with a full-cast rendition of the tune that might be the most brilliant, beautiful, and moving sequence of television that happened all year long. I don’t know. It’s getting pretty crowded here at the top, but such sweet harmony.
2) Mr. Robot (USA) – All of my favorite shows are ending. Showrunner/creator/writer Sam Esmail started out strong with the first season, but then really came into his own from the second season on, hitting full auteur mode by directing every single episode in his methodical Kubrickian fashion that, week after week, is a master class in shot composition and camera movement all by itself, never even mind the narrative content and unforgettable performances. I wondered how well we’d be able to dial back in with old Elliot Alderson after seeing Rami Malek dominate his way to Oscar gold during the break as the great Freddie Mercury, but his performance is so consummately masterful, Queen was immediately the furthest thing from my mind.
Several performances deserve to be singled out including B.D. Wong’s riveting Whiterose, Michael Cristofer’s compelling Phillip Price, Grace Gummer’s compromised Special Agent Dom DiPerro, and Elliot Villar’s magnetic Fernando Villar, who I didn’t even remember from the first season but . . . there’s an episode in the second half of the season, I’m not even going to say which one because I want it to be a surprise for you, but it’s basically just a filmed play. There’s Elliot and Fernando and Elliot’s psychiatrist Krista played by Gloria Reuben and two other random toughs, and that’s it, just five characters in five acts in two rooms, no commercials, one hour of actual theater on your Sunday-night television, and it starts slow and builds into one of the most powerful episodes of television of any year live with a shocking revelation and profound human connection that is one of the most affecting moments I have experienced in any medium. Just for that episode alone, this series deserves every accolade. And the two-hour series finale doesn’t even air until this Sunday.
1) Watchmen (HBO) – It should never have worked. For the past 34 years, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen has been regarded as a masterpiece, the peak of the comic-book medium, a deconstructionist text that breaks down the tropes of the superhero genre with single-minded focus and execution, showing readers how comic books can incorporate techniques more commonly associated with literature and cinema to create something that transformed everyone who encountered it. Everybody who read Watchmen in the eighties has a story about exactly how it happened, what it did to them. It’s at the heart of my own origin story. Every time I’ve heard the word “nostalgia” all down through these years, I always get a little choked up and whisper, “Oh, how the ghost of you clings.” Every page, every panel of those twelve issues is immaculate perfection, contributing to the whole while performing usually three narrative functions at the same time. It has probably the best last panel of all time. It should not be expanded upon. Leave it be.
So instead, we get two sequels. Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s Doomsday Clock is also much much better than it has any right to be, but I wasn’t sure how it was going to go here with Damon Lindelof running a show that’s a sequel to the original set in the present. The nearest cinematic equivalent I can think of is if some top and generally well-regarded director—–Scorsese, say—–announced that he would be filming Citizen Kane 2, a scathing critique of the Seventies starring descendants of the characters from the Orson Welles original. I’m certainly curious how that’s going to look, but it sounds like a bad idea that probably should be left alone.
Reader, I will dispense with the set-up and let you know right away: Lindelof and crew knocked it out of the park. It is a triumph. This season, too, is a masterpiece that expands the possibilities of its medium, honoring and respecting the source material while not relying on it too heavily, threading the needle between being its own story while also logically extrapolating from and building upon all the characters and narrative threads that we know so well. Every beat rings so true, the only thing that possibly ever could have happened next. I almost broke down crying when I read in the backmatter how Laurel Jane Juspeczyk spent the decade after 1985 because I care about her so much and was over the moon to find out what she actually did after #12.
To live up to the original, to be worthy of existing at all, this season really had to be the best thing on television of all the incredible shows this year, and my God, they did it. From the beginning, every week was great, but then when the fifth episode went full-mirror to parallel “Fearful Symmetry” of the original #5, the series accelerated past any and all contenders. The black-and-white episode the following week is one of the finest hours of television in this or any other year. And the final three somehow maintain that propulsion, though I won’t say a word about them. Regina King needs an Emmy to put on the shelf next to her Oscar for imbuing Angela “Sister Night” Abar with so much pathos and charisma, she can stand right beside all of the other classic characters from the original.
The entire ensemble is incomparable, every aspect of this show is, but I’ve gone on so long, the last thing I’ll say is that finishing the season last night just sent me racing back to the first episode to confirm, yes, every twist was sitting there telegraphed right in front of you from the start, the writers winking all the while, it’s all over Angela’s first scene, it’s in the damn promo poster that was the ad in all the DC Comics all last month. Damon Lindelof took a masterpiece about legacy and identity and fate and transformation and identity and deceit, and then wove in themes of bigotry, racial appropriation, historical revision, profound emotional trauma, and true love like they were really the point the entire time, hatching not only a sequel but a retcon prequel that both honors and celebrates the original narrative while catapulting it headlong into the future. Oh, what a beautiful morning.
Honorable Mentions: True Detective season 3; Young Justice Season 3 back after all this time; the entire Berlanti CW universe hits impossible heights with this month’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths”; Titans, and Doom Patrol on the DCU app; some respect for Game of Thrones battles…but certainly not that last episode; and special recognition for not only Deadwood but Breaking Bad(El Camino) dropping in movie finales from out of nowhere that are every bit as great as the classic series that they resolve, here after all of this time. The Mandalorian, over on Disney+; The Boys, which blew everything away on Amazon Prime; and Netflix stalwart Stranger Things!