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Best TV shows of 2018: 'The Americans,' 'Vida' and more

Melissa Barrera, left, and Mishel Prada star in

Melissa Barrera, left, and Mishel Prada star in Starz's "Vida." Credit: Starz/Erica Parise

Welcome to my top 25 list of the best TV shows of 2018.

But first, this list comes with an asterisk: Not every excellent series that aired or streamed in 2018 gets a foothold here simply because it is now officially impossible to sample — much less watch — everything out there.

So please consider this a mere, albeit sincere, attempt — with the understanding that some worthy candidates may and no doubt have been misplaced. 

25. "The Kids Are Alright" (ABC)

"Kids" is a shrewdly engineered, genetically modified organism of a sitcom that still manages to feel authentic and also feel like the best new network series of the fall.

24. "Planet Earth: Blue Planet 2" (AMC, BBC America, IFC, WE TV, Sundance)

Sequel to one of the greatest nature documentaries (or the greatest?) in TV history does not disappoint, and does not quibble either: It's an urgent and at times nakedly emotional plea to save the oceans of the world. The 2001 series was a celebration. This follow-up is a warning.

23. "Random Acts of Flyness" (HBO)

What to make of indie filmmaker Terence Nance's late-night debut? Who knows! But never dull and always challenging, this TV newcomer has a lot to say about race in America, none of it equivocal, all of it provocative.

22. "Vida" (Starz)

Mexican-American sisters Lyn (Melissa Barrera) and Emma (Mishel Prada) return home to East L.A. to bury their mother, Vidalia — aka Vida — and stumble on some universal themes in the process; this Starz newcomer also flew way under the radar, and in fact too far.

21. "Patrick Melrose" (Showtime)

Brilliant performance by a great actor — Benedict Cumberbatch — in a desperately grim story.

20. "The Little Drummer Girl" (AMC)

This six-parter about love and the human heart in conflict with itself also happens to be a reasonably engaging, smartly acted spy yarn (adapted from the John le Carré novel).

19. "Doctor Who" (BBC America)

At long, long (long) last, the Doctor is a she, and Jodie Whittaker is so good she almost makes us forget about all of the hes who proceeded.  

18. "Lodge 49"  (AMC)

Surreal, brainy, Pynchonesque "49" was not only one of the best newcomers of the year, but hands down, the yellowest.  

17. "This Is Us" (NBC)

This third season — the season of Wartime Jack — feels almost like the Anticlimactic Season, or worse, the Season That No One Seems to Be Talking About. Nevertheless, "Us" is still in a network class by itself.  

16. "Bodyguard" (Netflix)

You (may) know him best as Robb Stark from "Game of Thrones," but Richard Madden — who plays a bodyguard (with major issues) to the British Home Secretary (played by the always glorious Keeley Hawes) — creates an even more memorable character here.

15.  "Homecoming" (Amazon Prime)

Julia Roberts finally comes to TV and makes a splash — a big one — in this addictive drama about a corporate executive with memory issues (and a lot of other issues as well).  

14. "A Very English Scandal" (Amazon Prime)

Hugh Grant was a revelation in this miniseries, playing one of the best roles of his career, while Ben Whishaw managed what he always does — excellence.  

13. "Maniac" (Netflix); "Mosaic" (HBO)

A tie! Sorry, I couldn't make up my mind. Both were utterly addictive and ridiculously inventive in their own odd/unique/idiosyncratic way, and both directed by famed helmsman (Cary Fukunaga, Steven Soderbergh, respectively.)  

12. "Native America" (PBS)

Extraordinary four-parter that explored the social networks that bound 100 million people over two continents in the pre-Columbian Americas.

11. "American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace" (FX)

Darren Criss, as serial killer Andrew Cunanan, turned in one of finest performances of the TV season, and won an Emmy for the effort.

10. "Dogs" (Netflix)

This documentary series is really about people and the dogs that complete them — an under-the-radar gem for anyone who loves dogs or for anyone else who never realized that dogs are people, too — only better.

9. "The Good Place" (NBC)

Earns a position on just about any list for just about any number of reasons, but D'Arcy Carden's "Janet" — an Alexa-like humanoid who knows a lot about everything — has to be a ranking one in this third season. Her character had to play five other characters in a late-season episode, so there you have five more reasons.    

8. "Killing Eve" (BBC America)

This seductive thriller with a murderous heart has a great cast (which includes stage great Fiona Shaw,) a brutal antihero (Jodie Comer, who's a standout) and a compelling, complicated, conflicted protagonist in Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh). What’s not to like? Or who?

7. "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" (Amazon Prime)

"Maisel" — or showrunner Amy Sherman-Palladino — doubled down on what it did best in the first season, but this second season feels richer, better and undoubtedly funnier for the effort.

6. "The Handmaid's Tale" (Hulu)

Buzz seemed to abandon the second season, which had to figure a way forward without the Margaret Atwood source material, but there were still a few episodes here that ranked with the best of the first, and maybe one (or two) that were even better.

5. "Better Call Saul" (AMC)

Not quite as good as the third season, but still pretty darned great, while this prequel continues to build the case that it may be even better than "Breaking Bad," the classic from which it sprang.

4. "Atlanta: Robbin' Season" (FX)

This season bested the freshman one, and also offered a miniature horror movie masterpiece in the bargain, specifically the episode "Teddy Perkins," in which Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) goes to pick up a free piano and meets up with his worst nightmare instead.

3. "Escape at Dannemora" (Showtime)

Ben Stiller directed this absorbing seven-parter about the 2015 escape from this upstate prison, and directed it flawlessly; plus he got some help from an outstanding cast, most notably Patricia Arquette, who didn't merely "act" her way through the part of Tilly Mitchell — the prison employee who helped the two prisoners to escape — but almost seemed to become Tilly Mitchell. Hers was the finest performance on TV this year.

2. "My Brilliant Friend" (HBO)

We all best get used to this superb adaptation of Elena Ferrante's so-called Neapolitan Novels, because it should be around for a while, for a total of 32 episodes (give or take) when all is said and done. The drama is outsized but the scale miniature (most of it revolves around two young girls, then their teenage selves, in a tiny village in Italy). Yes, this is in Italian with subtitles, but Netflix has taught us how to live with those.

1. "The Americans" (FX)

Saving the best for last, "The Americans" offered one of the most richly satisfying final seasons of any series in recent memory, or at least since "Breaking Bad." There's an almost primal urge on the part of viewers to want blood in their wraps, or the sort of purging that constitutes closure and moral clarity. Instead, this great TV series about identity, human purpose, marriage, family, Russian history and the futility of ideology came down on the side of ambiguity, and closed quietly, as darkness enveloped.

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