TV Features

Merry-Go-Round’s Staff TV Favorites 2018

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What a year 2018 was—TV and otherwise! As we limped across the finish line into already-kind-of-better-but-maybe-not-really 2019, we the people of Merry-Go-Round took a moment to remember our favorite TV content from the year gone by. As is tradition in our corner of the Merry-Go-Round, there’s just so much great television that it almost feels pointless to try and distill it into a formal ranking. So, here they are: our Staff TV Favorites, as eclectic and impassioned as they come. We loved watching TV with you in 2018 and we’re excited for what’s next!

Staff TV Favorites Aggretsuko

AGGRETSUKO (Netflix)

AGGRETSUKO ripped into our lives last summer and laid a path of devastation as brutal as the songs the 25-year-old anthropomorphic red panda Retsuko likes to sing. A fresh and innovative take on portraying the malaise of those of us on the wrong side of “young adult,” AGGRETSUKO is secretly one of the more comprehensive and relatable office comedies out there: a whip-smart and visually humorous critique of toxic workplace culture and the masculine personalities historically responsible for it. Featuring an effortless feminist sheen that makes sure its wide variety of strong female characters all have agency and emotional layers, AGGRETSUKO is distinct, masterfully executed, and a smoothly progressive step forward for animation. But all that aside, it’s also one of the most faithful and vibrant music stories told in recent memory, taking a loving and just-self-aware-enough look at metal (one of the more reviled genres around) and showing the impact and importance it can have on a person’s life. Easily bingeable and a treat to look at, AGGRETSUKO is one of Netflix’s stranger and stronger investments, and a TV achievement from 2018 you’d be sore to miss. [Thomas Seraydarian]

Staff TV Favorites Big Mouth

BIG MOUTH S2 (Netflix)

It’s starting to feel like child actors might need to become a thing of the past. What with the very disturbing allegations against former Nickelodeon darling Dan “The Man With The Van” Schneider, the abuses carried out by the likes of Bryan Singer and Kevin Spacey, and a general cultural awareness that being in the spotlight is bad for developing people, watching kids star in things can tend to have a distinct whiff of exploitation. On the other hand, adolescence (and particularly puberty) is a distinctly funny, humiliating time in our lives, and a rich source for story material. Luckily, Nick Kroll had the brilliant idea to make an animated show about puberty explicitly for adults and by adults, and the result is an absolute triumph. The first season of the show was gross and hilarious, but this year the show really came back stronger than ever. Thanks in large part to the addition of more women to the writers’ room, BIG MOUTH’s second season is a whirlwind of emotional gut-punches. For a show that includes a character in a sexual relationship with his bath mat, it’s astonishing how many times the kids in BIG MOUTH deal with problems way past their ages. The introduction of the Shame Wizard was a masterstroke, and hopefully characters like that continue to be formative parts of the series going forward. Because it’s a show for adults, BIG MOUTH’s real strength is reminding us all of that time where we realized adults don’t have it all figured out, putting into perspective so much of the insecurities that develop when we’re 12 that follow us into adulthood. I hope the BIG MOUTH model becomes the standard for how we tell stories about children, but it’s also hard to imagine anyone else being able to capture its particular brand of bizarre magic. [Carter Moon]

Staff TV Favorites Bojack

BOJACK HORSEMAN S5 (Netflix)

Despite its nearly universal critical acclaim, Netflix’s OG adult animated darling continues to receive the shaft from the TV community at large. It wasn’t even nominated for this year’s Emmy awards (gotta make room for THE SIMPSONS amirite). But y’know what? Fuck ‘em—who needs ‘em. Every year I wonder if this will be the year BOJACK finally dips in quality, and every year I’m reduced to a sad puddle of existential dread by what is easily my favorite show of all time—animated, or otherwise. The first season’s one-note iterations of Todd and Mr. Peanutbutter feel like the distant past, with Todd’s exploration of his sexuality and a guts-out dissection of Mr. Peanutbutter’s own vicious cycle. BoJack and Dianne reach their lowest lows and star respectively in the season’s strongest episodes, “Free Churro” and “The Dog Days are Over.” And of course my girl PC is out there trying to make a good life for herself despite all these morons’ best efforts—and, admittedly, some of her own. BOJACK finally took home the Annie this year for Best General Audience—an award I couldn’t believe it hadn’t won before—and though the previous seasons were deserving, I’m especially glad it happened on this one. BOJACK continues to pave the way for animation’s rise in legitimacy as a medium (NOT a genre), and I’m already stockpiling tissues for the next round of emotional punishment. [Kate Brogden]

Staff TV Favorites Captain Underpants

CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS (Netflix)

We all know that ADVENTURE TIME, STEVEN UNIVERSE, and GRAVITY FALLS can be enjoyed by humans of all ages despite airing on children’s networks. The creators of those shows weave in adult themes and sneak dirty jokes that nerds feel way too superior for understanding. CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS uses far less subtlety, but delivers more genuine laughs than all three aforementioned series combined. Much like the acclaimed source material, it cranks the stupid up to 11 and lets the poopoo hit the fan. George and Harold’s adventures plow through plots with absolutely no regard for consistency, instead opting to bombard us with inspired toilet humor and rapid-fire dialogue that treats the fourth wall like an open window. While certainly not for those unwilling to shave a few brain cells, CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS gives our inner child a great big hug while slapping a “kick me” sign onto our backs. [Dan Blomquist]

Staff TV Favorites Chilling Adventures

THE CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA (Netflix)

Something wicked this way comes. And it’s not the blonde, starry-eyed teenage witch you remember. If you loved the SABRINA sitcom from the late 1990s, then you’re in for a rude awakening. THE CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA follows 2014’s gothic reimagining of the Archie comics heroine. The charming aunts and sasspot familiar have been traded in for blood rituals, accursed high schools, and Satan himself. So, now that apples and oranges have been compared, let’s get down to brass tacks. This Sabrina struggles with the age-old dichotomy of good versus evil, grappling with her sense of destiny and fate while also trying to stay true to her human life and friends. The tale feels at times like a superhero origin story, as the white-haired witch steals away from her unassuming mortal cohorts to trounce demons, perfect her magic, and generally raise a little hell. Well, Hot Topic’s version of a superhero story, that is. THE CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA’s ever-shifting tone is perhaps one of the most surprising and pleasantly curious parts of the viewing experience. One can’t quite tell if they’re making fun of occult culture, or being completely serious. It’s camp, it’s cheesy, and it’s very RIVERDALE—my guilty TV pleasure. Consider me bewitched. [Tracy Nicoletti]

Staff TV Favorites Corporate

CORPORATE (Comedy Central)

Work is bullshit. Specifically, white-collar jobs that involve cubicles, PowerPoint presentations, and the pervading sense that none of what you do will ever have any tangible impact on the world are bullshit. Huge swaths of the population have been subject to modern corporate employment for decades, and raging against those ceaselessly grinning machines is now a time-honored tradition. Despite centering around what’s maybe the most satirized subject of the last 30 years, CORPORATE found a way to keep the workplace comedy fresh. By taking the most gruesome and dehumanizing aspects of the workplace and pushing them to logical extremes, Matt Ingebretson and Jake Weisman demonstrate that truly forceful humor is found in the darkest places. Accented by superior performances by Lance Reddick and Aparna Nancherla, CORPORATE is essential viewing for any respectable labor drone. [Dan Blomquist]

Staff TV Favorites Floribama Shore

FLORIBAMA SHORE S2 (MTV)

Just about as close to the antithesis of Merry-Go-Round favorite TERRACE HOUSE as you can get, who needed MTV’s actual tepid reboot of JERSEY SHORE last year when they had its drunker, wilder, and shit-stirringly bonkers spiritual successor already on the content block? Attempting to intellectualize FLORIBAMA SHORE S2 to any degree is a fool’s errand, so I’ll give it to you straight: 2018 saw no greater pleasure than getting loaded up and popping this on the screen for one delicious snack food of a viewing experience. Following its eight debaucherous co-eds as they… pretty much just drink and fuck on the Floribama Shore… the personalities are high-key, the drama is constant, and the humor—intentional or otherwise—is ever-present. Loaded up with its own Rolodex of catchphrases (“hunching,” “chi-chis up!”), featuring cast members that are sure to go down in reality TV history as one-of-a-kind (Kortni and Codi, for my money), and able to turn every night out at the bar into a slice of edge-of-your-seat tension, what the cast’s livers must be losing our entertainment is gaining. And yet, there is still an endearingly human element to the proceedings, and the times when the group really comes together as a tight-knit family are some of the more oddly tear-jerking moments of television 2018 gave us. [Thomas Seraydarian]

Staff TV Favorites Glow

GLOW S2 (Netflix)

Do you want to feel nostalgic about the ‘80s even though you weren’t there? Do you want nail-biting action coupled with genuine drama topped with corny cable access nonsense? Then GLOW is for you! Based on the short-lived, real-life Saturday morning show, “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling” (also the subject of a Netflix documentary), GLOW follows the exploits of Ruth, the most desperate of desperate wannabe actors—that is, until she gets her first gig on a brand new, experimental ladies wrestling show (and it’s NOT porn!). Along with the kooky and hilarious characters this lends itself to (Sheila the She-Wolf, anyone?), GLOW does a fantastic job of balancing the comedy of the situation with some real drama, never leaving the spotlight off of any of the ladies for too long. The best part is, each episode is only 30 minutes long—perfect for binge-ability! [Anna Mansager]

Staff TV Favorites The Haunting of Hill House

THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (Netflix)

As the age-old saying goes, “A house is built with walls and beams. A home is built with hopes and dreams.” But Hill House, the eponymous manor from Netflix’s sleeper-hit horror series THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, seems to be built from something far more sinister. To the unsuspecting Crain family, Hill House appears to be a golden ticket. With the right renovations, it could make them a fortune—enough money to finally build their dream home. The sprawling estate becomes the latest in their series of semi-permanent abodes, but it’s quickly apparent that something isn’t right. Each of the Crain children are caught in a personalized nightmare, as imaginary friends, bent-neck ladies, and bowler-hat-clad ghosts torment them. All the while, their mother descends into madness, the horror eventually climaxing on one fateful night. But that isn’t the end of the story—the house still has a hold on all of its occupants. How do they handle the literal ghosts from their past as broken adults? HILL HOUSE manages to tell parallel stories deftly, leaving very little open-ended by the season’s close. The show feels like a self-contained universe, an ouroboros of sadness and catharsis that’s as unique as it is poetic. “When we die, we turn into stories,” Olivia Crain explains, “And every time someone tells one of those stories, it’s like we’re still here for them. We’re all stories in the end.” Well I, for one, can’t wait to read the next chapter. [Tracy Nicoletti]

Staff TV Favorites Heathers

HEATHERS (Paramount Network)

Right out of the gate, the future of the HEATHERS modern-day reboot series was uncertain and understandably so. Its 1988 source material, released over 10 years before Columbine, was a product of a society that couldn’t fathom a world where we have to reckon with the reality of mass violence in schools every day. Yet, here we are. Clearly, we don’t live in that world anymore and it’s admittedly hard to watch—let alone market—a show that is so in-your-face with that reality. However, as dark and difficult as it can be, HEATHERS is worth its weight in paté. The show balances dark, unapologetic irreverence with hilarious, intelligent social commentary that’s painfully on-the-nose. The lightning-fast dialogue is like VEEP set in high school—filled to the brim with modern references, pithy quips, and biting insults. It’s truly everything Ryan Murphy wishes SCREAM QUEENS could have achieved. The wonderfully diverse and unexpected cast is overflowing with talent, especially Melanie Field (Heather Chandler, the body-positive HBIC) and Brendan Scannell (Heather Duke, reimagined as an AMAB genderqueer diva). HEATHERS delivers its message like a croquet mallet to the temple: society is fucked, but that doesn’t mean we can’t laugh. Ahead of its time, HEATHERS may not be the show society wants to see, but it’s the one you Ugg Boot Lattes deserve. [Kallan Zimmerman]

Staff TV Favorites Crunchyroll

OVERLORD (Crunchyroll)

The genre Isekai refers to an anime or manga where the main character wakes up in another universe. There has been a recent backlash against Isekai like SWORD ART ONLINE for being ridiculous power fantasies starring anonymous Gary Sues who somehow conquer the world and form harems because they are just that amazing. OVERLORD isn’t any less of a power fantasy, but it cleverly flips the dynamic to feature what would be a villain in any other show as the protagonist. Enter Ains Oal Gown, a salaryman who gets stuck in his favorite video game and has no idea how to handle the NPCs who worship him as a literal god and want him to slaughter the entire world with his absurd magical abilities. It’s a fantastic use of dramatic irony that changes how you view its conflicts; rather than wonder whether Gown will overcome evil trolls, rival kingdoms, or criminal syndicates, you hope he will be merciful on characters you have grown to like, or you relish in him destroying even more vile specimens who don’t know what’s coming. Add on gorgeous design, a huge cast of compelling characters that could each be the star of their own story, hilarious dialogue that makes full use of larger-than-life personalities, and Gown being in over his head, and you have a refreshing take on a tired genre that delivered two great seasons in a single year. [Blake Michelle]

Staff TV Favorites Patrick Melrose

PATRICK MELROSE (Showtime)

TV moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile… you could miss critically acclaimed mini-series from the early summer. PATRICK MELROSE is great, full-stop, and one of Showtime’s strongest argument for the network being the new Mecca of Peak TV now that HBO’s AAA installments have lost face. A bona fide motherfucker based off the semi-autobiographical book series of the same name, the show is, without a touch of hyperbole, the sort of thing prestige limited edition television was made for. Telling the tale of its titular, drug-addled playboy coming to New York to process the death of his estranged father, Benedict Cumberbatch is an unstoppable tour de force; a frantic, maniacal, tragicomic basket case that we hate to love and love to hate. Somewhere in the nexus of BIRDMAN and REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, PATRICK MELROSE is easily the best mini-series of recent memory: a loose, conversational, slightly sardonic tour through the crushing existential mundanity of upper-middle-class life, ripe with the same hard-to-place je ne sais quoi that launched the career of David Sedaris. The energy, characterizations, and dialogue contributing to the sense of something vibrantly and fundamentally literary, PATRICK MELROSE consistently feels like getting lost in a book you want more and more of, and is one of 2018’s strongest entertainment accomplishments. [Thomas Seraydarian]

Staff TV Favorites Who Is America?

WHO IS AMERICA? (Showtime)

It’s no secret among the Merry-Go-Round staff that I am a diehard Borat fanatic. Not only is Sacha Baron Cohen’s 2006 epic my favorite film of all time, but I fervently believe that his documentarian skills (yes, not mockumentary) are among the most underrated in contemporary cinema. So, imagine my delight that Cohen’s jig wasn’t up yet. With a new Showtime series, chock-full of new personas, co-written with none other than Nathan Fielder, Cohen consolidated guest interviews from Dick Cheney, Roy Moore, and countless other political figureheads, and staged some absolutely hysterical stunts (a Clinton-funded mosque in Kingsman, Arizona is a season highlight). Perhaps the most important showcase of Cohen’s merit is that he pushed state representatives into positions of such embarrassment that they had no choice but to step down. Though Cohen has always been met with skepticism for his brash, insensitive humor, it’s these moments that highlight the importance of having a comedian of his stature in the modern world. Media can affect change, you just need to know how to mobilize it, and Cohen commands his language of docu-comedy with a viselike grip. Time will show that Cohen was one of the greatest to ever do it, and by all accounts, WHO IS AMERICA? is a modern miracle. In an era of extremely divisive media content, Cohen inserts himself as a wicked scalpel, mocking all sides of political extremism, bringing us all a little closer to one another as a result. Ridicule is the ultimate cleansing, and Cohen is our pastor. [Sergio Zaciu]

Staff TV Favorites You

YOU (Showtime/Netflix)

Every day, we’re surrounded by strangers. Unfamiliar faces that ghost past us on the streets and on social media. We hop into their cars, meet for hookups, and lounge in foreign cities in their spare bedrooms. As children, we were told to never talk to strangers… and yet, as adults, we never seem to remember why. But YOU, Serah Gamble’s latest dark drama, seeks to remind us that we should think twice about leading such open, trusting lives. At once overwhelming, addictive, and raw, YOU is an explosive combination of literature, fantasy, psychosis, and obsessive love. It’s a cat-and-mouse game with a simple, even relatable, purpose: get the girl. At the heart of the series is Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail): a girl who, on the surface, is perfect. 20-something, an aspiring writer, a party girl surrounded by friends, yoga, and tea. She’s playful and alluring, at times seeming otherworldly. A beautiful mystery, waiting to be explored. It’s almost like she’s inviting Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) into her unguarded and, at times, exposed life. But his innocent stalking quickly turns dark as he inserts himself into her social circles, hell bent on transforming her into the object of his dreams. As the bodies begin to stack up, we begin to realize that YOU might be the greatest millenial-age horror story. Talk about Tinder nightmares. [Tracy Nicoletti]

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