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

television tops

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.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm glad they didn't choose Survivor as one of the best shows from this year because not only is it getting long in the tooth, but last night it even showed a gay kiss during the finale, and even my 74 year old mother said it was disgusting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I only started watching it this year and it started airing in 2016, but I'd really recommend My Hero Academia. It's a wonderful anime about a world where everyone has some form of crazy superpower. One kid named Izuku doesn't though, despite his dreams to live up to his hero All Might (who's kind of the Superman of the world). However, All might was critically injured in a fight with the main villain and transfers his powers to Izuku as his successor and helps train him at the premiere school for superheroes in Japan.

It's a really good show about growing and succeeding despite the odds and Izuku is a great kid with a strong heart and desire to help others and improve himself despite the odds against him in order to live up to and surpass the legacy set by his predecessor. I'd recommend it to most anyone (It's not really a kid's show, though.)

Joshua Kroeger More than 1 year ago
Believe it or not, Daredevil is one of my favorite shows to date...primarily because of the reasons you mentioned above!  Certainly it would be better if they reigned in the violence a bit (we don't NEED to see Fisk decapitate a guy with a car door), but as a Catholic, I can respect that the show--as violent and sometimes profane as it is--embraces a respectful view of the faith that is seldom seen on TV these days.  Season 3 is some of the best writing BECAUSE OF its themes of redemption for "bad people", as well as Matt's own serious crisis of faith.  (Don't get me wrong, I still love solid do-gooders like Spidey or Cap, or even more flawed ones like Batman!)
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Lostariel Bronwethiel More than 1 year ago
The Greatest Showman - I got for my parents for their date night and they LOVED it. My 3 year old sister sits all the way through it, which is amazing all in itself.

Singing in the Rain. My whole family loves it (including the 3 year old). Course we watched it so much that we're sick of it now, but it's still a fun movie. 

Wonder. Heartwarming, funny, and just an all round favorite. 

The Hobbit. There are a few battle scenes and scary creatures (not sure what your rules are for the 10 year old) but other than its a fun, clean fantasy adventure. But like I said there are several battles along with swarms of goblins (I find Gollum cute but others might not. I do have to admit that he's kinda creepy but whatever I still thing he's adorable). 

Inside Out. If you haven't seen this, there's something wrong with you. 

Arrival. This might be a bit boring for younger kids, but the message it sends is incredible. It's just an amazing movie and I cry every time I watch it. 

Home Alone. Couple of bumps in the beginning (swearing and innuendo), but once you get past that it's the funniest movie to watch with family. 

Secondhand Lions!! 

We Bought a Zoo. Once again, a bit of swearing, but if you're looking for a family movie about family, look no further. 

Hope this helps!! 

Julienne Dy More than 1 year ago
Yeah!  Go DuckTales!  Woo-oo!  (I'm not sorry.)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love Manifest and Ducktales, but besides those two shows I haven't seen anything else that's recommended. I did try and watch God Friended Me a couple of times, but found it to be too profane and too sacrilegious for me.
Lyn Chartowich More than 1 year ago
I really want to watch Manifest...however, I don't watch shows on TV and don't have Netflix or anything similar...unfortunately.
Jack Koehler More than 1 year ago
Darn, if you have antenna tv it aired on NBC before the finale... maybe there will be re-runs...
Lyn Chartowich More than 1 year ago
Nope, nothing of the kind. But thanks for suggesting so. I'll probably just watch it when it's on Blu-ray.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Posted by First Comment Guy

I loved Star Wars: The Clone Wars and I really liked the few episodes of Rebels that I saw, but I saw the trailer for Resistance and it was a big no thanks for me. For one thing, the animation looked terrible, like some hybrid between hand drawn and CGI. And the attempt at humor wasn’t very funny either. I might give it a try sometime, but frankly, I’m more excited for the revival of Clone Wars on Disney+.

I REALLY want to see Daredevil, but I don’t have Netflix so I can’t. One day though. One day.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Same! I haven't seen all of the clone wars show but I'm slowly working my way through it on Netflix. Rebels was great though I never got to see the ending... Resistance looks dumb on so many levels, so I probably won't ever watch it. But the Clone Wars Revival looks awesome!!!!

Posted by A-Non-Mouse