Robert Lloyd's best of the year in TV
Some new things on a television screen I loved in 2018. Twelve items magically compressed into 10.
1. ‘LODGE 49’ (AMC)
The eccentric South Bay saga, in which a sidelined surfer falls in with the crowd at a local Shriners-type hall, is full of mystery and magic adventure and feeling, with memorable characters in circumstances that somehow manage to be ordinary and fantastic at once.
2. ‘RANDOM ACTS OF FLYNESS’ (HBO) / Joe Pera Talks With You (Adult Swim)
Art television. “Random Acts,” indie filmmaker and artist Terence Nance’s exuberant, exquisite variety-show magazine of African American life and culture is dense yet fleet, political but mystical and as playful with form as anything outside of Adult Swim. Joe Pera’s dry, luminous miniature about an awkward middle-school music teacher in love with the rocks, people and breakfasts of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, is actually on Adult Swim but sweeter than its rowdy stablemates, a supposedly informational series that really just wants to tell a story.
3. ‘THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT’ (ABC)
Clever and credible, the straight-ahead sitcom I watch weekly. (Among ABC family comedies, this is the one where the family is Irish-Catholic.) Mary McCormack is the house-smart dry wit managing husband Michael Cudlitz and a variety pack of eight boys in early 1970s suburban Los Angeles.
4. ‘THE ZEN DIARIES OF GARRY SHANDLING’ (HBO)
Judd Apatow’s four-hour biographical love letter to his friend and mentor, the late comic Garry Shandling, much of it in Shandling’s own voice, is a deep and complex portrait of a person figuring out how to live, which also meant, in the midst of life, how to die.
5. BEYONCE STREAMING FROM COACHELLA
Even if you were watching from home, you had to be there — Beyonce Knowles-Carter’s first-weekend headlining set from Coachella (the first by an African American woman, she let the world know), staged for the field and the cameras with equal intention and intelligence, went out live and then went away, maybe forever.
6. ‘SUMMER CAMP ISLAND’ (Cartoon Network)
Talking animals, some of whom are witches, and all manner of sentient beings and things populate this world-away world, rendered with a handmade delicacy by “Adventure Time” vet Julia Pott. Surreal comedy, emotional veracity.
7. ‘THIS CLOSE’ (Sundance Now) The first television series created, written by and starring deaf artists (Shoshannah Stern and Josh Feldman are behind it and in it). “This Close” mines familiar friends-and-lovers situations with feeling, but with new details and unique rhythms. Bilingual.
8. ‘BARRY’ (HBO)
Bill Hader’s comedy about a contract killer who falls in love with acting and the promise of a better life is more complex and nuanced than it might sound on paper and as suspenseful and heartbreaking as anything on television. And funny.
9. ‘THE BISEXUAL’ (Hulu) / Sally4Ever (HBO)
Two incisive comedies of sexual reorientation, from and starring Desiree Akhavan and Julia Davis, respectively. The first is pensive and languid, the second acid-wicked.
10. ‘COUNTERPART’ (Starz)
“Fringe” meets “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.” In this complicated political thriller, modern-day Berlin is still a divided city but one split between cold-warring separate realities, joined through a checkpoint known to few. J.K. Simmons and Olivia Williams are a couple — that is, two couples, identical but different — literally mixed up in it.