USA TODAY’s 25 best TV shows of 2018

Here’s to the year in television.

The small screen brought us more than one quirky assassin, a turd burglar, a prison break, births, deaths, big hair, big beards and the end of the Cold War, in a manner of speaking.

With the explosion of content from broadcast, cable, and streaming (did you know Facebook makes TV now?) the sheer amount of television available in 2018 was so overwhelming, you might’ve missed some of the most thrilling and beautiful series.

Among hundreds of shows that aired this year, here are 25 that stood out from the rest. If you try really, really hard, you might be able to get through them over your holiday break.

OK, maybe not, but it’s a nice to-do list for 2019 (before all the new shows start in January, that is). 

1. ‘The Americans’ (FX)

One of the best TV shows of the past decade, “The Americans” delivered a swan-song season with more subtlety and grace than even its most devoted fans thought possible. “Americans” was a series about international espionage, and the ramifications of the spycraft it depicted play out on the political stage even today. But it was also a deeply personal drama about marriage and family, about who and what demands our loyalty, and whether individuals matter more or less than a cause. Ever the realists, writers Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields offered no answers to these big questions, but the stunning series finale achieved closure nonetheless.

2. ‘The Good Fight’ (CBS All Access)

It’s worth subscribing to CBS All Access if only to see this spinoff of “The Good Wife,” which has surpassed its predecessor in so many ways. Dozens of series have struggled for relevancy since the 2016 election by name-dropping President Trump, but “Good Fight” is the only series that captures the exhaustion of our current chaotic cultural moment. That feat is thanks to the writing of creators Michelle and Robert King and the performance of star Christine Baranski, who still finds new shades to attorney Diane Lockhart even after playing her for nine years.

3. ‘American Vandal’ (Netflix)

Netflix’s mockumentary started in 2017 as a pitch-perfect parody of true-crime documentaries, equal parts hilarious and eviscerating, as two teen filmmakers investigated a high-school prank. Season 2 was all that and so much more, shifting to investigate a series of excrement-related “pranks” that were both a great source of scatological jokes and more serious crimes. Laced in with poop puns and conspiracy theories was a shockingly deep and caring portrayal of the loneliness of adolescence. “Vandal” offers the kind of empathy rarely given to teenagers, both onscreen and in their real lives. 

4. ‘Escape at Dannemora’ (Showtime)

With Ben Stiller behind the camera and Patricia Arquette in front of it, Showtime could do no wrong in its fictionalized retelling of the 2015 prison break in upstate New York. Seven remarkably taut, thrilling and heartbreaking episodes make “Dannemora” an accomplishment that is so much better than you might have expected when it was announced that this scandalous story was getting the Hollywood treatment. 

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