ACMI staff picks: best TV of 2018
The prestige TV machine rolls on with auteurs and movie stars heading to the small screen and streaming services commissioning more binge-worthy stories, whether its true crime, smart horror remakes or animated masterpieces. Just like you, we're fighting our brains and surrendering to just one more ep. Here's what's kept us up this year.
Patrick Melrose (Showtime)
Series Mania programmer Helen Simondson
Curating Series Mania Melbourne is the binge opportunity of the year, and our job is to watch and program the best TV series worldwide that have yet to be seen by Australian audiences. This year there were some fantastic programs, but the one that stayed with me was the brilliant dramatisation of the Edward St Aubyn novels, Patrick Melrose. Benedict Cumberbatch won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Patrick Melrose, and he certainly takes damage to a whole new level, as an upper-class addict that self-sabotages every personal relationship.
The series never flinches from what happens to Patrick nor the emotional complexity of his relationships, specifically with his parents. His father, played by Hugo Weaving, is equal parts elegant and sadistic and is the root cause of Patrick's childhood trauma and his mother, Jennifer Jason Lee plays a supporting role in enabling this breath taking dysfunction. Cumberbatch's performance is remarkable as he lurches from moments of subtle dark humour to gut-wrenching pain and it is this sharpness that ensures the harrowing subject matter does not descend into total bleakness.
Killing Eve (ABC iView)
Wonderland curator Jessica Bram
Keeping our love of TV adaptations alive (and to be honest all things screen-based and streamable), Killing Eve landed in 2018 as a darkly playful interpretation of Luke Jenning’s novella series Codename Villanelle. Powered up by its formidable leading ladies, dogged M15 agent Eve (Sandra Oh) and sociopathic Russian assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer), series creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge gives this cat-and-mouth thriller a truly unique sensibility. Funny, sexy and suspenseful, there’s a quick wittedness and perfect stitching together that makes this drama hugely compelling from first episode to last. That, and the magnetism and mutual obsession between Oh and Comer brings a sizzling twist to the traditional spy genre while refreshingly deconstructing a whole bunch of stereotypes in the process. If you haven’t already, this is definitely one to binge!
Haunting of Hill House (Netflix)
Audience insights manager Jerry Hodgins
My honorable mention may contradict this, but I love horror. Not blood and gore horror for blood and gore’s sake (I’ll never watch the Human Centipede franchise), but gothic and character driven horror. Enter the Netflix original series (based on the Shirley Jackson book of the same name), Haunting of Hill House. The non-linear story follows a family and their home with generations of secrets within its walls. Haunted houses have been done to death, but this house truly is a central character in the family and continues to be so long after they have left its walls. The imagery evoked is well thought out, terrifying, at times beautiful and unlike others in the genre, does not rely on bad CGI for cheap thrills.
Honorable mention – She-Ra and The Princess of Power
The Looming Tower (Hulu)
Senior membership coordinator Ben Haller
The ever-enigmatic Jeff Daniels, in an Emmy-nominated performance, plays John O’Neill in this thrilling limited series that depicts the growing threat of Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda in the decade prior to 9/11. Brash, vitriolic and utterly entertaining, Daniels steals the show as O’Neill, the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s counter-terrorism unit. The series gives us a visceral examination of the toxic rivalry between the FBI and CIA at the time; the producers focus upon the bitter infighting for ownership of information and cite this as a key cause of tragedy of 9/11. Dan Futterman, the Oscar-nominated writer of “Capote” and “Foxcatcher,” served as showrunner on the series, which highlights how dangerous government dysfunction can be. Timely in the current political climate.
The Deuce (HBO)
Digital and social media manager Matt Millikan
Note: spoilers for season two.
Sex, booze and cash are plentiful in season two of David Simon and George Pelecanos' expansive look at the Times Square skin trade, but for many characters the disco-drenched optimism becomes the existential disquiet of an era ending.
A major theme of The Deuce is change, and it’s the evolution of the female characters that really anchors the show. Candy’s rise to porn director and its personal toll is as heartbreaking as her outfits are amazing, and Maggie Gylenhall consistently gives the performance of her career. Meanwhile sex-workers Darlene (Dominique Fishback) and Lori (Emily Meade) finally walk their own avenues. Though Lori’s trapped in pimp CC’s toxic thrall, his inability to accept her growth (or undergo his own) precipitates an extraordinarily mundane act of violence that finally frees her. The moment Lori realises this, her face torn between grief and jubilation, is a highlight of the season, as is Darlene shutting the door on her past.
But Darlene is one of the lucky ones. For many characters, there’s a sense the doors ahead are already closed. Those in the adult business are excited about the advent of VHS, not realising how the invention will disrupt their community. Similarly, the spectre of change looms over Times Square itself, and the show works best as a portrait of a pre-Giuliani era, which wasn’t that safe or sanitised, but where life grew from the cracks destined to be paved.
The Staircase (Netflix)
WNBGC programmer Caitlin Cronin
I’ve always loved a good who-dunnit and if you add true crime to the mix then you’ve definitely sold me. The Staircase is a true crime docu-series similar to Making a Murderer, that follows the case of novelist Michael Peterson, who in 2001 was charged with murdering his wife Kathleen and staging it to look like a fall down stairs.
The makers of the series received almost unprecedented access to Michael, his family and his defense team over the trial and all that follows, making it an enthralling and emotional look at the justice system in motion.
While the series often falls into the same bias trap as Making a Murderer, there are some fascinating twists and turns in the case (owls even get involved). After over 10 hours of watching, I’m honestly still not sure I know who I believe. All I can say is that I think the owl is innocent.
Marketing and communications coordinator Anaya Latter
After breathing spicy life into True Detective back in 2015 (really, that long ago?) Director Cary Joji Fukunaga is getting weird and wild again with Maniac. What a strange, hallucinatory, pareidolian journey this is. Strap in for a wild ride about grief, pattern recognition, madness and ultimately, human connection. Just enough Black Mirror-esque tropes to keep you apprehensive about the future. In Maniac, loneliness is universal and advertising and data collection has a human presence (literally people follow you around and read adverts aloud to you). Emma Stone and Jonah Hill enter a pharmaceutical trial with unexpected and reality-bending consequences.
Bojack Horseman (Netflix)
Producer Arieh Offman
Damn you Bojack, why do I let you do this to me? Yet again Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s animated series has taken me to a very dark place, laughing the whole while.
This year TV’s hilariously bleak and bitingly brilliant satire forces its protagonist to actually account for his actions. In a year where taking responsibility and accountability has been at the forefront of everyone’s minds and Twitter feeds, Bojack must take stock of himself and the choices he has made, both in past seasons and in the present. However, his quest for self-improvement leads him to one of the darkest places yet. The season also contains one of the most bold and affecting narrative structures seen in recent times in an entire episode centring around Bojack’s eulogy to his mother. If you have yet to start Horsin’ Around with Bojack, it is time to start.