My Favorite Television Series of 2018 is the dreamy, evocative, always surprising High Maintenance. The Season Two opening episode Globo a reflection on New York on the worst day of 2016, was one of the best things that I saw all year.
High Maintenance began in 2012 as a web series on Vimeo created by Ben Sinclair and his then wife Katja Blichfeld. As an HBO series starting in 2016, the series has made an art form out of building up stereotypes and then upending them. A well-to-do couple of young professionals succumbs to apocalyptic paranoia; an award-winning writer and stay-at-home dad played by Downton Abbey‘s Dan Stevens is revealed as a closeted cross-dresser; a successful Tinder-born relationship is sabotaged when it is discovered that one half of the couple is secretly homeless.
The show follows a nameless marijuana bicycle deliver guy called ”The Guy” (perfectly played by Sinclair) as he delivers his product to clients in New York City. Each episode focuses on a new set of characters as they all procure their cannabis from The Guy.
Blichfeld came out of the closet in 2017, divorcing Sinclair, but staying on as writer and producer of the series. High Maintenance has provided a variety of LGBTQ characters and storylines.
Max Jenkins and Heléne Yorke play Max and Lainey, who have their own storyline and then appear in several more episodes as a neurotic gay man and his female best friend from the fashion world, challenging the perception of the notion of “gay best friend” and ”fag hag”. They are a pair so loathsome that The Guy has them in his phone contacts as: “Assholes”. No two characters on television are as narcissistic or as toxic as these two friends are. Bob The Drag Queen appears in their best episode Meth(od) as Darnell, a recovering addict. Self-absorbed Max leaves Lainey at a party, goes on a hook up app and connects with a guy, Sebastian, played by the porn star Colby Keller, leading to the most graphic and bluntly realistic gay sex scene I have ever seen on television (the series features plenty of full-frontal male nudity). Instead of going back to the party, he joins Sebastian at his Crystal Meth Anonymous group, claiming he is also an addict.
In two episodes, one as the major character and a return as a secondary character, openly gay actor Michael Cyril Creighton plays Patrick, a lonely agoraphobic obsessed with Helen Hunt and secretly in love with The Guy.
It is revealed that The Guy has an ex-wife who lives down the hall from him and is currently in a committed relationship with a woman (Rebecca Naomi Jones). They couple figures in several episodes, hysterical and touching.
Few series have pulled off a feeling quite as voyeuristic as High Maintenance, granting an intimate peek into strangers’ lives. How many times have you asked yourself “What’s going on behind closed doors?” High Maintenance opens those doors, revealing riveting, sometimes sexy, often dysfunctional, frequently heartbreaking, always odd, insightful stories behind them. Each episode is like a little indie film and a love letter to New York City, especially Brooklyn. Season Three starts in Mid-January.
Other favorite series from 2018:
The Good Fight (CBS All Access) a spin-off, that is even better than its origin, The Good Wife! With gay icons Christine Baranski, Bernadette Peters, Audra McDonald, and gay main character played by Game of Thrones’ Rose Leslie. The Good Fight also has the best opening credits of any show, and with its rude satirical riffs on the pee tape, it really helped me get through the Trump antics.
A Very English Scandal (Amazon Prime), the dark, funny miniseries about a real British sex scandal. Hugh Grant gives such a remarkable performance that I am actually looking forward to seeing Love Actually for a tenth time just to get more Grant. Out gay actor Ben Whishaw plays my friend as Norman Josiffe / Norman Scott.
Dietland (AMC) flew under the radar for most people, but I thought about this angry, unsettling show long after its run. Dietland is a wickedly funny and extraordinarily timed satire, equal parts revenge fantasy and heartfelt journey to self-acceptance, it explores patriarchy, misogyny, rape culture, and unrealistic beauty standards. And it is a comedy!
Season Two of GLOW (Netflix) was nearly perfect. The series is a fictionalization of the characters and gimmicks of the real life 1980s syndicated women’s professional wrestling circuit, the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (or GLOW). Season Two has a main character coming out of the closet.
Season Two of political comedy Dear White People (Netflix) is the best show about college ever. Created by out writer/director Justin Simien, Dear White People follows a group of black students on a primarily white college campus, the injustices they face, and how they protest this racism. One of the core characters is journalism student Lionel Higgins, played by Tyler James Williams who is trying to find where he belongs as a black gay man. In addition to Lionel and his love interest Silvio (D.J. Blickenstaff), out actor and Emmy Award-winning writer Lena Waithe joined the cast as an MC, P Ninny. Dear White People gives us a look at racism in the LGBTQ community and homophobia in the black community. And, it is a comedy with plenty of yummy male flesh.
Pose (FX), just one more great Ryan Murphy show, is a richly entertaining, deeply moving show featuring the largest cast of transgender actors in television history. Pose is set in 1987–88 and looks at the African-American and Latino Ball Culture world, the downtown social and literary scene, and the rise of the Trump milieu. The actors are astoundingly good, especially Tony Award-winner Billy Porter who is nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance. Have tissues handy.
Schitt’s Creek (CBC Television/Pop/Netflix), so funny, so outrageous, with amazing performances by Catherine O’Hara and out actor Daniel Levy. I loved the sweet gay romance at its center. It returns with a special Christmas episode on December 19, and a fifth season starting in Mid-January. I can’t live without Moira Rose’s (O’Hara) fabulous wardrobe and indistinguishable accent.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon) is set in the late 1950s New York City with a little side-trip to Paris, and for one especially impressive mid-season stretch, the Catskills summer resorts. It is a look at showbiz and gender, with a backdrop for crazy colors, fabulous fashions, snappy dialogue, and some of the most winning characters on television, including Susie, the enterprising, tough, and boundlessly likeable comedy club manager played by Alex Borstein. Susie is a butch in trousers and a newsboy cap who is often mistaken on the show for a man. Borstein won the Emmy Award for the first season of her performance. She is an openly queer character who wears her queerness and gender nonconformity with humor, complexity, and lots of screen time.
Barry (HBO) has Bill Hader‘s listless hit man going to Los Angeles on a job for the Chechen mob. His contact is Noho Hank, a gay tattooed gangster played by Anthony Carrigan. With his insatiable interest in pop culture, lilting accent and personality that’s equal parts innocence and ignorance, Noho Hank offers energetic comic relief in this engrossing, but increasingly dark comedy.
The daring The Assassination Of Gianni Versace (FX) from Ryan Murphy is loosely told in reverse chronological order. It is a deep dive into the pasts of two gay men, a murderer and his most famous victim, shaped by a culture that forced them to keep big pieces of their lives a secret. This American Crime Story miniseries has the unusual structure and Darren Criss‘ riveting performance as the sociopathic serial killer Andrew Cunanan make it one the best shows of 2018.
Claws (TNT) is a splashy, very funny, absolutely addictive series that plunges viewers into a world that’s as much about a nail salon as it is about organized crime in Florida. Claws is violent, ridiculous and brutal. It shockingly offers a choreographed dance sequence layer upon a shocking murder. The entire show is worth it just for Niecy Nash‘s pitch-perfect performance, but everyone in the cast is shining. The characters include a butch lesbian, a bisexual crime boss and his boy toy.
With so many options, and so many channels, 2018 proved to have brought another embarrassment of viewing riches.