ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
It's the holiday season, and while others are baking cookies or gathering with family, our TV critic Eric Deggans has been feverishly watching television to create his list of 2018's best tv series. And Eric joins us now. Hi there.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hey.
SHAPIRO: OK, there's, like, hundreds of original TV series out there right now. How on Earth do you narrow down this Best Of list?
DEGGANS: It is so hard. My original Best Of list had something like two dozen names on it, and I had Amazon's "Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," AMC's "Better Call Saul," the series finale of FX's "The Americans," which was amazing.
SHAPIRO: Brilliant, yeah.
DEGGANS: I know you liked "The Haunting Of Hill House" on Netflix.
SHAPIRO: I did. And this Amazon series "Forever," which was 10 episodes with Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen. But we're not here to talk about my list. We're here to talk about yours. What did you love this year?
DEGGANS: Well, I figure we'll just stick to new shows, OK? So one of my favorite new shows is on Amazon. It's called "Homecoming," and it stands out because it's the first starring role in a TV series for Julia Roberts, who we're familiar with from the movies.
DEGGANS: And she plays this woman. She's kind of a frazzled administrator who's running a program that's supposed to help veterans, but it's got this dark side. Then, we also see her in the future, and she seems to have lost everything. So the question is, like, how did that happen?
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HOMECOMING")
JULIA ROBERTS: (As Heidi Bergman) It's a little embarrassing, OK? I had this whole career, and then I had to come back. And now I do this, all right?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) What were your duties there?
ROBERTS: (As Heidi Bergman) I was a counselor, I told you.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) And what did it involve?
ROBERTS: (As Heidi Bergman) Honestly, I don't remember much about it, OK? I was - it wasn't a good fit for me. Are we done?
SHAPIRO: Eric, I love the visual style of this show - the camera angles, the colors. And it's surprising because this actually came from a podcast, which had no visuals at all.
DEGGANS: Exactly. It's directed by Sam Esmail, the guy who created the wonderful show "Mr. Robot." And it just really expands on his inventive visual style. I just - I love everything he's done with this.
SHAPIRO: All right. Amazon is a relatively new streaming platform. What about the traditional TV networks? Anything you loved this year from them?
DEGGANS: Well, if you consider HBO traditional, they've got this great comedy. It's called "Barry," and it stars Bill Hader, who used to be on "Saturday Night Live." And he's playing Barry Berkman, a soldier with PTSD who becomes a low-level hit man.
Now, he follows a target into an acting class, and he suddenly decides, hey, I found my life's work, but he's terrible at it. So what do you do when you're in this job that's killing you, that you're really good at...
SHAPIRO: Killing you, so to speak.
DEGGANS: Exactly, so to speak. And you find this thing that you love, but you're terrible at it.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BARRY")
BILL HADER: (As Barry Berkman) Well, you know, they told me a very small percentage of actors actually make a living acting, you know? It's mostly about day jobs, so I just figured, you know, I'd do night hits or something.
STEPHEN ROOT: (As Monroe Fuches) You want to have a hobby or something, you can take up painting. Hitler painted. John Wayne Gacy painted. It never got in the way of what they were doing. You want to go out there and try to burn a guy and have him say, hey, there's the guy from the chicken commercial?
HADER: (As Barry Berkman) I don't know if I'd do commercials.
SHAPIRO: A veteran hit man actor sounds like a totally bizarre premise for a TV show. But if you loved it, I'll take your word for it.
DEGGANS: What I love about this clip is, like, even a hit man has standards - I'm not sure if I'd do commercials (laughter).
SHAPIRO: OK, what else did you love this year?
DEGGANS: So there's this great espionage thriller called "Killing Eve." It was on BBC America.
SHAPIRO: Oh, right. Sandra Oh stars in that, right?
DEGGANS: Exactly. You might remember her from "Grey's Anatomy." And she plays this sort of low-level person who works in British intelligence who somehow figures out how to track this super smart, super effective, super psychotic assassin.
Now, the two become infatuated with each other when the assassin figures out that she's being tracked and - at least in this scene, where Eve's apartment's been broken into and the assassin is confronting her and Eve is trying to keep this woman from killing her.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "KILLING EVE")
SANDRA OH: (As Eve Polastri) I know you are Russian. I know you were in a prison in Moscow for five years until someone broke you out. I know you are exceptionally bright.
JODIE COMER: (As Villanelle) What else?
OH: (As Eve Polastri) I know you're a psychopath.
COMER: (As Villanelle) You should never tell a psychopath they're a psychopath.
DEGGANS: So what I love about this is that the executive producer, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, has cast two women in the lead in this espionage show, and it just turns all these tropes that we have about spy thrillers and espionage thrillers on their head. And it's the - it's a testament to the power of diversity in casting.
SHAPIRO: Did any shows grow on you this year?
DEGGANS: Well, the last series I'll mention is Showtime's "The Chi." And some people might be surprised to hear me list this because when I reviewed it almost a year ago, I gave it a pretty lukewarm review, but I'd only seen about three or four episodes.
And I love the fact that it really humanizes the South Side, a really tough neighborhood in Chicago, in a way that "The Wire" humanized Baltimore. And we get to know these people that are treated as sort of stereotypes and are kind of dismissed by larger society. I just wish I had seen more episodes before I reviewed it the first time.
SHAPIRO: And I know you've got a longer list, along with some of our other critics, online at npr.org that listeners can peruse at their convenience. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans, thanks a lot.
DEGGANS: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.