The year#8217s best television so far was in several cases drawn from literaturemdashfrom a Showtime miniseries drawn from a modern classic of class commentary to a Hulu adaptation of narrative nonfiction about the road to 9/11 to a BBC America action series based on a collection of thrillers. It makes sense: In a somewhat slow year so far for truly great TV, what#8217s stood out are shows that are as immersive as the best of literature. The best television in the first half of 2018 created worlds that are enough like our own to be recognizable, but suffused with compelling and original detail.

Patrick Melrose, Showtime Benedict Cumberbatch in 'Patrick Melrose' SHOWTIME

This adaptation of the semi-autobiographical novels by Edward St. Aubyn brings to the screen unaltered the authorrsquos distaste for Britainrsquos idle rich. Patrick (Benedict Cumberbatch) has achieved little in life precisely because the class into which he was born views striving as gauche. Whatrsquos changed from the novels, though, is precisely how visceral each moment is. Cumberbatch, so often tetchily calculated onscreen, pulsates with need as he recalls past abuses suffered at his fatherrsquos hand or looks forward to his next high. When Patrick Melrose makes the turn into depicting his recovery, a piece of social satire develops into a frank story of one manrsquos struggle to be better than his past. Itrsquos too vulnerable and plainspoken to fit into what we think of as the best of British period dramamdashwhich is what makes it as special as its protagonist, a man who fits in nowhere and whom viewers wonrsquot soon forget.

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Wild Wild Country, Netflix A still from the Netflix docuseries 'Wild Wild Country' Netflix

The true-crime sensation of the first half of 2018 was an unusually clever telling of a story that, somehow, society has forgotten: the saga of Rajneeshpuram, an intentional community formed by devotees of a mystic teacher and occupying land legally purchased in Oregon in 1981. That Rajneeshpuram had a right to exist didnrsquot mean it would necessarily coexist comfortably with locals who saw their surroundings change rapidly as the Rajneeshees asserted their presence boldly. The storyrsquos evolution into one in which, regrettably, no one is precisely in the right makes for compelling if occasionally slow viewing. Ma Anand Sheela, a true believer who effectively led the commune and whose leadership included poisoning locals with salmonella, is a striking figure in her interviews for the documentary, regretting nothing and unwilling to yield an inch of ground.


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