The thought struck me Friday, when Slate writer Inkoo Kang tweeted out her list of top TV of 2018. Hers was the first list on which I saw Nanette. Surely this was just a case of me not reading enough lists — that such a phenomenon as Nanette had to have been noticed in plenty of year-end lists.
But in fact, according to the compilation site Year-End Lists, which cross-references every major end-of-2018 list, Nanette has appeared on exactly two official best-of-TV lists: Willa Paskin’s, also at Slate, and Erin Trahan’s, at WBUR’s The Artery. Additionally, though for some reason it’s not listed on the compilation site, The Daily Beast‘s list included Nanette. Compare this to, say, The End of the F***ing World, a British dark comedy that is the antithesis of buzzy. (I’ve heard the title maybe twice before today.) That show appeared on seven lists. Vida, the under-the-radar Starz drama about Mexican-American sisters, appeared on four.
My puzzlement is less a defense of Nanette‘s quality — I enjoyed it, but it wouldn’t have made my top 20 TV shows list — than confusion over how a hugely popular, universally critically beloved stand-up special somehow only merits mention on three year-end TV lists (four, if you count Kang’s tweet).
The first explanation is a simple one: Many outlets ranked Nanette only in lists of stand-up specials, not TV shows. Decider, Mashable, Time, Vulture, and Paste all did that, and actually came in at number one on three of them. (Vulture ranked it 10th, and Decider 8th.) Considering the different classification, leaving Nanette off the TV lists seems understandable.
But think about that for a second or two longer. For one, not everyone has a top 10 stand-up specials list. And for the publications that do, and ranked Nanette number one, it’s even more puzzling that it didn’t make their equivalent TV lists. Imagine ranking every drama on TV, and then making a whole separate list of best TV shows that doesn’t include the best drama. Stand-up specials are still TV! And Nanette was, no doubt, one of the most discussed bits of TV this year.
You could argue that Nanette is not a TV show, but a stand-alone TV experience. That feels like splitting a hair, though. TV is changing, and the forms are changing, too. When we’ve got Facebook releasing shows and Netflix airing choose-your-own-adventure Black Mirror episodes, strict definitions of what is a “show” should really get thrown out the window.
Again, this isn’t me as a Nanette stan arguing that it was all-but-ignored — it didn’t make my list! Rather, it’s me as a consumer of culture expressing my confusion as to how one of the biggest, most critically acclaimed TV hits of 2018 isn’t making a splash as critics remember the best TV of 2018.
New Yorker critic Emily Nussbaum infamously eschewed lists years ago, for one reason among many that they weren’t sufficient for properly recapping the cultural year. I love a list, but Nanette‘s near-universal exclusion kinda makes the argument for Nussbaum (who also didn’t include Nanette in her sprawling anti-list). If something as unique, celebrated, and beloved as Hannah Gadsby’s stand-up special isn’t being recognized in lists mere months after it practically broke the internet, maybe it’s the lists that are the problem.