Picking the best television shows of any given year used to be relatively easy, back when the major networks and a few powerful cable channels dominated the cultural conversation. These days, though, making any list of must-see TV is a downright Sisyphean. It’s impossible to keep up with everything worthy of consideration in television, so best-of lists inevitably become idiosyncratic, determined in large part by whatever limited pool of series a critic regularly watches.
But a handful of dramas and sitcoms clearly stood out this year, demonstrating levels of aesthetic, narrative, and thematic ambition that would’ve been hard for anyone paying attention to dismiss. There are so many projects that deserve kudos, though, and only so much space. So before you scroll through this list, one note: Don’t grumble about what’s missing without searching the page for whatever you’re hoping to find. A lot of this year’s best TV still gets an enthusiastic mention below, if not a slot in the Top 20.
With that in mind, here’s a look back at some of the best places TV took us to in 2017, from the outer reaches of the cosmos to ritzy Hollywood bungalows to crumbling minor-league baseball stadiums, and to our recent past and our possible futures.
Twin Peaks: The Return
David Lynch and Mark Frost’s return to the strange, dangerous world of Twin Peaks was by no means a smooth ride. Some of their subplots went nowhere, many of their comic interludes were clumsy, and even with 18 hours to play with, the series shortchanged some of the original series’ cast of ancient evil spirits, corrupt plutocrats, and mystically attuned champions of justice. But as was the case with ABC’s Twin Peaks in the 1990s, the 2017 Showtime version benefited from its makers’ general lack of interest in current TV trends. Very little about this show was predictable, derivative, or too familiar. At any given minute, Lynch and Frost could swerve away from the narrative entirely to add a musical performance, or to spend a few poignant minutes with a recently departed castmember, or to mount an elaborately allegorical avant-garde exploration of how modernity has hastened humanity’s fall. By turns glorious, despairing, humane, and perplexing, Twin Peaks was an uncommonly generous weekly gift, delivered throughout a long, hot summer.
Halt And Catch Fire
Insisting that a show is really about its people, not its plot, isn’t just a cliché, it’s a potentially dangerous one, because it implies that story doesn’t matter. But in its fourth and final season, Halt and Catch Fire actually justified this more pensive, character-driven approach, which too many other prestige TV dramas have done to exhaustion. Co-creators Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers have generated plenty of gripping material over the past few years for their decades-spanning tale of tech-savvy geniuses going through the grinding step-by-step of getting one project after another funded and shipped. All those cycles of success and failure culminated in a masterfully written, directed, and acted concluding run of episodes, which clarified what this series has always been trying to say: that professional accomplishments matter more when they can be shared. What we do matters less than who’s by our side while we do it.
The only real knock against The Leftovers’ final season is that its eight episodes didn’t give co-creators Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta enough time to dot every I and cross every T in their sprawling post-apocalyptic saga. But kudos to them both (and especially to Lindelof, undoubtedly still stung by the mixed reaction to how he ended Lost) for sticking with their clever short-story structures and fiendish ambiguity, even as they made their show potentially off-putting to non-fans. Season three of The Leftovers offered answers of a kind to the series’ many mysteries — albeit with some pretty big asterisks attached. Mostly though, it honored the winding, unending journey of trauma survivors, in episodes that packed more wit, plot, and pathos into an hour than most dramas manage in a year.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Just as Hulu’s Emmy-winning The Handmaid’s Tale offered a depressingly timely dissection of gender roles and power dynamics in an all-too-plausible near-future dystopia, so Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel looked at the expectations for women and men in the lightly fictionalized chauvinistic society of 1950s New York City. The difference is that Gilmore Girls/Bunheads creator Amy Sherman-Palladino coated her bitter pills in rainbow-dyed fructose. While following the adventures of a Jewish divorcée investigating the world of stand-up comedy, Sherman-Palladino and her partner Daniel Palladino brought their usual sparkling dialogue, quirky side characters, and vivid sense of place to a show that’s pretty to look at and invigorating to watch. Mrs. Maisel is like Mad Men from the perspective of a vivacious, acid-tongued woman, rather than yet another mopey dude.
The word “procedural” has become a pejorative in some discussions about TV, due to the proliferation of generic “high-tech team solves a new case each week” shows. But like David Fincher’s Zodiac, his Netflix series Mindhunter (co-created in the first season with playwright Joe Penhall) illustrated how approaching the story of an investigation with an eye toward the microscopic details can reveal a lot about both crime and the culture around it. Mindhunter’s just-the-facts take on the early days of FBI profiling is absolutely mesmerizing, for how it explains the modern history of American crime-fighting and for how the straight-laced hero (well-played by Broadway star Jonathan Groff) follows his intellect and instincts to the doorsteps of some of recent history’s real-life monsters. Fans of Mindhunter should also check out the Discovery Channel’s 2017 miniseries Manhunt: Unabomber, another of the year’s best shows, which also considers how techniques finding killers have evolved.
Honestly, Black-ish belongs on any list of 2017’s best television just for the episode “Lemons,” which aired back in January, and dealt frankly and movingly with the jolt of Donald Trump’s electoral victory. The sitcom remained on a roll throughout the second half of its third season and the first half of its fourth, finding humor and truth in everything from the limited choice of toys aimed at African-Americans to the Johnson family’s internal debates over how much they should help an ex-con friend. ABC’s slate of family sitcoms is consistently good-to-great, with Speechless, The Goldbergs, The Middle, and Modern Family all capable of airing one of any given week’s best TV episodes. But Black-ish is operating on a higher level right now, thanks to crackerjack comic timing — courtesy of a now-well-seasoned cast — and a willingness to make viewers uncomfortable.
Better Call Saul
This was the year Breaking Bad’s prequel moved more decisively into the timeline of its parent show, introducing the characters and situations that will eventually lead to shrewd nice-guy attorney James McGill becoming criminally connected super-lawyer Saul Goodman. Yet while Breaking Bad fans know where Jimmy (and his occasional field operative Mike Ehrmantraut) are going to end up in a few years, this show has been addicting for the way it’s tracked the choices that come back to haunt people. This season in particular was like watching a car crash in extreme slow-motion. Next year, we’ll see where the flaming wreckage lands. In the meantime, Better Call Saul fans looking for a similar mix of black comedy and criminal mischief should seek out the first season of Epix’s Get Shorty, which adapts Elmore Leonard’s colorful Hollywood gangster novel in a way that’s different from the movie, but no less entertaining.
Writer-producer-director Noah Hawley had a very good year, with his offbeat Marvel project Legion drawing raves for its prog-rock/Stanley Kubrick-influenced spin on super-heroics, and then with the third season of the Coen brothers-derived anthology series Fargo taking daring chances with its tone and themes. Though ostensibly still a story about kooky Minnesota crooks and cops, Fargo’s third season built the story from one bizarre murder — the air-conditioner-aided bludgeoning of a dopey ex-con — into an unexpectedly on-point look at how ordinary Americans have allowed darker international powers to turn us against each other. Odd digressions into science fiction, Hollywood history, and feminist revenge fantasies combined to make this the show’s most ambitious and emotionally resonant season.
The Good Place
It’s hard to say too much about NBC’s delightfully daffy afterlife comedy The Good Place without spoiling one of its primary selling-points: the multiple madcap plot-twists. Suffice to say that after exploding its own premise at the end of season one back in January, The Good Place creator Michael Schur continued throwing wicked curveballs in season two. It’s also important to note that through all its switcheroos, this show is first and foremost about the myriad tiny ways that we’re terrible to each other, and how we could all use a refresher course on being good humans — even after we’re dead.
One Day At A Time
It was obvious that 2017 was going to be a good year for TV after week one, when Netflix uploaded all 13 hilarious, heartfelt hours of One Day at a Time — the rare television remake as essential as its source material. The creative team of Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce took advantage of their commercial-free platform and three-camera/live-audience sitcom format, using both in concert to make a show with long scenes, playing out like theater. Following in the footsteps of executive producer and inspiration Norman Lear, Kellett and Royce celebrated a loving family that still squabbles about politics, religion, work-life balance, sexuality, and about living as Cuban-Americans at a complicated time in American history.
Basic cable didn’t lack inspired, funky little comedies in 2017. Detroiters on Comedy Central adds notes of wistful melancholy to its depiction of goofball Midwestern advertising men. Viceland’s What Would Diplo Do? delivers a sublimely absurdist take on modern celebrity. But IFC’s Brockmire was easily the year’s most welcome surprise. Hank Azaria’s wickedly precise impression of a depressed, boozy veteran baseball announcer would’ve been entertaining regardless of what story creator Joel Church-Cooper molded around it. It was a nice bonus that Church-Cooper (with the help of Azaria and co-star Amanda Peet) turned Brockmire into an earnest riff on baseball, Americana, and the curious comforts of a life that’s descended into hopelessness.
This was a good year for female-centered adult melodramas, examining the complexities of women’s relationships with each other, with men, and with their professions. Big Little Lies turns a murder mystery in a tony seaside community into spellbinding television, rich with shocking secrets. Feud is more controversial, since it deals with real people — primarily actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford — and buys into a lot of the old, not strictly accurate Hollywood gossip about who hated whom, who was a bully, and who was a hack. There are good reasons to be concerned about repeating these shallow stereotypes, even if the ultimate goal is to hail some misunderstood entertainers. Nevertheless, Feud is so zingy — with such commanding lead performances by Susan Sarandon as Davis and Jessica Lange as Crawford — that its dodgy ethics are forgivable. Plus, the essence of this story remains painfully true, cutting to the heart of the showbiz misogyny that’s been all over the headlines lately.
Even with a creative team as accomplished as 30 Rock’s Tina Fey, Robert Carlock, and Tracey Wigfield, Great News sort of flew under the radar when it debuted back in April with a polished, punchy 10-episode first season, which NBC inexplicably burned through in five weeks. And then the second season has barely raised any buzz since it launched this past fall. But any fans of 30 Rock, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, or The Mindy Project (which Wigfield previously worked on) who aren’t already watching Great News are missing out. It belongs on the same shelf as those shows, both for its frenetic absurdity, and for its explication of what it’s like to be a woman stepping through the daily minefield of life, relationships, and work in 21st-century New York City.
The Vietnam War
The TV year ended with one of America’s top documentary filmmakers, Errol Morris, debuting one of his best films — the five-hour CIA mind-trip Wormwood — on Netflix, a platform that’s been highly hospitable to documentarians of late. (How much so? One of the service’s 2017 cult hits was American Vandal, an uncannily accurate parody of Netflix’s burgeoning library of true-crime docs.) Ken Burns and Lynn Novick have the edge of experience, though, and they brought it to bear on their 10-part, 17-hour PBS docu-series The Vietnam War. For a conflict that’s been so well-covered by popular culture, the Vietnam War itself has remained largely misunderstood, even by the people who lived through it. Burns and Novick dug through it all, from the roots to the branches, connecting our current broken geopolitics to bad choices made decades ago.
No knock intended to Game of Thrones, which powered through its penultimate season with jaw-dropping moments aplenty, but for this year at least, the title of Best Literary Fantasy Adaptation belonged to Outlander, which has quietly been rewriting the rules for how to translate big books to TV, and quietly expanding its audience in the process. By breaking Diana Gabaldon’s massive novels into a series of hourlong short stories, writer-producer Ronald D. Moore has avoided the wheel-spinning shapelessness that bogs down so much cable drama, Thrones included. Season three featured what amounted to a full adventure in every episode, cycling through prison stories, time travel, high-seas skulduggery, and more. Through all that, Outlander still found time for a tender (and sexy) reunion episode between heroes Claire and Jamie, reminding fans that these characters’ tumultuous relationship and burning passion will always be the heart of the show.
Though it’s widely liked (if not widely watched), Brooklyn Nine-Nine doesn’t get near the appreciation that a sitcom of its caliber deserves. Even beyond the show’s ever-growing assortment of amusing oddballs — some of which are among the precinct’s eccentric but highly capable police force, and some of which are recurring crooks and colleagues — co-creators Dan Goor and Michael Schur have done a remarkable job of fitting their little episodic comic adventures into fully realized story-arcs, with sudden turns and lingering consequences. Brooklyn Nine-Nine actually works as crime fiction, in addition to being a warm, weird workplace comedy. Now in the middle of season five, the show has been on a roll for so long that its excellence may be taken for granted. Don’t make that mistake. Enjoy it while it’s still around.
The past few years have been filled with disappointing premium cable dramas like Vinyl and I’m Dying Up Here — series that tried to turn particular cultural moments, rooted in specific places and times, into engaging fictional narratives. The tide turned a bit in 2017, thanks to Netflix’s well-realized takes on ’80s ladies wrestling in GLOW and ’70s hip-hop in The Get Down. (The latter flopped, but ought to pick up fans over time.) The master of this kind of intricate social study on television remains David Simon, though. Alongside crime novelists George Pelecanos, Lisa Lutz, Megan Abbott, and Richard Price, he turned The Deuce into a three-dimensional environment as much as a gritty exposé. Watching this carefully mapped-out trip through the rise of the porn industry in New York City was like walking through Times Square in the early ’70s, only with less personal danger, and the benefit of hindsight.
Rick and Morty
There’s no denying that one aggressively vocal wing of the Rick and Morty fan-base — the anarchic “caring is for suckers and SJWs” online commenters — has stained this show to some extent, because no matter how much co-creators Dan Harmon and Justin Rolland push back against them, one of the pillars of their comedy remains a kind of self-pitying nihilism, framed as worldly enlightenment. Their mad scientist Rick Sanchez is monstrously callous, and while they haven’t shied away from exposing the destructive effects of his actions, Harmon and Rolland have also suggested over and over that Rick is basically in the right. All of that said… Why must entertainment always be uplifting and empowering? For all its philosophical limitations, Rick and Morty’s simultaneous skewering and upholding of hardcore science-fiction tropes makes it one of the funniest and most imaginative comedies on TV. And all things being equal, it’s better for a cultural artifact to have a point of view, even if it’s disagreeable.
In its second season, Stranger Things hit that paradoxical spot that many commercially and creatively successful properties have reached before: it’s so hyped-up that it’s become underrated. But it’s still rare for a left-field TV hit to produce a second season as lively and entertaining as Stranger Things did. The Duffer brothers didn’t deepen their show significantly, or even change up their approach. But they also didn’t use popularity as an excuse to start taking themselves too seriously. Season two (including the much-mocked “punk” episode) worked because it’s slick, fun, and driven by some of the most likable teen characters since the heyday of John Hughes. It’s a simple formula with plenty of pop.
Consider this last slot a memorial to all of this year’s great fallen shows. Let’s bid farewell to The Carmichael Show, and marvel that we got three spirited seasons of the Carmichael family bickering about today’s news. (And in the process, we were introduced to two of 2017’s hottest comic actors: Girls Trip’s Tiffany Haddish and Get Out’s Lil Rel Howley.) Let’s be grateful for three years of Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair playing best friends raising a baby on the sweet, snappy Playing House. Let’s appreciate that Andy Daly got to end Review on his own terms, with one of TV’s wildest, darkest, most meta finales. Let’s also lament that MTV wasn’t more patient with Sweet/Vicious, an action-comedy about anti-campus-rape vigilantes that’s now more timely than ever. Finally, let’s especially rue the loss of Survivor’s Remorse, which was in the middle of yet another of its smart, tough storylines about the responsibilities of celebrity and sudden wealth when Starz pulled the plug. These shows will be missed. But here’s the upside to our era of TV oversaturation: Thanks to the subscription services’ need for content, Survivor’s Remorse and its fellow cancelled series will never truly be gone. They’re all still out there right now, waiting to be discovered.
Correction, 7:45PM ET: A previous version of this post used an incorrect photo for Black-ish. We regret the error.
- The 100 best TV shows of the 2010s
- 10 Best TV Episodes of 2017: ‘The Good Place’
- 10 Best TV Episodes of 2017: ‘GLOW’
- 10 Best TV Episodes of 2017: ‘Master of None’
- Halo TV Show Suffers A Setback, As Director Leaves
- How ‘The Good Place’ Turned Into the Smartest, Funniest Sitcom on TV
The 20 best TV shows of 2017 have 3210 words, post on www.theverge.com at December 20, 2017. This is cached page on Talk Vietnam. If you want remove this page, please contact us.