The 25 Best TV Shows of 2017, Part One

Andy Herrera
Dec 29, 2017 · 10 min read

25. RED OAKS (Amazon Prime)

An 80’s sex/coming of age comedy distilled to its purest parts, Red Oaks was much better than it ever had to be. Instead of relying on easy 80’s nostalgia, Red Oaks went for a hyperspecific, lived in 80’s atmosphere for its story about a young wannabe filmmaker and the people around him slowly trying to figure out who they are. The characters, while seemingly stereotypes at first (the stoner, the rich girl, the artist) are gradually deepened in funny and surprising ways. Paul Reiser and Jennifer Grey, who were undoubtedly cast because of their own connections to 80’s pop culture, are the highlights, complicating the typical stern dad and wacky mom stock characters in interesting ways. Craig Roberts is great too in the lead role, as a young man figuring out how to balance life, love, and his artistic ambition. Red Oaks was never the most original show, but it was the details and performances that made it something special.

Key Episodes: “Summer in the City”, “Memories”, “Action!”

24. SANTA CLARITA DIET (Netflix)

I’m a huge fan of Better Off Ted, so I was excited for Victor Fresco’s new show as soon as it was announced, but I was not prepared for what Fresco would do with nearly no restrictions going from network TV to Netflix. Santa Clarita Diet is the most interesting comedy of the year in how completely bizarre it is, all in service of a metaphor for how suburbia and modern work expectations can turn you into, well, a zombie. Drew Barrymore is great in the lead role as a mom zombie (I refuse to use the word “mombie”) as she nails the character’s gradual behavioral changes. Timothy Olyphant is fantastic too, as the dad trying desperately to hold it together behind a cracked facade. Add a couple of actually funny teenagers (there’s an extended gag in the finale involving their teen daughter testing a zombie cure that had me crying laughing) and a late in the game guest star run by Portia de Rossi (naturally, since she starred in Better Off Ted), and you have the year’s most bizarre and fun pure comedy.

Key Episodes: “We Can’t Kill People!”, “Man Eat Man”, “Baka, Bile and Baseball Bats”

23. ROOM 104 (HBO)

There are too many anthology series on right now. As with most modern TV trends, this is all Ryan Murphy’s fault. The good thing is that HBO’s second current anthology series (High Maintenance is its first and you should absolutely watch it) is one of the good ones. With a premise that’s essentially “stories written and/or overseen by the Duplass brothers that all take place in one hotel room”, Room 104 can be divisive, but many of the episodes proved the show was worth it. Episodes including one about a mother and son figuring out themselves and also the internet in the 90’s, one about a young man planning a political terror attack, and about two Mormons coming to terms with their faith by pushing it to the limit all showed how invested the Duplass brothers are in creating an array of well-observed stories.

Key Episodes: “The Internet”, “The Missionaries”, “Red Tent”

22. THE BOLD TYPE (Freeform)

The charming and confident Bold Type progressed from a promising pilot into a strong first season that examined any number of feminist topics, both public and personal. The show never becomes pedantic and thankfully allows its young main characters both realistically succeed and fail while working for the fictional Scarlett magazine in ways that make sense to the characters and the world they live in. Melora Hardin is almost completely unrecognizable here as the head of the publication. She’s smartly the anti-Miranda Priestly, a kind but not too kind boss that believes in women supporting women, which makes sense in the changing media landscape we’re witnessing where magazines like Teen Vogue become bastions of political commentary. This type of show lives and dies by its characters and the conflicts they’re presented with and thankfully plot lines are carefully crafted around meaningful questions about modern love, friendship, and ambition.

Key Episodes: “The Breast Issue”, “Before Tequila Sunrise”, “Carry the Weight”

21. THE HANDMAID’S TALE (Hulu)

There’s not much I can say about this show that hasn’t been said before or better in the seemingly millions of thinkpieces that have been written about it, but it’s solid as hell. Eerie cinematography and powerful performances abound in this dystopian thriller. Elisabeth Moss is always great but she really is something here, exemplifying the anger and grief at the center of the character dealing with unspeakably horrible circumstances.

Key Episodes: “Offred”, “Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum”, “Night”

20. SPEECHLESS (ABC)

Easily my favorite of the ABC family comedies, Speechless especially excels at showing how deeply flawed the DiMeos are, in ways both funny and moving. The second half of the first season and first half of the second season has balanced great character-based comedy alongside genuinely fresh dramatic stakes surrounding the DiMeos trying to figure out exactly how JJ is going to progress into adulthood as a disabled person. The show never becomes unnecessarily treacly, actively fighting the idea of “inspiration porn” in one episode. Its consistency is anchored by a hugely talented ensemble cast (Minnie Driver is especially hysterical), and some of the funniest, most talented child actors on television.

Key Episodes: “H-E-R — HERO”, “C-H — CHEATER”, “C-A — CAMP”,

19. PLEASE LIKE ME (Hulu)

Sadly dumped on Hulu in January after their American network went under in late 2016, Please Like Me was a bit overlooked, which is a shame because its final season was fantastic. A melancholy look at relationships and grief, the last season took two meaty dramatic turns and made the absolute most of them. Josh’s breakup with Arnold is rooted in the show’s thorny characterization of both characters, and climaxes heartbreakingly, albeit with an amusing singalong punchline. The death of Josh’s mother hangs over the last two episodes of the series, though it never feels rushed. Every character grieves in ways that feel right and Josh begins the long path towards coming to terms with his grief. To the very end, this was a show about people learning to live and grow with their pain, and to that end, it was always incisively realistic and funny.

Key Episodes: “Porridge”, “Degustation”, “Burrito Bowl”

18. RICK AND MORTY (Adult Swim)

Nerd nonsense this year aside, Rick and Morty was better than it’s ever been in its third season. The jokes and plots were labyrinthine and clever enough and rooted in enough genuine character pain that a scene where Rick ignores a therapist’s genuine life advice can be heartbreaking even if the entire episode before it was a Die Hard parody starring Rick as a human pickle. This season dug deeper into the mythology of Morty, going so far as to even have an episode devoted to observing how a population of Mortys fares against a population of Ricks. It’s a minor miracle that this show manages to be as fantastical as it is while never losing sight of its characters.

Key Episodes: “Pickle Rick”, “Vindicators 3: The Return of Worldender”, “The Ricklantis Mixup”

17. I LOVE DICK (Amazon Prime)

Already a better show than Transparent because of its lack of posturing, I Love Dick is a simultaneous skewering/endorsement of modern feminism, and lives (and screams at the world) comfortably in that gray area. Kathryn Hahn is finally given the role she deserves, one that’s difficult and thorny, and she makes it work effortlessly as we see her Chris deal with her undeniable attraction to the apathetic titular Dick (an understated Kevin Bacon) and funnel this emotion through her art. It’s a difficult, strange, and self-indulgent show that somehow works, though it’s admittedly an acquired taste.

Key Episodes: “Pilot”, “A Short History of Weird Girls, “Cowboys and Nomads”

16. BIG LITTLE LIES (HBO)

A show I honestly disliked after watching the first episode, Big Little Lies overcame the trashy, cheesy atmosphere it gave off to create a cast of well-written women juggling motherhood as well as their own intense, beautifully rendered internal struggles. A shockingly beautifully directed and edited show (I was not a fan of Jean Marc-Valeé’s Dallas Buyer’s Club) paired with captivating performances made this show the best adult soap opera of the year.

Key Episodes: “Living The Dream”, “Once Bitten”, “You Get What You Need”

15. BIG MOUTH (Netflix)

The Rick and Morty of puberty jokes, Big Mouth similarly has a seemingly endless well-spring of odd jokes and comedic situations (a teenager gets a pillow pregnant! a tampon that sings like Michael Stipe! a vagina voiced by Kristen Wiig!) that nonetheless all come together in a cohesive manner because of how well the characters are written. It’s a difficult feat to make a show that can do strange meta-tangents but still make us genuinely care about the characters, but Big Mouth manages it. It’s also probably the first show that understands teenagers going through puberty, and it does it both in a funny (the hormone monsters!) and serious manner (observing their emotional impetuousness and how it affects their relationships, both platonic and romantic).

Key Episodes: “Am I Gay?”, “Girls Are Horny Too”, “I Survived Jessi’s Bat Mitzvah”

14. THE MAGICIANS (Syfy)

In its second season, The Magicians did pretty much anything it wanted: musical numbers, heist episodes, killing and then bringing back major characters, you name it. The show found its groove and went completely nuts, all in service of a season long (and series long) metaphor about how hard it is to grow up and live in this world. No matter how gleefully ludicrous the show got, the show managed to ground it all in genuine emotion and character development and on top of that still make the show ridiculously fun to watch. It’s very close to becoming the successor to Buffy The Vampire Slayer I’ve always wanted.

Key Episodes: “Knight of Crowns”, “Plan B”, “We Have Brought You Little Cakes”

13. CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND (The CW)

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend reached its climax this season in horrifying fashion. The reckoning we knew was coming sooner or later finally came and Rachel Bloom gave a hell of a performance. The show has never been as darkly zany as it was when Rebecca Bunch fully embraced her villain persona, and it’s never been as intensely sad as when Rebecca, after being consumed by self hatred and embarrassment, attempts suicide. This show has always been at its best when it’s in the sweet spot between painting Rebecca as a (very funny when she’s not disturbing) monster versus portraying Rebecca as a (very funny when she’s not disturbing) person with mental illness who needs help, and the show pulled off this delicate balancing act better than ever in its third season.

Key Episodes: “Josh Is A Liar.”, “Josh’s Ex-Girlfriend Is Crazy.”, “I Never Want To See Josh Again.”

12. THE GOOD PLACE (NBC)

A show about how to be a good person is sadly one that was definitely needed in 2017, but the way The Good Place tackles ethics and what it means to be a good and bad person is surprisingly complex. Coming off of a show-changing twist in the first season finale, the show moved ahead at an astonishing pace, including an episode that essentially replayed the entire first season in hundreds of different permutations in a single montage. This was the show I was most sure would go off the rails in its second season but it manages to not only be hysterically funny and have uniformly great performances from a mostly unknown cast (barring Ted Danson and Kristen Bell, the latter hitting her career high), but a complex exploration of what it means to be a good person, and whether or not someone can consciously strive to be better.

Key Episodes: “Michael’s Gambit”, “Dance Dance Resolution”, “Janet and Michael”

11. NATHAN FOR YOU (Comedy Central)

2017 was a year that showed how broken capitalism is more than ever, and thankfully Nathan For You came back to skewer its gradual collapse. The show was its typical brand of nutty inventiveness but it reached new meta heights this season as it opened with a retrospective about the series (which naturally digressed into incredibly awkward moments, including Nathan discovering the host is unaware of how many Jews died in the Holocaust), and midway through the season following Nathan creating an interesting story to tell late night hosts when he has to promote the show. The season’s (and arguably series’) crowning achievement though is Finding Frances, a full length documentary that explores the lonely psyches of both Nathan and a Bill Gates impersonator, which is equal parts devastating and hilarious in a uniquely Nathan For You way.

Key Episodes: “Nathan For You: A Celebration”, “The Anecdote”, “Finding Frances”

Andy Herrera

Written by

Probably thinking about the hit NBC show/Subway commercial Chuck (critic + writer)

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