10. AMERICAN VANDAL (Netflix)
A show that went way above and beyond its true crime documentary parody trappings, American Vandal is not only one of the funniest shows of the year, but also the most stealthily moving. Following a high school documentary crew trying to figure out who really spray painted a bunch of dicks on the faculty’s cars, it’s a pitch perfect parody of shows like Making A Murderer, but the comedy lies not only in the satire but in how well realized the teenage characters are. Every joke leads towards a better understanding of each character, as the show contextualizes every teenager involved in the investigation. It builds towards a poignant portrait of what it means to be a teenager in 2017, something I would have never expected from a show that talks about dicks as much as this show does.
Key Episodes: “Hard Facts: Vandalism and Vulgarity”, “Climax”, “Clean Up”
9. RIVERDALE (The CW)
Riverdale is the most fun show on television, and it’s not even close. On paper it shouldn’t work at all: a dark version of Archie comics inspired by Twin Peaks should have been a disaster, but in practice it’s incredibly entertaining, mostly because the show knows how ridiculous it all is. The show’s atmosphere is a combination of 50’s faux wholesomeness, 80’s teen movie drama, and 2010’s pop culture references, and it comes together in a strangely brilliant stew. Does it always make sense plot wise? No, but it takes glee in creating a surreal atmosphere and of course working through all of the permutations on the classic Betty/Veronica/Archie love triangle, while also juggling plots about drug rings and serial killers. This is a show that can have a scene where Betty strips in front of a biker bar audience(!) to the cover of “Mad World” from Donnie Darko(!!) while her mother and boyfriend watch(!!!). No other show manages to stay be this fun and deliberately cheesy this consistently without turning into a complete train wreck.
Key Episodes: “Chapter One: The River’s Edge”, “Chapter Three: Body Double”, “Chapter Twenty: Tales From The Dark Side”
8. A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS (Netflix)
A visually inventive children’s fable, A Series of Unfortunate Events was probably the most underrated show of the year. A pitch perfect adaptation of the source material, it combined visually inventive sets with a roster of great guest actors into a well, unfortunate tale of good and evil, and how optimism can be found even in the darkest of times, as long as we strive to be smarter, better, and braver. Your mileage may vary with Neil Patrick Harris, but the main children and the guest actors they brought into play the different guardians that look over the Baudelaire children were expertly cast. When I look back at 2017, this will probably be the show I needed the most.
Key Episodes: “The Bad Beginning: Part One”, “The Bad Beginning: Part Two”, “The Miserable Mill: Part Two”
7. MR. ROBOT (USA)
The best show about Trump’s America in 2017, Mr. Robot became more humanistic in its third season, deepening its characters as they found reasons to exist in an increasingly darker world. The show became even more stylistically daring than usual, including an episode edited into one continuous shot. Most importantly the show focused on what made it great: its stylish cyberpunk atmosphere, its meta trappings, and of course a better than ever Rami Malek in the lead role.
Key Episodes: “eps3.0power-saver-mode.h”, “eps3.7dont-delete-me.ko”, “eps3.9_shutdown-r”
6. ONE DAY AT A TIME (Netflix)
A problem with certain family comedies nowadays is that every episode can feel a bit like a Very Special Episode about [insert timely topic here]. One Day At A Time does this to an extent, but it overcomes becoming staid by having well-developed characters who are genuinely, realistically funny. This is the best multi-camera sitcom since The Carmichael Show (RIP). Justina Machado is brilliant as the matriarch, kind and fierce in measured parts. The show’s true gem however, is Rita Moreno giving one of the best sitcom performances I’ve ever seen at the age of 85(!). She’s truly the life of the show, amplifying every joke and storyline the writers give her. This is a very earnest show (arguably too earnest!) but it earns every single happy tear it gives you, through thoughtful storylines (if you don’t cry at anything else, the quinceañera finale will ruin you), fun and interesting characters, and the warm chemistry among the cast.
Key Episodes: “A Snowman’s Tale”, “Viva Cuba”, “Quinces”
5. SEARCH PARTY (TBS)
An intoxicating mashup of neo-noir and social satire, Search Party doubled down on its darkness and hilarity in its second season. John Early became the incredible standout detailing a mental breakdown in hilarious and disturbing ways. Alia Shawkat continues to deliver a powerhouse performance: you can see all of the doubt and pain in her eyes at any given moment as she and the rest of her friends descend deeper into their own self-made hells. It’s an astoundingly vicious show that stares unblinkingly into the abyss of malaise.
Key Episodes: “Murder!”, “Paranoia”, “Psychosis”
4. BETTER THINGS (FX)
The most human show of the year for the second year in a row, Better Things only became more consistent in its second season. This is a show that understands people are (mostly) trying their best and always falling short in ways that inevitably disappoint others. What’s comforting about that is, as this show exemplifies, we’re always trying and learning and becoming better, if we choose to. In a lot of ways it’s as if Pamela Adlon herself is acting like the viewer’s mother, introducing them to a thorny and complicated, but ultimately warm world full of love and possibility. It’s a universal but also very specific show, beautifully capturing a family of women supporting each other no matter what. It’s no surprise every finale so far has been dedicated to Adlon’s daughters.
Key Episodes: “Rising”, “Eulogy”, “Graduation”
3. HALT AND CATCH FIRE (AMC)
Not only one of the greatest family dramas of the 2010’s, Halt And Catch Fire was also a moving ode to the idea of innovation. A show about the early days of the tech revolution, Halt And Catch Fire beautifully used the idea of innovating a better, more technologically advanced world as a metaphor for striving to create something vital and meaningful. Effectively the anti-Silicon Valley, it places the motives behind inventing in something pure and human. The performances by the four main actors further added nuance, as they all strived and sometimes failed to effectively communicate with each other as they ironically work towards creating a new form of human communication. Halt And Catch Fire was the most humanistic show of the year.
Key Episodes: “Who Needs A Guy”, “Goodwill”, “Two Swords”
2. THE LEFTOVERS (HBO)
Our journey with these trauma survivors ended, in the most Leftovers-esque fashion, with beautiful, fascinating vagueness. Simultaneously a huge world-spanning story and a small personal family drama, The Leftovers kept this brilliant balance towards the end. In a season where a nuclear bomb goes off in the Pacific Ocean and a couple has a passionate fight in an Australian hotel room, the latter was arguably more explosive. Carrie Coon gave the performance of a lifetime in this series, in a performance that culminated in maybe her greatest singular performance yet, in a series-ending monologue that properly encapsulates the show by giving us no answers but maybe also all of the answers at the same time. A show about intense internal struggle under otherworldly circumstances, in the end The Leftovers found peace in other people, an idea vividly underlined by a brilliant final season.
Key Episodes: “G’Day Melbourne”, “It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World”, “The Book of Nora”
- TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN (Showtime)
Confounding, oblique, frustrating, mysterious: a lot of words can be used to describe Twin Peaks: The Return. And to be fair: it’s probably too long, there are subplots that effectively go nowhere, the comedy is cheesy, and some actors are wasted. What’s incredible about it is that, in spite of all of the aforementioned problems, it’s an undeniable masterpiece. I’ve never been more astonished by the scope of a season of television. I imagine this is how viewers felt watching the original Twin Peaks in 1990. You might not always understand it (I definitely didn’t), but you can tell you’re watching something truly special and singular created by one of the greatest living artists, David Lynch. Twin Peaks: The Return weaved ideas of nuclear war, misogyny, corporate malaise, past regrets, dreamscapes, parallel universes, and of course Tibetan mysticism into one of the single greatest seasons of television I’ve ever seen. I’ll probably never stop thinking about it.
Key Episodes: “Part Two”, “Part Eight”, “Part Eighteen”
THE BEST TV EPISODES OF 2017
BETTER THINGS — 2x06 — Eulogy
Sam gets her children to appreciate her by having them pretend they’re delivering eulogies at her funeral. It’s moving in a way that’s true to the show: Sam’s acting out for attention in a callous way but her family ultimately understands what she needs and gives it to her in a loving way.
BLACKISH — 3x12 — Lemons
The first TV episode explicitly about Trump this year contextualizes many conversations about the 2016 election in a funny and smart way, and in a hopeful tone that feels earned.
BLACK MIRROR — 4x01 — USS Callister
A surprisingly fun and dark riff on The Twilight Zone classic “It’s A Good Life” and Star Trek of course, “USS Callister” is a darkly comedic indictment of toxic fandom and entitled nerd culture, with a brilliant performance by Cristin Milloti.
BROOKLYN NINE-NINE — 4x16 — Moo Moo
Brooklyn Nine-Nine, always shockingly apolitical for a show about NYPD officers, tackled police brutality in a respectful, nuanced way, while still managing to weave in the show’s usual comedy.
CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND — 3x04 — Josh’s Ex-Girlfriend Is Crazy.
Joseph Kahn’s direction is the star of this episode that weaves in elements of different romantic thrillers to capture the climax of Rebecca’s descent into villainhood.
GIRLS — 6x03 — American Bitch
A barnburner of a two-hander that’s essentially a one on one between Lena Dunham’s Hannah and Matthew Rhys’s (who’s incredible here) Chuck Palmer as they discuss sexual assault and power dynamics eerily foretold a post-Weinstein world.
HALT AND CATCH FIRE — 4x08 — Goodwill
A moving testament to a beloved character from both the characters and the writers, as they did the hard work of moving forward after a loved one is gone.
I LOVE DICK — 1x05 — A Short History of Weird Girls
Essentially a collection of monologues by women about how their lives have shaped their sexualities, this episode (written by playwrights Annie Baker and Heidi Schreck) is a fascinating look into sexual attraction, objectification, and identity as a bigger part of ones emotional and intellectual development, all through a feminist lens.
MR. ROBOT — 3x08 — eps3.7_dont-delete-me.ko
A moving paean to hope from a show that normally never has that much hope in supply, Mr. Robot’s eighth episode is a necessary corrective to a show that’s sometimes too dour for its own good.
THE LEFTOVERS — 3x08 — The Book of Nora
A powerhouse of acting between Justin Theroux and Carrie Coon ended the saga of The Leftovers on an incredibly moving and intimate note.
TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN — 3x08 — Part 8
A startling look at American decline and the nuclear age, all dressed in a visually audacious story of the creation of good and evil, this was David Lynch at his most Lynchian.
REVIEW — 3x03 — Cryogenics; Lightning; Last Review
The final punchline of the unflinchingly dark Review came suddenly and swiftly as the show ended with this (not known at the time) series finale which showed that Forrest MacNeill will probably never escape himself.