The Best TV Shows of 2017
Yet again, in 2017, television surpassed cinema in producing the greatest quantity of high-calibre content around. From David Lynch, Damon Lindelof, Lemony Snicket, Aziz Ansari, David Fincher, Larry David: the small screen is where the best storytelling is being showcased today. And so, without further wait, let’s reveal our favourite (and least favourite) TV shows of the year!
Disclaimer: We didn’t watch the following shows this year, so don’t complain that they’re missing from the list: Stranger Things, The Handmaid’s Tale, Ray Donovan, The Good Place, American Horror Story: Cult, American Gods, The Americans, Transparent, Top of the Lake, This is Us, American Vandal, Designated Survivor, Insecure, Ballers.
THE WORST SHOWS OF 2017
This is The Leftovers for a family-friendly Christian crowd. Jason Ritter finds out he’s an angel and starts giving magic hugs. More dreadful than you can imagine.
Poor, poor Britt Robertson. So much talent, can’t catch a break. Girlboss is a deeply mean-spirited comedy about a truly horrible person who — guess what — becomes a successful entrepreneur. Jim Rash and Dean Norris look embarrassed to be there.
Friends from College is almost as nasty as Girlboss, but less capitalistic. You’ve never liked Cobie Smulders, Keegan Michael Key or Billy Eichner less. Drunk shouting is, apparently, the height of intellectual comedy. The most generic sitcom imaginable.
House of Cards would be pretty fun if it only allowed itself to be. Its flaw is its arrogance: the writing is on the level of Designated Survivor, but the directors think they’re making a prestige drama (Emmy voters, oddly, agree). This season was an absolute farce, both dull and incredulous. The sight of Kevin Spacey manipulating a younger man into a sexual relationship will doom these 13 episodes to never, ever, being revisited by anyone.
… AND THE BEST
Objectively speaking, the Wall & Grace revival is an appalling multi-camera sitcom, yet there’s something surprisingly charming about its particular camp energy, and Sean Hayes is simply a sensational physical comedian. There are far too many lame Trump jokes, but this is compensated for by a very clever episode about gay conversion camps.
If we were judging based on broad cultural impact, 13 Reasons Why would be near the top of this list. It starts off as a compelling high school spin on a Fincher movie (and introduces today’s teens to “Love Will Tear Us Apart” — a mighty accomplishment) but gets so caught up in its theme of suicide that it begins to feel a little like a CW show. Still, solid performances all round, including Miles Heizer from Parenthood.
Ozark is every stereotype of a ‘Prestige Drama’ crammed into one, not hugely interesting series. Its critical reception and audience popularity differed wildly: despite good work by Jason Bateman, I gotta go with the critics on this one. *A blue filter on the lens does not a great drama make*.
The second Netflix reboot of Michael Showalter and David Wain’s cult Wet Hot brand, 10 Years Later lacks the urgency and madcap hilarity of 2015’s First Day of Camp, though it provides career-best work from Chris Pine. There’s also a sex scene involving a talking soup can that we don’t want to talk about.
J.K. Rowling pseudonomically-penned detective novels weren’t particularly notable beyond her appealing writing style, and the BBC adaptations of The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm were as pleasantly, harmlessly bland as they come. Tom Burke is a good gruff Cormoran Strike, but Holliday Grainger’s self-conscious performance as sidekick Robin makes one long for the pretentious edge of Sherlock.
The Mayor has a fantastic premise: it’s Atlanta meets Designated Survivor. The show itself is very easy to like, from the cast to its tireless political optimism. But this same optimism sometimes makes it feel somewhat infantile. Nonetheless, the closest thing to Parks & Rec on network TV right now.
Silicon Valley will never be a definitively bad show, but Season 4 was miles weaker than the previous 3. T.J. Miller has quit the show just as it’s starting to repeat itself, refusing to remove our central gang from their cycle of success and failure: the ensemble remain really really funny, but Valley needs a major shift in scenery, and fast.
Mr. Robot has lost most of its narrative and thematic coherence, a victim of its own shocking success, but remains one of the most aesthetically-distinct curiosities on cable. Sam Esmail is a better director than writer, and is good at staging appealing gimmicks: such as flash-forwards to Trump’s victory (the show is still set in 2015) and an episode filmed in one take.
Best episode: eps3.4_runtime-error.r00 (S3E5)
The most original CBS sitcom since How I Met Your Mother, this short-lived show blended elements of Moonlight, This is Us and many other warm stories of childhood and ageing — hitting many of my sentimental sweet-spots. The network, never one to recognise a good thing, pulled the plug after 6 episodes, just as the show was starting to gain momentum.
Best episode: The Card (S1E3)
HBO’s billion-dollar blockbuster has been insufferably self-serious for most of its 7-season run, but this year reached a peak of incredulity that, while offputting to loyal fans, was quite winsome for a cynic of the show. The more dragons and battles the better. The season’s fourth episode is almost certainly the most enjoyable the show has ever delivered.
Best episode: The Spoils of War (S7E4)
It’s difficult to argue with the negative reception Gypsy received when it hit Netflix in late June: it is, objectively, a terrible show. But there’s an endearing ambition to the series, an erotic drama which combines elements of Hitchcock, American Beauty and the blatantly superior Big Little Lies. Naomi Watts does not give a good performance, yet her character is incredibly watchable. Billy Crudup and Sophie Cookson are actually rather good, and an enjoyable balance is struck between the home-life plot (their young daughter expresses signs of gender nonconformity) and the romance she pursues with the young singer of The Vagabond Hotel. Crudup’s secretary writes a short story called “Untitled Roller Coaster Story”. A richly silly thrill.
Best episode: Euphoria (S1E7)
David Simon takes his socially-informed microscope to early 70s New York, and the birth of the pornographic film industry. James Franco is twins, Maggie Gyllenhall is a rebellious prostitute and the series delves deep into the morality and persona of the sex business, with a terrific ensemble of character actors and ever-engaging directing and production design that never eroticisises or objectifies. A period drama that feels startlingly immediate.
Best episode: Pilot (S1E1)
How do you go about toppling the patriarchy? By putting on a show of course! Alison Brie finally gets the lead role she deserves in a comedy that doesn’t overindulge its 80s setting, while surrounding its diverse ensemble of women with a group of interesting, equally diverse men. G.L.O.W. unfathomably makes wrestling seem kinda interesting.
Best episode: The Wrath of Kuntar (S1E3)
With its influential meta-mockumentary style, Curb holds an important place in modern TV history. Its ninth season, returning Larry David to our screens after a six-year break, does not belong in 2017. Larry is too mean, too disrespectful of service employees and poor people, too selfish and entitled, to be a likeable protagonist in Trump’s America. Meanwhile, these new episodes simply aren’t that funny.
Best episode: The Pickle Gambit (S9E2)
MINDHUNTER is pure David Fincher: disturbing psychopathy diluted by charismatic good-guys and underlying eroticism. As FBI rookie Holden Ford, Jonathan Groff is enormously winning, and is equalled by the tirelessly watchable Cameron Britton as killer Ed Kemper. The show lags in its extensive jail interrogations, but there’s a zippy 70s energy that allows for great music, better outfits and a fascinating insight into the birth of modern criminal psychology.
Best episode: Episode 1 (S1E1)
Sentimental comedy/dramas about kids on the spectrum are one of modern TV’s better subgenres, and Atypical is a worthy addition to the canon. Think Big Mouth with cheesy sincerity instead of crudity. Protagonist Sam (Keir Gilchrist) is a hybrid of Max from Parenthood and Jake from Touch, but Brigette Lundy-Paine is the show’s breakout star as sympathetic sister Casey. Give this girl All The Roles! You will never learn so many facts about penguins this side of the National Geographic channel.
Best episode: A Human Female (S1E2)
Fargo’s third season had one of the finest ensemble casts in recent film or TV memory, yet felt throughout as if Noah Hawley was making things up as he went along, throwing in a Coen homage here, a bit of Tarantino there, all ultimately adding up to very little. But with the likes of Carrie Coon, Michael Stuhlbarg and David Thewlis, it’s not like this 10-part season wasn’t without moments of brilliance. Thewlis’ villain V.M. Varga will give you a lifelong phobia of toothpicks, and this series was worth watching for — if nothing else — introducing me to the “Useless Machine”, the world’s saddest toy. There’s an inherent tiresomeness to endless scenes of Mary Elizabeth Winstead pointing rifles at nasty men, but where Fargo always excels is in its satirical approach to sinister bureaucracy; Ewan McGregor’s Emmitt Stussy has his parking lot business hijacked by Varga and his Russian henchmen in a subtly smart pastiche of the news cycle. The finale’s ambiguous, potentially gruesome conclusion is the most interesting element of the entire endeavour.
Best episode: The Law of Non-Contradiction (S3E3)
There’s simply no show with as many great jokes as Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s Kimmy, which this year used its shell of silly sweetness to tackle the cultural of political correctness with startling gusto, and hit the nail on the head. An overly-broad Beyonce parody aside, Season 3 is a barrage of brilliant comedy, with Carol Kane’s tugboat-landlord Lillian upgraded to the most interesting character on the show, but still finding time to give Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) and Titus (Titus Burgess) material they deserve. Kimmy is literally an anti-depressant, and remains a worthy successor to the 30 Rock crown.
Best episode: Kimmy Goes to College! (S3E4)
Big Mouth looks and feels like a vapidly lewd adult cartoon, but within 10 minutes of the first episode it’s clear that it’s much more than that. The very personal project of childhood friends Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg, it’s a show about the highs and lows of puberty told from a very relatable perspective, with a surprisingly strong balance of ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ problems and some really warm, important messages at its centre. As best friends Nick (Kroll) and Andrew (John Mulaney) start to get erections and desire girls, they try to maintain their pre-pubescent friendship in this strange post-pubescent world —also dealing with questions of homosexuality, consent and porn consumption, there’s a strong argument that Big Mouth could and should be shown to middle schoolers in lieu of traditional sex education.
Best episode: Am I Gay? (S1E3)
If Wonder Woman was the big screen response to Trumpian misogyny, Big Little Lies was the small screen’s. A bunch of self-serving gossipy soccer moms with dark private struggles overcome their shallow differences and team up to fight oppression and violence? The perfect story for 2017. Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman are better than expected, and Laura Dern is obviously amazing, but it’s the less showy performers who steal this show: Shailene Woodley is exceptional as a single mother raising a child of rape and Alexander Skarsgard is brilliantly despicable as Kidman’s abusive husband. Even the kids are great: Young Sheldon’s Iain Armitage and The Leftovers’ Darby Camp are the right kind of precocious. David E. Kelley’s scripts are a little soapy, but we’re distracted enough by Jean-Marc Vallée’s vivid directing not to notice.
Best episode: You Get What You Need (S1E7)
Better Call Saul is a show about law, a show about lies and now it’s also a show about television. Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) finally adopts the ‘Saul Goodman’ moniker and moves into TV advertising, and the show becomes a biting satire of media manipulation, along with everything else. If the third season sags a little in its attempts to find room for Jonathan Banks’ Mike (who had nothing to do this season) and Giancarlo Esposito’s Gus, it remains incomparably moving when focused on the bond between Jimmy and his brother Chuck (Michael McKean), which dominates the show’s best episode to date, courtroom masterpiece “Chicanery”.
Best episode: Chicanery (S3E5)
The riotously enjoyable freshman run of Ryan Murphy’s new FX anthology is all about the damage Hollywood causes to people’s lives. How prescient of recent news. A fabulous ensemble includes Alfred Molina, Jackie Hoffman and Stanley Tucci in suitably cartoonish roles, but it’s the central duo of Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange who truly stun; both embodying the iconic haughtiness of the starlets they’re portraying, but taking on new life when their vanity turns to self-loathing and self-destruction. That Feud’s airing, and Emmy consideration, clashed with Big Little Lies was to its misfortune — this is a story about older women that never gets told and needs to be told more.
Best episode: You Mean All This Time We Could Have Been Friends? (S1E8)
In Atlanta’s absence, Master of None was the best show this year about the American Millennial. Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang’s luscious romantic comedy takes Dev (Ansari) to rural Italy to learn pasta-making, but his new lover follows him home to New York. Its most heralded episodes are those with high concepts (several interconnected stories about New Yorkers that don’t involve Dev, the charting of his friend’s coming out to her parents over a few decades), but it’s when Ansari and his co-stars are just allowed to perform within the environment that Master masters its purity of heart and reaches stellar heights.
Best episode: Amarsi Un Po (S2E9)
Bojack Horseman gets sadder every year. This year it got a little too sad — there’s only so much despair I can take in a cartoon about a horse. Nonetheless, this is consistently the smartest (dark, dark) comedy on TV, exploring profoundly grim subjects with a flawlessly light touch. See Bojack wallow in self-pity after his protege overdoses! See Bojack’s mother crippled with dementia! See Todd try to embrace his asexuality in a hypersexualised society! See Princess Carolyn suffer a miscarriage and proceed to sob in her car! And wonder, just wonder, how the makers of Bojack Horseman manage to make us care so damn much about a cat. Bojack uses a cast of animals to teach us more about humanity, and if it’s sometimes a little overwrought — witness the quite forced episode on gun control — it’s never less than a (often mood-wrecking) delight.
Best episode: The Old Sugarman Place (S4E2)
Netflix’s readaptation of the fabulous Lemony Snicket books was never going to better the 2004 film and its timeless Jim Carrey performance, but builds upon the distinct quirkiness of the brand with a joyous flourish. Incredibly cineliterate, drawing upon both Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson in ingeniously child-friendly ways, Unfortunate Events is elevated by the excellent young leads Louis Hynes and Malina Weissman, and a brilliant onscreen narration by Patrick Warburton in the guise of Snicket. Neil Patrick Harris is a significantly inferior Count Olaf to Carrey, but as the villain adopts more disguises, his performance is more enjoyable. The production design alone warrants a viewership that the first season, sadly, didn’t seem to achieve.
Best episode: The Reptile Room — Part 1 (S1E3)
The Leftovers is that rare TV show that had a brilliant, satisfying ending. Two years ago. Damon Lindelof’s life-after-the-rapture drama didn’t need to come back, but thank the heavens it did. Season 3 is a darkly funny expansion of the Leftovers world, taking our cast to new and strange places (including the Australian outback and a few possible alternate dimensions) and exploring further the meaning of lives with no meaning. Justin Theroux’s Kevin confronts his potential messianic destiny, but it’s Nora (Carrie Coon) and Kevin Senior (Scott Glenn) who dominated the final 8 episodes with two outstanding performances. Coon, getting a Wu-Tang Clan tattoo and jumping on a trampoline, is a force of nature. Glenn, who was only a peripheral figure in the first two seasons, portrays a complicated man and elevates Theroux’s performance in the process. Episode 7’s attempt to replicate “International Assassin” is somewhat underwhelming, but the finale delivers an incredible emotional resolution, definitively redeeming Lindelof for his shabby conclusion to Lost.
Best episode: Don’t Be Ridiculous (S3E2)
Twin Peaks is like a drug. A powerful, all-consuming substance that consumed the lives and dominated the thoughts of all who watched it for 3 glorious summer months. David Lynch is the manufacturer: concocting an ephemeral cocktail of spiritual transcendence, wry slapstick and pure Lynchian magic. We return to Twin Peaks, WA., 27 years after Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle Maclachlan) closed the case on Laura Palmer’s murder. But where is Dale Cooper? In fact, his soul has been split between two figures: the sadistic Mr. Cooper and simple Vegas insurance worker Dougie. Maclachlan is phenomenal in both roles, and Dougie grounds the show in charming comedy for much of its run. Meanwhile, the FBI (represented by Miguel Ferrer and Lynch himself) recruit Laura Dern’s Diane to solve the Cooper enigma. Back in Peaks, the Sheriff’s Department are following up on the Palmer case. Audrey (Sherylin Fenn) is trapped in her own grim reality. And Harry Dean Stanton is performing angelic acts on a young boy killed in a hit-and-run. This series is beyond summary to an almost hilarious extent, such is the complexity and non-linear nature of its narrative. The eighth episode, destined for the TV history books, is an hour-long experimental film exploring the powers of good and evil in the world; for allowing Lynch to broadcast it on a Sunday night, the bosses at Showtime deserve all of our love and admiration. Twin Peaks also acts as a celebration of life and death: multiple members of the cast died between production and broadcast, and this lends a timelessness and rich existential undertone to the entire endeavour. Lynch squeezes in tributes to his favourite filmmakers — Hitchcock, Godard, Tarantino, Fincher — and each episode concludes with a staged musical performance at the Bang Bang Bar. It’s like nothing that’s ever been attempted on television, and it will likely have an influence on the medium’s future that we cannot begin to estimate.
Best episode: Part 8 (S3E8)
What were your favourite TV shows of the year? Let me know in the comments — but if you say The Walking Dead, I will ignore your comment :)
Check back soon for more great end-of-year list content from Luwd Media!