Best Guilty Pleasure Shows of 2017
While everyone is busy debating the best and worst of the year, we take a closer look at the best guilty pleasure shows of 2017 (or at least our favorite).
While we were busy debating the best, most disappointing, and most underrated TV shows of 2017, we found that we had some leftovers. These shows weren’t disappointing and they weren’t really underrated. At the same time, no one is arguing that they are the best either.
These shows are some of our favorites but we can’t totally defend them. They are flawed shows, and none of them are going to be nominated for many awards (outside of the occasional genre award). That said, we’ll stand by them. We’ll fight you! Ok, not really, but we’ll leave anonymous comments on your Facebook page if you attack them!
One other notes about these shows – we made a point this year of trying not to put the same shows on multiple lists. A few of these could conceivably have been on the “most underappreciated” list as well, but we didn’t want to double dip. There are something like 14 billion shows on TV at the moment. If we couldn’t pick 10 good ones to fill a list like this, we should stop watching TV altogether. And then what would we do? Read a book? Ha!
All the shows are also a fit for our style and tone. So you won’t see a show like House Hunters on this list – nothing against it, it’s just not our bag. But a sci-fi show about a heroine with a magic gun that kills a demon? You betcha.
Now on to the best guilty pleasure shows of 2017 (or at least our favorites)!
When it first debuted, The 100 was a bold and risky show that wasn’t afraid to build up a character and make them fan favorites just to kill them off in a shocking twist. It was also the perfect show for the CW, as it was by design a show filled with a bunch of attractive teens. But as the series went on it began to feel less like a unique look at life after the apocalypse and more like a masochistic journey through a “grind it ‘til you find it” style of writing.
More than once in the third and fourth season it felt like the writers lost the overarching plot and so they fell back on the idea of just killing people off and calling it “high stakes.” Rather than heading toward something, the story wasted a lot of time building up to something major only to tear it down for the sake of drama – and in many cases melodrama. And yet it still had just enough pretty people doing interesting things to make it slightly addictive.
The last season had a few unfortunate moments where characters did things that made you want to scream, but it was an improvement over the third in terms of consistency and it introduced some new moral quandaries in need of solving. It still has plenty of holes in it, but The 100 has an appeal to it that makes it worth a spot on this list.
American Ninja Warrior
American Ninja Warrior has a lot of knocks against it. The show is a heavily Americanized version of the classic Japanese show; the announcers are super bros that offer very little useful commentary but have no shortage of bad puns; each episode has at least a few heavy-handed moments where the sad music kicks in on cue and the tragic story of a contestant becomes the fodder for an audience craving an emotional attachment, etc., etc.
Even so, the show offers a healthy dose of easily consumable, bite-sized competition with contestants that aren’t there by accident. There are committed athletes that plan on competing each year, and they all support each other in a surprisingly endearing example of sportsmanship. After watching a few seasons, you begin to get that sense of community and you also realize that for as easy as some of them make it look, the obstacle course is brutal. The people that go far are doing something absolutely incredible. In that, it’s kind of like some of the random, less publicized events at the Olympics that have you cheering hard even though you have no idea who you’re cheering for.
American Ninja Warrior is also a great show for families and friends to get together and watch as a group. You can cheer together, you can pick people to hate for very thin reasons, and then you can go out and think about building your own obstacle course while you try doing pull-ups on door frames. Then everyone else can join together in laughing at you as you fall to the ground clutching your shoulder in pain. In some way, this show is a modern day American Gladiators, just without the rampant and blatant steroid use (we hope). It also shows no signs of slowing down.
This may be the most divisive show on this list. The premise of Future Man is basically taken from an 80s scifi movie where a pair of time travelers come back in time to stop a future catastrophe. Unfortunately, they suck at it and lack most basic human skills. That’s where the local boy, aka Future Man, comes in. It’s a good idea that quickly and deliberately goes way, way off the rails.
It’s a dark comedy from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, and their humor is front and center. So if you think a character accidentally masturbating on another character or a chef doing so much cocaine they can’t taste food anymore is funny, this show might be a good pick for you. There’s an episode that is a loving takedown of James Cameron that makes it worth the 13 episode run alone, but the weird humor won’t be for everyone.
It’s not high art, but it is constantly pushing and twisting established genre tropes in a way that hasn’t really been done before.
This might seem like an odd pick for a guilty pleasure show given how much attention is on it – it’s a major network show based on Batman that’s entering its fourth season – but there are a couple good reasons for it to be here.
Gotham started out slowly – very slowly. It wanted to be a crime thriller, and it seemed to forget that Batman was the reason people watched in the first place. The second season was even weirder as it tried to correct itself and lean more toward scifi, but it was still missing some key details. In the third season, however, it seemed to find that balance between a dark thriller and a Batman origin story, and it did so in part by becoming something of a dark soap opera. Somehow it worked, even as the plots occasionally felt more like General Hospital than a Batman show.
That’s one reason the show is on this list, another is that it is still hard to defend to Batman fans as it continues to crap all over the established mythology. It shouldn’t matter, it’s just a TV show, but it does dammit. It does. Still, the show has gotten to a point where it’s worth watching, even if you can’t tell Batman fans about it.
The Great British Bake Off (aka The Great British Baking Show)
If you live in the UK, there’s a good chance you have strong feels about this show’s recent off-screen drama. After seven seasons with the BBC, the producers of the show founder greener pastures on Channel 4 (by greener we mean more money… if that wasn’t clear…). And people weren’t having it. The move split both fans and presenters, even though people watching at home just needed to flip a few channels to find pretty much the exact same show, just with a few new faces.
For American fans on the outside looking in, that’s wild. People rarely have loyalty to a network, because networks sure as hell don’t have loyalty to them. Plus, the show now has Noel Fielding, and he’s a goddamn delight. But whatever your stance on the move, the show hasn’t changed much. It pits amazingly talented amateur bakers against each other as they compete for… well, nothing really. Bragging rights and a neat trophy. That’s another shock to most American viewers who watch competitive TV shows and accept the old “ass, cash, or grass, no one rides for free” mentality, but there’s something oddly soothing about the lack of cash prizes.
Sure, that lack of prizes made more sense when the show was on BBC (which operates under a licensing fee rather than ads), but exploitation aside, it’s still a lot of fun to watch the show as the contestants make cakes that look like human brains and you wonder why you keep burning quesadillas.
If you are a fan of Community and Rick and Morty, then HarmonQuest should be a must-see show. But then when you start to add in D&D, weird animation, and a whole lot of sex jokes, you tend to lose some people. There’s an entire subplot about Kumail Nanjiani’s character giving hand jobs that gets real weird, real fast. It also doesn’t help that HarmonQuest has bounced around in its two years, first on the now-defunct Seeso and then on the obscure VRV Select.
However you watch it though, it’s worth the binge. Harmon – an avid D&D fan – invites celebrities to join him (and comedians Erin McGathy and Jeff B. Davis, plus game master Spencer Crittenden) for an adventure using the most powerful game system in existence… their MIND (plus, it’s done in front of a studio audience and later animated, but still). The celebrities adopt a character and join in the ongoing quest, and then they generally screw around.
It’s hard to explain to people that don’t like D&D why they should watch, and maybe they shouldn’t bother. But if you like Harmon’s style of humor and don’t have an issue with the animation, HarmonQuest is a hidden gem.
Mystery Science Theater 3000
Given how much attention MST3K has received lately, not to mention its storied history, it might seem a little odd to have this show on this list. But if ever there were a show that people use as comfort food it is MST3K, and that’s what most guilty pleasure shows come down to in the end.
With the new season on Netflix, MST3K instantly rallied its legion of fans that had been waiting on the return since word first broke of a possible continuation. It was a hit in that sense, but it is still a niche show with a cult following. Trying to explain MST3K to people that aren’t familiar with it is still a challenge to this day, even as the idea of riffing movies has become firmly embedded in our pop culture.
Another thing that makes this show a guilty pleasure is that it’s easy to watch over and over and over (see the annual Turkey Day marathons as proof). Plus, this show didn’t really fit on any of our other best of lists. And there’s no way we are going to end a year without acknowledging the return of MST3K. None at all.
Seth McFarlane’s “how do they not get sued by Star Trek” show The Orville has left a lot of people on opposite sides of the fence. Some love the homage to Star Trek, others have no idea what it is trying to do. That’s probably true of most McFarlane’s other works (not the Star Trek aspect, just the uncertainty), but for different reasons.
The Orville is one minute a comedy, the next a legitimate scifi show. It is a parody of Star Trek one scene, then a platform for social commentary the next. It can be tough to defend the show if people aren’t into it right away. It doesn’t fit neatly into any box, and it seems to still be finding its footing. But where it does succeed is in aping some of the less standout, but still good episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. There’s a comfort in that.
The Orville is just fun to watch. It has a few episodes that are socially aware, but it doesn’t really hit too many highs or too many lows. With the actual Star Trek property veering more toward grittiness with the wartorn Discovery, it’s oddly sweet to see a show where humanity comes together in an effort to explore and better itself. Even if it does so fueled by the odd dick and fart joke.
If you grew up a fan of the Archie comics, then you would probably be shocked to see what the property has become over the last few years. The comics regenerated the characters, transforming them from 1950s style “all-American” teens into something with more weight. They stopped worrying about who would ask out who and instead gave the characters a conscience, addressing stories like LGBT teens trying to accept who they are or confronting racism. Hell, Archie was even shot and killed in the comics. That’s quite the departure from where it started.
The CW series Riverdale is very much a product of the later Archie. The series has a few of the high school TV tropes you’d expect, but those are just the dressing. The first season was a mystery involving a brutal murder and corruption, and it even had time to address some high school problems like bullying and alienation. It still swung into teenage angst territory more than once, but it was surprisingly deep.
Still, on the surface it’s hard to defend to people with preconceived notions of Archie, and it’s not helped by being on the CW, the home of the impossibly pretty teen. If you can get past that though, Riverdale is weirdly good.
In a lot of ways, Wynonna Earp is the reason this list exists. To be fair, it’s not a great show in the traditional sense. The sets are dull, the sex scenes linger just a little too long, and the Canadian scifi DNA runs deep (if you’ve watched other Canadian scifi you’ll instantly recognize several of the guest stars). But it’s fun and easy to watch. It’s a popcorn show with likable characters performed by stars that could one day easily transition to a bigger stage.
The show even has a name for its loyal and (in some cases alarmingly passionate) fanbase, and the “Earpers” have helped keep the show going and earned it a third season. In a lot of ways Wynonna Earp is easily comparable to another supernatural show, er… Supernatural, which also operates in the same world of low budget sets and repetitive backgrounds. And like that show, it is populated by people that are always fun to watch.
Wynonna Earp isn’t fine dining, it’s more like a greasy spoon diner. It won’t appeal to those looking for Breaking Bad type depth, but it is an immensely fun show to binge on, and series star Melanie Scrofano could make most shows better.