The Best Shows of 2017 (or at Least our Favorites)
And now after a look at the most underrated, most disappointing, and best guilty pleasures to hit the air last year, we look at the best shows of 2017, or at least our favorites.
2017 was a good year for TV. From mind-bending sci-fi shows to crime fiction, there were standout shows across all genres. Whatever you are in to, there was something to like. That brings us to this list. We’ve already covered our most underappreciated shows of the year, the most disappointing, and the best guilty pleasure shows. So now it’s time to focus on the best of the year – at least according to us.
For this list, we had a few criteria going in. To begin with, we made a point to not include the same show on multiple lists, even if it deserved it. There were hundreds of shows that aired last year, so there were plenty of options. We also tried to focus on shows that fit the topics and genres we focus on. So straight up family dramas – although there were some great ones that are well worth watching – don’t really fit. We tend to lean a little bit weird.
The other criteria to be on this list is that they were released in 2017. That might seem obvious, but given how best of lists were published in early December, it seems worth mentioning, since there were – believe it or not – shows that came out late in the year. For example, Black Mirror came out December 27, which firmly puts it on our list but may have been too late for several others. And that’s just silly.
So on to our picks for the best shows of 2017!
The second season of American Gods is currently making headlines for all the wrong reasons, but that shouldn’t take away from the strong freshman offering. Neil Gaiman’s novel-turned-TV show featured a lot of bizarre and compelling moments. It wasn’t quite the Sandman series that people have been drooling over, but fans of Gaiman’s works saw a faithful adaption that had no problem embracing his themes.
A strong cast and ideas that may challenge people, paired with the occasional moment designed to challenge you (Orlando Jones’s speech on slavery will stick with you for a while) make American Gods a must-see show. It was also unlike any other show on the air. Sure, there are some things you can pick out and say they are a wee bit trope-ish, but for the most part, you won’t find too many other shows featuring new gods beefing with old. And despite the fact that there are something like one TV show for every star in the galaxy (i.e. a whole lot of shows), originality is still somewhat lacking.
Hopefully, American Gods can escape the negativity being created by the behind-the-scenes drama, but if not, we’ll always have Gillian Anderson as David Bowie.
The recent season of Black Mirror is the best reason possible to not publish year-end best-of lists until the year is, ya know, ended. Season four debuted on December 27, 2018, and in traditional Netflix fashion, all episodes were released at once. And the six-episode season is absolutely worth a spot on this list.
There have traditionally been two ongoing criticisms against Black Mirror. The first is that it is incredibly bleak. And, well, that’s fair. It’s not exactly a happy-go-lucky show. The second criticism, however, that the show doesn’t produce enough episodes, is nonsense. Sure, there are only 19 episodes in total, but they are quality episodes with high production values. Half of them could easily be feature films, with twists that would make M. Night Shyamalan question his life choices.
Arguably, overall the fourth season may not be at quite the same level as the third – there are no San Juniperos, no feature-length murder mysteries, no epic Bryce Dallas Howard meltdowns – but even an average Black Mirror episode is still better than most of the TV on the air, and the “USS Callister” episode alone is enough to elevate some of the others. It isn’t exactly a happy show, but it is one of the best on TV.
Everyone has probably heard the old adage that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and fans of history, true crime, and a dozen other topics can probably attest to that. So it stands to reason that by combining truth and fiction, you will get something great! That’s how fiction works, right? Well, it is in this case.
GLOW is a fictional accounting of the real life “Glamorous Ladies of Wrestling,” a women’s wrestling league that ran from 1986-1990. It combined the traditional pro wrestling action with storylines that were as bizarre and entertaining as anything involving Hulk Hogan and the WWF stars of the day. The Netflix show offers an origin story of sorts for the league. It intertwines real and fictional characters with a story that is funny and endearing, juxtaposed against an insane backdrop. It also helps that the cast is incredibly talented, as evidenced by the love the Golden Globes showed star Allison Brie through a Best Actress in a Comedy nomination.
Season two has been confirmed, so get on watching season one. And if you want more, Netflix also has a great documentary on the subject which just makes the fictional account even better.
The Good Place
If you aren’t watching The Good Place, well, you are kind of in luck. Despite your terrible life choices the show is secure for now, with a third season already confirmed thanks to good demographics (if not great ratings). So that means as soon as the second season ends on February 1, you can then go about binge-watching two full seasons one of the funniest, most clever shows on TV. And you can do so knowing that those of us that waited and watched it week-to-week to see what happens next, will be filled with jealousy and just a wee bit of rage.
What makes this show so great – beyond award-worthy performances and hilarious jokes – is that you never know where it is going to go. The first season cliffhanger changed the show in a massive way, then the second season just kept changing it over and over again. That makes it almost impossible to just jump into it in the middle, but that’s true of most serialized shows. You may end up spoiling the twist, or twists though, so start from the beginning and when you find that you’ve lost hours unintentionally binge-watching the show, you’ll know why it is on this list.
The Handmaid’s Tale
Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale is the right show at the right time. It’s technically sci-fi, but a better description might be alternative fiction. It’s not a show about incredible technology that may or may not come to be, but an incredible world that feels impossible, and yet…
The Handmaid’s Tale is a story for people that watch a lot of news and see the connected threads that could lead to this world – a world created by author Margaret Atwood more than 30 years ago that, sadly, feels closer to reality than ever before. That’s not to say that people should watch this show assuming the worst, but the current climate makes the fiction more poignant.
It’s no surprise that The Handmaid’s Tale is an awards darling. If you collected all the trophies it has won (and might still win), you could drown its critics in an ocean of accolades. That would make for an interesting death, but not exactly a fun one. Still, it would be a better way to go than living in the vividly created world shown in The Handmaid’s Tale.
We aren’t really into the whole ranking thing. It’s just so incredibly subjective, especially when there are dozens, even hundreds of choices as there are with TV shows. But, if someone asked us for a single recommendation of a show from 2017 to watch, there’s a good chance we’d tell them to watch Legion. Besides being a great show with something of a complete story (and a few major dangling threads), it is just perfect for our wheelhouse.
Legion takes the superhero genre and then goes off in a very different direction from most other superhero shows. While most shows in the genre (and superhero is pretty much its own genre at this point) are basically just good guys vs bad, replacing cops or soldiers with vigilantes and super teams, Legion is something else entirely. It’s unique, and while that alone sets in apart, it is also just incredibly compelling and well shot – there’s not a single wasted shot and the more you watch it the more things you catch. The performances are also very good. That’s almost a given for the shows on this list, but Dan Stevens and Aubrey Plaza are in a different world.
Showrunner Noah Hawley has a knack for making shows that have no fat on them. Legion, along with Fargo, also manages to make you think one thing, then it twists that expectation and make you wonder how you could have ever thought your initial expectations were is even possible. Then once you hit that moment of realization, the rest is just a matter of waiting to be surprised – and in the case of Legion, you won’t be disappointed.
When we were creating this list we didn’t initially think to include The Magicians, but once we hit upon it we couldn’t imagine not including it. Series one of the SyFy show was good. It was basically a warped, adult Harry Potter with a few scenes that were meant to shock viewers as much as tell a story. Season two, however, broke beyond that and created something unexpected and original. It felt like the writers began to think to themselves “we couldn’t do this could we…?” And then once they accepted they could do whatever the hell they wanted to, they just ran with it.
The Magicians is another show that continues to defy expectations while offering something wholly original. There’s nothing quite like it on TV, and the story keeps veering off in directions you don’t expect. It also introduces new worlds and character types steeped in originality. The character interactions routinely defy expectations as well, and a character you might not like in season one could easily become your favorite in season two. There are some very dark moments – arguably gratuitously dark – but they do lead to things you probably won’t see coming. Plus, not only do the “good guys” not automatically win, they frequently get their asses handed right back to them.
The third season is currently underway and with luck, it will continue to grow. It’s an expensive show to make by SyFy standards though, so hopefully enough people will watch in order to earn it a fourth.
Of all the shows involving a horror element that hit the airwaves in 2017, there may be none that are quite as scary as Mindhunter – mainly because it is real. Well, real-ish.
Based on the real exploits of the FBI’s serial crime unit, Mindhunter is both amazing and devastating. You can’t hide behind the idea that the bad guys are fictional, since they are at least loosely – if not directly – based on real people. Humans can suck, and there’s nothing fictional about it. That adds a level of intensity to the show that some of the others on this list can’t offer. But beyond that, Mindhunter is also presented with a level of care that makes every scene matter.
Like many shows on this list, Mindhunter isn’t exactly a fun show. But if you are a fan of true crime stories, and you like quality TV with sharp writing and an exceptional cast, it’s worth the depression you may receive once you accept that this is what some of humanity is really like.
Rick and Morty
If you’ve watched Rick and Morty, you probably either love it or you hate it – there is very little middle ground. Many people may have also been put off by some of the show’s more… “enthusiastic” fans who have embraced its more nihilistic tendencies and aren’t shy about letting you know. Don’t be surprised to hear the joke “An atheist, a vegan, a CrossFitter, and a Rick and Morty fan all walk into a bar…”
Anyway, putting that aside, Rick and Morty has flashes of brilliance. It can only exist as a cartoon because sometimes it goes so, so far down certain rabbit holes, often very dark rabbit holes, that without the humor inherent in the animation it would be a mean and brutal show that’s hard to watch. But as a cartoon, it’s easy to accept the dark humor without getting bogged down in it. Jokes about someone accidentally turning off the life support to a room full of people don’t normally fly, but throw in Morty’s tortured expression and Rick’s annoyance and it is gold.
There’s plenty of social commentaries tucked away in each episode too. There are also cutting moments that show a depth and awareness that have left fans talking for months, even years after episodes air. There’s no word when a fourth season might air, so the third might have to last fans a while.
Twin Peaks: The Return
There was every chance that this show would fail. The original that debuted in 1990 was a weird show – good, but weird. Recapturing that weirdness is tough, but shows that return after years away have very hit or miss results <cough>The X-Files<cough>. And given the behind-the-scenes drama surrounding this show, it’s a miracle it made it on the air in the first place.
Twin Peaks: The Return is difficult to explain, and that’s part of what makes it such a success. The series continues the story of the original, but more than that it continues the weird theme. It certainly isn’t for everyone, but then again that is true of most of Lynch’s work. It’s not always a fun show, but it is always interesting.
The 18 episodes are a solid unit of content. You need to watch the original series, then watch all 18 episodes as a whole, so if you plan to watch any of this show prepare for a commitment. But like many of the others on this list, Twin Peaks: The Return is original. A little odd, but original. And there’s greatness in that.