A Guide to the Best TV Shows of 2017
I nearly drowned in television this year. Managing to keep my head above all the options was tricky. The choices felt endless and the chance of hitting something great were high. But TV outpaced me in 2017. Each week I’d check Twitter to see people talking about new shows. Paranoia set in that I would never get to those series. A lot of shows got away from me or are still a work in progress so I apologise in advance to The Deuce, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (season 3), Nathan for You (season 4), Godless, Claws, Black Mirror and SMILF. I am enjoying these shows a lot, I should be finishing them instead of writing this article, but they got beaten by the clock when it comes to my spare time.
The amount of TV on offer, and the talented creators gravitating toward the tube, exemplifies how much the format is thriving as a storytelling medium. While people debate over the differences between what qualifies as a TV show or a film — thanks, David Lynch — TV deserves all the praise for taking risks. You need to give credit where credit is due. More than ever, I got excited seeing who had written or directed TV in the opening or closing credits. There were lots of emerging artists announcing their arrival or creators making a comeback after turbulent film careers. TV has become a haven for the ‘un-filmable’ and the ‘unwanted’ and an incredible amount of creative control was present in the TV of 2017.
A few rules: Each selection is based on a show returning for another season or debuting in 2017. There are a few shows that had split seasons across 2016/17 and they qualify. I am based in Australia so each selection is based on what’s accessible here on free-to-air TV or streaming platforms. The shows are in a loose order of favourites but they can change at any time depending on my mood.
So, without any further delay: let’s rock.
Michael Bolton’s Big Sexy Valentine’s Day Special (Netflix)
Santa has made too many toys so he enlists Michael Bolton to host a show to inspire couples to make love and produce 75,000 new children. Ah, the romance of supply and demand. Bolton is at his self-aware and self-depreciating best in this comedy special. Directors Akiva Schaffer (The Lonely Island, Hot Rod, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping) and Scott Aukerman (Comedy Bang Bang) take the format of a holiday special and sprinkle their absurd comedy magic on it. I hope this becomes an annual tradition.
Five Came Back (Netflix)
The experiences of five American film directors at war are examined in this stunning documentary series. John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens got profiled by Steven Spielberg (Wyler), Francis Ford Coppola (Huston), Guillermo del Toro (Capra), Paul Greengrass (Ford), and Lawrence Kasdan (Stevens) with help from file footage and clips from the films of the famous five. The prestige wartime doco was fused with old school Hollywood yarns to tell the story about how these men processed what they experienced during wartime and returned to the director’s chair to create their greatest films. The finale montage of this series is a stunner, I watched it several times and it made me weep with every viewing.
American Gods (Starz/Amazon Prime Video)
Many said it would be impossible to adapt Neil Gaiman’s book about old gods and modern deities at war, but Bryan Fuller (Hannibal, Pushing Daisies) and Michael Green (River, Heroes) defied the odds. Pulpy, trippy and weird, Fuller and Green delivered a supernatural series that is hard to define but gob-smacking in style and execution.
Fargo (FX/SBS Australia)
The idea of a Fargo TV series once sounded like the worst idea ever. But three seasons later, the show’s creator, Noah Hawley, keeps proving us wrong. Violence consumed a small American town, once again, and fantastic performances from Carrie Coon, Michael Stuhlbarg , David Thewlis, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and dual Ewan McGregors (playing twins) made Fargo a lush ensemble piece imbibed with sprint of the Coen Brothers but, uniquely, worthy of its independence.
Goliath (Amazon Prime Video)
David E. Kelley, the creator of Ally McBeal, headed back to the courtroom with Billy Bob Thornton playing Billy McBride, a lawyer who became an alcoholic after a court case goes badly. The disgraced McBride is on the path to redemption when he takes on a wrongful death suit against his former employer and it becomes a big deal with conspiracies and cover-ups. Legal shows can all feel the same but Goliath offers something different thanks to an amazing performance by Thornton as a burnt-out lawyer with a little fight left in him.
The Keepers (Netflix)
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,”
said Edmund Burke. Evil thrives in a small American town in The Keepers when nothing is done about the abuse of young girls at a catholic school that’s tied to the murder of a nun, Sister Cathy Cesnik, in 1969. As adults, Sister Cathy’s students investigate her murder, which remains a cold case, and slowly uncover a conspiracy to cover up a history of abuse by catholic priests. The Keepers is sublime true crime series that looks at crowd sourcing justice when law enforcement fails.
Created by Liz Flahive (Homeland, Nurse Jackie) and Carly Mensch (Weeds, Nurse Jackie, Orange is the New Black), the series is based on a true story as profiled in the documentary GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. Under the guidance of executive producer, Jenji Kohan (creator of Weeds and Orange is the New Black), the series featured a fantastic ensemble cast exploring empowerment and gender stereotypes from within wrestling ring. It also looked at the conventions of storytelling and the roles women are confined to through the filter of the male gaze (Marc Maron played a sleazy director/writer). GLOW is more than just a nostalgia trip back to the ’80s, there’s serious smarts underneath the gigantic hair and lycra.
The Good Fight (CBS/The Good Fight)
The Good Fight follows Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) back to the courtroom after her retirement is cut short a year after the events of the season finale of The Good Wife. In The Good Fight, Lockhart is getting on the right side of history by choosing not to defend the powerful and wealthy, but instead, she goes to work with her former employee, Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo), at a firm owned by respected black lawyers who specialise in police brutality cases. A lot of the best characters from The Good Wife live on in The Good Fight and the writing is just as sharp with storylines focusing on gender, race and sexuality. The Good Fight rises to the greatness of its predecessor while managing to be more intuitive to the current political climate.
BoJack Horseman (Netflix)
Over the course of three seasons, BoJack Horseman began to dig deeper into its contemplation of depression in the shadow of success. If a cartoon celebrity horse can’t find happiness, can anyone? Season four continued the show’s insightful contemplation on what it means to be ‘happy’ but mixed in hilarious puns, wordplay and the best visuals gags in any animated series on TV right now.
The Detroiters (Comedy Central/Foxtel Australia)
If you love low-budget television commercials The Detroiters is the show for you. The show centres on two best friends (Sam Richardson and Tim Robinson) working together at an advertising agency that specialises in making commercials. The show has a Mad Men meets Broad City vibe. It’s hilarious and weird but the chemistry of the two leads is so infectious you can’t help but fall in love with this odd little world of advertising.
Big Mouth (Netflix)
Big Mouth is like a rude, hilarious sex-ed textbook come to life, and it’s essential viewing. The show’s humour comes from its awareness of the horrors of puberty, but it provides relief to anyone still traumatised by puberty (basically, all of us). I had to pause this show many times to let the laughter pass so I wouldn’t miss anything. Big Mouth has a killer voice cast of way too many hilarious people and lots of great cameos.
The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime Video)
Anything Amy Sherman-Palladino does is going to be an easy sell — yes, I like Bunheads — but it was a relief to hear she was working on something new after Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. And, hoo lady, that new show is spectacular. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a fast talking, hilarious, witty take on the gender dynamics of the 1950s through the filter of stand-up comedy. It may be a period piece but the show feels perfectly timed and prescient considering the recent scandal with Louie C.K and the shit female comedians have to put up with. It’s also one hell of a post-breakup fantasy. The show is lush with design details and the direction is flawless. The Marvelous Mrs, Maisel is one the best things Sherman-Palladino has ever done and it’s easy to see why Amazon green-lit two season of the show off one pilot.
David Fincher returned to TV to co-direct and produce this serial killer series and it put him back in the same territory he explored with Zodiac, but this time the ’70s presents a crossroads. The aftershocks from the Kennedy assassinations and Watergate are still being felt. J Edgar Hoover, who built the FBI from scratch according to his strict vision, is recently deceased. And for Mindhunter’s investigators, men with no motive are a terrifying prospect. The bureau must adapt or be outsmarted by evil. Gripping from start to finish, Mindhunter was far from the generic, procedural style serial killer shows that clog TV screens.
The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu/SBS Australia)
Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel got a prestige adaptation that was chilling to the core. More frightening, it shows us how easily we could slip into a similar situation; just Google the current state of reproductive rights in America. Immaculately directed, written and acted, The Handmaid’s Tale was as shocking as it is divine.
Get Krack!n (ABC Australia)
Wild, smart, dark and funny, Get Krack!n was unlike anything else on TV in 2017. The breakfast TV satire, done in real-time, had an incredible joke hit rate and it anointed the show’s creators and stars, Kate McLennan and Kate McCartney, as our new Australian comedic overlords. Long live Kate and Kate.
Alias Grace (Netflix)
We were spoilt to get The Handmaid’s Tale in 2017 but another Atwood adaptation outclassed it a smidge. Adapted by Sarah Polley and directed by Mary Harron (welcome back!), Alias Grace focused on the psychic evaluation of a “celebrated murderess”, Grace Marks (Sarah Gadon) who has been imprisoned for 15 years in Canada in the 1800s. The show is a masterclass in perspective between how Grace tells the story, her internal monologue and the perceptions of those around her. I mean the biggest compliment by saying this but the show is unsatisfying in the way it haunts you after its finished. Did Grace do it? I’ll happily muse on this well into next year thanks to this fantastic series.
Better Call Saul (AMC/Stan)
I’ve said it many times but this show is a miracle. The Breaking Bad spin-off/prequel continues to astound with how it bridges the gap between its iconic progenitor through the experience of Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) as he is pushed to embrace his worst impulses and become Saul Goodman. Michael McKean continued to give a career best performance as Jimmy’s older brother and the series reached Shakespearean levels of sibling rivalry. I still can’t get over how good this show is three seasons deep.
I blitzed through the first season of Insecure in a few days in time for season two. I was kicking myself I didn’t discover this fantastic show and the talents of Issa Rae earlier. Insecure captures the awkwardness of modern dating and relationships perfectly while drawing from Rae’s personal experiences. The soundtrack is sublime and it shows a different side to life in Los Angeles without a Hollywood sign in sight.
Gus and Mikey 4eva. Love‘s second season was as good as the first and the show continued to remind me of a grown up version of Freaks and Geeks (Judd Apatow is one of the show’s creators). Love moves from being painfully awkward to heartfelt effortlessly and I continue to be ga ga for this series.
Remember how Hannibal turned a serial killer show into a trippy masterpiece? Legion does the same, but with comic book adaptations. Under the guidance of the show’s boss Noah Hawley — the genius behind the Fargo TV series — Legion shreds formulaic elements of superhero stories and takes a non-linear approach to solving the show’s great mystery: David Haller (Dan Stevens). The show is lush with visuals that appear like dreamscapes and every frame is full of clues to assist in solving the mystery of Haller’s life. It’s a show that definitely makes you work for it, but in a refreshing way. This comic book adaptation expects a lot from its audience in the brainpower department and delivers big time.
Search Party (TBS/SBS Australia)
The search party became a murder party in season two and it was an important switch in gears after wrapping up the mystery neatly in season one. Search Party began examining what happens when goodwill turns into a nightmare. Trauma manifested itself in each character in different ways, sometimes it was hilarious, other times it was shocking. Guilt and paranoia slowly closed in on Drew, Dory, Elliot and Portia as Search Party went back-to-back with another great season.
Big Little Lies (HBO/Foxtel)
Based on the novel by Australian author Liane Moriarty, Big Little Lies tells the story of five women (Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Zoe Kravitz and Shailene Woodley) living in Monterey, California, where the police are investigating a suspicious death at a school fundraiser. Big Little Lies had storylines focusing on domestic violence, rape, infidelity, bullying and the class divide in a small community told primarily from a female point of view. Many perceived Big Little Lies as a prestige soap opera with the backing of HBO, but it had a much broader appeal. There’s a refreshing amount of empathy between these women who initially set out to destroy or meddle in each other’s lives; they grow to appreciate each other and and garner strength to survive the trauma of their lives.
The Good Place (NBC/Netflix)
The Good Place is Michael Schur’s first new creation since finishing up Parks and Recreation, and it shows. The Good Place is the kind of passion project that gets green-lit on the goodwill of a huge previous success because the concept is a tough sell. It mixed comedy, romance, fantasy, existentialism, and the afterlife into one show. It questioned what it means to be a good person from the afterlife. There’s nothing else like it on mainstream television right now. After the gob-smacking season one finale the second season (still in progress because it’s on a break) went beyond the trappings of the show’s concept and started to become much bigger, funnier and emotional than I ever imagined.
Master of None (Netflix)
The second season continued to follow the life of Dev Shah (Aziz Ansari) but it began to take risks with storytelling styles and different perspectives. The second season felt more like a package of wonderful short stories. The Thanksgiving episode is an astonishing piece of television crafted to perfection by co-writer and star, Lena Waite, and director, Melina Matsoukas. ‘New York, I Love You’ is one of my favourite episodes of television this year. And the black and white opener had everyone Googling ‘flghts to Italy’. Master of None is a neat little package of warmth and I was happy to bask in its glow.
Rick and Morty (Adult Swim/Netflix)
Every episode of the third season of Rick and Morty is a winner. Despite the McDonald’s sauce controversy, nothing could tear me away for my love of this series. It has the spirit of Douglas Adams mixed with Monty Python, but it’s wonderfully bizarre, clever, meta and modern.
The Leftovers (HBO/Foxtel)
I had this show on my pile of shame for ages so I made a decision to mainline the first two seasons ahead of airing of the third and final season. The Leftovers is now one of my all-time favourite shows. I can’t yet articulate properly the effect this show had on me but it’s sublime with its depiction of the process of grieving and coming to terms with depression. There’s also the great mystery of it all. Some of it is based in religious mythology, but the show always presented the idea that maybe what happened just can’t be explained and the universe is a great enigma. The Leftovers beautifully explores what we cling to and what we choose to believe in when the explainable happens.
Twin Peaks The Return (Showtime/Stan)
David Lynch’s return to Twin peaks was horrifying, mystifying, excruciating and wonderful. Twin Peaks The Return turned out to be better than I expected. A spectacular display of the unique vision of Lynch and co-writer, Mark Frost. The Return did not wallow in nostalgia, but rather, it offered up new characters and mysteries, most of it incomprehensible, but there was a beauty to the chaos at play. Each week a captivating new episode arrived to get under our skin and Lynch’s imagery stuck around for days, weeks, and months. Twin Peaks The Return will stay with me forever.
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