This has been a strong year of TV like so many before yet there is a changing dynamic. Many streaming services are now replacing the Cable TV providers for where quality comes from and even less present is the role of Network TV. My list of the Best TV shows of 2017 is an eclectic mix and you’re not guaranteed to love everything on the list but I would love to hear your thoughts on what you agree with and what I’ve missed.
20. 13 Reasons Why
The further away I get from 13 Reasons Why the more complicated feelings I have about it. An extremely powerfully told and portrayed portrait of youth suicide that tells its story in a clever way. It leaves on feeling haunted especially its last few episodes. Yet its central conceit of a mystery makes it feel exploitative and at others even dull. Still powerful TV nonetheless.
This reimagining of Archie and the Riverdale gang might have been a bit higher on the list if it wasn’t for the current state of the show. Small town mystery, a timeless setting and a stellar young cast make this for a delightful and at times surprising guilty pleasure. Stories of serial killers have marred the second season but there is still time to right the ship.
18. Big Little Lies
With a cast that includes Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern it would be hard to make a bad TV show with this much talent. Throw in David E. Kelley and best selling author Liane Moriarty and the odds truly are stacked in your favour. An elite suburb with elite housewives and all have their secrets that culminate in a murder. It’s told in flashbacks and while it at times deals heavily in cliché, it knocks you out when it needs to. Not perfect, but extremely watchable.
17. Search Party
A bunch of narcissistic New Yorker’s get involved in looking for a missing they went to college with. It’s awkward, cringey and downright dark at times but it’s also hilariously funny. The strange thing it manages drama and a central mystery so well. Like the lives of the show’s characters, Search Party can feel like a mess but it’s brilliant and clever at the same time.
16. Doctor Who
The Peter Capaldi incarnation of The Doctor has not always been filled with successful episodes. But the introduction of a completely non-romantic companion in Bill, the mystery of Missy and even a regeneration into a woman have all made Capaldi’s feel rather fresh. The problem has never been Capaldi who is a brilliant actor and for more than a moment in 2017, he got to shine through. His time as The Doctor will be one that will be remembered fondly.
15. Stranger Things 2
The second season of Stranger Things went for the bigger is better philosophy and had some missteps along the way. Yet the expansion of the show’s lore, more exciting set pieces and some complex storytelling with the return of Will made for a strong sophomore effort nonetheless. Still playing on at times too heavily on the nostalgia it was also exciting once it built towards its finale. It is also worth mentioning that this was the season that brought us the adventure of Steve and Dustin which is one of the true highlights on TV this year or any year.
The Marvel TV Universe has ranged from Fine to terrible and has yet to find its brilliant. Legion might be that, strangely because it seems less concerned with mutants and more on trippy story telling. Often playing with the unreliable narrator it is a surreal experience that is probably let down by a weaker back end to its season. But still compelling TV nonetheless.
13. This is Us
Network TV in the US often has a drama that manages to elicit heartfelt emotions from its audiences. The current cream of the crop is This is Us. The first season opened with a pilot that sets up this family of triplets. It is about the struggle of parenting, of living a meaningful life and of celebrating and learning from the past. It is well written and acted and while you’re dealing with familiar tropes it works and will make you cry, a lot.
12. The Sinner
Another short run series makes the list of best TV shows of 2017. This one centres around the mystery of Cora, a seemingly happy mother who shockingly murders a random stranger on a beach. The question is not who did it but why. Bill Paxton and Jessica Biel star on this examination of trauma and abuse and the core mystery truly delivers in the end.
11. The Handmaid’s Tale
There is little question of the relevance of The Handmaid’s Tale in 2017 and the power of women defying traditional power structures. For me, this show set in a future world dominated by extreme conservative elements looking to repopulate the United States was a fascinating exercise in world building. I must admit I found most of the characters cold even while still appreciating Elisabeth Moss’s rebellious June. Still, the show is painfully well made and horrific in what it portrays and how close to our own reality it could be.
10. Star Trek Discovery
I’m not particularly against the JJ Abrams version of Star Trek but the more you watch the older TV series you realise how different they are. Star Trek Discovery tells a prequel to anything Enterprise related and is set at a time of war. Its main characters are anti-heroes, its villain’s complex people are torn apart by belief and its ethic, scientific dilemma feel right at home in this universe. It gets off to a rocky start and sometimes tries to be a little bit too edgy for its own sake yet still I like it. The visual effects are quite amazing too.
9. American Gods
An adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s great novel about a bunch of Old Gods going to war with the new ones is fascinating and beautiful. It helps that Bryan Fuller knows how to make visually breathtaking shows. There is something a bit abstract about the whole thing and doesn’t really seem to be in a hurry to follow its source material but watching Ian Mcshane is a treat for anyone. The future of the show seems a bit up in the air with Bryan Fuller no longer attached.
8. The Good Place
Let’s make a comedy about the afterlife that seems like a nice idea. Yet the Good Place is the most clever and original comedy going on TV at the moment. It’s season one twist threw the whole premise into chaos in the most delightful way. The colourful cast of characters makes for a quirky show about being ethically good and the end result is Forking amazing.
7. American Vandal
A comedy about a high school student accused of vandalising teacher’s car with penises. It sounds like a one-note show but when presented like a True Crime/ Serial type show make for a fascinating crime drama. It’s funny and at times insightful but also compelling as a mystery. This has been a year when my best TV shows of 2017 have been filled with mysteries yet this unlikely show has the highest rating and might be the biggest surprise of the year.
6. Mr. Robot
If you’re not on this show about a hacker group lead by the enigmatic and slightly deranged Elliot, you’re truly missing out. Some felt that the show’s second season was a misstep but it seems it was all a setup for the third season. The third season hinges around a second hacking attack and the one-camera/cut episode that follows these events is just a staggering achievement. It’s not just about computers though but a world filled with conspiracy and shadowy criminal organisations. Such a strong show and the directions it goes makes it feel odd at times but always intriguing.
A western that opens its limited run with one of the most beautiful and haunting shots in a TV series. It’s a little bit Unforgiven and Wyatt Earp but still paints a very original part of Cowboys and Robbers. It is filled with an all-star cast who are loving the setting of the Wild West but ultimately are committing to their roles. The show is filled with quiet moments of love and hope, yet filled with the gun-slinging you would want from the genre.
4. The Exorcist
One of the greatest horror movies of all time turned into a TV show, seems like a recipe for disaster. Yet The Exorcist is horrifying and moving in equal parts. The exorcisms (of which there is usually one per season) are complemented by church conspiracies to drive the show forward. Yet at the heart of the show is the dynamic between a young and rising priest and a disrobed one, as teacher and student. Each of the exorcisms also focuses on the destructive power that they have on family (probably borrowed from The Conjuring) and often has an unexpected emotional effect on the viewer. I know no one is watching this but if you can tolerate or love horror this should be on your list.
From the mind that brought you Seven and Zodiac comes a show about the creation of the Behavioural Science Unit of the FBI. A fascinating show about serial killers which cares less about their crimes and more about why they did them. It is a dark show that at times is comedic but never veers from its tough subject matter. It feels like that first interview between Clarice and Hannibal in the Silence of the Lamb but made with different Killers and with no criminal to catch. The only idea is to be able to get the killer to speak and have them be understood.
2. Twin Peaks: The Return
This was probably my greatest concern for TV in 2017. Very few returns of shows are successful and one that has the nostalgia of 25 years built up was a tough ask. Yet David Lynch and Kyle McLachlan took us on an artistic journey that was haunting and immersive, both inviting and perplexing. It was delightfully weird and some of the most original TV to have been ever seen. As FBI Agent Cooper struggled to return to reality his journey took him from Vegas to the origin of evil to even introducing the wonderful Diane. A season of TV to be watched over and over again, one that will frustrate some but delight others.
1. The Leftovers
Rarely do TV shows truly know how to end, but The Leftovers was a sublime and emotional experience as it told the final chapter of its story. A show about the disappearance of 2% of the world’s population it ended up being about hope and love when you decide to finally pick up the pieces from a broken past. A final season that was arguably perfection and a show bound to be returned to in coming years and discovered by those who neglected while it was on.