The 10 Best TV Shows of 2017 (So Far)
A funny thing happened when we put our TV-addled brains together for an earnest assessment of 2017’s best: Six of the choices from last year’s list either delayed their usual airdates or ended outright or had an off-year. As a TV critic, you’re making constant mental notes for a year-end Best Of – dreading how you’ll make it all fit – but the midway absence of heavies like Game of Thrones or another American Crime Story let us really shuffle the deck.
All that said, let’s do some damage before the Emmy nominations hit! ScreenCrush TV junkies Kevin Fitzpatrick, Britt Hayes, and E. Oliver Whitney managed to carve through a relatively manageable list for the year-to-date’s most memorable, including at least six (!) newbies and a few that skipped 2016 altogether. The science is sound (read: there is none), so here follow all the Tales, Lies, Dicks and Unfortunate Events that had our TVs buzzing this year.
10. Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events
Season 1, Netflix
“Look away, look away,” Neil Patrick Harris croons before Netflix’s Series of Unfortunate Events debuts even one frame of footage. The eight-episode adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s miserable tale gets right what so much of the 2004 film rushed for time, never once relenting on the droll charm of such colorfully distinct characters failing to recognize the Baudelaire orphans’ unending plight. We could debate for hours whether Neil Patrick Harris or Jim Carrey captured the spirit of Count Olaf, but Harris brings a more youthful energy to the role that dovetails with the lavish production design and costumes, not to mention Barry Sonnenfeld’s storybook composition. It’s certainly one of the better adaptations in recent memory, full of memorable turns from Aasif Mandvi, Alfre Woodard, Rhys Darby and more, with enough added mystery to keep even the Reddit crowd buzzing. This no-good, dreadful and depressing tale is nonetheless addictively watchable. – Kevin Fitzpatrick
9. Chewing Gum
Season 2, Netflix
It’s one of the funniest and raunchiest shows on TV, and you’ve probably never heard of it. An E4 British series that’s made its way across the pond thanks to Netflix, Chewing Gum is about a 24-year-old virgin whose one and only goal is to get laid. Season 1 found Tracey, played by creator/writer/star Michaela Coel, lusting after the cute but dimwitted neighborhood boy, and in the second season, she tries everything from sex parties to book clubs and role playing to have sex. The charm of the series doesn’t just come from those wild scenarios, but from the sharp, snappy pacing and Coel’s onscreen presence. If she’s not breaking the fourth wall to bluntly say things like, “I sit here before, you ladies and gentlemen, with a fully working hymen,” then she’s seductively gyrating in a homeless shelter bathroom shortly before vomiting on herself. Chewing Gum is delightful for its unabashedly filthy, spit-take sense of humor, but its Coel’s slapstick physical comedy that lends the show an enchanting weirdness you can’t take your eyes off of. – E. Oliver Whitney
8. Big Little Lies
Season 1, HBO
“I love my grudges. I tend to them like little pets.” Thus spake Reese Witherspoon’s Madeline, purveyor of secrets through the real estate porn hamlet of Monterey, California. The HBO adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s 2015 novel lives in the complicated web of connections underlying families of an affluent elementary school, yet weaves them with such finality that not even fans want to tend those grudges in a second season. Its all-star cast of Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern, Zoë Kravitz, Alexander Skarsgård, Adam Scott and more belies the fascinating intersection of motherhood, abuse, and female friendship on display as reports of bullying tear apart mothers, fathers, step-fathers, neighbors and more. The writing of David E. Kelley and direction of Jean-Marc Vallée simultaneously subverts and expands the central murder-mystery of Moriarty’s novel; you may know who takes that inevitable fall, but the journey toward the edge is still enthralling. – KF
7. Twin Peaks
Season 3, Showtime
In the Peak TV era, as the ghosts of primetime’s past are revived with reckless abandon, Twin Peaks is a welcome act of rebellion. David Lynch’s 18-hour return (as of this writing, only eight hours have aired) is a brilliant disruption of our current television predicament, and one that defies all creative and critical convention. Lynch remains wholly uninterested in explaining his art, nor is he concerned with fulfilling the implicit terms of a revival or satisfying any desires but his own — which means we have yet to see many beloved characters, including Kyle MacLachlan’s OG Dale Cooper, who seems to be emerging ever-so-slowly from the emasculated suburban shell of Dougie Jones. That may or may not be a metaphor for Lynch’s own re-emergence, but it doesn’t really matter. Part of the genius of Twin Peaks’ return is that it comes at a time when viewers and critics alike pore over every hour of a series for clues, determined to outsmart its creators by solving the mystery weeks or years in advance. Trying to decode David Lynch is a futile act of defacement. I’d be remiss if I didn’t praise the series’ eighth chapter, in which Lynch delivers an origin story as a breathtaking and nightmarish piece of visual prose. – Britt Hayes
Read ScreenCrush’s early review of Twin Peaks.
6. I Love Dick
Season 1, Amazon
As a series about a woman obsessed with a man, I Love Dick completely fails the Bechdel Test. But that’s hardly a knock against it. Instead, Jill Soloway and Sarah Gubbins’ series uses its lead’s obsession with a man to subvert the male gaze and celebrate a woman embracing her sexual appetite. When Kathryn Hahn’s Chris, a frustrated New York filmmaker, arrives in Martha, Texas for her husband’s (Griffin Dunne) research fellowship, she becomes infatuated by Dick (Kevin Bacon). He’s the epitome of the western masculine fantasy: a strapping cowboy, a respected artist, and a taciturn, mysterious intellectual. But across the series’ eight episodes, all directed and written by women save for one, the show turns Dick into the object of desire and creative inspiration, flipping the age-old tradition of the female muse. Beyond a stellar supporting cast, it’s Hahn who takes I Love Dick from good to great. Often pushed to the margins in smaller roles, Hahn soars as the lead, arresting in both Chris’ moments of fiery rage and calm introspection. I gobbled up few shows this year as quickly as I did I Love Dick, which is saying something in our jam-packed TV climate. – EOW
5. Dear White People
Season 1, Netflix
It’s not often that TV adaptations so perfectly expand a two-hour film into ten episodes of TV, but writer-director Justin Simien’s Dear White People succeeds by embracing its most central truth; everyone has perspective on race worthy of exposure, for good or ill. Picking up largely in the aftermath of Simien’s 2014 film, Dear White People divides its narrative into episodes emphasizing one particular character; whether biracial activist Sam (Logan Browning), well-meaning white boyfriend Gabe, campus rising star Troy (Brandon Bell, reprising his role from the film) or awakening gay journalist Lionel. Even while layering these disparate insights into racial and gender politics, Simien never loses sight of urgent moments, like a harrowing police standoff in the show’s fifth episode that ranks among the decade’s most suspenseful TV. The very fact that a title like Dear White People creates such misguided controversy proves the relevance of these difficult conversations, and I can’t wait to see where that takes us in Season 2. – KF
4. Master of None
Season 2, Netflix
There’s an artisan charm to Master of None almost as fleeting as its culinary obsessions. We were lucky enough that Aziz Ansari could curate such personal and endearing stories once, let alone twice. Most impressive of all, the second collection ran with Season 1’s ending to weave a proud affinity for Italian cinema into its narrative with a running thread of Dev (Ansari)’s complicated relationship with the engaged Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi). It’s bitter, and heartfelt all at once, flavored by creative filmmaking and such delightfully oddball performances from Eric Wareheim and (once again) Ansari’s own parents. The tragedy isn’t in finishing this particular course, but knowing that we might not see another for years. – KF
3. The Handmaid’s Tale
Season 1, Hulu
Although often heralded as a prescient classic, Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel — which takes inspiration from real-life acts of misogynistic oppression — would be better labeled “scarily relevant,” especially in our current political climate. Hulu’s handsome adaptation of the novel, headlined by Elisabeth Moss in her fiercest performance to date (high praise indeed for the star of Top of the Lake), proves as much in 10 searing episodes. This gut-wrenching series takes place in a not-too-distant future, where fertility has become a commodity and child-bearing women are assigned to wealthy, powerful households to be raped and impregnated. Not since Jessica Jones has a television series dealt so masterfully with the nuances of misogyny and sexual abuse; not since Martin Scorsese has a voiceover felt so necessary; and not since The Wire has a show held a mirror up to society’s shortcomings with such painful relevance. – BH
Read ScreenCrush’s early review of The Handmaid’s Tale.
Season 1, FX
For further proof that Noah Hawley deserves truckloads of money to do whatever the hell he wants, check out the latest FX series from the mastermind behind Fargo. Legion is a delightfully bonkers piece of eccentric, surrealist storytelling — even more impressive given its tangential relationship to an X-Men comic book series, of all things. Dan Stevens and a wildly committed Aubrey Plaza lead a fantastic ensemble in this strange trip through the labyrinthine psyche of David, a powerful mutant who has long been led to believe that his abilities are the result of a deranged mental illness. Where Fargo is overtly inspired by the Coen brothers, Legion is indebted to the works of David Cronenberg and David Lynch, which place art and craft before narrative, thus transforming the latter into a figurative experience. (And if not for Twin Peaks, Legion would have been my favorite show of the year, no question.) Where else can you find a leisure suit-clad Jemaine Clement dancing in a psychic ice cube or an extended action sequence set, in slo-mo, to a Feist song? – BH
Read ScreenCrush’s early review of Legion.
1. The Leftovers
Season 3, HBO
The Leftovers is one of the greatest TV shows of all time. The end.
If you need more convincing, I could easily list off reasons the third season of Damon Lindelof’s series was the best thing on TV this year so far, but for the sake of brevity here’s the main one: It landed its ending perfectly. And that’s a huge accomplishment for a show that begins with two percent of the world’s population vanishing without explanation. The Leftovers was less about answers than how we get by without those answers. In its third and final year the HBO series blossomed into something uniquely brilliant, becoming a show that was as profound as it was rib-achingly funny. After a season full of wild and audacious moments – there was an orgy, a penis scanner, and a Mark Linn-Baker cameo – Lindelof and director Mimi Leder ended on quiet and remarkably simple note. We’ll be talking about the finale for years, not because of any twist, but because of how beautifully it captures the power of storytelling. – EOW
Read ScreenCrush’s series finale review of The Leftovers.