by Matthew Thompson
2017 was another strong year for television. Despite there being more shows than ever, I can’t say I have kept up with as much this past year. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t a wealth of high-quality series to choose from for my year-end list. I have pared down an ample list of choices to my top fifteen TV shows. Here they are!
15. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
For the first two seasons, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has been a fixture near the very top of my year-end list. It wasn’t on quite the same level this season in my mind and I can’t quite put my finger on why. Regardless, it still had the rapid-fire joke delivery that is unmatched elsewhere in the television landscape these days. Ellie Kemper remains infectious as the upbeat lead. It had the varied, zany humor I’ve come to expect from Tina Fey and Robert Carlock. And then it had hysterical bits like Titus “lemonading.” While it didn’t quite match up to my lofty standards for the series, it provided enough fun and laughs to slip into this final spot on my list.
14. Jane the Virgin
No one mixes drama and comedy like Jane the Virgin these days. The way it pokes fun at telenovela clichés while simultaneously embracing them is still superb. The narrator and captions are still pure comedy gold. While some of the ongoing storylines have grown a bit tired particularly the Sin Rostro stuff, the series made some other moves to really freshen things up. The most obvious is the tragic event and ensuing time jump late in the third season, but toying with the framing device in the Season 4 premiere was another nice change of pace. I’ve really cut back on my CW viewing the past couple years, but Jane the Virgin remains one of the network’s must-watch shows.
13. Alias Grace
The first of two Margaret Atwood adaptations on this list, Alias Grace tells the story of celebrated murderess Grace Marks through her own words as she is interviewed during a psychological evaluation. Sarah Gadon was a revelation in this for me. Her central performance and narration carry the series. Alias Grace tells a fascinating tale over the course of six episodes and few shows this past year left me with as much to chew on as it did when it came to a close.
12. Mr. Robot
To be blunt, Mr. Robot got a little too far up its own ass in Season 2. The at-times eye roll-worthy pretentiousness and the decision to separate Elliot from the other characters for about two-thirds of the season made it a far cry from the brilliant first season. Season 3 was a nice bounce back for the show. The tension was back in a big way and I loved the cool new dynamic between Elliot and Mr. Robot this time around. As always, the music, title cards, and cinematography were top-notch – the latter peaking with the visually splendid “eps3.4_runtime-err0r.r00” which played out like one continuous shot. It was a riveting season of television and has me excited for the future of the series in a way I was not after the show’s messy sophomore year.
11. Big Little Lies
I tuned into Big Little Lies based simply on the idea of that cast in an HBO series. I initially dropped it after the pilot though. I wasn’t expecting it to be – at least partly – about rich parents’ squabbling and sniping. I’m glad I returned to it though because it told a very powerful story about abuse buoyed by an excellent performance from Nicole Kidman. The ending brought things to a satisfying close and it was cool to see the women at the center of this tale come together in the end despite their differences. While I’m not surprised it will be returning for a second season – “Limited” series are often only as limited as their success/appeal – I’m not sure it’s the best idea, but that doesn’t take away from what they achieved with this first run.
10. Hooten & the Lady
It should be no secret to anyone who has read this site in the past that I love treasure-hunting stories. I’ve even dabbled in trying my hand at writing them myself. I’ve always wanted to see a quality television series in this vein and finally got my wish with Hooten & the Lady. It really checks all the boxes as far as what you’d want from this kind of fiction. Beautiful locales to explore. Charming leads with great chemistry and witty banter to exchange. Weekly MacGuffins to chase down and villains to allude. All delivered with an ideal mix of action, humor and drama. Hooten & the Lady wasn’t renewed for a second season which is unfortunate as it feels like there were plenty of stories left to tell and I would have loved to see what trouble these two got into next. It definitely has a place on my list of favorite one-season wonders though.
9. Halt and Catch Fire
Like the technology featured throughout the series, Halt and Catch Fire was always evolving. They made great use of time jumps to allow the show to cover a large stretch of time. I got a real kick out of seeing them show the beginnings of the gaming and internet communication – two things you may know from reading this site that I enjoy greatly! But it was the four major characters at the core of the show that really drove Halt and Catch Fire and seeing where their journeys would ultimately take them – whether it be together or apart – in this final season made for one fantastic finish. The way they weaved in Haley’s story this season and how they used a character’s death to explore grief and its effects on the major players of this tale made for a particularly strong back half of the season that is up there with any stretch of TV from 2017. It was sad to see such a great series go, but it was nice to see it go out on its own terms and in such a satisfying fashion especially considering the low ratings throughout its tenure.
I wrestled with where to rank this. It along with my number one pick are my favorite shows on TV. There are no other shows I enjoy sitting down to watch more. Yet I recognize that iZombie struggled with how it handled some of this season’s overarching plotlines in a way that it didn’t in previous years. There weren’t quite as many standout brains of the week this go around either. Still, my love for Rob Thomas’ dialogue is as strong as ever. The cast chemistry is off the charts. And when the brains are good, they are so, so good – see this year’s Dungeons and Dragons-themed episode. Throw in an ending that is even more bold than Season 2’s and there was still a lot to love about the show this past year. I suppose I know that objectively it wasn’t quite top-tier in Season 3, hence the drop to the middle area of my list this year, but I can’t say I don’t still enjoy the hell out of this show. I just do.
7. I’m Sorry
Andrea Savage is just so funny. On paper, I’m Sorry – which Savage created and stars in – doesn’t sound like anything special. It’s just about the life of a wife, mother and comedy writer, but Savage’s writing and comic delivery lift this premise to great comedic heights. It’s the way she slips expletives into casual conversation – really any time she curses is guaranteed to get a laugh out of me. It’s the hilarious scenarios she has come up with – many pulled from her real life experiences – from simple but awkward conversations with the other parents at her child’s school to the blind man at a local coffee shop using his disability for sleazy purposes to the things you can’t unlearn when your writing partner dates your daughter’s teacher. Vulgar and hysterical, few shows made me laugh more often than I’m Sorry in 2017.
6. Search Party
The first season of Search Party – which combined Broad City-style humor with a season-long mystery ala Veronica Mars – seemed so perfectly contained, I wondered if it should just be left alone as a near-perfect single season series. Boy was I wrong. Season 2 proved that continuing the story was the right call. While it lacked the mystery element this time around, I found myself hooked all the same. Funny and dark in equal measure with a terrific lead performance by Alia Shawkat and plenty of hilarity from the supporting cast, Search Party remained one of TV’s premiere comedies in its sophomore effort.
5. Black Sails
It isn’t surprising in the least that Black Sails was once again one of television’s best in 2017. After its superlative second and third seasons, I expected nothing less. All the swashbuckling action, shifting alliances and tricky political maneuvering that I’d grown to love over the course of the series was back in a big way. What I was unsure about was whether or not I’d be happy with the ending. I worried that it might feel more like it was setting up for Treasure Island because of its prequel status. Those concerns proved unfounded. The final episode of Black Sails covers a shocking amount of ground, wrapping up all the major players’ stories in fine fashion. While it plants the seeds for the novel to follow, it still stands alone as its own piece of fiction because of how it finishes. And the show wouldn’t go away without one more spectacular action setpiece. The final on-seas battle is simply tremendous. Black Sails remains one of the most underrated shows in recent memory and I will miss it greatly.
4. Master of None
Few shows so effortlessly flit between styles and subject matter as Master of None does. One episode it is taking the form of Italian cinema while another leaves the core cast behind to follow around various citizens of New York City. One episode is showing the highs and lows of modern dating while the next delves into race and sexuality before another shows the complications of pursuing someone who is in a long-term relationship. While the acting remains spotty at times, it has a wonderful sense of humor and I just find some of the topics touched on here extremely relatable which makes up for any sub-par acting performances that crop up. Most of these compliments were true of Season 1 back in 2015, but I thought the second season was even better.
3. Better Call Saul
I have typically been more into the Mike side of Better Call Saul than Jimmy’s. Seeing Mike work is always a joy and with Gus thrown into the mix this past year that remained as fun to watch as ever. But I had never been as drawn into Jimmy’s storyline as I was this past season. The clear peak of Season 3 – and perhaps the series as a whole – was “Chicanery” which showed Better Call Saul’s take on the courtroom drama. It sees Jimmy squaring off with his brother in court using a lot of the shady tricks that have made him a successful lawyer and con-man before that. Seeing him best Chuck on his brother’s home turf so-to-speak is immensely entertaining. We even got a Huell appearance! The whole season is excellent throughout building on the feud between Jimmy and Chuck as well as the effect Jimmy’s actions have on those around him. It was the best season of the show so far.
2. The Handmaid’s Tale
This is one of the most disturbing shows I’ve ever watched. I feel a little odd saying I “enjoyed” it because of that. Based on Margaret Atwood’s novel of the same name, The Handmaid’s Tale presents a dystopian future where fertile women are reduced to slaves for sexual and reproductive purposes. It’s at once fascinating and horrific especially given how shockingly relevant it can be to happenings in the real world today. Much praise has been heaped on Elizabeth Moss and deservedly so. She is fantastic and does a lot of the heavy lifting, but I thought Alexis Bledel made the most of her screen time with an equally impressive acting performance. Her scene at the end of “Late” still haunts me. The Handmaid’s Tale is tough to watch at times. It isn’t going to be for everyone and certainly doesn’t make for a good binge given the heavy material, but those who do check it out will be treated to some of the best television in recent memory.
1. The Good Place
The Good Place has all the humor and heart I’d expect from a Michael Schur show and then it has all these other things that I wasn’t expecting that I love it for too. It has the serialization, mythology, cliffhanger endings and crazy twists of a genre show. It has a fantasy setting that allows for things just unheard of in most other comedies. It has relentless pacing that moves things forward at a speed that constantly surprises me. It has endless restaurant and food-based puns. It has philosophical leanings and poses interesting questions of morality. And perhaps best of all: it has Blake Bortles jokes. Among the many laudable things The Good Place did in 2017, I will point out two. Early in the year, the first season finale had what is probably my favorite twist in a comedy ever. It recontextualizes the entire first season making a rewatch a vastly different experience. And an early Season 2 episode spanned hundreds of years in a way that so few other shows on television could pull off. Of course, both of these were doled out in laugh-out-loud fashion. I still haven’t gotten to the cast which includes vets like Kristen Bell and Ted Danson doing great work alongside a host of relatively fresh faces – D’Arcy Carden is a real scene stealer as The Good Place’s Siri-esque virtual assistant. All this – and more – made The Good Place the best show on television in 2017.
Honorable Mentions: The Missing, Hap and Leonard, The Good Fight, The 100, Rick and Morty, Man Seeking Woman, Billions, Life in Pieces, and Stranger Things.
That will do it for my list of TV favorites in 2017! Feel free to let me know which shows topped your list this past year in the comments below. This also brings my look back at the best of 2017 to an end. Thanks to anyone who took the time to check out this post or my gaming and music ones! I really appreciate it!