2017 was the best year for television that I can remember in a long time. The quality of both new shows and old was extraordinary, and picking 10 that fit the mold of the best of the best was a struggle. Whether it was the nail-biting action of a baby iguana escaping a pack of hungry snakes, the small acts of rebellion from women forced into subjugation under an oppressive regime, or a 50-minute long black and white short film about the introduction of evil to the world via the atom bomb, television was in many ways, absolutely bonkers this year. Even still, what was the actual best of the best?
Honorable mentions: “American Vandal,” Season 1; “Dear White People,” Season 1; “Game of Thrones,” Season 7; “Samurai Jack,” Season 5; “Silicon Valley,” Season 4; “Legion,” Season 1; “The Punisher,” Season 1
Also, some programs I’d like to highlight that I was unable to watch: “The Americans,” Season 5; “Big Little Lies,” Season 1; “The Crown,” Season 2; “The Good Place,” Season 2; “Godless,” Season 1.
10. “Planet Earth II” (Season 1, BBC)
Created by: Vanessa Berlowitz, Mike Gunton, James Brickell, Tom Hugh-Jones
Directors: Elizabeth White, Justin Anderson, Emma Napper, Ed Charles, Chadden Hunter, and Fredi Devas
Writers: Elizabeth White, Justin Anderson, Emma Napper, Ed Charles, Chadden Hunter, Fredi Devas, and Sir David Attenborough
Starring: Sir David Attenborough, and a whole bunch of gorgeous animals
Best episode: “Cities”
It’s crazy to think that the David Attenborough-narrated “Planet Earth” came out 12 years ago. Since then the series has become the seminal defining piece of work on how to make a nature documentary. Its sequel has set a new standard. Filled with never-before-seen footage of creatures in stunning up-close detail, Planet Earth II delivered some of the most beautifully breathtaking footage of our world’s most miraculous places and did so by utilizing some of the best camera work done for this type of doc in a decade.
“Islands” features one of the most action-packed chase sequences to come from any visual media this year as we follow a marine iguana making a death-defying race across the beaches of the Galapagos Islands from a huge group of hungry racer snakes. A section from the episode “Mountains” following a golden eagle hunting for prey among the snow-capped peaks of the Alps features some of the most incredible aerial shots ever captured in a documentary. There’s no doubt that “Planet Earth II” is the pinnacle of nature documentaries and that its ability to educate and entertain people our wonderful world and urge people to strive for more planet conservation is absolutely fantastic. The show also takes a moment in its final episode, “Cities,” to take a look on the villages and metropolises of the world to tell us about the incredible animals that have adapted to live among us. From starlings, langurs, and hyenas, so cities around the globe don’t just have pigeons and squirrels roaming the streets.
9. “Rick and Morty” (Season 3, Adult Swim)
Created by: Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon
Directors: Juan Meza-Leon, Dominic Polcino, Anthony Chun, and Bryan Newton
Writers: Mike McMahan, Jane Becker, Jessica Gao, Sarah Carbiener, Erica Rosbe, Ryan Ridley, Tom Kauffman, Dan Guterman, James Siciliano, Justin Roiland, and Dan Harmon
Starring: Justin Roiland, Chris Parnell, Spencer Grammer, and Sarah Chalke
Best episodes: “The Ricklantis Mixup”
After a long hiatus, Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon return for the fantastic continuation of their not-so-cult hit show “Rick and Morty.” Antics abound with mad scientist Rick and his neurotic grandson Morty as they travel the cosmos in search of adventure and unethical scientific discovery.
The usual sci-fi parody antics continue in this season, but Harmon and Roiland digging deeper into the psyche and emotions of their characters is what makes this season so strong. “Pickle Rick” for all of its silliness and meme-ability has some really strong moments when discussing the strained and the psychologically manipulative relationship between Beth and her father, Rick. “Rest and Ricklaxation” introduces the intriguing concept of going through a procedure that leeches all toxic parts of your personality from your body, but then turns that idea on its head by turning our protagonists into former shells of themselves. Morty in particular, after removing his neurotic side that gives him self-control turns into a sociopathic stockbroker type.
The culmination of the greatest parts of this season comes in “The Ricklantis Mixup.” The episode features a series of vignettes dedicated to explaining the hard and complex turmoil of people in inner-city life. Concepts of police brutality, racism, poverty, corruption, and gang warfare. It’s not only a shocking turn from a show of this tone and caliber but one that somehow nails every single one of these concepts in honest and succinct ways. The show as a whole is a comedic marvel, and season 3 is no different, despite how some of its fans grew a bit too big for their anti-gravity boots this year.
8. “Black Mirror” (Season 4, Netflix)
Created by: Charlie Brooker
Directors: Toby Haynes, Jodie Foster, John Hillcoat, Tim Van Patten, David Slade, Colm McCarthy
Writers: Charlie Brooker and William Bridges
Starring: Jesse Plemons, Cristin Milioti, Rosemarie DeWitt, Brenna Harding, Andrea Riseborough, Kiran Sonia Sawar, Georgina Campbell, Joe Cole, Maxine Peake, Douglas Hodge, and Letitia Wright.
Best episode: “Hang the DJ”
“Black Mirror” is the always fantastic series from Charlie Brooker that is filled to the brim with existential dread about our world’s constantly expanding use of technology. Every episode is different from its setting, characters, actors, and plot. The main driving theme is simple though: In our effort to expand our technological abilities how do we slowly whittle away our own humanity.
This season “Black Mirror” took on new thematic exploration. The world of online video gaming and how toxic masculinity soils it, the difficulty of dating in the Tinder era, and the ethics of resurrecting people via computer programs are just a few of the themes the new series tackled in its six episodes. Sure, some episodes were underwhelming, but the episodes that really soared did so with flying colors.
“Hang the DJ” is easily the best episode of the bunch. It’s a clever look at how Tinder and dating apps are designed to have computer algorithms pre-judge our relationships. As well as commenting on how these apps often encourage us to judge people based on really unimportant qualities. It’s a pretty simple setup, but its message of honest, true love and compassion is conducted in an effective and heartwarming way. Let us all hope “Black Mirror” is here to say to give us more of that depressing, existential dread we always crave so much.
7. “The Deuce” (Season 1, HBO)
Created by: George Pelecanos and David Simon
Directors: Michelle MacLaren, Ernest Dickerson, James Franco, Alex Hall, Uta Briesewitz, and Roxann Dawson
Writers: George Pelecanos, David Simon, Richard Price, Lisa Lutz, Will Ralston, Chris Yakaitis, Marc Henry Johnson, and Megan Abbott
Starring: James Franco, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Chris Bauer, Dominique Fishback, Chris Coy, Lawrence Gilliard Jr., and Margarita Levieva
Best episode: “My Name is Ruby”
George Pelecanos and David Simon are probably best known for their incredible show “The Wire” and while “The Deuce” doesn’t reach the heights of its team’s earlier projects it still is a remarkable show. Set in 1970’s New York, the show follows several people surrounding the sex trade. Police officers, prostitutes, pimps, mafia men, bartenders, veterans, and politicians are just some of the people we meet along the infamous red light district of 42nd street.
“The Deuce” isn’t a visceral, action-packed crime show. It’s a thoughtful character study about an infrequently heard part of New York’s history. “The Deuce” is more of a meditation on human indecency and desperation. Its characters are less hard-hitting thugs and upstanding police officers as they are just simple people trying to make it day by day in the only life that was given to them. The female characters struggle to exist and keep their dignity in a world ruled by men that demands obedience. Good, honest men are thrown into a world they can’t escape simply because they took an opportunity to survive. It’s a slow-paced, well-written show that is heavy on emotion rather than forced drama.
6. “Better Call Saul” (Season 3, AMC)
Created by: Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould
Directors: Vince Gilligan, John Shiban, Thomas Schnauz, Daniel Sackheim, Keith Gordon, Adam Bernstein, Minkie Spiro, and Peter Gould
Writers: Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, Thomas Schnauz, Gennifer Hutchison, Jonathan Glatzer, Gordon Smith, Ann Cherkis, and Heather Marion
Starring: Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Rhea Seehorn, Patrick Fabian, Michael Mando, Michael McKean, and Giancarlo Esposito
Best episode: “Chicanery”
The prequel to “Breaking Bad” was in full swing this year as it released its best season to date. The season fully dove into the relationship between Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) and his electromagnetic sensitive brother, Charles (Michael McKean) and their contentious dynamic. When it’s not about their constantly disintegrating bond, it finds itself focusing on how his brother’s betrayal effects his humanity. The season finds Jimmy reaching really desperate moments of deprivation to dig himself out of the trouble he gets in. The season also expands on the origin of infamous “Breaking Bad” villain Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), providing plenty of fan-service by showing how he and Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) came to meet.
The show is as darkly funny as ever, but its dramatic moments hit so strongly in this season that every moment is an enthralling presentation of tremendous acting, fantastic writing, and really upscale cinematography. Without a doubt, the best episode is “Chicanery” which is also the best episode of the series so far. Michael McKean’s performance in this episode is so incredibly explosive and rage-filled that it’s absolutely disappointing that he was denied a well-deserved Emmy win for best supporting actor in a drama. With plenty of riveting, edge-of-your-seat suspense, smart comedy and fantastic drama, “Better Call Saul” just keeps getting better.
5. “Master of None” (Season 2, Netflix)
Created by: Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang
Directors: Aziz Ansari, Alan Yang, Eric Wareheim, and Melina Matsoukas
Writers: Aziz Ansari, Alan Yang, Andy Blitz, Aniz Adam Ansari, Sarah Schneider, Cord Jefferson, Lakshmi Sundaram, and Lena Waithe
Starring: Aziz Ansari, Eric Wareheim, Kelvin Yu, Lena Waithe, Alessandra Mastronardi, and Noel Wells
Best episode: “Thanksgiving”
In its first season, “Master of None” was a very funny show that occasionally had a profound episode that addressed an interesting part of the minority experience in America. In its second season, Ansari and Yang, the show’s creators, really dive into making their show all about these themes. The story expands right after Dev (Aziz Ansari) has left New York for Modena, Italy and works as a pasta maker who has fallen deeply for his co-worker Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi) who is in a committed relationship. The show returns back to New York before expanding the show’s scope to different times in Dev’s life, the lives of never-before-seen characters and the experiences and struggles of everyday people.
This season of “Master of None” is filled to the brim with incredible episodes. The Thief is an entirely black and white episode retelling a modern-day version of Vittorio De Sica’s “Bicycle Thieves,” one episode finds Dev going to war with his parents over his lack of following religious practices and incorporates how parents feel when we abandon the practices they taught us. One succinct episode called “First Date” follows Dev’s hilarious and heart-breaking escapades in trying to get a new relationship. The final episode of the season seems particularly prescient during these times because it contains a subplot where a famous TV chef is accused of sexual assault and the episode reveals how difficult it is to remove him from the position. The best episode of the season, and series, without a doubt, is “Thanksgiving.” The episode follows Denise (Lena Waithe, who also wrote the episode) and her life growing up with Dev and the Thanksgivings they experienced over their years. Denise, being lesbian has troubles dealing with her sexuality as she knows her mother won’t approve. It’s a brilliant and heart-warming coming-of-age story told in just 30 minutes. It accurately captures so much of the internal struggles that homosexual people deal with when growing up. Its expertly acted, beautifully written and emotionally devastating. It is the prize package in a season already filled with plenty of incredible episodes.
4. “BoJack Horseman” (Season 4, Netflix)
Created by: Raphael Bob-Waksberg
Directors: Amy Winfrey, Anne Walker Farrell, Aaron Long, Matt Garofalo, Otto Murga, and Tim Rauch
Writers: Peter A. Knight, Kate Purdy, Elijah Aron, Jordan Young, Joanna Calo, Nick Adams, Alison Tafel, Kelly Galuska, and Raphael Bob-Waksberg
Starring: Will Arnett, Amy Sedaris, Alison Brie, Paul F. Tompkins, and Aaron Paul
Best episode: “Time’s Arrow”
“BoJack Horseman” continues to impress even into its latest season. It not only continues to provide realistic depictions of depression, addiction and self-loathing behavior through the character of BoJack (Will Arnett), but also dives into the psyches of its other supporting characters. Princess Caroline’s (Amy Sedaris) workaholic attitude is only a product of her intense fear of never amounting to something her future generations will be proud of, this is all expertly rendered in the episode “Ruthie” wherein Caroline’s imagined future a great-granddaughter tells her classroom of her ancestor’s worst day ever. It’s a fantastic episode that not only is a testament to how weird and flexible “BoJack Horseman” often gets with the way it tells stories, but also a deep look into how our insecurities define our day-to-day lives.
In the case of BoJack, this season pairs him with Hollyhock (Aparna Nancherla), a supposed daughter who often helps BoJack see the positive aspects of his life and how talented and important he is. BoJack’s genuine moments of love and appreciation towards Hollyhock are emotions we rarely see from him and to give him a yin to his yang we learn much about the two of them. The best episode of this season is “Time’s Arrow” which, in true “BoJack Horseman” fashion, gives context to the background of a hated character that helps us learn that there’s more to them than just their surface personality. The subject in the episode is Beatrice Horseman (Wendie Malick) the abusive and alcoholic mother of Bojack that is often considered to be the source of all his issues. “Time’s Arrow” turns the camera towards the deteriorating mental health of Beatrice and how her awful childhood and rushed marriage to BoJack’s father and his infidelity slowly eroded her marriage as she tried her hardest to cling onto her humanity. The show’s ability to capture the rich flurry of emotions going on underneath Beatrice’s hardened exterior.
3. “The Handmaid’s Tale” (Season 1, Hulu)
Created by: Bruce Miller
Directors: Reed Morano, Mike Barker, Floria Sigismondi, Kate Dennis, and Kari Skogland
Writers: Bruce Miller, Leila Gerstein, Dorothy Fortenberry, Wendy Straker Hauser, Lynn Renee Maxcy, Kira Snyder, and Eric Tuchman
Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Joseph Fiennes, Yvonne Strahovski, Alexis Bledel, Madeline Brewer, Ann Dowd, O. T. Fagbenle, Max Minghella, Samira Wiley, and Amanda Brugel
Best episode: “Late”
“The Handmaid’s Tale” is without a doubt the show of 2017. It’s not what I’d call the best, but its adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel of the same name seemed to capture the zeitgeist through its sci-fi setting. A Second American Civil War sees a totalitarian, theocratic government force all fertile women to be Handmaidens for the elite class to provide children to families who cannot have them after infertility rates skyrocket. The story follows the Handmaid Offred (Elisabeth Moss), who has been separated from her family to serve Fred Waterford to provide him and his wife with a child.
The show not only depicts the fall of democracy at the ends of Christian extremists but also depicts a world in which women are subjugated by men as a commodity to simply provide them with children. In a year plagued by extremist religious people attempting to push their destructive policies through government as well as the number of men being accused of sexual assault reaching an all-time high, “The Handmaid’s Tale” has captured the national attention and frightened people with the possibility of it all coming true. What is really riveting about “Handmaid’s Tale” though is its encouragement of rebellion. Within this horrible society the women at the center of this story are forced to live in, they take all the smallest acts of rebellion they can get. Secret messages here, a secretly passed book there and reciting a Bible verse to contradict the government’s beliefs.
The best episode of the season is by far “Late”, which shows through flashback how democracy fell and the new government overtook standard human rights and replaced it with their sexist ideologies. It depicts how the dismantling of civil rights isn’t just ripped away from people in one go, but are removed slowly as people stay silent and cooperate. Women are fired from all their jobs, their bank accounts are frozen, and ownership of property is denied. Democracy isn’t killed with one swift blow, but in the small puncture wounds that bleed it out as people choose to mind their own business.
2. “The Leftovers” (Season 3, HBO)
Created by: Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta
Directors: Mimi Leder, Keith Gordon, Daniel Sackheim, Nicole Kassell, Carl Franklin, and Craig Zobel
Writers: David Lindelof, Patrick Somerville, Tom Perrotta, Tom Spezialy, Tamara P. Carter, Haley Harris, Lila Byock, Carly Wray, and Nick Cuse
Starring: Justin Theroux, Amy Brenneman, Christopher Eccleston, Chris Zylka, Carrie Coon, Ann Dowd, Janel Moloney, Kevin Carroll, Jovan Adepo, and Scott Glenn.
Best episode: “The Book of Nora”
In any other year, “The Leftovers” would be the best season of TV. Set three years after the end of season 2 takes place, the Garvey family is experiencing as normal a life as they can despite the oddities of the world they now live in. “The Leftovers” is all about how truly life-changing events destroy the status quo. The disappearance of 2% of the population and how people would react to unceremoniously losing their friends and family, to how religious beliefs would fizzle out and how people would wander the world looking for miracles or answers to why they weren’t chosen. It’s a show revolving around the biggest mystery ever, but it refuses to be a show about solving that mystery. Instead, it’s all about what would happen to the very soul and fabric that unites human behavior.
Its third season also is the last season of the show, and its short 8 episode runtime functions to provide each of the main characters with one final hurrah that focuses on who they are as a person. Season 3 of “The Leftovers” is its weirdest, but most emotionally raw. It features a team of scientists secretly advertising a way to see departed family members, an inter-dimensional exploration where one of our main characters is the president, but is also an assassin tasked with killing him. There’s a coalition of women in Australia trying to hunt down people named Kevin because they believe him to be the second coming of Jesus. It’s all steeped in desperation, loss, fear, anger, injustice, pain, hatred, karma and love. The show culminates in a finale of epic proportions. “The Book of Nora” will give you answers to your questions, but its not the reveal that makes the episode so beautiful. I dare not risk spoiling it, but “The Leftovers” is an oft-overlooked show that deserves more eyes and more appreciation. Watch it as soon as possible.
1. “Twin Peaks” (Season 3, Showtime)
Created by: David Lynch and Mark Frost
Director: David Lynch
Writers: Mark Frost and David Lynch
Starring: Kyle MacLachlan, Sheryl Lee, Michael Horse, Chrysta Bell, Miguel Ferrer, David Lynch, Robert Forster, Kimmy Robertson, Naomi Watts, Laura Dern, and Catherine E. Coulson
Best episode: “Part 8: Gotta Light?”
David Lynch’s seminal murder mystery returns for a season so wild, brash, beautiful and mind-boggling that it feels like a miracle that it even exists. Explaining the story of the third season of “Twin Peaks”, also called “The Return”, is an exercise in defining reality as we know it. The questions the show poses and how it addresses them are so odd and frightening that the existential horror it continued to baffle viewers as every new episode rolled out. “Twin Peaks: The Return” is the poster-child of delayed gratification, it’s less a show and more an event to be experienced. It feels like something that essays will be written for years to come on what it all means, but most importantly the show was a home to some of the weirdest and most unbelievable things ever put to television.
In particular, this season found Kyle MacLachlan not just playing his beloved Special Agent Dale Cooper, but two other characters that are miles apart in personality. For MacLachlan to perfectly embody and portray these three characters with such gravitas is a testament to the show in itself. That’s not even the most delightfully weird and mind-bending thing to happen in this season. There’s a Michael Cera cameo as the son of Andy and Lucy Brennan who rides a motorcycle and acts as a reincarnated Marlon Brando. There’s a skeletal tree with a shriveled head who recites prophecy. A creature made of static and twisted light murders two lovers. All of these individual moments of bizarre craziness as fantastic as they are don’t hold a candle to “Part 8.” An hour long, the black-and-white short film taking place in an alternate reality as soot-covered men pursue people across a desert and a young girl goes on a first date, and an abstract frog/insect creature finds a new host to infest. The episode is not only a visual feast of epic proportions, but its uniqueness and odd storyline is so fascinating my jaw was hanging for practically the whole episode. “Part 8” is also the perfect analogy to “Twin Peaks” as a whole. A series of confusing, abrasive and downright insane images and plot details that seem to amount to bupkis, but are in fact an intense look at humanity’s capacity for evil. “Twin Peaks: The Return” doesn’t settle to be another 18 hours of mystery, romance, horror, and suspense. It goes for something else entirely. To be an unsettling meditation of fear, pain, greed, the invalidity of heroism, the twisting of history in mythology, and the painful sundering of family. It is the best in class, and it’s not only the best tv show of 2017, but one of the best tv shows, or pieces of entertainment full stop that’s ever been made.
There we have it. The top 10 greatest TV shows of 2017. It’s clear that streaming sites are slowly overtaking the market and we’re still in the golden age of television as the bar keeps getting higher and higher. What were your favorite shows of 2017?