Friday, December 22, 2017

The Best TV Shows of 2017 - Top 10

2017 is coming to a close. So now, it's time to look back on the year that was and honor all of the greatness that happened in television. I've already covered the best performances and episodes. Now, I'm counting down the best overall shows. The list now continues with the shows I've ranked 10-1. Enjoy!

As I've been saying with all of my year-end coverage so far for 2017, lists are completely subjective. I could like something that you absolutely hated. It's possible your favorite show just wasn't my thing. Or maybe I just didn't watch a show that you think deserved a placement somewhere on this list. The list this year of the best shows once again includes 100 series. I'm ranking that many because the industry is producing more and more content. It means that there are more shows worth recognizing. Some of them are big, tentpole shows that everyone knows about. Some are smaller shows that no one outside of critics is even aware of. Ranking things this way allows a great plethora of content to be recognized simply for being produced in 2017. Of course, it's impossible to watch everything. With over 500 scripted shows produced this year, I've only done my best to watch as much as possible of the shows on my radar. There are plenty of shows that just completely passed me by even though I'm a critic who needs to cover this industry professionally.

My metrics for ranking a show on this list are quite simple. I need to have watched the entirety of the show's episodes that aired this year. A complete opinion can only be held with such. And so, that's quite a time commitment. There are plenty of shows that I started in 2017 that I just haven't or couldn't be able to finish - like AMC's Preacher, Hulu's The Path or Syfy's 12 Monkeys. As such, you shouldn't expect to see them anywhere on this list. Similarly, there's a handful of shows that I just haven't seen at all despite the critical buzz being high on them. Netflix's The Crown and ABC's Speechless are prime examples of that. I've heard great things but used my time to catch up on other shows before making this list. So again, this entire list is tied to my personal taste. I watch a lot of television. It's all judged through my individual gaze of the world. So, it's all just my personal opinion. It will surely link up with yours on a number of occasions. But I'm certain I'll also rank a show too high or too low for you. That's perfectly fine as well. Disagreements are healthy. This really should just be a conversation starter. I'm listing the shows that I personally enjoyed the most from 2017.

So with all that being said, here's the shows I've ranked 10-1 for 2017!

10. The CW's Jane the Virgin

After four seasons, it cannot be understated just how important the color and joy of this show ultimately is. Yes, it's a show full of death and complicated conspiracies. But it's also a beautiful and poignant family drama about people just wanting to pursue their dreams and find love. It's a show that has such appreciation for the beauty of the world while still being an outrageous telenovela from time to time. This year was an especially brutal one for Jane. There was a twist that happened in February that forever changed the foundation of the show. It was a shocking twist that didn't exactly come out of nowhere but was heartbreaking nonetheless. The show then used a time jump in order to put a renewed sense of energy into all of its storylines. That turned out to be a strong creative decision as well to ensure that the show never lost its fun edge despite the tragic story that had just occurred. Throughout it all, Jane was still an empowering central character. She simply wants to be a published author. After all of her life experiences and pushes from her friends and family, that has finally occurred. She's a published author with a very personal story as the premise of her book. This show makes that plot point one of the most important things. Throughout all the twists and turns of this crazy world, this show has its priorities straight and makes sure that the audience cares just as much and is moved in a real way too.

9. The CW's Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

2017 was a year defined by Rebecca Bunch hitting rock bottom. She thought all of her dreams were finally coming true only to be hit with a massive reality check in the second season finale. All of her fantasies about love and perfection were crushed in an instant. That was a bold and shocking twist that fueled a third season that has created knockout episode after knockout episode. This is one of the funniest shows on all of television. It's so creative and inventive. Every week features new music videos that are so inspired and different. One week can be a song about generalizing men. The next week it can be a song about realizing one's mother isn't a heinous bitch after all. And then, the next it can be a song reminiscing about the first time having sex. It's such a wild ride full of unexpected twists and turns. But at the heart of it all is the characters. They care for each other. That's what made the respective splits with Paula and Josh so significant for Rebecca and the narrative. And now, her character has been given an official diagnosis. She hit her rock bottom but is now bouncing back from that traumatic moment. The show never shied away from the darkness at the center of Rebecca's journey. But it never lost its hopefulness either. It understands the power that comes from the desire to get better and put in the work. A diagnosis crucially helps that. And so, Rebecca is facing a radically changed world all over again which is so absolutely delightful and surprising.

8. Netflix's American Vandal

This show really did come out of nowhere. Netflix didn't even really start announcing that it had these episodes until about a month before they debuted. But it was a show that quickly caught fire because it was so absolutely ridiculous and yet genuinely heartfelt too. It had such a simple premise in being a parody of true-crime docu-series like Making a Murderer and The Jinx but on focusing on a vandalism case of 27 cars in a high school parking lot with graffiti dicks drawn on them. That was quite a powerful and amusing visual. That itself was enough for a solid sketch idea. But this creative team took that concept several steps further. It treated the investigation genuinely. It made sure that it had its ups and downs on this personal journey for the characters. Peter and Sam wanted to be in the spotlight and enjoyed that for awhile as the release of the documentary affected the making of the documentary. Dylan wanted to be proven innocent and get back to his normal life. This crime changed these characters' lives. So on one hand, it's absolutely hilarious to watch 3D renderings explaining the different vantage points of an alleged event that takes place at a lake or a party. Those were really quite specific with the show committing to the joke. But the show earns its place in the Top 10 because of how introspective it became in the end. It truly hit the audience in the gut with emotions about the emptiness that comes from high school life and the need to be defined and have a sense of purpose. This crime gave that to some and took it from others. The examination of that was some really powerful storytelling.

7. AMC's Better Call Saul

Two narratives have been emerging on the Breaking Bad prequel for awhile now. The show is split evenly between two characters from the former show. There is the Mike and Gus corner that is dealing with the local crime world, drug deals and plays for power. And then, there is the Saul corner that is defined by the conflict between Jimmy and Chuck McGill as they are pushed to their breaking points. The division was more defined than ever before in the drama's third season. And yet, this was also the year where everyone watching could start asking the question of if Better Call Saul was just as strong or better creatively than Breaking Bad? That seemed crazy at the start of the series. It still sounds crazy because Breaking Bad is one of the all-time greats. But at least the argument can now be made without the person seeming delusional. That speaks to the quality of work that Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould continue to do in this world. This season pushed Jimmy even closer to become Saul Goodman. He even took on that persona for a little while in the second half of the season. It was a season that pushed the characters to their limits. It was all effective because of the tragedy that comes between Jimmy and Chuck. This season pushed them into conflict. It exposed the truth about Chuck's disease. And then, it lingered in the aftermath to show just how destructive and tragic all of this ultimately became without either really being aware of it until it was too late. It was so destructive and yet so compelling to watch.

6. NBC's The Good Place

The scheduling of this comedy is pretty awkward. It's a heavily serialized show that airs eight episodes in the fall and then five episodes in January. It's awkward for the show itself but it's good for lists like this because it means the end of the first season plus the bulk of the second gets considered here. The first season was so strong but was often more clever than laugh-out-loud funny. And then, that finale added a twist that completely re-contextualized the entire show. It revealed a new layer to Ted Danson's performance. And now, the second season has been allowed to have more fun and be more bold and original as a result. This show was already unique for a broadcast network. It's about the afterlife and the desire to become a better person. It excels so much because of just how strong this cast is overall. All six of the main actors are incredibly talented. This probably was the year of Ted Danson who got to do many ridiculous and poignant things on the show. But the ensemble is just as strong in so many different ways. Plus, the narrative hasn't been afraid to really push the story forward. It's gone through so much plot in this year. That could be worrisome. And yet, there is just the complete confidence that this creative team knows exactly what they are doing. That level of trust is there with the audience. We understand that every twist will be rewarded with the cast being an absolute delight to watch every step of the way. It's ridiculous and crazy. It boasts more special effects than any other comedy. But it's still powerful because of its imagination.

5. Netflix's Master of None

There is great power and poignancy that comes from this comedy's inquisitive nature of telling stories that the entertainment world never wants to tell. Yes, the second season had a more conventional romance with Aziz Ansari's Dev falling in love with an engaged Italian woman. But there was so much creativity in the way the show told that story - including a black-and-white episode set in Italy as well as an hourlong episode that showed the connection deepening while nothing too scandalous happened. But the real highlight of the second season came from the episodes that told stories in a unique way that could only work on this show because the creative team shows an interest in those stories. Sometimes it's as simple as "First Date" where Dev simultaneously is seen on dates with about a dozen women of varying backgrounds and interests. Or it's "New York, I Love You" that largely sets the main characters aside to just spend the day with a bunch of random characters in the city. Or it's "Door #3" where Brian is just having a conversation with his dad about his love life. Or it's "Thanksgiving" that tells the story of Denise coming out to her family and how that connection changes over time. It was such a fascinating and beautiful season. Yes, it's annoying that Ansari doesn't know if it will return for another year. But these episodes were stunning to watch on so many levels.

4. AMC's Halt and Catch Fire

When this drama first started, it just felt formulaic and familiar of all of the previous prestige shows on cable. Over the course of its four season run though, it quickly proved that it was so much more inspired and vital than that. This final season was one of the most powerful and stunning seasons of television. This was a show that was interested in human connection as told through the dawn of the computer age. Technology was drastically changing the relationships between the characters. Every season saw a completely different configuration amongst them. Those five central characters went through so much together. They changed radically over a long period of time. Technology advanced quickly. Their businesses rose and fell over the course of the series. They all obtained minor success in the tech world. But the drama spoke to its audience on a human level in terms of the desire to feel seen and connected with other people. Technology brings people together and pulls them apart. This was often a difficult season. Relationships were broken without any semblance of being able to be fixed. And then, there was a shocking death that solidified the final arc of the show. This was a world that carried consequences to it. Actions meant something. That action was able to bring everyone together once again. That was beautiful to watch in a way that allowed a more hopeful future. It didn't fix the problems under the surface. There was just the ideal of these people learning how to be better and not repeat the same mistakes of the past. It was all built on the idea of changing the world. The world changed and so did the characters in a way that pulled them apart and then brought them back together.

3. FX's Better Things

There rightfully should be a conversation about whether an audience can separate the art from the artist as it pertains to this comedy. This is Pamela Adlon's show. It's based on her life. She plays the lead character. She directed every episode of the second season. But it was also co-written by Louis C.K. who has openly admitted to sexually assaulting women over the years. That makes this a difficult but necessary conversation around this show. This season was so brilliant in so many ways. I was still able to continue to enjoy the overall themes because it was clearly more of Adlon's show. She's the one who shows the fascination in exploring what it means to be a woman and a mother in 2017. This second season expanded on the themes of the first in some remarkable ways. It depicted the kind of emotional availability and burden that women often have to put up with in society. They are the ones who always need to be there for the men and the children of the world. They are the unsung heroes who don't get the appreciation they deserve. This show depicts parenting unlike any other show out there. The dialogue feels real. The fights are genuine between Sam and her kids as well as Sam and her own mother. These are complex relationships that go through patches of appreciation, anger and disappointment all within the same timeframe. It's beautifully complex. The show was able to bring the family together in some extraordinary ways over the course of the season - including a trip to White Rock, a fake funeral for Sam and Max's graduation from high school. It was a brutal season that wasn't afraid to depict the life of a woman and a mother in a real and genuine way. It was bold and original for doing so and really entertaining throughout the year as well.

2. Showtime's Twin Peaks: The Return

It's still pretty miraculous that in 2017 we got 16 new episodes of Twin Peaks directed by David Lynch. It's a season the fans have been wanting for a long time. There was 25 years in between the second season of the original show and these revival episodes. It was a season that played into the idea of time and how it affected this community. Some in the audience were probably hoping that it would return as the same exact show. Twin Peaks changed the industry in many ways when it first debuted in 1990. And now, it can be said that the new episodes once again changed the industry in many ways. These episodes were often brilliant and often maddening. There's probably a good third of the season that was pretty aimless and didn't ultimately go anywhere - Audrey's entire story, Shelly's relationship with Red, all those scenes at the Roadhouse, etc. But despite those concerns, it was one of the most exciting and original shows to air during the entire year. It pushed the boundaries of episodic structure and storytelling. At times, it felt like Lynch was just teasing the audience to see how far we would go with certain elements. But it was frequently entertaining and unique as well. The passage of time meant something in these episodes. In some ways, it was comforting to see that the stories of Twin Peaks were exactly the same. Big Ed and Norma were still struggling to be together. Ben still has a rough relationship with his family while also flirting with younger women. But it was in examining how time has changed this world that was truly heartbreaking and emotional. These episodes were touched by death in so many ways from the actors who died after the original show ended and the actors who died after production of the revival was completed. Lynch knew the world had changed. And so, he proved that the story of Twin Peaks didn't need to be confined to the town of Twin Peaks. There was strange mysticism afoot everywhere and the show still felt unique and whole despite the expansion of the world. It was remarkable storytelling that will probably change the way music supervision is done in this medium. It will revitalize the careers of some actors in really deserving ways - like Kyle MacLachlan, Dana Ashbrook and Grace Zabriskie. It was art on television and that was awe-inspiring.

1. HBO's The Leftovers

I've known that this drama from Damon Lindelof would be my number one show of the year for a long time. Conservatively, I would say for certain that was the case since June when I first saw the series finale. But this final season started great and kept that momentum going until the very last seconds of the finale. It was a perfect season of television. That was phenomenal to watch. There were so many great moments across these eight episodes that proved why this show is so special and deserves this recognition. From the Millerite opening sequence to Kevin tying that plastic bag around his head to Nora jumping on the trampoline to Kevin Sr.'s walkabout to Nora crying alone in the hotel room to the Tasmanian lion sex boat to Laurie's scuba diving mystery to the penis scanner that led to world annihilation and finally the series finale that took the show ahead in time with a beautiful reunion. This was such an intense and varied season. It was so epically funny in so many different ways. Matt's episode as he tried to reunite with Kevin to carry out their grand purpose in this world was so heartbreaking but also karmically hilarious with one of the best episode-ending lines of the entire year. The return to the land of the international assassin was colorful and ridiculous with its dual narrative but it was just so unique and surprising too. This was a year about acceptance. Acceptance about these characters' place in the world. There was always the lingering suspicion that they were each special because of what happened with the Sudden Departure. Seven years have passed and the world has attempted to move on. The overall theme is that the world is still broken and these heroics won't make much of a difference whatsoever. The need to safe the world from destruction is a plot that seems grandiose but wasn't in the execution because the characters genuinely believed it. They've seen and experienced the impossible. There are things in this world that defy explanation. And in the end, no easy answers came to them. The world kept on spinning and they simply had to accept that. That's a powerful message that connects back to the viewers as well in an increasingly crazy world. But it was all told through a message of hope as well. Hope that human connection will ultimately spark the greatest ideas and passions. Hope that the pursuit of greatness will payoff with enough hard work. Hope that the need for answers in the face of inexplicable mystery will eventually path way for acceptance. This was a difficult season that didn't make things easy for the characters. But it was heartbreaking in the right ways with the ending being absolute perfection. It was the best show of 2017. It earned that title and it will be greatly missed moving forward.