Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Best TV Shows of 2017 - Top 30

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 30-21. 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 30-21 for 2017!

30. Netflix's Stranger Things

The drama's second season was, in many ways, better than the first. Sure, there was the awkwardness that came from El's pointless adventure in Chicago and her being separated from the rest of the kids for the majority of the year. But there was something truly special and wonderful between El and Hopper. Millie Bobby Brown and David Harbour are delivering the best performances on the show. And so, it was fantastic to pair them together. And then, Noah Schnapp proved that he was terrific casting as well despite having very little to do in the first season. He was possessed once more by the Upside Down and was truly terrifying to watch. Plus, there was some terrific comedy between Dustin and Steve. That was such an unexpected character pairing that really found such a genuine heart by the end of the season. The formula may have been similar to the first season but on a much broader scale thanks to an increased budget. But the show more than justified returning to the Upside Down and brought everything to such a strong and powerful conclusion.

29. HBO's Insecure

Issa Rae's perspective on the world is so important and powerful. It's a unique perspective that really hasn't been seen a whole lot. That's what makes it so enriching for her to have her own show. In its second season, the comedy expanded its focus a little bit by spending even more time with Issa, Molly and Lawrence in their separate lives. They were involved in stories that made them all question what they truly wanted out of this world. Are they simply longing for something that was perfectly fine and acceptable in the past? Are they still holding onto the same dreams they've always had? Or are they open to change and welcoming the unexpected into their lives? It was a passionate season in so many ways. It was a questionable season as well because Molly somehow found a way to turn down Sterling K. Brown as a romantic option. But it was a fascinating season because it forced all of these characters to confront their insecurities and go after what they really want in the world. Of course, those decisions might not ultimately be the best for them. But they do make those choices by the end of the year.

28. Comedy Central's Broad City

The wait was longer than usual for the fourth season of this comedy. That was because series creators Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson wanted to film during the winter months. The first three seasons told stories about these characters during the summertime. They were aware that New York City is completely different during the winter. And that turned out to be such a great creative decision. It showed a level of maturity and evolution that was necessary at this stage of the show's run. It needed to do things a little different. And it succeeded with that by telling stories like Ilana having seasonal affective disorder, Ilana having a solid waitressing job with RuPaul, Abbi saying goodbye to Soulstice, etc. But it also just produced a number of really powerful episodes - like the poignant political sendup "Witches," a family trip in "Florida" and an animated drug trip in "Mushrooms." It's a fun and silly show. But this season proved it's very aware of the changing world as well.

27. Amazon's The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

This period dramedy may be the last show to effectively come out of Amazon's pilot season. The executives there are starting to realize that that kind of development process may not be super beneficial to their programming needs. And yet, it was March of this year when it became clear that this show from Amy Sherman-Palladino was going to be a massive success. It got a two-season order right away and managed to get that first season released before the year was over. That was so magical. I didn't mean to binge the entire season in eight hours. But that's exactly what occurred. It was just such a compelling show where the audience could view the hours one right after another. It was an effective story boosted by defining performances from Rachel Brosnahan and Alex Borstein. The season was always more engaging when it was focusing more on Midge's stand-up career and less on her home life. The final balance wasn't always the greatest because she really wasn't concerned about her kids at all despite the pending divorce. But when those moments on stage hit, this was such a marvelous show to watch. It all just seemed so effortless.

26. USA's Mr. Robot

In its third season, it became clear that the drama's creative team had to streamline themselves after a second season that ultimately became too bloated. That didn't take away from the appeal and the tension of the show whatsoever. In fact, it had a propulsive energy to it once more that was fascinating to watch. The narrative also didn't revolve around some big twist that was meant to surprise the audience with how it completely changes their perception of the episodes up to this point. Sure, there were some reveals that rewrote the history as Elliot has been telling it to us. But those felt minor and like a natural extension of the show's creative side this season. It was much more important to see the personal stakes in this war between Elliot and Mr. Robot. They weren't communicating but they were getting in each other's ways. They were quite destructive of each other. But the fallout of that hit all of the characters on a deeply personal level that made it all so compelling by the end. And the acting and directing across the board were stellar.

25. Amazon's One Mississippi

The first season of the dramedy touched on themes including grief, inherited trauma and family estrangement. The second season was a story of love. It told three distinct stories of the main family members all finding new romantic connections. Two of which were some of the best romances seen anywhere on television in 2017. It was just so passionate seeing Tig and Kate together. It was a story about hesitance and acceptance. Tig knows exactly what she wants and Kate doesn't. But Kate is open to that exploration because of how much support and love she gets from Tig the moment something incredibly traumatic - and especially timely - happens at work. And then, it was so enriching and powerful to see Bill fall in love again. The whole series started with the death of his wife. It was sad to realize that he thought that chapter of his life was now over. As such, it made it so rewarding when he seemingly found the perfect match only to realize that he is still carrying around the guilt and trauma of his father's actions to his family. It was so unexpected and yet so absolutely beautiful.

24. HBO's Veep

The sixth season of the reigning Emmy champion for Best Comedy Series opened with a declarative statement that Selina Meyer was done trying to pursue the presidency. She held the office. She campaigned for her own official term. She lost. She is now out of public service. That was a fascinating turn for the series - especially because the show couldn't possibly match the ridiculousness that was happening in real-life politics. Of course, the season ultimately became a bunch of running jokes about what Selina should and may be doing with her new free time. She is trying to get the recognition she deserves for freeing Tibet. She wants to have the perception of running a charity. She wants to bring back all of her former staffers to keep working for her. But it was a season ultimately defined by all of the crazy but powerful positions Jonah kept finding himself in - with Uncle Jeff cackling along the way. Plus, Mike got drunk with Selina and Gary's family was seen for the first time. It was still a strong and viciously brutal season of comedy. It just didn't have the same edge as past years. Plus, the ending flung the narrative right back into running for president which could be a little too complicated and repetitive.

23. Netflix's Dear White People

This show is based on the movie of the same name. Justin Simien wrote and directed both versions of this story as well. The series thrived on being able to tell this shared experience of events on a college campus from different perspectives. The facts of the story largely stayed the same no matter whose vantage point it was being told from. But there was so much power in seeing how the black experience can be so remarkably different. These students are all bonded together through outrage of a blackface party and a cop later on pulling a gun on one of them. But they all have such different reactions to those events and ideas on how to best deal with them in these specific situations. It's a narrative that understands the connections while highlighting the differences. It's a clash of ideologies in a way that still makes everyone sympathetic. All of the characters have their own experience of the world. In fact, it's so empowering to see character types who've never really been seen on TV before - like Lionel. It's a story told with so much passion. It has so many ideas at the heart of the narrative that it's crucial that it didn't build to an easy resolution. Things were left complicated and that was the perfect ending to have in a constantly complex story like this.

22. Netflix's GLOW

This period comedy was such an unexpected surprise throughout the summer. No, it didn't have the same kind of emotional depth some of the other series this highly on the list do. But it more than made up for that by just being a lot of fun. This show was so joyous and surprising to watch. It takes a really specific premise of a female wrestling television show from the 1980s and makes it such a specific journey of discovering one's true identity. The show itself was able to subvert the exploitative nature of this profession at the time. As the characters prepare this show for an upcoming audience, it's all about using simple definers to explain their wrestling personas. But the show itself is very wise and aware that these women are so much more complex and nuanced than that. This is a show that is all about the appreciation of women's bodies. Choices are made that result in different body types at the center of this story. And that's just so empowering to see. It's a story about the cause-and-effect choices that these women are forced to make. Some of them are out of professional responsibility. Others are out of selfish interest. And then, it's just a celebratory moment when Liberty Bell and Zorya the Destroya face off during the final third of the finale. That was one of the most memorable moments of the entire year.

21. FX's Feud: Bette and Joan

Heading into this series, there really was no indication of which Ryan Murphy we were about to get. He can be very serious and subtle like he was with The People v. O.J. Simpson. But he can also be chaotic and distracted like he was with Glee and American Horror Story. With this show, there was so much potential for it to just be this glamorous examination of 1960s Hollywood as told through the catty and vindictive feud between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. But that was really just the entry point into the series. Instead, it dealt with the universal themes of the desire to stay relevant in the world and connect with other human beings. It was all told through the tragic irony that Bette and Joan were so similar but couldn't get past their differences before their respective deaths. It was such a moving piece of television to watch. Yes, it was glamorous and indulgent of Hollywood. It had a brilliant episode set completely during the 1963 Oscars. But it also showed the desire to examine the many ways the characters of this world were similar. They all just wanted to be loved and appreciated. The harshness they felt from the world is what they gave back to it. It was a vicious cycle. A cycle that still extends to the present day. So, the story was able to take this specific story and make it universal in a way that was quite remarkable by the end of the year.