Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Best TV Shows of 2017 - Top 40

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 40-31. 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 40-31 for 2017!

40. Netflix's Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

The comedy's third season didn't have the same emotional heft or poignancy as the first two did. Season 1 ended with Kimmy confronting the man who kidnapped her in the courtroom. Season 2 ended with Kimmy reuniting with her mother and trying to forge her own, unique identity. Season 3 ended with Kimmy facing off with a robot to prove who was the better potential crossing guard. This was an overall silly season. And yet, silliness isn't a bad thing. The show has always been silly. It does that tone remarkably well too. This was a season that had Lillian run for local government and win, Titus being haunted by the fear that he ate Dionne Warwick and David Cross being run over by a car only to emerge as a more attractive man. Those are just some ridiculous twists. But it sure was a lot of fun as well. The guest stars continued to be impressive - like Laura Dern, Daveed Diggs and Ray Liotta. Plus, the main cast was still clearly having a ton of fun as they embraced these new twists in their characters' lives.

39. USA's The Sinner

USA's push into dark and edgy original programming had only created one true hit in Mr. Robot. And then, the channel found a worthy follow-up to that series to prove that it genuinely wanted to be seen as a strong creative outlet for producers and actors. This show was a terrific showcase for Jessica Biel and Bill Pullman. It was a twisted thriller that flipped the script on the conventional mystery. It delved into the mind of its main protagonist who committed this serious crime. She's guilty but the mystery is why she did it in the first place. She was just an unassuming wife and mother. The narrative got so intense with the exploration of trauma in this one woman's mind. There were layers upon layers of mystery that all led up to a really twisted revelation that was quite compelling to see play out. It was a really effective self-contained story. And in the end, it felt like there was just enough of a justification for how all of this new information affects the main case in the present day.

38. NBC's The Carmichael Show

This comedy was just marvelous to watch because of its revival of the multi-camera format. It didn't do anything remarkably different from the norm in the genre. But it had a specific and unique voice that paired well with the format. The writers knew exactly how to use the stage and live studio audience to their benefit while also addressing some really timely issues. All of this was apparent from the first season. It was remarkable that we got three seasons of it despite NBC's overall indifference based on its scheduling. This season was probably the best one because it only continued to dig deeper with the characters and allowed some personal twists to really have consequences in subsequent episodes. There was a brilliant episode early on about dementia and suicide that was really powerful. There was an episode about divorce and cheating that was great. There was an episode about threesomes that was surprisingly great because of a personal twist at the end. It was a great show that we were lucky to have for three years.

37. Syfy's The Magicians

This is another show on Syfy that had a good and promising first season but really stepped it up creatively in its second season. It was a blast to watch even when the most heartbreaking of twists were happening. It's a genre piece that understands the expectations and tropes of the genre and then exploits them to its benefit. And so, the big antagonist for the season is actually dealt with early on and the true villain is much more elusive and surprising. A character dies in a heroic way but magic keeps the possibility of a return alive. But that revival carries with it some massive consequences that could radically change the dynamics at the core of those relationships. And then, there was just randomly a big performance from Les Miserables as several characters headed into battle. It was a show that could be dark, serious and graphic in numerous ways. But it was also a fantasy show that enjoyed the playfulness of fantasy. It had one solid cliffhanger that leaves things in such a precarious and enticing place for next year too.

36. ABC's Black-ish

Four seasons in, this family comedy is still just as topical and funny as it has always been. The highs are higher than they have ever been. But so has the importance of the subject matter that the show deals with. The post-election episode that happened right before the inauguration was so magical and powerful to watch. And then, the fourth season opened with the one-two punch of "Juneteenth" and "Mother Nature." Both episodes were very effective in very different ways. One was a musical parody of Hamilton. The other explored postpartum depression in a serious manner. And yet, they are both tones the show can go for and succeed in doing. It all works because Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross are at the helm steering it to greatness with the comedic performances. And then, Laurence Fishburne and Jenifer Lewis can always just come in with some ridiculous line reading that makes the situations only funnier while still delivering on the drama when it's required.

35. Hulu's Casual

The comedy's third season was its strongest overall. It was a season that really wanted to put some distance within its core trio. It's always been about the inappropriate relationships between Valerie, Alex and Laura. The second season ended with them seemingly taking the mature step forward and moving on with their lives. But this season proved that their perspectives of the world are still messed up even when they are trying to fix what is broken within. They all desperately crave these dysfunctional relationships that always come back to hurt them in the most personal way possible. They want to grow up and feel engaged by the world once more. But it's continually difficult. They feel they are always letting themselves down. That's such a gripping story that was explored in so many nuanced ways this year. And it didn't have a simple conclusion either. It just kept life moving forward with new surprises that may make things better or may just keep the patterns going for even more generations.

34. Netflix's Orange Is the New Black

The prison dramedy's fifth season was probably its most uneven one to date. It was certainly the most experimental one as well. It took the basic structure that has worked for the four previous years and disrupted it. It told a very specific story across three days. It lived in the prison riot that broke out during the previous finale. It gave the inmates a new sense of freedom and power. The series has been a terrific sendup and deconstruction of the prison complex in this country and how it is broken in so many ways. This riot was important based on how bleak and destructive this world has gotten. But it was also difficult to maintain all of that energy across 13 hours. It suffered from streaming drift more than any previous season. It also doubled down on the terribleness of Piscatella and made sure he went out as the laughable villain he always was. There also wasn't enough resolution to reveal what the true consequences of all of this would be. But when the focus shifted to the personal dynamics for the characters, it was still a powerful meditation on the impact of human connection.

33. FOX's Brooklyn Nine-Nine

The fourth season of the comedy really was its strongest run of episodes to date. The show is just such a well-oiled machine at this point. Its ensemble is one of the best in all of television. The humor is top notch while still being a ton of fun and playful as well. It's mastered the tone of these detectives investigating serious crimes but in a funny manner. The 2017 episodes started with a manhunt for escaped convicts. And yet, it was played as a game between the detectives. Yes, there was some awkwardness involved in the Jake and Rosa are convicted of being bank robbers story that extended across the two seasons. But it's been magical to see the evolution and maturity that has happened since that arc. Jake and Amy are engaged and Rosa has come out as bisexual. Those are two hugely defining moments for the series. They were both played to absolute perfection. They could be poignant and real while still having a playfulness to them. Plus, Andre Braugher just continues to be doing stellar work with this comedic performance.

32. TBS' Full Frontal with Samantha Bee

It really is so special and important to have a female voice in the late night talk show format. It's so crucial especially in 2017. Samantha Bee's coverage of the various sexual harassment and assault allegations has been so vital. She offers a perspective that none of her male counterparts can do. Yes, they have contempt for the current presidential administration as well. But her vitriol is much more passionate because it comes from a different place of knowing just how personal and destructive all of these actions can be. Plus, this show stands out because it does field reports with a wide collection of correspondents. That helps it feel distinctive in this genre as well. Moreover, the show offers significant web content. That has been necessary as well. Yes, it makes it clear that the writers have so much to say that they can't fit it all into the 22-minute block TBS has for them. But it's great to see that content still released elsewhere in the world. The Not the White House Correspondents Dinner special was a bit too hit-or-miss for me. But it's nice to see this creative team take risks like that too.

31. HBO's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

The deep dives that John Oliver does each week on one particular subject completely uninterrupted continue to be the most impressive bits in the late night talk show genre for me. It's a format that continues to do so well because it's so informative while still offering up a bunch of jokes that are really insightful and unique. Of course, late night overall has a difficult job right now because they are all simply reacting to what is happening in the political world. There is just so much noise coming out of Washington, D.C. that it's hard to keep track of all of it in a meaningful way. However, this show's recurring "Stupid Watergate" theme was really impressive. It perfectly encapsulates everything that defines this new political era. They are stories we shouldn't have to be covering but need to because of the risk they pose to us as a society. It's all serious. But it's also just a ton of fun to see Oliver take so much glee about getting a wax figure of President Warren G. Harding and then having him star in a trailer for a fake biopic which co-stars several Oscar nominees and winners. That was a fun recurring bit that brought some levity to the proceedings.