Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Best TV Shows of 2017 - Top 50

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 50-41. 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 50-41 for 2017!

50. OWN's Queen Sugar

Series creator Ava DuVernay took a small step back with the second season of this drama - only writing the season finale. And yet, the quality of the show didn't dip at all. In many ways, it actually improved by getting to spend even more time with these characters. The increased episode order allowed the series to delve further into the conflicts that are driving each of the protagonists. It is often a complicated family drama where it's just one twist and shocking reveal away from ruining everything that this family has strived to achieve since the death of their patriarch. This was such a moving and emotional season full of so many tragic reveals. It pushed the characters to their limits in terms of what they could handle. In the process, the show got to commit on many topical stories like police brutality, colorism and addiction. This is a show that mines emotion so well and makes it all so beautiful to look at.

49. Starz's Outlander

The opening stretch of episodes for the drama's third season was probably the strongest run the show has ever had. They got their power from the sense of longing that was powerfully felt through the story of Claire and Jamie being separated in time. The narrative covered about twenty years in the span of six episodes. It was an unexpected and difficult journey that put the characters' needs and beliefs at the center of the story. And then, the reunion was absolutely mesmerizing. It was sensual and sexy in the ways that this coupling always is. After that, the narrative definitely picked up the pace and used shocking developments to force Claire and Jamie into action. It was a tad less successful because so much was happening and the consequences of any particular action didn't quite linger. But it was also the show forging a new identity as well as it explored a completely new physical location with these characters.

48. Netflix's Narcos

The first two seasons of this period drama were defined by the towering performance from Wagner Moura as Pablo Escobar. His story came to a definitive conclusion after two years though. This season had the daunting task of somehow replacing that central performance. Without it though, the show was allowed to spread the wealth amongst its ensemble a little more. It went bigger and broader in its follow-up of the Escobar saga by chasing the Cali Cartel. But it was a very effective story that was told even more intensely than those opening two seasons. It was a story that had many nuanced and complicated performances on all sides of the conflict. Pedro Pascal was significant better as the lead DEA agent. Arturo Castro was such a surprise after being known to US audiences mostly for Broad City. Plus, it was clear that this story was barreling towards an epic conclusion. It went through story quickly. But that was the fun and appeal of it all too.

47. Amazon's Transparent

This was a radically different season for the dramedy. It didn't feature any flashbacks to an aspect of Pfefferman life that isn't known but has wide-reaching repercussions. It sent the entire family over to Israel to explore different aspects of their lives. It was also a season of fleeting moments as well. The third season was already starting a trajectory of less essential stories but it still had many specific episodic highlights. The fourth season was more of a season that built to very effective and beautiful moments instead of complete episodes that worked. Some stories were just a mess - like Josh interacting with a ghost. Some were weird but effective - like Sarah and Len welcoming another woman into their relationship. But the season also proved that it has a handle on human emotion and connection better than so many shows out there - which was exhibited through Ali's whole story and Maura reconnecting with a family member she thought was long gone.

46. IFC's Brockmire

This comedy was so filthy, crazy and irreverent. It built on Hank Azaria's original sketch concept of Jim Brockmire, a baseball announcer who always talks in that infamous voice. It was an idea that was funny because he was always narrating his life even in the most awkward of circumstances - like during sex. But it was in the specificity of this world that the show overall actually shined. It was fun to see this absolutely ridiculous life that Brockmire has lived since he was fired as a professional announcer. He was just randomly the star of an unauthorized Asian remake of Hart to Hart. That's something that happened in this season that didn't seem out of place at all. Brockmire could be a ridiculous character. He's a drunk with a foul mouth whose vocal talents are what have led to his success. But the show found many ways to make that a benefit to the actual stories by just leaning into the ridiculousness. Plus, Azaria and Amanda Peet had some amazing chemistry. They were two messes who needed each other. In the end, they found success but at the cost of their own relationship.

45. Syfy's The Expanse

The first season of this space drama was good but not great. Solid production values but thinly drawn characters whose stories didn't really have strong resolution by the end of the season. But in the second season, the drama took a huge step up in quality. It brought many of the characters together and put them on collision courses with forces beyond their control and explanation. It was a season that made me care about Thomas Jane's Joe Miller right as he was about to risk his own life to save all of Earth. It was a season that introduced more characters from Mars - including Frankie Adams' Bobbie Draper (no, not the one from Mad Men). Plus, it was just overall much more tense. The narrative understood what worked last season and managed to escalate the tension while making it more clear just how much it is changing the main characters. Again, the resolution may not have been the greatest. But the story in the middle of the run was incredibly strong.

44. TruTV's I'm Sorry

The comedy created by and starring Andrea Savage wasn't the first scripted comedy that TruTV has produced. But it is the funniest one to date. Nor is it the first semi-autobiographic comedy from a comedian that embraces a certain kind of cringe humor. It just happens to be a very effective example of that type of show. This show isn't reinventing the wheel. But it produced a pretty strong first season. It was unique in that there is a healthy and functioning romantic relationship at the heart of the series. That was pretty amusing. But it also just had a lot of fun in telling humor about this very specific community within Los Angeles. Andrea is simply a parent during her best to teach her daughter the right lessons but always seems to rub people the wrong way. Again, that's a pretty conventional logline. But there's a sweetest to the story that is surprising. And that never takes away from the unapologetic tone of some of the ridiculous jokes and situations the characters find themselves in. It's a unique blend that was really quite compelling and amusing.

43. Starz's Survivor's Remorse

The opening three episodes of the comedy's fourth and final season proved that it may actually be one of television's best dramas. Those three episodes were truly quite remarkable to watch. They told a consistent story with Cam, Reggie and M-Chuck all dealing with their respective fathers. It was truly gripping television and proved just how essential and necessary the voice of this show actually was. After that, the show got back to the jokes and insightful criticism of the world at large. Of course, it was also the most serialized season of the show. It was less episodic which did become annoying after awhile. Plus, it's unfortunate that it was canceled due to low ratings. The finale shouldn't have been the final episode of the show - even though it featured one of the greatest comedic monologues of the entire year in Jimmy's takedown of corporations. But it was still a blast until the very end. This is a show that continued to grow over the years and adapt to its cast. The actors were all tremendous and brought something new and nuanced with each passing episode. It was marvelous to watch.

42. NBC's Late Night with Seth Meyers

For the past couple of years, Seth Meyers has emerged as the best late night host on the broadcast networks. That continued to hold true in 2017. His "A Closer Look" segments have become more and more necessary over the years. In fact, it's basically always accepted now that it happens in the beginning of every episode. That's a commentary on what the world of 2017 has become that it needs a deep dive like that at the end of almost every day. This has been such a hectic and chaotic year. But Meyers was able to navigate it in a careful and smart way. But that's hardly the only segment that works on this show. Amber Ruffin has been an emerging voice for awhile now. This was the year of so many great moments from her on this show. It's always great to see her pop up for "Amber Says What?," "Jokes Seth Can't Tell" and "Point Counterpoint." She runs the risk of being used too much. But when Late Night has a talent like her, then it should use her as much as possible. Meyers remains the star. He helms each episode with smarts and grace. But Ruffin is great and necessary as well.

41. HBO's Game of Thrones

No show does spectacle as well as this drama does. That was abundantly clear in the visually triumphant "The Spoils of War" and "Beyond the Wall." And yet, the plotting of this season was an overall mess. Yes, there were still some genuinely shocking and important moments - like Daenerys meeting everyone, Lady Olenna's final moments, everything happening with the Night King, etc. But it was a pretty frustrating season as well. The Sansa-Aria-Littlefinger didn't work at all despite having the payoff it needed to have. Plot complications kept delaying the inevitable. There were too many fake outs of important characters seemingly dying but not - like Bronn, Jaime and Jon. Jorah was cured of his greyscale way too easily. Cersei was suddenly the most brilliant strategist of the entire world in a conflict that didn't necessarily need to extend to the final season. The show treated the reveal of Jon Snow's lineage and importance like a huge shock despite the audience figuring out several episodes beforehand. There's a lot to complain about with this season. A lot of that comes from it being the penultimate year and needing to leave stuff for the final episodes. It's frustrating but still one of the most entertaining and visual dramas in the medium.