A Top 10 list for 2017 isn’t something I’m interested in. When you are as passionate as I am, how can you restrict your loves to just 10? No, I need to open my heart to more than that. 15 or GTFO!
15) Big Little Lies – HBO [US]
The big story in TV this year is the influx of big name actresses who have found themselves squeezed out of traditional Hollywood fare. Either they have been aged out (Hollywood is harsh to any actress aged 40+) or the mid-range films that were their sweet spot simply isn’t being produced anymore. If you are Nicole Kidman or Reese Witherspoon who each made their careers in that mid-tier budget range, there’s literally nothing on the big screen for them anymore. So, the two stepped off the mountain and became the biggest thing on TV this year. With a sexy, pulpy story filled with sex, intrigue, and personal relationship turmoil, Big Little Lies demanded you tune in every week.
With Nicole and Queen Reese on screen, joined by Laura Dern, Adam Scott, Shailene Woodley, and Young Sheldon, Big Little Lies was already a must-watch series. But add to that a witty, yet very traditional-feeling TV script from TV maestro David E Kelley and you have a show that was certainly the best drama that HBO pushed out this year. Sorry Game of Thrones, TV has a new ice dragon and her name is Reese Witherspoon.
14) GLOW – Netflix [US]
Until this year I didn’t realise that a dramedy about women’s wrestling was what I was looking for in life, but 2017 has been nothing but surprises.
Another surprise: Marc Maron is TVs most exciting new actor.
13) Star Trek Discovery – CBS [US]
There were six previous Star Trek series, which means we have potentially seen hundreds of hours of Star Trek at this point. And to be frank, the majority of those hours have been middling. As a franchise, if we’re honest to ourselves, it has often been fairly content staying mediocre. Long gone are the genre-expanding days of the original series.
For fans who were drawn to the sameness of the Star Trek formula, I can understand how Discovery was a culture shock. Gone was the episode of the week format and in its place was a serialised show designed for binge-watching (weekly instalments hurt this show badly). Star Trek Discovery actually works. It adheres nicely to the ethics and philosophies of prior Trek series and is telling Star Trek-type stories within the new serialised framework. Also, as the mid-season finale suggests, we may not be watching a show set in the same Star Trek universe we thought we were in.
No, not everything works in the series – all the subtitled Klingon scenes are an absolute chore to sit through. But enough of it does work and it is taking the show boldly where Trek hasn’t bothered going before. And thank god, because Star Trek needed this shot in the arm.
12) Friday On My Mind – ABC [Australia]
Real talk: this show isn’t award winning TV. It doesn’t reinvent the medium. The acting is good, but no one is particularly commanding with a powerhouse performance.
This show did what TV is supposed to do in the very best way. An absolute crowd-pleaser, the show was packed with great catchy songs along with really winning and natural performances by its cast of relative unknowns. Australian TV has offered up a lot of biography mini-series in the past 2-3 years, but this is one of the few to really stand on its own with no prior knowledge of the subjects.
11) Twin Peaks – Showtime [US]
Some of the most compelling, achingly wonderful TV I saw this year was on the Twin Peaks 2017 revival. But sometimes a line needs to be drawn in the sand. That many episodes of Dougie was too many episodes.
Episode 8 stands as one of the most hauntingly beautiful hours of TV ever produced. But so much of the rest of the season was a struggle. It was never a dull struggle and I was always more than happy to go along with the ride. But Twin Peaks excesses prove that sometimes less is more.
10) Master of None – Netflix [US]
It’s interesting that so much of the discussion around the show is centered on the fact Aziz Ansari is telling stories from his own point of view as an Indian comedian. But what a lot of people keep missing is that while the show is told from a very specific cultural point of view, these are also universal stories that almost every viewer can relate to it. One of the most painful scenes to watch on TV was at the end of ‘The Dinner Party’ in which Aziz’s character Dev shares an Uber ride with the girl he’s secretly pining for. After they share a moment, she is dropped off at her place, but the camera follows Dev for minutes as we watch his lonely cab ride away from his love. It is heart-wrenching and very relatable.
The show also found itself elevated by the culmination of the season long arc which had Dev land a job hosting a cooking show, only to find out the series producer may be responsible for some serious sexual misconduct. The inclusion of this storyline felt incredibly prescient, considering how the year has ended.
9) Back – Channel 4 [UK]
This is an exceptionally dark comedy that will leave cold almost everyone but the most cynical of people. My people.
Written by The Thick of It’s Simon Blackwell and starring Peep Show’s David Mitchell & Robert Webb, the show illustrates the absolute worst of our deepest, darkest concerns while never ignoring the fact that these concerns drive us every day. A funnier show there has not been on TV this year.
8) The Carmichael Show -NBC [US]
We will look back at this show years from now and ask the same question fans of the show have been asking for the past three years: “Why the hell didn’t viewers turn up for this show”. Beyond being wickedly funny, the show absolutely had its pulse on the current culture. Regular cast members Lil Del Howery and Tiffany Haddish both had huge break-out roles in Get Out and Girls Trip respectively. All the ingredients were there for this to be a mild success (at least), but it just never caught on.
Shot as a very traditional sitcom, the show has never been reluctant to push the boundaries of what the format can offer story-wise. This season alone we saw episodes in which Jerrod Carmichael survived a mass shooting, his brother Bobby left unsure if he may have raped a girl after a date a year prior, and double-standards revealed when the family learn that Jerrod and his fiance Maxine had a threesome. Did I mention this show is laugh out-loud funny?
7) The Handmaid’s Tale – Hulu [US]
This is the definitive show of 2017 that spoke to the year that was like no other. The drama about the subjugation of women in a near-apocalyptic future also served as a rallying cry for women to rise up against oppression. Something we have been watching play out in the back-half of 2017 with women speaking out against sexual misconduct.
In addition to its extreme relevance right now, the show itself is also something of a marvel with an amazing cast – there was the outstanding performance by the reliably great Elisabeth Moss and a career best performance from former Gilmore Girls star Alexis Bledel.
And then there is the series stunning cinematography as well. It captures what could have been executed badly, giving off a stink of silly world building, but it instead amplified the horrors in a real, grounded way.
6) Mindhunter – Netflix [US]
The police procedural has been a staple of TV for decades, with serial killers featuring heavily within the genre since the mid 90s. It takes quite a bit to bring anything new to the genre, but Mindhunter managed to do just that, subverting the genre entirely. The show told stories of serial killers, stripping away the excess of the crime itself, and instead showcased the disturbing people at the centre of the crime. The viewer is not witness to the crime – just the chilling psychopaths responsible.
5) Marvelous Mrs Maisel – Amazon [US]
Because of the relatively fast production cycle of television, it is often far more reflective of the zeitgeist than film is. So, it is little wonder that so many shows have been on point this year in telling stories of female empowerment.
Series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino is no stranger to bold women leading her series, but with this series about a woman finding herself and her own agency amid the dissolution of a marriage in the late 1950s seems even more vital than her previous series Gilmore Girls and Bunheads.
On top of that, it is often laugh out loud funny and is cast with so many great characters that it feels lonely when you’re away from them. It’s legitimately marvelous.
4) Catastrophe – Channel 4/Amazon [UK]
The third season of a comedy based on a very specific premise like this show has can start to falter. Often the writers are so in love with the characters that they are hesitant to shake up the status quo too much and likewise, the audience is hesitant to see the show they love change. And yet, this show bravely takes the audience along for a lot of really dark material.
The show continues to be just as wonderfully human and earthy as its previous two seasons, but the show this year did take things a step further. Without giving anything away, leveraging off two seasons of history with these characters, the revelation in the season finale’s final minutes is one of TV’s most heartbreaking moments.
3) The Good Fight – CBS All Access [US]
The odds against this show working were incredibly high. It is coming off a successful 7-season show that had a very specific tone and an intricate supporting and recurring cast that was core to The Good Wife’s DNA. Couple that with the fact that they also jettisoned a number of the major cast members of that show for The Good Fight. It could have left the series losing its heart and soul.
And yet I think they succeeded. By the end of season one, an entirely new supporting cast were brought back with a few nods to the old show and it nicely established a tone and rhythm that was all its own.
It also became a show that I came to really enjoy watching every week. The same things that made me love The Good Wife emerged in The Good Fight – smart, funny stories that have something to say about the intersection of the law, politics, and technology.
2) The Leftovers – HBO [US]
The best scripted TV shows should aspire to push boundaries. They should challenge audiences and try to deliver something they haven’t seen before. All of the shows on this list do that to an extent, but few were as wildly audacious as The Leftovers.
The third and final season of the show changed settings and brought the show to Australia where it continued to discuss weighty issues to do with death, loss, and acceptance. In the third season it pushed the idea of what we should expect from a world and the people around us when we’re faced with world-changing tragedies that we don’t understand and are possibly only starting on that journey of comprehension.
In one episode they took a boat from Tasmania to the mainland where they encountered a boat hosting a massive orgy, a giant lion, and a bearded man purporting to be God.
I’ve never seen that on a TV show before.
1) The Deuce – HBO [US]
For years people have been carrying on about how great The Wire is… That The Wire is the best TV series of all time… That it is ‘THE BEST!’…
And in fairness, it is very good. But for all that conversation surrounding The Wire, why is it that the chatter surrounding The Wire creator David Simon’s new series hasn’t generated a wave of enthusiasm. Only in the deep recesses of TV criticism are people talking about this show. And that is the great TV tragedy of 2017. This show is phenomenal.
And I’ll be honest – I’m just as guilty as anyone else. I previewed the first two episodes to review. I could tell it was very good, but it’s a difficult show to sit down and watch. Like the Wire, it is an uncomprimising look at the people working the street. Where that show dealt with the drug dealers in Baltimore, this is exploring the intersect between street level gangsters, prostitutes, and pimps. Who wants to sit down on the couch and watch that? It’s a tough hang.
For viewers who stick with the show and put down their phones to avoid second screening, the world of The Deuce will come alive in a way like no other show on the air has this year.
This is a powerhouse of a TV series. James Franco doing double duty in the role of twins initially seems like a gimmick, but very quickly both characters diverge in the mind of the viewer. It stops being a well-executed trick of the camera and instead there may as well be two James Franco’s. Between his work here and with his new film The Disaster Artist, Franco deserves every award and recognition this year – he’s on track to legitimately being one of the great Hollywood creatives.
Meanwhile, Maggie Gyllenhaal has been magnificent as a sex worker who has spent her career on the streets working solo, but finds her life moving unexpectedly in the direction of the emerging adult film industry in a producer/director role. As great as her performance is on the show (and it really is something), the character arc never really leaves the expected trajectory viewers expect from the first handful of episodes. And yet, the character is given so many small personal moments that resonate at a strength that TV still rarely captures.
The Deuce is thoughtful, vibrant, and visual triumph that has pushed the boundaries of what a television drama series can be.