The Best TV Shows of 2017 (According to Kevin Fitzpatrick)
The mountain of Peak TV wasn’t any easier to climb this year, even as 2017 sent us scurrying for escape at every turn. As per usual, my Top 10 of 2017 leans more toward the noisemakers than understated gems (I swear, I’ll watch The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel eventually), and steers clear of major broadcast shows. This year took us from scenic Italy to the horrifically familiar Gilead; from sun-soaked Monterey to dingy wrestling rings, and left us with one inalienable question: Who drew the dicks? Whatever the answer, allow me to present the very best TV of 2017 (according to me, anyway), and beware of some obvious SPOILERS. I assume you’re going to yell at me regardless, so we might as well get started.
10. Big Mouth
I never knew I needed Freddie Mercury’s ghost in a coming-out anthem, Kristen Bell as a pregnant sex pillow, or a note-perfect Seinfeld riff to make my 2017, but here we are. Netflix’s Big Mouth arrived with the same under-the-radar excellence as American Vandal, and featured Nick Kroll, John Mulaney, Jenny Slate, Jessi Klein and Jason Mantzoukas as mid-pubescents haunted by literal Hormone Monsters. I still have trouble acknowledging that as a real sentence. All the same, I’m a sucker for meta-gags and mile-a-minute absurdism, and Big Mouth tugs at something much deeper than its crass humor. There’s an underlying sweetness to watching these friends scream and retch through the ungodly mess of puberty.
Big Mouth is streaming on Netflix.
Weird, psychedelic and just a bit musical, Legion arrived on the scene in early 2017 with all the visual flourish we’d come to expect from Fargo boss Noah Hawley. I’ll admit to harping on some structural similarities to The Matrix early on, but that dazzling cast and Hawley’s willingness to go to such extremes as a silent-movie horror fight really broke the mold. Dan Stevens very much disappears into the neurotically soft-spoken David Haller, as Rachel Keller brings equal warmth and longing to the untouchable Syd. Still, it’s Aubrey Plaza’s parasitic Lenny that truly explodes off the screen, swinging from seductive Fosse number to psychedelic Beetlejuice with a dexterity few predicted. Now that Disney will swallow 20th Century Fox whole, FX’s weird and wild corner of the X-Men universe feels more precious than ever.
Legion is available on FXNOW.
Somehow, Orange Is the new Black creator Jenji Kohan took another group of diverse women into the unexplored terrain of the ‘80s wrestling scene, and remained every bit as incisive. The infectious enthusiasm of Netflix’s GLOW manages to transform something gaudy and exploitative into dazzling comedy, bolstered by an ensemble of women reclaiming not only their professional agency, but their bodies as well. Alison Brie’s top billing also cleverly masked the star-making turn from Nurse Jackie alum Betty Gilpin, whose earnest portrayal of a wife, mother, and friend beaten down by a superficial industry belies one of the year’s most triumphant twists. GLOW swirls in a mix of female friendship, scrappy charm and ‘80s kitsch, and no amount of drugs in any robot will keep me from dive-bombing into the next round.
GLOW is streaming on Netflix.
7. The Good Place
If there’s one consistent headache to year-end lists, it’s broadcast TV airing opposite ends of different seasons in one year. NBC’s The Good Place surprisingly benefits from the disarray, as January’s finale unveiled a wicked season-long twist to the afterlife that the first half of Season 2 imaginatively upended again and again. The series was smart enough to know that it couldn’t con its audience twice, and cleverly didn’t bother. It kills me to elevate any one member of the cast over another, but the Good Place twist opened up Ted Danson’s Michael to comic extremes only a seasoned veteran could pull off; from that giddy demonic laugh to the meme-able “midlife crisis” that fuels no-context Twitter accounts. D’Arcy Carden is also a revelation as Janet (both Good and Bad), and integral to the absurdist humor and visual gags that make The Good Place like nothing else on TV.
The Good Place is available on NBC streaming apps.
6. Big Little Lies
Now that we know for certain HBO will move beyond Liane Moriarty’s novel for Big Little Lies Season 2, it’s hard to overstate the value of limited series. Writer David E. Kelley and director Jean-Marc Vallee transformed Moriarty’s original text into a elaborate prism of helicopter parenting, domestic abuse, PTSD, and female friendship, all bathed in the beautiful California scenery and wine-tossing glee that keeps Real Housewives afloat year after year. More than that, Big Little Lies made use of incredible cast like Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Zoë Kravitz, Alexander Skarsgård for one of the all-time TV climaxes; a wordless realization of the complex web of abuse that connects the women of Monterey, California. In light of all the revelations in recent months, little feels as timely or terrifying as discovering the monsters in our midst through women’s eyes.
Big Little Lies is available on HBO GO and HBO NOW.
5. Master of None
Master of None is an increasingly rare delicacy. The second season of Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang’s slice-of life vignettes took us from Italian cinema through decades of awkward Thanksgivings; feeling equal parts personal and poignant as Dev struggled with feelings for an engaged friend, or the traditional religious upbringing his parents imposed. The series thrives on relatable experiences like Lena Waithe’s deeply personal coming-out story, but never loses sight of the goofy joie-de-vivre that made us fall in love with these characters in the first place. Even episodes that eschew Ansari, Yangm and Waithe’s perspective entirely (the wonderful “New York, I Love You”) somehow feel like intimate character studies of those we pass by and overlook every day. It’s small wonder that Season 2 managed to balance such diverse viewpoints with serialized heartbreak, and bittersweet to think of another few years without it.
Master of None is streaming on Netflix.
4. The Leftovers
UPROXX’s Alan Sepinwall said it best: Damon Lindelof’s third and final go at The Leftovers captured much more than the grief of moving on from lost loved ones – it crystallized the dread of a broken world that we struggle to reconcile every day. The Leftovers was all these things in its brief three seasons; combining our mad scramble for meaning with such absurdity as lion sex boats, presidential penis scanners, or the grim spirituality of Perfect Strangers. Best of all, Lindelof spun his LOST frustration into a world where unanswered questions define our very will to live. “The Book of Nora” presents us with every answer to the Departure’s mystery we could ask for, but doesn’t conflate objective truth with meaning or fulfillment. In the end, Kevin and Nora found the willingness to fit their broken pieces together, rather than obsess over what broke the world. Carrie Coon and Justin Theroux’s performances were just two of a dozen jewels that elevated The Leftovers beyond allegory into inspirational masterpiece.
The Leftovers is available on HBO GO and HBO NOW.
3. Dear White People
If there’s one thing 2017 helped snap into focus – especially in the last few weeks – it’s the powerful voice of black women. That voice is at the heart of Netflix’s Dear White People, which expands on Justin Simien’s 2014 film to explore not only the black collegiate experience and the manner in which racial politics threaten the insecure, but also the emotional weight of those divisions. Dear White People cares as much about the differing sides of black identity that Sam and Coco represent as it does their lost friendship. It wants us to invest in student journalists exposing racist policies as much as Lionel’s inherent sexual awakening. Most harrowing of all – the campus police standoff in “Chapter V” lingers with us as much as a visibly-broken Reggie; a twisted reminder of how painstakingly-carved black identity can be erased with the slightest provocation.
Dear White People is streaming on Netflix.
2. American Vandal
There’s nothing I love more in thousands of TV-watching hours than to be surprised. American Vandal caught us all by surprise, deftly spinning what seemed like sophomoric parody into exactly the engrossing drama it set out to lampoon in the first place. The central mystery of #WhoDrewTheDicks isn’t even an important one, but it nonetheless paints a vivid portrait of the high school experience, from students overzealously feeding a new passion, to the crushing disillusionment of having one’s entire future written off. I still giggle at the full 3D recreations of sex acts by the lake, or Peter Maldonado’s biting obsession with a classmate inexplicably more popular than he, but American Vandal finds something truly profound within the dick jokes and media controversy that fuel its first season. It finds time for the aftermath and destroyed reputations that haunt these very real characters more than who drew the dicks ever will.
(It was totally Christa, though.)
American Vandal is streaming on Netflix.
1. The Handmaid’s Tale
Eight months later, and I’m still not over the one-take horror of Alexis Bledel’s Emily watching her lover dragged out of a van and hung with crushing banality. The Handmaid’s Tale is everywhere these days, from the actual Handmaids protesting women’s rights across the nation, to the overdue expulsion of men who abused their power for decades with impunity. Elisabeth Moss was nothing less than extraordinary in the title role of Offred, a “two-legged womb” forced to communicate in micro-expressions and stifle every intrusion of emotion, lest her droll authoritarian captors decide fertility isn’t worth her “difficult” behavior. It’s an uncanny extension of the terrifying reality women face every minute of every day, made all the more unsettling by the series’ capacity to expand Margaret Atwood’s novel before, during, and after the rise of Gilead. The Handmaid’s Tale doesn’t top this list solely because of its terrible prescience; it’s a wholly unique and devastating experience, with tendrils rooted as much in our own lives as the dystopia we’re sliding toward. It terrifies me to no end, and enriches everyone in the process.
The Handmaid’s Tale is available to stream on Hulu.
Honorable Mentions, in alphabetical order: Bates Motel, Black Mirror, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, DuckTales, Feud: Bette and Joan, I Love Dick, The Crown, The Deuce, The Punisher, Vice Principals.
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