Another year has come to a close and it’s time to examine and rank the best things we saw over the past 12 months.
It seemed to be a so-so year for new broadcast TV shows, without another This Is Us really breaking through with audiences like last year, and in fact, only one broadcast network show made it onto my top 10 shows of the year.
But cable and streaming continued to churn out great content.
From Netflix’s Dear White People to Hulu’s Handmaid’s Tale to Starz’s American Gods, there was a lot to choose from, though we must give a special shoutout to MTV for being both the best and the worst by greenlighting and then immediately canceling the brilliant and urgently needed Sweet/Vicious.
See below for my Top 10 TV Shows of 2017. Apologies if I left your favorite show off the list (sorry, The Leftovers).
10. Dear White People
Justin Simien’s adaptation of his own film of the same name remains a searing takedown of systemic racism, using often hilarious deadpan humor to do it, but with the luxury of being able to tell the story over a course of ten episodes rather than two hours, the characters – the same as the ones from the film – are deeper, richer and more layered than ever, and there’s room to breathe and to care about what happens to Sam and her friends, beyond just their ability to serve as a mouthpiece in the complicated discussion about race in America.
9. The Bold Type
A movie like The Devil Wears Prada could not be made today, but The Bold Type, about female friendships in the high-stakes world of high fashion and journalism, is a worthy 2017 update. The women of The Bold Type aren’t just aspirational for its young female audience because the lead characters get to occasionally wear designer dresses and attend fancy parties, but they have dreams, serious career goals and most importantly, each other. Weaving a tale of female friends who support each other unconditionally shouldn’t feel so revolutionary and yet The Bold Type has come along to do just that.
8. Handmaid’s Tale
It’s almost like watching real life! A more timely show could not have come out in 2017, which made The Handmaid’s Tale one of the most important if not uncomfortable shows to be released this year. Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel has become a classic for a reason, but it’s even more poignant that it really came to life for millions more people as a mirror on the current political climate.
The fan-favorite Marvel comic took a while longer than expected to become a TV show, but at the hands of The OC masterminds Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, it was well worth the wait. High school shows have become disappointingly sparse on the small screen these days (waves forlornly at Riverdale) and it was a breath of fresh air to welcome this casually diverse cast of new characters into the TV canon.
6. American Vandal
A lovely send-up of the true crime docuseries fad, American Vandal ended up being just as compelling and binge-worthy as anything Making a Murderer ever came up with. “Who drew the dicks?” became such a watercooler moment in pop culture, despite the fictional nature of the series and low stakes nature of the crime itself is testament to the impeccable plotting and writing of co-creators/executive producers Dan Perrault and Tony Yacenda, as well as showrunner/executive producer Dan Lagana.
This is the most painful cancellation in a while and we still haven’t given up hope that Jennifer Kaityn Robinson’s dark comedy about two college students moonlighting as vigilantes will get a second life on some other platform. As timely as The Handmaid’s Tale, Sweet/Vicious‘s existence has become even more crucial as sexual assault becomes a more prominent national conversation on a daily basis. Besides its cathartic, thematic elements of taking down rapists and predators despite a system that protects them, the show is also just entertaining as hell. The writing is sharp and hilarious, the chemistry between lead actresses Eliza Bennett and Taylor Cranston palpable and the ongoing storylines compelling. We need to know what’s next for Jules and Ophelia, ASAP. Come on, Netflix.
4. American Gods
In a perfect synergy of source material and creative vision, Bryan Fuller and Michael Green did what once seemed impossible: translated Neil Gaiman’s rich, heavy, visually-stunning tale of a war between gods for the screen. American Gods is a beloved piece of literature that took years to make it to the screen, but when it finally did, it was well worth the wait. The visionary showrunners even successfully threw in some curveballs and surprises that took book fans by surprise, always a tricky maneuver but which paid off massively in this case.
3. Big Little Lies
Movie stars are making beelines for the small screen and after True Detective (Season 1 only, of course), Big Little Lies is the clearest example of why. Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman, who are often outspoken about the lack of substantial roles for women, did some of their best work on the HBO miniseries, not just as actresses but as creative forces as well, serving as executive producers. The show was a slow burn of a murder mystery, but more than that, it was a chance to luxuriate in the inner lives of women, their struggles, triumphs, mistakes and redemptions and the way they relate to, antagonize and support each other. There’s not necessarily any more story to tell about these women of Monterey, but Season 2 still can’t come soon enough.
2. The Good Place
Gone are the days when twisty surprises and heavy mythologies were the playground of dark sci-fi fare like Lost. NBC’s Kristen Bell-Ted Danson comedy has reinvented the genre in brilliant ways, particularly with its whopper of a firs season finale. Never has a fanbase been so delighted to have the rug pulled out from under them, especially when you go back through the season with the aid of hindsight and realize how carefully plotted and planned the twist was. Season 2 has been a reinvention of sorts for the show, which of course could not return to the formula it built in Season 1, but has retained all its genius comedy and reveals.
1. Master of None
The Thanksgiving episode of Season 2 alone became a cultural phenomenon that landed star and writer Lena Waithe her first Emmy win, but that was not a singular moment on the Aziz Ansari comedy. Season 2 was bigger, more ambitious and more confident than an already impressive first season and Waithe, Ansari and company gave their audience more to talk about than ever.
Linda Ge | TV Editor