I’ll be honest, my enthusiasm for TV definitely started to wane a bit this past year. Which isn’t to say I watched any less TV than the past few years. In fact, looking at the amount of shows I watched last year and the year before, I watched as much TV as I ever have. And yet, TV just didn’t seem to mean as much in 2017. Maybe you can blame that on the fact that there is so god damn much TV out there now, so it somewhat cheapens quality television. Or maybe its because there was lot of good TV last year, but not a ton of great TV. But, that said, a lot of good TV is nothing to complain about, and here’s the goodest of the good.
Rick and Morty
Dear White People
For this spot, I’d already decided to go with some sort of ’80s throwback. And though I enjoyed The Americans‘ recent retreat into its slow-burning ways, I instead decided to give the 10 spot to the spandex-laden irreverence of Glow. It’s hard to make a case whether Glow really delves that deeply into the empowerment of an all-girl wrestling league, since many of the women here are asked to play outsized caricatures of female stereotypes. But with a cast this good and so many fun set pieces, it didn’t really matter. This was just a welcome vision of the ’80s that was a lot of fun to bask in.
In this latest season, BoJack Horseman started to feel a bit like it had almost completely detached itself from being a funny satire about wacky animal people, and almost entirely evolved into a show about depression and the inheritance of family-induced misery. And yet, at the same time, the show did fit in memorable recurring gags like Jessica Biel’s unexpected villainy or the ever-increasing ineptitude of mayoral hopeful Woodchuck Coodchuck-Berkowitz. And who knows, based on the season finale, maybe there’s a brighter, more laugh-filled future for ‘ol BoJack.
Considering Fargo was mine (and I believe Sean’s) favorite TV show of both 2014 and 2015, this third installment had big shoes to fill. And did it fill them? Well, not quite. It didn’t have any performances quite as memorable as the ones in its first two seasons, though David Thewlis certainly gave it a decent go. But the narrative inventiveness was still intact in season 3, while its cinematography and use of music was still as good as any show on television. Aw heck, maybe I’m just saying this was another great season of Fargo, it just might’ve been a great one if they hadn’t hinged so much of it on Ewan McGregor’s subpar Minnesota accent(s).
I feel like I keep picking apart all of the shows on my list, because as I said, 2017 was a good year for TV, not a great one. And I could play that game with Master of None, since much like the first season, its overarching romance was probably about the 6th or 7th most interesting thing about it. But that’s not really fair, since this show has a lot going for it. All of which includes its warmth, its humility, its ability to float between different styles and tones without ever losing its light touch. It’s a small wonder for sure, and a show that doesn’t really have me worried about where it’s going next, since it always seems so darn sure of itself.
Due to it wrapping shooting just a few months before the dawn of our current shitministration, seemingly bent on creating a women-hating totalitarian state, The Handmaid’s Tale easily became the most timely piece of fiction on television last year. And I think that adds a lot of power even to its imperfections, since it did meander a bit in some of its episodes. Yet it nonetheless maintained a meaningful sense of purpose due to the fearless performance of Elizabeth Moss at the center of it. And yes, much of this show was “feel bad television” at its finest, but its underlying persistence of hope (as well as this first season’s optimistic finale) made it a welcome light in these dark times.
Speaking of a welcome show in these altogether crappy times, Difficult People in its third (and final) season felt like a comedy particularly suited for our current climate. Not necessarily because it took on attacking our current administration (though it did occasionally), but more because it embodied the frustration and anger of liberals packed tightly beneath our coastal bubbles. That, and it was also consistently hilarious, and managed to fit in a few ahead-of-the-curve Kevin Spacey jabs that I didn’t even get until those allegations came out. Which is to say, this show didn’t deserve its cancelled fate, but it’s hard to complain when it went out after what was easily its best season.
Considering I marathoned the entire third season of Better Call Saul during the past week in preparation for this list, I probably didn’t watch this slow-burning series the way it was intended. But regardless, this is a really fantastic show, even if its glacial plotting always discourages me from watching the lastest season until months after it aired. The begrudging dynamic between Bob Odenkirk and Michael McKean just continued to grow deeper this season, as did its ties to Breaking Bad, as we finally got some sweet sweet Gus Fring action. Also, I think its completely reasonable to think Better Call Saul might end up being better than Breaking Bad when all’s said and done, since I’m not sure that show holds up that well on subsequent viewings. But hey, only time will tell.
I don’t really know what there’s left to say about Nathan For You, since it has made my top 10 shows every year that that’s been possible, and it already made Sean and John’s list this year. I’ve always loved this show’s mixture of the unbelievably awkward encounters and hilariously high concept ideas. And though I’m clearly not alone in loving the season finale, I’ll still say it’s as good a piece of documentary filmmaking as I saw last year, and just another example of this show’s ability to find a lot of humanity hidden beneath a mountain of absurdity.
I feel like I’ve talked a lot about the flaws in the shows on my top ten, but The Good Place arguably had a perfect run of episodes in 2017. During the tail-end of its first season the ended last January, it unveiled one of the better twists in recent TV memory, while its second season has exuded that most glorious question any great TV show begs you to ask – “where are they going with this?” And whether or not The Good Place will be able to satisfyingly answer where it’s going with all its lofty ambitions will remain to be seen (especially if it gets canceled first). But for now, it’s one of the most adventurous and thought-provoking, but also one of the comfortingly silly shows on TV, and therefore the kind of show we need right now.
I feel a bit odd giving my number 1 slot to a Ryan Murphy-produced show for the second year in a row, since I’ve never watched a single second of American Horror Story. But much like The People vs. O.J. Simpson, Feud managed to tap into the inherent camp of its subject matter, while also sneakily digging into something much deeper and heart-breaking. In a year when I was kind of sick of hearing from ultimate Bernie bro Susan Sarandon, she turned in a great performance as Bette Davis, while being suitably matched by Jessica Lange’s resilient Joan Crawford. And that’s not even to mention how the story of two Hollywood actresses being emotionally abused by Hollywood took on an even greater resonance as modern Hollywood’s sins became headlines later on last year. Because yes, it is troubling to know what we know now, but this shit’s far from new.