2017 has been a whirlwind of a year for the world and that is visible on the small-screen, proving that we still live in the Golden Age of Television, even if it wasn’t the strongest year of the era. With literally hundreds of shows across dozens of networks and streaming platforms, it’s simply impossible to watch everything, but there are a handful of series that are wholly deserving of your attention. There is pretty much something for everyone now and that will surely continue to be true as the industry evolves and grows; Netflix, Hulu and other online networks dominating, but the traditional form isn’t dead yet.
The following is a list of my personal picks of the best shows that aired on television in 2017; the shows were selected based on two important attributes that form a peak television series: entertainment value and quality. Certain highly-praised shows that I wasn’t able to get around to (including “The Handmaid’s Tale, “The Leftovers” and “The Deuce”) are omitted, as are a handful beloved fan-centric series (most notably “The Walking Dead” and “Game of Thrones,” which are my favorites as a whole, but admittedly had weaker-than-average runs this year). This list contains a mix of shows, both new and returning, from a variety of platforms, networks and genres, showcasing the wide range of choice that consumers currently have when it comes to this form of entertainment. Without further ado, here are the best television shows of 2017:
This is a show that completely flew under my radar until I recently decided to binge-watch its eight-episode first season. This coming-of-age comedy is incredibly easy to fly through in a day with its lovable cast of characters, simplistic and relatable plot and its “atypical” protagonist. Keir Gilchrist’s Sam Gardener is on the autism spectrum, but that isn’t his defining characteristic, nor is it the central plot point. Sam’s overprotective mother (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) is forced to come to terms with the fact that her son has grown up and no longer needs her in every aspect of his life. There’s plenty of family drama, but also a lot of heart and humor in this dramedy that breaks the mold of traditional sitcoms and places an autistic character in the spotlight, something that is still quite rare in the increasingly diverse television landscape.
“Bates Motel” (A&E)
All great stories must come to an end at some point and that is true for A&E’s modern take on the iconic film “Psycho.” The series wrapped up a five-year run with an insane final season that allowed the incredible Freddie Highmore to take the reigns and carry the story into the grave…in a good way. As one the most underrated shows in all of television, “Bates Motel” balanced genuine horror with rich storytelling. There are some downright terrifying moments in this last set of episodes with “Marion” and “The Cord” taking the cake as being fitting remixes of the original horror film. Not only does the series boast a strong story, but its cast is wickedly talented with Vera Farmiga and Max Thieriot continuing in their long-running roles; Austin Nichols, Brooke Smith, Isabelle McNally and RIHANNA are worthy additions that help to make the final season especially worthwhile.
This is another lowkey series that few people paid attention to, making it criminally underrated. The greatness of”Breaking Bad” cannot be overstated as it continues to dominate the lexicon while being the inspiration for new stories. There are definite shades of the aforementioned series in “Ozark” and maybe that’s why I enjoyed it so much, but there is also plenty of originality that allows the story to feel fresh and exhilarating. “Ozark” is a thriller in every sense of the word, even feeling a bit like a horror series a times with its ever-lurking villains and feeling of impending doom. The cast, led by Jason Bateman and Laura Linney, is truly spectacular allowing for the darkness and danger, but also bits of humor. It’s also worth noting that the setting, cinematography and directing help to make this one of the most entertaining Netflix originals to premiere this year.
It pains me to not include this fantastic series in the official top ten list, but it definitely deserves to be mentioned. “Preacher” doesn’t cross lines, it speeds past them and doesn’t look back, nor does it care what you think. Helmed by Sam Catlin, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, this wild mix of drama and dark comedy really evolves and becomes something incredible in its second season. While the debut season may not have blown me away initially, its clear now that it served its purpose in setting the stage for this balls-to-the-wall roadtrip to New Orleans in search of God, who is missing. This wacky plot is just the underlying driving force as the various subplots are really what make this an entertaining and hilarious series that has no rules and explores some topics that are definitely off limits for traditional television. The entire cast is insanely talented, managing to balance their dramatic cues with gut-busting humor.
“Dear White People” (Netflix)
Unfortunately, we live in a time of intense political and racial division, but “Dear White People” seems to have come at the perfect time. When the trailer for this series (which is based on Justin Simien’s 2014 film of the same name) first dropped earlier this year, the reaction was similar to that of the public discourse in this country: lashing out without paying attention or listening. This satirical look at race relations goes deeper than the name would suggest and actually views the aforementioned division through the lens of multiple different experiences. No, this isn’t an “attack on white people” as some online commenters would suggest, but rather it is an in depth exploration of race, class, sexuality and gender, poking fun and criticizing pretty much everyone. Not only is “Dear White People” witty and topical, it is excellently written and has a wonderful band of characters, each with their own issues and opinions.
And now I present the top ten television shows of 2017…
10. “The Crown” (Netflix)
Swinging in at the tail end of the year, the second season of “The Crown” may not be as concentrated and focused as the series debut, but it is just as grand and awe-inspiring. There’s a sense of confidence that this series has that makes it feel so damn perfect. Biopics are nothing new, but to have something of such a massive-scale be on television (albeit streaming) is a testament to just how incredible the medium has become in recent years. The tale of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign throughout the 20th century dives deep into the major events that influenced her leadership style and allows viewers to see a more personal side of the most regal woman in the world. Claire Foy is absolutely spectacular in this role and her co-stars in Matt Smith as Prince Phillip and Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret serve to reel the viewer into the drama of the royal family even more. The production values for this series are some of the best I’ve ever seen on television, making all of the interactions and other plot points look and feel totally believable.
9. “American Vandal” (Netflix)
When the trailer for “American Vandal” first hit the Internet, I legitimately believed that it was some type of parody or joke by Netflix’s marketing department; I never could have guessed that a show whose tagline is “#WhoDrewTheDicks” would ever make it on to my top ten list, but here we are…and it completely deserves to be on this list. I judged the series by its trailer and I waited to watch it after I heard the overwhelming praise; without any doubt, this is the most surprising show of the year. While this may be a satirical look at a vandalism incident at a high school, the show goes further than this and taps into some deeper themes, asking the audience to take a step back and think before judging others. In the form of a documentary made by high-schoolers in the story, the series tackles others issues including the criminal justice system, popularity and social groups, as well as the education system. On top of the deeper aspects, the comedic elements also deserve to be applauded, tapping into the relatable thoughts and actions of high schoolers in the age of social media. By all means, “American Vandal” is compelling, thought-provoking and hilarious.
8. “American Crime” (ABC)
This ABC anthology series went out rather quietly this year with the conclusion of its third season. Television audiences just never embraced this, making it yet another sorely underrated show that fell victim to the low ratings. “American Crime” is bolder than anything I’ve ever seen on network television, going to some brutal and disturbing places to shine a light on the forgotten and most vulnerable people in the United States. Season 3 tackles issues such as exploitation, immigration, modern-day slavery and addiction among others, forcing the viewer to think about the fact that the “American Dream” is sometimes clouded by greed. This is a series that has always been incredibly heavy and difficult to watch and a major reason for this is the performances, which absolutely sell the harsh situations that drastically impact the characters. Felicity Huffman, Timothy Hutton, Lili Taylor, Benito Martinez and Mickaëlle X. Bizet all demonstrate their strengths as actors, but Regina King is the standout of the season…and the previous two seasons. Aside from the performances and subject matter, the cinematography deserves extra praise, especially for the closeup shots on the characters’ faces to help tell the story.
7. “The Good Place” (NBC)
NBC is home to some of the most beloved sitcoms in recent years with “Parks and Recreation,” “The Office” and “30 Rock” being celebrated and memed years after their initial end. “The Good Place” has already positioned itself alongside these shows with its lovable characters, hilarious scenarios and moments of seriousness that add additional depth to the story. What this comedy does so well is that it takes such a unique concept and continually peels back the layers to make for a rich plot with endless possibilities. Season 1 ended early in 2017 with one of the most flawlessly-executed plot twists that I’ve ever seen, establishing the fact that the creators aren’t afraid to take major risks; those risks proved to be totally worth it as Season 2 builds off of this twist and breaks the traditional formula of a sitcom. The characters of “The Good Place” are fascinating to watch as they figure out what it means to be a “good person,” all the while trying to learn the secrets of the afterlife. Kristen Bell’s Eleanor is a testament to the excellent character development featured in the series with her interactions with William Jackson Harper’s Chidi and Ted Danson’s Michael being major highlights. There’s also the characters of Tahani (Jameela Jamil), Jianyu (Manny Jacinto) and Janet (D’Arcy Carden), each of which contribute to the hilarity and sincerity with their quirkiness and internal conflicts.
6. “Marvel’s The Punisher” (Netflix)
It was abundantly clear from his first appearance in Season 2 of “Daredevil” that the character of Frank Castle was unlike anyone else in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The storyline involving Castle was praised by critics and fans alike, prompting Netflix to order a spinoff series based around the character, a bold move considering The Punisher possesses no superpowers and is more-or-less just a normal guy; “normal” by Marvel’s standards, which include Spider-Man, The Hulk and Iron-Man. What sets “The Punisher” apart from the rest of the Netflix/Marvel shows is that it’s far more edgy and brutal, especially in comparison to “Iron Fist” and “The Defenders,” both of which were admittedly underwhelming expansions of the Universe this year. Jon Bernthal’s portrayal of the vigilante feels incredibly grounded in reality, evoking the pain and torment that his character has undergone after the horrific murder of his family. The story makes strong statements on real-life issues such as government corruption, problems in the criminal justice system and most notably, the poor treatment of veterans in this country. Through Castle and the supporting characters, the show explores PTSD in a way that doesn’t trivialize it, but instead presents it as a serious issue that many veterans suffer from yet don’t have many avenues for treatment. The action also deserves special praise for its realistic gun battles and epic duels between adversaries. “The Punisher” is an absolute winner among the Marvel/Netflix shows and stands strong next to “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones.”
5. “Mr. Robot” (USA)
As another show that flies under the radar of many television viewers, “Mr. Robot” quietly delivered its best season to date, jumping from the small scale hacker drama to a broader look at the unfurling of society. “Mr. Robot” excels at having fitting consequences to all of the actions that take place in the story and this is especially true in Season 3. With corporate greed being the basis for much of the plot, there are a variety of storylines that showcase how each character deals with ever-present E. Corp, which struggles to stay afloat following the successful hacking of Rami Malek’s Elliott. There is a fantastic underlying question of morality as the stakes continue to raise and innocent lives are threatened; Elliott, his sister Darlene (Carly Chaikin) and friend Angela (Portia Doubleday) are forced to ponder their previous choices that led up to this point. Season 3 feels catastrophic in many senses and there is a real enhanced feeling of danger from a variety of threats, making it seem as though every single character is on the verge of death. Look no further than the fifth episode of the season, “eps3.4_runtime-error.r00,” for proof that “Mr. Robot” is one of the most innovative, aesthetically appealing and engrossing shows on television.
4. “This Is Us” (NBC)
In a time when television is evolving and throwing insane concepts to the wind, NBC keeps it real with the breakaway hit “This Is Us.” This is one of the most simple shows on television at the moment, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t unique in its own ways. The characters and their storylines are so fascinating to watch, because they are just ordinary people going about their daily lives, facing hardships and struggles, but also successes and milestones. Life isn’t perfect and “This Is Us” takes those various moments and reels the viewer in by making the characters relatable. We feel close to Randall, Jack, Rebecca, Kevin, Kate, Beth, etc. because they are us and we are them; every human experiences the joys and pitfalls of life and “This Is Us” displays them in a way that allows the audience to know that they are not alone. The extended family is quite possibly the best one television at the moment, a testament to the amazing cast where there isn’t a single weak link; Sterling K. Brown may be the standout, but Mandy Moore, Milo Ventimiglia, Ron Cephas Jones, Chrissy Metz, Justin Hartley and Susan Kelechi Watson all carry the series and make it one of the best ensembles on television. “This Is Us” is packed full of heart and emotions, making it a necessary story to be told in the current state of the world.
3. “Better Call Saul” (AMC)
When it first debuted in early 2015, I never would have guessed that the prequel to “Breaking Bad” would ever live up to the high standard set by the iconic crime drama. To my surprise, “Better Call Saul” did just that in Season 3 with some of the episodes being on the same level as some of those in “Breaking Bad’s” impressive roster. In its third year, the show really begins to bridge the two stories as viewers are able to witness the events that birth sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk). With several returning “BB” players reentering the universe, including television’s greatest villain (bold statement, I know) Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), a feeling of familiarity permeates throughout as the tone drastically begins to shift to that of the darker successor. Season 3 maintains the delightful humor in Jimmy McGill and expands on it by juxtaposing it with the grimness of characters such Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) and the conniving antics of Chuck (Michael McKean). The fractured brotherhood between Jimmy and Chuck is fascinating to watch as it devolves into a tense legal battle with the episode “Chicanery” being one of the best episodes of television this year and definitely the strongest in “Better Call Saul’s” three seasons. Simply put, the mix of humor, charm, excellent writing, directing and acting establishes this as a prequel series done right.
2. “Stranger Things” (Netflix)
In terms of popularity and cultural impact, Netflix’s “Stranger Things” might just be the biggest show of the past two years. With the feeling of nostalgia for the 80s at an all time high, the Duffer Brothers successfully crafted a unique science fiction drama that blends old and new elements to tell a damn fine story that is wholly entertaining. With an all star cast, including the most talented child actors on television, “Stranger Things” is yet another strong ensemble that shines a light on all characters and really allows for the viewer to connect with each of them. Season 2 is a worthy sequel that builds upon the foundation set in the first eight chapters while ramping up the threats in a way that makes the story feel like genuine horror. The humor and charm are more present than ever and are balanced perfectly to allow for lighter and more heartfelt moments as the world flips upside down. “Stranger Things 2” sees Noah Schnapp, Millie Bobby Brown and David Harbour delivering their strongest performances to date as Will, Eleven and Hopper; I can’t forget to mention Joe Keery’s Steve Harrington, who has gone on to become a cultural icon because of his glorious head of hair and his role as “mother of the year.” With excellent cinematography, writing, acting, directing and musical score, “Stranger Things” continues to surprise and dazzle.
1. “Big Little Lies” (HBO)
Perfect television shows may not exist, but “Big Little Lies” is damn near perfect and is the best series to air in 2017. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what makes this “mini-series” so great, because literally every single aspect is deserving of complete praise. The interactions between Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), Celeste (Nicole Kidman), Jane (Shailene Woodley), Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz) and Renata (Laura Dern), along with their spouses and children, are simply engaging to watch; the talent of the entire cast is put on full display in every single scene as they deliver believable dialogue that develops their characters and furthers the plot in several twists and turns. While the story builds up to a murder that is mysteriously teased through the seven episodes, this isn’t the main focus and mostly serves to formulate, grow and evolve the relationships in the series. The directing of Jean-Marc Vallée and the writing of David E. Kelley compliment each other and help to build the world of “Big Little Lies,” placing the characters in scenarios that feel both larger-than-life, but also extremely relatable and realistic. This series is completely addictive as it blends all of the elements that make for a spectacular television series. A thrilling ride from start to finish, “Big Little Lies” is the perfect example of peak television that knows exactly what it is and runs with it.
Do you agree with the shows on this list? What shows do you consider to be the best of 2017? Share your own picks by commenting below!