Best in Shows for 2017

Recapping some of the best TV from this past year

click to enlarge Justin Theroux (left) and Scott Glenn in HBO’s The Leftovers - Photo: Scott Glenn
Photo: Scott Glenn
Justin Theroux (left) and Scott Glenn in HBO’s The Leftovers

As the Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations roll in, it’s clear there was no shortage of great TV in 2017. Here are some of my best shows for the year.

Big Little Lies – Of course a David E. Kelley drama based on a bestselling novel and starring Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon was going to be a hit, and this twisty, darkly comedic HBO miniseries lived up to the hype. Centered on a group of mothers in the idyllic community of Monterey, Calif., the miniseries peeled back the picturesque curtain to reveal twisted home lives and the personal struggles faced by fantastically written characters.

The Handmaid’s Tale – This Hulu adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian thriller could not have arrived at a more opportune moment. Elisabeth Moss shined as Offred, a once relatable wife and mom forced to serve a family — down to conceiving their child — when a fundamentalist regime takes over the country. The series is a cautionary tale that at once feels like a cold warning and a hopeful reminder to fight back at the smallest indications of injustice. 

Master of None – Aziz Ansari’s Netflix comedy also hit on some timely topics in its second season, from coming out (told beautifully through a series of Thanksgiving dinners over the years) to workplace sexual harassment to the complexities of the modern dating scene. With smart humor and experimental storytelling, Master is a true contemporary romcom.

The Leftovers – Damon Lindelof’s HBO drama about the fallout of a mysterious world event in which 2 percent of the world’s population disappears ended with this season, and I will always lament the fact that this show was so tragically underrated. This final chapter completed an intricate, strange, mind-blowing tale that forced viewers to consider belief and question everything. 

Fargo – In its third and final season, two characters rose to the top as protagonists worth cheering on: a Minnesota police chief and a street-smart ex-con. While these two women were on opposite sides of the law, they exhibited a shared strength, resilience and ability to take charge of their very different situations. Unfortunately for them, this season belonged to the bad guys.

Stranger Things – It was worth questioning how this runaway Netflix hit from 2016 could replicate the magic of its first season, but now it’s clear that the kids of Hawkins have many stories to explore. With more character development and new faces, Season 2 was an emotional rollercoaster with the warmth of nostalgia, the terror of both supernatural scaries and real-life monsters, and the relatable charm of friends worth fighting for.

Nathan for You – Nathan Fielder’s business-rescue parody brilliantly mocks expert-takeover shows by creating complicated schemes to achieve menial results. But this season took a genius turn in its movie-style finale that set Fielder on a mission to find a man’s long lost love, perfectly encapsulating the elaborate stunts and genuine human spirit that make this show so wonderful.

Mr. Robot – Sam Esmail’s hacker-centered psychological drama continually breaks new ground and redefines what a TV show can do, from its realistic depictions of both mental illness and cyberwarfare to its dynamic female characters and cinematic risk taking. These elements were on full display this season in an episode that appeared as one continuous 45-minute shot while protestors attacked E Corp. As the USA Network show explores more issues with real-world implications, I can’t wait to see it tackle net neutrality.

American Vandal – Netflix’s “most binged show” was a true-crime satire investigating who spray-painted penises on 27 cars in a school parking lot. Hilarious, to be sure, but there’s depth to this dick graffiti mock-doc. Vandal exhibited a self-awareness that exposed the flaws of the genre, while capturing a genuine high school experience in an inventive way that’s familiar but also fresh and so compelling.

Honorable Mentions:

Room 104, the 30-minute Duplass Brothers anthology that takes place within a single hotel room; the penultimate fan-appeasing season of Game of Thrones; and The Keepers, a documentary series investigating the murder of a Baltimore nun and abuse within the Catholic church.

Contact Jac Kern: @jackern

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