The Best TV of 2017:
Throughout it’s decade-plus-long renaissance (which I contend is a Golden Age of TV shows but not a Golden Age of TV as medium which was something else that no longer exists), TV has utilized the language of the art film, or rather American indie film variations of European vanguards, in discourse and largely borrowed its aesthetics and psychologically ambiguous anti-heroes. Yet, almost across the board, its formal qualities were generally far more conservative. That seemed to markedly change in 2017, and it feels like it’s time for TV to grow out of its need to justify itself against another medium (the theories and realities of convergence aside). Now, measuring TV to film seems to take away from what TV is doing as it largely outstrips film in its adventurousness and experimental spirit (and not accidentally, this invigoration corresponds to TV’s increasing diversity). Likewise, the need to label good TV as “film” (*cough* Twin Peaks), misses the crucial nature and temporality of the serialized form and provides an impoverished reading of these texts which rely on referencing or subverting television intertexts and traditions.
The 15 Best Shows
- Twin Peaks, Showtime: Twin Peaks: The Return is perhaps the most important TV show since its original iteration. It’s also David Lynch’s magnum opus collecting his trademark motifs, character types, themes, obsessions (for good and ill), and influences into something that’s uniquely weird, heartbreaking, terrifying, frustrating, and funny. It sears itself into your memory. I dreamed about this show.
- Master of None, Netflix: To me, the first season felt like another version of Louie. This season felt like it’s own, wonderful, artfully crafted thing. The comedy vanity project is known for its self-obsession, but Ansari does vital work by turning over whole episodes of this series to other voices with fantastic, moving results.
- The Leftovers, HBO Season 2 of The Leftovers may get my vote for the greatest season of a dramatic TV show in history, so season 3 had a lot to live up to. In addition, it had to find a satisfying conclusion to one of TV’s most difficult shows. The show succeeded remarkably, and cemented its place in my list of the top 5 TV dramas of all-time.
- Nathan for You, Comedy Central Even four seasons in, it’s difficult to say what Nathan for You actually is. It’s too sophisticated and humane to call it just a prank show, too self-aware and self-critical to only consider it a reality show parody, and too personally involved and invested to be simply labeled satire or performance art. Whatever it is, Nathan for You is one of the most exhilarating, wonderfully uncomfortable, and provocative uses of comedy I’ve seen.
- Bojack Horseman, Netflix
- American Vandal, Netfix American Vandal is an extended dick joke. It’s also captivating mystery, a funny formal parody, and pointed high school social satire. Addictive, hilarious, and strangely moving. The biggest and best surprise of the year.
- Wormwood, Netflix: It’s not a leap to compare what Errol Morris did with Wormwood to what David Lynch did with Twin Peaks. Morris returns to the genre he basically invented (the true-crime docudrama) and elevates it with a highly addictive, impressionistic, meticulous work where the the subtext of the entire genre (the search for truth) becomes part of its formal exploration.
- Better Call Saul, AMC
- The Handmaid’s Tale, Hulu
- The Americans, FX: A brilliant season marred by a season finale that failed to stick the landing.
- The Vietnam War, PBS
- This is Us, NBC: Manipulative? Maybe. Sentimental? Sure, but when something is as well crafted and earnest as This is Us, it’s hard not to be impressed or affected. In fact, in our world and the world of TV, it’s actually refreshing.
- The Good Place, NBC: If you haven’t seen it yet, there are three stages to being introduced to The Good Place (that are largely tied to its sneaky structure): 1) “This show sounds kinda dumb” 2)”Oh, this is a fun little show” 3)”Wait, this is good. How is this so good?”
- Black Mirror, Netflix
- The Cry of Mann: A Trool Day Spectacular in Eight Parts, AdultSwim StreamsCry of Mann… by AB Video Solutions (“Unedited Footage of a Bear,” “This House Has People in It”, The Mirror), the video arm of the art collective Wham City, was a live, interactive soap opera by way of Strindbergian dream-play (this is TV via Avant-Garde theater by people who know what they’re doing) that also acts as a sampler of ABVS/Wham City’s trademarks: child-like logic, body horror, monologues that would make Beckett proud, and a sense of ever-present dread. It’s difficult, long, and kinda falls apart at the end, but its ambition and energy is enough to carry you through most of it. Further proof that ABVS/Wham City might be the most exciting group working in media today. The future of TV drawn from its earliest forms.
- Sneaky Pete, Amazon
- The Last Man On Earth, Fox
- Search Party, TBS
- The Expanse, SYFY
- Stranger Things, Netfix
Shows that have been in my “best of list” before that were still good but didn’t make it this year because there is too much TV: Broadchurch, Crazy Ex Girlfriend, Lady Dynamite, Bob’s Burgers.
Shows that have been in my “best of list” before that were just kinda OK this year: Fargo, Rick and Morty, Homeland.
Most Improved Show: Doctor Who, BBCA
“Network” of the Year: Netflix
Most Improved Network: TruTV
Biggest Disappointment (that started out promising but ended up being just OK and might be kinda bad the more I think about it): Mindhunter, Netflix
The [Relatively] Worst Show: The Defenders, Netflix
Best Late-Night Variety Show: The Chris Gethard Show, TruTV
Guilty pleasure that’s occasionally brilliant: The Exorcist, FOX
The 40 Best Episodes (3 episode limit per show)
- Part 8, Twin Peaks: The strangest, most artistically adventurous episode ever aired on television. TV will never be the same again.
- New York I Love You, Master of None: “Serious” TV comedies are generally focused on the upper-middle-class and TV comedies set in New York have been almost aggressive in their whiteness. This episode, through a remarkable camera move that acts as democratic intervention, focuses on the lives, dreams, and desires of its background characters, the otherwise anonymous people who hold the world together for the people who usually get the screen time. It’s a beautiful episode of TV and one of the most accurate portrayals of New York City I’ve seen in any media; a fitting valentine to the New York I fell in love with.
- Thanksgiving, Master of None
- Part 17, Twin Peaks: While episode 18 was the gut-wrenching, divisive finale, 17 was the proper season finale and its second-half was some of the most beautifully sad television ever put on screen.
- Finding Frances, Nathan for You
- USS Callister, Black Mirror
- Chapter 1, Legion: I thought the rest of the series was a repetitive mess, but this was one of the best first episodes in recent memory.
- Runtime Error, Mr. Robot: Sure, the single-take is more magic trick than narrative necessity, but this also happened to be the best Mr. Robot episode in years and what a trick it was.
- Don’t Be Ridiculous, The Leftovers
- Dyatkovo, The Americans
- The Law of non-contradiction, Fargo
- The Book of Nora, The Leftovers
- Hang the DJ, Black Mirror
- World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls, Doctor Who
- Memphis, This is Us
- The Ricklantis Mixup, Rick and Morty
- The Trolley Problem, The Good Place
- Birth Day, The Handmaid’s Tale
- The Most Powerful Man in the World…,The Leftovers
- Ruthie, Bojack Horseman
- First Date, Master of None
- Part 3, Twin Peaks
- Shipping Logistics Company, Nathan for You
- Amber Waves, The Americans
- Stupid Piece of Shit, Bojack Horseman
- Bob Actually, Bob’s Burgers
- The Spoils of War, Game of Thrones
- Tour De Pharmacy, HBO Special
- Late, The Handmaid’s Tale
- Hooray! Todd Episode, Bojack Horseman
- Michael’s Gambit, The Good Place
- Pickle Rick, Rick and Morty
- The Monster and the Rocket, The Expanse
- Crocodile, Black Mirror
- The Spy, Stranger Things
- The World Councils of Churches, The Americans
- Got Milk? The Last Man on Earth
- Sit Me Baby One More Time, Bob’s Burgers
- Twice Upon a Time, Doctor Who
- The Liberal Chokehold, GLOW