2017 is six months (and change) old, but it's already been a banner year for TV. Check out the shows we've been watching and loving in one handy list.
15 The Americans
As the show heads towards its planned ending in 2018, some worried that The Americans felt a little less than satisfying this year, seemingly pumping the brakes when it needed to start a rush to the finish line. But it gave some time to explore the further complexities of Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) Jennings' complicated existence as Russian sleeper agents juggling family life with spy work. The welcome return of the Mail Robot aside, the stories this year have taken their time and deepened the drama for the family, especially daughter Paige (Holly Taylor), who is now fully immersed in her parents’ divided world. More Margo Martindale has been a welcome development this year too.
14 Dear White People
Giving the look at racial problems at a US college even more time to breathe was both a good idea and a risky proposition for Dear White People movie director Justin Simien, who also created this series adaptation. The story of outspoken radio DJ Sam White (Logan Browning) and the various, Rashomon-style takes on a controversial party and the politics it digs up works well as a series, with winning performances from the likes of DeRon Horton as Lionel. The risk was in stretching out the narrative beyond the original movie, but the series just deepens the tale and gives more of the characters their due.
13 Silicon Valley
This might be the season remembered for T.J. Miller’s surprising (and given his outspoken interviews after the announcement), controversial departure from the show, but Silicon Valley continues to impress with its skewering of tech world tropes. As the balance of power shifts at what was once Pied Piper, there’s great work particularly this year from Kumail Nanjiani’s Dinesh, who finds that with great power comes… Well, worries about paedophile chat services users. Around the typically strong main players, the likes of Stephen Tobolowsky and Matt Ross continue to impress. And though there might not have been a comic sequence to match the phallic fix of Season One, there was plenty to enjoy.
Steve Knight and Tom Hardy (and Tom's dad, Chips!) collaborating on a series was one of the great unknowns going into 2017. But Taboo proved to be something entirely compelling. Hardy plays the brutal and focused James Delaney, resurfacing in London after being thought dead for years, seeking revenge for the death of his father and inheriting the family shipping empire. As it chronicled him going up against the ambitions of his half-sister and the power of the East India Company, the show proved that Knight, who already impressed us with Peaky Blinders, knows how to create TV. Plus, Hardy found the latest outlet for his gruff style. We’re happy this one is coming back.
Wrapping up a popular series – especially one that has been as much-discussed and dissected as Girls – is no easy task. Lena Dunham and her team pulled it off with the last season for Hannah, Shoshanna and the rest. Allowing the characters to reach a new level of maturity while maintaining what those who found the show’s groove liked about it. Certainly, the series and its characters could still be frustrating, but if you’d made it this far with Hannah and her friends – sometimes that term can be fairly loose – you’ll have enjoyed where the journey took you.
10 Line Of Duty
For four series, Line Of Duty has been a sterling example of shows that take a seemingly well-worn concept (police officers investigating internal corruption) and spun it into a series that was often bonkers, but somehow worked even as you were wondering just where it could go next and still stay within the realm of reality. And for this latest run, creator Jed Mercurio pushed things even further. Sure, it could be soapy and weird, and it often hewed close to the edge of abject chaos, but LOD still managed to be massively fun with a standout performance from Thandie Newton as D.I. Roz Huntley.
9 Master Of None
In Season One, Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang proved they had what it takes to make something that did more than simply channel shows such as Louie in its story of Dev’s (Ansari) dating life or his encounters with family and friends. That was a great start, but with the second season, they’ve truly taken the gloves off and explored what they can do. How many other sitcoms do you know can kick off with an episode that homages 1948's Bicycle Thieves? And with episode six, New York, I Love You, it sidestepped the main characters for smaller tales of other city dwellers to wonderful effect. Ansari has said he’ll have to wait and build up ideas for any future series, but we’re happy to hold on for more.
Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney’s crooked look at married life, love and kids continues to impress even as it treads into darker territory. Infidelity, farting, death and job worries all combine into a comic soup that feels painfully real when considering its mismatched but still lovable central couple. It’s a testament to the pair (who write as well as star) that “Rob” and “Sharon” never outstay their welcome. The death of Carrie Fisher – who lights up every scene in which she appears – will cast a heavy shadow over the future, but Catastrophe is more than the sum of its parts.
As unlikely combinations go, having Noah Hawley, who found success adapting Fargo for TV, turning his attention to an X-Men character is up there. The result was both weird and wonderful: Dan Stevens brings a subdued charm to David Heller, seemingly cursed with mental health issues who, it is revealed, is actually something very different. Hawley guided the show to surreal heights, taking full advantage of the mutant powers on offer, and found a truly fantastic outlet for Aubrey Plaza’s particular abilities, creating one of the most memorable characters on TV this year. Legion looks, sounds and feels like little else, and we’re all in.
Just how do you follow two acclaimed seasons of a show that pulled off the surely impossible trick of channel a Coen brothers’ film while charting its own course? If you’re Noah Hawley, you hew a little closer to the source but still maintain your unique voice. Ewan McGregor pulling double duty as twins Emmit and Ray Stussy overcame accent wobbles to give his characters real life, while David Thewlis was a slimy villain. Yet top honours this year go to two female characters – Carrie Coon (also a strong part of The Leftovers) as tech-adverse cop Gloria Burgle and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, playing canny parolee Nikki Swango, were the main reasons this season worked.
5 Big Little Lies
With its big name cast (especially Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon), David E. Kelley adapting Liane Moriarty’s solid source material and firm backing from US cable channel HBO, Big Little Lies perhaps had a head start on other shows in terms of audience interest. But it earned its own loyalty with big twists, dark drama and superb performances from the likes of Shailene Woodley, Alexander Skarsgard and Adam Scott. Murder, mystery, domestic abuse and infidelity filled a steamy stew that stayed effective until the end. Can they really make a second season? At this point, we’d be happy to keep this as a one-season delight and have the team work on something else rather than try to replicate it.
4 The Leftovers
Like Girls, The Leftovers was leaving the stage burdened with plenty of expectation. And after creator Damon Lindelof's experience with the reaction to the finale of Lost, he’d be forgiven for being nervous. And yet his latest show managed to tie off as well as could be expected for such a confounding and brilliant series that only grew better. Rather than spin out the story for more seasons, Lindelof chose to wrap things up with Justin Theroux’s Kevin and Carrie Coon’s Nora without needing to explain everything. Few series have allowed for such discussion and how you interpret the end will always be a personal issue. But isn’t that a hallmark of great TV?
3 American Gods
After years in cinematic limbo, labelled as “unfilmable”, TV – particularly the much more restriction-relaxed venue of cable in the US – feels like the ideal venue for Neil Gaiman’s complicated exploration of faith that also works as a fantasy road trip adventure. And Hannibal’s Bryan Fuller, working alongside old colleague Michael Green and director David Slade, was a great choice to bring the tale to vivid life. With charismatic, bullish work from Ian McShane, American Gods is taking its time to unfold the clash between deities ancient and modern. Every frame is a painting and the side stories (such as Orlando Jones’ Mr. Nancy) add layers.
2 Twin Peaks
If other shows (American Gods and Legion in particular) had been playing with style, tone and surrealism, the new Twin Peaks feels like David Lynch cracking his knuckles and saying, "Wait until you kids see this..." to dazzling effect. Embracing the boundary-pushing advantage of American paid cable, the show has divided audiences but stakes out a unique place in the current TV landscape. It can be obtuse and obscure, but it's never dull, even when it seems to meander. The big test will be whether Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost can tie it all together at the end.
1 The Handmaid’s Tale
The year may only be half over, but we’d be impressed if we see a better TV series than the clever, dramatic, dark and yet hopeful adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel. The Handmaid’s Tale is one of those concepts that can adapt and evolve with the political climate, but it feels particularly urgent given all that has been going both here, across Europe and in the United States. Elisabeth Moss deserves all the swards for her starring role as independent woman-turned-sex-slave Offred, and there’s also great work from Madeline Brewer, Samira Wiley, Alexis Bledel and Max Minghella, among others.