The Best TV Shows Of 2017


by Willow Green |
Published on

20. 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.

19. 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.

18. Taboo

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.

17. Stranger Things 2

Stranger Things 2

Netflix transported us back to 1984 for the second season of their supernatural smash hit. The Demogorgon may have finally buggered off, but Will (Noah Schnapp) is still feeling the effects of his trip to the Upside Down and seeing visions of a bigger threat to his hometown. But forget that: Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) have girl – and pet – problems, there’s a new kid at school challenging Steve’s (Joe Keery) crown, and everyone apart from Nancy (Natalia Dyer) seems to have forgotten about Barb… Stranger Things 2 has a lot on its plate, but it balances it all with as many laughs (mainly from MVP Matarazzo) as genuinely shocking moments. It even went fully meta by casting ‘80s legend Sean ‘Mikey’ Astin as Joyce Byers’ (Winona Ryder) new boyfriend, Bob.

16. Girls

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.

15. 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.

14. GLOW


GLOW achieved what its characters only dreamed of: it made a success from putting women’s wrestling on TV. The idea of a show parodying the women’s professional wrestling circuit in the US in the 1980s might seem niche, but GLOW’s winning hand was its expertly crafted and beautifully nuanced characters. The situation is always absurd: a down on his luck movie and TV producer (a cherishably hangdog and sleazy Marc Maron) attempts to mount a syndicated women’s wrestling show called Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling, on a shoestring budget, with a roster that doesn’t know how to wrestle, and in-ring plotlines that are tasteless, sexist. classist and racist. But in the classic mode of all underdog sports stories, you somehow still root for them to succeed. Alison Brie (“Zoya the Destroya”), Betty Gilpin (“Liberty Belle”), Kate Nash (“Britannica”), Gayle Rankin (“Sheila the She-Wolf”), Sydelle Noel (“Junkchain”) and the rest of the sizeable cast made us feel every fall, physical or emotional.

13. The Good Place

The Good Place

Before it started, The Good Place sounded like it could be destined for an early axing (‘after her death, Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) gets sent to ‘The Good Place’, soon realising that she doesn’t deserve to be there’). Yet this show truly has been one of the biggest surprises of the year, asking big philosophical questions, being constantly hilarious, and delivering a Season 1 finale that we are still recovering from. Currently on its mid-Season 2 break, the show has upped the ante considerably, applying a Groundhog Day-esque structure we can’t say too much about – because, you know, spoilers – and allowing Ted Danson the most fun he’s had in ages as The Good Place’s ‘architect’, Michael. Most surprising of all? The show has revealed ex-Radio 1 DJ and T4 presenter Jameela Jamil as a comedy force to be reckoned with. Who knew.

12. Star Trek Discovery

Star Trek Discovery

Jason Isaacs says ‘hello’ to the captain’s chair in this fresh new take on Gene Roddenberry’s world. Set a decade before we meet Kirk and co., Isaacs’ Captain Gabriel Lorca heads up a brand new series that really cares about its characters – no surprise when considering Hannibal, American Gods and Star Trek: Voyager* alum Bryan Fuller is one of its creators. The Klingons have been reinvented and the USS Discovery itself is unlike anything the Star Trek franchise has seen before, but it’s the genuinely relatable dialogue and diverse characters that struck the loudest chord during these somewhat uncertain times. More of it, we say.

11. 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.

10. Catastrophe


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.

9. The Deuce

The Deuce

There have been many reasons to celebrate James Franco this year. HBO’s The Deuce gives you another two, as he plays twin brothers Vincent and Frankie Martino. No gross-out comedy, the show focuses on the legalisation of the porn industry in 1970s New York and the drugs and violence that came with it. Franco is superb in a dual role, but it’s the camera trickery with the pair of them that really impresses. Completely absorbing and making sure the show’s women (led by X Maggie Gyllenhaal) are front and centre, we won’t blame you for watching all eight episodes in one sitting.

8. Legion

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.

7. Fargo

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.

6. 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.

5. 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.

4. Twin Peaks: The Return

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.

3. 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?

2. Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones

It may have been a shorter season, with distances and travel times adjusted accordingly, but the penultimate batch of episodes from the Song of Ice and Fire still delivered. The threat from the White Walkers was ramped up; there were dragons; there were pirate ship battles; there were political machinations; there were revelations; there was sex; and of course, there were surprise deaths (and resurrections). Above all, there was spectacle: the pace quickening as we approach what’s sure to be a spectacular climax. Each of the final episodes will be movie length, but Thrones’ last-but-one series managed to pack a movie’s worth of content into a standard TV timeframe, every week. Six years in, the show remains a jaw-dropping achievement.

1. The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid's Tale

Despite the array of quality shows on offer, 2017 never topped this 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.

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