Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 Year In TV: The 20 Best TV Programs

This year, I am doing something a little different, and I think it may be a feature I have for the future.

I have talked before about living in the Golden Age of television, how TV has had a decade high where everything seems to be great. Where networks don't have one or two great shows, but a handful. Where access to all sorts of great TV is just a click away. I have never been this excited about the small screen as I have these past few years. I have dabbled in discussing TV on this blog before. I have mostly covered TV shows connected to an ongoing movie franchise, or TV sequels/prequels to movies. I have a TV arm called "Couch Potato" that I am rigorously trying to figure out and make my own. But since I have discussed TV before, and because this Golden Age we are living in doesn't seem to be slowing down, I wanted to throw out a end-of-the-year list for the medium. Since TV seems to conclude for the year a lot faster that movies do, I can say with confidence that this list represents the best of what could be seen on the small screen this year.

I will be presenting two lists today. The ten best new shows, which obviously means any TV show that began this year. I may have also thrown in a mini-series or two on the list as well, so look out for those. Then I will present the ten best returning shows, anything that had a season two or above this year that really rocked my world will be listed there. I will also deliver a small group of honorable mentions for each respected list. Sometime later this week, I will also present the ten worst things on TV in 2017. Because even though we live in a TV Golden Age, some crap still gets made.

Let's dive right in, shall we?

The Ten Best New Shows of 2017

1. Legion (FX)
It's shows like "Legion" that make me a little sad that Disney recently bought nearly all of Fox's movie and television outlets. Because I can't imagine the Land of the Mouse would want to continue to push the boundries of superpowered storytelling the way Fox has been doing with the X-Men. Fox has lots of cool things in their workshop right now, and if Disney is smart, they will let "Legion" continue to be its own thing. Completely unlike anything resembling a comic book show (Hell, I'd barely call it that). This is a beyond strange, and yet beyond brilliant psychological drama. Which ironically, had some of the best mutant action scenes of anything X-Men related. (Yes that includes the movies). This is a breath-taking, contact-high series where the weirder it got, the better it was overall.

2. Ozark (Netflix)
I'm always in the mood for a gritty crime drama, and it seems Netflix struck gold this year with the Jason Bateman-centric show about a man who gets way over his head, only to be recruited by the group that killed his business partners. He moves his family out of the city and into the Ozarks to launder money. Only to get in over his head there as well. Despite racking up the angst and circumstance against this poor man and his family, there is never once a single false note. This is a ghoulish look inside the underworld of a small town that depends on tourism to thrive. Well acted and well shot, Ozark is an area I can't wait to visit again this summer.

3. Taboo (FX)
If you put Tom Hardy in something, then my interest in what you're doing is already incredibly high. Add in the complex world of the 1800's where a man returns to the United Kingdom intent on gaining his family's naval empire, only to get wrapped into a world of revenge, then my interest already over 100. Add in Jonathon Price and Stephan Graham, some old-school musket action and some shady scheming and you've got some damn fine television. Equal parts funny, exciting, and even a bit disturbing, "Taboo" made a statement last winter, and I hope Hardy can fulfill that promise of a second season.

4. Room 104 (HBO)
I love Mark Duplass, I love that he's got a silly and a scary side, and that he loves to flex both of those muscles in equal measure. "Room 104" had a little of everything, as each episode represented a new group of people (or person) inhabiting the room at one time. If you take any room in any hotel, I am sure there are several different stories to tell involving the hundreds of people that have stayed there. It was clever that this was an anthology show, which rarely work to begin with, and Duplass brought something fresh, something adventurous, something outlandish to each new episode.

5. The Handmaid's Tale (Hulu)
Shifting gears quite a bit here, "The Handmaid's Tale" had such a powerful pull on me that I'll be honest, it took me awhile to get through all of it. It's easy to binge shows thanks to a handful of different streaming services, but I had to take frequent breaks from "The Handmaid's Tale." Simply put, it disturbed the shit out of me. This is a brutally beautiful and brilliant look at a dystopian future where ultra-religious, very Old Testament occultists take over our nation, and the only world fertile women can look forward to is a life of constantly making babies for the new regime. The scene in episode three of a protest going horrifically wrong while Blonde's "Heart of Glass" is sung to the tune of a melancholy orchestra is one of the most viscerally harrowing moments of anything I watched, whether movies or TV, and a powerful reminder that this one will stick with us in the future of television.

6. Comrade Detective (Amazon)
Channing Tatum and Joseph Gordon-Levitt took a huge gamble making a comedy dubbed from an old communist detective show from before the Berlin Wall came down (which apparently was a conceit too). But their gamble worked in spades as the show is a whirlwind of funny and action-packed moments. The shameless dubbing with familiar actors isn't what gives the show its charm, but how well there is a good story being told throughout all the weird laughs. I can't wait to see what Tatum and Levitt do next!

7. Godless (Netflix)
We don't have too many Western movies or TV shows were women are bad-asses instead of merely being the damsels in distress, but this mini-series flips the norms of the genre on their heads and the result is something miraculous. Full of a manically great cast, and some gorgeous cinematography. I knew quite early one that "Godless" was going to be a mini-series worth seeing, something essential to the year of television. 

8. The Deuce (HBO)
James Franco has been in the business for awhile now. He's had some good work, bad work and even great work. But I think when we look back at 2017, this was a year where he made a massive creative breakthrough. I will have plenty to say about "The Disaster Artist" when I prepare to write my year end list for movies. But he equally transcendent on the small screen in "The Deuce." Only HBO could make a show about the sleazy beginning of the American porn industry and somehow make it interesting to watch. Franco deserves credit for playing twins at the center of the story. The show also features some great performances by Maggie Gyllenhaal and Method Man and a host of other wonderful performers.

9. Mindhunter (Netflix)
"Mindhunter" doesn't necessarily present a new idea. We have ventured into the minds of catching serial killers. Especially with David Fincher, whose "Zodiac" from 2007 was one of the best films of that particular decade and one of the finest of the 21st Century so far. Fincher isn't afraid to dissect anyone, and that constant need to find out how clashing individuals work is part of the greatness of his work. "Mindhunter" isn't new, but the way Fincher seamlessly tells this story, makes it almost feel fresh.

10. The Mayor (ABC)
The most unexpected hit of the year. It seems almost shameless in the way it mirrors current events. A story about a rapper untested in the world of politics becomes a frontrunner for mayor of his hometown, and somehow gets the honor of the office, winning against someone who knows politics much better than him. It's a sweet little show, as most things on ABC are. Most things go the mayor's way, even if they don't totally make sense. Even though it would probably never go that way in the real world. But that's okay, because the show makes leaps and bounds just to entertain its audience and send a positive message that I couldn't help but love it.

Honorable Mentions: Netflix's "Big Mouth," HBO's "Crashing," Netflix's "The Keepers," Fox's "The Gifted," Comedy Central's "Detroiters," HBO's "The Defiant Ones," Amazon's "The Tick"

Okay, now onto the best returning shows of the year...

The Ten Best Returning Shows of 2017

1. Twin Peaks: The Return (Showtime)
There was no better head game to play this year, but that's just David Lynch being himself. His triumphant return to Twin Peaks is so gleefully wacky, so surreal and strange yet so provocative and imaginative that you couldn't stop watching. There are moments where it feels like Lynch is trolling the audience. Like when he introduces us to conversations that never get returned to again, or introducing characters who talk about nothing at all before never being seen again. But what Lynch pulls off is another extraordinary fever dream that becomes more engrossing even though some of it makes no sense. I am sure diehard fans will discuss the ending of this third season until either the end of time or when Lynch returns to Twin Peaks, whichever comes first.

2. Fargo (FX)
Its amazing to me how well Noah Hawley has soaked up The Coen Bros. "Fargo." Because with each of the three seasons of the show, he has been able to perfectly imitate what made their movie so special, but also making something of his own. All three seasons have never been shameless rip-off for the sake of it. This third season has been the best yet!

3. Vice Principals (HBO)
I have to admit, I think a little piece of me died on November 12th. Just knowing that I will never get more time to spend with Neal Gamby, Lee Russell, Amanda Snodgrass and all the other colorful characters that were introduced to us through this show. It's been a wild ride getting to know them, and the work done by Danny McBride and Walton Groggins has been some of their best work so far. We may never know what's in store for Gamby at his new school, but it was great to get to know them at all.

4. Master of None (Netflix)
This was worth the one year wait. Aziz Ansari may be channeling some of his actual life in this, and I think there is a level of realism among all the hilarious moments. There are moments of joy, moments of sorrow,  and moments of absolute laughter. There are moments here I think anybody can relate to and its part of what makes this show so special.

5. Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox)
Here's a show that doesn't really have something joyous or sorrowful to say. It's not something that is trying to relay an important message. It's just a show that wants to see how fast and how often it can get you to wet your pants, from laughter of course. With its fifth season halfway over, "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" is a show that continually brings the ferocious laughs. And continues to be something I look forward to week to week.

6. BoJack Horsemen (Netflix)
Here's a show that is a delicate examination of someone reaching the end of their dream, of figuring out that they have depression, and trying to piece a network of people that once held them in high esteem, but quickly fell apart. Not too shabby for a show that revolves around a humanoid horse that is a has-been actor living in Hollywood. (Or is it Hollywoo?) At the same time, the show is still extremely funny. I also like that the show takes its experimental turns (Although I don't think a single episode this new season topped the silent underwater episode from last season.) On Netflix, the animated existential shows rule all, but only BoJack is king.

7. This Is Us (NBC)
Here's a show that piles on the tears, but still manages to tell a good story of family dynamics, adoption, and what it means to let go of a long, looming hurt, and how that isn't always easy to do. There are still some big questions that the show still has to answer, and I am hoping that the show makes the right decisions regarding those questions. They set up some big, juicy story threads for when season two picks up in a few months. While there is great pain on the show, it also shows how to work through the pain. Powerful, indeed.

8. Planet Earth II (BBC America)
Hey, its like those documentaries your science teacher used to make you watch, except it's really cool! I don't know what it is about these documentaries, but this coupled with the first round in 2006 had me watching vigorously. Maybe it takes intrigue and explanation in an entirely new direction. Whatever it is, it's working for me, and I hope I get one of these each new decade.

9. The Last Man on Earth (Fox)
Tandy is still funny and he isn't going anywhere. Oh farts!

10. Stranger Things 2 (Netflix)
I never had a chance to watch "Stranger Things" before the second season came out, so I powered through both seasons in October. Some people may argue that this show is nothing but a 1980's nostalgic wet-dream. To a degree they're right...to a degree...but what else the show pulls off is some of the coolest storytelling in a long time. Maybe I am just the perfect audience, because I love 1980's pop culture, and I love the vibe of that decade. (I'd personally love a season where these four friends wound up in Derry, Maine. If Stephen King would be into that.) But I can tell you why the show is becoming so popular. It's a fun time machine in a world that never existed, and its brilliantly told with the right mood and atmosphere to make it count.

Honorable Mentions: NBC's "The Blacklist," NBC's "Blindspot," CW's "The Flash," HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," HBO's "Game of Thrones," ABC's "Black-ish," Netflix's "F is For Family," FX's "Baskets," FX's "Man Seeking Woman," FX's "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia," CBS's "The Amazing Race," Showtime's "Billions" Comedy Central's "South Park," Cartoon Network's "Rick and Morty"

As with my year in movies, I didn't get a chance nor have I begun paying attention to every show out there. I have heard great things about "The Leftovers" and "The Americans" and "Orange Is The New Black." But in a good year, I don't get to start everything I want nor do I watch everything I want. I plan to catch up on all of those shows in the near future, and I hope to get in on the discussion soon. Coming up, is my top ten worst TV shows of 2017. Then, it will be off to discuss the movie side of things. Happy New Year all!

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