2017 in Review: The Best Shows and Specials


Merrit Wever and Michelle Dockery in Godless
10. Godless (Netflix)
Scott Frank’s Western takes full advantage (maybe too much advantage) of Netflix’s flexibility, with some episodes going on for more than 90 minutes, and others just barely 30. But even as he steps right into some clichés, he avoids just as many others, building a rich world with complex villains and cowardly heroes, where the women can be just as strong and foolish as the men.
Standout episodes: “The Ladies of La Belle,” “The Wisdom of the Horse,” “Homecoming”

Andre Braugher, Andy Samberg and Melissa Fumero in Brooklyn Nine-Nine
9. Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox)
It’s very possible that the end of Season Five will mark the end of this show – though a shortened Season Six isn’t out of the realm of possibility – so if we have to begin to say goodbye to this stellar workplace comedy, the show has left behind 100 episodes (to date) of character-based humor and sweetness that never feels phony. This year saw bank heists and prison sentences, but also its first Very Special Episode, tackling racial profiling that was done thoughtfully and without losing the tone of the show. More than any show since Community, this is a great series about a surrogate family doing whatever it takes to stay together.
Standout episodes: “Moo Moo,” “HalloVeen,” “99”

The Handmaids at a ritual in The Handmaid's Tale
8. The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
An uneven string of episodes in the middle of the season kept this from being ranked higher. But it righted itself as the seemingly disparate plot threads came together in one act of defiance in the season finale. This is a show that, while not always consistent, is consistently horrifying, from the casual violence to the unknown consequences that come about from trusting the wrong person.
Standout episodes: “Offred,” “A Woman’s Place,” “Night”

Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell in The Americans
7. The Americans (FX)
OK, sure. When it’s all said and done, you could probably skip Season Five and not miss much. But even as “nothing really happened,” the show continued to be a tense, thoughtful exploration of identity and family. And that weird feeling you often got in the first four seasons when you found yourself rooting against your own country? The show flipped the script on the audience, so now you realize that (at least in the context of the Jennings’ mission this season), you’re supposed to be.
Standout episodes: “Lotus 1-2-3,” “Dyatkovo,” “The Soviet Division”

Shailene Woodley, Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman in Big Little Lies
6. Big Little Lies (HBO)
Binged all in one lazy summer day, I may not have been able to fully absorb all the nuance and character beats that kept audiences rapt all throughout the winter. But wow, what a show. Jean-Marc Vallée directs the sumptuous Monterey sunsets with a painter’s eye, and David E. Kelley is doing the best writing of his career, finding those hidden conversations between put-together people when they’re finally honest with each other. The core trio of women is absolutely phenomenal, but that’s no disrespect to Alexander Skarsgard, Laura Dern and Adam Scott. Forget serialized investigations and fantasy series, this is what the future of Prestige TV should be.
Standout episodes: “Living the Dream,” “Once Bitten,” “You Get What You Need”

Kristen Bell in The Good Place
5. The Good Place (NBC)
NBC’s screwy schedule still leaves the best show on network television with annoying months-long breaks, meaning we don’t get the full impact of the show. Even so, the final five episodes of Season One were probably the best stretch any non-streaming show had in 2017. And its second season, the one with an even higher level of difficulty (after that huge twist in the finale) sailed through with almost no visible sweat, as it burned through hundreds of storylines in a single episode, then found Michael resorting to team up with the foursome he spent the first year torturing. I loved watching this show each week, but I’ll be even happier when it makes its way to Netflix and I can binge it the way it was meant to be seen.
Standout episodes: “Chidi’s Choice,” “Michael’s Gambit,” “Dance Dance Resolution”

The cast of Orange Is the New Black
4. Orange Is the New Black (Netflix)
Most people have probably jumped ship by now, but I found Season Five to be the best season to date. Compressing all 13 episodes into a few days, the emotions are all heightened as the prison descends into a riot after the death of Poussey. While it’s still rallying around the horrors of the prison system, economic inequality and police brutality, it found a way to spend the whole season ruminating on forgiveness and justice, and how the former is always in your control and the latter never is. The offender may not deserve forgiveness and you may deserve justice, but the world isn’t fair. If you think peace can only happen on your terms, you may never have it.
Standout episodes: “Sing It, White Effie,” “The Reverse Midas Touch,” “Storm-y Weather”

Angela Bassett and Lena Waithe in Thanksgiving
3. Master of None (Netflix)
How magnificent is this show. It can be anything it wants, from a tribute to Italian cinema, to a painfully realistic unrequited romance, to (briefly) a nightmare about how getting what you want may end up wrecking your life. And those weren’t even my favorite episodes! We got the Emmy-winning “Thanksgiving,” a masterpiece on its own. And the much discussed “New York, I Love You,” which gave extras in any other series full lives. But there was also something purely joyful about a montage of two Muslim guys secretively attending a BBQ and chowing down on non-halal meat set to Poison’s “Nothin’ But a Good Time.”
Standout episodes: “Religion,” “New York, I Love You,” “Thanksgiving”

Dan Stevens and Aubrey Plaza in Legion
2. Legion (FX)
Were it not for the once-in-a-lifetime experience of my No. 1 show, this would clearly be the winner. A real success story after any number of failed comic-book adaptations, Legion (almost) doesn’t give a shit about superpowers and battles royale. No, Noah Hawley (Fargo) would much rather explore trauma, regret and the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves. Oh, you thought that might be a little stuffy? You’d be wrong, as the show investigates all that with vivid colors, dance numbers and at least one conversation inside a metaphysical ice cube while listening to lounge music.
Standout episodes: “Chapter 1,” “Chapter 6,” “Chapter 7”

Kyle MacLachlan, Laura Dern and David Lynch in Twin Peaks
1. Twin Peaks (Showtime)
It didn’t always make sense, it wasn’t always consistent and it wasn’t always satisfying, and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. But how lucky are we to have 18 hours of Twin Peaks back, without any interference or studio notes? Part of me wishes other accomplished directors would have gotten a crack at Dale Cooper’s journey back to the real world. But then we wouldn’t have gotten astonishing hours like “Part 8” or the series’ haunting (if a little frustrating) finale. And we probably would have missed little moments like Dougie shouting “Hellllloooooooooo” every time he hits the jackpot or seeing a janitor sweep up a dance floor for a whole two minutes while “Green Onions” plays on the P.A. And of course all the incredible musical performances that ended most episodes. The beautiful and ugly, the brilliant and the nonsensical, they were all part of this incredible return.
Standout episodes: “Part 8,” “Part 14,” “Part 17”


Neal Brennan in 3 Mics
Neal Brennan: 3 Mics (Netflix)
Using three microphones to tell one-liners, stand-up and harrowing true stories, Neal Brennan finds a truly creative way to be emotionally naked without being cliché.

Dave Chappelle in The Age of Spin
Dave Chappelle: The Age of Spin
One of four specials to hit in 2017 – the others come out on New Year’s Eve – this is Chappelle reclaiming his throne as one of the greatest stand-ups ever. While the one filmed in Austin meanders and gets into some ugly political bits (that aren’t that funny and don’t really have a point), this show filmed in L.A. is much more focused, but still as unapologetic and hilarious.

Chris Gethard in Career Suicide
Chris Gethard: Career Suicide
One of the most important pieces of art ever made. Chris Gethard explores his history with clinical depression and suicidal thoughts with a frankness and sense of humor that’s so honest and tender that I truly think it should be shown in every school in America, so that kids who feel this way know they’re not alone, and that friends with kids who feel this way can see the signs and help.

John Mulaney and Nick Kroll in Oh, Hello on Broadway
Oh, Hello on Broadway
Though the extremely specific humor of John Mulaney and Nick Kroll as a real-life Statler and Waldorf is an acquired taste, I acquired it quickly and loved every bit of it. Interacting with the audience much more than their previous bits, this filmed play is gut-busting from start to finish, especially when one of them forgets his lines, or the audience gets offended not at racially charged jokes or Holocaust references, but at a line that implies a dog got eaten. Their quick wit keeps what ordinarily would have just been a sketch and makes it last, deepening it and giving it some pathos.

Patton Oswalt in Annihilation
Patton Oswalt: Annihilation
The first half of this set, filmed by Bobcat Goldthwait, is straightforward stand-up about what a nightmare it is to live under the Trump administration, knowing every day we wake up, our toddler-in-chief could have said or tweeted something offensive, incomprehensible or just plain stupid. The second half finds Oswalt exploring the aftermath of his wife’s unexpected death, the sorrow he felt and the joy he found in the worst of situations.

Casual (Season 3)
While Season Two made a drastic improvement in its final episodes, I only got two episodes into this season before other things commanded my attention.

Fargo (Season 3)
By the time I had enough time to watch the latest season of this frigid anthology series, FXNOW (by far the worst of the streaming apps) had already pulled it from streaming.

House of Cards
Season Five already was getting too ridiculous for my tastes (a guy dies mid-coitus because he accidentally ingested too many essential oils!) but now with Kevin Spacey fired for sexual misconduct, it will be interesting to see how they wrap it up in eight episodes, given that Frances clearly was not meant to die in between seasons.

Louis C.K.: 2017
One of the year’s best comedy specials – which began with a controversial bit on abortion – is now lost to time. It was his best special in years, but given gross revelations about how he harassed women for more than a decade, it’s not something I plan on revisiting any time soon.

American Gods (Starz)
At Home with Amy Sedaris (truTV)
Believer (CNN)
Big Mouth (Netflix)
Brockmire (IFC)
Dear White People (Netflix)
The Deuce (HBO)
Feud: Bette and Joan (FX)
Great News (NBC)
Guerilla (BBC America)
I Love Dick (Amazon)
Jean-Claude Van Johnson (Amazon)
Mindhunter (Netflix)
Ozark (Netflix)
Runaways (Hulu)
Taboo (FX)
There’s… Johnny! (Hulu)
Trial & Error (NBC)
Wormwood (Netflix)
The Young Pope (HBO)

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