My Top 50 TV Shows of 2017

I've been doing year-end TV lists for a decade now (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016), and it feels like the landscape changes faster than ever now. Last year's list had 3 Netflix shows, this year's list has 7. Last year I still had room on the list for talk shows and topical Daily Show-style shows, this year I focused almost exclusively on narrative shows as an insane number of good dramas and sitcoms proliferated in this unsustainable 'peak TV' explosion that still hasn't slowed down. As with my albums list, I now sample upwards of 200 new shows in any given year to boil it all down to a top 50 that I feel really strongly about, and still end up having to leave out some shows I love and watch every episode of but maybe are past their peak, or still approaching it. 

1. American Vandal (Netflix)
The mockumentary is a time-tested medium for comedy, but I feel like it had lost some luster in its translation to televison, where shows like Parks & Recreation, despite other strengths, had little to no idea how to make sense of documentary-style direction or even what type of documentary they weren't making. So American Vandal was brilliant in part because there was so much fresh material in the suddenly ubiquitous 'true crime' genre of serialized documentary, and in part because they found such an incredibly silly story to tell through that somber lens.

2. The Good Place (NBC)
Heaven, as Talking Heads once sang, is a place where nothing ever happens. So when The Good Place debuted last year, it seemed like it might be the rare modern sitcom where things never changed, where Ted Danson could preside, like Sam Malone, over an uneventfully funny afterlife full of good people and the one person who wound up there by accident. But of course, by the end of the first season, the show had become pretty serialized, and in the finale they completely flipped the concept of the show on its head. Practically every episode so far of the second season has continued to hilariously change the rules at the drop of a hat.

3. Santa Clarita Diet (Netflix)
Victor Fresco is the kind of creator whose odd, creative and dryly funny shows never last long on the broadcast networks (ABC's Better Off Ted, FOX's Andy Richter Controls the Universe). So while a lot of Netflix sitcoms almost feel too shapeless to me when unrestrained from primetime broadcast standards and commercial breaks, Santa Clarita Diet feels genuinely free, free to be a gory but oddly bighearted comedy about what a family does when the mother (Drew Barrymore) becomes some kind of undead person who feeds on human flesh.

4. The Young Pope (HBO)
I wouldn't recommend watching The Young Pope until you've watched one of creator Paolo Sorrentino's films. I saw Youth shortly before the series debuted, and it put me right on the wavelength of his subtly surreal sense of humor and unique, textured directorial style, so I wasn't sitting there expecting a Bad Santa of the papacy or whatever people thought of when they heard the title. An impish fantasy about a strange man taking a wreckless, disruptive approach to one of the most famous and influential jobs on earth scans a bit differently in 2017 than it would in most other years, but Jude Law's performance and Sorrentino's storytelling made The Young Pope more of an absurdist textural experience than a satire of the Catholic church or anything like that.

5. Billions (Showtime)
Billions is, in some ways, one of the most old-fashioned premium cable prestige dramas going right now, full of kinky sex and the clashing egos of powerful men who think they're above the law. But the show also gives you a lot of breathing room to not take that aspect of the show too seriously, to identify with the characters who roll their eyes with Paul Giamatti delivers a scenery-chewing speech. Maggie Siff has been from the start the most complex character at the center of the show's war between her boss and her husband. But season 2 introduced an nonbinary character, Taylor (Asia Kate Dillon), who added a new dimension to the show, someone intelligent and calculating enough to thrive in the cutthroat Wall Street world but too far from the macho culture and too morally conflicted to entirely embrace it.

6. Better Things (FX)
I often think of the scene in last year's first season of Better Things where Pamela Adlon and her daughter discuss the idea of looking up to someone like Gandhi even if he was accused of abusing women. Adlon manages to bring up John Lennon in the scene without any mention that Lennon was himself a wifebeater (Adlon idolizes Lennon and wrote a letter to Yoko Ono to get permission to use one of his songs as the theme song of Better Things). Louis C.K. co-created Better Things and has written for every episode of the show to date, and it'll be interesting to see how Adlon moves forward with her perceptively funny show about motherhood and life as a woman in Hollywood, and whether her disgraced friend and collaborator will remain involved. That said, the second season of this show really was beautiful and affecting, it included one of the only times television genuinely brought me to tears this year and I don't think the episode was even trying to have that effect, for some reason this show about a single mom with three daughters rings really true to me as a married dad with two sons.

7. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW)
This is one of the most honest and perceptive shows about relationships and mental health on television, despite the title being, y'know, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. And in the third season, shit has gotten really real and dark. And yet Rachel Bloom has managed to balance the seriousness of the storyline with the observational humor and surreal musical sequences that made it a unique gem from the beginning.

8. Speechless (ABC)
Speechless is a great family sitcom not because it portrays a family with a son who has cerebral palsy as perfect and noble but because they're as dysfunctional and flawed as any other family, squabbling and late for everything. Minnie Driver has been good in comedies before, but she's just unleashed incredible comic timing and delivery on this show.

9. Brooklyn Nine-Nine (FOX)
There's not a better comedy ensemble in television than Brooklyn Nine-Nine right now. Terry Crews is a national treasure who we must protect at all costs, but in any given episode Stephanie Beatriz or Joe Lo Truglio or Andre Braugher or Andy Samberg could be the one who says a line that makes me double over in laughter.

10. Rick And Morty (Cartoon Network)
2017 was the year that Rick And Morty fandom became some kind of weird sad social phenomenon that overshadowed the show itself. But the third season was really inventive and funny and it was totally possible to enjoy it without turning into a goon who demands McDonald's dipping sauces and sees themselves as above as an intellectual titan for enjoying a show full of bathroom humor.

11. Planet Earth II (BBC)
2007's original Planet Earth miniseries had some of the greatest nature documentary footage ever shot, and the 10th anniversary sequel was every bit as magnificent and eye-popping and entertaining. From David Attenborough's narration to incredible once-in-a-lifetime footage like that scene of a newborn iguana escaping a dozen snakes, it was just a feast of memorable moments.

12. American Gods (Starz)
For my money, Dead Like Falls/Wonderfalls/Pushing Daisies/Hannibal is the most impressive run that any creator in television has had in the 21s century and Bryan Fuller is in a class of his own. By that standard, American Gods didn't feel like a major chapter in his career to me, even though it was a thrill to see him play with probably the biggest budgets and densest source material of his career. My wife who's read the Neil Gaiman novel had to hold my hand a bit through what it all meant, but even when I didn't totally follow it, it was chock full of endlessly watchable actors like Ian McShane, Crispin Glover, Gillian Anderson, Peter Stormare, and Kristin Chenoweth running around as these bizarre fantastical characters.

13. The Magicians (SyFy)
The Magicians is another show where watching it with my wife, who read the source material, helped me appreciate and understand what's going on. But the show apparently strayed further from the novels in its second season, and to its credit the writers seemed to learn from just how funny their cast could be in the first season and made even better use of their talented ensemble of relative newcomers.

14. Difficult People (Hulu)
Around the same time Will & Grace made its victory lap return to network primetime this year, Billy Eichner and Julie Klausner's failed to clinch a renewal from Hulu for a 4th season of their dystopian Evil Will & Grace hellscape, quipping about the rumors about Kevin Spacey in every episode one last time before shit got really real. I don't like to complain about shows being canceled after "only" 3 seasons when so many of my favorites never even got 2 full seasons, but this is one I was really hoping would be back for more in 2018.

15. You're The Worst (FXX)
Like Difficult People, You're The Worst prides itself on the idea of entertaining you with a set of characters whose moral rot would make the Seinfeld gang blush. But it's also a show about a relationship that hopes you care a little bit about whether Jimmy and Gretchen end up together, and they spent most of the 4th season apart, and ended the season yelling "I suck" and "no, I suck!" as they tried to figure out who had rejected who and if they really wanted to get back together.

16. The Tick (Amazon)
It speaks to my dim view of Amazon's track record for original programming that my favorite show they had this year, out of a dozen or so, was a goofy comic book adaptation that's been a TV series already twice before, once as a cartoon. Ben Edlund's The Tick is a hilarious character in any form, and Peter Serafinowicz put his own spin on it that's equal to his predecessors, while the show takes a big step up in production values and dramatic stakes from FOX's short-lived 2001 series.

17. Mindhunter (Netflix)
For fans of Seven and Zodiac, a show produced (and, for almost half the episodes, directed) by David Fincher about FBI profilers interviewing serial killers in the '70s is a no brainer to check out. But I was still kind of surprised by just how engrossing I found the show, how great Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany are as a duo that kind of subverts the traditional buddy cop dynamic, and Cameron Britton as Edmund Kemper was really one of the year's most memorable breakout performances from an unknown actor.

18. Downward Dog (ABC)
Downward Dog was the kind of goofily high concept network sitcom that I never expect much from, especially when it's been dumped onto the schedule in May and June when they're not running anything else. But this cute little show where a very neurotic dog spoke to the camera and narrated his own oversensitive account of the lives of his humans really grew on me so quickly that I was surprised as how saddened I was by its inevitable cancellation.

19. Bob's Burgers (FOX)
Animated shows can stay in production a lot longer than live action shows, but that doesn't necessarily mean they should. But Bob's Burgers is currently in its 8th season, which is around the point that The Simpsons started slowly chipping away at itself in increasingly grim ways in the name long term survival ("Homer's Enemy," etc.). And the Belcher family has shown virtually no wear and tear so far. Gene and Louise can still come out of left field with a one liner that floors me, and there still seem to be corners that haven't been uncovered in their town and their school.

20. Great News (NBC)
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has helped me stave off 30 Rock withdrawal in the last couple years, but 30 Rock writer Tracey Wigfield's first series as a creator helps fill that void even more with another absurdly fast-paced jokefest about backstage squabbling on a live TV show, with John Michael Higgins as the clueless, egotistical on-air talent who's equal parts Tracy Jordan and Ted Baxter.

21. The Girlfriend Experience (Starz)
The first season of The Girlfriend Experience was an impressive and dark half hour drama, but it didn't really stick with me to the point that I was sure I'd even bother with the second season. I'm glad I did, though, because the creators really stepped the show up, turning it into an anthology series with two half hour episodes of two completely new and unrelated storylines every week. It's a nuanced and sympathetic show about sex workers, but it's also two gripping dramas, one about blackmailing political operatives and one about a woman trying to start a new life in the witness protection program. The latter story, starring Carmen Ejogo, is particularly great and has me primed for her role in the third season of True Detective.

22. The Exorcist (FOX)
1973's The Exorcist is one of my favorite films of all time, and though I was skeptical that any TV version could do it justice, 2016's debut season really won me over. Still, serializing the story has its risks; the show continuing for a second season, with the same pair of exorcists helping another family, takes the story out of the realm of demonic possession being a rare once-in-a-generation occurrence into there being some kind of Satanic conspiracy spreading across the country.

23. The Sinner (USA)
My favorite limited series of 2017 was reminiscent of my favorite limited series of 2016. But where The Night Of was consumed with the question of whether its protagonist had committed a murder, The Sinner's mystery was why Jessica Biel's character had suddenly snapped and stabbed a man to death in broad daylight. I didn't love everything about The Sinner -- I have a pet peeve about stories hinging on a suppressed memory being recovered at a narratively convenient moment -- but Biel gave a stirring performance I didn't know she was capable of, and Bill Pullman was an intense foil.

24. Trial & Error (NBC)
Trial & Error also felt like a mirror image of The Night Of, but a comedic one, with John Lithgow managing to bumble through a murder trial and cast doubt on his innocence in every ridiculous way possible. The whole ensemble cast was hilarious, but Jayma Mays deserves special notice for her devious Southern lawyer femme fatale.

25. Halt And Catch Fire (AMC)
One genre of prestige TV that I struggle with sometimes is period fiction in the vein of Mad Men: I'm watching a historically accurate account of an interesting point in time, but instead of learning about the real people who really moved this industry forward, I'm spending time with these fictional characters that aren't based on anyone in particular. I felt that way more and more over the course of Halt And Catch Fire's run, as these characters continued to say prescient things about the future of personal computing and the Internet and develop bleeding edge technology only to end up also-rans to the real life tech giants that ultimately dominated that world. But in the end, the show's beautifully rendered friendships and personal journeys felt true enough on a dramatic scale that I was able to set aside those quibbles.

26. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon)
This is another show where I kind of wish it was about a real person, because a 1950s Jewish housewife stumbling onstage at a comedy club and improvising a profane act that wins the respect of Lenny Bruce would be a hell of a fascinating story if it were true. As a television character fabricated 60 years later, it feels a little contrived, but there's enough wit and charm in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and enough verve and charisma in Rachel Brosnahan's performance, that's a lot of fun to just go along for the ride.

27. Preacher (AMC)
I think the sheer number of times Preacher replayed the scene of two teens getting shot in the head with a rifle (seriously, it was like, in the dozens) in the second season brought it down in my esteem from the first season. But it's still one of the more deliriously entertaining high concept shows on TV right now, and Ruth Negga has been a revelation.

28. The Leftovers (HBO)
The Leftovers was given a chance at a final season after a brief run (3 seasons instead of 4) and did a pretty excellent job or wrapping things up. But on some level it felt a little more like the resolution of the characters' journey was secondary to Damon Lindelof's need to deliver a satisfying series finale and absolve himself a little of how Lost ended. But given the fact that Lindelof and his writers ran through its novel source material in the first season and had to figure out the last two on their own, I would say they did a pretty impressive job, even if I could've done without the Ann Dowd ghost arc and some of the

29. iZombie (The CW)
Secrets are the engine of a lot of drama, especially on televison; countless shows are driven primarily by the protagonist keeping a secret from people around them, and the complications that arise from maintaining that. iZombie is literally about a zombie, in a world where people don't know zombies exist, so that was par for the course. But after the events of the second season, all of the people in Liv (Rose McIver)'s life that she was hiding her secret from knew, and it was kind of refreshing for the third season to take place on a different playing field, where secrecy wasn't the animating force of so many of the plots.

30. Big Little Lies (HBO)
It's weird to think that David E. Kelley, network TV's tireless purveyor of quirky legal dramas, pulled off a literary adaptation miniseries for HBO full of movie stars that seems to be in a whole different showbiz bracket from the rest of his work, to say nothing of the classier cinematography. But what makes Big Little Lies work certainly had more than a little to do with Kelley's strengths in banter and the chessboard maneuvers of characters conspiring against each other.

31. Brockmire (IFC)
Hank Azaria has always been, for my money, the funniest member of The Simpsons' voice cast, which means he may have made me laugh more than just about any entertainer in the world. And his gift of gab is put to great use in Brockmire, where he plays a baseball announcer who's fallen on hard times, and spends a lot of the show saying colorfully obscene things in an old timey broadcaster voice.

32. The Breaks (VH1)
I don't do a lot of reported writing in the TV world, so I felt a little bit of a personal connection to The Breaks because I interviewed several members of the cast and crew for two articles about the backdoor pilot movie VH1 aired in 2016 and the first season of the show that aired this year. So I was sad to hear recently that the show wouldn't be coming back for a second season, after a plan to move the show to BET was abandoned. Veteran hip hop journalist Dan Charnas and director/cocreator Seith Mann, who was brought on because of his work on The Wire, really put together an interesting parallel universe version of hip hop in 1990, full of smartly observed details about the state of flux the genre was in at that moment.

33. GLOW (Netflix)
I already knew how good Alison Brie is and Betty Gilpin was a revelation (it seems notable that in both of her big breakout roles in GLOW and American Gods, Gilpin plays a woman whose best friend betrays her and sleeps with her husband).

34. Imposters (Bravo)
The rise of competition in scripted programming has even spread to networks like Bravo, which has thrived with its content farm of Real Housewives-oriented reality shows for so long that it's weird to see a drama on the network, much less one as unique and engaging as Imposters. Imposters follows a con artist who marries and then robs her marks, and what happens when two of her ex-husbands and an ex-wife find each other and team up to track her down. It's a playful little detective story, animated by a lot of good performances, including a scenery-chewing villain turn by Uma Thurman in a few episodes, and it was one of the true surprise gems of 2017 TV.

35. The Arrangement (E!)
Like Imposters, The Arrangement is a somewhat soapy show on a network that's still kind of finding its footing in scripted programming. But the thinly veiled Tom Cruise parable about a young struggling actress who gets offered a role as the wife of a superstar actor who's connected to a secretive organization is pretty entertaining, with Christine Evangelista in a really impressive breakthough role as the protagonist.

36. The Amazing World Of Gumball (Cartoon Network)
My 8-year-old's viewing habits consist mainly of Cartoon Network's daytime schedule, which at this point is almost entirely a kid-friendly variation on the absurdist aesthetic nurtured on the channel's nocturnal Adult Swim schedule. Some of those shows are nothing special (Regular Show, which concluded this year, was basically a dull slacker sitcom with talking animals), but some of them are as funny and inspired as anything on Adult Swim, especially The Amazing World Of Gumball, which mixes and matches different animation styles in wonderfully unpredictable ways and has such a zeitgeisty, seemingly American sense of humor that I was pretty shocked to realize the show was created by a Frenchman who writes it with two Brits.

37. The Deuce (HBO)
There's a rhythm to David Simon shows that's shared by nothing else on TV. The sheer number of scenes and characters in any given episode of The Deuce, much like The Wire, should be dizzying to follow, but there's something about the calm, nonchalant way one scene gives way to the next is strangely hypnotic and calming. I didn't love everything about The Deuce's first season -- it's hard for me to stomach James Franco under normal circumstances, let alone playing twins -- but it was a solid start to an ambitious series.

38. The Handmaid's Tale (Hulu)
Watching The Handmaid's Tale was pretty intense, certainly the least pleasant viewing experience I had this year of a show that I consider well made and worthwhile...and I'm a guy, I imagine it's on a completely different level for women.

39. Love (Netflix)
The way I tend to describe Love is that every episode is like the middle half hour of a Judd Apatow movie where tensions come to a head and people start yelling at each other and some embarrassing or physically painful accident occurs. Like, it happens almost every episode, which is a little exhausting. And yet Love is one of the few Netflix where I actually 'binge watch' (ugh I hate that term) the whole seasons in a short period of time instead of spreading it over a couple months, because I really

40. Twin Peaks (Showtime)
It seems like for most people, Twin Peaks is either this special moment in television history where lightning struck, or it's just not for you at all. So I always feel odd as someone for whom Twin Peaks was always fine but not a big deal (Eraserhead was my David Lynch obsession), and I don't imagine many year-end TV lists had its 2017 return thrown somewhere in the middle like this. And it was certainly pretty fascinating to see a major filmmaker, who I was pretty certain would never direct another feature again, give us 18 bizarre episodes of television (particularly notable considering that Lynch only directed 6 out of 30 episodes of the show's original '90s run). But it was also a pretty uneven grab bag, throwing nods to classic Twin Peaks mythology together with tenuously connected new characters and plots that Lynch probably had lying around from unproduced screenplays, and each episode ending with a musical guest like a fucking talk show. Still, I had to admire the idea of lightning striking twice.

41. Claws (TNT)
Claws is a bit of a traditional cable drama about an ordinary working class man who gets caught up in a double life of violent crime, except it's about 5 women who work at a nail salon in Florida. And the great cast, unexpected twists, and visual flair really elevate a show that could've either been very good or very bad.

42. Angie Tribeca (TBS)
TBS has spent the last couple years revitalizing its brand and putting a renewed focus, to mixed results (Samantha Bee is certainly one of my favorite people to watch yell about the world being on fire every week, but Search Party and People Of Earth kind of had sophomore slumps this year). Angie Tribeca has consistently been one of the bright spots of nu TBS, though, its dedication to absolutely ridiculous puns and sight gags would do the Zucker brothers proud. And Chris Pine's turn as a Hannibal Lecteresque serial killer in the third season was one of TV's best uses of movie star stunt casting this year.

43. Black-ish (ABC)
Black-ish was always as much a social satire and running commentary on race in America as it is a family sitcom. And as it goes into its 4th season with the kind of momentum that will probably have it on the air for upwards of a decade, it's interesting to see the show get bolder and more ambitious with conceptual episodes and topical conversations.

44. Episodes (Showtime)
One of the most popular styles of cable comedy in the 21st century is shows where actors and celebrities play 'themselves' as unflattering caricatures and satirize their own lives. There are a few great ones, but most of these shows are kind of a perverse form of vanity. Matt LeBlanc really just destroys Matt LeBlanc in Episodes, though, he's such an entertainingly terrible person. I almost can't believe he started doing a cheesy network sitcom, Man With A Plan, by the time Episodes ended its run this year of satirizing the idea of a desperate LeBlanc taking a job in a cheesy network sitcom.

45. Baroness Von Sketch Show (IFC)
IFC aired both seasons of Baroness Von Sketch Show this year after their aired in Canada, and it quickly won me over as one of the best sketch comedies on TV in recent years. The production values, the extent they'll go to do a whole scene just for a very quick punchline and then move on to another brief sketch that does away with unnecessary exposition to get to the point, I really love the rhythm of it. And while a lot of the humor is very much from a woman's perspective, a lot of it is just creative absurdity and social satire.

46. Crashing (Netflix)
This year HBO premiered a new series called Crashing, but I wound up preferring the unrelated 2016 British series of the same name that came to Netflix in the U.S. around the same time. It's a bit less distinctive than Phoebe Waller-Bridge's other series Fleabag that I fell in love with last year, but it was a good show to tide me over until Fleabag's second season arrives.

47. Emerald City (NBC)
I wasn't particularly interested in the concept of a 'dark' Wizard Of Oz series, but the presence of Tarsem Singh, the visually inventive director best known for The Cell and the "Losing My Religion" video, really made this one of the most beautifully imagined things on TV this year.

48. Grace And Frankie (Netflix)
Grace And Frankie is like if all those TV Land sitcom where aging stars hang out in a house and bicker was shot in a nice beach house with decent production values and the dialogue was relentlessly whipsmart and funny.

49. Veep (HBO)
There was some apprehension that at a time when the executive branch is in more chaos than any satire could possibly exaggerate, there was some fear that Veep would lose its bite. But at this point, the show gets most of its mileage out of the established hilarity of the characters, and they can just coast on that by, say, making Jonah a congressman instead of trying to reflect or distort current events.

50. Casual (Hulu)
Casual is one of those shows that I'd watched for multiple seasons kind of on the fence, barely liking it enough to keep watching. But by the end of the third season, it'd grown on me to the point that I was really beginning to look forward to watching it, and it felt like there was some payoff to the slow, ambiguous character development and some entertaining storylines like Judy Greer's guest arc.
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