The Best TV Shows of 2017 (So Far)

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2017 may just be the peak-iest year of Peak TV; after a record 455 series aired episodes in 2016, 2017 stands poised to demolish that number, as everyone from NBC to TruTV have announced handfuls of new shows coming to air (not to mention Netflix airing roughly eleven new series a week) throughout the year. Since there’s literally no way any single TV critic could keep up with every single show airing this year, we brought our illustrious collection of editors and writers together to hash out a definitive, decidedly subjective list of the best shows we’ve seen in 2017. After many difficult cuts – shout out to Big Little LiesBrockmireCatastropheDownward Dog, Fargo, Fresh Off the Boat, The KeepersSamurai Jack, Sense8, and Taboo – we’ve whittled our list down to the Official, Hot Take-laden Top Fifteen Shows of 2017 (So Far), presented in alphabetical order below. Enjoy!

 

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The Americans

This was no one’s favorite season of The Americans. In its fifth year, FX’s acclaimed spy/family drama got even more deliberate than usual, lowering the immediate stakes, lingering on needlessly cryptic plots, and placing its already-familiar characters under an even tighter scope to little appreciable effect. Yet, even in an “off” year, it’s still one of the tautest and most psychologically astute shows around, and the performances from Matthew Rhys, Keri Russell, Noah Emmerich, and Holly Taylor are (almost) endlessly renewable resources. Chalk it up to the penultimate season curse – too concerned with setting up the final season to provide enough compelling material all its own. (More or less the exact same issue cropped up with FX’s Justified in its next-to-last season as well.) Still, Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg have earned more than enough goodwill for us to assume the final season will be one for the ages. (Simon Howell)

 

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American Gods

What’s there not to like about American Gods, a series of wildly ambitious filmmaking that rewards viewers’ with extraordinary visuals, haunting music, and stellar performances by a star-studded cast that includes Deadwood’s Ian MacShane and Gillian Anderson appearing as the late David Bowie. Adapted from the 2001 bestseller by geek icon Neil Gaiman, the new Starz series is the latest act of aesthetic derring-do from Bryan Fuller, the genius behind Hannibal and Pushing Daisies. American Gods is violent, sexual, bloody, gruesome, grimy and bizarre. It’s also one of the most beautiful and invigorating new television series that takes every aspect of show-running Bryan Fuller is famous for and runs wild with it.

Working with screenwriter Michael Green and Hannibal helmer David Slade, Fuller takes more risks than anyone else on television, and at the very least, American Gods is wildly different, highly entertaining and downright jaw-dropping. The boundary-shattering sex scene between Muslim immigrants — Salim (Omid Abtahi) and the Jinn (Mousa Kraish) — is one of 2017’s essential TV moment as is the scene in which Yetide Badaki’s goddess character, Bilquis, devours her helpless partner in the midst of their first sexual encounter.  Whether you’re a fan of Neil Gaiman’s novel or a curious newcomer, American Gods will make a believer out of you. (Ricky D)

 

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Attack on Titan

After a smash hit first season that set it as one of the most popular animes of all time, Attack on Titan tortured fans with a staggering four year wait for its shorter second season.

So was it worth the wait? Well, in a word, yes. Though Attack on Titan’s second season might be a bit surprising due to its early focus on side-characters and world-building, by the end of this sophomore effort things have gotten crazier than even the most subjective of fans might have guessed.

With another killer theme song, a few brutal twists, and one of the greatest battles in anime history, Attack on Titan season 2 may not be what you expected but it absolutely wows all the same.

If you feel a bit stuffy about anime, trust me, this is the show to change your mind. Add to that the recent announcement that next year will see the third season coming much faster than expected, and fans can look forward to giving their heart once again very soon. (Mike Worby)

 

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Better Call Saul

Though Better Call Saul has spent much of its existence sheltered in the limelight of its prestige television parent, Breaking Bad, its sense of tone and careful confidence have done a lot to set it apart from its beloved forebear.

With that in mind, season 3 has been a bit of a juxtaposition on both fronts. While the show has never been more audacious or ambitious than in its tragic-comic third season, it has also been using more and more Breaking Bad leverage than ever before. With Hector Salamanca front and center, the introduction of everyone’s favorite chicken-loving kingpin, Gus Fring (a chilling Giancarlo Esposito), and Jimmy inventing the alter ego of “Saul Goodman”, things are getting closer and closer to the world where we were first introduced to New Mexico’s underground drug trade.

Still, Better Call Saul soars in what might be its best season yet, driving a hard wedge between Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) and his troubled brother Chuck (Michael McKean, doing his career-best work here) while setting up a world of possibilities with the newly realized partnership between Mike and Gus. Finally, Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) is given the opportunity to shine as never before, with a particular twilight moment toward the end of the season giving her what might be her most interesting arc yet.

Either way, after a cliffhanger ending like that, one thing is for sure: we’re going to find ourselves looking at a very different Jimmy McGill come next season. (Mike Worby)

 

The Carmichael Show

There are a lot of shows vying to be the most #Woke show on television; many of them, however, wear their agendas on their sleeves, their crowd-sourced opinions so brazenly presented as to garnish #support from audiences and #thinkpieces from hip #millennials… it’s a growing problem in the age of Crowd Think TV (the post-Peak TV age we are beginning to enter, that David Lynch is extremely determined to break with his own show… more on that from Simon in this article, however). The Carmichael Show is the perfect antithesis to that, a show that isn’t looking to appease any liberal or conservative agendas when it discusses the social, emotional, and mental impacts of such topics like rape, transgender athletes, religion, marriage… basically any culturally relevant topic sitcoms won’t touch with a ten foot pole, The Carmichael Show dives into head first, without hesitation.

However, the bold approach to current events and debates is not one that comes without nuance; and that’s what makes The Carmichael Show one of the most impressive achievements in modern television. Using the traditional, multi-camera sitcom as a backdrop, Jerrod Carmichael, Nick Stoller, and his team of writers shape conversations around questions, rather than suggesting they know better by forming plot around what they think the most socially accepted answer would be – The Carmichael Show‘s conclusions are often layered, complex, and brutally honest, translating Carmichael’s stand-up into fertile comedic and dramatic territory with a surprising amount of confidence and accessibility.

It’s unfortunate the show was canceled this month, because its much-delayed third season has already tackled topics like mass shootings, rape, assisted suicide, and examinations of beauty…. there’s never been a laugh-track comedy like The Carmichael Show, a show that not only schools leagues of Prestige dramas trying to be #relevant on how to examine both sides of an issue, but still remembers to be a hilarious comedy about family and relationships at the same time. It’s a balancing act like TV’s never seen, and probably won’t again anytime soon. (Randy Dankievitch)

 

Dear White People

Dear White People

The characters in Dear White People, a group of ivy league students, populate the series’ intersectional narrative with heady ideas about the complexities of race, class, and oppression. The (mostly) black characters, while united by skin tone, represent a vast diversity of experience, and each jumps from the screen with unique perspective crafted by backstories that the series cleverly weaves around one flash point: a blackface fraternity event that devolves into a race riot when the school’s black students crash the party.

Sam, a biracial firebrand, weaponizes her college radio time slot, railing against the overwhelmingly white patriarchy of the institution and acting as the central figure in Dear White People. But as much as the show is addressed to a blissfully ignorant monoculture, especially in Sam’s oration, it’s her interplay with friends (and enemies) that gives the series’ broad cultural commentaries an undeniable sense of specificity.

Sam’s boyfriend Gabe is a well-meaning white liberal dude, who clumsily attempts to navigate Sam’s proudly black social landscape. Scenes of tension, and humor, in Gabe’s endeavor are never treated entirely as tribalism on behalf of Sam’s friends or ignorance on behalf of Gabe; the series eschews such easy constructs (and the easy solutions those constructs would beget), in favor of crafting a world that resembles nuanced reality, full of characters driven as much by their ideas as by their emotion.

The fiercely intellectual Reggie pines for Sam, adding a layer of personal scorn to his rebukes of Gabe. Coco, who has purposefully joined the school’s waspy white segment, clashes with Sam over who has the right to define “black”; Sam, is after all, biracial – Coco is not. The conversations in Dear White People are multitudinous, and hilarious, and heartbreaking, and frustrating. Sam and her friends have an infinite number of questions, but few answers, which is fine. With a wry sense of humor and a keen understanding of human emotion, Dear White People pointedly asks the questions anyway, and suggests you do the same. (Michael Haigis)

 

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Girls

Whatever the weaknesses of Girls sixth and final season, you can’t say it didn’t go out on its own terms. For all the hemming and hawing when it first premiered that super producer Judd Apatow would iron out Lena Dunham’s peculiarities in favor of a more mainstream sensibility, Dunham’s brand of hyper-neurotic comedy-of-discomfort hasn’t diluted over the years; if anything, it’s subtly pulled the rest of television a little closer to its orbit instead. The last season opened strong with a series of episodes intended as “one-offs” Dunham and company always wanted to try out but never found room for in the previous seasons; in the age of the arc, Girls always relished self-contained, high-concept episodes as a chance to shed new light on its characters and explore new tonal possibilities. While it stumbled later in the season as it attempted to cap things off in appropriately messy fashion, Girls has left its mark on the medium; no climactic missteps can change that, whether you like it or not. (Simon Howell)

 

GLOW

GLOW

Considering how incredibly popular professional wrestling is, it’s amazing that it took this long for someone to make a television show about it. With spot-on 1980s period detail, knockout writing, and a killer cast, Netflix’s wrestling drama GLOW is fast, funny, poignant, and absurd. It’s also chock-full of sharp commentary, great performances, and a smartly written plot, allowing the ensemble cast of women characters to emerge in an organic way. Indeed, the real strength of GLOW is in its exploration of their friendships. Wrestling may be fake, but the relationships these characters forge throughout the season, always ring true. Each episode runs around 30 minutes, which allows the show to delve into individual stories and spin a larger arc, without ever dragging on its heels. It isn’t quite a comedy and isn’t exactly a drama, but it is nevertheless, always a blast to watch. (Ricky D)

 

The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale is the breakout hit that could shape the future of Hulu. Based on Margaret Atwood’s seminal novel, about a dystopian American future where women are officially downgraded to second-class citizens, this ten episode series is perhaps, the most relevant, and important show of the year. Of course as with any adaptation of a work this beloved, the series could never ever fully please fans of the original source material – but that aside, The Handmaid’s Tale is still a smart, worthy endeavor, blessed with deeply committed performances by Samira Wiley, Ann Dowd, Yvonne Strahovski, Alexis Bledel and yes, Elisabeth Moss, who turned in a performance so good, she may finally  — win her a best-actress Emmy. (Ricky D)

 

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The Leftovers

Damon Lindelof made his return to television five years after the end of LOST; that turned out to be not nearly enough time for many of the viewers who felt burned by its final season (and its finale in particular) to give him another chance. Bully for them: The Leftovers proves that Lindelof has learned from his past mistakes, and knows how to reliably lean on his strengths and those of his collaborators. Working again with co-producer Tom Perrotta and director/series fixer Mimi Leder, Lindelof crafted an excellent final act for one of the most consistently compelling series of the last decade. Holy lions, God himself (?) in human form, a Dr. Strangelove-esque nuclear showdown, and many more eccentricities get stuffed into the criminally short 8-episode run, and though it would have been nice for a few more series regulars to get a spotlight episode, The Leftovers’ final season proves that it’s possible to let viewers fill in the particulars for themselves as long as the groundwork is solid. (Simon Howell)

 

Legion

Legion

Who would have ever guessed that FX would strengthen its position as one of television’s best networks with the addition of a Marvel-inspired drama from Fargo creator Noah Hawley? The innovative cable newcomer Legion (about a less famous character from Marvel’s X-Men universe) is a bold, clever, psychedelic subversion of the superhero genre that puts viewers inside the troubled head of David Haller, a mental patient who discovers he’s a mutant with extraordinary superpowers.

Yes, we already have plenty of small screen superhero shows, but Legion is seriously a different breed. In fact, it bears very little resemblance to past Marvel adventures; visually, it goes big and aims for the surreal, packing in flashbacks, flash-forwards, visions, hallucinations, psychedelic trips, alternate realities, dream states, suppressed memories, experimental sound design, lush photography and disorienting camera shots as it depicts reality through the rickety mind of its protagonist. Vanity Fair called the show, “The TV version of dropping acid, all colorful and explosive and loose-limbed. Scenes do backflips on a nonlinear timeline, showing no concern for the shell-shocked viewer.”

Admittedly, it’s so scattershot that it is impossible to get much of a handle on it at first, but that’s also what makes Legion so great. And it’s clear throughout the first season that Legion is deliberately weaving its themes into its visual style. For a superhero series, there’s also something to be said about the pace; there’s enough time to slow down and explore the characters, but from scene to scene, it remains brisk and flashy. The first episode is inspiring. The third episode is simply dazzling. The seventh chapter is a small screen masterpiece as Legion pushes boundaries and becomes a full-blown, black and white, silent movie set to Ravel’s Bolero with dialogue printed as inter titles. And credit to Noah Hawley, who is confident and daring enough to employ such a weird stylistic curve in the season’s most pivotal scene. Legion is a tour de force: the writing, producing, directing, visual effects, music and sound are the highest quality of film making. Legion as it all – along with the best soundtrack of any television show this year which includes the likes of Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, Syd Barrett, Radiohead, Talking Heads and so much more. (Ricky D)

 

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Master of None

Master of None is a charming, breezy investigation of yuppie romance that doubles as a harsh rebuke to cultural commentators wondering which generational vestige millennials are killing now. Surely, Dev, the series’ protagonist, has enjoyed his share of avocado toast and drunken uber rides; but beneath the privileged urban façade ofMaster of None, there lies a melancholy suggestion that the trappings of modern life are making newly-minted adults miserable.

Dev’s search for love in an overstimulated, app-based, romantic landscape is the narrative thread of Master of None, but Dev is overwhelmed by every aspect of the character’s life; from the mundane (what to eat) to the existential (what to be). In its second season, the series provides a contrast to Dev’s privilege, with formally innovative episodes that explore the world Dev inhabits. “I love New York” is an episode that abandons Dev, instead gleefully investigating the lives of New York City doormen, Cab Drivers, and one deaf couple. “Thanksgiving” shifts the focus of the series from Dev to his friend Denise, using a series of holiday dinners to tell the poignant story of Denise grappling with her sexuality, and eventually admitting to her mother that she’s gay.

These diversions don’t obscure Dev’s story though, and he finally finds his romantic match. That she is engaged, and lives in Italy, only supports the series’ overarching thesis: past generations weren’t blessed with the unfathomable conveniences, and opportunities, of the modern world; but with so many choices, it’s become harder than ever to make the right one. (Michael Haigis)

 

Superstore

NBC is the eternal home of the “Little Comedy that Could”, a legacy that began with Cheers, and has continued through the years with shows like SeinfeldParks and RecreationCommunity, and now, Superstore. In an era where the workplace comedy has mostly been replaced with fish out of water/diverse family sitcoms, Superstore stands out like a beautiful unicorn in the single-camera comedy landscape. Featuring a cast of characters who may not be at the low point of their lives, but are certainly not at the high, Superstore draws its comedy and pathos from the exact same well of self-discovery and growth by committee, carrying the mantle of Community in a number of unexpected ways, beyond its masterful use of a single setting, and a cast of wonderfully three-dimensional characters.

Perhaps the strongest element of Superstore – and what, in my mind, cements its place in NBC’s legacy of great comedies – is how the show’s slowly started to inject subtle societal commentary into its small world of discount soaps and mandatory lunch breaks; from guns to the Olympics, Superstore‘s strong, confident voice really came to life in its sophomore season, never losing its quirky, goofy sense of humor while it explored everything from the harsh realities of benefit-free full-time jobs, to the strike-busting practices big-box stores like Wal-Mart and the like excercise on their employees to keep them in line. Never pretentious (or more importantly in 2017, artificially #Woke), consistently funny, and always heartfelt, Superstore is the guilt-free, feel-good comedy with more mind and soul than any of us could want – or honestly, deserve. (Randy Dankievitch)

 

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Twin Peaks

A lot of column inches (and podcast hours!) have already been filled debating the merits of the new season of Twin Peaks. Is it a misbegotten experiment, a season-length troll of 90s TV audiences, or a worthwhile standalone statement? There are still nine episodes to go as of this writing, and what might be most impressive about the new season is that the jury is still out as to just what it actually is. Perhaps the highest compliment one can pay to the new season (series?) is that it feels as far removed from the current TV landscape as the original series was from its 1990 contemporaries. Just when it seems like you’re beginning to finally get your bearings, David Lynch and Mark Frost trot in a new set of characters, concerns, and images in to destabilize your perceptions once more. What’s more: the fact that it’s coming to us weekly via Showtime instead of being dumped in our laps for binge viewing adds to the mystique, creating perhaps one last communal viewing experience before the entire industry goes the way of Netflix. (Simon Howell)

 

The Young Pope

Though it’s already been largely forgotten by the American public, Paolo Sorrentino’s auteurist The Young Pope will be remembered as a definitive piece of 2017’s small-screen art. A show that rose to prominence on a wave of memes and a ham-filled Jude Law performance I don’t think anyone thought he had in him, The Young Pope is a perfect encapsulation of TV in 2017: too enamored with forgetful plots to offer a memorable narrative, so visually audacious it burns GIF’s of Pius’s dreams onto the retina of one’s third eye, and so brazenly performed and produced it would make Baz Luhrmann blush. But goddamn, if The Young Pope isn’t the most intoxicating show of the year, a gloriously grandiose melodrama about sex and power set in the most holy, shadow-y and corrupt place on the planet Earth. The only way this could’ve been more memorable (or meme-able, wink wink) would’ve been if Nicolas Cage was playing the Pope – which we can only hope is the premise for The New Pope, the confirmed next chapter in Sorrentino’s brazen, surrealist HBO experiment. (Randy Dankievitch)

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