It may be prudent to note that this isn’t a list of the best shows of 2017, but a list of my favorite shows of the year. If you trust my tastes, then maybe you can consider it both. Also noteworthy: I don’t have the time or the wherewithal to watch every single thing. There’s just so much to see! What did I miss? Let the countdown (and conversation) begin! (For the top half of the list, click here.)
Other favorites that just barely got cut from the top ten: Better Call Saul (AMC), Vice Principals (HBO), Game of Thrones (HBO), Crashing (HBO)
The Vietnam War
The interviews with the American soldiers alone would have made this new Ken Burns and Lynn Novick documentary an amazing work, but the fact that the creators traveled to Vietnam for the points of view of the Vietnamese soldiers made The Vietnam War stunning. The ten-part, 18-hour series was both exhausting and emotional. It was easy to get lost in the specifics, which will make it worthy of multiple viewings, but it goes to show the amount of work that Burns and Novick put into the series in order to get the fullest picture of the Vietnam War as ever been presented on television. Just try to watch those soldiers relive a war that destroyed families and minds without feeling remorse. The 18 hours are a tough, but worthwhile, experience.
Mindhunter, from David Fincher (Gone Girl, Fight Club) certainly feels like a Fincher project: ominous, dim-lit, dilatory in pace (and therefore right in my wheelhouse). It’s also a fascinating series and, while perhaps not made for binge watching, is hard to shake. You have to see the next one. (Sometimes the episode will seemingly stop mid-scene, only to be the end.)
The Netflix adaptation is based on the true crime book with the same name that details the beginnings of the division of the criminal psychology and profiling unit of the FBI. But that description does the series little service. The unit is built around young, go getter Special Agent Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff): it’s through his eyes that the series is told; however, it’s weathered veteran partner Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) that became my favorite new character of any television show this year. I couldn’t stop watching him wrestle with a toxic masculinity that hadn’t yet started to become outdated in the 1970s setting.
Come for the serial killers; stay for the humanity, which fades in us all.
Last Chance U
With the exception of a couple of other shows, no scripted piece of television captured the myriad of emotions like the second (and perhaps last) season of Last Chance U. The Scooba community college football program where talented miscreants and vagabonds end up for one more shot at the big leagues was still the setting, but Coach Buddy Stephens, the man they all like or hate (or both), was all the more aware of the cameras and the affect he has on his players. The most moving of all storylines centered around “Miss” Brittany Wagner, whom the players adore, whether they’ll admit it or not. It was a difficult watch in the last few episodes and even more hard not to feel something for each of the players, coaches, and advisors involved.
The Handmaid’s Tale
If 2017 felt like a worse-than-usual year, then The Handmaid’s Tale did little to relieve that sinking tension. The adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s famous dystopian novel was well acted, well written, and well filmed. It was also hard to watch at times. The scenes seemed all too close to reality with no quirky science fiction to grasp for help. This was pure horror. Yet with Elisabeth Moss anchoring it all, it also became a show about hope, fight, and belief. The Handmaid’s Tale faltered in the last three episodes, but as a whole, the imagery, acting, and tension, it was an experience of dread not seen in anything this side of Black Mirror.
Master of None
The second (and best, so far) season of Master of None finds writer and creator Aziz Ansari along with co-creator Alan Yang and writer Lena Waithe pulling off the near-flawless balance of exploring the pathos prevalent in all relationships yet still managing to deliver on the comedy still in those suffering, awkward moments of love and life. I’ve heard complaints that it’s too focused on “Ansari the foodie,” but that never hinders–if anything, it gives him more of an opportunity to shine as a comedian with heart, to blend the hilarity and sincerity. The show also does something that other series find hard to do: leave the central storyline for an episode or two to show us other sides of the word (“New York, I Love You” and “Thanksgiving” come immediately to mind). Ansari has said that there are no plans for a third season, which, like the show itself, is an example of both the good and bad of life: Season Two would be a perfect end note with its ambiguity, but one more round with these characters would also be a welcome sight.
Check back soon for the top five!