The Best TV of 2017
2017 was an insane year. Cultural mountains shifted with reckless abandon, changing the way we view films and TV and those who make it. With all the madness in the world, it was a pleasure to turn on our televisions for an escape from the outside, or in some cases a brutal reminder of what it all means. As part of our year-end coverage the TFS Staff has gotten together to share what they believe to be the Best of the Best when it came to TV in 2017. And so, in no particular order, here's our picks.
The Deuce - HBO
Has there been a show in recent memory more suited to my interests than The Deuce? In the 70s, The Deuce was the nickname given to the part of 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues in New York City. Drugs, prostitution, porno theatres, and police corruption ruled the area. HBO’s show puts this stuff front and center and does a terrific job doing it. James Franco (man, this cat is everywhere!) plays a double role as twins Vincent and Frankie Martino. Yes, this could’ve been a bad thing but Franco is tremendous and the effect is seamless. Vincent is the “good” brother, hardworking, honest (mostly), and just wants to keep his head down and protect his family. Frankie, on the other hand, likes to gamble and live the good life, not caring who gets hurt in the process. Maggie Gyllenhaal also stars as Eileen/Candy, a street “pro” sans pimp who has a taste for the burgeoning porno business and she is amazing in this role. Everyone and everything about The Deuce is really fantastic; the writing, the music (especially the theme song "(Don't Worry) If There's a Hell Below, We're All Going to Go" by Curtis Mayfield), and the performances. Special shout outs to Chris Bauer, Chris Coy, Jamie Neumann, and Gary Carr. If you look closely, you’ll even see Ralph Macchio in several episodes.
- Sarah Jane
Nathan For You - Comedy Central
For three seasons, Canadian comedian Nathan Fielder’s Comedy Central show has brought me some of the biggest laughs I’ve ever had with his pseudo-prank show Nathan For You. Every week Nathan teams up with a struggling small business owner to devise some plan to drum up profits. The plans are as hilariously convoluted as ever and feel almost like mini heists with their complex setup and calculated execution, but this season they are not the highlight, that would be the season finale. Titled Finding Frances, the special two-hour episode follows Fielder and a Bill Gates impersonator’s journey to find his long lost love. It’s a great story, with natural drama and a surprise second parallel love story that had me wrapped up. This one episode is as, if not more, satisfying than any actual documentary I saw this year.
- Marcus Irving
This Is Us - NBC
With most of "peak TV" being on cable or streaming services, there hasn't been much hype for a network drama series in some time. However This Is Us has emerged as one of network TV's biggest hits with the critical acclaim to match. Revolving around generations of a family in several different timelines, the drama takes some cues from sci-fi storytelling and places them within a sweet, funny and often heartbreaking narrative. The expressive editing ties together the show's many plots and the warm, empathetic characters ground this time-hopping premise. The ensemble consists of stellar performers including Milo Ventimiglia, Emmy winner Sterling K. Brown, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chrissy Metz, Ron Cephas Jones, Chris Sullivan, and Justin Hartley (and a host of incredible teen and child actors). The backbone of the show however is the outstanding Mandy Moore, the lone actor who appears in all timelines. For me, this tearjerker TV show is a major highlight of 2017's pop culture. It's a rare show to feature good, kind people just trying to be happy and do right by the people around them.
- Manish Mathur
Big Little Lies - HBO
It’s like The Avengers of limited series. You have Oscar-nominee Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club, Wild) directing, David E. Kelley (L.A. Law, Ally McBeal) as showrunner, based on the best-selling book by Liane Moriarty, and starring—my god, this cast—Witherspoon, Kidman, Woodley, Kravitz, Scott, and DERN. The show itself is truly exceptional, as we see wives and mothers in Monterey, California deal with inter-community politics, love affairs, and sexual assault. In retrospect, this might be the most important TV show of 2017. Jane (Shailene Woodley) dealing with the past trauma of her rape, and Celeste (Nicole Kidman) trying to survive her increasingly violent and dangerous marriage with Perry (Alexander Skarsgård) are the two most harrowing plotlines running through this story. The beauty of the series is how each and every woman eventually confronts the violence and oppression by their male counterparts. Not only does it perfectly encapsulate a great-Sunday-afternoon-at-the-beach page-turner, it’s a smart, well-acted, piece on the power of women.
- Marcelo Pico
Happy! - SYFY
We’re only a few episodes in to Happy’s first season run over at SyFy, but it’s already proven to be the most insane thing that you can watch on TV. Grant Morrison teams up with Brian Taylor to bring Taylor’s film series Crank to the small screen in all but name. Our antihero, Nick (Christopher Meloni), is a hard drinking mess, but this ex-cop turned highly skilled if unprofessional hitman’s body can and does take a beating. Nick crosses paths with a girl named Hailey’s imaginary friend, Happy, a bright and fun little flying unicorn voiced by Patton Oswalt, because Happy needs Nick to save Hailey from a deranged kidnapper dressed as Santa Claus. It’s loads of fun to watch Meloni go fully unhinged in the show’s inventive and totally bonkers action sequences, of which there are plenty. Bloody, crass, and deeply upsetting, It never ceases to amaze me what this show gets away with week after week.
- Marcus Irving
Twin Peaks: The Return - Showtime
When it was first announced that Twin Peaks would be coming back 25 years after its initial cancellation by CBS I didn't know what to make of it. At that point I was a casual fan, having only seen the first season of the groundbreaking series but I knew that I'd have to watch it all in order to see this past summer’s Showtime revival. I eventually marathoned the Entire Mystery set that included the first two seasons as well as the maligned (upon release) Fire Walk With Me film, quickly making it one of my favorite TV shows.
Flash forward to May 21st when the new season finally premiered after years of speculation. What would this new Twin Peaks be? A natural continuation of the devastating cliffhanger provided by season two? Or perhaps a deep dive into David Lynch’s psyche, looking at the world we live in today? Or maybe a bonfire where the nostalgia we have for the past would be the fuel? What we got was essentially a Greatest Hits of the last 20 years of Lynch’s career with shades of Lost Highway, Mulholland Dr., and INLAND EMPIRE. Season Three or The Return (as fans have taken to calling it) cemented Twin Peaks as my number one show of all time. Featuring a career best performance by Kyle MacLachlan as Dale Cooper / Mr. C / Dougie Jones, and more of the mind bending storytelling from Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost that I've fallen in love with over the years, this is a great distillation of everything Lynch has been working towards his entire career. Sure it can meander at times, but the real treasure is what everything adds up to - a touching look at nostalgia and what it means to fans while also tearing apart what we think we know about that not so quiet little town in the Pacific Northwest.
- Matt Curione
American Vandal - Netflix
Presented as a docu-series made by two high schoolers investigating the phallic vandalism of the faculty’s cars, American Vandal never seems to realize how ridiculous its premise is. Featuring a lengthy investigation into a rumored hand-job, an alibi that revolves around an elaborate prank, and multiple straight-faced deliveries of the phrase “do the dicks”, it’s amazing that the show can keep a straight face. Part of its strength comes from Jimmy Tatro, who gives one of the best television performances of the year as Dylan Maxwell, the accused class clown who’s genuinely too dumb to have pulled off the crime. Tatro delivers every line with absolutely no self-awareness. He nails every punchline, but never knows he’s being laughed at. It’s his performance that makes the show so compelling. What could easily be a series making fun of true-crime ends up being a really compelling mystery, so much so that I’ve had several people tell me that they didn’t know it was a scripted show. The finale is one of my favorite episodes of the year, combining the confusing and disjointed conclusion of a true crime series with an examination of how broadcasting a thorough investigation can affect the lives of those being investigated. For a show that has a lengthy discussion into the different ways to draw penises, it’s got a lot of heart.
- Mark Watlington
The Good Place - NBC
NBC’s The Good Place is a fascinating little sitcom in so, so many ways. But maybe the most fascinating of them all is the way the writers write themselves out of corners on a weekly basis. The big reveal at the end of season one was a mind-blowing one, as it brought an element of shrewd darkness that you wouldn’t expect from the standard network comedy, as well as an intriguing narrative decision. There’s a clear, predictable path for the story to take from there, but instead of taking the easy way out, the writers challenge themselves every week with wildly creative episode premises. At the end of every episode, you’re left thinking, “How long can they keep pulling this off?”
Obviously, the answer is nowhere near as eternal as the afterlife we’re watching, but this fascinating juggling act keeps adding balls to the mix week after week. While it is a fantastic, hilarious show, it’s also unafraid to tap into that primal, human fear of eternity and suffering to make the emotional beats hit with a resounding impact. Add some pitch-perfect performances, and you’ve got a recipe for a deliciously wicked comedy that’s unlike anything else on television.
- Callie Smith
Search Party - TBS
I had no hopes that Search Party could recapture the magic after what seemed like such an inspired and self-contained first season, but boy was I wrong. Equal parts intriguing and laugh out loud hilarious, Season 2 continues Dory and company’s journey, and it’s much darker this time around. After murdering Keith (Ron Livingston), the disaffected gang buries the body and heads back to New York to lay low but instead must work hard to cover up their sloppy tracks. They must come together to deal with the police, a blackmailer, and patch up a quickly crumbling coverup narrative all while trying to advance their careers. The stakes feel real, every twist is genuinely earned, and there’s an unquantifiable yet palpable style that’s exhilarating. Last season there was a clear standout in John Early, and he’s just as snappy and witty as ever, but I felt that Meredith Hagner and John Reynolds were given more room to show off their enormous talents. Alia Shawkat is once again an exceptional lead, the perfect glue to hold it all together while portraying a complex range of emotion. She’s nothing short of captivating.
- Marcus Irving
Mindhunter - Netflix
It’s no secret, David Fincher is obsessed with serial killers. Even more, he’s obsessed with what the warped mind has to say. The kernel of the idea of his Netflix series is, “Let’s hear the most deranged people on Earth speak.” The result is as chilling as any of the sit-down talks with killers we’ve seen in Se7en, Zodiac, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Jonathan Groff plays the wide-eyed FBI agent, Holden Ford, who grabs his tape recorder as he tries to understand the likes of real-life serial killers Jerry Brudos, Richard Speck, and Edmund Kemper. What makes things that much more unpleasant is the fact that these conversations between Holden and the imprisoned criminals are all based on truth. Cameron Britton is the stand-out here, portraying Kemper; the scene in which he describes how exactly he murdered his mother, and what he did with the corpse afterwards, well, that remains one of the most stomach-churning moments of any medium this year, all without an ounce of blood or gore. Renewed for a second season, it’s frightening to think where exactly Fincher and Mindhunter will take us next.