We’re approaching the halfway point of the calendar year, and even though 2017 itself has felt like it’s been going on for a century in and of itself, time has marched on as it always has. As such, it’s time to take stock of the state of TV this year. Why wait for the end of the year to make some subjective lists that will annoy nearly everyone who reads them?
With that in mind, these are my ten favorite shows of 2017 so far. The caveats/rules:
— The show should have aired roughly at least half of its season in 2017. That eliminates The Good Place, which pains me, but it only aired four episodes this year, so it’s out. Twin Peaks: The Return is just starting, and I honestly think it’s criticism-proof, so it’s out as well.
— The show should be something I’ve actually seen. This hopefully eliminated most of the “But what about [insert show here]” or “You forgot [insert other show here].” I didn’t forget anything. Better Call Saul and Fargo aren’t on here because I don’t watch them. The fact that I don’t watch a show generally means I’ve given it a try and it’s not for me, so its exclusion is still valid.
— The show should be something I’ve kept up on. I loved the screeners for The Handmaid’s Tale, but I’ll confess it was also an incredibly hard watch and I keep making excuses not to revisit. That’s on me. I can’t put it on here based on future projections of continued quality.
With all that aside, and a second reminder that my list differing from yours is a feature of Peak TV, not a bug, here’s my top ten list, arranged alphabetically just to keep things fair.
13 Reasons Why (Netflix)
I’m guessing this will be a controversial inclusion, as reaction was predictably both intense and intensely mixed. But I also think you can’t talk about TV in 2017 without including it, and the negatives about this show (the often plodding plotting, that dude’s refusal to just listen to his damn tape already, the legal subplot) are so outweighed by the positives (the intensity of experience, the bold choices in the final episodes, the sympathy towards teenagers living in a social media-soaked world) that it ultimately turned into a success. The fact that there will be a season two seems like an incredible tactical error, but season one is still something really unique.
The Americans (FX)
I’ve written a lot about this show for this site this year, so no need to rehash it here. Despite some midseason wheel-spinning, this turned into a meditation on family over country, about people over institutions, and about questioning why so many of us do things so blindly. Those questions resonate far beyond its Cold War setting.
Fresh Off The Boat (ABC)
An utter and total delight, Fresh Off The Boat continues to find ways to make all of its characters deeper, weirder, and more three-dimensional each season. Constance Wu and Randall Park are the best married couple in TV comedy, Forrest Wheeler and Ian Chen are comedy assassins, and Eddie’s group of friends are the most bizarrely specific set of ancillary characters I’ve ever seen on a sitcom. The Fresh Off The Boat writers put more thought into what makes those kids tick than most shows do for their protagonists.
Into The Badlands (AMC)
This is the “chef’s kiss emoji” of TV shows. I honestly can’t tell you jack squat about the intricacies of the plot (something about a city and a medallion and a book and oh look I’ve gone cross-eyed), but I can tell you that it’s the most visually sumptuous show on TV and boasts the best action since Spartacus. Adding Nick Frost this season was a masterstroke, and while his history with the major characters was too convenient by half in most cases, he added a necessary amount of self-deprecation to a previously humorless world.
Jane The Virgin (The CW)
Confession time: As much as I love certain shows, I know there’s a distance between how much I love it and how much the superfans love it. That’s even true about a show like Lost, a show that I wrote about four times a week for three years even when there were no new episodes. All of this is a way to say that should The CW ever cancel Jane before Jennie Urman is ready to be done, I will picket their lot with a “Justice For Abuela” sign until the cops arrest me. That’s how emotionally invested I am in this show. All three seasons are on Netflix right now. If you haven’t started, make this your summer project. You won’t regret it.
The Leftovers (HBO)
Here’s a perfect example of why not all shows need to last forever. I don’t wish unemployment on anyone, but where could the show possibly go after its last, best season? Pairing Josh with Lucy was a masterstroke, in that it expanded the show’s narrow (albeit brilliant) perspective and added a universality to its metaphorical storytelling. Lucy wasn’t perfect, but she was a perfect match for Josh, and given the show’s title, and the beautiful perfection of its final episode, it felt like the right time to leave this particular world. I have a sneaking suspicion this will live on as a cult classic, as the sentiments expressed and the methods through which they were visually represented will always resonate.
Master Of None (Netflix)
Man oh man oh man. I’ve not stopped thinking about certain episodes of this show since I binged them pre-air. Almost nothing better is the feeling of, “I have literally no idea what I’m about to watch,” and Master Of None delivers that all the freakin’ time. “New York, I Love You,” “Thanksgiving,” and “Amarsi Un Po’” are so excellent that they made me mad that more TV isn’t 20 percent as good as those episodes. I know we have to wait a long time for more episodes, should they ever come, but I’m so glad I can continually revisit these in the meantime.
One Day At A Time (Netflix)
I grew up watching multi-cams. They are in my TV DNA. Cheers is still my favorite comedy of all time, and that sure as heck is a multi-cam. I thought I hated multi-cams in the wake of the single-camera revolution. Turns out I just hated crappy multi-cams. One Day At A Time (and The Charmichael Show, which hasn’t aired enough episodes yet to qualify here) prove that small storytelling can yield large emotional rewards if you just care enough to construct compelling conflicts. The care and love that went into making this show is evident in every frame, and its existence makes 2017 easier to tolerate.
Wynonna Earp (SyFy)
Look, I just wrote a ton about this. The premiere aired last Friday. I’ve seen the next three, and they are all great. I wish everyone had a show that makes them as happy as this one makes me. Shows that simply depict the crappy parts of life aren’t any more “truthful” than those that refuse to have anything bad happen to anyone. We all live in various spectrums in between those two extremes, and the spectrum in Purgatory is one in which people love when they have every reason to give into despair. Throw fun monsters, compelling characters, and one of the pluckiest vibes on any show on any network, and you have a true winner.