10. Trial & Error — I don’t know why Trial & Error didn’t get more notice this year, but I’m grateful enough people watched it for NBC to renew it. It’s a fast-paced, irreverent and hysterical spoof of true crime documentaries about an unseasoned big-city lawyer (Nicholas D’Agosto) who takes on a murder case in a small town populated with some of the funniest characters of the year. It basically combines the humor of Arrested Development or Better Off Ted with the characters of a show like Parks & Recreation — good people often misguided by their earnestness — and it probably contains the funniest performance of John Lithgow’s career. As true-crime parodies go in 2017, Trial & Error narrowly edges out Netflix’s American Vandal (which is also great).
9. I’m Sorry — The under-appreciated and under-seen TruTV comedy finally put the talents of its creator and star, Andrea Savage, to perfect use. In this, uh, savage comedy, Savage plays a foul-mouthed comedian slash mom, who hilariously struggles to fit into real-world suburbia (wealthy, Los Angeles edition). Savage basically plays herself alongside her straight-man husband (Tom Everett Scott) and best friend, Jason Mantzoukas (essentially playing Jason Mantzoukas). It’s raunchy, vulgar, and abrasively honest, and the closest thing on television to what is basically the parenting version of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
8. G.L.O.W. — G.L.O.W. could not have come at a more perfect time. In the opening months of the Trump era, it was almost as if the world was craving a female-led wrestling comedy. There’s nothing particularly original about the series — fundamentally it’s a fairly formulaic underdog sports comedy — but the characters bring smart writing and filthy jokes to life. It’s peppered throughout with small life-affirming moments, and it ultimately delivers one of the best crowd-pleasing finales of 2017.
7. Sneaky Pete — Sneaky Pete comes from creators Bryan Cranston — who also plays the series’ villain — and David Shore (House), but it is the contributions of Justified showrunner Graham Yost that are most felt. Remember how in Justified’s best seasons, those hour-long episodes felt like 20 minutes? Yost brings that same crackling Ocean’s 11 energy to Sneaky Pete and a lot of the same actors, to boot. It’s a seriously entertaining show — full of little capers and stand-alone stories, not unlike Justified — but there are some real stakes involved, too, and a few bodies do eventually pile up (deaths, as they were in Justified, are usually seriocomic in nature). As the noose tightens, it becomes an impossible series to turn off because it’s so easy to invest in these funny, flawed characters, and we don’t want to see their lives upended. After 10 hours that feel like two, you’ll be aching to start another season of Sneaky Pete, even if it is two in the morning.
6. Brockmire — No show this year was more consistently funny than IFC’s Brockmire, a dark black comedy about alcoholism and self-destruction. Hank Azaria plays a baseball announcer who is drummed out of the major leagues after he melts down in the midst of his divorce. After spending time in Southeast Asia with a lot of prostitutes and cocaine, Amanda Peet — who plays the owner of a failing minor league team — attempts to resurrect his career stateside. The results are mixed, at best, and include an attempt by Brockmire to goose attendance by turning fans on one another and a few appearances by Joe Buck, who it turns out is a filthy animal (people who hate Joe Buck will hate him 30 percent less after Brockmire). It’s fantastically hilarious, and maybe what’s most refreshing about it is that Brockmire is not really redemptive. It’s mostly about a guy who doubles down on his moral depravity, and it works to surprising effect.
5. Big Little Lies — The HBO miniseries based on the Liane Moriarty novel was a lot of things early on: A soap opera about privileged white women, a twisty whodunnit murder mystery, and a platform upon which Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, and Alexander Skarsgård could deliver awards-worthy performances. But somewhere along the way, the murder mystery became tertiary, and the series grew into a powerful character-driven show about abuse and guilt and five women often at odds with each other, who bond and pull together over their shared experiences as women, as mothers, and as wives. The only downside to Big Little Lies was HBO’s decision to move ahead with a second season, threatening to taint an otherwise near perfect miniseries.
4. Patriot — I cannot emphasize enough how staggeringly great Patriot is (although Lord Castleton can). It’s a funny, suspenseful, incredibly tense spy thriller about all the things that can go wrong between Point A and B, no matter how straight a line there is between the two points. Michael Dorman, who is perfection here, plays an undercover, off-the-books CIA agent whose only task is to get a suitcase full of money from the United States to a guy overseas, and it’s remarkable how many ways that a single task can be upended, how many lives can be affected, and how many people are brought into its orbit. There have been a lot of shows that have attempted to be “next Breaking Bad,” but no show since has combined tension and great character work as well as Patriot.
3. The Handmaid’s Tale — Because the Hulu adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel was such a harrowing, bleak affair, part of me feels like I’m including it here out of obligation. But the other part of me knows how important The Handmaid’s Tale is, how applicable its themes are to modern times, how brilliant the writing and direction were, and how searing the performances of Elizabeth Moss, Yvonne Strahovski, Samira Wiley, and Alexis Bledel were. There weren’t very many moments in the first season of this show that I enjoyed, but its impact is lasting, and the way in which many of us see the world has been transformed. It’s a great show, and its placement should not be diminished because it didn’t give us
the happy feels.
2. Dear White People — Dear White People is frequently funny, it is well acted, it is insightful, and it is entertaining. But it’s also incredibly illuminating for the way it explores the social dynamics between Black People and White People, Woke People And People That Aren’t, Light-Skinned Black people and Dark Skinned Black people, and Black people who want to confront institutional racism from the outside and Black people who want to work within the system as best they can. It’s complicated as hell, and Dear White People challenges our prejudices at every turn, and illustrates maybe better than any show I have ever seen the complexities of race. It occasionally dabbles too heavily in romantic drama, but it almost always does so to illustrate a point. It’s a powerful show, but it’s also an immensely entertaining one. I genuinely loved this show, and I probably got more out of it than any other series this year.
1. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel — My favorite movie as a teenager was Pump Up the Volume, a 1990 Christian Slater film about a quiet high-school student who led a double-life as a rebellious talk radio host. I adored that movie, and I adored Hard-On Harry’s affinity for Lenny Bruce’s How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, a book I periodically browsed but didn’t really understand at the time. I get it now, and it’s the same rebellious spirit of that movie and of Lenny Bruce (who shows up periodically) that pervades The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which is strange considering that it’s about a wealthy, upper Eastside 1950’s housewife, who embarks on a career in stand-up comedy after her husband leaves her. Miriam Maisel (played with absolute perfection by Rachel Brosnahan) leads her own double life, as well. During the day, she’s a heartbroken housewife and mother navigating her life without a husband, but at night, she’s a fast-talking, foul-mouthed aspiring comedienne with a strong disdain for authority. It’s a period feminist comedy that also offers a peek into the stand-up scene in the 1950s. It’s also a delightful, supremely entertaining, near-flawless series that combines Amy Sherman Palladino’s wit and banter with magnificent period details and an outstanding cast.