Just as it has been and always shall be in this platinum age of television, it’s nearly impossible to see all the great programs being broadcast out into our great lands. Heck, it’s often we get stuck picking the wrong show and realizing we’ve wasted precious viewing years on Grey’s Anatomy or NCIS: Los Angeles. Not all of us realized The Leftovers was going to be that good!
Anyway, here’s the definitive list of my favorite television programs of 2017:
10) Master of None and Mr. Robot
Sure, I know I’m cheating a bit by having these two shows – but there’s a good reason, I haven’t officially finished their most recent seasons. Netflix shows are meant to binge, but for Master of None it’s like a sweet Italian wine you want to savor and contemplate. Given that Aziz Ansari flew the whole production to Modena and Pienza in northern Italy for the first few episodes of the second season, that’s an apt descriptor. Ansari also utilized his knowledge and love of Italian cinema to frame some of the scenes, so it’s a cinephile’s dream right off the bat. I preferred to wait and let the flavor of this beautiful little treat of a show waft around me, and will likely finish it off when there’s a slow period in 2018. As for Mr. Robot, I’ve been watching that with my mother this whole time – and despite my obvious love and extensive word-count on the subject – we’ve fallen behind with her teaching and my other work, as well as catching up on our number 4 show, only recently wrapping up with that. The actual show seems to be reaching another high point, as they’ve gotten past the growing pains of realizing what to do with an imaginary Christian Slater. The stones that were laid for that character are paying off heavy dividends as Slater is giving a master class on sinister bipolar reactions, and Rami Malek is able to mimic his father/ghost/mentor/enemy with such succinct detail that it’s no wonder this show is getting rave reminders that it’s on the upswing this season. Once we’ve caught up, there’s no doubt I’ll set to work on a third edition of my now-famous “Is Mr. Robot better than Gotham” series.
9) Santa Clarita Diet
Who would have thought a zombie comedy could be so heartfelt? Reminding one of Showtime hits like The United States of Tara and Weeds but with a gross-out twist, Drew Barrymore stars as a no-nonsense realtor who finds herself one day turning into a zombie. The mystery of how she’s technically undead is half the fun, while rest is taken up by the wickedly hilarious turn by Timothy Olyphant, who plays her obliviously sincere husband. At times completely disgusting, you’ll be surprised to find that the little family formed by this tragic event are endearing despite the bloodshed. Throw in some inane plots that even Nancy Botwin couldn’t pull herself out of, and you have yourself the next underrated hit comedy.
I first heard of Pete Holmes from the Badman shorts on Funny or Die. His straightforward take on how ridiculous Christian Bale’s gruff vocals were in The Dark Knight trilogy were such a delight that I was hoping he’d break out somewhere else. Lucky for us, he got his own HBO show this past spring, where he showcased some of his stand-up talents. Stemming from his personal life, as all good slice-of-life comedian shows have the past few years, this tells of his sudden divorce and subsequent misadventures around New York City as he tries to find himself emotionally and monetarily – especially given that he has to bounce around friends’ apartments until he can afford a new locale of his own. It’s pretty standard fare these days, but Pete Holmes adds that extra special sincerity that I’ve loved from day one.
7) Rick and Morty
Yes, I tried to get some of that stupid delicious szechuan sauce. No, it probably was never going to be worth it. We’re all going to have some disappointments in life, and the third season of Rick and Morty hedges its bets on that motif. From Rick’s daughter Beth discovering her imaginary playland was a Jumanji-esque rainbow trap where her childhood friend lived for twenty years to Jerry’s ongoing struggles as deadbeat dad living in slum apartments, we saw several episodes that push our heroes to their limits – all the while questioning whether any of it was worth it. The true highlight of the season was ‘Rick-lantis’, where we step away from our adventurers to take a look back in on The Citadel, the fortress planet that houses virtually every other Rick and Morty that exists in the multiverse. Through several storylines that reference everything from Willy Wonka to Training Day (in a much better way than Bright ever could) we learn that an old villain from season one (a rogue Morty) has re-emerged and taken over the planet. Will this set up an arc for season four, or is it merely a brilliant bottle episode that posits the meaning of life for a lowly janitor, even if he happens to be the smartest man on the planet, just the same as everyone else? True disappointment would be missing out on one of the great modern animated programs.
6) The Good Place
Phew! For a while during the charmingly saccharine first season of Kristen Bell’s new NBC sitcom, we thought it would be a one-and-done blip of a show. The idea behind a woman finding herself in ‘heaven’ even though she’s meant for ‘hell’ is a good Twilight Zone episode, but would it work over several seasons? The true test was the finale of that first season, when it was revealed that Ted Danson’s guardian angel was actual a demon architect named Michael that was trying out some new torture methods and had pitted four denizens against each other in an attempt to drive them all insane. It backfired, as Kristen Bell’s Eleanor genuinely befriended her fake soulmate Chidi (a great William Jackson Harper) as they hope to end Michael’s reign of terror. In the end, Michael was unable to continue the torture, and a novel approach to the situation finds all of the humans teaming up with the demon to overthrow his mutinous employees. The third best part of this show? I truly don’t know where this plot will take us, and I’m thrilled that this turned out so surprisingly ingenious. The second best part? The show-writers are utilizing so much philosophy, and really diving deep into what it truly means to be human, even if you’re a demon. The actual best part? Ted Danson’s incredibly dextrous performance as the conflicted otherworldly creature, which may just be a career best.
5) Future Man
Just like that, Josh Futterman became the most important person in history. It’s a shame no one will really know, but that’s the brilliant result from this clever time-bending Hulu comedy. Josh Hutcherson plays the titular ‘Future Man’ who beats an impossible video game and pulls two time-traveling soldiers from their apocalyptic 2162. What they expect is to find an elite fighter who’s trained on their most difficult program available, but Futterman clearly thought it was merely a trifle. He becomes swept up in a zany world of machismo, portals, racial tension and references to movies like Back to the Future and The Last Starfighter and shows like Quantum Leap. Naturally I was going to love something so referential – and it doesn’t hurt that Hutcherson nails his role as the everyman janitor thrust into unspeakably strange situations. The true standouts though are Eliza Coupe (Happy Endings) and Derek Wilson (Preacher) who play the inane mercenaries Tiger and Wolf respectively. Jimmy and I binged this in one sitting and it’s well worth it – sometimes you need to just absorb something all at once to truly appreciate it, and this falls on that side of the argument.
4) Twin Peaks
One thing you must say about David Lynch’s work – it’s always unexpected. It’s also usually surprisingly delightful. After twenty-five years in hiding, Kyle Maclachlan’s Agent Cooper and the good citizens of his favorite little town in northern Washington state are back to entertain us. In the convening years, plenty has changed those wholesome yokels, as well as the FBI agents that invaded their town in the early 1990s. Something devious blossomed in the heart of Cooper, forcing a duality between the innocent Dale (now reincarnated from the White Lodge into a sort of deadbeat brother-in-law named Dougie) and a nefarious Bob-infested original Agent Cooper. Leather and Laura Dern spell the dark side, while goofiness and Mulholland Drive‘s Naomi Watts pervade the light side. While we attempt to decipher the labryinthian storylines, David Lynch delights in weirding us out. For those that are fans, it’s clear what his methods have developed, especially if they were able to sit through the intense moodpiece Inland Empire. Some of stated that this is a metaphor for Lynch rediscovering his own mojo in directing, but I don’t think it ever went away. If you didn’t like what he’s doing, it’s not like he was never for you – it’s just you might not appreciate latter-day existentialism. You also don’t have to like it, and there are several reasons why – not enough of the old crew (half are dead, though, aren’t they?) – not enough explanation (where is Audrey, really? Why is James bald?) and really, why did we waste an entire episode in the desert in the 1950s? My guess is that Lynch loves to let you interpret art however you’d like, and he’s just giving us the vessel.
3) Search Party
This show creeped into my mind so much over the past year that it was the mostly hotly anticipated show for me, easily. Alia Shawkat showcases her skills in her eyes, and John Early subverts his acerbic humor into a brilliant defense mechanism. John Paul Reynolds’ uses his mopey and dopey aw shucks demeanor to underwhelm everyone around him into ignoring any devious antics, and Meredith Hanger’s innocence makes her the perfect foil for all of their obliviou shenanigans. Beyond the four of them, the plot is so tight a mystery that you can’t look away at the trainwreck they’ve gotten themselves into. If you know what happened at the end of season one, then you know the writers were in for a difficult fix for season two – and after leaving the Scooby-Doo mission behind, it becomes a Hitchockian alternation. The cinematography reflects this beautifully, as there’s even reference to Vertigo, Rear Window and The Man Who Knew Too Much. If you’re a fan of Fellini from Master of None, you’ll love the Kubrck in Search Party.
2) Big Little Lies
Jean-Marc Vallee perfects a view from the periphery: in the show’s climactic moment, he even mutes the dialogue so that we don’t know the main characters’ sides of events, something we’d been waiting for the entire series. Even the follow-up scene, where the investigating detective shows up at a funeral, still suspecting one of the leads, we don’t go through the stereotypical motions of accusing them from a distance – instead we hear their pen click – a subtle clue we were given in each episode as we were getting closer to the investigator figuring out the truth. Sound was integral to this show, as was the impeccable soundtrack. Michael Kiwanuka’s melodiuous intro “Cold Little Heart” is a perfect aural entryway into the mood of the show. You’re never quite sure what anyone’s motivation is – from calculating Renata Klein (Laura Dern) to put-upon housewife play producer Madeline Mackenzie (Reese Witherspoon) to knife-sharp former lawyer Celeste Wright (Nicole Kidman). When newcomer Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley) upends their affluent microcosm, all hell breaks loose. The adult drama is reflected in their younger counterparts, played by particularly brilliant child actors Iain Armitage (Young Sheldon) and Darby Camp. It’s as much a show about growing up as finally accepting that you’re an adult, and the lies that we tell ourselves along the way. It’s simply brilliant, and it has five stellar women to anchor the proceedings.
Speaking of incredible women, this Netflix offering has a dozen gorgeous women that end up falling into the strangest job of their lives – lady wrestling. Alison Brie plays down-and-out actress Ruth, who – at the end of her ropes – signs on to the pseudo-sport as a last resort project hoping to revitalize her resume. Little does she realize that she’ll be the one to galvanize the other girls into action and prove that the “pseudo” part doesn’t really apply. Alongside her are Cherry Bang (Sydelle Noel), Rhonda (Kate Nash) and Carmen Wade (Britney Young) and multiple other colorful characters that populate the arena. Their “director” is played with caddish charm by Marc Maron, and the scenes between he and Brie are some of the year’s best. The way they can share an entire conversation with just their eyes speaks volumes in a year where some of the best stuff was in silence. The last component to make this show spark is Betty Gilpin, playing Debbie, Ruth’s only friend. The show begins with Ruth destroying Debbie’s marriage, and the subsequent episodes attempt to repair their reluctant friendship by forcing them to lift up girl power (and each other in finisher moves). A true surprise, let this eat at your soul as you contemplate what it means to truly relate to each other when friends and coworkers are all you have.
Ones to Catch Up on: Godless, The Leftovers, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Sinner, Get Shorty
Honorable Mentions: Ghosted, The Orville, Legion, White Famous
That’s all, folks! We’re off until next week when Cory and I will be discussing our most anticipated films of 2018, and I’ll likely launch back into Music to Your Ears. We’re looking forward to revamping the look of our little podcast website, as well as figuring out what direction we want to take everything in. We ope you have a happy new year, from all of us – Cory, Tristan, Jimmy, Jeff, Brad, et al – at Interjections!