With nearly 500 scripted series available to watch in 2017, television officially exited the Peak TV era, nestling firmly into its new identity, which we semi-affectionately refer to as the Most TV generation of television. And what a year it was for television, from Twin Peaks: The Return, to the return of NBC to comedic prominence, to the visual splendors of newcomers like American Gods and Legion, and heartfelt farewells to iconic series like Girls, Halt and Catch Fire, and The Leftovers. After thousands of hours of cumulative consumption, here is Goomba Stomp’s definitive list of the Best TV of 2017. Enjoy!
Editor’s Note: We decided to list these shows alphabetically since we had so many ties.
Honourable Mentions: Manhunt Unabomber, Better Things, Orange is the New Black, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Feud: Bette and Joan, Sneaky Pete, Baskets, Broad City, Big Little Lies, Top of the Lake: China Girl and One Mississippi.
This was no one’s favorite season of The Americans. In its fifth year, FX’s acclaimed spy/family drama got even more deliberate than usual, lowering the immediate stakes, lingering on needlessly cryptic plots, and placing its already-familiar characters under an even tighter scope to little appreciable effect. Yet, even in an “off” year, it’s still one of the tautest and most psychologically astute shows around, and the performances from Matthew Rhys, Keri Russell, Noah Emmerich, and Holly Taylor are (almost) endlessly renewable resources. Chalk it up to the penultimate season curse – too concerned with setting up the final season to provide enough compelling material all its own. (More or less the exact same issue cropped up with FX’s Justified in its next-to-last season as well.) Still, Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg have earned more than enough goodwill for us to assume the final season will be one for the ages. (Simon Howell)
What’s there not to like about American Gods, a series of wildly ambitious filmmaking that rewards viewers’ with extraordinary visuals, haunting music, and stellar performances by a star-studded cast that includes Deadwood’s Ian MacShane and Gillian Anderson appearing as the late David Bowie. Adapted from the 2001 bestseller by geek icon Neil Gaiman, the new Starz series is the latest act of aesthetic derring-do from Bryan Fuller, the genius behind Hannibal and Pushing Daisies. American Gods is violent, sexual, bloody, gruesome, grimy and bizarre. It’s also one of the most beautiful and invigorating new television series that takes every aspect of show-running Bryan Fuller is famous for and runs wild with it.
Working with screenwriter Michael Green and Hannibal helmer David Slade, Fuller takes more risks than anyone else on television, and at the very least, American Gods is wildly different, highly entertaining and downright jaw-dropping. The boundary-shattering sex scene between Muslim immigrants — Salim (Omid Abtahi) and the Jinn (Mousa Kraish) — is one of 2017’s essential TV moment as is the scene in which Yetide Badaki’s goddess character, Bilquis, devours her helpless partner in the midst of their first sexual encounter. Whether you’re a fan of Neil Gaiman’s novel or a curious newcomer, American Gods will make a believer out of you. (Ricky D)
All cards on the table; American Vandal is my favorite show of 2017. There may have been shows that were more meaningful, more iconic, and maybe even more memorable, but nothing left the immediate impact of Netflix’s understated satire of true crime documentaries (or, alternatively, the best show about high school to air since Freaks and Geeks). The saga of Dylan Maxwell – and Hanover High’s 2016-17 school year – enraptured me like no other series did this year, expertly walking the fine line between legitimate commentary on the documentary form, and sending up every trope in the hyper-masculine High School Drama, in the process creating a surprisingly deft, intelligent examination of both its fictional subjects, and the very real effects deep, invasive documentaries have on the people they examine, and the people tied up in constructing the narrative around that material.
Equal parts ridiculously meticulous (the handjob recreation of episode two and the party Snapchat breakdowns in episode four are among the best scenes of TV to air this year), American Vandal is the single most heartfelt piece of filmmaking I saw in the television realm in 2017. A show whose interests were split between being the ultimate send-off of the uber-serious “true crime” documentary, and an engaging, thorough dissection of how high school challenges, reforms, and even destroys an individual’s sense of identity.
Yes, Peter and Sam’s investigation into who drew the dicks is a cascade of penis jokes and juvenile humor; but they’re the best dick jokes, all told in service of a surprisingly engrossing mystery, one with as many twists, turns, head fakes, and exciting reveals (the paint splatter!) as its many dramatic counterparts on television. Plus, it features a fascinating, complex protagonist in Dylan Maxwell, who for all his dumbassery, is easily one of the most compelling character studies of 2017. (Randy Dankievitch)
Attack on Titan
After a smash hit first season that set it as one of the most popular animes of all time, Attack on Titan tortured fans with a staggering four-year wait for its shorter second season.
So was it worth the wait? Well, in a word, yes. Though Attack on Titan’s second season might be a bit surprising due to its early focus on side-characters and world-building, by the end of this sophomore effort things have gotten crazier than even the most subjective of fans might have guessed.
With another killer theme song, a few brutal twists, and one of the greatest battles in anime history, Attack on Titan season 2 may not be what you expected but it absolutely wows all the same.
If you feel a bit stuffy about anime, trust me, this is the show to change your mind. Add to that the recent announcement that next year will see the third season coming much faster than expected, and fans can look forward to giving their heart once again very soon. (Mike Worby)
Better Call Saul
Though Better Call Saul has spent much of its existence sheltered in the limelight of its prestige television parent, Breaking Bad, its sense of tone and careful confidence have done a lot to set it apart from its beloved forebear.
With that in mind, season 3 has been a bit of a juxtaposition on both fronts. While the show has never been more audacious or ambitious than in its tragic-comic third season, it has also been using more and more Breaking Bad leverage than ever before. With Hector Salamanca front and center, the introduction of everyone’s favorite chicken-loving kingpin, Gus Fring (a chilling Giancarlo Esposito), and Jimmy inventing the alter ego of “Saul Goodman”, things are getting closer and closer to the world where we were first introduced to New Mexico’s underground drug trade.
Still, Better Call Saul soars in what might be its best season yet, driving a hard wedge between Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) and his troubled brother Chuck (Michael McKean, doing his career-best work here) while setting up a world of possibilities with the newly realized partnership between Mike and Gus. Finally, Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) is given the opportunity to shine as never before, with a particular twilight moment toward the end of the season giving her what might be her most interesting arc yet.
Either way, after a cliffhanger ending like that, one thing is for sure: we’re going to find ourselves looking at a very different Jimmy McGill come next season. (Mike Worby)
Black Mirror, despite being profoundly unsettling, has a wickedly simple premise: what if there were dark, unseen ramifications to the technologies we play, work, and depend on? In its fourth season, the show achieves something truly improbable, by continuing to stave off any staleness that might come from reworking and repackaging of such a simple premise with each new episode. The series has shifted–almost imperceptibly but critically–from illustrating technology as a dangerous enabler of our worst instincts to depicting various devices that are the products of human malevolence. Episodes like “Black Museum,” “U.S.S. Callister,” and “Metalhead” propose realities where technology is designed by people either trying to physically harm others, or attempting to snatch their agency; to rob their humanity entirely.
This is in many ways a bleaker-than-usual season of Black Mirror, which is its own type of achievement. There is less of a reliance on paradigm shifting twists or obvious commentary packaged as a clever metaphor, and more of a willingness to stare human enmity in the face; to call it what it is, and to partially absolve technology itself. Early seasons of the series concocted devices that appeared as innocuously as any iPhone or Google Home, but preyed insidiously on human nature. Season Four marries tech to human nature; the devices we see have distinct human fingerprints and hew closer to the overt motivations of their creators.
Black Mirror once seemed to argue for the neutrality of technology, and for the devastating potential humans have to corrupt it, to bend it to their needs – think of episodes such as “An Entire History of You,” “Men Against Fire,” or “Hated in The Nation.” Now it seems to be arguing that neutrality was a myth in the first place – particularly relevant in a time when social media has transcended from an arena for cat pictures to a forger of reality for some, able to swing electorates; and in a time when American politicians have recently voted to abolish Net Neutrality itself. In one important way, Black Mirror hasn’t changed: the series constantly reminds us that technological development is profit-driven and that consumers are fodder for creators. Season four just seems more committed to illustrating the ugliness in that transaction, not just the result of it. (Michael Haigis)
After BoJack‘s ambitious, harrowing third season – which culminated in a powerful ending that was equal parts heartbreaking and peacefully eloquent, there were a lot of open questions on what was next for our bipedal protagonist and his merry band of fucked-up friends and colleagues. The answer? BoJack went deeper, digging into the genetic history – and future – of BoJack to find new ways to explore the broken psyche of a horse who is more of a man (or a man who is more of a horse, depending on who you ask). With it came the introduction of Hollyhock Manheim-Mannheim-Guerrero-Robinson-Zilberschlag-Hsung-Fonzerelli-McQuack and Beatrice Horseman, offering BoJack a new set of familial dynamics to dig its nails into, which led to another surprisingly emotional arc for what is arguably the most cynical, depressing, and thoroughly inspirational half hour available on any network, streaming or otherwise (in fact, the only show that can come close is CBS’s Mom).
Though there is certainly a debate to be had around the overall effectiveness of the wild narratives surrounding Mr. Peanutbutter’s political run and disappointment to be expressed around the reduced importance of Todd and Diane to the main plot, there’s no denying the powerful moments catalyzed by the show’s exploration of the generations past, present, and future for its main character. That, combined with the show’s absolute mastery of comic delivery (and animal punnery, of course), further cemented BoJack’s position as one of the best comedies on television, not to mention one of the best series of the past decade. (Randy Dankievitch)
The Carmichael Show
There are a lot of shows vying to be the most #Woke show on television; many of them, however, wear their agendas on their sleeves, their crowd-sourced opinions so brazenly presented as to garnish #support from audiences and #thinkpieces from hip #millennials… it’s a growing problem in the age of Crowd Think TV (the post-Peak TV age we are beginning to enter, that David Lynch is extremely determined to break with his own show… more on that from Simon in this article, however). The Carmichael Show is the perfect antithesis to that, a show that isn’t looking to appease any liberal or conservative agendas when it discusses the social, emotional, and mental impacts of such topics like rape, transgender athletes, religion, marriage… basically any culturally relevant topic sitcoms won’t touch with a ten foot pole, The Carmichael Show dives into head first, without hesitation.
However, the bold approach to current events and debates is not one that comes without nuance; and that’s what makes The Carmichael Show one of the most impressive achievements in modern television. Using the traditional, multi-camera sitcom as a backdrop, Jerrod Carmichael, Nick Stoller, and his team of writers shape conversations around questions, rather than suggesting they know better by forming plot around what they think the most socially acceptable answer would be – The Carmichael Show‘s conclusions are often layered, complex, and brutally honest, translating Carmichael’s stand-up into fertile comedic and dramatic territory with a surprising amount of confidence and accessibility.
It’s unfortunate the show was canceled this year, because its much-delayed third season has already tackled topics like mass shootings, rape, assisted suicide, and examinations of beauty…. there’s never been a laugh-track comedy like The Carmichael Show, a show that not only schools leagues of Prestige dramas trying to be #relevant on how to examine both sides of an issue but still remembers to be a hilarious comedy about family and relationships at the same time. It’s a balancing act like TV’s never seen, and probably won’t again anytime soon. (Randy Dankievitch)
Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney’s dark-but-humane comedy series about adult fuckups trying to build a life together is sort of a feeling person’s answer to You’re the Worst, offering an unsparing look at alcoholism, grief, relationship and parenting anxieties, and more, always with a lacerating punchline or seven lying in wait. Horgan and Delaney’s exquisite comic chemistry (they co-write every episode) keeps the proceedings light enough to ensure even when the subject matter inevitably gets heavy, but even the most hardened viewers might have trouble resisting a tear or two when Carrie Fisher, whose Catastrophe character is much closer to her real-life persona than Princess Leia ever was, makes what we can assume are her final appearances this season. (Simon Howell)
Crazy Ex Girlfriend
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend remains one of the best shows on television in 2017.
It’s a break-up show, with lots of songs. On paper, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend doesn’t work. In practice, it remains one of the smartest and most fun shows on television. A musical comedy that follows the painfully honest ups and downs of a troubled and intelligent young woman- Crazy Ex is rich with diversity, incisive subtext, and deep characterization. And funny as hell. It’s School House Rock for dismantling the patriarchy, and it’s awesome to learn.
Crazy Ex gleefully resists conventional explanation. Outwardly and at first, Rachel Bloom and Alicia Brosh McKenna’s hour-long musical sitcom is easy to mistake or dismiss for the script that it so slyly flips and re-flips. A big city gal seems to have it all, but despite outward success, internal unhappiness looms. Adrift in despair, she spies her forgotten teen romance. Glittery sparks fly, old gears turn, and she follows lost love to a slow-paced small town where her uptown ways fritter away. Her sights are set on a simpler life, on fixing her broken soul and re-connecting with Mr. Right. Songs are sung. This all resembles rom-com and gets us ready for familiar and cozy feelings. That is until Bloom and McKenna slap you with the deconstruction of your every expectation.
Now in its third season, the loving deconstruction continues to unfold as the songs and cast continue to surprise and, dare we say it, delight.
We sit back and wait for True Love to blossom in all of its familiar televised glory, but the rosy veneer feels cracked from the start, and more and more real problems unfold rather than retread and resolve. Like life. In a world filled with fake news and broken online personas, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend speaks rare truths through well-crafted comedy, drama, and music. Watch it. (Marty Allen)
Dear White People
The characters in Dear White People, a group of ivy league students, populate the series’ intersectional narrative with heady ideas about the complexities of race, class, and oppression. The (mostly) black characters, while united by skin tone, represent a vast diversity of experience, and each jumps from the screen with unique perspective crafted by backstories that the series cleverly weaves around one flash point: a blackface fraternity event that devolves into a race riot when the school’s black students crash the party.
Sam, a biracial firebrand, weaponizes her college radio time slot, railing against the overwhelmingly white patriarchy of the institution and acting as the central figure in Dear White People. But as much as the show is addressed to a blissfully ignorant monoculture, especially in Sam’s oration, it’s her interplay with friends (and enemies) that gives the series’ broad cultural commentaries an undeniable sense of specificity.
Sam’s boyfriend Gabe is a well-meaning white liberal dude, who clumsily attempts to navigate Sam’s proudly black social landscape. Scenes of tension, and humor, in Gabe’s endeavor, are never treated entirely as tribalism on behalf of Sam’s friends or ignorance on behalf of Gabe; the series eschews such easy constructs (and the easy solutions those constructs would beget), in favor of crafting a world that resembles nuanced reality, full of characters driven as much by their ideas as by their emotion.
The fiercely intellectual Reggie pines for Sam, adding a layer of personal scorn to his rebukes of Gabe. Coco, who has purposefully joined the school’s waspy white segment, clashes with Sam over who has the right to define “black”; Sam, is after all, biracial – Coco is not. The conversations in Dear White People are multitudinous, and hilarious, and heartbreaking, and frustrating. Sam and her friends have an infinite number of questions, but few answers, which is fine. With a wry sense of humor and a keen understanding of human emotion, Dear White People pointedly asks the questions anyway and suggests you do the same. (Michael Haigis)
David Simon never truly left television, even it has been some time since he created anything as impactful as The Wire. He’s created a full-blown series – Treme – since that show ended, as well as smaller projects like Generation Kill and Show Me a Hero. And like all of Simon’s work, those three series shared attributes: a journalistic attention to detail, a sympathetic view of the proletariat, and extremely low viewership numbers. With The Deuce, though, Simon appears to have found a story with the potential to match both the popularity and the urgency of his masterpiece ode to the dying American city.
Like The Wire, The Deuce paints a broad portrait of a city in flux – in this case, the New York City of 1970. Simon and his longtime collaborator George Pelecanos have a knack for interrogating the factors that shape economies while weaving detailed and humanistic tapestries of the laborers who flounder as work disappears. The Deuce focuses on the sex workers of 1970’s Times Square and commits to illustrating that world in unflinching, loving detail. It can be uncomfortable, tense, and occasionally harrowing, but Simon also allows the joy of characters’ everyday life to bleed into the frame, with grace notes that echo the most memorable exchanges from The Wire.
Without some dramatic inciting event or McGuffin for narrative thrust, the season meanders through a year in New York, focusing our attention on events both cataclysmic and not. We will remember the quiet, human moments: pimps and cops joking around at a shoeshine stand, or with the Times Square prostitutes grousing over cigarettes like any other weary workforce. Importantly, Simon sensed his own limitations writing for such an overwhelmingly female cast, enlisted the help of renowned crime fiction authors Megan Abbott and Lisa Lutz to add perspective to the series’ writers room. The result is a series with a sprawling cast of fully realized characters and a world that beckons the audience and has us wanting to simply spend time with The Deuce. (Michael Haigis)
Fargo’s third season is all about the perception of truth: if enough people tell you that an apple is a pear will you eventually believe them? Despite being set in 2010 season 3 of Fargo is very much a commentary on Trump’s post-truth America. There is a scene late in the season where Russian goon Yuri tries to convince a cop standing not ten feet away from him that he’s not really there. It’s a scene that could have easily ended up being ridiculously absurd but instead plays out like an allegory for the gaslighting the country as a whole endured on an almost daily basis in 2017.
The third season of Fargo continues to nail the tone of the Coen brothers original film with a group of oddball characters committing acts of both dark comedy and gratuitous violence. The cast this year was top notch: both Mary Elizabeth Winstead as bad girl and bridge aficionado Nikki Swango and Carrie Coon’s small-town sheriff Gloria Burgle stand out as particularly good.
The best part of Fargo though has always been the villains and season 3 is no exception. David Thewlis’s V.M. Varga is more in line with season one’s Lorne Malvo than anyone from season two but where Malvo was straight up evil for evil’s sake, Varga is more of a boorish glutton who’s status as a villain is more a side effect of his insatiable appetite for wealth and his apathy towards any of the people he has to step on to get it. Varga’s greed is highlighted by his bulimia a result of his inability to eat anything less than a grossly indulgent smorgasbord – easily enough food for three people – at every single meal.
There’s been speculation that Fargo may not continue after this season and honestly, that might not be a bad idea. As it stands now, Noah Hawley has delivered three near-perfect seasons of television, to try to and maintain that level of creativity might be tempting fate. On the other hand, if anyone can do it, it’s Hawley. In the end, there’s no telling how far the show will go…and that’s why I don’t write for television. (Zachary Zagranis)
Game of Thrones
Season seven of Game of Thrones was the put up or shut up season for its showrunners and for its fans. Would the fantasy juggernaut fold under the weight of its hype and mythology, becoming just another tease of cool stuff around the corner (looking at you, The Walking Dead)? Would its fans embrace a new frontier beyond George R.R. Martin’s book series and beyond the blood-filled, sex-crazed political soap opera that kept them tuning in? The answers were more nuanced than season seven turned out to be, a truncated seven episode smorgasbord of accelerated plot and satisfying payoff that finally cut the contrarian prestige TV bullshit and got to the pulp. To borrow a phrase from The Simpsons, Game of Thrones got to the “fireworks factory,” and it was glorious indeed. Characters long separated were reunited, seasons long strategic machinations were realized, and dragons were unleashed in some of the best technical wizardry in the history of TV. For many fans, it was an unholy mess of “how did they get there?, “how did they know that?,” and “who are they kidding?” But for those who were willing to sit back and bask in the delicious silliness of it all, it was a feast. Winter came to Westeros. About goddamn time. (Shane Ramirez)
Whatever the weaknesses of Girls‘ sixth and final season, you can’t say it didn’t go out on its own terms. For all the hemming and hawing when it first premiered that super-producer Judd Apatow would iron out Lena Dunham’s peculiarities in favor of a more mainstream sensibility, Dunham’s brand of hyper-neurotic comedy-of-discomfort hasn’t diluted over the years; if anything, it’s subtly pulled the rest of television a little closer to its orbit instead.
The last season opened strong with a series of episodes intended as “one-offs” Dunham and company always wanted to try out but never found room for in the previous seasons; in the age of the arc, Girls always relished self-contained, high-concept episodes as a chance to shed new light on its characters and explore new tonal possibilities. While it stumbled later in the season as it attempted to cap things off inappropriately messy fashion, Girls has left its mark on the medium; no climactic missteps can change that, whether you like it or not. (Simon Howell)
Considering how incredibly popular professional wrestling is, it’s amazing that it took this long for someone to make a television show about it. With spot-on 1980s period detail, knockout writing, and a killer cast, Netflix’s wrestling drama GLOW is fast, funny, poignant, and absurd. It’s also chock-full of sharp commentary, great performances, and a smartly written plot, allowing the ensemble cast of women characters to emerge in an organic way.
Indeed, the real strength of GLOW is in its exploration of their friendships. Wrestling may be fake, but the relationships these characters forge throughout the season, always ring true. Each episode runs around 30 minutes, which allows the show to delve into individual stories and spin a larger arc, without ever dragging on its heels. It isn’t quite a comedy and isn’t exactly a drama, but it is nevertheless, always a blast to watch. (Ricky D)
The Good Place
Many shows of the past decade have been saddled with the adage of being “the next LOST“, an endless parade of failed sci-fi premises, “event” dramas (like NBC’s aptly titled The Event), and Super Convoluted Mystery shows addled by an unfair, often unearned comparison with FOX’s divisive (and iconic) series. Not only is The Good Place the first show to earn that comparison (at least on the Big Four), but it may be the first show to actually surpass the legacy of its spiritual predecessor, in terms of philosophic ambition, narrative bravery, and masterful characterization of an engaging, diverse cast of main and supporting players.
One part The Leftovers and one part Community, The Good Place is like a love child of Bryan Fuller aesthetics and Ray McKinnon spiritual exploration; a show that, on paper, has absolutely no business being as good and uninhibited as it is on NBC (also see Superstore and Great News for NBC’s commitment to letting comedies develop themselves, as encouraging a sign as we’ve seen from the network in years). Led by powerhouse performances from Ted Danson (who singlehandedly delivers the single best moment of TV in 2017), William Jackson Harper and D’Arcy Carden, and buoyed by some truly audacious, beautifully resonant storytelling – The Good Place may have had the best opening season and a half to any network show since… well… you know, LOST. (Randy Dankievitch)
Halt and Catch Fire
Halt and Catch Fire was never supposed to be this good. Brought into the world as a lowly Mad Men clone – mercurial geniuses in a niche industry navigate the trials of life and work, surrounded by period detail, oh my! – it seemed destined for an early end, to be written off as one of AMC’s early misfires in its hunt for original content. But a strange thing happened: in its second season, it got really, really good. That turned out to be the case for the remainder of its run, and this year miraculously brought us the series’ fourth and final season, a heart-wrenching comedown that managed to do justice to the series’ many complex characters and relationships without sacrificing its underlying integrity. H&CF gradually became one of the standard-bearers for series that don’t seek to innovate, but instead to simply tell a great story anchored by strong writing and performances without resorting to structural gimmicks or high-stakes dramatic gamesmanship. A lot of series – and showrunners – could stand to learn from it. (Simon Howell)