As another year draws to a close, it’s time for everyone’s favorite year-end activity: Top 10 lists! As was the case last year, there continues to be an abundance of TV riches to watch. From dystopia to musical comedy and everything in between, there was something for everyone.
Narrowing this list down to just 10 shows was next to impossible. There is so much good TV out there and so many shows that deserve recognition that I cannot hope to spotlight them all in the span of one post. These 10 might not necessarily be the best shows on TV but are certainly the ones that I felt most strongly about. So, without further ado, let’s dive in:
10. The Americans (FX)
Forever one of TV’s best and most underrated dramas, The Americans hit somewhat of a slump in its penultimate season. While still delivering the same hard-hitting drama and excellent acting from leads Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, the show felt trapped in a holding pattern. The Americans is known for its deliberate plotting but season five moved at a glacial pace even for this usually slow burn of a show.
Every story arc whether it was Paige’s spy training or Phillip and Elizabeth’s own missions felt like it was biding time until the show ends properly in 2018. But despite those complaints, The Americans still delivered moments that hit hard because we’ve been following these characters for so long. I’m excited to see how the creators bring the story to an end in season six.
9. The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
A dark and haunting tale of the fall of America and the rise of a tyrannical patriarchy, The Handmaid’s Tale became Hulu’s first unequivocal hit. Based on the novel by Margaret Atwood, the show garnered massive praise for its timely message and an outstanding cast led by Elisabeth Moss. I was late to the party with The Handmaid’s Tale as I gave up after finding the first episode relentlessly depressing. When I finally picked it up again, I found a powerful, emotional tale of a group of women fighting for their freedom in a society that treated them as less than human. I’m a little concerned with where the show will go in season two, but these 10 episodes were well worth the watch, no matter how difficult it may have been.
8. Legion (FX)
Legion was one of the first big surprises of 2017. Adapted from the Marvel comic series of the same name for TV by Noah Hawley, who also brought Fargo to FX, Legion was nothing if not a trip. Half the time I was watching this show I had no idea what was going on, and I loved it. While I was occasionally frustrated by a plot that seemed to be going nowhere, the sheer audacity of the visuals was always a treat. You never quite knew what each episode would bring. If you make it to episode 7, you’ll understand just how unpredictable Legion really is.
The cast was uniformly excellent with great lead performances by Dan Stevens as David Haller (aka Legion) and Rachel Keller as his love interest Sydney. Their relationship brought warmth and an emotional center that was easy to latch on to amidst all the chaos. But the real stand out was Aubrey Plaza as Lenny. I had no idea Plaza could act like this. I loved her in Parks & Rec, but this performance was something to behold. Legion certainly wasn’t for everyone, but it was a wild ride I can’t wait to come back.
7. Fargo (FX)
After an 18-month wait, FX’s anthology series based on the classic Coen brothers’ film returned for a third round of snowbound hijinks and “Minnesota nice.” Even more than previous seasons, Fargo Year 3 centered on the theme of the truth versus the stories we tell ourselves. The casting continued to be a high point for Fargo, and this season featured great performances by Carrie Coon, Ewan McGregor, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. While not as exciting as the previous two seasons, the final two episodes of this year were absolute knockouts that brought the themes and character arcs of the show to a satisfying conclusion. If this is indeed the last season of Fargo, at least it went out on a high note.
6. Game of Thrones (HBO)
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: there’s no show like Game of Thrones. Nobody else can deliver spectacle on the scale that GoT can, and season seven was no exception. You need to look no further than episode four “The Spoils of War,” which delivered the biggest battle the show has yet to produce. It continually amazes me that creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are able to bring such a massive production to life the way they have. But this year was not without its frustrations.
GoT felt like it was in such a rush to get to its endgame that it started bending rules and logic to maneuver characters into the places they needed to be, which is never how you want a TV show to function. Character motivation should drive the plot, not the other way around. There were more than a few head-scratching moments (looking at you “Beyond the Wall”), but despite my qualms with the show, when Game of Thrones is good, it’s among the most thrilling things you can watch on TV.
5. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW)
Always a pleasant show to watch, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend went to darker and much more emotional places at the end of season two and through the first half of season three. Co-creators Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna brought Rebecca’s (also played by Bloom) mental illness to the forefront as Rebecca came to terms with who she really is. I’ve always admired the show but was not expecting it to deliver my favorite TV episode of the year which told an honest and heartfelt story about depression.
The songs featured in each episode continue to be hilarious send-ups of pop tropes while featuring some of the cleverest lyrics I’ve ever heard. I dare you to not get “Let’s Generalize about Men” stuck in your head. Props to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend for rising above the cliché of its name and doing so with humor and heart.
4. Mr. Robot (USA)
After a second season that spent too much time navel-gazing, season three of Mr. Robot ratcheted the pace up to a whole different level. Season two spent much of its time on the nature of Elliot (the continually amazing Rami Malek) and Mr. Robot’s (Christian Slater) relationship, but it came at the cost of any real narrative momentum. This season wisely balanced their internal conflict with Elliot’s return to the main plot.
Watching Elliot grapple with the damage that his revolution caused proved another great showcase for Elliot as he worked tirelessly to undo the Five/Nine hack. This season, Malek is given some of his best material yet to play and again proves that he is more than capable of leading this show. The rest of the cast also brought their A-game with Carly Chaikin and Portia Doubleday revealing new depths to their characters. While great additions like Bobby Cannavale’s Irving brought fresh and interesting perspectives to the proceedings.
Season two of Mr. Robot made me a little concerned for the show, but I was pleasantly surprised to see it come back with such confidence and energy in this third season. From start to finish, this season was a thrilling watch. Bring on season four.
3. Master of None (Netflix)
Make no mistake, Master of None is a work of art. It is simultaneously a moving and hilarious portrait of finding love and purpose in life. The show already proved with its first season that co-creators Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang knew exactly what story they wanted to tell. In its second season, the scope and story expand and with that come a series of bold artistic choices that deliver a season with nary a weak spot in sight. From the black and white opening episode to the hour-long romantic odyssey of the ninth, each chapter brought something unique to the season as a whole.
The stories that Master of None told in its sophomore season truly had something that everyone could latch on to. Whether it was finding your place in America as the child of immigrants, chasing after love in the 21st century or struggling to find acceptance from your family, Master of None felt both strikingly specific and deeply accessible.
Here we are seven months after the season was released, and I still think about what a treat these 10 episodes were. Right now it’s up in the air whether we’ll get a third season of the show, but if these two perfectly crafted seasons are all we get, I’d be ok with that.
2. The Good Place (NBC)
Quite simply, The Good Place is the most delightful show on TV. With each episode, creator Mike Schur (Parks & Rec) and stars Ted Danson and Kristen Bell deliver hilarious gags, creative twists and a surprising amount of commentary on ethical and philosophical problems. In the last half of its first season and into is second, The Good Place has constantly subverted expectations at every turn. The jokes come fast and furious, and the characters are ones I love spending time with.
Since this list is for the 2017 calendar year, that means I get to include the insane twist that closed the first season as part of this list. The Good Place did something that few TV shows in 2017 are able to do: genuinely surprise the audience in a manner that felt both unexpected and fair within the context of the story. That surprise continued into the first half of its second season by constantly zigging when you thought the plot was going to zag. I knew this show would be one worth watching when it premiered back in 2016; I just no idea how good it would become.
1. Better Call Saul (AMC)
In all honesty, figuring out my number one show of the year was extremely tough. With so much great TV out there, how could I possibly say one was better than all the rest? In the end, it came down to the one that stuck with me all year…
The third season of Better Call Saul was the best show that I watched in 2017.
It was a season filled with dramatic payoff, increased stakes and deep tragedy as Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) continues his transformation into Saul Goodman and faces off with his vengeful brother Chuck (Michael McKean). Top that off with Mike’s (Jonathan Banks) continued descent into Albuquerque’s criminal underworld and the reintroduction of Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) and you’ve got a dynamite season of TV on your hands. From the intense courtroom faceoff between Jimmy and Chuck in “Chicanery,” to the jaw-dropping cliffhanger at the end of “Lantern,” this season had no shortage of incredible moments.
I can’t get this show out of my head. Creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould continue to produce a show with stunning visuals and fantastic performances from every cast member.
Bob Odenkirk has stealthily become one of the best dramatic actors on TV. His performance continues to make Jimmy a tremendously sympathetic character despite the future that awaits him as Heisenberg’s consigliere. I keep hoping against hope that he will just run off with Kim (Rhea Seehorn) and be happy. Alas, that’s not the way this story is meant to go. But knowing where this tale will end doesn’t make it any less engrossing to watch.
Better Call Saul might not ever reach the heights of Breaking Bad, but the fact that you can even compare the two is a testament to the quality of the former.
What were your top shows of 2017? Do you agree or disagree with some of my picks? Let me know if the comments!