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Top 10 Television Shows of 2017

It's once again December, and that means it's time for this year's list of the top television shows. As usual, the rules for the list remain the same: the show have aired new episodes and must have been available in the US either on traditional television channels or through a streaming service in the 2017 calendar year. That means no crazy international shows that haven't aired here yet and no pulling shows from 2016 onto the list. Having said that, it was incredibly difficult to make this list. As has been the case over the past several years of #PeakTV, there were far more great shows than there were spots on the list. And, unlike in past years, I've opted to cut the list off at only ten show (well, almost ten shows), simply because it would have taken me weeks to winnow the list down to fifteen or twenty shows that would have worked. Killing my darlings and limiting the the list more rather than opening it up somehow made this exercise easier to complete. If your favorite isn't on here, either I wasn't as big of a fan of it as you were (sorry, it happens, that doesn't mean it's not a great show!) or I just didn't get around to watching it (like I said, there are so many shows and only so much time). Some shows from past years didn't make the cut this time around, either because they were just off the list (see BoJack Horseman) or because they had disappointing seasons (see Orange is the New Black). But I stand behind this list. If there's a show on it you haven't seen, let me urge you to give it a chance. You might find yourself on a journey through a great series you never anticipated.

10. Master of None (Netflix)/Legion (FX)/Twin Peaks: The Return (Showtime)

Ok, so I'm cheating on this one. But I wanted to select these three shows because each one did something original with the medium of television this year. Aziz Ansari's Master of None created what amounted to two separate seasons within a single 10 episode run: charting Dev's adventures in Italy beginning with a Fellini-inspired episode and continuing with a complex love story that charted from Italy and into New York City, while also telling a handful of episodic stories about Dev's family and friends (including a beautiful stand-alone story about Lena Waithe's Denise, and her relationship with her family in "Thanksgiving"). Over on Legion, the series told the tale of Professor X's son David Haller in technicolor, turning in the strangest visuals ever on cable as Noah Hawley absolutely blew the doors off the comic barn with his interpretation of the story. With narrative twists and turns supplemented by a crazy soundtrack and insane visuals (the Bolero sequence was, until Twin Peaks, the most amazing moment on television this year), Legion became the most original comic-inspired series to ever air. And, considering how many comic shows we currently have, that's saying something. As for the last show on this list, there is so much to say about Twin Peaks: The Return, but I think many other critics have captured the essence of what made the series both remarkable and frustrating to critics and viewers alike. I would like to write a bit on the episode that earned the series a spot on the list, the truly special "Part 8." An episode that delves into how the horrors of humanity's own making have lead the world of Twin Peaks down the dark path it currently treads (after all, the pure evil of BOB had to spring from something in our past to emerge into the world to combat the light of Laura Palmer), "Part 8" seems to posit that the Atom Bomb was the beginning of all that ails this world, the pain, the suffering, and the corresponding joy and hope (in the form of the always chipper and focused Dale Cooper). I loved the strange and complex mystery of Twin Peaks: The Return (once I let go of my own personal hopes for the series and just accepted I was going to get the story David Lynch wanted to tell), but no hour made me think and wonder more than "Part 8," a complete departure from all television that has come before and something that will surely inspire future writers and directors to try avant garde means to tell stories.

9. Scientology and the Aftermath (A&E)

If you aren't aware of what exactly Scientology is, I highly recommend watching Leah Remini and Mike Render's smart, compassionate, and very necessary look into the "religion" and its devastating effect on those who have managed to escape. The series includes first person interviews detailing people's experiences in Scientology, as well as round-table discussions about the ins and out of Scientology, giving an in-depth look at the cult that has ensnared a number of high profile Hollywood actors (as well as a number of regular people, who are often hurt the most by the destructive nature of life inside and out of this dangerous world). It can be a difficult watch, hearing some of the particularly heinous experiences the brave interviewees have endured, but it is an important series for just that reason. Once the truth comes out, there's hope that something as odious as Scientology can be brought down.

8. One Day at a Time (Netflix)

I'll admit to not expecting much when the screeners for this reboot of the 1970s sitcom of the same name landed in my e-mail. But boy was I absolutely blown away with what I found. Moving the show into the present, centered around a single Latina mom (who also happens to be a veteran, played by Justina Machado in what should be a star making turn) trying to raise her two teenage kids with the help of her delightful mother (played by the ageless Rita Moreno), the show tackles issues that resonate in all of our lives with grace and respect. The cast is absolutely top-notch (Machado and Moreno headline a truly deep group) and the writing is genuinely funny with a deep heart (I'll admit to crying my eyes out during the season finale). For those who claimed the multi-cam sitcom had run its course, One Day at a Time is proof that there's still life in this particular entertainment institution.

7. The Handmaid's Tale (Hulu)

While some critics have soured a bit on this dystopian series as the year has gone on (and our own world has started to delve more and more into the dystopian), I remain firmly on the Handmaid's Tale train. Sure, the series lost a bit of steam as it reached the end of its first season from a narrative standpoint, but those first several hours stack up really well against the best of the best this year. Hell, I would have put this show on the list solely on the strength of the show's third episode "Late," a true showcase for Alexis Bledel's Ofglen (and one of the most harrowing hours of television I've ever seen). Would the show have made the splash it did if things were a bit more cheery in our everyday lives? Maybe not. But that doesn't take away from Elisabeth Moss's tour de force performance as Offred. I often find myself thinking back to those early episodes and how visceral they felt, and I absolutely cannot wait to see where the series goes in the future.

6. Catastrophe (Amazon)

I've enjoyed this smart, pointed British comedy since it premiered three seasons ago, and I firmly believe its latest season was its best yet. The series follows the marriage between Sharon Norris and Rob Morris (Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, who are also the show's head writers and co-creators) as they traverse the complexities of parenthood, juggling work and family, and dealing with demons (of the personal kind, namely alcoholism). Featuring the final filmed performance of the late Carrie Fisher (completed mere weeks prior to her death in December 2016), the third season of the series really starts pushing up against issues the series has hinted at throughout its run, with a particularly gut-punch of an ending. It's funny without sacrificing the dramatic moments that make the show special. And, as a British import, the season is only six half hour episodes (always a bonus in #PeakTV).

5. Halt and Catch Fire (AMC)

Breaking Bad managed to catch the zeitgeist, breaking out as a hit with critics and audiences alike. Mad Men was more of a critical success than popular, but still pulled in some decent numbers for AMC. And then there was Halt and Catch Fire, the AMC show that disappointed critics in season one, but won them over with increasingly excellent seasons following that shaky beginning. Unfortunately, the audience didn't follow. And that's just a bummer, because Halt and Catch Fire might just be the best character-driven series of the lot. With a brilliantly balanced cast, the last several episodes of the show's final season put the focus on what made the show spectacular: the relationships at its heart. Cameron and Joe reached a final understanding, as did Donna and Gordon. Cam's friendship with Gordon endured, and Joe and Donna found common ground. But most importantly, the shattered remnants of the show's true love story, the friendship and working relationship between Cam and Donna, came to the forefront as the show wound down. I won't spoil the result, but it was equal parts exhilarating and heartbreaking. When those magic four words were spoken in the finale- "I have an idea." - I'll admit to breaking down in a deluge of tears, so happy that these characters will continue moving forward and creating even without us there to watch it happen. This was a wonderful journey, and I only hope people get a chance to see how great this show really was.

4. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (CW)

From the start, co-creator and star of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Rachel Bloom has said she has a four-year plan for the series. Season one was about getting Rebecca Bunch into Josh Chan's orbit and hitting hard with the slightly unhinged nature of this potential relationship. Season two was about cashing in on Rebecca's dream of getting the guy, culminating with a wedding that wasn't. Season three? Well, so far this season has been about Rebecca coming to terms with her own issues and learning to define the mental illness that lies at the heart of her past "crazy" actions. After two years of watching Rebecca and those around her flail in support of her life-altering decision to drop everything and move across the country for a guy she hadn't seen in over a decade, watching those closest to the character accept and support her tentative first steps down the road to recovery and self-discovery has been lovely to watch. The show is still pretty darn funny (and continues to have some truly spectacular musical numbers), but it has finally grown up in season three and turned into something more than I ever thought it possible.

3. Better Call Saul (AMC)

Better Call Saul has always been in the shadow of its big brother Breaking Bad, but season three was the year it finally came into its own. We know where Jimmy McGill's life will take him (into the spiral of Walter White, and then off to Omaha to work in a Cinnabon under an assumed name), but the journey to that endgame has become as rich and complicated as its sequel series. From Jimmy's doomed love-affair with the level-headed Kim Wexler (who we, as an audience, desperately want to see come out of this show in one piece, but who we suspect will be Jimmy's final casualty en route to Saul Goodman) to his strained (and ultimately tragically unresolved) relationship with his brother Chuck, Better Call Saul has become every inch the character-driven drama we hoped it would become, showing us new depths to a character we all once dismissed as a joke. After all, Jimmy was the comic relief in Breaking Bad. Who knew Bob Odenkirk had these dramatic chops?

2. The Good Place (NBC)

The Good Place is the absolute shirt. And no, that wasn't a typo. This smart, cunning, and hilarious comedy from Mike Schurr (the brains behind Parks and Recreation) took a simple premise that could have easily run out of steam after only a handful of episodes (a woman ends up in heaven, but realizes she was put there by mistake) and turned it into the most interesting comedy on television. The the back half of The Good Place's first season launched the show into the discussion of the best shows on television, and its second season (which premiered this past September) managed to top the brilliance of season one. Giving Ted Danson and Kristen Bell the showcase they deserve, the series also sports one of the deepest comedy benches on TV today. Please, please, please check out this brilliant little comedy. The first season is on Netflix (don't spoil yourself...go in cold), and only 13 episodes long. You've got the time to jump in. You won't regret it.

1. The Leftovers (HBO)

I almost gave this show up after not really liking its first season. But boy am I glad I stuck with it. I said everything I could have ever hoped to say about this beautiful, moving, hilariously funny, innovative, spiritual, and utterly human show here. Even several months removed from the series finale, I find myself thinking back to the joys the show brought into my life. Hell, the discovery of the effervescent Carrie Coon was thanks to The Leftovers. But I'm mostly thankful that we got the chance to see this story to the end. And that Damon Lindelof simply let the mystery be, one last time. Read the piece I wrote on it. Please watch it. I firmly believe this is one of the greatest dramas ever created.


Meet the Author

About / Bio
TV critic based in Chicago. When not watching and writing about awesome television shows, I can be found lamenting over the latest disappointing performance by any of the various Chicago sports teams or my beloved Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Follow me @JeanHenegan on Twitter.

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