Home TV TV Lists

20 Best TV Shows of 2017

From mind-blowing sitcoms to fire-breathing dragons, the return of ‘Twin Peaks’ to ‘Rick & Morty’ – Rob Sheffield on the hightlights of our TV year

What a great year for TV – as opposed to pretty much any other aspect of life in America during 2017. Peak TV kept peaking all year, pushing to new creative heights. There was the heroic return of David Lynch, and the not-so-heroic return of Larry David. The screen was full of ground-breaking dramas – as well as stoner comedies, high-school bitchfests, zombie dragons, porn hustlers, thugs, con artists, hackers, psychedelic superheroes, cartoon time travelers and life-during-wartime documentaries. In a rotten year to be an American, the creative audacity of these shows (and one stand-up special) was a sign of hope. Here’s to next year.

Play video
5

‘The Deuce’ (HBO)

David Simon and George Pelecanos build a whole world out of the criminal underground around Times Square circa 1971, with the epic ambition they brought to The Wire. James Franco excels in his dual role as a pair of low-life twins. The Deuce is packed with stellar performances, right down to the guy cooking breakfast at the diner – Anwon Glover, eternally beloved as The Wire‘s Slim Charles. But Maggie Gyllenhaal is the heart of the story, as a hooker getting into the new future of porn movies; as she explains, “The camera’s the john.” And if the hustlers secretly dream of being auteurs, that’s all in the game – as one girl shrugs after a skin-flick screening, “I thought it was kinda artistic, but with a lot of dick.”

Play video
4

‘The Good Place’ (NBC)

When Kristen Bell’s Eleanor dies, she ascends to the Good Place, where her host Ted Danson shows her around a shiny, happy afterworld full of frozen yogurt. Since she was a horrible person on Earth, she suspects there might be some kind of bureaucratic mix-up. This meta-sitcom from Parks and Recreation’s Michael Schur was a startlingly weird comedy from the start. But after a brain-crushing cosmic twist or two, the second season is now surging boldly into uncharted territory. The Good Place tweaks all kinds of existential riddles – but the strangest one might be the question of how a show this daring turned into a network sitcom for the ages. It only adds to the hallucinatory ambience that we go through all these otherworldly antics with Ted Danson, whose long-running but still-peaking career has jumped from “inexplicable” to “unthinkable.”

Play video
3

‘The Leftovers’ (HBO)

When it began in 2014, The Leftovers was a somber death trip – what happens to an American town after the Sudden Departure, when two per cent of the world’s population disappears without a trace? But in its third and final season, this HBO drama took off into the stars, jumping across multiple timelines with interlocking stories, including a bizarre role for Mark Linn-Baker, playing himself as the hero of the long-forgotten Eighties sitcom Perfect Strangers. With Lost‘s Damon Lindelof taking off from Tom Perrota’s novel, the story comes down to the bond between two people: Justin Theroux and Carrie Coon, as a couple of survivors struggling to let go of their past lives. (Coon pulled double duty this year with her head-turning performance as a cop on Fargo.) The finale was an unforgettable goodbye, right down to the last few seconds.

Play video
2

‘The Young Pope’ (HBO)

There isn’t a single moment in The Young Pope that’s not flamboyantly demented – but that might be exactly why it’s perfect for 2017. Jude Law chews up the role of a lifetime as Pope Pius the Thirteenth, in a Vatican political thriller that doubles as a tour of kinky Catholic nightmares. This Pontiff is a Brooklyn guy who struts like a rock star – he’s got psycho eyes, white robes and a nasty habit of yelling at Vatican underlings for not knowing who Daft Punk are. “I don’t want any more part-time believers!” he rants to his Cardinals. “I want great love stories! I want fanatics for God!” He’s a complicated man, and nobody understands him but his pet kangaroo. (Except maybe also Diane Keaton, wonderful as a mobbed-up nun.) Italian auteur Paolo Sorrentino makes this the most stylish and playful thing to hit TV all year – and Jude Law has the right edge of bitterness to play this beautifully fucked-up villain of a pope. Let us pray.

Play video
1

‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ (Showtime)

Agent Dale Cooper lives. So does Audrey Horne. And so, for that matter, does David Lynch, who revisits his legendary TV cult favorite and goes back to the haunted Pacific Northwest town he left behind in 1991. Twin Peaks: The Return could have been just a sentimental rehash – getting the old band back together one more time. But Lynch doesn’t merely live up to the original – he completes it. Nobody saw this coming. Our ghost town is full of familiar faces – Kyle McLachlan, Laura Dern, Sherilyn Fenn, Trent Reznor – and new ones. We see actors who died after filming their scenes (R.I.P., Log Lady) and some who passed to that red velvet room in the sky later, like the late, great Harry Dean Stanton. (Not to mention a poignant cameo from David Bowie, beyond the grave.) Cheers to Showtime for trusting Lynch, along with co-creator Mark Frost, to pull off all 18 hours. Nothing like Twin Peaks: The Return has ever happened before or will again. This is the water and this is the well.

Show Comments