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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.

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‘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.

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‘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.

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‘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.

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