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The Year in TV: 12 New Shows You Should Be Watching

From a brilliant sitcom from the ’30 Rock’ crew to the misadventures of a fake Diplo – these were the 2017 gems you need to catch up with

As the television landscape gets more and more cluttered every year, it becomes virtually impossible for smaller shows – the kind that don’t necessarily have dragons or zombies or zombie dragons – to cut through the noise of “Peak TV” chatter and find the audiences they deserve. Yes, we all know about Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead and Stranger Things. We’ve heard of that little show called Twin Peaks: The Return (or was that a movie?) and we’ve spent countless hours on Reddit debating Westworld timeline theories. We have a good idea about what most writers consider the best TVs series of 2017. But what about the ones that don’t necessarily throw Twitter in to a frenzy – the ones that you’d be going batshit over if you only knew how great they were, or in some cases, that they existed at all?

The abundance of quality means that some incredible programs that might have been celebrated critical darlings in the past are slipping through the cracks. These are the 12 shows that just didn’t get quite as much love as they deserved, whether we’re talking year-end best-of lists or simply a bright enough spotlight to make people take notice. (We’re listing them alphabetically and not ranked, because all of these deserve attention.) Whether we’re talking about network sitcoms, basic-cable prestige dramas, streaming service superstars that simply got lost in the shuffle or a few offbeat left-of-the-dial entries, every single one of these shows is worth your time. Some may even become your new obsession. Trust us.

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‘Dear White People’

Netflix
Justin Simien adapted his Sundance hit into this dramedy about racial identity on a contentious American college campus, and instantly created an ensemble view of a satirical social microcosm that feels all-too-timely. It’s a show about being heard in an increasingly loud world, the subtle art of protest, safe spaces, cultural and social identity, economic anxiety and more – much more. And it featured an episode directed by Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins that’s a flat-out masterpiece. It made sense that its inaugural season ends with A Tribe Called Quest’s “We the People” – few shows better captured the current state of the “people” this year. BT 

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‘Detroiters’

Comedy Central
Most cable TV comedies drop improv-trained actors into flimsy scenarios and let them riff. Detroiters is different: It couches its silliness in a meaningful story, one with a pertinent POV. Sam Richardson (best-known as Veep‘s over-eager political savant Richard Splett) and Tim Robinson (formerly of SNL) play best friends who who run a low-rent ad agency in the Motor City, making amateurish commercials for wig shops and mirror stores. Their TV spots are hilariously dumb. Between the jokes, however, Richardson and Robinson have something inspiring to say about fighting to uphold the legacy of a great American metropolis and its people, after so many others have written them off. NM

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‘Great News’

NBC
It may currently lack the ratings, raves and awards of 30 Rock. But the latest NBC sitcom from the producing team of Tina Fey, Robert Carlock and Tracey Wigfield is on-pace to become another enduring canon-worthy favorite, if people would just start tuning in. Anchored by two brilliant lead performances – from Briga Heelan as a sweetly frazzled cable news producer and SCTV‘s Andrea Martin as her eccentric helicopter mom – Great News already has its predecessor’s rocket pace, absurdist humor and cutting insight into how women carve a place for themselves in the television business. The show found its voice and rhythm almost immediately, and while other contemporary comedies may be warmer, hipper or deeper, most of them aren’t as consistently, quotably, laugh-out-loud funny. NM

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‘Manhunt: Unabomber’

Discovery
Here’s how topsy-turvy TV is now: One of the year’s best miniseries was made for the Discovery Channel of all places. Legit movie stars Paul Bettany and Sam Worthington play, respectively, infamous American domestic terrorist Ted Kaczynski and the FBI profiler who helped bring “the Unabomber” down. Manhunt‘s structure, tone and sophistication compares well to director David Fincher’s procedural masterpiece Zodiac, focusing on the details of a long investigation without sparing the moments of dark humor or the deep personal toll. But it also spends a lot of time with Kaczynski, explaining the social and family conditions that lead a man to become a serial murderer. NM

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‘Mike Judge Presents: Tales From the Tour Bus’

Cinemax
God bless Beavis and Butt-head/Office Space creator Mike Judge for using his showbiz clout to sell a project that no one else would ever make: a series of animated oral histories of country music legends, told mostly by their touring bands. Only a few degrees removed from the twangy deadpan of Judge’s beloved cartoon King of the Hill, this historical survey of legends behaving badly of gets comic mileage from the matter-of-fact way its interviewees describe the brawling, carousing and substance-abusing of men like Johnny Paycheck, Jerry Lee Lewis and Waylon Jennings. It’s as informative as it is hilariously raw – like a Behind the Music doused in Budweiser and blessed with extra hand-drawn vulgarity. NM

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‘One Day at a Time’

Netflix
The art of the smart multi-camera, laugh track-enhanced sitcom isn’t dead – it’s alive and well and living on Netflix, courtesy of remake of Norma Lear’s Seventies hit. The TV icon is also producing this modern-day look at a working class, single mother named Penelope Alvarez (Justina Machado), who lives with her two children and her mother (the singular Rita Moreno). It’s both as a throwback to the socially conscious comedies of yesteryear and an update to the themes they used to explore – race, class, family and how what happens outside your door affects what’s going on in your living room. You get all of this plus a representation of single motherhood that’s rarely seen on television in any format. Critics have begun quietly stumping for it all year – now it’s your turn to get your Schneider on. BT

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‘The Sinner’

USA
The No. 1 new cable drama this year still feels underrepresented in the conversation around TV’s new wave of  antiheroines – and next-gen female protagonists overall. Filmmaker Antonio Campos (Christine) adapts Petra Hammesfahr’s novel about a seemingly ordinary mother (a great Jessica Biel) who simply loses it one day and stabs a man on a crowded beach. There are dozens of witnesses, including her shocked husband (Girls‘ Christopher Abbott) – so this isn’t a whodunit as much as whydunit, with Bill Pullman’s world-weary detective doggedly going after the truth. It’s an engaging mystery-melodrama mixture, as well as a chronologically skewed character study involving repressed memory and sexual trauma. BT  

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‘Sweet/Vicious’

MTV
Taylor Dearden (daughter of Bryan Cranston!) plays a tech-savvy stoner who teams up with an angry, agile sorority girl (Eliza Bennett) to get revenge for the rapes that their university prefers to ignore. If only this energetic, witty vigilante thriller had debuted on MTV last week! Given the current increased attention to sexual assault and campus politics, Sweet/Vicious might have become a cause célèbre, instead of getting lost in 2017’s thicket of midseason newcomers. If there’s any real justice, future generations of teens and young adults will make this offbeat quasi-superhero show a Veronica Mars-level cult classic. NM

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‘What Would Diplo Do?’

Viceland
James Van Der Beek and Brandon Dermer must have been epically baked when they came up with the idea for the Dawson’s Creek heartthrob to play real-life superstar DJ Diplo, going about what they imagine must be his pretty wild daily business. TV comedy in 2017 didn’t get much more bizarrely inspired than the episode “Ur Game Ain’t Shit,” where the EDM hero has an existential crisis while making a guest appearance at a Dominican Republic baseball game. Whatever provoked such inspired madness, the five half-hour episodes that the duo produced for Viceland are funny and surprisingly sharp about the surreal world of entitlement, paranoia and social-media mishaps where celebrities dwell. NM

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