The Best and Worst TV of 2017 (So Far)
With the month of June now behind us (how are we already half-way through this bonkers year?), we can all find some solace in the most beautiful piece of marginalization the internet has to offer: best of lists!
And as we’ve found ourselves in the midst of the golden age of television that just keeps on giving, what better thing to list than the television programs we spend so much of our time obsessing over? The only problem with that is that most of the television worth talking about is pretty damn good, because I don’t want to subject myself to the fortieth season of Blue Bloods, because that’s not television. It’s just a thing that comes on TV. So every show I’m going to talk about, good and bad, is of the television elite, stuff worth talking about. With that said, let’s begin.
Any show with episodes that aired during 2017 is eligible, even if some of the episodes of the seasons talked about aired during 2016.
THE BEST TV OF 2017
5. Nirvanna the Band the Show: Season One (ViceLand)
I wouldn’t blame anybody for not having heard of this Canadian gem from filmmakers Matt Johnson (The Dirties, Operation Avalanche) and Jay McCarrol, but I would blame those same people for not fixing that. This ingenious mockumentary series follows two aspiring musicians named Matt and Jay, played by Matt and Jay, who are in a band called Nirvanna the Band. And no, they’ve never heard of Nirvana.
Brilliantly mixing real-life antics with scripted comedy, the first ten episodes of this show are some of the most consistently funny sequences I’ve ever seen, and the knowledge that some of it actually happened in front of unsuspecting people makes it so much funnier. It’s bringing back the type of comedy that made Sacha Baron Cohen so famous, while matching his level of commitment and insanity. Nirvanna the Band the Show is such a bizarre and clever show that its lack of popularity is nothing short of a crime.
4. The Good Place: Season One (NBC)
How is an NBC sitcom this good? The Good Place starts out entertainingly enough, with a woman, Eleanor (Kristen Bell), who is mistaken for a humanitarian when she dies, and is mistakenly sent to ‘The Good Place’, run by the charming architect (Ted Danson) who grows increasingly paranoid trying to make his after-life paradise perfect.
But the show, through its first thirteen episodes, proves that it has some of the biggest balls in network history. With major overhauls to the story that force us to rethink everything that’s come before and a surprisingly deep commentary on the nature of goodness and ethics, The Good Place tricks you into thinking it’s just a funny fantasy before flooring you with its brain and a refreshingly honest nasty streak. Networks need more shows like this.
3. Legion: Season One (FX)
The stellar performances in the first season of Legion alone are enough to put it on this list, but add in incredibly dynamic storytelling, some of the most beautiful cinematography on TV, and another dash of genius from Noah Hawley, and this show is nothing short of a miracle. When populist television, especially superhero television, is slipping into pandering but pleasant nonsense, it’s so nice to see a show that truly does not care if it’s loved or hated. With a singular vision that takes the viewers through a roller-coaster of eight episodes, Legion may not be able to hold its ground for much longer, but if it can stick with the level of quality it’s shown from this point, it’ll be in the leagues of the greats.
2. The Handmaid’s Tale: Season One (Hulu)
Haunting, prophetic, dour, and perfect, The Handmaid’s Tale is the best piece of television from 2017 so far, and most likely from the entire year unless I am a very lucky man, which I usually am not. Elisabeth Moss grounds this terrifying adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel as a woman forced into being a baby factory for a terrifying theocracy that has risen up in the ashes of America, delivering not only the best performance of her stellar career, but the best dramatic performance of the year.
The Handmaid’s Tale is not just brilliantly-made television, it’s also important television. By touching on aspects like gender, power, revolution, and identity all subtly through this dystopian landscape, it is the show that every single person on the planet should be watching, not just because it’s great, but because it is a necessity. But this is my list, so The Handmaid’s Tale doesn’t get the top spot. What gets the top spot is…
1. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: Season Two (The CW)
The most entertaining, heart-wrenching, and toe-tappingly wonderful show to grace basic cable, and my favorite show currently airing. YouTube comedy star Rachel Bloom co-created and stars in this dark-musical-romantic-comedy-drama-satire as Rebecca Bunch, a severely mentally unstable woman who uproots her life to follow her high-school summer camp boyfriend across the country. By season two, she is knee-deep in insanity, retreating into elaborate Broadway-style musical numbers that happen two or three times an episode.
A pitch-perfect commentary on romantic comedy tropes and the battles of everyday sexism and the conflict between ideological perfection and logistical practice, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is an absolute blast to watch. The songs are all infectious ear-worms, the performances are all spot-on, and the storytelling has you along for the ride just long enough that when it sets you down for the hugely cathartic season two finale, I cried. With season two even more well-paced than season one, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend shows no signs of stopping, and with it being the lowest-rated show in network history to get a renewal for its upcoming third season, this miracle of a show needs all the love it can get. Please, please watch Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Both seasons are on Netflix right now. If you haven’t, please do yourself a favor and watch this absolute fountain of brilliance.
And if you’re not convinced by that, watch this musical number with Patti LuPone talking about Judaism:
And with all that happiness and positivity nonsense out of the way, let’s get into the real hot takes of this article…
THE WORST TV OF 2017
5. Sherlock: Series Four (BBC/PBS)
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. The biggest disappointment with the fourth series of BBC’s Sherlock is how a show that was once the pinnacle of modern television devolved into the same tedious, thoughtless nonsense that the show seemed to claim to combat. I already went in depth on my feelings about Sherlock earlier this year in an article on the site where I and fellow writer London Vayavong debated the merits of the character in the modern television landscape, and I still can’t seem to find a place for him.
Sherlock series four, despite some clever moments, has fallen from grace to prove how weak this show really is. With dumb twists and hackneyed character motivations that feel like they’re out of a season of CSI instead of a prestige television show, Sherlock needs to be buried, and with any luck, the hopelessly busy schedules of the endlessly talented Cumberbatch and Freeman should prove that a fifth, and potentially stupider series of this show, doesn’t reach the light of day.
4. Silicon Valley: Season Four (HBO)
Speaking of shows that have fallen from grace, we have Silicon Valley, a show that I once heralded as one of the funniest programs on television. Its group of ragtag misfits slowly went from a band of brothers to the least likable characters I’ve ever seen, where even the moral center of the show, Zach Woods’ Jared, is absolutely insufferable. While the show can (and has) ride on the charm of its performances and previous seasons, the spark is completely gone, and all stakes have been annihilated due to a constant up-and-down that never seems to have any trajectory. These aren’t interesting, they’re tedious, and Mike Judge has seemed to severely overestimate how much we care about these people.
Thomas Middleditch shone in this show’s inception as Richard Hendricks, but now has been relegated to a series of nervous ticks and freak-out moments as he spirals farther and farther into dickishness with no sign of stopping. If any actual consequences came into the show (and no, T.J. Miller being unceremoniously dropped off the program doesn’t count), maybe it would be worth revisiting, but as it stands, Silicon Valley is a shell of the show it once was.
3. I Love Dick: Season One (Amazon Prime)
When Jill Soloway struck gold with Transparent, the common conception was that they could do whatever they chose for their next project. And instead, Soloway chose to adapt a famous experimental feminist novel into a sex-positive comedy with Kevin Bacon and Kathryn Hahn. That doesn’t sound like a bad show, and on paper, Amazon’s I Love Dick is not a bad show. But in its execution, its themes and points get lost in the muddiness of the storytelling, and the complete willingness of the show to forgo entertainment in the name of making a point. While these points do need to be made, the show has so little entertainment value as a program.
A show meant to be studied instead of watched, I Love Dick has merit in its scope and production, but it’s so obtuse and pretentious that it immediately alienates even the most liberal hippies that stumble across it. With Hahn playing an experimental filmmaker and Bacon playing the macho artist who she fawns over, I Love Dick will one day make an excellent book about the nature of feminism and art and attraction by somebody patient enough to sit through the show to dilute its message, but that day has not yet come.
2. 13 Reasons Why: Season One (Netflix)
Like I Love Dick, I and my co-hosts covered 13 Reasons Why on the Intern.Cast on this site, and I would like to amend some of my points as I’ve ruminated on this show. It doesn’t matter how good the editing is, it doesn’t matter how compelling the occasional performance is. It doesn’t matter that some moments made me laugh and some moments made me cry. 13 Reasons Why is one of the most emotionally manipulative, toxic, and tasteless shows I may have ever seen, especially bringing into consideration how the primary market for the show is young teenagers.
Without getting too far into it, a lot of the issues touched on in this show are very close to me and very close to many people that I love deeply. And seeing them dealt with in such a cavalier way in the name of “starting a discussion” is abhorrent to me. Dead girls can’t be witty, because they are dead. It would be different if the show was making a point, but it’s just trying to be entertaining while telling the story of a young woman who slit her wrists in a bathtub because she felt like there was no other way out. This is an immoral show, and I highly recommend anyone dealing with similar issues to stay away from this program, not that we haven’t all already watched it, and if you’re still itching to know what happens, read the Wikipedia summary and watch something that deals with similar issues in an honest and truthful way. Watch Perks of Being a Wallflower again, it’s been too long since you’ve seen that movie anyway. But don’t watch this.
1. American Gods: Season One (Starz)
I know that this show is beloved by many, including many of the people who run this site. But I am sorry to say that American Gods is a disappointing, pretentious, unruly mess that never bothers to explain itself or make any of its nonsense clear. With hour-long episodes that seem to run on for centuries, the story of an ex-con recruited by a mystical man named Wednesday sounds like perfection, especially with the genius that is Bryan Fuller at the helm. But this show is not a show; it’s an illustrated guide for those who have read and loved the book.
Despite the solid performances and truly stunning cinematography, American Gods is an absolute trainwreck of a show, jumping from plot to plot with nothing even resembling compelling drama, instead reveling in its sex and violence simply for the sake of sex and violence. It’s not even salacious, it’s just boring. In the first episode a woman literally absorbs Joel Murray into her vagina. How am I fighting to stay awake? It’s because American Gods is a bore, and easily the worst show of 2017 so far, and god help us all if it gets dethroned.
But, the good, the bad, the Starz, it’s all TV. It’s what we love to discuss. And here’s to hoping that by the end of what has truly been a very good year for TV, the best of list gets harder and harder to make, and the worst of list doesn’t have to face any new challengers.