The 10 Best TV Shows Of 2017
It’s nearly the end of the year and you know what that means: it’s time to methodically research every major cultural moment you totally missed and try to get back in the loop for 2018. New starts! Free time! So much TV!!!!
2017 has been an epic year for the small screen, and it’s really impossible to do it justice in one piece. This list won’t discuss the final season of Girls (which features one of my favourite episodes of the whole year, and ended an era on some very interesting notes). I won’t be talking about the biggest disappointments (sorry, The Other Guy was not great), the excellent spinoff that didn’t quite make the cut (The Good Fight), the all-consuming phenomenon that kind of doesn’t make sense anymore (Game of Thrones), that show I haven’t gotten around to watching but US publications are fawning all over (The Leftovers, I KNOW SORRY), or Sophie Monk.
What I will talk about are all the great shows that made an impact: the ones that brought something new to the table, did things differently, or came to somehow define the year in Quality Popular Culture. Let’s dive in:
Big Little Lies
We gave it a shout-out on our mid-year list, but it’s worth repeating: Big Little Lies was fucking great.
The HBO mini-series based on the novel by Australian author Liane Moriarty has already picked up eight Emmys including Outstanding Limited Series, and looks to have some Golden Globes on the way too. All of the main cast including Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley and Alexander Skarsgard are nominated, and frankly they should just split up the acting awards Mean Girls-style.
If you missed it entirely, Big Little Lies tells the story of five women living in a WASPy Californian town who are each navigating trauma, conflicts and personal drama as the local police investigate a potentially related murder. The show sutures timelines and storylines together to create a tense soap opera with an alarming emotional sincerity.
Under a deliberately nauseating sheen, Big Little Lies explores the devastation of domestic violence and sexual assault, while also unravelling the resonant complexities of these women’s interpersonal lives and collective strength. A second season is on its way for 2018, and while it’s hardly necessary (considering where the story ended), it’s also impossible to deny.
Nothing but respect for my Justice League pic.twitter.com/llBU1trP4T
— Jordan (@JordanApps) November 16, 2017
Can you catch up now? Big Little Lies is available to stream in full on Foxtel Play.
The Good Place
God bless Michael Schur. The Parks and Recreation co-creator has come back with a series that not only stacks itself with similar good vibes, but actively interrogates them with smart and incisive comedy. The Good Place is a tightly wound ball of rubber bands bouncing wildly all over a small room; it’s stacked with concepts on concepts on concepts, and it brought a unique kind of energy to TV in 2017.
The Good Place is all about Eleanor Shellstrop’s (Kristen Bell) experiences in the afterlife — a heaven(-ish) plane of existence that she 100 percent does not belong in. Havoc ensues, she reckons with her terrible personality traits and (kind of) tries to atone and fit in. The ensemble comedy is rounded out with a Good Place “architect”, Michael (Ted Danson doing some of the best work of his career); a jittery ethics professor, Chidi (William Jackson Harper); a self-absorbed philanthropist, Tahani (Jameela Jamil); and another character played by Manny Jacinto… who I can’t really say more about!
Schur has somehow managed to create a warm and good-hearted show filled with people who deliberately do terrible things; a show that frequently dissects existentialist philosophy with both care and ease; and also, not for nothing, it’s spectacularly reinvented itself after one of the most satisfying and adventurous twists in recent memory.
Can you catch up now? The Good Place is available to stream in full on Netflix.
The Handmaid’s Tale
The Handmaid’s Tale has been celebrated as a prescient piece of television in 2017. Its depiction of Margaret Atwood’s Gilead was met with chills; as the series premiere coincided with the election of Donald Trump, people found eerie parallels between the reproductive dystopias on- and off-screen.
But, independent of outside context, The Handmaid’s Tale was one of the most physically affecting television shows I watched this year (followed closely by The Keepers). It was tense and heartbreaking and brutal. Elisabeth Moss wrenched a whole episode’s worth of emotion out of a single sideways glance.
That might not make it ideal viewing for a lot of people — it’s ok if you’re not all that into Horrifying Prestige Drama! — but as an example of the form, hoo boy, it does it well.
Can you catch up now? The Handmaid’s Tale is available to stream in full on SBS OnDemand.
Sometimes Netflix hits can seem a bit predictable — welcome to the dark and ‘intellectual’ crime show genre, Mindhunter! — but I don’t think anyone was expecting a Making A Murderer-style mockumentary about a high school investigation into spray-painted dicks.
American Vandal slipped onto the streaming platform with little to no fanfare. Many of its viewers would have started watching in earnest, the standard noir imagery setting them up for either a perfect surprise… or a confusing disappointment.
The series, if you missed it, is framed as the amateur project of high school documentarian Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez) as he investigates a serious unsolved crime: every teacher’s car has had a dick spray painted on it. The prime suspect is Dylan Maxwell (Jimmy Tetro), a dropkick student who offsets Peter’s hard-hitting Sarah Koenig vibes perfectly.
It’s not a groundbreaking show, it’s not going to ~mark a new era in television~, but it is a refreshingly simple project that pulled fresh laughs from an unlikely place.
Can you catch up now? American Vandal is available to stream in full on Netflix.
Rick and Morty
Between grown-men screaming at McDonald’s staff and harassing women who work on the show, it hasn’t been a great year for the Rick and Morty fandom. But the show itself has been going from strength to strength. Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland’s intricate and absurd world of philosophy, physics and fart jokes has cemented itself as one of the most inventive animated series of all time.
The show’s third season delivered some huge exploits this season, including turning the protagonist into a murderous, anthropomorphic pickle for an entire episode. ‘Pickle Rick’ is emblematic of exactly where this show is at in 2017: peak absurdity meticulously tethered to an iconic emotional depth.
Don’t believe me? Re-watch Susan Sarandon’s speech from the end of that episode. It’s a kick to the guts; the kind that, for better or worse, is doing transformative things to the show’s growing fanbase.
Can you catch up now? Rick and Morty is available to stream in full on Netflix.
Master of None
At this point, you either love or hate Master of None — and that usually has a lot to do with your opinion of Aziz Ansari. Think he’s cute and clever? Watching him mess around in Italy with Eric Wareheim is extremely your shit. Think he’s a bit cloying? Steer well clear of this season which sees him date many women and then forlornly chase someone who’s engaged.
I mostly fall into the former category and, frankly, could watch an entire series about him jaunting around Europe eating loads of cheese. But that’s not why I’m putting Master of None on this list. Instead, it’s making the cut for the episodes that weren’t about Dev (Aziz Ansari’s character) at all. In particular: ‘New York, I Love You’ and ‘Thanksgiving’.
Master of None definitely finds its strength in capsule episodes (think of last season’s ‘Parents’), and in season two it took things to the extreme. ‘New York, I Love You’ follows the lives of a doorman, a deaf cashier and a cab driver over the course of a day in the city. It’s a sweet and commendably ambitious piece of television in both form and style — the deaf portion, for example, is kept entirely silent.
In ‘Thanksgiving’, the reins are given to Denise (Lena Waithe). The episode — which has earned Waithe and Ansari an Emmy — tells a complex and earnest story of coming out over a number of years. It’s exactly the kind of tender and considered storytelling we need to see more of on our screens.
Can you catch up now? Master of None is available to stream in full on Netflix.
And now for something completely different! Get Krackin was hands down my favourite Australian TV show of the year — one which, at least conversationally, seemed to be relatively divisive. (Look, it can be uncomfortably cringe-y to binge the whole thing).
If you missed it completely, Get Krackin is the wild satirical creation of Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan from The Katering Show. The pair (who also star as the series leads) skewer the hollow, inane and soul-shattering world of breakfast TV with a fictional show airing at 3am. It features celebrity cameos (a bewildered Sam Neil), deranged “experts” (fyi, tumeric doesn’t cure cancer), kooky start-ups showing off their wares (“the bread fucks!”), and an unforgettable fashion expert played by Anne Edmonds.
The series hasn’t had the same reach as their earlier viral hit, but it’s no less sharp. This is Australian comedy writing at its best.
Can you catch up now? Get Krackin is available to stream in full on ABC iView.
Twin Peaks: The Return
I’m not the biggest fan of Twin Peaks generally (don’t start), but even I can accept that The Return was some of the most ambitious and interesting TV (or movie, don’t start) released in 2017. In an age of endless reboots and cynical re-workings of old pop culture properties (hello, Will and Grace), there’s something that felt unique and earned about David Lynch’s comeback.
The Return delved deeper into the original series’ iconic characters and ruminated on the themes which made the show iconic in the first place. As Junkee’s Patrick Marlborough wrote (in a great essay every fan you should read), the show “takes the concept of nostalgia, personalises it, and eradicates it — or, if you meet it halfway — reconstructs it”.
“In its collapse of what we expect of TV, movement, and cathartic progress, The Return allows us to reconsider ourselves as consumer and individual.”
Can you catch up now? Twin Peaks: The Return is available to stream in full on Stan.
BoJack Horseman has been setting a high bar for a while now (last season’s ‘Fish Out Of Water’, ah!) but, much like Master of None, it found new gold this season in explorations outside its main character. Delving into BoJack’s family history, the show spent a great deal of its fourth season unpacking the life of his mother Beatrice and, in one notable episode, Princess Caroline.
Beatrice’s story is absolutely heartbreaking, and also told in exceedingly creative ways. As her dementia accelerates in present day, her memories are abstracted; the flashbacks fraying at the edges and etched over with wild animation. It’s a bold formal choice — one that purposefully tears at the structures of the narrative.
Who would have thought the Sad Horse Show would deliver us compelling narratives around not only mental health, but institutionalised sexism across the ages, and intergenerational trauma with the same care and sensitivity as the last seasons of Transparent (sorry for bumping you from the list, Transparent).
Can you catch up now? BoJack Horseman is available to stream in full on Netflix.
I know it’s trash, but it’s comforting/uncanny trash, and sometimes that’s enough. Don’t @ me.
Can you catch up now? Riverdale is available to stream in full on Netflix.
Meg Watson is the Editor of Junkee. She tweets @msmegwatson.