TV

The Best TV Shows Of 2017 So Far

Time to binge.

Calling it: 2017 will go down as one of the best years of TV on record. We’re passing the mid-point of the year and are already spoilt for choice with new shows and returning series that continue to astound. And there is still so much to come: new Game of Thrones, Star Trek DiscoveryTop of the Lake: China Girl and nine more hours of Twin Peaks.

With so much TV to devour, it’s tough to get through it all so leave a comment with your recommendations for the year so far. Each one of our picks has details of how you can watch it right now but keep in mind a few shows come with an “it’s complicated” warning due to silly TV programmers and backwards distribution channels in Australia.

Get on your comfiest trackies, order your body weight in pizza and prepare to catch up on the best because the golden age of TV just went platinum.


Legion

Based on writer Chris Claremont and artist Bill Sienkiewicz’s X-Men character, Legion focuses on David Haller (Dan Stevens), who is diagnosed with schizophrenia and spends his youth in and out of psychiatric facilities. When Heller meets Syd (Rachel Keller), he’s confronted with the possibility that his mental health issues are linked to mutant abilities.

Remember how Hannibal turned a serial killer show into a trippy masterpiece? Legion does the same, but with comic book adaptations. Under the guidance of the show’s boss Noah Hawley — the genius behind the Fargo TV series — Legion shreds formulaic elements of superhero stories and takes a non-linear approach to solving the show’s great mystery: Haller. 

The show is lush with visuals that appear like dreamscapes and every frame is full of clues to assist in solving the mystery of Haller’s life. It’s a show that definitely makes you work for it, but in a refreshing way. This comic book adaptation expects a lot from its audience in the brainpower department and delivers big time.

Is there more? Yes! Before the first season ended, FX put in an order for a second season that will air in 2018.

Can you watch now? Legion season one is available on Foxtel Now via FX.


The Good Place

The Good Place is Michael Schur’s first new creation since finishing up Parks and Recreation, and it shows. The Good Place is the kind of passion project that gets green-lit on the goodwill of a huge previous success because the concept is a tough sell. It mixes comedy, romance, fantasy, existentialism, and the afterlife into one show.

The Good Place begins with the death of Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) who is met in the afterlife by Michael (Ted Danson), the architect of how she’ll spend her eternity in a neighbourhood called ‘The Good Place’. This is a place where frozen yogurt is free and unlimited, everyone has a soul mate and pants fit perfectly.

Admission to ‘The Good Place’ is based on how you behaved in life and all the evil folks are sent to ‘The Bad Place’ for misdemeanours such as paying money to listen to the Red Hot Chilli Peppers or reheating fish in an office microwave. When Eleanor is praised for her humanitarian work, she realises there been a case of mistaken identity and she’s meant to be in ‘The Bad Place’.

Look, it sounds out there, and it is, but if you stick with it you’ll be gifted with a sublime first season packed with clever ideas, jokes and a gobsmacking finale.

Is there more? Many thought The Good Place wouldn’t survive but it has been given the go-ahead with a second season set to begin airing, September 28 2017.

Can you watch now? The Good Place is exclusive to NBC, it’s complicated.


The Detroiters

The Detroiters centres on two best friends (Sam Richardson and Tim Robinson) who work together at an advertising agency that specialises in making commercials for water bed outlets, kid and pre-teen furniture stores and used car lots. Hope you like low-budget television commercials!

The Detroiters is like Mad Men meets Broad City. It’s hilarious and absurd but has a lot of heart that comes from the chemistry of the two leads.

Is there more? Huzzah! The Detroiters will be back for a second season in 2018.

Can you watch now? The Detroiters season one is available on Foxtel Now via The Comedy Channel.


Five Came Back

Based on the Mark Harris book of the same name, Five Came Back features five filmmakers: Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Guillermo del Toro, Paul Greengrass and Lawrence Kasdan, profiling the contribution of five master filmmakers; John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens, to World War II.

Tracing their careers before, during and after the war paints a moving picture of what these creatives experienced and how what they saw on the battlefront changed them as filmmakers. Five Came Back sneaks up on you because it transforms from a war documentary to a celebration of the joys of cinema and being alive. Have tissues handy because the final montage of Five Came Back is stunning.

Is there more? Sadly, no. Five Came Back is a standalone documentary but if you’re super keen, check out Mark Harris’ book Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War.

Can you watch now? Five Came Back is available on Netflix.


Big Little Lies

The TV show that challenges the Emmys: can the Best Actress category be made up of only actresses from the same show? It could happen.

Based on the novel by Australian author Liane Moriarty, Big Little Lies tells the story of five women (Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Zoe Kravitz and Shailene Woodley) living in Monterey, California, where the police are investigating a suspicious death at a school fundraiser. The show cuts back and forth between the past and present as we’re immersed in the family lives of these women and the brewing conflicts and past traumas that shadow them.

Big Little Lies has storylines focusing on domestic violence, rape, infidelity, bullying and the class divide in a small community told primarily from a female point of view. Many perceived Big Little Lies as a prestige soap opera with the backing of HBO, but its appeal is much broader. There’s a refreshing amount of empathy between these women who initially set out to destroy or meddle in each other’s lives; they grow to appreciate each other and and garner strength to survive the trauma of their lives. Throw in an amazing soundtrack and you’ve got one of the frontrunners for the best show of 2017.

Is there more? At the writing of this article the cast and crew are only hinting at the possibility of another season. The first season wraps up the story perfectly and HBO haven’t made an announcement yet about its future, but Moriarty has expressed in interviews she is open to continuing the story.

Can you watch now? Big Little Lies season one is available on Foxtel Now via Showcase.


The Handmaid’s Tale

Prepare to whisper “what the fuck” under your breath a lot with The Handmaid’s Tale — a chilling and prescient TV show that derives a lot of its power from the current political climate.

Based on the Margaret Atwood novel of the same, The Handmaid’s Tale is set in the near future where Gilead rules the former United States after gunning down the American congress and taking power. Due to a dwindling birth rate, the regime removes the rights of women to work and any females who are able to conceive become ‘Handmaids’.

Handmaids are assigned to the households of high ranking officials where they are required to have sex with the man of the house in a government-sanctioned rape. The Handmaids wear red cloaks and white bonnets and their sole purpose is to reproduce or they get sent away to clean up toxic waste and endure a slow, painful death.

Every second of this show is terrifying. The tension between our reality and Atwood’s dystopia will keep you on edge.

Is there more? Prepare to don the bonnet again because The Handmaid’s Tale will return to freak everybody out for a second season in 2018.

Can you watch now? The Handmaid’s Tale season one just hit SBS OnDemand.


American Gods

I found Jesus, he was taking a stroll across the pool. In American Gods — an adaptation of the brilliant Neil Gaiman novel — Jesus walks amongst us. In fact, there are multiples types because so many people believe in different iterations of the son of god.

Yep, if people believe in any deity in American Gods they take a physical form and get their power from their followers. If people lose their faith in them, they die. American Gods introduces ancient gods from Egypt, Africa and Ireland living in modern America and struggling with the rise of the new and powerful gods of technology and the media.

The creative mind behind Hannibal, Bryan Fuller, creates a twisted world of magic where a mighty power struggle is in effect. Gorgeous, pulpy visuals delight the senses and the show takes its time to give each god a backstory to establish their rise and fall.

Is there another season? Yes, the second season is happening and will arrive in mid-2018.

Can you watch now? American Gods season one is available on Amazon Prime Australia.


GLOW

In 1985 a group of LA ladies answer a newspaper ad asking for “unconventional women” and discover they were auditioning for an all-female professional wrestling show. An actress down on her luck, Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie giving a career best performance), decides to audition and becomes one of the stars of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW, see what they did there).

Created by Liz Flahive (Homeland, Nurse Jackie) and Carly Mensch (Weeds, Nurse Jackie, Orange is the New Black), the series is based on a true story as profiled in the documentary GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. Under the guidance of executive producer, Jenji Kohan (creator of Weeds and Orange is the New Black), the series features a fantastic ensemble cast exploring empowerment and gender stereotypes from within wrestling ring.

It also looks at the conventions of storytelling and the roles women are confined to through the filter of the male gaze (Marc Maron plays a sleazy director/writer). GLOW is more than just a nostalgia trip back to the ’80s, there’s serious smarts underneath the gigantic hair and lycra.

Is there more? GLOW is only a few weeks old and gaining a lot of praise from critics but Netflix hasn’t announced if they want more body slamming yet.

Can you watch now? GLOW season one is available on Netflix.


The Good Fight

The Good Fight follows Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) back to the courtroom after her retirement is cut short a year after the events of the season finale of The Good Wife. Fans were initially unhappy that The Good Fight undoes Lockhart’s character arc in The Good Wife, but the spin-off shows the world still needs a lawyer of her calibre, especially in a post-Trump world.

In The Good Fight, Lockhart is getting on the right side of history by choosing not to defend the powerful and wealthy, but instead, she goes to work with her former employee, Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo), at a firm owned by respected black lawyers who specialise in police brutality cases. Joining Lockhart and Quinn is Mia (Rose “you know nothing Jon Snow” Leslie from Game of Thrones), a young lawyer whose family are responsible for a huge financial scam that threatens to bring everyone down.

A bunch of the best characters from The Good Wife live on in The Good Fight and the writing is just as sharp with storylines focusing on gender, race and sexuality. The Good Fight rises to the greatness of its predecessor while managing to be more intuitive to the current political climate. This is a no-brainer if you’re a fan of The Good Wife — do not miss it.

Is there more? The verdict on a second season of The Good Fight was positive and we’ll see more from Ms. Lockhart and Co. in 2018.

Can you watch now? The Good Fight season one will air on SBS, Wednesday August 2 with episodes also streaming on SBS On Demand.


Goliath

David E. Kelley, the creator of Ally McBeal, heads back to the courtroom with Billy Bob Thornton playing Billy McBride, a lawyer who became an alcoholic after a court case goes badly. The disgraced McBride is on the path to redemption when he takes on a wrongful death suit against his former employer and it becomes a big deal with conspiracies and cover-ups.

Legal shows can all feel the same but Goliath offers something different thanks to an amazing performance by Thornton as a burnt-out lawyer with a little fight left in him.

Is there more? Goliath will have another day in court when it returns for a second season in 2018.

Can you watch now? Goliath season one is available on Amazon Prime Australia.


Ronny Chieng: International Student

It hasn’t been the best start to the year for Australian television, so it’s a relief that Ronny Chieng: International Student popped up. The show is based on the real experiences of stand-up comedian, Ronny Chieng, who relocated to Australia in 2009 to study law and commerce.

Ronny Chieng: International Student pokes fun at Australian life from the perspective of a group of students from overseas who discover studying here wasn’t going to be a breeze. Gags are aimed dodgy university facilities, preppy white upper-class medical students and a few cultural clashes that deliver a good dose of cultural cringe.

Is there more? Ronny Chieng: International Student was part of the ABC’s Comedy Showroom where they asked for public feedback on six comedy pilots. The show got a great reaction and scored a first season but there is no word yet on a second.

Can you watch now? Ronny Chieng: International Student season one is available on ABC iView.


 Special Categories

Best New True Crime Obsession: The Keepers

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If you took notes during Making of a Murder, you have to watch The Keepers. The doco series follows a group of retirees who are investigating the unsolved murder of their high school teacher, Sister Cathy Cesnik.

The investigation takes them down a dark path of abuse involving the Catholic Church, which sadly, has gone by unpunished. It’s a tough show to sit through due to the subject matter, but it’s empowering to witness the crowdsourcing of justice when corrupt organisations fail to take action.

Can you watch now? The Keepers is available on Netflix.


Best New Comedy Special: Michael Bolton’s Big Sexy Valentine’s Day Special

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Finally! Someone gives us the Michael Bolton Valentine’s Day special we needed. The team behind The Lonely Island and Comedy Bang! Bang! recruit Bolton to host the special because Santa has made too many toys and the singer is the only person who can get couples around the world to make love and conceive 75,000 babies to deal with the oversupply. The whole thing is insane and absurd but it’s hard not to be reduced to tears of laughter by the madness of this special and a self-depreciating Bolton.

Can you watch now? Michael Bolton’s Big Sexy Valentine’s Day Special is available on Netflix.


Best Express Broadway Show To Your Living Room: Oh Hello On Broadway

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Meet George St. Geegland (John Mulaney) and Gil Faizon (Nick Kroll), two elderly gentlemen from the Upper West Side of Manhattan who are putting on a two-man show about their lives, love of tuna sandwiches and Alan Alda. Oh Hello On Broadway had a 15-week run in New York, but a smart person at Netflix thought it would be a good idea to record the show so it could be immortalised on the streaming service.

Oh Hello On Broadway pokes fun at the clichés of Broadway stage productions and musicals while unleashing the bizarre opinions of Geegland and Faizon. There’s a great cameo from Steve Martin, who gets interviewed mid-show (the Broadway run had a different celebrity each night) and you’ll find yourself saying “oh hello” to everyone you meet after while trying not to laugh while reliving this wonderful show. Plus it’s Broadway, direct to your home!

Can you watch now? Oh Hello On Broadway is available on Netflix.


Best Holy Shit It’s New Twin Peaks: Twin Peaks: The Return

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We’re nine horrifying, mystifying and wonderful episodes into the return of Twin Peaks and it’s turning out, so far, to be better than anyone expected. Yes, it’s still early days, this thing could fall apart at any moment, but it has been a specular display of the unique vision of David Lynch and Mark Frost.

The Return is not wallowing in nostalgia, but rather, offering up new characters and mysteries, most of it incomprehensible, but there’s a beauty to the chaos at play. Each week a captivating new episode arrives to get under your skin and Lynch’s imagery stalks the mind for days, weeks, and months. At this rate, like the first two seasons, we’ll be pondering this show for years, which is a credit to its excellence.

Can you watch now? Twin Peaks season one, two and the return is available on Stan.

Cameron Williams is a writer and film critic based in Melbourne who occasionally blabs about movies on ABC radio. Co-founder of Graffiti With Punctuation and The Popcorn Junkee. He has a slight Twitter addiction: @MrCamW.

Love film and TV? We’re holding our inaugural Video Junkee festival in July, a new annual event for lovers and creators of online video. Video Junkee is on July 28 & 29 at Carriageworks in Sydney, featuring keynotes, masterclasses, screenings, interviews and more. Tickets are on sale now.