The Best TV Shows of 2017

15. On Cinema at the Cinema / The Electric Sun 20 Trial

14. The Punisher

13. Girls

12. Dark

11. The Affair

10. Billions

9. Suburra: Blood on Rome

8. The Americans

7. Better Call Saul

6. Fargo

5. Game of Thrones

4. The Leftovers

3. The Young Pope

2. Halt and Catch Fire

1. Twin Peaks

I’m a TV critic, and to my astonishment I realized that this year I watched and reviewed every single episode of twenty-three different shows in addition to whatever else I watched for fun or edification. (Which to be honest was not a whole lot, considering the amount of time the paying gigs ate up!) I’ve always preferred tailoring my career to that kind of episode-by-episode writing (the term of art is “recaps” but thats a preposterously inadequate term for what anyone worth reading does) because it keeps the focus on the work itself instead of the conversation surrounding the work. The art is what goes on the screen and how it affects you, not what’s being said about it in tweets and thinkpieces. That sounds condescending, and I guess maybe it is, but I’ve preferred this approach ever since I was primarily a comics critic, reviewing three books a week every week for a couple of years, and tons on either side of that too. My pal Matthew Perpetua always took that approach to music with his Fluxblog — that’s how we became friends — and over time maintaining that outlook has been a real sanity saver. It doesn’t hurt that this makes my precarious full-time freelance existence a lot more predictable in terms of workflow, scheduling, and income than it would be if it were dependent on pitching new essays every week.

Anyway! It was an absolutely marvelous year for television, which is funny to reflect on given the wave of “prestige drama is over” pieces that crested during The Young Pope and just a couple of weeks before Twin fuckin’ Peaks. (I have strong, pretentious, goth feelings about why many of my peers prefer adorkable comedies to drama, and overreact to novelty over quality within the drama category too, that I’ll keep to myself.)

If you look at that top 15 list, I’d say the top 7 are genuine for-the-ages seasons of TV, an extraordinary amount of great work compared to almost any other time even in the New Golden Age. Twin Peaks aired the best season of any show ever, imo, and I’m not sure it’s even close; it was the best work of David Lynch’s career, and I love David Lynch’s career. (The blu-ray box set used a quote from one of my pieces as the pullquote on the back of the box, which I imagine Lynch voicing his approval of in Gordon Cole’s voice.) Halt and Catch Fire‘s last few episodes were so fucking warm and humane without ever getting sappy or feel-good that it skyrocketed straight to my all-time list. The Young Pope did, too, right out of the gate; I laughed with pure delight and admiration a whole lot during that show. With the exception of the animated sequence that ripped off that World of Tomorrow guy, which is very much not my thing, I thought Fargo Season 3 was unfairly maligned compared to its predecessors (and especially compared to Legion — there’s that novelty bit I mentioned); Thewlis, Coon, Stuhlbarg, Winstead, and Wise all crushed it, and McGregor caught up by the end too, and V.M. Varga is the villain for our time if you go for that sort of thing.

There were some surprises too. Like a lot of people I felt like this season of The Americans was impeccable on an episode by episode basis but didn’t add up the way past seasons did. To my shock, Billions became one of the most entertaining and meticulously constructed shows on TV, and all of the cast additions this year were a ton of fun. Netflix went from having aired close to zero shows I really give a shit about to three that I adore in what felt like overnight: Suburra, an intensely emotional Italian crime drama about three extremely handsome young criminals; The Punisher, a show that was much better and more moral than it could have easily gotten away with being when you see Blue Lives Matter-branded Punisher skulls everywhere you look; and Dark, a horror-tinged sci-fi story that is actually a ruthless character drama.

I don’t care for very many sitcoms and find it hard to compare comedies to dramas no matter what, since the main responsibility for characters in a comedy is to be joke delivery mechanisms and thus you can’t really evaluate them on a human-emotions basis. (Or at least you shouldn’t!) But Girls is basically a very funny drama, like Mad Men, or a very mean comedy, like Curb Your Enthusiasm, so I’ve always enjoyed it, and the On Cinema Universe is like freebasing Tim Heidecker.

The big letdown for me this year was Mr. Robot. I loved Season 2, and while I could see that Season 3 was a deliberate move back toward the more straightforward rhythm of Season 1 I was right there with it because it’s so good at portraying how bleak contemporary existence can be — until the big second act climax, after which I thought it lost its way. Oh well!

One thing I love about my job is that without it, I would never have watched DarkSuburra, or Billions at all, and wouldn’t have stuck with BillionsThe LeftoversThe Americans, or Halt and Catch Fire past their first seasons, or even just a few episodes into their first seasons. So that’s nice!

I also watch cartoons with my kids sometimes. Nearly every kids’ cartoon on Netflix is insufferable, but they love Gumball and Uncle Grandpa on Cartoon Network and so do I. Those are shows that really are for kids and are totally hilarious to them but are also totally hilarious to me, and not in a “here’s a joke about mortgages, Dad” or “now let’s get serious about our feelings, neurotic millennial who is also watching this children’s show” kind of way — they’re just funny, like Ren & Stimpy used to be.

I’m looking forward to doing more writing about television this year and doing it the only way I know how to do it. I’m excited to be off twitter for the process, too. If you need me, you know how to find me.

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