2017 was a good year for television shows (if nothing else). With the rising popularity of streaming and the low box office attendance in recent years, big name actors, directors and producers have moved to the small screen to flex their creativity in some truly original entertainment. There were a lot of good shows this year, and while one doesn’t have the time or the resources to watch them all, here were some of my favorites.
WARNING: SPOILERS FOR GAME OF THRONES. (But come on, were in Season 7, you should have watched it by now).
The Handmaid’s Tale
Based on Margaret Atwood’s superb novel of the same name, Handmaid’s Tale is set in an alternate universe where pollution and nuclear waste have rendered much of the population infertile, men reign supreme, and those few lucky ones able to reproduce are sold as indentured servants/baby makers. The performances by the actors, notably Elizabeth Moss, Samira Wiley and Alexis Bledel (who proved there is life after Gilmore) are powerful, often heartbreaking. Interspersed with teasing flashbacks of just how this happened in a modern society is refreshing, giving you a break from the often bleak world of Gilead. Certain details and events in the show differ from the book due to the nature of telling the story in TV format, so even if you’ve read the book, or plan to, there are some genuinely shocking, even disturbing moments you won’t see coming. Watch it on Hulu.
Game of Thrones *SPOILERS*
If Season 6 had fans of the book wringing their hands at the direction the show might take now that the source material had been exhausted, I think Season 7 relieved their fears. At least mine. My pet peeve with the series, especially the books, was the amount of time spent on the road to something else, only to get captured/killed/drafted into another army two feet short of the goal. In Season 7 everyone was presumably given teleportation powers as they winked at the audience and promised if we didn’t bring it up there would be more in the budget for dragons. Touché, Game of Thrones. Not only did they give us dragons, whitewalkers, sweet revenge on that sniveling Bastard Ramsey, and a kickass Sansa but they also gave my favorite interchange of the series. Melisandre asks Jon Snow after resurrecting him from the dead: ”What did you see?” Jon Snow: “Nothing, there was nothing at all.”. Wait, what? No God of Light or the Mother or the Crone or dragons or The Many Faced God or Children of the Forest or any of the weird crap that I somehow know more about than most real religions? That cut deep. Plus you know you cried when Viserion died. I’ve never been so upset about a piece of dead CG in my life. Watch it on HBO, HBOGo.
Like Stranger Things the year before, Mindhunter came with little herald. Which is a surprise, because it was produced by David Fincher, a man who knows how to execute a serial killer movie (Se7en, Zodiac). The show is based on the true story of two FBI agents who traveled the country interviewing some of the most notorious murderers in order to profile the psychology of the now infamous “serial killer”. Despite its dark material, it manages to have some fun. The chemistry between the two lead actors (Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany) is sparkling, veering away from the cliche old dog/by the book detective and his rookie/loose-cannon partner. Cameron Britton delivers a chilling performance as serial killer Ed Kemper. Menacing at 6’5 and exquisitely polite, he offers the detectives the last slice of pizza before detailing his grisly crimes with the aloof detachment of an IT guy giving instructions on changing a password. With Fincher’s quippy dialogue and signature tension building shots the show rarely falters, and nicely sets things in motion for Season 2. Available on Netflix.
The Good Place
For me, The Good Place is an example of not judging a book by its cover. I saw the promos for it and immediately said to myself, “That’s getting canceled mid-season.” Starring walking Disney Princess Kristen Bell and a bow-tie sporting Ted Danson, it’s a show about heaven, or The Good Place. How could a show about heaven possibly be interesting nevertheless funny? Because it’s by Michael Schur, one of the geniuses behind shows like The Office, Parks and Rec and Master of None. Without spoiling too much, we learn early in the pilot that Bell’s character is in the Good Place by mistake. She’s a terrible person, as shown is some hilarious flashbacks. She confides this in her assigned soulmate, Chidi, an ethics professors who battles with her natural impulses to be awful and tries to make her a “good” person. It sounds like a saccharine Hallmark movie on paper, but its actually a wickedly funny satire on what eternal rewards would wait the modern do-gooder. Nice mansion? Fro-yo shops on every corner and free movie nights? The show mostly stays away from the more religious aspects of the afterlife (according to Danson, the architect of the Good Place, the one true religion was only ever guessed by a stoner named Doug Forcett, who came close in the 1970s. “He got really high on mushrooms and got, like, 92 percent correct.”). A running gag in The Good Place is the inability to swear, so whenever a character tries to let loose a string of profanity it comes out like an edited for cable version of Goodfellas. And just when you think you have the show figured out, some wild curveball is thrown at you to keep things spicy. Trust me, it’s some forking funny spit. Season 1 Available on Netflix. Season 2 Currently on NBC
As a kid in 1980’s New Jersey, wrestling was a big deal in my house. I scarcely remember a Saturday afternoon the WWF, G.L.O.W. and NWA was not playing in the background, my older brother glued to the set. He had all the action figures, Hulk Hogan, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Randy Savage, Ric Flair, The Iron Sheik, even their managers and their sexy female companions that riled up the crowd and occasionally stepped into the ring to handle some business.
G.L.O.W. is the 1980’s, big, loud and bright. A lot of people dismiss wrestling as a fake sport –in the end the matches are predetermined and carefully choreographed, but with that logic one could say figure skating or gymnastics are a fake sport. What wrestling does and G.L.O.W. breaks down, is the amount of intricate, body-breaking athleticism and soap opera like story-telling that goes into making a wrestling match interesting. Part 80’s underdog sports movie, part dry comedy and aided by the full battery of Allison Brie’s doe eyes, G.L.O.W. was a show I found myself re-watching. And not just for the cocaine serving robot, Welfare Queen and Zoya the Destroyer. All you need is your ALF doll, Rainbow Bright snap bracelets and trickle-down economics and it is the eighties.
Wait. Not the last one. Please not the last one. Available on Netflix.
Master of None – On the whole, not my favorite season, but the Thanksgiving episode, detailing each character’s Thanksgiving, makes up for the episodes that misfire. It also gave depth to side characters on the show who usually just show up to comment on what’s going on in Dev’s life. Watch it on Netflix.
Legion – Starring this generation’s Hugh Grant, Dan Stevens and the always delightful Aubrey Plaza, this is the story of a man diagnosed with schizophrenia and committed to a mental hospital only to find that his sickness may actually be a great power. This show is based on Marvel Comic’s character David Charles Haller, the son of Professor X and Gabrielle Haller. It distorts time and reality in a way I often found confusing, but apparently I am in the minority here. His alternative personas have the ability to control his strong and arguably ruinous abilities. It poses the question that the great philosopher Joan Osborne asked in the 1990’s radio hit, “What if God was one of us? Just a stranger on the bus?” Would we lock him/her in a mental asylum for our own safety? Probably. Catch it on FX.
Stranger Things 2 –Stranger Things 2 had its problems this time around, notably the decision to split the cast up for much of the season and Emo Eleven. However, despite its bumps, it was an overall entertaining season and the pairing of Steve Harrington and Dustin was adorable. It was fun to see Sean Aston as the dorky step-dad trying to make sense of this otherworldly chaos he inherited. Hopefully the Duffer Brothers can shake out what works and what doesn’t for Season 3. Watch it on Netflix.
Did I miss you favorite show of 2017? Let Nerdbot know in the comments!