The Best TV Shows of 2017 (So Far)

One Day at a Time Netflix
Courtesy of Netflix

One of the most notable things about this list is its omissions. So many good shows debuted, returned or continued good seasons this year that it’s difficult to keep up. I’ve surely left off one or two or three of your favorites off this list (and I will continue to spend every spare hour trying to finish — or start — seasons of shows I haven’t seen).

Even so, coming up with 20 entries for this list wasn’t difficult — I actually had to prune back my first attempt at a roster (and once again, my end-of-year lists will likely once again contain up to 60 TV series). For the first half of the year, though, here’s an alphabetical list of the programs that made the strongest impressions impressions on me.

One Day at a Time
In this era of random reboots and greedy IP grabs, here was a Netflix revival that got the DNA of the original right and then improved on that formula. Anchored by a great cast, “One Day” (pictured, above) told stories that were heartwarming but never overly sentimental, and it was consistently funny, poignant and wise.

American Gods
Nothing is more American than a road trip, and this meditative Starz drama depicted one of the trippiest journeys to ever grace the small screen. A fantasia and a fever dream all at once, this adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel found both poetry and brutality in the cultures and belief systems that came together to create this strange dream called America.

Better Call Saul
Every year, the performances in this AMC drama grow richer and the character predicaments more complex, and this season was lent a special poignance by the unforgiving brother-vs-brother battle of Chuck versus Jimmy. This solidly crafted show continues to mine all it can from its core character’s shifty, striving backstory and from its dependably versatile cast.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
This musically enhanced CW comedy contains more than its share of bittersweet drama, which isn’t surprising, given its lead character’s problems with denial, co-dependence and depression. Adding Scott Michael Foster as Nathaniel in the second half of the season was a brilliant move (he’s an excellent foil for Rebecca, with whom he has a lot in common), and the show’s witty, smart explorations of Rebecca’s ability to put obstacles in her own way continued to be singularly entertaining.

Dear White People
A bracing, thoughtful and funny Netflix series that created a series of character portraits that won’t soon be forgotten. Like many of the best half-hour shows, “Dear White People” pulled no punches on the social-commentary front, but it was always considered, self-aware and curious.

Girls
The series finale wasn’t great and seems even more frantic and out of sync in hindsight. That said, the final season of the HBO show contained some of “Girls” most accomplished storytelling and insightful moments, and that’s saying something, considering this groundbreaking show came out of the gate strong all those years (and all those thinkpieces) ago.

The Handmaid’s Tale
The quiet intensity of this show’s aesthetic, not to mention a string of stellar performances, made the world of Gilead frequently transfixing. Any adaptation of a work this well-known and beloved is bound to encounter a few bumps in the road (or disagreements about execution), but there’s little doubt that this was a smart, worthy endeavor, and one that finally put Hulu on the map in the realm of original drama series.

Into the Badlands
This action-oriented AMC series more than delivered on the promise of its 2015 debut in a wild, exciting and gorgeous second season. There are very few series that provide witty escapism, a feast for the eyes, brisk storytelling and roundhouse kicks. This post-apocalyptic delight did all that and more.

Jane the Virgin
How do you take a show that’s great and make it even better? You smartly weave in heartfelt and intelligent commentary about grief, growth, parenting and the therapeutic benefits of a superficial fling. “Jane’s” efficient, beautifully orchestrated combinations of form, function and emotion would perhaps be more jaw-dropping if we weren’t so used to them — but that’s not to say we should take the CW show for granted.

The Keepers
Not just another true-crime documentary, but a meditation on what it does to a community — and individuals within it — when those in power not only allow crimes to be committed but cover up and dismiss evidence of gross abuses. The power of Netflix’s “The Keepers” comes from the doggedness of its quiet but tenacious amateur investigators, and even more so from testimony of the survivors at its core.

The Leftovers
This HBO show grew increasingly confident over its three-season run, and it was perfectly calibrated when it rolled into its third season. “The Leftovers” continually found ways to bring parables, metaphors and dreams to life, sometimes with imaginative and moving storytelling gambits, sometimes by simply training its cameras on the faces of its exceptional cast. This was an eight-episode run for the ages, topped by one of the all-time great series finales.

Legion
FX’s trippy superhero tale felt like a mash-up of “Quadrophenia” and an early Pink Floyd album. Dan Stevens’ empathic performance anchored a show that took a lot of flying leaps, many of which landed in strange but weirdly compelling places.

Mary Kills People
A sleeper that more people should seek out, this Lifetime drama followed the increasingly tricky balancing acts of a doctor who helped terminal patients end their lives. Was she doing it as an act of mercy or an assertion of power? The show wisely never answered that question definitively, but it supplied a lot of taut drama and even fizzy fun along the way.

Master of None
One of TV’s buzziest shows got even stronger in its second season, paying homage to cinematic legends while deepening the core characters and their relationships. It doesn’t hurt that in a world of bloated episodes, each installment of Netflix’s “Master of None” was crisp, concise and lasted just long enough.

National Treasure
A dark tale that avoided bleakness for something more ambiguous and true, Hulu’s  “National Treasure” told the story of a beloved actor who was actually a sexual predator — or was he? Answers arrive by the end of the story, but not before the four-part drama told an incisive tale about the messed-up power dynamics that can exist within families — and within the allegedly glamorous entertainment industry.

Review
Finally, we got the last three episodes of this delightfully demented Comedy Central show, which served as a meticulous parable about the dangers of going to extremes — a warning that has just a little bit of relevance to the times we’re living in. There were only three episodes in Forrest MacNeil’s swan song season, but they were perfect. Five out of five stars.

Shots Fired
The accountability of the police to the communities they serve is a life or death issue, and Fox’s “Shots Fired” incorporated that truth into a complex narrative that resisted the creation of one-dimensional villains or superficial solutions. A very able cast did fine work in a drama that occasionally sprawled but frequently had smart things to say about how different kinds of power are used — and sometimes abused.

Silicon Valley
Each update — sorry, season — of this HBO show finds it honing its characters and tableaus even more sharply. Each season is a meticulously constructed device built to efficiently skewer various tech-world types without relying on bland caricatures. To be clear, some characters are caricatures, but they’re usually hilariously douchey, and ripe for the satirizing. Every time you think Silicon Valley will save us from some social, cultural or political ill, force yourself to watch this show; most likely you will laugh and nod your head while you secretly wonder if we’re all doomed.

Superstore
There’s a heartening array of mainstream comedies on the broadcast networks that are willing to take on all kinds of hot-button topics, and NBC’s “Superstore” — which is never preachy or predictable — fits right into that category. Its array of characters has only gotten more amusing over time, and hanging over each deftly constructed relationship and believable aspiration is the thought that maybe, just maybe, the American dream already passed these workers by.

The Young Pope
Shows that feature walk-on — well, hop on — roles for kangaroos are just going to get more points than the average prestige drama. That’s just how it goes. In truth, very little about this HBO show was average. It was playfully serious, hilariously grave, surreally cynical and a feast for the eyes, and Jude Law embodied “The Young Pope’s” sly, serious mischievousness with impressive facility.

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  1. Think Animal Kingdom should be in this list….

  2. bob ingelhart says:

    Everyone watch Patriot on Amazon. It’s the new breaking bad. #notmelgibson

  3. William Cody says:

    So…nothing worth watching on TV still! That’s why I pulled my cable and now I just rent movies to watch on TV!

  4. V says:

    The leftovers was the best show on TV this year so far and the actors are amazing. Justin Theroux and Carrie Coon deserves some award nods

  5. Jacob m says:

    Best show on TV is on Sundance. Gomorrah is an amazing show. The acting is top notch, the story line captivating. Brutal but intriguing. Italian series, with English subtitles. Criminally underrated.

  6. ian jackson says:

    Any such list which doesn’t have Twin Peaks at the top cannot be taken seriously. The most innovative and ground-breaking show on TV since the original TP and the writer doesn’t even mention it? This speaks volumes about her capacity to appreciate art.

  7. mike says:

    Never heard of most of these, but I agree with “Shots Fired”. Very socially relevant.

  8. loved One day at a time. Into the Badlands is incredible with the martial arts and the actors are great. It’s not easy to fight and fly around and still deliver the message with your expression and demeanor. They are wonderful. Superstore, very funny. My funny program now.

  9. Bob says:

    Meanwhile, Twin Peaks is blowing my mind. #basicchoices

  10. jackdeth72 says:

    Wow!

    Someone is actually paid to watch, critique and hype this garbage?

    Who knew?

  11. Bruce says:

    AKA Maureen’s favourite shows of the year (so far). Definitive lists like these are always going to get disagreement but for my money, the best shows of the year so far that she didn’t even touch:

    Big Little Lies
    I Love Dick
    Underground
    Catastrophe
    Guerrilla

  12. pickles says:

    I haven’t watched Legion so I will try it ,One day at a time is horrific in my view.

  13. Where the hell are BIG LITTLE LIES and FEUD?? this can’t be taken seriously without those. Oh, and the GIRLS finale was genius.

  14. Natasha Shallon says:

    Fargo trumps Better Call Saul every week.

  15. Leslo Lazard says:

    Watched this show for a while. It is very unsympathetic to the Vatican image. Not only that, this show is a bore. I mean a BORE. Just checked to see if were Boar. This show is dull as a butter knife.

  16. Derek says:

    Legion is so underrated here; It is outstanding. It may not be everyones’ cup of tea, but it becomes a total mindf**k by the end of the seventh episode. The season finale leaves you with the sense that Fargo’s creator (Noah Hawley) knows what he’s doing. I haven’t watched Fargo yet, but now I want to.

  17. walter cronkite says:

    wow! tv really does suck

  18. Steven Livingston says:

    OK, you left out “Preacher”. Your list is invalid.

  19. What, no Sense8? Season two was even better than the first, and the first was groundbreaking!

  20. Lara Grant says:

    aspiration is the thought that maybe, just maybe, the American dream already passed these workers by.

  21. Lara Grant says:

    Too middle of the country and Patricia Heaton’s politics would be my guesses.

    Sad, not death and starvation sad, but sad.

  22. Ellie says:

    Have always wondered why The Middle, particularly the writing, Neil Flynn and Eden Sher, don’t get more love from the critics. Too middle of the country and Patricia Heaton’s politics would be my guesses.

    Sad, not death and starvation sad, but sad.

  23. Akhil says:

    How about the expanse

  24. George Silverstein says:

    I think fuller house should of been there not one day at time the original is better by far

  25. Scott3152 says:

    If these are the best it shows how bad it has become on TV. Not much to choose from out there.

  26. Theresa says:

    Ratings doesn’t determine quality. If it did NCIS, Big Bang Theory, 2 1/2 men wouldn’t have any one watching them.

  27. Viola Chaps says:

    Any list that has Crazy Ex-Girlfriend & Jane The Virgin as the best of the year, I can’t take seriously! Mary Kills People is extremely over rated with scripts containing huge holes in the writing.

    • tvlover44 says:

      can’t speak on ‘mary kills people’ as i haven’t seen it, but ‘crazy ex-girlfriend’ and ‘jane the virgin’ are two of the most creative, smart, and enjoyable shows on u.s. television at the moment. if you’re judging them because they’re on the CW, think again; if you’re judging them because they are female-centered and -run shows, well, your judgement is sexist. highly recommend both series to folks who love good tv.

      • Ellie says:

        So, you’re judging Viola’s opinion on your preconceptions of her?

      • Viola Chaps says:

        I’m judging both shows on the fact that I found them insulting to me as a woman. I don’t care what network they’re on–I found nothing to recommend on either show. Glad you enjoyed them but these are not characters I want to spend my tv viewing time with.

  28. Alex says:

    All low rated crap no one is watching…and FYI, “GOTHAM” is the best show on TV

    • vnc says:

      By that logic, McDonald’s is the greatest food known to man.

    • Felicia Hardy says:

      While I don’t agree that Gotham is a great show given its camp factor, if Into the craptacular Badlands is on the list, you might as well put Gotham on there.

      Interestingly Fear the Walking Dead has historically been a terrible show, this past week’s episode with Ruben Blades is better than the last two years of Walking Dead combined.

      I agree with the guy who raved about Vikings. That is a great series.

  29. TV viewer in Los Angeles says says:

    “American Crime”.

  30. Weary says:

    Oh boy – if this is the best, what was the worst?

  31. robinhelene says:

    I’m enjoying Downward Dog. That show teaches me things about dogs and people I always wanted to know but didn’t realize I wanted to know. Plus, the dog is a rescue and has one of the most expressive faces and beautiful eyes I have ever seen. The writing is sensitive and the acting is sensational. I doubt it will survive, because shows I like rarely do. But I hope someone adopts Martin in real life. He’s a keeper. Love, Robin

  32. Rogue says:

    This is almost a random list of shows that Maureen likes, good and bad clearly. And clearly she does not watch VIKINGS, which is criminally overlooked as is its star Travis Fimmel (who died this season in one of the great hours of television all year).

    And Into the Badlands is as entertaining as eating a stuffed crust pizza. You can’t defend it, its absurdly bad for you, but you eat it anyway. Hardly the best but I get the appeal. Mary Kills People is not a great show, nor is the soapboxy Shots Fired. One Day at a Time, REALLY? Have you never seen VEEP?

    To her credit she did not include season 3 of Fargo on her list which is running on creative fumes despite Ewan MacGregor giving it his all. Other stinkers: Genius on Nat Geo, Twin Peaks (barely 300,000 viewers are willing to sit through that self indulgent mess); Feud had great performances but ran out of story by episode 2, Taboo was Tom Hardy brooding with not great material, the Americans is on permanent slow burn and VASTLY overrated.

    Glad she mentioned KEEPERS and LEFTOVERS, the latter of which never caught on but was one of the best directed and acted shows on Television.

    • Steve Bronn says:

      Way to spoil major character deaths you inconsiderate, sociopathic moron.

    • vnc says:

      So what if only 300,000 people watched? Many great works of art and artists throughout the centuries haven’t been seen or loved by people at the time.

      And why is Twin Peaks being self-indulgent a bad thing? Lynch is a cinematic master and you act as though the input of TV executives would help matters! Yes, if only more great artists throughout history could’ve been reined in by bean-counters, TV executives and accountants, eh?

      Showtime will be able to bask in the kudos of this show (and giving Lynch freedom) for years, and those of us willing to meet challenging works half way are similarly grateful.

      • vnc says:

        BobbynotBOB

        I don’t think anyone’s expecting another season – this is an 18 hour David Lynch movie. What else on Earth could Showtime spend their money on that’d compete with giving one of the most acclaimed filmmakers on Earth free rein? At the very least people should appreciate the risk.

        And who cares about viewing figures apart from TV executives themselves (and, it seems, people on here)? It’s completely irrelevant. But even if it did matter – this isn’t disposable like most TV. Some people are waiting to watch them all in one go, some are waiting to buy the thing on DVD/Blu-Ray and worldwide many will tune in, and will do so years from now, long after 99.9% of American TV and the shows here will have been forgotten. The most popular stuff often fades away and the great stuff lasts.

      • BobbynotBOB says:

        Many of you are wishing for another season of this crap. You should then be concerned that only 300,000 people are willing to sit through it. Looks like there won’t be another season. Few have fallen for the bait-and-switch. As Lynch massages himself, we feel had. I bet Showtime won’t pony up again.

      • CarlJ says:

        Many people are either recording Peaks or are waiting to binge. And I can’t disagree in that is probably the best way to watch the series. It was never intended to be and was not constructed to be an episodic television show. Lynch has stated that this is actually shot as an 18 hour movie. Given that, we are coming out of the prologue at this point. Kudos to Lynch for not trying to recreate what was done before. Just another “who killed so-and-so” would have been lazy and blame. ( although that is not to say that there aren’t any killings that needs to be addressed.) Personally, I would put Twin Peaks at the number one spot. There is no show I look forward to more.

  33. lindsey says:

    crazy ex gf is garbage – there’s a reason it’s the lowest rated comedy on network tv. doesn’t fit cw and somehow they’re the only ones who believe in it

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