The Top 10 TV Shows Of 2017
By GameSpot Staff on
The past year was a great one for television. Whether it was on a major network, cable, or through a streaming service, there was something for everyone. From drama to comedy to sci-fi and even horror, we are living in a golden age of television. The biggest problem with 2017 was figuring out what the best shows were and tougher yet, narrowing down 12 months of awesome TV to the 10 best shows.
This year's top 10 comes from a wide variety of series on various formats chosen by the staff here at GameSpot. Obviously, we'd love to hear what your favorites from 2017 were, so let us know in the comments what shows rocked your world this past year. For now, here are GameSpot's tops shows starting with number 10.
WARNING: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS AHEAD. BE WARNED.
10. Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones' shorter, tighter seventh season threw traditional timelines out of the window, instead choosing to propel its characters towards its impending final season with gusto. Crucial alliances were made, important characters met their demise, and dragon sightings were rife.
After the explosive Season 6 finale, Season 7 focused on reuniting the remaining characters in Westeros. The White Walker threat, finally established and fully recognised in Westeros, became the catalyst to galvanize friends and foes to push everything forward.
Game of Thrones also finally gave us answers to some huge questions that have been hanging over the series since its beginning, such as Jon Snow's parentage, which has been subject to hundreds of fan theories over the years. Despite giving fans the answers to a few big questions, Game of Thrones still managed to keep other cards close to its chest.
It spent more time with its characters, almost as if it's inviting viewers to invest deeper in their favourites, before the inevitable bloodshed of its final season. Characters like Olenna Tyrell were given ample time to shine--with her one-liners remaining series highlights--while certified troublemaker Euron Greyjoy stole scenes with his outrageous behaviour. Dickon Tarly, with his broad shoulders, tiny head, and unfortunate name, became a running gag, and we saw the welcome return of Tycho Nestoris, the Iron Bank's level-headed representative. Main characters we thought we knew inside-out also surprised us, like when Sansa's transformation from a naive young girl into a master manipulator boiled over in an electrifying tete-a-tete with Littlefinger.
While Season 7 was full of set-up, there were a couple of real stand out episodes. "The Spoils of War" gave us an incredible action set piece in the dragon caravan attack, and despite a very questionable set up to steal a wight, "Beyond The Wall" delivered a fun ensemble romp into enemy territory, and its ending became one of the most talked-about television moments of the year.
While Season 7 of Game of Thrones didn't hit the high notes of previous seasons, and had some questionable pacing, it did its job in placing the key figures in position for what promises to be an explosive finale. It's just a shame we have to wait over a year for the payoff.
9. Rick and Morty
Rick and Morty has been the most creative show on television and the internet since its season 1 pilot. That doesn’t change in Season 3, as it continued not only to surprise longtime fans, but to make each episode enjoyable for newbies to the series (with the exception of The Ricklantis Mixup and The Rickchurian Mortydate. Those episodes were very inside Mortyball).
The show is set up in typical sitcom fashion, revolving around a typical family living in a typical suburb. Their interpersonal conflicts serve as an underlying plot to the thing that makes the show great: Rick Sanchez. The garage-dwelling patriarch of the family is a sociopathic genius with a portal gun that can access infinite number of universes. Couple this with Rick not seeming to care about anything, having masked motivations and an unexplained backstory, and as viewers we can’t begin to guess what the hell is going to happen in the next scene, much less the next episode.
This season of Rick and Morty taught us lessons about family, trust, and anger. It supplied commentary on the evils of capitalism, the corruption of absolute power, the falseness of bravado, and the protective fabrications of youth. All the while it continued to develop its characters without dimming any of the brilliance from its previous seasons. Rick and Morty continues to redefine how characters interact with the narrative around them and pushes comedy writing further, into a place of highly intelligent social criticism--without losing a single fart joke along the way.
The characters were explored further than ever, and the deep-seated dysfunction between Rick and his daughter Beth took a front seat. That father-daughter relationship drove the story forward, even as Rick and Morty spent entire episodes destroying heroes, annoying presidents, and battling corrupted versions of themselves.
Written and directed by an ensemble led by veteran show creators Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland, Rick and Morty’s future seems infinite. If you don't get it, don't worry. To be fair, you have to have a very high IQ to understand Rick and Morty.
8. The Good Place
Where do you go when you die? The Good Place dares to answer this question in the form of a sitcom, giving us a fresh, hilarious take on the afterlife from creator Michael Schur (Parks and Recreation, The Office). The show is delightfully absurd, giving us a perfectly crafted first season and going off the rails in season two. It’s the one of the funniest, and by far the most original, live-action comedy series of the past year - with a talented cast of ridiculous characters led by stars Kristen Bell and Ted Danson.
Bell is equally snarky and lovable as Eleanor Shellstrop, a recently deceased woman who awakens in The Good Place - an eternal paradise filled with soulmates, frozen yogurt shops and mansions - designed for those purest of heart. There she meets Michael (Ted Danson, at the top of his game), the architect of this perfect utopia, who commends her on living a righteous life which granted her passage into The Good Place.
The problem? There’s been a huge mistake. Eleanor does not truly belong in The Good Place. She has been mistaken for a human rights lawyer with the same name, but actually lived her life as an awful, selfish, and inconsiderate human being (as illustrated through hilarious flashbacks) who made a living selling fake medicine to the sick and elderly. Eleanor must hide her moral imperfections from Michael and the rest of the Good Place residents, and attempt to become a good person in order to stay there. If they catch on, she’ll be sent to The Bad Place - a hellscape filled with endless torture.
Alongside Bell and Danson is a fantastic group of lesser-known supporting players who are each given time to shine as well as their own backstories that are not so perfect. William Jackson Harper is particularly great as Chidi, Eleanor’s "soulmate" and a former ethics professor who gets roped into teaching Eleanor ethics to help her stay in The Good Place.
Season 1 concluded in January with one of the most brilliant twists on television in recent years. Not finishing the season and dismissing the sitcom at surface value would deprive you of the incredibly rewarding treat that is the season one finale. Now 8 episodes into Season 2 (returning January 4, 2018), The Good Place is even more zany than before, twisting and turning at an unrelenting pace, and anything can happen.
In a world where superhero stories pop up in theaters and on TV on a seemingly daily basis, FX's Legion was a welcomed breath of fresh air, a mind-blowing experience for viewers and the show’s title character. Creator Noah Hawley, showrunner for Fargo, is no stranger to invigorating rich source material with new life - used his uncanny powers of storytelling to share the tale of David Haller, one of the most powerful and troubled X-Men.
The son of Professor X proved to have a story worth telling and Hawley’s first foray into the superhero genre was a fascinating clash of mind-melting visuals and a blossoming romance. Oh, and let’s not forget Pink Floyd which was the perfect soundtrack for a story this trippy. The show was loosely rooted to its comic book origins, but became something much bigger as it wrestled with mental illness and a man at war with his own mind.
And let’s be honest the X-Men needed this (even though this is more X-Men Adjacent) after some lackluster box office appearances in recent years. Dan Stevens was close to perfect as the aforementioned mutant David Haller and his mysterious girlfriend played by Rachel Keller was yet another example of Fargo talent excelling on another FX show. But the standout of Season 1 has to be Aubrey Plaza, who played the faux friend Lenny Busker, who was really the villainous Shadow King. Plaza is obviously more widely known for her comedic roles, but this performance showcased an incredible amount of range: confident, charismatic and tremendously demented. Plaza was one of - if not the one - best Marvel villains to date. For evidence, look no further to Plaza’s Nina Simone-backed dance sequence from "Chapter 6." Trust us.
In the end, the first season might have left us with more questions than answers, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing because it's clear that Hawley has even bigger aspirations for Season 2. Even if we don’t hear another word about Charles Xavier or any other notable X-Men, the show is still in great hands with Hawley leading this group of mutants.
Netflix released so many quality shows in 2017, that at times it was tricky to keep up; with new content hitting the service every week, it’s easy for shows to get lost in the mix. Thankfully GLOW was not one of these. A brilliantly judged mix of comedy, drama, and '80s nostalgia, it showcased a tremendous ensemble cast and some of the year’s best writing.
Taking the real-life '80s cable show Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling as its inspiration, GLOW charted the development of a low-budget female wrestling show in LA from the point of view of the women who signed up to get in the ring. Alison Brie (Mad Men, Community) and Betty Gilpin (Nurse Jackie) were the former friends at the center of the story but every character was beautifully written and performed. And while the women were main focus, there were some great male performances too, most notably comedian Marc Maron as Sam, the washed-up B-movie producer who sees GLOW as his final chance for a hit.
At times, GLOW was absolutely hilarious, as this collection of struggling actresses, models, lost souls, and outsiders, each with zero prior wrestling experience, are thrown together to develop a narrative wrestling show on a shoestring budget. Inevitably, over the course of ten episodes, the group go from distrusting and resenting each other to forming deep friendships that are a substitute for the emotional center lacking elsewhere in their lives. But none of this is done in a sentimental or clichéd way; the plot consistently serves the characters, and there are frequent surprises that up-end our expectation of this sort of thing. And best of all at, in an age where so many shows feel the need to pad their running times to a full hour, each of these beautifully-paced episodes was wrapped up in 30 minutes. Perfection.
5. The Leftovers
The Leftovers started out in a weird place with its first season back in 2014, and viewers that stuck with it all the way through Season 3 and it only got stranger as it went. We also know that The Leftovers evolved into something truly special by the end.
The HBO show, adapted by Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta from the latter's book of the same name, chronicled the events following a global disaster in which 2% of the world's population suddenly and inexplicably vanished from existence. On the surface, that sounds like it could be the plot of a disaster movie in which a beefy action hero drops one-liners like "Don't you know you should always eat your leftovers?" before stuffing a live grenade into a terrorist's mouth and pushing him off the edge of a cliff.
Thankfully, this show is instead a morose, contemplative, and often absurdly funny exploration of grief and identity in a world that, thanks to one single event, is fundamentally different from our own--like a 9/11 on a global scale.
Perhaps most incredibly, each season of The Leftovers became better than the last, and Season 3 completely blew our expectations away. It took a story that was Biblical in scale--a storm that would finally wash the remainders of humanity away--and made it intensely personal. An incredible cast that included Scott Glenn, Kevin Carroll, Christopher Eccleston, Amy Brenneman, and the absolutely stunning Carrie Coon and Justin Theroux chased one another across the world to Australia. Each sought answers to individual questions; Coon's Nora Durst revealed she'd stop at nothing to learn what happened to her family, and Theroux's Kevin Garvey wrestled with the possibility that he might somehow be an immortal messiah meant to save humanity. His gonzo trips to the afterlife--if that's what they even really were--remain some of the best episodes of the year, mixing Jack Ryan-level political espionage with heady surrealism and extraordinarily dark humor.
Even with all that to juggle, every storyline in The Leftovers somehow reached a satisfying conclusion by the end of Season 3, even while the central mystery remained: What happened to the 2%? And the show's most amazing feat may be how it ultimately provided the answer, in a heartrending, pulse-pounding final scene that let us, as viewers, choose exactly what to believe.
If that doesn't make up for the ending of Lost, then probably nothing ever will.
4. Big Little Lies
Big Little Lies is much more than it seems. To dismiss the HBO drama as a Desperate Housewives-like melodrama about female rivalry would be a mistake. It builds a truly compelling murder mystery around its complex, flawed characters who live seemingly perfect lives in the picturesque coastal city of Monterey, California.
Adapted from Liane Moriarty’s novel by TV drama veteran David E. Kelly, Big Little Lies digs beneath the surface of this calm, pristine town to reveal the guilt, self-destruction, anger, and stress escalating within its inhabitants. From the beginning, we are shown a murder--aware that the season will end in a death, with neither the victim nor the murderer revealed. As the season progresses, tensions rise and parents become more dangerous--and anyone could be a suspect.
The talented female-led cast includes A-listers Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, and Laura Dern, who each deliver powerful, incredible performances as mothers who would do anything for their children. Witherspoon shines as Madeline, a scheming helicopter mom who loves to stir things up. Woodley plays Jane, a rape victim and single mom haunted by her past trauma and hoping to give her son a good life in a new town.
Kidman gives a standout, Emmy-winning performance as Celeste, a former lawyer married to an abusive husband (a terrifying Alexander Skarsgård) who is struggling to keep up appearances as a stay-at-home mom while hiding her bruises.
The show addresses domestic violence head-on and doesn’t hold back. Kidman and Skarsgård deliver one of the most intense and harrowing depictions of a violent marriage ever shown on television, one that shook us to the core.
With only 7 episodes, the first season of Big Little Lies is well paced and without filler, building towards a satisfying climax. Acclaimed film director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club, Wild) helmed the entire season, providing us with beautiful vistas of the California coast and a memorable, purposeful soundtrack. Despite the darkness that the women of Monterey deal with, Big Little Lies is ultimately a story of strength and friendship. Hopefully the recently announced Season 2 will be just as good.
If there’s one thing we know about American audiences, is that they absolutely LOVE true-crime. In last few years, we’ve seen a push for bigger budget true-crime projects from the likes of Ryan Murphy (American Crime Story), Dick Wolf (Law & Order True Crime), and Netflix’s Making a Murderer. It seems only fitting that this year would be capped off with a Netflix team-up with acclaimed director David Fincher (Gone Girl, Social Network), and Charlize Theron for the mesmerizing first season of Mindhunter.
Mindhunter takes place in the late 1970’s, and is based off the book with the same name by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker. This Netflix original tells the story of FBI agents Holden Ford (who is based on Douglas) and Bill Tench, with the help of Psychologist Wendy Carr, who use the minds of real life imprisoned killers to stop similar crimes from happening in the future. The show centers around the birth of term "Serial Killer."
In a show about some of the most ruthless and gory murders in American history, Mindhunter is actual blood free for the most part. The show creators chose to keep the blood and violence in the backseat, while we spend time with the exceptional cast and dialogue. Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany are the perfect Holmes / Watson duo; Diving head first into the heart of darkness to answer the question stated by Tench: "How can we get ahead of crazy if we don’t know how crazy thinks?"
Mindhunter is bold and daring in the way handles the audience’s appetite for a gritty true-crime villain of the week. In fact, the majority of the show feels like a love letter to the scene from Silence of Lambs where Clarice Starling first encounters Hannibal Lecter in prison. It’s Holden’s relationships with the monsters that keep your eyes glued to the screen. We, the audience, find ourselves building empathy for killers, and this is what makes the show so damn disturbing.
While Groff and McCallany are steller, Mindhunter owes a great deal of its acclaim to the incredible performance of Cameron Britton as the creepy Ed Kemper.
Netflix has a king's ransom of binge worthy shows in 2017, But Mindhunter will keep you locked on the screen until the final credits roll. You’ll find yourself going from episode to episode, without keeping track of how many episodes you have left to watch. If you have some free time during the holiday break, trust us, Mindhunter is a must watch.
2. Twin Peaks
While every major studio in hollywood is trying to desperately recreate our old nostalgia for cash (Ghostbusters, Full House, Star Wars), David Lynch chose to use his "Twin Peaks" franchise name to create his strangest work yet... And that’s saying something. We've waited patiently for 25 years for Dale Cooper to re-emerge from the black lodge, and what we got was an 18 hour journey that follows very little rules of traditional television. Gone by the wayside are the teen-drama and comedic aspects of the original series - Replaced with Kafka themes, and the dream world. In fact, we don’t hear any of Angelo Badalementi’s iconic score until we are pretty deep into the new series.
We absolutely loved the dreaming darkness of "The Return." One can assume the series is complete with this conclusion in part 18 (you may disagree). It gave the impression of a grander design beyond a supernatural murder mystery, blossoming with a cosmic battle, caused by man-made self-destruction, between light and darkness that has entered its house with time and dimension travelling FBI agents sworn to defend the good.
Twin Peaks The Return is an 18 part film that builds upon Lynch’s fascination with dreaming in collaboration with Mark Frost, and sourcing out of their works from 25 years ago - and most recently Frost’s novel: The Secret History of Twin Peaks. The Return is not different from these other works by Lynch: In fact, one can say that Mulholland Drive is a direct companion to the Showtime limited series. Like Mulholland Drive, The Return is filled with curious transitions, timeshifts, doppelgangers and other dream-like elements. And while we LOVED breaking down the show each and every week, we knew that this is not a show for the current "recap culture."
While Kyle MacLachan is a proverbial lock to win an Emmy, we can’t forget the insanely wonderful performances from the rest of the talented cast. Naomi Watts’ Janey-E delivered her lines with a rage and perplexity that won't soon be forgotten. In fact, many of the new additions to the cast we’re phenomenal. From the Mitchum Brothers (played by Jim Belushi and Robert Knepper), to the Hutchens (played Tim Roth and Jennifer Jason Leigh), were an absolute joy to watch every week. From Badalamenti’s score to the eclectic bill of impossibly talented musicians at the Roadhouse, the music of The Return will be a lasting part of our memories of the entire series.
Twin Peaks: The Return is a magnificent journey into the unknown with characters and settings that we thought we knew so well. Lynch and Frost were given the opportunity to go back to the town of Twin Peaks, and had very little interest retelling (or continuing) the same story from 25 years ago. Instead, the two created something that stands out completely on its own, and left us inspired with the sheer audacity of it all.
1. The Handmaid's Tale
To many TV viewers this year, there was something about the pointed dystopian semi-fiction of Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale that seemed particularly relevant. But that's far from the only reason the Margaret Atwood adaptation is the best show of 2017.
Set in a near future in which a religious cult has taken over the United States after a plague that all but wiped out humanity's reproductive capabilities, The Handmaid's Tale borrows liberally from works like Children of Men and 1984. Militaristic forces enforce a strict class system with an iron fist, and those at the bottom are treated as barely human. Handmaids are women who've proven to be fertile, and they occupy a grey area somewhere in the middle: They're revered for the "gift" God gave them, but treated like prisoners and punished violently for any steps out of line. They're stripped of any personal identity, including their names, and ripped away from their families. On top of that, they act as surrogate mothers for the upper-class "Commanders," raped monthly in twisted "rituals" meant to curry God's favor so he'll bless them with children.
If that sounds grim, well, it is--almost unbearably so. The one bright, shining star at its center is Elizabeth Moss, who in her lead role as the Handmaid Offred--"of Fred," Fred being her Commander--provides the core of rebellious humanity on which the rest of The Handmaid's Tale hangs. Her every move and word monitored, even by those who might otherwise be friends, Offred still finds quiet ways to rebel, with an award-winning performance that's catapulted Moss to the tops of many viewers' best actress lists.
The supporting cast that revolves around her are just as fantastic: Yvonne Strahovski is severe but surprisingly sympathetic as Mrs. Waterford, Max Minghella is alluringly mysterious as the driver Nick, Samira Wiley is heartbreaking as Offred/June's friend Moira, Ann Dowd terrifies as the authoritarian and cruel Aunt Lydia, Alexis Bledel steals entire episodes as the electrifying Ofglen, Madeline Brewer makes you want to scream as the unhinged Janine, and O-T Fagbenle provides another emotional core as June's flashback husband, Luke.
With that incredible cast and a white knuckled story of survival against impossible odds, The Handmaid's Tale would have been something special no matter when it was released. But the fortuity of this timing can't be denied. As the story of a desperate humanity ruled by religious zealotry and pushed to the brink of what it means to be human at all, The Handmaid's Tale is positively chilling in the light of the overwhelming divisions we currently face in the real world.
Most incredible about this show is the way it used flashbacks to realistically bridge the gap between our present day and the dark future the show predicts. The Handmaid's Tale did more than simply confront us with that terrifying future; it showed us exactly how we might reach a similar point, and challenged us to do everything we can to ensure we never do.