The Best Television Shows of 2017

The POW staff breaks down the best shows of 2017.
By    December 26, 2017

10. American Vandal

In Netflix’s American Vandal, buds and budding film school students Peter Maldonado and Sam Ecklund set out to uncover who spray painted dicks on 27 cars in the faculty parking lot at their high school. The two launch a full-blown, dead-serious investigation into the comparatively less-serious crime, conducting interviews, exploring motives, retracting steps and re-enacting the crime in real time with such patience and thoroughness, they could head up the detective bureau of a major metropolis.

Like a good detective, American Vandal leaves no scrap of a detail unutilized, no correlation unconnected. The humor arises when everything from the moody intro (the main suspect, Dylan, blows cigarette smoke as he meanders along a beach) to 3-D renderings is postmarked with earnest details (the credits list “Executive Producer, Mr. Baxter”; the rendering is of a hand job at summer camp; the guys don’t have their driving licenses).

Commitment to the end game—finding out who drew those dicks, man—is palpable in the whole production. The source of that seems to be that the writers and cast are relatively, and refreshingly, unknown. Each scene sparkles with genuine excitement of people who aren’t jaded by years in the industry. — REBECCA HAITHCOAT

9. Nathan For You

It’s nearly impossible to describe Nathan For You. It appears to be, at its core, a reality show in which Nathan Fielder helps struggling small businesses by offering them unorthodox ideas. In reality, the offers are an opportune platform for Fielder to exercise his deadpan, heavenly awkwardness with mostly unwitting subjects.

Season 4, possibly the series’ last, had Fielder start a real newspaper called The Diarrhea Times, get a local politician to endorse a program that provides jobs for people with warts, take on Uber by encouraging a group of taxi drivers to sign up and infiltrate the ride-sharing service, and open “L.A.’s only asexual computer repair shop.” The season culminated with an hour and a half long episode in which Fielder and an elderly Bill Gates impersonator travel the country looking for the latter’s long lost love.

Apparently when Fielder proposed the idea of this movie-length, more-serious-than-not season finale to Comedy Central executives, they shut him down. Then Fielder showed them the episode and the executives immediately gave him the time slot. That’s the gist and genius of the show. It’s impossible to describe, but if you just watch it, you’ll love it. — WILL HAGLE

8. Halt and Catch Fire

During a time in whuch we routinely ask people, “So what shows do you watch?,” it always felt good to recommend Halt and Catch Fire and know that no one ever checked it out. It was a secret of the best kind. Halt and Catch Fire could’ve been this moment’s John From Cincinnati, an unrealized show finally living up the gold standards of Prestige TV on the night that it goes to its grave. But by the time that finale aired this fall, only 390,000 people were tuning in. I personally knew three people who ever watched it, and one was my mother. It was never designed to be a crowd pleaser; AMC execs opined that the success of The Walking Dead allowed them to green light a show about four eternal tech obsessives always coming up with The Big Idea too early or too late. But this wasn’t another genuflection to Silicon Valley.

Halt showed us what it felt like to lose at being an ambitious genius—marriages, friendships, and businesses could collapse as quickly as a competitor could steal your code. And after 10 years of grumpy white male antiheroes dominating TV, Halt became the first show to course correct and make leads out of supporting actresses Mackenzie Davis and Kerry Bishe. It was the rare drama in which all of the narrative pivots paid off. But, as of now, Halt has left no cultural impact. I hope you never watch it. Some things should just remain secret. — ZILLA ROCCA

7. The Good Place

The basic appeal of The Good Place is fairly self-explanatory: it’s pretty much 30 Rock, but in Hell. Kristen Bell plays the Tina Fey character, while Ted Danson fills in admirably as the on-the-surface-in-charge-but-secretly-needs-the-Tina-Fey-character’s-help Alec Baldwin role. Except, and I’m by no means dismissing the idea of a straightforward Hell-based workplace comedy, The Good Place is an altogether more ambitious beast, one that attempts to cut to the core of modern morality. Which is to say, this show is also extremely about philosophy, and does a better job at teaching you about it than most philosophy podcasts—there’s an entire episode this season dedicated to the Trolley Problem thought experiment, conveniently enough titled “The Trolley Problem”—and manages to do it while having a way less annoying fan base than Rick and Morty. It’s the kind of show that’s so rare to see these days, a genuinely funny mindfuck that manages to foreground its moral center without being all annoying as shit about it. Also since each episode is 30 minutes long and the entire show is on Hulu, you have an excuse to watch it even if you don’t have a TV. — DREW MILLARD

6. Bojack Horseman

At times, Bojack can feel like a good Kanye album: its greatness strongly depends upon how invested you are in the pitfalls of its self-loathing protagonist. The show has its missteps (trite political commentary, cyclical storylines) but has kept its allure mostly by being “that animated series about a talking horse that is really about depression.” Season four expanded this definition from the outset.

Its premiere featured the leading character only in the closing seconds (a move Kanye would likely never allow), making clear that the supporting cast would try to stand on its own this time around. And they succeeded. Diane’s newfound capriciousness became infinitely more compelling, as did arcs that found Todd grappling with asexuality and Princess Caroline pondering motherhood but fleeing commitment. Even still, Bojack remained the centerpiece, given more depth by interactions with his maybe-daughter Hollyhock and moments like the shaky sketch drawings that animate his manic, self-destructive spiral in episode six.

The latter is a creative pivot that once again proves Bojack’s genius lies in challenging the parameters of its own mold (see also: Season Three’s “Fish Out of Water”). Season four certainly isn’t the show at its best—watching Bojack try to play the father figure feels overworn and running jokes around made-up actor Courtney Portnoy fall flat—but it shows Bojack and most others at their purest, while ending with a rare tinge of optimism for the future. — MYLES ANDREWS-DUVE

5. Insecure

Insecure succeeds wildly because most viewers can’t help but talk about the show’s characters like they would talk about their own circle of friends. We want the best for each of them, but all of them in Season 2 made maddening decisions. For all their wonderful qualities, neither Issa nor Molly have any idea how shallow they can be. Lawrence is a kind dude and is easy to root for, but then he makes the most loser decisions: After telling Tasha about having sex with Issa and then ditching Tasha at a family barbecue to hang out with coworkers earns him the scathing Ether-level dismissal of the season: “You’re worse than a fuck nigga, you’re a fuck nigga who thinks he’s a good dude.”

Kelly’s all the way cool, though. I’d invite her to all of my dinner parties.

And just like our own friends, we have questions about their future: Are Dro and Candace really in an open relationship? Is Molly going to allow herself to continue to be strung along? What’s next for Lawrence after blowing it with Tasha, blowing it with his coworker Aparna, and choosing not to go back to Issa in the season finale? After flipping out on him for shooting a load in her eye like she’s Leigh Raven, why the hell did Issa choose to live with Daniel? That Insecure makes us ask these questions is its strength. I truly care about the show’s characters more than I do a couple of my own friends. — DOUGLAS MARTIN

4. Better Call Saul

Arbitration can be as tense as a shootout. Protecting a father’s small business can be as draining as escaping a meth lab. This year, brisk desert winds blew away husks of comparison. Better Call Saul, the rigorous deposition of the hunger inside a few average American souls, has become every bit the equal to the normcore Grand Guignol of Breaking Bad. Season 3 gave more room for excellent supporting players like Michael Mando’s Nacho and Rhea Seehorn’s Kim. It didn’t skimp on plot points either: the season featured the introduction of Gus Fring, the invention of Saul Goodman, and the (likely?) end of one of TV’s more misunderstood characters, Michael McKean’s Charles McGill. The centerpiece was “Chicanery,” in which a bar association hearing becomes an arena for Charles and Jimmy to unfurl a lifetime’s worth of grievances. For them, and for the rest of the characters on this remarkable show, this season revealed the crimes and misdemeanors embedded in every desire to change. — EVAN MCGARVEY

3. Twin Peaks: The Return

I have written too many words about Twin Peaks this year but there’s a good reason for this: there is no other show that inspires every kind of emotion or thought a person could have. Twin Peaks: The Return is David Lynch’s masterwork, an 18-hour epilogue for one of the best television shows to ever exist. The Return played with our emotions, our sense of entitlement, nostalgia, and patience—while also completely destroying and recreating the boundaries and standards of television.

It dared to be slow, almost incomprehensible and often maddening. Yet no other show in 2017 could match its heights. No other show could be as touching, mind-bending, nightmarish, or funny. Episode 8 is the gold standard of television as a single episode: full of wonder and terror and a Nine Inch Nails performance that seared itself into my brain forever. Television will never be this exciting again. — ISRAEL DARAMOLA

2. Veep

Ah, Veep: the Bolshoi Ballet of curses, the Giant Steps of spit-take insults, the Keatsian sonnets to mouth-breathing white voters who might look at a candidate like he’s, “a disability check wrapped around a pack of no-filter cigarettes.” In this festering grease trap of a year, we all cursed at screens like Selina Meyer. But, as our founders intended, we often did little but bumble and rage, also like Selina. The season took us to Qatar, Alabama, Yale, and Georgia (Tbilisi, not Future) to help reveal the inner idiot in everyone, especially in the feckless jobbers we put on news shows, in office, and in power. Next year will be Veep’s last. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, comedy’s Khaleesi, our queen of queens, is battling cancer. Treasure her. Treasure this show. It’s the acid bath that cleanses. — EVAN MCGARVEY

1. The Deuce

David Simon shows are Trojan horses. The Wire passed itself off as a cop show, but it was such a tour de force of social realism that it became a white-person-at-a-party cliché. So of course the best moment from The Deuce’s remarkable first season isn’t the premiere of Deep Throat. It’s an argument on the street between hooker Eileen “Candy” Merrell (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and pimp Rodney (Method Man) from the fifth episode. Candy rolls without a pimp, but Rodney has spent the last four episodes trying to convince her to join his flock. When he realizes his entreaties aren’t going to work, he drops the conked-hair veneer and proceeds to spit venom at Candy. About how the beating she just took from a john isn’t her last. About what she did in her past to end up on the street.

Gyllenhaal plays Candy as alternately incensed, afraid, and convinced. The two stalk each other up and down the street, a game of cat and mouse. Or, in the world of The Deuce, rat and bigger rat. It is a heartbreaking scene. This moment is Simon’s project in miniature: stripping the veneer off American’s most famous and infamous institutions, and showing that they’re filled with regular people trying to get by. — JORDAN PEDERSEN