Top 5 TV Shows of 2017
1. 'The Leftovers' (HBO): Somewhere around episode four of The Leftovers’ third season, I was convinced I was watching the best television program of the entire year. Like many, I had expressed lukewarm feelings regarding the first season of Damon Lindelof’s post-rapture (if that’s even what it was) series. However, with the sophomore season, Lindelof opened up the world, allowing for more humor and spontaneous creativity to enter in. The Leftovers was still an emotionally raw series about how society processes grief and tragedy, but one that felt a little less heavy handed and a little more human. With season three, the show perfected its formula. Few series, this year, ignited my imagination and drew me into its characters the way this one did. At its core, The Leftovers is a story about people; their struggle to connect, heal, and make sense of a world where the unexplainable happens for no rhyme or reason. They’re all themes that ring true to my own life experiences but are also an important party of the human experience. No other series made me laugh harder, hold my breath longer, or fight back the tears like this one. Cheers Damon!
2. 'Twin Peaks: The Return' (Showtime): When Twin Peaks premiered on screens in the early 90s, it sent shock-waves through the industry. David Lynch and Mark Frost’s surreal masterpiece was unlike anything that had come before and set the stage for today’s auteur driven programs. For many, the idea of a reunion was a chance to slide back into the comfortable rhythms they had grown to love; the cherry pie, the coffee, Dale Cooper’s chipper grin. We come to these reunion specials seeking the familiar; to recapture that feeling we had when we first fell in love with a show. However, Lynch and Frost had no intention of doing this. Instead, they crafted a mind-bending (and I hate that term) sensory experience that played with our nostalgia for the Twin Peaks of old and dared to push the boundaries of what television could be even further. Like the best of Lynch’s films, Twin Peaks: The Return is less concerned with the narrative than it is mood, atmosphere, and feeling. Lynch uses light, visuals, and music to deliver an experience, rather than weaving together a densely complex plot. Yet, that’s not to say the series doesn’t leave plenty up to interpretation. There are dozens of secrets to keep you up at night but in the grand scheme of things, they are unimportant. This groundbreaking television achievement re-wrote the way we experience the medium, creating something beyond explanation, only feeling.
3. 'The Vietnam War' (PBS): You feel the sweat from the jungle in Ken Burns’ latest documentary series on the Vietnam War. It’s as much a sensory experience as a deep dive into one of our nation’s most chaotic moments. Choppers hum in the distance as a feeling of perpetual unease begins to roll in. Much has been written on how thorough and detailed Burns’ documentaries are; watching this series is the equivalent of a semester course on the War, exploring every angle. However, the series’ true power comes in how it connects us to the past. It’s just as much an immersion into a time and place as it is a catalog of good intentions spiraling out of control into nightmares.
4. 'Bojack Horseman' (Netflix) / 'Rick and Morty' (Adult Swim): Animated series often get overlooked when talking about great television; however, two shows this year proved how unexpectedly clever and emotionally complex the genre can be. I’ve been championing for years the impressive quality of Bojack Horseman. A show that bases so much of its humor on animal puns should not also work as a Hollywood satire and certainly not as an emotionally raw look at depression. Yet, the series manages to be all those things. The fact such a silly show is willing to explore such heavy material, without throwing everything off balance, is a testament to its exceptional writing. Similarly, Rick and Morty never ceases to amaze in both its creativity and moments of unexpected emotional darkness. It’s a series about a mad scientist and the wacky misadventures he has with his family. However, the show’s secret beauty comes not just in the outlandish absurdity of those adventures but the way they seem to leave scars on all the characters. It’s just as much a series about a dysfunctional family spiraling out of control as it is a fun science fiction romp.
5. 'Mindhunter' (Netflix): Sure, there were probably a few better series this year than Mindhunter, yet few were quite as entertaining. The Netflix original, helmed by director David Fincher, managed to make two people sitting across a table, having a conversation, feel like the most riveting thing you have ever seen. The meticulousness needed to craft scenes like this are what Fincher excels at. He's interested in the nuances of conversation, the tone of words, the way people sit, and the body language they display. Yet, even with big screen talent, Mindhunter feels like a television series; one willing to welcome the simplistic pleasures and rhythms of your typical forensic cop show. For me, the highlight of the series is the chemistry between stars Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany. Their relationship is the typical mismatched cop pair; Groff is young, overconfident, and chipper while McCallany is outspoken, weathered, and skeptical. It just goes to show that somehow the simplest of formulas can be the most rewarding when done with perfection.