Top 5 TV Shows of 2017 (So Far)

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In the age of “peak TV,” your weekly viewing options can be somewhat overwhelming. Between streaming services, premium cable, and regular networks, there are so many shows out there that you’re bound to have missed a few water cooler moments this year already. Yet, the breadth of programming that’s available is also exciting. 2017 is halfway through, and we’ve already seen a slew of shows that are incredibly diverse in their storytelling methods. Now, more than ever, there really is something out there for everyone. Still, you might need a little help narrowing things down. Without further ado, here our are picks for the best of the year so far.

Matt’s Take:

5. Master of None

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Aziz Ansari’s masterful Netflix drama only improved in its second season, delivering some truly unexpected viewing experiences that push the envelope for what television can do. In a season built on successful experiments, we got an artful and romantic trip to Italy, meditations on how different generations practice religion, musings on the current dating world, views of New York typically ignored, and a series of Thanksgivings that aim to show progress. This insanely eclectic season of television has us even sadder that Ansari isn’t sure where to take the show for season three, if there even is one.


4. Legion

Much like on the big screen, superhero television has become a genre of consistent, though not very inventive thrills (save for Iron Fist, which, to put it plainly, truly sucks). But for Legion, the first live action foray into the X-Men world on television, Fargo’s Noah Hawley created something truly unique. Endlessly trippy yet full of strong characters and heart, it wasn’t always easy to tell what was real on Legion, but it was dramatic, funny, and riveting enough to make for an all-time great season of superhero television.


3. Big Little Lies

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Save for one other show further down the list, HBO’s miniseries boasts several of the best television performances we’re likely to see this year. Between Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern, and, hell, even Adam Scott, Big Little Lies looks like a no-brainer to clean up at the Emmys this year. That said, this dark comedy offered a whole lot more than strong performances. As a view of liberal suburbia, the series is unparalleled. As an exploration of femininity, it sets the bar higher than ever before. The series is an all-time classic for HBO, hence why every possible rumbling about a second season is so exciting.


2. Dear White People

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Setting the gold standard for movie-to-TV adaptations, Netflix’s Dear White People takes the concept of Justin Simien’s film and runs with it, creating a show about racism that’s much more about its specific characters’ voices than anything else. With its Leftovers-style episode structure—characters are given episodes to themselves, while in the background other characters are advancing their own storylines—the show is a masterpiece of writing, perfectly thought out to deliver a hugely resonant payoff by the season’s end. The series’ message is a powerful one as well, uncovering all the little ways cultural appropriation can have severe consequences.


1. The Leftovers

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Nothing compares. The third and final season of Damon Lindelof’s HBO drama transcends its television roots and becomes a true work of art. Each of its eight episodes are perfect, focusing on character more than anything else. Surprisingly, however, the show may have answered more questions about its supernatural premise than it promised to. But it does so in a way that is pivotal to understanding the trials of grief and inexplicable self-torment of the show’s core cast, who put on display an unparalleled collection of performance that makes highlighting one almost a disservice to the others (but Carrie Coon though). And yet, in the end, The Leftovers found a way to be uplifting, spreading a message of love at a time when we need it most. The show’s signature weirdness remains more than intact (Kevin’s second trip to purgatory is a highlight), but its sense of humor became seemingly boundless in season three. If you weren’t crying, you were laughing, and on more than one occasion, it made sense to do both. The Leftovers is a masterpiece for the ages. For those who know it, spread the word.


Mike’s Take:

5. The Handmaid’s Tale

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Hulu’s adaptation of Margret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel was the least subtle you could possible be with its messages of warning and its feminist rallying cry. Yet, in our current climate of political unrest, perhaps the time for subtleties has passed. Shot like a jarring horror film, The Handmaid’s Tale follows Offred (an electrifying Elizabeth Moss) as she tries to survive the theocratic dictatorship she’s been thrust into. It’s one that forces her—and fellow fertile women like her—to be “handmaids” and bear children for wealthy officials of the new regime. There are searing sequences that will stay with you long after the episode ends, and twists that will have you on the edge of your seat. Come for the gripping storytelling and incredible performances, and stay for the potent socio-political themes. In times like these, we need them to be louder than ever.



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This late-season entry from Netflix is one of the first shows I’ve seen in a while that’s able to manage the tightrope walk between serious and silly with such effortless finesse. It’s a show that can feature both poignant dissections of gender and racial stereotypes and a cocaine-dispensing robot, and have each moment land with aplomb. Set in the year 1985, GLOW tells a fictionalized account of how the very real Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling came to be. The show posits itself as a hilarious sendup of professional wrestling—yes, there is plenty of hair-pulling and chair-throwing—but its real feat is being able to seamlessly merge this with stories of female friendship, overcoming adversity, and a shifting paradigm in Hollywood. A fearless ensemble cast, led by Alison Brie and Marc Maron, make for a wrestling family that will have you cheering from your couch. As Maron’s sleazy director says at one point, “This could either feel dinky, or it could feel epic. So let’s go big! Let’s make it visceral!” And boy, does this show go big in the best way possible.


3. Master of None

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Whatever the opposite of a sophomore slump is, Aziz Ansari has figured it out. His second outing as an auteur offers dazzlingly beautiful examinations on everything from love and religion to the everyday lives of the working class citizens of New York. There are so many highlights this season—the Bicycle Thief-inspired opener in Italy, the increasingly entertaining montage of tinder dates, the tender and heartwarming story of Denise’s coming out— that to list them all out would just be to recap each episode. Whether we’re nervously watching Dev fall for married pasta maker Francesca (the divine Alessandra Mastronardi) or laughing at his father’s “expertise” on the modeling world, Ansari’s earnest and easygoing voice remains a heartwarming constant. Shot with a supreme cinematic flair, and featuring some of the most drool-worthy food shots around, Master of None has once again proved itself to be the master of its kind.


2. The Leftovers

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The exquisite final season of Damon Lindelof’s spiritual drama has an immensely strong grasp of its characters. It knows them so well that it can have one of them accidentally get a Wu Tang Clan tattoo, or a group of them embark on a boat with a lion-worshiping sex cult, and it will still leave you emotionally gutted by the time the credits roll. Such is the majesty of The Leftovers, a show that has managed to make art out of what most other shows would turn into a junky, ratings-grab of a mystery. Centering around the seven year anniversary of The Sudden Departure, season 3 does a deep dive on its characters like never before. It sends them to learn indigenous dancing in the Australian Outback, to dangerous scientific experimentation, and to missions in alternate realities with assassins, all in the name of searching for meaning in what happened when 2% of the population vanished. Yet, Lindelof and his team aren’t interested in looking for the answers themselves. They’re far more invested in people, and how they learn to cope, to move on, to live when the truly unthinkable happens. That message of hope is more powerful than any solution these characters try to come up with. And that’s what has made this show such a spellbinding success.


1. Big Little Lies

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I can’t think of another show this year that had me so glued to the screen and so anxious for a new episode each week as much as Big Little Lies. HBO’s adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s best-selling novel consistently delivered on all fronts, making for a wholly rewarding viewing experience. David E. Kelley’s writing was sharp and exciting. Jean Marc-Vallée’s direction was impeccable. And don’t even get me started on the performances of Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, and Laura Dern. This post would go one forever. This show used the decadent beachside town of Monterey as a setting for a tense mystery, a battleground between parents that was as vicious as it was hilarious, and as one of the most authentic depictions of domestic violence ever to appear on TV. Big Little Lies is unabashedly feminine, and it’s also heartwarming and funny and deeply moving. For a miniseries with only seven episodes, this show really has it all.



What were your favorite TV shows from the first half of the year? Let us know below!


By Matt Dougherty and Mike Papirmeister

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