The 20 best TV shows of 2017

No need to rely on returning shows this year, as a crop of brand new series caught our interest

What an incredible year for television. Game of Thrones‘ seventh season left us breathless, The Handmaid’s Tale provided a new lens through which to view the modern political situation, and Twin Peaks had everyone questioning whether it was a TV series or a film.

Somehow, though, we’ve whittled down the glut of TV that's aired/streamed over the past year and ranked the best shows. And here they are, the top 20 of 2017.

Note: There were simply too many documentaries to mention, so we've not included them here.

20. Love Island

No, seriously. This show, so barbarically addictive I ended up watching it almost every night of the week, hooked the nation in the summer, with even Jeremy Corbyn wading in. Despite being essentially about nothing, having nothing at stake and featuring contestants with nothing between the ears, I swear it taught me more about the human condition than most (completely) scripted shows this year, playing out like an improv. relationship drama and serving as an exploration of the interplay between boredom and obsession.

- C. Hooton

19. Broad City

Abbi and Ilana are two of the most loveable characters on television, and their namesake actors/writers have done a brilliant job skewering what dating in the 2017 is really like. Maybe season four wasn’t the strongest, but this remains one of the best sitcoms on TV, managing to both be socio-politically conscious and send up the modern tendency to make that a performative thing.

- C. Hooton

18. Mr Robot

The fifth episode of Mr Robot season three comes out of nowhere: a real-time episode following Rami Malek’s lead character on a race against time to prevent a terror attack that’s all seemingly captured in one continuous 45-minute long take. It was just one of several factors to successfully reposition Sam Esmail’s cyber thriller series as one to watch following a sub-par second season.

- J. Stolworthy

17. Godless

Writer-director-creator Scott Frank’s seven-part miniseries is dark, thrilling, and tense Western. Michelle Dockery is outstanding – full of true grit – as a gun-toting widow, while understated performances from Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Merritt Wever and Tess Frazer make for a superb ensemble cast. Dry quips from Scoot McNairy’s Sheriff Bill McNue (“You don’t seem all that much like a desperado so much as you just look desperate”) are a highlight. And the cinematography is breathtaking: sprawling pastures, dense forests and dusty, half-empty towns. Godless doesn’t try to reinvent the Western so much as it reinvigorate it.

- R. O’Connor

16. American Vandal

Who drew the dicks? Was it Dylan Maxwell? Is Alex Trimboli lying? Those are the questions on everyone’s lips in American Vandal, the Making a Murderer spoof that perfectly lampoons the investigative/true crime documentary style. Netflix took a bold risk commissioning a series that mocks one of their own best-known shows, but the bet certainly paid off. As American Vandal progresses, we learn more about the case of the spray-painted dicks in the teachers parking area, the mockumentary coming to a hilarious climax that leaves us questioning all our assumptions about Dylan, Max, Christa, and Ms. Shapiro. With a second series on the way, tackling a different crime with the same crew, we cannot wait.

- J. Shepherd

15. Peaky Blinders

Let’s face it, British drama can be pretty awful. Peaky Blinders has managed to mirror the sensibility of a big US show, however, and just finished airng a gorgeously shot, compelling season with an enviable cast that included Cillian Murphy, Helen McCrory, Tom Hardy, Adrien Brody and Aidan Gillen.

- C. Hooton

14. BoJack Horseman

A show about an animated, drug-addled, self-centred, alcoholic horse who’s deeply depressed, has no friends, and can barely look at his own mother... Well, the premise may be slightly strange but BoJack Horseman has once again delivered an excellent season featuring two astonishing, stand-out episodes — one that imagines Princess Carolyn’s granddaughter, another that deals with dementia. Of course, there are all the hilarious pop-culture references and wonderful tongue-twisters we’ve all come to love too.

- J. Shepherd

13. GLOW

Netflix and Jenji Kohan go together like banana and toffee; they just work. Having already created Orange is the New Black together, Kohan acted as producer on GLOW, bringing the seemingly dated concept of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling to the streaming service. The result was a wonderful, surprisingly emotional story about a struggling actress — played by Alison Brie — becoming a wrestling Goddess. With stand-out performances from Betty Gilpin and Marc Maron, GLOW has quickly become another must-watch Netflix series.

- J. Shepherd

12. Game of Thrones

While season seven of the ‘tits and dragons’ fantasy series (show actor Ian McShane’s words, not mine) may have made very little sense in places and broadly been quite slow, there was an unprecedented amount of epic spectacle to behold. Sure, you could question the reason behind Jon Snow’s decision to take on the White Walker army with a rag-tag bunch of fan-favourite characters, but that shouldn’t stop the episode being hugely entertaining. This penultimate season was utterly breathtaking at times, featuring some great twists and turns, we just wish season eight — which marks the final batch of six episodes — wasn’t so far away.

- J. Shepherd

11. Big Little Lies

From its opening song (Michael Kiwanuka’s “Cold Little Hands”) to impressive lead ensemble (Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern to name just a few), Liane Moriarty’s adaptation Big Little Lies bridged the gap between high-quality and page-turner television with success, starting out a tongue-in-cheek murder-mystery which unravels into an often-terrifying spotlight on violence against women.

– J. Stolworthy

10. Master of None

In the first season of Master of None, the jokes largely fell flat. Season two, however, was an enormous step-up. The opening two Fellini-inspired episodes, shot in black-and-white in Italy, were way more understated and skillful, drifting from sitcom into indie drama territory. This quality continued. Creator Aziz Ansari turned in a sharper script with more emotionally resonant, Linklater-esque storylines, and the jokes felt endemic to the story rather than shoehorned in.

– C. Hooton

9. This Country

Another busy day for mockumentary stars Kerry and Kurtan Mucklowe (Daisy and Charlie Cooper)

BBC3 has released some excellent comedy over the last few years – Fleabag, Pls Like, People Just Do Nothing – but This Country marks the crowning jewel of 2017’s output. Basically The Office for the Cotswolds, the series focusses on Kerry and Kurtan, two imbecilic cousins who cause trouble for everyone around them. Writers/siblings Charlie and Daisy Cooper play the bumbling duo with hilarious ease, poking fun at life in the West Country while also showing compassion for the people they’re mocking. Where Hot Fuzz focussed on an entire town, though, This Country boils everything down to our insular, arrogant, terrible twosome.

8. Ozark

It might not have achieved water cooler discussion status, but Ozark was the most watched TV show on Netflix last summer. The plot was nothing particularly new, the story of a man being outed as a money-launderer and having to flee to a rural, redneck region of Missouri and continue to cook books while being leaned on by mobsters feeling like a direct descendent of Breaking Bad. So what made it so good? Jason Bateman continuing his run of non-nice guy roles and being an utter bastard. The kids have to be pulled away from their home, school, and friends? Too bad, grab your s*** and get in the car. Do you miss your old life? Sorry honey, this is what we do now and you’re an accomplice. The lack of sentimentality and moral compass in this show made it darkly comedic, and what an engrossing plot.

- C. Hooton

7. Catastrophe

Our highest-placed British sitcom is Catastrophe which has seen creators and stars Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney master the art of television writing. This superior third season saw TV’s most likeable lead characters handed a more compelling trajectory than most drama series manage, with escalating life events involving parenthood, family deaths, and alcoholism dealt with in both hilarious and heartfelt manners. How the duo manages to convey an engrossing story amid the comedic antics is nothing short of sensational, positioning Catastrophe as a drama series that just happens to be filled with funny characters (including Rob’s mother, Mia, played delectably by the late Carrie Fisher). A series to be preserved for future “this is how you do it” masterclasses.

- J. Stolworthy

6. Rick and Morty

While some people were overly obsessing over Szechuan sauce, Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland were pumping out their weirdest, most audacious season of Rick and Morty yet. Rather than pumping out typical adventures featuring the two titular characters, the writers decided to move the magnifying glass onto the other members of the Smith family, Summer, Beth, and Jerry all sharing the spotlight. There’s the ongoing story about the divorce that acts as the season’s central narrative, leading our characters down some very dark roads. While there were multiple standout moments, including the bonkers ‘Pickle Rick’, episode seven ‘The Ricklantis Mixup’ marks a crazy series high, featuring a multidimensional concept no other show could pull off.

- J. Shepherd

5. Mindhunter

David Fincher directed three episodes of crime series 'Mindhunter'

Mindhunter – one of Netflix’s greatest additions to its increasingly bustling roster – is a 70s-set Silence of the Lambs-style series following FBI agents in their attempts to solve inscrutable investigations by interviewing convicted criminals. It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly the series, clinical by nature, seeps under your skin: could it be the first time agents Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) meet Edmund Kemper (Cameron Britton), a serial killer notorious for having sex with his deceased mother’s head? Or perhaps it’s during one of the show’s many cold opens tracking the story of a character viewers instinctively know is going to commit horrendous murder at an uncertain stage in the future? With aid from notable directors (David Fincher/Asif Kapadia) and Fringe star Anna Torv’s role of psychologist Wendy Carr, Mindhunter refuses to budge once it’s there.

- J. Stolworthy

4. Twin Peaks: The Return

The Twin Peaks revival series – billed as The Return – provided David Lynch with the unenviable task of uniting strands left dangling for 15 years. The result was 18 episodes of the most challenging, evocative, and nightmarish television committed to the small screen, a smorgasbord of the director’s hallmarks that never once felt rote. Gone were the soapy subplots and – for the most part – cohesive narrative (shout out to the much-discussed episode ‘Gotta Light?’ which is as good as anything he’s ever done). It’s tough to know how Lynch succeeded in making something that could be considered alienating by many so innately watchable but succeed he did; the return of Twin Peaks was everything you’d hope for in a post-Mulholland Drive world – and while it may not be a film, it remains damn astounding television.

- J. Stolworthy

3. The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale: Margaret Atwood once decried science fiction as ‘talking squids in outer space’

Adapting a beloved novel, especially one as intricate as The Handmaid’s Tale, is often a difficult and thankless task, and the phrase “still not as good as the book” lurks on the horizon. But with a little help from the novel’s author, Margaret Atwood (who serves as one of the show’s producers), creator Bruce Miller somehow managed to distill it into a 10-episode show pretty much perfectly. Consistently gripping and thought-provoking, I ended up watching the whole thing in two sittings, completely sucked into the world of Gillead. The performances from Elisabeth Moss, Ann Dowd and more showed passion and dedication, and some absolutely phenomenal cinematography, set and costume design made this a show to remember. Wisely leaving a large chunk of the book out of the first season, anticipation is enormous for its return in 2018.

- C. Hooton

2. Neo Yokio

I never knew that a manga-inspired cartoon about a debutante living in a semi-aquatic hybrid of New York and Tokyo with a robot butler voiced by Jude Law was the show I needed this year. It weirdly went somewhat under the radar, despite being Ezra Koenig from Vampire Weekend’s first TV show and also featuring the voices of Jaden Smith, Susan Sarandon, Steve Buscemi, Jason Schwartzman, Richard Ayoade, Stephen Fry and more. Completely refreshing, the first season took in couture, class, narcissism, capitalism, and ennui but never took itself too seriously; I can’t think of a show this year that was just so much fun to watch. Critics may have mostly been harsh, but it’s already amassed a passionate, big Toblerone-obsessed (if you know, you know) fanbase, and fingers crossed Netflix will renew it for a second season.

- C. Hooton

1. The Leftovers

It’s criminal that The Leftovers seems destined to remain a show most people never get around to watching so let it be said, in no uncertain terms, that, in my opinion, it’s the closest to a perfect TV series the world has ever seen.

The show started out as a modestly-received drama set three years after two-percent of the world’s population suddenly vanished into thin air. An unflinching paean of faith, an essay on existentialism and a tale of impending apocalypse, the third season succinctly corralled all the themes bubbling through its veins to provide the series with the stellar finale it so demanded.

Damon Lindelof’s intention was to craft a conclusion that people would define his series by and, in doing so, he steered The Leftovers into the pantheon of shows that ended in as faultless a manner as they began. Lead stars Justin Theroux, Carrie Coon and Amy Brenneman, director Mimi Leder and composer Max Richter all aided Lindelof in his deliverance of eight powerhouse episodes that featured no wasted scene, no flippant shot, no expendable piece of dialogue – all the more impressive for a series that set an entire episode on a boat filled with lion-worshipping sex cultists in Tasmania.

No series has asked the big questions like The Leftovers dared to do, and in doing so, may have provided an answer to those on the hunt for the world’s greatest TV show.

- J. Stolworthy

Honourable mentions (alphabetical): Better Call Saul, Better Things, Big Mouth, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Dear White People, Fargo, Girls, Insecure, It’s Always Sunny, Line of Duty, Love, Nathan For You, The Deuce, The Expanse, The Good Place, The Young Pope.

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