There’s time for one last Bitch Award list: Best New TV of 2017.
Let’s bitch it out…
As always, a few quick caveats:
- The following list only applies to scripted series (I don’t watch enough reality to consider it)
- All series that debuted this year and aired a minimum of five episodes – on any network or streaming service – was eligible
- In the era of ~450 scripted series per year, obviously I haven’t seen everything. Some concessions about shows I don’t watch are included at the bottom of the post
- If you missed them, be sure to check out earlier posts on Best Scenes, Best Episodes, Worst TV and Best Returning TV of 2017
Alright, enough preamble! Let’s do this:
10. 13 Reasons Why (Netflix) / American Vandal (Netflix) – Tie
One was the most contentious teen series in years: an adaptation of a bestselling YA novel about a girl who is literally bullied to the point of suicide. The other is a mockumentary send-up of the teen series, wrapped in the auspices of a true crime docuseries. Both proved to be out of the box hits for the online streamer, turning into word of mouth sensations (albeit for very different reasons).
13 Reasons Why is one of the year’s most talked about series. It is a sensationalist depiction of the stark realities of high school and its triggering depiction of drug use, sexual assault, and self-harm sparked national conversations and bans. Love it or hate it, 13 Reasons Why is a significant 2017 cultural talking point sold on the dynamic chemistry between stars Dylan Minette and Katherine Langford, as well as the compulsive storytelling that practically demands to be consumed in as little time as possible (The less said about the ill-advised second season, however, the better).
I didn’t expect to like American Vandal. My first reaction to the trailer was one of disbelief: it looked so dumb. Only when I had a sick day and marathoned the whole silly enterprise that I truly appreciated what the mockuseries was trying to do.
American Vandal works because it perfectly captures the petty rivalries and drama of high school series with a sharp incisive dressing down of true crime docuseries. The perfect synthesis occurs in episode five: teen videographers Peter (Tyler Alvarez) and Sam (Griffin Gluck) get into a a petty disagreement and then the series consumes its own tail by revealing viewer reactions and fan theories to its initial episodes. The series ultimately pays off its central mystery and its metatextual satire with a conclusion that is filled with both comedy and (unexpectedly) pathos. Who knew a show bearing the hashtag #WhoDrewTheDicks would have so much heart?
9. Mindhunter (Netflix)
David Fincher’s return to Netflix yields some pretty spectacular results. This 70s-set retro-cool series documents the creation of the FBI’s behaviour sciences unit and the origins of the serial killer criminal profiling system. What makes Mindhunter unique, aside from its period-specific awesome tan and grey fashion palette, is how the show creates drama from mundane activities like interviews, domestic dinners and tape recordings.
Credit the cast, including stoic Holt McCallany and cool intellect Anna Torv, for Mindhunter‘s prestige. It’s Jonathan Groff’s arc from novice agent to jaded narcissist, and Cameron Britton’s chilling standout performance as serial killer Ed Kemper, who provide the series’ backbone.
At times Mindhunter seems to be trolling the audience, advancing its plot at a snail’s pace, or introducing elements and characters (the cat!) that may – or may not – be significant. Even then, however, it remains compulsively fascinating in its cool and detached fashion. Here’s hoping season two retains its hypnotic magnetism and maybe cranks up the action a little.
8. Claws (TNT)
Easily 2017’s zaniest, most madcap series, this tale of nail salon employees embroiled in the affairs of a low level mobster is a surprising delight. Niecy Nash finally gets the starring role that she deserves and she rocks the part, delivering a performance full of sass, wit and sexiness.
Half of the fun of Claws is how ridiculous it is: characters regularly sling acerbic barbs at each other, the costuming can only be politely described as “Florida/Stripper Chic” and Breaking Bad‘s Dean Norris – as bisexual villain Uncle Daddy – is hilariously over the top.
Constantly surprising and always entertaining, Claws is the craziest series on TV. Watch it for the funeral scene in episode 2 – if you’re not sold by that, then you’re dead to me.
7. Alias Grace (CBC/Netflix)
It’s been a good year for Margaret Atwood. Between this and another prominent adaptation, the famed Canadian author’s work has never been popular.
This less well known of the two texts concerns an infamous (or is it notorious?) Canadian court case in which a housekeeper and her no-good boyfriend murder their employers and abscond with their money. Told in a series of flashbacks, Alias Grace traffics in unreliable narration, constantly forcing viewers to reevaluate the validity of what we see and hear, as well as who has control of the narrative. The fact that all of these issues are filtered through a gendered prism only makes the show more relevant in a year when women and their stories have become so important to our cultural context.
Throw in Sarah Gadon’s fantastic lead performance, great writing from Sarah Polley and direction by Mary Harron and Alias Grace is an exceptionally well-executed (tee hee) production that’s currently flying under the radar.
6. Great News (NBC)
Proof that network TV had a rough year: this is the only network series to make the list. Thankfully Great News is around to represent; though it should come as no surprise considering the great year that the Tina Fey joint had. Technically already in its second season, Great News only debuted back in April, but in the short time it has been on the air, the silly series about an afternoon news show has really filled the gap by 30 Rock‘s absence.
Headlined by a great female duo, Briga Heelan and Andrea Martin, Great News reclaims the most sacred of comedy spaces: the mundane workplace. The series mines great comedic material out of the nuts, weirdos and idiots working at the station, giving them just enough heart to root for, and packing each episode with witty wordplay and great sight gags. It may take a while to warm up in S1, but Great News proves that there’s nothing quite as funny as taking your mom to work. Especially if it involves mannequins, smart screens and sexual harassment gone wrong.
5. The Bold Type (Freeform)
There is absolutely no reason why this series should work. It’s as light and fluffy as a marshmallow, so slight and predictable that it should fail to satisfy.
And yet…The Bold Type was my summer 2017 jam. The tale of three young professionals working at a Cosmopolitan-inspired women’s magazine in the heart of New York strikes all the right notes. The cast is pitch perfect, particularly the trio of leads (Katie Stevens as insecure writer Jane, Aisha Dee as brash, impulsive Kat and Meghann Fahy as flighty but savvy Sutton) to say nothing of the male eye candy (Sam Page’s Richard and Dan Jeannotte’s Ryan) and Melora Hardin as Jacqueline, the world’s best, most supportive boss ever.
There’s something about The Bold Type‘s earnest delivery of life lessons and moral messages that feel heartfelt without overstepping into saccharine territory. The series also deserves major kudos for its unconventional (for TV) approach to conflict-free female friendship – the girls occasionally bicker, but they don’t backstab or judge each other, which is so refreshing.
The Bold Type may tread familiar ground, but it is so confident and assured in its delivery that it hardly matters. In its short run, the series offers hope, love and laughs. In 2017, who could ask for more?
4. Imposters (Bravo)
Every year there’s at least one series that takes me completely by surprise. In 2017, that series was Imposters, the Bravo series about a con woman who marries her victim, settles into domestic bliss, then empties the joint bank account before running off to greener pastures and the next mark.
To say that the series is enjoyable is an understatement. This was my most compulsive watch of 2017: I burned through Imposters faster than any other series. Why? Because it is compulsively watchable and addictive. Like the best guilty pleasure (minus the guilty), this series is packed with beautiful people caught in bad situations that are incredibly compelling. Maddie (Inbar Lavi) is the gorgeous cipher at the central of the spiderweb – the woman of everyone’s dreams – and the devotion and deception that she compels in each of her victims is compelling. When three of her former victims join forces to confront her, they must first confront how easy they were to dupe and then become the very thing they are chasing: con artists.
The fact that this gloriously soapy heist drama ends each episode with a cliffhanger practically demands bingeing of the highest order. The slick production values, energetic storylines and excess will keep you hooked and baited. If you need a guilt-free binge that goes down easy, Imposters is your best bet.
3. Dear White People (Netflix)
Dear White People is both a socially and politically astute commentary on contemporary hot button topics like race, sex, power and privilege. None of that matters, however, if the series doesn’t work as an enjoyable piece of entertainment. It’s good, then, that Dear White People is a legitimately clever series.
DWP is about a small group of black students at a predominantly white US college. Unlike the film from which it takes its name, however, the series goes beyond a reductive black vs white dichotomy to investigate the nuances of light vs dark skinned, gay vs hyper masculine, class, etc. By delving into these other issues within the College’s black population, each character is fleshed out and afforded an opportunity to stand out. The individually-focused episodes also provide a neat narrative hook: not only do they bring different characters to the fore, they provide new perspectives and insights into the same events and timelines.
Great characters, smart writing, topical issues, and funny to boot, Dear White People is an under the radar gem that has stayed with me all year. I’m glad it got renewed, and I hope that more people check it out.
2. Brockmire (IFC)
The funniest new show of the year is this series-expanded version of creator/star Hank Azaria’s profane, drug-and-booze-addicted title character. Despite a complete lack of interest in baseball, Brockmire never fails to make me laugh – and gasp – at its outrageous, completely inappropriate antics.
Azaria stars as disgraced announcer Jim Brockmire who returns to the job following a ten year absence following a very public meltdown over his wife’s infidelity. He’s lured back to the US (from Thailand) by Jules (Amanda Peet), the owner of a struggling team of misfit players, but he remains as crotchety, difficult and sobriety-adverse as ever. Cue the extremely NSFW antics…and the belly laughs. A personal favourite: Jim mistakenly snorts Jules’ morning after pill believing it to be cocaine. Brockmire is that kind of series.
If you’re looking for a very dirty, very clever, very adult comedy that’s real easy to watch, Brockmire is your new favourite series.
1. The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
In the near future, the US has been converted into Gilead, a religiously oppressive world in which fertile women are Handmaids to the wives of the rich and powerful while the others are turned into sex workers or sent to death camps. It’s an oppressive, totalitarian regime that bears an uncomfortably close approximation to our current political climate and the startling efficiency with which The Handmaid’s Tale‘s production team brings the world to life only makes it more upsetting.
Credit Reed Morano for creating the frighteningly realistic look and feel of this dystopian world, and also Elisabeth Moss’ amazing performance as Ofred, whose still exterior belies an inner monologue that is a light in the darkness of horrors. Aside from Carrie Coon’s work on The Leftovers, Moss’ performance is undoubtedly the best of the year. It’s immediately iconic and Moss is already being recognized for her work (she’s won the Emmy, and is nominated for a Golden Globe).
The series wouldn’t work without a stellar supporting cast. It’s no surprise that Alexis Bledel and Ann Dowd have also received awards accolades for their roles as Ofglen and Aunt Lydia, collectively – both play their parts immaculately. The same statement applies to Samira Wiley’s Moira, though her delicate mix of comedy and pathos has gone unnoticed in most circles.
Despite losing some of its emotional impact in the later episodes, The Handmaid’s Tale is undeniably the best new series of 2017. Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel is more than thirty years old and, as noted by everyone and their dog, has never resonated as strongly as it does now. Not unlike Dear White People, there’s a timely relevance that cannot be separated out when viewing the series, heightening its emotional impact (in this case, to nearly unbearable levels).
- The Arrangement (E!): There’s nothing subtle about this drama featuring a fabricated showmance between an acting ingenue and her action moviestar boyfriend who belongs to a New Age, not-at-all Scientology-like religious organization. It’s a soap for those who enjoy the silly and the ridiculous. Surprisingly enjoyable.
- Big Little Lies (HBO): An all-star Hollywood cast and gorgeous direction by feature director Jean-Marc Vallée made this “limited series” <cough> a must watch event. The lily white cast is either an ironic critique of privileged white mommy culture or a tone deaf oversight and the finale jumps through hoops to make the dramatic confrontation work, but Nicole Kidman’s performance as a battered wife alone is worth tuning in for.
- GLOW (Netflix): Lady wrestlers + 1980s costumes + 30 minute episodes make this Netflix series the most fun series of the summer.
- The Good Fight (CBS All Access): Diane Lockhart may have lost everything and was forced to go back to work, but her new adventures, featuring one hell of a supporting cast and all of the best supporting players from The Good Wife make CBS All Access’ first series a slamdunk. Plus there’s swearing! You get to hear Christine Baranski swear!
- Legion (FX): I didn’t love the character development, but the visuals of Noah Hawley’s X-Men adaptation are off the hook. That colour scheme alone makes my eyes beam.
- Marvel’s Runaways (Hulu): The adaptation of Brian K. Vaughan’s classic graphic novel series has taken a decidedly different approach than its source material, but it has thus far managed to successfully juggle its 12+ main characters amidst the action, the high school love triangles and occasional foreshadowing of its titular runaway.
- Star Trek Discovery (CBS All Access): The (creative and cultural) rebirth of Star Trek on the small screen has yielded some great adventures thus far, though only time will tell how this first season pans out since the storytelling is quite serialized. Two big pluses: the set design and the great cast, including lead Sonequa Martin-Green, who is finally free of the doldrums of The Walking Dead and allowed to flex her acting chops.
Didn’t Watch/Haven’t Seen:
- Big Mouth, Godless, Harlots, The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, Mary Kills People, Ozark, She’s Got To Have It, SMILF, The Young Pope
Hungry for more Best New TV?
That’s it for the 2017 Bitch Awards. What were your best new shows (or just best shows) of the year? What are you looking forward to watching in 2018? Sound off below and I’ll see you next year!