Adam Rose/Netflix

The 25 Best TV Shows of 2017
The 25 Best TV Shows of 2017

15

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Daily Show alum John Oliver has surpassed his former boss as the nation’s premier journalist/advocate disguised as a comedian. Jon Stewart’s near-nightly monologues sometimes skittered along the surface of a subject or fell into step with the rest of the stampeding media herd, but Oliver dives deep every week into a single topic, and he always chooses subjects whose bones have not been picked dry by cable news or other late-night commentators. Whether he’s discussing the true face of coal mining, the threat to local news posed by Sinclair Broadcast Group, or the many dubious products peddled by Alex Jones, he lays out facts with deadly precision, nailing what’s being done and why it matters while pointing out underlying motivations and patterns. In his final show of the season, which summarized the first year since Trump’s election, he identified the three methods that the president is using to undermine our democracy: delegitimizing the media, “what about-ism,” and trolling. Perhaps most impressively, he makes it fun to learn all these dry or depressing facts. His research and analysis may be solidly journalistic, but his delivery is acerbically comic, combining explosively expressive profanity and cheerful self-mockery with a classically British mix of verbal adroitness, instinctive distrust of authority, and an outraged contempt for hypocrisy. Nakhnikian

The 25 Best TV Shows of 2017

14

The Handmaid’s Tale

Writing about The Handmaid’s Tale when it first debuted, I felt that the timely series too obviously attempted to be the first resistance artifact of the Donald Trump presidency, and, worse, seemed calibrated to resonate with only an already amenable audience. In the time since, I’ve come to see the first season—with its unceasing bleakness, ambiguous conclusion, and gorgeously stark cinematic quality—in a different light. The series isn’t meant to rouse; it’s meant to eulogize. It responds to the political ascension of a proud misogynist and the emergence of a disgruntled, militantly male population segment of America not by sounding an alarm for the future, but by reflecting a diminished hope in the present. Elisabeth Moss portrays Offred, the show’s central handmaid, as alternately despairing and determined, and her performance builds a sense of urgency in the series that never relents. As Offred races to escape the devolution of civilization, The Handmaid’s Tale makes the unsettling argument that it’s possible for a society to regress past the point of no return. Haigis

The 25 Best TV Shows of 2017

13

Master of None

The first season of Master of None focused mainly on food-obsessed metrosexual Dev’s (Aziz Ansari) prototypically millennial attempts to attain a solid footing in his love and work lives, with his stabs at making it in showbiz sometimes complicated by his Indian-American ethnicity. This season, Dev’s career and love life more often retreated into the background to make room for other issues—and other points of view. One episode, “New York City, I Love You,” shifted between a series of characters, like doormen and cab drivers, who generally appear only in passing in Dev’s travels through the city, and Dev was just a supporting character in “Thanksgiving,” a delicately told tale of how his friend, Denise (Lena Waithe), came out as gay, first to him and then to her mother and grandmother. Those two standout episodes, plus bits in others like Dev’s decision to out himself as a pork eater to his Muslim parents, transformed Master of None from a very good rom-com about late adolescence in urban America to a rallying cry for the soul of the nation. Nakhnikian

The 25 Best TV Shows of 2017

12

The Good Place

The Good Place is to many of its fans what its resident philosopher, Chidi (William Jackson Harper), is to bad-girl-trying-to-make-good Eleanor (Kristen Bell). At first, Eleanor’s afterlife adventure felt like a familiar enough twist on standard sitcom tropes that we took it a bit for granted even as we started falling for the show’s heart, smarts, and how good it always left us feeling. Then this season tossed all of our assumptions about the characters, the relationships between them, and the world they live in into the air like so many mylar balloons, and there was no denying it anymore: We’re in love. An exploration of what it means to be a good person, The Good Place is so buoyantly silly that you might be surprised that it’s earned the approval of a Fordham bioethicist. And, like Brooklyn Nine Nine and Parks and Recreation, two other shows by writer-producer Michael Schur, it has a generosity of spirit and a belief in the power of community that feels particularly necessary these days. Nakhnikian

The 25 Best TV Shows of 2017

11

Big Little Lies

Anchored by the powerful performances of its A-list cast, the HBO miniseries Big Little Lies defiantly came into focus, exposing tony beachfront properties as a site to explore trauma, power dynamics, and the violent undercurrents of petty parental grievances. In the opening minutes of the series, we’re presented with the central mystery: a murder at the Otter Bay Elementary School fundraiser. As Big Little Lies progresses, a tangle of additional secrets spools out: the extramarital past of the chirpy Madeline (Reese Witherspoon); the abusive marriage of ex-lawyer Celeste (Nicole Kidman); and the dark past of young single mom Jane (Shailene Woodley). For those not sold on the series’s soapy leanings, showrunner David E. Kelley and director Jean Marc-Vallée make a stunning case for melodrama when it’s paired with artful editing, camerawork, and music. The pair achieves a visual and tonal consistency, with Vallée’s meandering handheld camera creating an environment of simultaneous opulence and unease. Selinger

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