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The 25 Best TV Shows of 2017

We can stop waiting for powerful voices of resistance to emerge, because they’re already telling their stories.

The 25 Best TV Shows of 2017
Photo: Adam Rose/Netflix

Since as early as Donald Trump’s election, it was natural to wonder just how quickly art would reflect the anxieties of the majority of Americans who disapprove of this historically unpopular president. On television, the response seemed immediate. The Trump Age gave The Handmaid’s Tale and The Americans additional gravitas and relevance, and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver became an indispensable salve. But the strongest statements of the past year have been intensely personal auteurist creations that now feel like declarations of anxiety and exasperation.

Better Things, Insecure, One Mississippi, and Broad City are related only as idiosyncratic realizations of the personalities of their female creators. They’re unmistakable products of singular sensibilities which have allowed us to inhabit perspectives made vital by their newness. And alongside concept-driven series like GLOW and The Girlfriend Experience, they constitute a new preponderance of female characters and perspectives on television. If our list reflects a pattern, it’s that, as a reckoning has reached powerful men in many professions, women are now the vanguard of the crowded TV landscape.

Aziz Ansari’s Master of None reached a poignant height with “Thanksgiving,” an episode about a young black lesbian wrestling with her family’s repressive, conservative values. That Emmy-winning episode was, notably, co-penned by Lena Waithe, reflecting the emergence of female voices even in shows from well-established men. The Deuce is another trenchant urban polemic from David Simon but one focusing on female sex workers in New York, and co-written by women (a first for Simon). The Good Place, Michael Schur’s fantastical rendering of the afterlife, is notable not only for its diverse cast, but for Kristen Bell’s leading role as Eleanor, a character alternately narcissistic and vulnerable, and like no other woman on TV.

Of course, the year also provided a slate of pedigreed shows from male creators—among them the return of David Lynch’s beloved Twin Peaks and the debut of David Fincher’s serial-killer series Mindhunter. And while the final season of Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta’s The Leftovers cemented that series as a niche classic for HBO, dour shows focused on difficult men that aspire to the label of prestige now feel like an exception instead of the rule. This was the year of wrestlers, activists, murderers, immoral angels, single parents, estranged children, cancer survivors, and handmaids—all of them women. We can stop waiting for powerful voices of resistance to emerge, because they’re already telling their stories. Michael Haigis


The 25 Best TV Shows of 2017

25. She’s Gotta Have It

There’s a sense in Spike Lee’s filmography of a scolding intellectual seeking to outrun his demons with the cathartic power of style. As with many recent Lee productions, Netflix’s She’s Gotta Have It is so formally exhilarating that the sensorial often overrides the textural. Updating the adventures of Nola Darling (DeWanda Wise) for woke millennials, the series is awash in bursts of expressionist color, on-screen text, the breaking of the fourth wall, and riffs that allow Lee to revel in the actors’ chemistry and in the intuitive power of his own imagination, leading to tones that daringly crash into one another as satire, agitprop, and melodrama merge. Lee’s a preacher who can get down with the get down, and his simultaneous sense of control and of free-wheeling spontaneity suggests a weary common sense born of experience. It’s an experience that the filmmaker hadn’t yet attained when he made the original She’s Gotta Have It in 1986. Now, more than 30 years later, his sensibility offers hope for a country riven by ignorance and hatred. Chuck Bowen


The 25 Best TV Shows of 2017

24. Black Mirror

Much of the fourth season of Black Mirror employs a formula that the series has honed with devastating efficiency: Insidious tech is introduced, context is revealed, premises are flipped, and we’re left gobsmacked and terrified, retreating into our own heads. Yet while the series still stuns in moments of harrowing wit, Black Mirror has most improved on the estimable storytelling achievements of landmark past episodes such as “San Junipero” and “An Entire History of You” by rapidly building seamless worlds and developing character complexity without feeling rushed or cursory. The series is as gymnastic as ever, toggling genres between installments while maintaining its characteristic level of thoughtfulness and imagination, and occasionally even spurning the twist-ending tradition of its most beloved episodes. “Arkangel,” a melancholic episode about protective parenting, is more focused on relatable maternal folly than mind-bending paradigm shifts, and “Metalhead” is essentially a filmmaking exercise in tension with notably little of the sci-fi themes that have come to define the series. No matter. With its consistent mastery of genre, wit, and ruthless efficiency, Black Mirror has become a farm not just for penetrating commentary, but for truly moving storytelling. Haigis


The 25 Best TV Shows of 2017

23. Insecure

There’s always risk involved in making a TV show that tackles daily minutiae and not much else. Rather than focusing on a single romantic relationship or dramatic incident, Insecure is a series about an entire milieu, and its second season is all the better for it. The series continues to explore the romantic and professional lives of Issa (Issa Rae), Molly (Yvonne Orji), and Lawrence (Jay Ellis) with specificity and nuance while maintaining its characteristic observational humor. In this way, Insecure is as much an auteurist dramedy along the lines of Fleabag and Atlanta as it is an homage to black sitcoms like Girlfriends and Living Single. The crux of season two features our protagonists encountering the thorny world of casual dating, which incites as much laughter as it does frustration. Not much may happen on Insecure, per se, but it’s the sort of series that values watching women figure things out one step at a time, even if they’re not wholly empathetic or selfless along the way. Julia Selinger


The 25 Best TV Shows of 2017

22. Broad City

Broad City is still gut-busting, but there’s a sad undercurrent to its fourth season. One episode acknowledged that Ilana (Ilana Glazer), unbelievably, hasn’t come in four months, and in an uproarious centerpiece, the horndog speaks directly into her stubborn vulva and realizes that her inability to satisfy her libido is directly linked to every horrible thing that our commander in creep said about more than just women on the campaign trail. Elsewhere, Abbi (Abbi Jacobson), knowing that she needs a heater, chooses to spend money on a Botox injection because of how her first gray hair has made her insecure about everything she thinks she hasn’t accomplished. The season’s through line was very quickly understood to be Abbi and Ilana’s weaponizing of their bodies in response to what men force on them, or take away from them (it’s telling that “Witches” features a smash cut to a Trump Tower window cracking in response to the energy of an all-ladies party in the woods). And to the end, they remained comrades in arms, understanding that their kinship is crucial to fighting the good fight against any man, like the New York City Snipper from the impeccably structured “Sliding Doors,” who dares to make a woman feel like she has no identity beyond the sum of her parts. Ed Gonzalez


The 25 Best TV Shows of 2017

21. Stranger Things 2

Jonathan Rosenbaum once described Luis Buñuel’s The Milky Way as coming “dangerously close to being all notations and no text.” The same could be said about the first season of Stranger Things, practically a rollcall of references to the Duffer brothers’ favorite pop-cultural artifacts. But in Stranger Things 2, the notations are more intricately intertwined with the text. In the season’s first episode, when Max (Sadie Sink) walks into class on her first day of school and takes her seat, Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and his three best buds all turn in unison to look at her—and Gary Paxton’s “Spooky Movies” drops on the soundtrack, to comically underline the point that the boys have been simultaneously haunted by a new crush. Later, when Max’s abusive older step-brother, Billy (Dacre Montgomery), arrives at school, the camera joins two female high schoolers in leering at his behind—a spectacle of tongue-in-cheek objectification that’s hell-bent on flipping the script on the representational politics of, say, a Whitesnake music video. And throughout the season, such cheekiness was perpetually in service of complementing the show’s still-obsessive and often haunting fixation on kinship and the after effects of trauma. Gonzalez



The 25 Best TV Shows of 2017

20. Silicon Valley

Previous seasons of Silicon Valley, HBO’s satire of the tech industry, have benefitted from its sweeping arcs: the birth of Pied Piper, its fight to gain stability, and its post-success struggles. Throughout the gang’s tribulations, there’s a predictable yet satisfying algorithm of success followed by failure and then by so-crazy-it-might-just-work bailouts. In its fourth season, the series strayed slightly from this formula in favor of more episodic storylines. There’s the partnership between Richard (Thomas Middleditch) and Gavin (Matt Ross), Dinesh’s (Kumail Nanjiani) newfound role as the smarmy PiperChat CEO, and Big Head’s (Josh Brener) doomed professorial appointment. Silicon Valley has spent the last three seasons developing and deepening our understanding of its characters, and the payoff is a season of television in which banter or character-driven sight gags—shout-out to Gilfoyle’s (Martin Starr) cat’s-eye contact lenses—are enough to elicit belly laughs. The series derives the most comic mileage out of exploring the group dynamic, whether it’s Dinesh and Gilfoyle’s frenemy-fueled sabotage or the hero-worship that Jared (Zach Woods) feels for Richard. Selinger


The 25 Best TV Shows of 2017

19. One Mississippi

Tig Notaro’s traumedy is a dryly comic, deeply moving reimagining of the time in her life when she moved back home to Biloxi, Mississippi, while recovering from two profoundly challenging events: the death of her mother and her own breast cancer diagnosis. Season two maintained the inaugural season’s fine-tuned sensitivity to the characters’ feelings and relationships while upping the moral and emotional antes. Tig and her brother (Noah Harpster) grapple with the guilt and trauma they carry as a result of the sexual abuse that she suffered and he witnessed when they were children. That memory surfaces after Kate (Notaro’s real-life wife, Stephanie Allynne), the producer of Tig’s conversational/confessional radio show, is sexually assaulted by a colleague. And falling for an African-American colleague forces Tig’s socially awkward stepfather (John Rothman) to come to terms with the legacy of racism in America in general, and in the South in particular. Meanwhile Tig and Kate finally become a couple after a long, one-sided courtship during which Kate, who thinks of herself as straight, sorts out her feelings for Tig. Their love feels authentic and hard won, like everything else in this series—which is beginning to feel as much like a chronicle of present-day America as it is of Notaro’s recent past. Elise Nakhnikian


The 25 Best TV Shows of 2017

18. Better Call Saul

It would have been so simple for Better Call Saul to have presented shyster attorney, Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), as a lovable misfit who flatters our resentments of our more successful friends. But creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould have never taken the easy way out, showing even the wealthy, glib, and evil to have their reasons. The third season of Better Call Saul remarkably resolved its primary arc—a legal dispute between Jimmy and his more successful attorney brother, Chuck (Michael McKean)—at its halfway point, as the final episodes were devoted to a succession of rich character-centric stanzas, most shockingly concerning Chuck’s surrender to mental illness. In the performance of his career, McKean brings Chuck’s self-loathing to tragic life, elucidating a war between intelligence, emotion, and sickness. Chuck, a brilliant man, was the McGill family’s true black sheep, which is to say that Better Call Saul understands a thorny issue of family life: It nurtures inferiority within most of us, no matter what our true lot in life may be. Bowen


The 25 Best TV Shows of 2017

17. Rick and Morty

After real-life blowback over a botched fast-food merchandising rollout, Rick and Morty gained more mainstream attention for accidentally cultivating television’s most possessive, prideful, and misguided fanbase than it ever had for its distinct sense of humor and notable commitment to nihilism. Rick, the show’s toxic genius, would consider that a shame. In season three, Rick and Morty centered more than ever on the idea that nothing inherently matters and consistently returned to the notion that supreme intelligence and conventional morality are mutually exclusive. The series gave us Pickle Rick, an instant addition to the canon of fan-favorite characters that matches the absurd hilarity of Tiny Rick, Mr. Poopybutthole, Mr. Meeseeks, and so forth. But more than anything, the Pickle Rick saga and the rest of the season amplified the escapist illogic of Rick and Morty’s adventures, before seemingly smirking at us with a season-ending reset that highlights the insignificance of the show’s information dumps and byzantine plotting. Both can be undone in an instant by the show’s mercurial (and usually drunk) genius. Haigis


The 25 Best TV Shows of 2017

16. The Americans

The Americans began its fifth and penultimate season instantly reminding us that it’s an edifice brilliantly constructed of contrasts. Then, it spent the better part of the season biding its time—bidding adieu to familiar faces and seemingly closing the door on the possibility of a particular father-son reunion—in the lead up to what seemed inevitable: that Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) were returning to Mother Russia. And if you felt cheated in the end, by their decision to, in fact, stay in America, then you’ve forgotten that these characters contain multitudes. In the final episode of the season, as Elizabeth surveys every appliance and advantage available to her as she stands inside her kitchen, the truth about what she wanted all along was revealed to be there from the start. It was at this point that The Americans proved that it was far from exhausting its capacity to provide emotion-rich insights into these characters’ lives, as it ended its fifth season with one of its greatest shocks to date: that even a Russian spy can come to buy into the fantasy of the American capitalist dream. Gonzalez



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



The 25 Best TV Shows of 2017

10. Mindhunter

Netflix’s Mindhunter offers a fictionalized portrait of the birth of criminal psychology and profiling. The year is 1977, the term “serial killer” hasn’t been coined yet, and the word “stressor” must be explained to a district attorney. The cast informs executive producer David Fincher and creator Joe Penhall’s sociological schematic with a human element that’s unusual for a crime procedural. Old-school F.B.I. agent Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) grows to be the show’s conscience, which allows Mindhunter to critique the racism and classism of the F.B.I. without glibly ridiculing the organization, as McCallany elegantly dramatizes the pain of sensing that one’s understanding of a way of life is on its way out. Meanwhile, Tench’s new partner, Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff), revolutionizes our understanding of mass murderers at the potential expense of his own capacity for intimacy. The series merges Fincher’s visuals with theatrically literate dialogue, illustrating language’s terrifying control over our fragile grasp of reality. Bowen


The 25 Best TV Shows of 2017

9. American Gods

With American Gods, Bryan Fuller and Michael Green apply the decadent, ultraviolent aesthetic that Fuller honed on Hannibal to a series of riffs on religion, racism, sexism, and all the other –isms that are on America’s mind with newfound urgency after the political ascent of Donald Trump. Fuller and Green haven’t shaken the tediousness of Neil Gaiman’s expositional source novel, though they inform the narrative with an erotic-comic texture that suggests the televisual equivalent of porn vaudeville. Ricky Whittle is a gorgeous bore as Shadow Moon, an ex-con who discovers that gods do exist and are manifested out of our worship, prompting one to wonder which entity is really the god in this transaction. Emily Browning is frequently stunning as Shadow’s wife, Laura, who has a peculiar inability to stay dead, and whose qualified devotion to Shadow blossoms into a startlingly convincing account of troubled love. The gods frequently steal the show, of course, allowing character actors to chew the sets into mincemeat while delivering volcanic riffs on American hypocrisy. Of particular note are Orlando Jones as Anansi, who has a galvanizing monologue aboard a slave ship, and Corbin Bernsen as Vulcan, a god who realizes that the true path to contemporary American worship runs through the NRA. Bowen


The 25 Best TV Shows of 2017

8. The Girlfriend Experience

Season two of The Girlfriend Experience doubles down on the alternating structure of the first season, in which co-creators Amy Seimetz and Lodge Kerrigan took turns writing and directing episodes that pertained to a single story of prostitution and corporate espionage. Seimetz and Kerrigan each create their own narrative here, allowing them to address the self-exploitation of our “gig” culture in vastly differing fashions. Seimetz offers a warm, sensual, and comic story of an urban escort, Bria (Carmen Ejogo), who’s rendered a fish out of water when she’s relocated to New Mexico via Witness Protection. Seimetz’s suggestive sex scenes emphasize the absurdist sensuality of the imagination, with Paul (Harmony Korine) arising as an unforgettable parody of how men are learning to exploit women via pretensions of feminism. Meanwhile, Kerrigan more traditionally continues the aesthetic of the first season, physicalizing political gamesmanship via curt and hard-edged sex scenes that push the line as to what’s permitted on television, with fellatio offered up as an especially memorable conduit of gender resentment. Cumulatively, a sad, experimental, fragmented series grew even more adventurous, blurring an increasingly eroding line between cable television and independent filmmaking. Bowen


The 25 Best TV Shows of 2017

7. GLOW

In Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch’s exhilaratingly bawdy and empathetic GLOW, frustrated actresses are liberated by reveling in male fantasies of whores and housewives, as the series concerns the unresolvable irony of finding freedom by assuming control of one’s own means of social reduction. Set in the 1980s, GLOW follows the formation of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, which embraces wrestling’s propensity for racial and sexual stereotypes. Ruth “Zoya the Destroya” Wilder (Alison Brie) anchors the series, with her moving desperation to confirm her talent as an actor, but the breakout characters are Debbie “Liberty Belle” Eagan (Betty Gilpin), a former soap opera star who realizes that wrestling is just a soap for men, and Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron), a has-been B-movie director who coaches the ladies through their transformations, merging his fantasies with their own. GLOW’s poignancy stems from how Sylvia casually comes to see that he, an alcoholic womanizer on the fringes of the entertainment industry, shares something vital with his objectified performers: a yearning for scrappy grace, and a hustler’s understanding of sensationalism as the manna of American life. Bowen


The 25 Best TV Shows of 2017

6. BoJack Horseman

The most structurally ambitious and emotionally devastating comedy on television also happens to star a depressed talking horse. What began as a showbiz farce has developed into an examination on emotional crises—inherited trauma, not-quite-metaphorical sinkholes, and feelings of powerlessness—and how we handle them. Bojack Horseman is still rooted in sardonic humor and animal puns, but season four delves deeper into its characters’ psychologies than ever before. The season is primarily interested in the multigenerational tribulations of the Horseman clan, introducing Hollyhock (Aparna Nancherla), a teenager who claims to be BoJack’s (Will Arnett) daughter, while providing insight into the troubled past and dementia-addled present of his mother, Beatrice (Wendie Malick). The series delivers a few truly gut-punching episodes, featuring structurally inventive flashbacks, dark internal monologues (“You’re a stupid piece of shit,” repeats BoJack’s conscience in episode six), and, for Carolyn (Amy Sedaris), fictionalized futures. More than just adding nonlinear razzle-dazzle, the show’s treatment of time and storytelling adeptly tackles complexities of memory and self-perception, and how the two are inextricably linked. Bojack Horseman ultimately reinforces its series-long thesis: that everyone, even the most broken among us, deserves happiness. Selinger


The 25 Best TV Shows of 2017

5. The Deuce

David Simon’s The Deuce focuses on the tapestry of life in a city in flux, echoing The Wire, Simon’s masterpiece, as a resounding song of praise for an overlooked labor force—in this case the sex workers of 1970s Times Square. A revealing and daring performance from Maggie Gyllenhaal as Candy, a prostitute and early pornographer, has rightly captured a majority of praise, alongside James Franco’s dual role as a pair of Brooklyn brothers. But The Deuce, like the best of Simon’s work, is supported by a robust and fully realized cast of supporting characters. A murder in the first season’s finale season is made more shocking given the victim’s seeming distance from the show’s central storyline—until we consider that, as they did in The Wire, all the pieces matter. Haigis


The 25 Best TV Shows of 2017

4. Better Things

It’s fine if you feel every episode of Better Things is rigged to prove that Pamela Adlon’s Sam Fox is nothing short of a superwoman. That’s more or less the point of this artful, uproarious, and heartfelt ode to the miracle of women staying sane in a world that demands so much of them, and often with little reward. There’s a feeling throughout the series that the universe would be disrupted if Sam lost her sense of humor even in a moment when she’s being dented by life’s hard knocks. And it almost is in season two’s finest episode, “Eulogy,” which sees her asking her daughters—three wonderfully complicated little women—to celebrate all that she’s done for them. Sam asks less than she should, which is why the moment disarms her daughters—and much in the same way that the show’s humor and pathos sneaks up on audiences. More than cannily scrutinizing the courage with which Sam balances her domestic and professional arenas, the episode, like so much of Better Things, understands that to be a mother is to have the most difficult and complicated job in the world. Gonzalez


The 25 Best TV Shows of 2017

3. Twin Peaks: The Return

In 1990, Twin Peaks tossed a Molotov cocktail into TV land, inventing modern prestige programming in the process. Twenty-seven years later, Twin Peaks: The Return detonated the now numbing consistency of such television. The Return is pure poetry conceived by David Lynch and Mark Frost on an epic scale, about how America has betrayed an image of community that was reflected by the lurid daydreams of the original Twin Peaks. The Return’s incomprehensible murder mystery houses hundreds of anecdotes, set in multiple dimensions and timelines, pertaining to the dashed dreams of lost souls who’re finding it difficult to live in the conservative small-town fantasy of Twin Peaks, as the reality of diminished opportunity and isolation encroaches. Story is less important than aching, supple tonality, which Lynch, who directed every episode, orchestrates with the finesse of a macabre, humanist maestro. Iconic Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) is split into multiple incarnations, searching for personal and social unity. In one of the most haunting finales in television, Cooper finds a way to go home again, inadvertently unearthing the disenfranchised America that retreats to reboots as a means of remembering a vision of a past that never existed. Bowen


The 25 Best TV Shows of 2017

2. Dear White People

The knowingly didactic title of Dear White People is a little misleading. While the show does occasionally address its incisive racial critiques directly to the viewer, the intoxicating quality of Justin Simien’s series comes from a sense of overarching relatability. As with the film that inspired it, Dear White People follows a sprawling cast of college students, united by skin color but individually shaped by distinct experiences. While the series is about the myriad ways they respond to their overwhelmingly white surroundings, its characterizations are complicated by matters that sometimes don’t have to do with race. Rapid-fire humor and energetic direction draw us close to the characters, who begin the series raging against oppression in distinctly academic, hypothetical fashion. By the time student agitations and complaints are proven justified, by the overeager armed campus police who storm into a party late in the season, the show’s easy rhythm has lulled us enough so that we’re sufficiently shattered by the fallout of the moment. Dear White People shows us passionate individuals crafting their own identities, without ever letting us forget that to do so they are wresting that power from the people who’ve historically done it for them. Haigis


The 25 Best TV Shows of 2017

1. The Leftovers

The third and final season of The Leftovers takes place seven years after the mass departure that disappeared 2% of the world’s population—and after families separated, cults formed, and irrepressible grief became the new normal. The season follows Nora (Carrie Coon) to Australia, where she seeks out a device that can allegedly reconnect her with her departed children. Others follow in pursuit of Kevin (Justin Theroux), who’s either mentally ill or a messiah, maybe both. Perhaps more than its previous seasons, the show’s third installment is even more interested in the nature of faith. Originally consumed with the “why” of it all, the series became increasingly interested in the “what now?” As a result, season three is boldly ambiguous and irresolute. Not because it refuses to answer questions, but because it understands that acceptance, not anger or guilt, is key to overcoming grief. Nora provides an explanation as to what happened to the departed, and Kevin believes her, no questions asked. Ambiguity or not, it’s the show’s most distilled moment of pure faith: one person choosing to believe another, and finally finding comfort in the process. Selinger

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