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Rusty’s Top 10 Shows of 2017 December 14, 2017

Posted by Rusty in Uncategorized.
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Welcome to my 5th Annual TV Post! No one reads this! But, if you do, here are the rules:

I don’t watch everything. My wife is 40 weeks pregnant so I’m saving The Deuce for my paternity leave. I HATED the first two episodes of The Leftovers so I didn’t watch that final season. Twin Peaks season 2 was bad AND I don’t get Showtime, so no Twin Peaks revivals on here either.

The list goes for all television during the calendar year, not just the strength of a show’s individual season. News-comedy (your John Olivers and Samantha Bees) and non-fiction (your Jeopardies and Top Chefs) not included.

Defending Champions: Breaking Bad (2013), Fargo (2014), The Americans (2015, 2016).

Drops: Last Man on Earth (Honorable Mention last year), Orange is the New Black (#7 last year), Veep (#4 last year), American Crime Story: The People v. OJ Simpson (#2 last year, did not air in 2017).

Honorable Mentions (considered for top-10 but did not make the cut; in no order): Brooklyn 99 (HM last year), Catastrophe (HM Last Year), Stranger Things,  Master of None, Archer, iZombie (#8 last year), Silicon Valley (#9 last year)

10. Better Call Saul (#5 last year)

Better Call Saul has made the top-10 for all three of its seasons on AMC. Bob Odenkirk’s and Michael McKean’s work has been masterful and they have been getting the appropriate props from TV critics. For me though, the star of the show is Rhea Seehorn’s Kim Wexler. Her work trying to counterbalance Slippin’ Jimmy’s worst impulses while dealing with her own demons makes the show special. Unfortunately, those three only make up half the show. The “Mike half,” even with the introduction of Gus Fring (!) is a far inferior show, one that wouldn’t have a place anywhere on this list.

9. The Americans (#1 last TWO years)

Well what the Hell was that!? Despite a steep decline in quality, The Americans remains one of the better programs on TV. Season 5 both bit off too much (a second family in the Midwest!?; a somnambulist subplot set in Moscow) while also doing too little (many of the character beats had already been explored in previous seasons). Many shows spin their wheels in their penultimate season, but I was hoping based on the past two seasons that The Americans was better than that.

8. Fargo (not ranked last year)

Another FX show that took a noticeable step back. The villain was a cartoon and, once again, the body count by the end of the season was ridiculous. It just didn’t click the way the first two seasons did (oh, right, this is a “limited series,” sure).

7. Bojack Horseman (#6 last year)

It seems like the pathos and the humor were kept a little more separate this season, and there was nothing as astonishingly funny and heartbreaking as last year’s penultimate episode. But the show is the funniest on TV. That’ll count for a lot.

6. Jane the Virgin (HM last year)

Another show that was spinning its tires. Our protagonist had it too good, meaning the show had to depend on its hotel machinations subplots to drive conflict. I LOVE those subplots (especially Yael Grobglas’s performance as the icily competent Petra and her flighty Czech twin sister, Anezka), but it wasn’t enough to make the show work. So the show pivoted, in a truly shocking way. The show’s focus has shifted and that has benefitted one of the best casts on television.

5. Big Little Lies (unranked last year)

I was ready to hate this show. David Kelley is among my least favorite television writers. The first two episodes’ dependence on talking heads to tell us what we just saw and to make pithy bon mots was almost a deal breaker. Obviously I am glad I kept going because this show (which should NOT have a second season) was incredible. The way it treated violence as an airborne virus, the therapy scenes, the “nice guys” being prone to misogyny, Laura Freakin’ Dern. I didn’t like how neatly the mystery was tied up (and it never adequately explained why the “murderer” had a part in any of this), but small complaints for a series that got better episode-by-episode.

4. Crazy Ex Girlfriend (#3 last year)

This show is getting a lot of credit for its treatment of mental illness, and that’s fine as far as it goes. It’s nice that the show explains the how and why of Rebecca Bunch, even if a show where she constantly self-sabotages herself is more interesting to me. Another thing to watch out for: The songs are much worse than in its first season and the first half of Season 2. There are usually two songs per episode and I expect one of them to be a dud. Maybe this is just a bad taste from two bad songs in its midseason finale that aired last week, but I hope the songwriting team can get it back together. Maybe they ran out of pastiches? All that being said, this show is incredibly sharp and sympathetic and I look forward to it more than any other show on this list.

3. Feud: Bette and Joan (unranked last year)

I used to hate Ryan Murphy, but this is two straight years where he has produced two of my Top-3 shows. As someone who runs an Oscar pool, seeing this many Oscar winning actresses playing other Oscar winning actresses was a treat. And that casting underlined the theme of the series: If there is no place in Hollywood for older women, you have to make your own. Sometimes your own is a trash movie that becomes a cult classic.

2. The Good Place (#10 last year)

A reminder that the big reveal at the end of Season 1 took place in January, so that’s taken into account on this ranking.

Even before the twist, this show was hitting on all gears. The Good Elanor character was one of the funniest things I have ever seen on TV. The second season picked up right where the finale left off with a smorgasbord of puns, great visual jokes, and the ethical dilemmas we’ve come to expect. The only thing keeping this from #1 is the Jason character is just too dumb (The Joey Tribiani/Eric Matthews problem) and Tahani is becoming a caricature of her bad qualities instead of focusing on her good ones.

1. American Vandal (unranked last year)

I have never seen or heard a true crime documentary. I know people that have obsessed over Serial, The Jinx, Making a Murderer…it never appealed to me. That means I am missing a level of American Vandal and it’s still my #1 show of 2017.

If you aren’t aware, American Vandal is a spoof of those true crime documentaries, but instead of trying to determine who murdered a nun, the “documentarians” are trying to figure out “who drew the dicks;” that is, who vandalized 27 high school faculty cars by spray painting penises on them. The most obvious suspect has been expelled and awaits trial, but is he really the guilty party?

There’s your sophomoric base. The mystery, despite its ridiculousness, is very compelling. You will care who drew the dicks. But what really made Vandal stand out is that this show slowly became the best high school drama since Freaks and Geeks. You will end up knowing dozens of high schoolers by name and how they interact with each other. How cliques are formed but aren’t rigid and how social media has changed the way teenagers interact with each other. The show even gets into journalistic ethics as sometimes the documentarians go too far and expose information to tangential to the investigation to be worth the embarrassment they cause.

Never has a show so immediately found my wavelength and settled there. And this isn’t just me. Based on other people writing about the show, it’s clear that American Vandal slyly trains you on how to watch it and then starts revealing information to help you get to the appropriate conclusions. Small spoilers here: but when I saw a “promposal” at a party that was written with red spray paint, I jumped out of my seat. Ten minutes later, that’s where the show went. Same for the splotches on the promposal and whether they matched the splotches on the dicks (leading to a long debate on where one begins to draw a penis, the head or the shaft?).

I watched American Vandal in one fell swoop. I’ve thought about it almost every day since. It is the best show of 2017.

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