2017 was a good year to be a couch potato. Thanks to a boom in streaming content on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu, there was a wealth of fantastic television. Here are the Flat Circle’s favorite television shows of 2017:
The Good Place (NBC) – The premise and style of The Good Place are unique for a sitcom: people who do not belong to heaven try to figure out how to stay there so that they can avoid going to “The Bad Place.” It goes without saying that network comedies normally stray from name-dropping philosophers and offering lessons on their theories. The Good Place excels at weaving these abstract moral arguments into storylines that benefit its characters. In what may be his least Sam Malone-like comedy character, Ted Danson is phenomenal as the wayward leader of a terrific cast. Final Take: Philosophy has never been this funny.
G.L.O.W. (Netflix) – This was a sleeper hit. A series on eighties women’s wrestling may not sound like something that has appeal to a broad audience, but the story of G.L.O.W. was addictive. Watching Allison Brie and her cohorts learn how to wrestle and craft their characters had a strong A League Of Their Own vibe. Season One also featured good character development from many of the women as they struggled with personal conflict, uncomfortable wrestling stereotypes, and the low budget nature of their training. Final Take – Next to Stranger Things, G.L.O.W. was one of the two best binge watches of 2017. The inner twelve-year-old in me has watched the wrestling in the finale at least a half-dozen times.
Better Call Saul (AMC) – Season Three of Better Call Saul climaxed in an accentuated sibling rivalry that played out through an emotionally painful court room scene. With no disrespect to Bob Odenkirk or Rhea Seahorn’s performances, the entire season was a showcase of Michael McKean’s acting talent. His turn as Charles McGill appears to have neared an end in the series, but his dominant performance as the powerful lawyer was something to remember. Final Take: The slow-burner pace of Better Call Saul may finally be ramping up as the fight between Chuck and Jimmy appears to be over. Look for Season Four to incorporate more characters from Breaking Bad.
Big Little Lies (HBO) – Hollywood is exhausting the gender-swapping reboot thing. If entertainment moguls were serious about creating more diverse programming they should take notice of Big Little Lies. You can have an excellent female-dominant series that is not just a slightly different spin on a preexisting show or movie (looking at you Overboard and Ocean’s Eight). The seven-episode season was a testament to how a cast of strong female leads can carry a series without rehashing an old product. Final Take: Big Little Lies had perfectly wrapped its plot in Season One. Finding a new direction for the story that is just as captivating will be a challenge for the production staff in the second season.
Alias Grace (Netflix, CBC) – The miniseries is the third television adaption of a Margaret Atwood book in 2017 (The Handmaid’s Tale, Wandering Wenda). The powerful series followed Grace Marks, an Irish-Canadian maid who played an unknown role in her employer’s death. Based on an 1843 murder that became a sensationalized news story in 19th Century Canada, the series did a fantastic job of keeping the audience guessing Grace’s role in the crime throughout each episode. Alias Grace also provided some direct commentary on social class and harassment in the 19th Century that remains timely. Final Take: One of the strengths of the miniseries was its ability to immerse the audience in daily 19th Century life. It was interesting to find out later on that the shots of the penitentiary were taken at the Kingston Penitentiary that actually held Marks.
VEEP (HBO) – The best comedy on television shook up its well-established dynamic in its sixth season. Selina Meyer and her staff split up following her exit from the Oval Office. Dividing an ensemble cast was an interesting way to further the plot of the show and added new developments to some of the characters. The season was one of VEEP’s funniest and gave most of the cast the opportunity to find a place beyond the Beltway. It will be enjoyable to watch theses characters come back together during Selina’s forthcoming presidential run. Final Take: HBO added two VEEP-related websites in 2017. Richard Splett’s blog (Let’s Talk About Splett!) and Jonah Ryan’s presidential campaign website are pure Internet gold.
The Keepers (Netflix) – The documentary series was able to intertwine overlapping tragic events that should leave audiences frustrated and angry. The Keepers initially began with the unsolved murder of Sister Catherine Cesnik in 1969, but later expanded to include the sex abuse scandals within the Archdiocese of Baltimore. The entire documentary was riveting and brought the relevance of a cold case into 2017. Final Take: The Keepers felt like a more honest and methodologically sound piece than Making A Murderer. Unlike its Netflix counterpart, the documentary has not been broadly accused of withholding information and appears to have told a more complete story.
Brockmire (IFC) – Hank Azaria was phenomenal as Jim Brockmire, a washed-up broadcaster who has found himself calling independent league baseball games in a declining Pennsylvania town. The premise and adult-tinged humor of Brockmire were solid, allowing Azaria to dominate as a hysterical one-man show. The series also featured an irreverent cameo from the normally straight-laced FOX broadcaster Joe Buck. Final Take: Azaria’s Brockmire was the most enjoyable portrayal of a sports broadcaster since Bob Uecker’s role in Major League.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon) – The first Amazon series that I have ever watched, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel details the rise of a female comedian in 1958. Set in New York City, the series gave a rare glimpse of the process to becoming a standup act. You can feel the discomforting pain of Midge Maisel bombing on stage and revel in her success as she is perfecting bits. It is a far cry from the polished comic that we are used to seeing on television and provides an interesting glimpse of a tough profession. Final Take: Jane Lynch shined in her role as a standup comedian. Watching contemporary comedians portray famous comics of yesteryear could be a fun development in the series going forward.
Stranger Things (Netflix) – Aside from Game of Thrones, Season Two of Stranger Things was my only true appointment television of 2017. Every episode seamlessly led to the next, most of the new characters added something positive to the story, and the eighties homages furthered the believability of the Hawkins universe. It is rare for me to go into a series knowing I that will binge the entire season in a weekend, but it really is the only way to watch Stranger Things. Not only was the show the best television of 2017, but the Duffer Brother have also created the greatest Netflix series yet. Final Take: Sean Astin was sensational as Bob Newby. With The Goonies, Rudy, and Lord Of The Rings, the veteran actor has created a career where he has played an unlikely everyman hero in each of the last four decades.