TV shows you should’ve seen this year
WHAT a year it’s been in the era of “Peak TV” with hundreds of shows to capture our attention and feed our addiction.
But there are only so many hours in a day, a week, a year and we have to devote some of that time to other non-screen-related pursuits, like work, life, and all that good stuff. So when you find those precious few moments to give to TV, make sure you’re spending it wisely.
Look no further than these shows, the best series of 2017 — it’s time to get your summer binge on.
MASTER OF NONE, SEASON 2 (Netflix)
What a return for Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang’s Master Of None. The sophomore season was more confident about its tone and purpose and it showed in every visually delicious frame and in every line of dialogue in this series about a single guy in New York trying to figure out life, work and love.
Starting with two gorgeous episodes in Italy and closing in Dev’s apartment with an audaciously ambiguous moment, everything about this season just sang. Individually, there were outstanding episodes including the stunning “Thanksgiving”, “New York, I Love You” and “Amarsi Un Po” chapters. Put it together and it was flawless.
Plus, we’ll never get another four-minute, one-shot take of someone in the back of an Uber underscored by a Soft Cell song with as much poignancy as Master Of None pulled off.
If it was any other TV series, The Handmaid’s Tale would be considered one of the year’s best shows by virtue of Elisabeth Moss’s powerful performance alone. But when you consider its beautiful direction, compelling writing and dazzling cinematography, it becomes the definition of unmissable TV.
The dystopian drama about a world in which women have no rights and are stratified and traded like property is chillingly relevant in a year in which Trump was inaugurated as US president and the #MeToo movement was spawned. The timing only adds to the show’s horrifying allure.
BIG LITTLE LIES (Foxtel)
What was it about Big Little Lies that just hooked so many people? Was it the powerhouse cast of Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern and Zoe Kravitz in a series featuring layered, complex female characters and their relationships? Most definitely — Kidman is particularly good as a battered wife in a complicated relationship.
A polished, high-end production, Big Little Lies scatters crumbs around its central mystery — who’s dead and who did the deed — deftly enough that it demands you binge one episode after another, as you ruminate on questions of parenthood, female agency and power. Even though it was supposed to be a one-off miniseries, a second season has just been confirmed.
AMERICAN VANDAL (Netflix)
A parody and mockumentary, American Vandal came out of nowhere to surprise and delight with its episodes about a high school student trying to solve the mystery of who drew the dicks on the 27 teachers’ cars — and whether the most obvious culprit, a troublemaker with a history of tomfoolery, is guilty or a victim of lowered expectations.
Who knew a show about penis graffiti would end up being such an insightful commentary on our cultural obsession with true crime puzzles as seen with the likes of Making A Murderer and Serial. American Vandal’s surface earnestness is what makes its satire so biting and effective.
HALT AND CATCH FIRE, SEASON 4 (Foxtel)
A criminally underwatched series, Halt And Catch Fire’s fourth and final season has just started airing in Australia. And what a final season it is, with the series peaking in its swan song, underscoring just how rich and rewarding this show has always been.
Starting in the 1980s during the race to put personal computers in every household, the story has now moved to the 1990s and the start of the internet age. But for all the techie stuff, Halt And Catch Fire has always been about the push-and-pull dynamics of its four central characters — Joe (Lee Pace), Cameron (Mackenzie Davis), Gordon (Scoot McNairy) and Donna (Kerry Bishe) — whose complexities and flaws have only grown over the years.
TOP OF THE LAKE: CHINA GIRL (Foxtel and Fetch)
Bold, darkly funny and completely bizarre, Top Of The Lake: China Girl is proof Elisabeth Moss is the queen of prestige TV, even better when she’s bouncing off Gwendoline Christie and Nicole Kidman.
Set five years after the Kiwi instalment, Detective Robin Griffin is back in Sydney and she’s in an even more emotionally volatile place than before. She’s reconnecting with her biological daughter and hunting for an anonymous prostitute’s killer, two plot strands that come together in an unexpected way.
UTOPIA, SEASON 3 (ABC)
Australian satire at its very best, ABC comedy Utopia is still one of the funniest shows on air. The situational comedy set in the fictional National Building Authority is from those geniuses at Working Dog (Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner) and stars Sitch as the put-upon and exasperated boss Tony.
If you’ve wondered why the government or public service never seem to accomplish anything, at all, look to Utopia and its terrifying insight into absurd bureaucracy and general incompetence despite some best intentions. The third season was sharp and the show at its best, with new additions Dilruk Jayasinha and Nina Oyama bringing a fresh energy.
Utopia is currently only on iTunes.
TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN (Stan)
Divisive, confusing and the most ambitious TV in years, Twin Peaks: The Return gave us a full-dose of its mercurial creator David Lynch. Even less accessible than its original run, the Twin Peaks revival is exactly what you would expect and exactly what you wouldn’t from the mind palace of Lynch, a haunting place to be sure.
From the nonlinear eccentricity of its eighth episode “Gotta Light”, 58 minutes of the most visceral and unnerving TV you’ll see all year, to the triumphant penultimate chapter of Agent Cooper kicking some bad guy arse, Twin Peaks was the kind of gutsy and inventive visual storytelling that was provocative and next-level bonkers.
CATASTROPHE, SEASON 3 (ABC)
Created, written and starring Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, Catastrophe was a confident barnstormer from the first moment, the story of two mismatched people thrown together after a one-night stand pregnancy. The characters, also named Sharon and Rob, are an incredibly honest and witty pair with the stingiest of barbs, often reserved for each other.
Now in its third season, Catastrophe is still darkly, uproariously funny, and its mirth seamlessly lulls you into a shadowy place, inspired by an episode in Delaney’s own life. The season also featured Carrie Fisher’s final, bittersweet TV appearance as Rob’s oddball mother.
THE GOOD PLACE, SEASONS 1 AND 2 (Netflix)
Created by Mike Schur (The Office, Parks And Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine), The Good Place is one of those comedies that is unambiguously a comedy, with a decent laughs-per-minute ratio but isn’t, obviously, as prosaic as a traditional sitcom. Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) wakes up in the afterlife and is told that because she was such a good person on Earth, she gets to spend the rest of eternity in the Good Place. Only she wasn’t and she’s not meant to be there.
In its 13-episode first season, The Good Place was a clever and imaginative comedy with good writing and a great cast. Then came the end-of-season twist — a world-changing, jaw-dropping twist that completely rewrote the rules of the show. The second season takes this further, surprising you with its depth and ingenuity.
SILICON VALLEY, SEASON 4 (Foxtel)
Everything that could ever go wrong for the Pied Piper boys do — that seems to be the ethos of this satirical series about the tech race in California. Four years in, Richard and his mates still can’t seem to get their s**t together, winning some, losing others spectacularly. It has that slightly “frustrating” feel but the characters are so richly drawn so you can’t look away.
Any situation or gag that can be exploited for an exasperated laugh is — and you’ve got to give credit to the writers for subjecting their characters to so many absurd challenges — like a server network falling out the back of a truck bit by bit. But among all that is comedic alchemy. Damn funny.
THE GOOD FIGHT, SEASON 1 (SBS)
It may be a spin-off but you don’t need to have seen 156 episodes of The Good Wife to get right into legal and political drama The Good Fight. Focused on Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski), the show picks up a year after its predecessor series. Diane is on the verge of retiring when a financial scandal ruins her and scuttles the plan. The same scandal also destroys the prospects of her goddaughter Maia (Rose Leslie) whose legal career was just starting. The two must find redemption with a new firm.
Brilliantly balanced between its stories of the week and the overarching plot, it’s a compelling story of women fighting back and taking control. It’s rare that a legal drama in this century has given us so many reasons to be so addicted.
THE DEUCE, SEASON 1 (Foxtel)
A series of almost interlocking vignettes, The Deuce is the story of those who live and make a living around a disreputable neighbourhood in Manhattan, at a time of worsening crime and the dawn of legal pornography. This is the world David Simon and his writing partner George Pelecanos has decided to take on. And like all of Simon’s previous work (The Wire, Treme, Homicide: Life On The Street and Generation Kill) he has approached it with a remarkable respect for detail and colour.
Vividly drawn, The Deuce transports you to those hard streets, right there with the hotpants, the afro wigs and the stench of garbage in the air — it demands you dive in to its vice-filled world. You may feel a little dirty and tainted afterwards, but it is so electrifying, you won’t be able to resist its sinful charms.
ATLANTA, SEASON 1 (SBS)
The breakout series of 2016 didn’t hit Australian screens until 2017, so we get to include it on our list. Smart, observant and insightful, the dramedy was hailed for its fresh take on everyday and not-so-everyday struggles, ranging from not being able to pay the bill at a fancy restaurant to playing in a charity basketball game with black Justin Bieber. Its satirical episode “B.A.N.”, about black culture and American media, was one of the best episodes on TV.
Donald Glover created, co-writes, co-directs and stars in this unconventional series about a Princeton dropout with music industry aspirations. It has a strong sense of its identity and unapologetically tells the stories of those who don’t usually get to front their own prestige TV show. For his efforts, Glover won the Emmys for comedy directing and for comedy lead actor.
BETTER CALL SAUL, SEASON 3 (Stan)
As the compelling Breaking Bad prequel gets closer to the start of its progenitor, we see more and more of the Saul Goodman we all know while managing to sustain a brilliant dynamic between Bob Odenkirk’s Jimmy and the underappreciated Michael McKean as Chuck.
Fans of the show have revelled in the introduction of more Breaking Bad characters this year, especially the legendary Gus Fring, but ultimately, Better Call Saul makes it on this list because it’s not afraid to evolve and up the stakes, even when it seems like we know how it’ll all end.
LEGION, SEASON 1 (Foxtel)
From the brain of Noah Hawley, the man behind the wonderful Fargo TV reboot, Legion is an imaginative and irresistible show connected to the X-Men movies. David Haller (Dan Stevens) is a young man who has spent the last four-and-a-half years in a psychiatric facility as a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, but there may be more to his visions than mental illness.
Legion isn’t like any live-action comic series we’ve seen yet. Embracing interiority and the cerebral along with its kaleidoscopic visuals, it takes us on a wild ride like nothing else on TV.
ROSEHAVEN, SEASON 2 (ABC)
Best friends will always have their ups and downs, especially if they work and live together. This unassuming Tassie-set comedy created by Celia Pacquola and Luke McGregor about two mates navigating the challenges of a quirky little town and the kooky real estate game won hearts in its first year but it really bedded itself down in its second season.
He’s a bit neurotic and she’s a bit blasé. While they may seem like strange bedfellows, it’s that very dynamic that makes this Australian series such a delight to watch. On their own, the world would eat them up, together, they just might conquer it.
What were your favourite TV shows this year? Share your TV and movies obsession with @wenleima on Twitter.