2017 was an absolutely phenomenal year for television. New shows and returning series made absolutely incredible impressions, but that’s not to say there weren’t any disappointments. New and original IPs seemed to dominate, while superhero series seemed to finally be reaching peak saturation. In fact, there was so much TV in 2017, I have spent the last two weeks on a binge to watch the shows I missed!
So, without further ado, my 2017 wrap-up:
Most Disappointing New Series
Coming hot off the tails of the other highly unique and entertaining Netflix Marvel series, Iron Fist never quite lived up to those other shows. While I wasn’t quite as down on the series as many other critics, Iron Fist was still ostensibly a martial arts series with next to no martial arts. When there was action, it was often poorly choreographed or impossible to follow, and Finn Jones never really seemed to have a grasp on who Danny Rand was (an issue that was generally resolved in The Defenders). Iron Fist was a solid C- series that could have been much more.
Most Surprising New Series
My review of the pilot hoped that Seth MacFarlane’s new sci-fi adventure show would live up to its vast potential. With the first season completed, I am happy to report that it delivered on that potential. With each successive episode, the balance of humor and drama became more nuanced. We got great character development, great special effects and a great spiritual successor to the Star Trek franchise… with the occasional dick joke.
Best New Series
The Handmaid’s Tale
In an extreme case of the right show at the right time, The Handmaid’s Tale is an unflinching look at a dystopian society where fertile women are treated as slaves. It is a visually arresting and beautifully acted series that is an example of just what the medium of television can accomplish.
Last year, I called Lucifer the most surprising new series, because it managed to take a rather obscure property and make a decent procedural. In the past year, Lucifer managed to turn into an excellent series in its own right. It has built an excellent mythology and has an astounding cast of great new supporting characters, including Battlestar Galactica‘s Tricia Helfer in a terrific dual role. Tom Ellis also continues to charm as the world’s sexiest devil. In the span of a year, Lucifer moved from a guilty pleasure to a straight pleasure.
Biggest Dip in Quality
Game of Thrones
Fresh off of what may have been their best season yet, Game of Thrones took a huge step back in terms of characterization and subtlety. With the final episodes on the horizon, the show has started to move at an accelerated pace. And while this is great for individual moments of action and revelation, it has played hell with the pacing and internal consistency of the series.
The Twists, “Crocodile,” Black Mirror
Black Mirror is a show that can be described as almost relentlessly bleak. “Crocodile” takes that bleakness to the edge, and stumbles over it with a late-episode realization. The newest entry on this list, I am going to avoid spoilers as much as I can, but there is a line in the last few minutes of this episode that turns one occurrence from bleak to needlessly cruel. And top it all off, the final resolution comes from a very… questionable scientific standpoint.
The Loot Train Battle, “The Spoils of War,” Game of Thrones
As I said above, even though Game of Thrones may have had a drop in quality, that didn’t stop amazing individual moments from happening. In fact, the battle sequence that ends this episode is one of the most impressive things I have seen on television. Impressive special effects, stunts and tracking shots make this whole battle the linchpin and high point of an uneven season.
Janet, The Good Place
To witness D’Arcy Carden as Janet is to witness pure joy. The Good Place is a near perfect high-concept comedy that reaches its highest peaks when Janet is on screen. The aloofness of an artificial intelligence can be difficult to portray, but Carden has joined the ranks of Brent Spiner’s Data and Michael Fassbender’s David in the pantheon of great AI performances. Her relentlessly bubbly personality is just icing on the cake.
A petulant princess through and through, Crystal is the worst of the Royal Family. An annoying character, stuck in an annoying plotline with other annoying characters, Crystal is done no favors by Isabelle Cornish’s performance. A large portion of Crystal’s screentime is spent opposite Lockjaw, a giant CGI teleporting dog, and if the Star Wars prequels taught us anything, it is that even the best actors can have issues with green screen and non-existing characters.
“Behold… the Inhumans,” Inhumans
To be frank, I could have put almost any episode of Inhumans in this slot, but I have chosen the pilot episode for a specific reason. As an episode that should have given you reason to care about the Royal Family, Attilan and their Inhumans, “Behold… the Inhumans” does none of these. Filled with characters that are either too broadly drawn or so underdeveloped that they can’t be likable, this first episode fails to make a case for the audience to care about anything going on in the series.
“The Book of Nora,” The Leftovers
An often overlooked series, The Leftovers ended its three-season run with this episode early this year. After building up to resolving a potential apocalypse, The Leftovers retreated to a small self-contained story about love and loss. Carrie Coon and Justin Theroux give phenomenal performances as the reunited lovers in a quiet, understated episode that will stick with you long after it ends.
The Handmaid’s Tale
I don’t really think there could have been another choice for this slot. The topicality of this show cannot be understated. But, it can’t just be cultural relevance that drives something to be great. Every aspect of this show has been handcrafted with great care. For the sets, to the costumes, to the pitch-perfect performances, everything is near perfection. Nothing else in 2017 came close.