Top 15 new TV shows of 2017 (that I have seen)
And so another year has ended and a new one begun. As usual, I’ve been too busy watching television to write anything about it, but I figured I’d try to make at least one post about the new shows of the year 2017. I watched 32 wholly new shows this year, only two of which I dropped, and as 30 would take me way too long to write up, I figured I’d draw a random line and make a list of the top half of the ones I stayed with.
Now, of course, I have watched hundreds of television shows, so most (if not all) on this list can’t compete with my favourites from earlier years, at least not yet. So if all you’re looking for is TV recommendations, maybe tell me your tastes in the comments and I’ll give you some jewels. But if you wonder specifically about what new that came out this year might be worth a gander, hopefully this list will give you something to go on.
First off, while I’m sure some (many?) of them deserve a spot, don’t expect the following 2017 shows on this list, as they’re the ones I’d love to check out but still haven’t gotten around to:
13 Reasons Why, Absentia, Big Little Lies, Counterpart, Dark, Godless, Harlots, Knightfall, The Orville, Ozark and Sneaky Pete.
As usual it turns out that even I cannot find time to watch everything I want to watch. If you’ve seen any of these (or any that I haven’t heard of or considered at all) and want to give me your advice on whether or not they’re worth my time, I’d be very happy to hear your thoughts in the comments!
Second, there is a trend of late of revivals and sequels of old shows. While those could technically be considered new ones of 2017, I’m not making them eligible for this list — but for the record, if they were, the Samurai Jack revival would definitely have made it on. I am, however, including shows like DuckTales and The Tick as eligible, as those are complete reboots, not continuations.
That’s it for droning on with hedges and preambles, for those few of you who have not either closed the tab by now or skipped down to it already, I hereby get on with the list!
15. Marvel’s Runaways
What if your parents turned out to be part of a secret sect of super villains?
Marvel’s been pumping out new TV shows like the world is ending — some under the Fox X-Men license, but most with the “Marvel’s” preamble that (so far) means it theoretically takes place in the larger MCU. Hulu’s Runaways takes that theoreticality a step further, in that no reference or mention of any other show or movie has been made yet as far as I can tell. So you can safely treat this as its own thing entirely, with no connective tissue whatsoever to the Disney Marvel films, the ABC Marvel shows or the Netflix Marvel shows.
Runaways is based on the stellar comic of the same name, and while not quite on par with the comic as of yet, the show seems to really respect the source material — always a good sign. They are taking large liberties and changing many things, and as with all such things some land while some are less elegant, but character looks and personalities are spot on. (Though I wish Molly was a few years younger, like in the comics — merely three years age difference doesn’t really register her as a child next to the others.) The heart of the story is intact and vibrant: the very different group of teenagers’ bonding with each other, and the conflict inherent in discovering your parents are super villains. And we should be treated to plenty more of that, as it is already renewed for a second season.
A cynical comedy carried entirely on the exuberant charm of Hank Azaria and Amanda Peet? Yes, please.
Superstar baseball play-by-play announcer Brockmire was the centre of a highly public live TV breakdown years back, and has been in alcoholized hiding since. Returning to the States with the assumption that by now he has been forgotten by the media, he discovers the opposite to be the case, having in the meantime been discovered by new media and being the victim of countless Internet memes. Enter the woman who is on her last dime running the stadium of her home town’s once-great-but-now-as-dying-as-the-town-is baseball team, and who thinks hiring Brockmire would be just the kind of publicity stunt that could fix everything.
The show’s renewed for a second season, and is quite endearing. It also has the distinction of being the only sitcom on my list (though honestly, it plays more like a comedy drama than an outright situation comedy).
13. Mary Kills People
A thriller drama of sorts, Mary Kills People is the fresh feeling story of an euthanising Canadian doctor trying to keep one step ahead of the police and her own family to keep doing the house calls she considers essential, good work. Sort of like the premise of Breaking Bad if Walter White actually had any claim to being as altruistic and well-intentioned as he wanted to pass himself off as. Staring death in the face in many different ways, this show tackles some of the most difficult questions and issues of human existence head on, while also being a fairly exciting crime drama in a more traditional sense. It’s perhaps not suited for a little light telly time before bed, but if you are up for it, it’s well worth the time. And it, too, is renewed for a second season, which has already begun airing.
12. Emerald City
Last time I saw NBC try an ambitious realpolitik series in a parallel world setting, my beloved Kings only lasted the single season. Emerald City has already suffered the same fate. It’s not quite on par with Kings, of course — few shows are — but it’s really surprisingly well put together, considering how insane a gritty power-struggle-based remake of a series of bubbly children’s books sounds.
Emerald City takes characters, motivations and nuggets of stray information from the Wizard of Oz and its many sequels, and reinvents it as a lethal, complicated universe where people can and do kill for their ideologies and convictions. Blessed with a truly spectacular look from the man behind the amazing film The Fall, the show is always stunning to look at, even when the network TV format requires some plotlines to be a bit on the formulaic side. That said, the overarching plots are all quite strong, and the cast has excellent Vincent D’Onofrio and Joely Richardson anchoring it as Oz’ two main power bases. Equally excellent is the mythology built by the show, and it is a big loss that they will never get a second season to capitalise on the foundations built here. It ends on a cliffhanger, but after wrapping up most of the current plotlines it shouldn’t feel too frustrating if you are prepared in advance.
An ambitious and very dark period drama set in 1814, about a man long thought dead in Africa returning to London to claim his late father’s estate, and quickly running afoul of both the king and, perhaps worse, the East India Company.
It stars Tom Hardy and is written in part by him and his father, and that this is a passion project perhaps goes some way to explain how bold it is. The plotting is intricate and captivating, though for my personal tastes, the show moves at too glacial a pace for me to get properly engrossed, especially in the early episodes. Whenever things do happen, however, they’re hugely satisfactory and entertaining, and the production values and performances are impeccable. If a dark, psychological period drama sounds like your kind of thing, and you have a bit more patience with the pace than I do, this could easily be one of your favourites of the year. But if that’s not quite your thing, it could just as easily put you off from the start, as this show definitely requires a bit of patience and goodwill before it has the time to win you over.
In my opinion, though, it’s all worth it for whenever the protagonist’s signature line is dropped. By the end of the season, I get chills every time: “I have use for you.”
As does the BBC and FX, apparently, for the series has been renewed for a second outing.
More of a tease than a full season, the four episodes of Netflix’ Castlevania were still so good I had to include them on this list. Sure, it lags a bit in the middle, but that comes with the half hour format when so much exposition is required. The opening episode is marvellous, and the animation is great throughout. Even if your relationship to the video games is next to none like me, this should be greatly entertaining, and boasts great actors like Graham McTavish, Richard Armitage, James Callis, Tony Amendola and Timothy Omundson in its voice cast.
And it is renewed for a (twice as long, thankfully) second season already — though knowing how long animation takes, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
If you, like me, enjoy a good con artist story, then you might want to check out comedy drama Imposters. The show has a refreshing spectrum from very dark moments to very silly ones, as it centres on the victims of a conwoman who makes people fall in love with her, marry her, and then waits an appropriate amount of weeks before she robs them blind and disappears forever. The victims set out for revenge, though, and — being dirt poor now — start doing small time confidence tricks of their own to finance their efforts at tracking her down. With varying degrees of success.
Renewed for a second season already, and revolving around an impressive series of performances by a lead actress playing widely different made-up identities as she goes from mark to mark, if the above sounds good to you, you should definitely check this out.
8. Marvel’s The Defenders
If you’re interested in TV enough to read this list, you’ve undoubtedly heard of Netflix’ superhero crossover extravaganza, as they’ve been building towards it with a grand total of five full seasons spread across four different shows. Though in fairness, the only ones who really set up the plot for this one is season 2 of Daredevil and season 1 of Iron Fist — and OK, a single episode of Daredevil season 1 if you’re obsessive about it.
The result is good, good enough to climb halfway up my list of the year even, but not quite great, which is a shame. I loved Daredevil and Jessica Jones, and while I definitely had my issues with them, I liked Luke Cage and Iron Fist a good bit more than your average viewer seems to have. As is perhaps fitting for a show combining all four protagonists, Defenders struck me as easily better than the latter two, and weaker than the two former. Its main strength is a commanding performance by Sigourney Weaver as the chief antagonist, which really binds the series together. If you’re a big Marvel geek like me, it’s easily worth your time, but if not, it’s “just” good, not great, and while it puts up a good fight when viewed only against the 2017 premieres, in a larger perspective there are many better shows out there.
Whether another team-up will ever happen is anybody’s guess, but Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and The Immortal Iron Fist have all been renewed for another season each.
7. The Tick
Spoon! I’ll admit I had low expectations to this — a Tick reboot means no Patrick Warburton, which is a sin against all humankind — but so far, they’re pulling it off. And they’re doing so by making The Tick the exact same (well, sans Warburton, but Serafinowicz is doing as admirable job filling in as could be asked by anyone) and everyone around him a good bit more realistic and cynical. Though somehow still consistently hilarious. I feel bad that the new tone probably means no Carbonell returning as his beloved Batmanuel, but other than that, I must say this works better for me. The show now also works as an action drama rather than just a comedy, and simultaneously, I find Tick is a lot funnier if the world around him is a touch more sane (or at least more dour) than he is. And this time around, it definitely is.
If you don’t know who the Tick is, but like the notion of an optimistic, irreverent super hero bumbling his way through carefully laid bad guy-plans, then you will like this show. (If you need further selling, character creator Ben Edlund is as involved with this incarnation as he’s been with any other, and his record speaks for itself.) And if that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, then steer away. Never fear; the Tick will be just fine without you.
An alcoholic ex-cop turned hitman starts seeing a flying blue unicorn claiming to be a kidnapped girl’s imaginary friend, asking him to please help her.
It is based on a Grant Morrison comic (it would be, with that premise), and I could go on, but I honestly feel like there’s no point in discussing this further — you’re either already sold, or it’s not for you. But if you, like me, find yourself constantly surrounded by awesome sounding things you never know which one to prioritise from, here are a couple of further selling points: Christopher Meloni stars as the protagonist, and if you ever saw Oz (which you of course should, so if you didn’t please stop reading this list and go watch that instead) that should win you over all on its own. The always captivating Ritchie Coster is on board as one of the villains, and has a very particular and memorable performance here. Oh, and Patton Oswalt voices the horse.
As for what I myself think of it … A has-been man’s man who wisecracks his way through shootout after shootout, depressed to the point where he is not really caring whether he lives or dies, is hardly the most original of concepts — but it is well executed here. The show is a hilarious, violent and gritty over-the-top actionfest with a commanding performance at its centre. And the oddball imaginary horse and a beautifully eccentric Christmas music-based score are adding that little extra sense of originality that takes it from good to really great. The first season is still ongoing, but I suspect that had this finished its season before this post went live, I might be tempted to bump it a spot or two higher on the list.
5. Marvel’s The Punisher
The pitch? Veteran loses family to shootout, uncovers conspiracy to be behind the shootout, goes on a rampage. If that sounds good to you, you can keep reading, if it doesn’t, you have my leave to skip down the list to the next one.
After his origin story on Daredevil season 2 was established, Frank Castle has finally gotten his own show, and it delivers! They respect the groundwork done on the other show while still making his own show feel fresh and unencumbered by continuity — you can easily see and follow this without having seen any Daredevil. Excepting Karen Page’s mandatory wall of newspaper clippings of Marvel lore, the show doesn’t ever so much as refer to any non-Daredevil entity in any case.
The Punisher doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it really knows how to spin it. There is action, of course, but to me, that’s never the main draw. Rather, I am happy to see that the characters are well fleshed out, and that I, at least, found myself deeply caring about the more sentimental moments. I might even have shed a tear or two at a couple of points. And if you do care about the action, for a show set in a world of superheroics, it is quite viscerally grounded — the abovementioned Happy!, for instance, has the protagonist get away with way more implausibly extreme action comedy stuff than Punisher does. Oh, sure, he magically doesn’t get shot most of the time, and constantly beats up hordes of people while riddled with bullets, but they do a good job of making the toll of it seem genuine, and the protagonist seem a fallible human. If admittedly an awesomely terminator-esque one.
The Punisher is of course renewed for a second season already. Welcome back, Frank!
That the top new Marvel show this year in my book is not from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but rather Fox’ embarrassingly haphazardly managed X-Men license, should only come as a surprise if you don’t know the showrunner is Fargo‘s Noah Hawley. And while this isn’t quite on level with his amazing Cohen brothers pastiche series, it’s really, really good. Though definitely not for everyone.
Legion tells the story of a young man with severe psychological issues, or severe psychic mutant powers, or who is the victim of demonic possession, or all of the above. Spoiler warning: It’s kind of all of the above. Duh.
But the telling of this story is exquisitely, delightfully weird and deep, spending entire episodes inside the protgonist’s mind and delusions. The pacing, as a result, is a tad on the slow side for me at times, and that is really the only thing keeping this from an even higher spot on my list. Because everything here is top notch (including the cast, with names such as Dan Stevens, Bill Irwin, Jemaine Clement, Jean Smart and a wondrously well used Aubrey Plaza), and it’s all standing on its own two feet: As of the first season finale, they’ve not even started properly hinting at its potential connections to more mainstream X-Men fare. Which is good for the average viewer, because you really need to sit up and pay attention to follow this as it is. If you do, though? Totally worth it.
The second season is set to start up in April. I look forward to another exciting narrative I’ll be scrambling to try to follow!
3. The Handmaid’s Tale
In many ways, The Handmaid’s Tale might be the heaviest television show I’ve ever seen. The pilot in particular is one of the, if not the, most oppressive feeling, soul-grinding piece of television I can remember. As it should be.
The show, based on a novel, is telling the tale of a near-future dystopia where religious fanatics have usurped the American government in the wake of sudden widespread infertility in the population. We see it all from the perspective of one of the few remaining fertile women. These “handmaids” get passed around from household to household among the powerful, to bear them the children their wives cannot. If you picture a 1984 with rampant, systematic misogyny thrown in for good measure, you might start to get the picture.
Suffice to say, this is not for the faint of heart. But it is captivating and deeply important (if admittedly not likely to ever be seen by those who truly need to), and if you can stomach the bleak intensity, you should watch this. Transcending merely the best of 2017, The Handmaid’s Tale will with certainty be the kind of influential show you will hear of for many years to come. And of course, Hulu has renewed it for a second season coming to us in April.
I’ll openly admit it: Nostalgic bias is the only reason the DuckTales reboot makes it to the top five. I basically learned to read from Donald Duck comics. But this show is good, people. Even had I never even heard of a Disney Duck before in my life, this would be somewhere on the list this year.
The voice cast is utterly amazing (I was going to list some examples, but it is such an embarrassment of riches, I’d never stop. Just go on IMDB and see yourself), even of smaller, recurring characters. The angular art style is perhaps not quite my cup of tea, but it undeniably works, and gives the show its own identity. The seamless merging of elements from the comic books, the old show and completely new notions impresses me to no end. And it is funny.
1. A Series of Unfortunate Events
“Look away! Look away!” The opening credits might insist you do so, but I say look straight at it and make no apologies! The Netflix adaptation of the first four books in A Series of Unfortunate Events is an utter delight from end to end. I’m a big fan of the Jim Carrey film that previously adapted the first three, and my wife is an enormous fan of the books, but I should hazard that even have you no familiarity with the property at all, this quirky, hilarious, tragic tale is right up just about anyone’s alley.
Three children are suddenly orphaned by a mysterious fire, and start getting shipped around to various supposed relatives and family friends they’ve never heard of — all while the neferious Count Olaf keeps trying to get his hands on their enormous fortune. If only a single adult would listen to what children say …
With Pushing Daisies-esque visuals, amazing turns of phrase and a narrator who constantly advises you to stop watching and do something pleasant instead, there’s no way you don’t find something to entertain you here. And the adaptation of the next five books arrive on March 30, leaving the final four in the series for a final third season that surely Netflix will announce shortly thereafter. More tragedies galore for the three orphans, I’m sure, but great news to the rest of us.
Honourable mentions that didn’t quite make the top half of the new offerings this year:
American Gods; Genius: Einstein; Star Trek: Discovery
No traditional format sitcom made it onto the list, or even the honourable mentions, and I know I tend to have a personal bias in favour of dramas. So I figured for people interested in easy laughs more than heavy character arcs, I’d mention that of the three new 2017 sitcoms that I’m kept watching, Trial & Error is probably the better choice.
So you know what I’m comparing to, in 2017 I have also checked out:
Big Hero 6: The Series; The Gifted; Great News; The Mayor; Marvel’s The Inhumans; Marvel’s Iron Fist; Midnight, Texas; Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams; Powerless; The Son; Tangled: The series. Of those, the only ones I ended up dropping were The Mayor (after the pilot) and Midnight, Texas (after seven episodes), so I found the the rest to be varying degrees of decent to quite good.
(And in the continuation/tie-in territory not eligible for this list, I’ve seen: 24: Legacy and The Blacklist: Redemption, as well as the Samurai Jack and Prison Break revivals.)
If you made it all the way down here, I’m impressed. I’d give you a cookie, but I don’t have any on me. So, what were your favourites this year? Disagree with any of mine? Do please let me know in the deep dark below!