Take a look at our choices for the top 10 television shows of 2017 plus our favorite honorable mentions…
By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer
It’s getting tougher and tougher each year to make a top 10 list for the best television shows because the list of quality series only seems to increase over time.
With more options available than ever before, it’s also difficult to catch everything that’s broadcast between network, cable, streaming services and even some series only available online.
That being said, 2017 produced some of the most original programming in recent memory with some series saying goodbye forever — like ‘The Leftovers’ — and others such as ‘Twin Peaks’ coming back for the first time in decades and absolutely blowing the model for quality television out of the water.
Some series made a comeback to the top of the list after a somewhat down year while certain shows dropped down to the bottom of the top 10 after an uneven set of episodes.
All told, television produced a lot of quality programming in 2017 and so let’s take a look at our list for the top 10 shows of the year as well as some of our picks for honorable mentions.
Who knew that a series based on the cotton candy ‘Archie’ comics would turn out to be one of the most watchable shows in 2017 but that’s exactly what happened with ‘Riverdale’ on the CW. Very loosely based on the classic ‘Archie’ characters, ‘Riverdale’ is a cross between ‘Gossip Girl’ and ‘Twin Peaks’ — a teen drama infused with sexuality, a bit of over acting and stories that keep you enthralled from one episode to the next.
Sure ‘Riverdale’ gets a little cheesy at times — but that’s one of the charms of this series in the first place. The kids on the show are all a little too pretty but that’s a staple of teen dramas across television history.
From start to finish, ‘Riverdale’ season one was a perfect blend of teen angst, murder mystery and strangely enough, a coming of age tale about kids growing up in a once idyllic town that’s suddenly the site of a brutal killing.
Where to Watch: The CW for new episodes, Netflix for streaming the first season
Highlight: ‘Chapter Twelve: Anatomy of a Murder’ — In the penultimate episode of the first season, Archie and his friends discover who actually killed Jason Blossom and the town is rocked by the revelation.
Following a somewhat uneven first season, ‘Preacher’ returned with a standout sophomore effort far better than the first 10 episodes of the series.
‘Preacher’ season two put the show back into focus — small town preacher Jesse Custer is on a mission to find God after the deity disappeared from his throne but his journey is interrupted thanks to an unstoppable force of nature known as the Saint of Killers is tasked with putting an end to him. Add to that, a religious outfit tasked with carrying on the bloodline of Jesus Christ comes directly into Jesse’s path as well this season.
‘Preacher’ was worth watching is season one but season two was some of the best execution on television all year long. This show takes chances — including an appearance from Adolf Hitler — but it always seems to pay off in the end.
Where to Watch: AMC
Highlight: Episode 7 ‘Pig’ — This episode introduces Herr Starr, the leader of the maniacal organization known as ‘the Grail’, and the five minute scene where he goes through his initiation was one of the most hilarious things you’ll see on television this year. The entire episode is great, but this one particular part is worth watching even if you never see anything else on this show.
Imagine ‘Justified’ married ‘Breaking Bad’ and had a child, ‘Ozark’ is the result.
The story follows an accountant named Marty Byrde — a money launderer for a Mexican cartel — who is forced to move his family to the Ozarks in Missouri under the promise that he’ll be able to clean even more cash than what he could do under his old business in Chicago. Unfortunately, Marty underestimates the local problems he runs into once he arrives in the Ozarks and what unravels over the course of the season is tension filled and riveting television at its very best.
Where to Watch: Netflix
Highlight: Episode 4, ‘Tonight We Improvise’ — This episode focuses on Marty pulling off a heist that will allow him to get into business with a local strip club where he can launder more of his Mexican drug cartel money. Of course, getting the goods is harder than it might seem and Marty soon draws a new confidant into his web.
7.) Game of Thrones
‘Game of Thrones’ is speeding towards the finale and that was never more evident than with a very rapid pace set for season seven.
In a condensed seven episode season, characters that had been split apart since the very beginning of the show started to come back together with others interacted for the first time in history in some very fan service moments. The payoff for ‘Game of Thrones’ season seven was outstanding as the show moved quickly towards the final wars that will define this series including the battle for the Iron Throne as well as the fight between the living and the dead.
Like every season before it, ‘Game of Thrones’ had some jaw-dropping moments but there were more than a few complaints that the show felt rushed compared to the pace kept in previous years. Those complaints were absolutely valid, which makes me wonder why the creators behind the series felt like seven episodes were enough when there was definitely enough material for 10 episodes like every previous season. The quick pace that forced viewers to forget everything they’ve ever learned about traveling in Westeros is part of the reason why ‘Game of Thrones’ dropped so far down the list this year.
Still, the end result was a very satisfying season of ‘Game of Thrones’ that sets up an even more epic finale six episodes likely debuting in 2019.
Where to Watch: HBO
Highlight: Episode 4 ‘The Spoils of War’ — Not much unfolded in this episode until the final sequence, which finally saw Daenerys Targaryen bring her dragons into battle. There was no better action sequence on television than what took place in this episode.
6.) Stranger Things
It’s never easy to follow a breakout freshman season like ‘Stranger Things’ had when debuting on Netflix in 2016 but this series came back stronger than ever for season two.
After defeating the evil Demogorgon and saving Will Byers from the Upside Down, the kids in Hawkins, Indiana are tasked with an even more dangerous mission in season two when they discover that the topsy-turvy world that lives in the exact opposite harmony as our own is trying to creep its way in. Add in an even more ominous villain as well as a whole new set of creatures to battle against and ‘Stranger Things’ season two raises the stakes and delivers from start to finish.
Where to Watch: Netflix
Highlight: Episode 5 ‘Chapter 5: Dig Dug’ — Paying homage to some great 80’s films, with a special nod to ‘Goonies’, the search is on to find Chief Hopper after he’s trapped in the Upside Down while Dustin teams up for the first time with Steve and a whole new bromance is born.
5.) Better Call Saul
For the third season in a row, ‘Better Call Saul’ lands on our top 10 list and this may be the best year yet.
Set in a pre ‘Breaking Bad’ world, ‘Better Call Saul’ has shown the slow transformation of goodhearted Jimmy McGill into the sleazebag strip mall con artist that will one day be known as Saul Goodman. This third season probably shows that transformation more than any other as Jimmy is forced to fight to keep his law license after discovering that his brother Chuck has betrayed him yet again. Meanwhile, Mike Ehrmantraut’s desire to stay away from a life of crime is complicated by the introduction of Gus Fring, who makes his first appearance during the third season.
It’s never easy for any series to follow a show as great as ‘Breaking Bad’ but somehow ‘Better Call Saul’ has managed to carve out its own niche that makes this series stand all on its own. It’s a shame that Bob Odenkirk hasn’t been handed an Emmy award yet for his performance as Jimmy McGill but it might be even more criminal that Michael McKean isn’t polishing a trophy for every single year he’s been on this show as Jimmy’s conniving brother Chuck. Jonathan Banks is still just as good as ever playing Mike and re-introducing Giancarlo Esposito as Gus Fring this season was very welcome while bringing the show just that much closer to ‘Breaking Bad’.
Sure, ‘Better Call Saul’ has been called a slow burn at times but this isn’t a show built on action packed scenes and gangland shootouts. Instead, ‘Better Call Saul’ is a series that forces you to face real dilemmas of morality while still managing to toss in an incredible crime drama from week to week.
Where to Watch: AMC
Highlight: Episode 5 ‘Chicanery’ — Jimmy fights for his law license in a hearing where he’s forced to go for the jugular against his brother Chuck. The majority of this episode takes place inside a courtroom but the tension is palpable and the performances are off the charts.
4.) Twin Peaks: The Return
David Lynch and Mark Frost return with an 18-part series that was set up very much to feel like one gigantic movie and ‘Twin Peaks’ really is better ingested in large doses rather than watching week to week.
Listen, ‘Twin Peaks’ is definitely an acquired taste much like all of David Lynch’s past films. If you’re looking for a series that’s going to start at point ‘A’, take you to point ‘B’ and end up at point ‘C’ then this is not the show for you.
That being said, ‘Twin Peaks’ really was groundbreaking television in 2017 because the series was weird, wonderful and at times felt like a bad acid trip without the drugs.
The new ‘Twin Peaks’ picks up 25 years after the original film and trying to describe what exactly unfolds wouldn’t do justice to the plot that unravels over 18 episodes. The performances on this series are great but none better than Kyle MacLachlan playing several different roles including Dougie — a new favorite amongst viewers — before finally returning to his pie and coffee loving FBI Agent Dale Cooper.
‘Twin Peaks’ is bizarre so much like ‘The Leftovers’, this isn’t a show that everybody is going to love much less understand. But for fans of the old series, the return of ‘Twin Peaks’ is satisfying and yet only leaves you wanting more. For folks who are just now willing to invest the time into watching ‘Twin Peaks’, just let your mind run free and get ready to have your brain twisted around like a scrambled egg. The end result is an amazing achievement on television and here’s hoping that we will get more one day.
Where to Watch: Showtime
Highlight: Episode 17 ‘The Past Dictates the Future’ — An episode where the entire series starts to come together after Cooper returns from the dead while still traveling along alternate timelines that begin to tear at the very fabric of our universe.
3.) Mr. Robot
It’s safe to say ‘Mr. Robot’ lost a step during season two.
Following a breakout freshman campaign that earned ‘Mr. Robot’ our award for best show of the year in 2015, the second season didn’t quite live up to those same expectations.
A muddied plot that branched out to far too many characters without keeping focused on the real task at hand made ‘Mr. Robot’ a series that was still worth watching but not quite as ‘can’t miss’ as it was during season one.
Thankfully, ‘Mr. Robot’ season three corrected course and got everything back on track with some of the most ambitious storytelling on television in 2017. The plot came back into focus — a hack to bring down the most powerful corporation in the world ends in disaster and the brain behind the act decides that he has to undo his own handiwork. Unfortunately little does he know that there are far more powerful forces at work than just what he put into motion with the original hack.
The plot was largely singular of purpose during ‘Mr. Robot’ season two but that’s not to say there weren’t plenty of twists and turns along the way. The acting was top notch with Rami Malek returning to the form that won him an Emmy with Christian Slater right there alongside him, every step of the way. Creator Sam Esmail wrote and directed every episode and he really hit his stride during season three.
‘Mr. Robot’ came storming back with an outstanding third season that pressed the pedal to the metal and never let up until the final scene set up what can only be described as a highly anticipated fourth season of the show.
Where to Watch: USA Network/Amazon Prime
Highlight: Episode 5 ‘eps3.4_runtime-error.r00’ — This episode was shown without any commercial interruptions and was largely made to seem like it was just one long continuous shot. Truly revolutionary filmmaking for television and one of the best all year long.
2.) The Leftovers
‘The Leftovers’ was a show built on grief and despair that asked viewers to get mired in misery for much of the three seasons it was on the air and still tune into watch the series each week. There were times when it felt like the weight of ‘The Leftovers’ was going to be too much to take because the entire series was predicated on devastating loss.
The show’s premise felt simple enough — without cause or reason, two-percent of the world’s population just disappeared one day and two years later everybody around the globe is trying to pick up the pieces and move on. There were science fiction elements to this series including machines that would allegedly help transport people from one side of this universe to another where all the people who disappeared are now living to infected dogs, tribal songs and a message in an old issue of National Geographic somehow holding the key to stopping the world from facing the apocalypse. At the heart of it all, however, ‘The Leftovers’ was a show that focused on a core group of characters and how they faced the exceptional grief that comes along with losing so many loved ones.
The final season was as close as you can get to a perfect set of episodes that were on television in 2017.
No, we never found out what caused the Sudden Departure when millions of people just disappeared one day but that was never the point of the entire series. Instead, ‘The Leftovers’ finally revealed it’s real plot during this final season, which was asking and then answering the question about how we would deal with such a tragic loss and then move on from it.
Facing the reality that we may never know the answer much less find out where those people went is far scarier than the actual event itself. The exploration of that through a wide variety of characters during these final episodes was a piece of brilliant story telling and the kind of acting that deserves to win a lot of awards.
‘The Leftovers’ isn’t for everybody — the show is so downtrodden at moments, it really does become tough to watch — but the unapologetic way the creators of this series told the story they wanted to tell really was a work of art. Through all the tragedy, there was triumph and there all the tears there were smiles by the end of the series so don’t feel like this show was so bleak that it’s not worth watching. Just settle your expectations going in that not all your questions will be answered but ‘The Leftovers’ was never about reaching the finish line.
‘The Leftovers’ was a series that only wanted to push you to figure out how you’d stay in the race.
Where To Watch: HBO
Highlight: Episode 8 ‘The Book of Nora’ — Every episode in the final season of ‘The Leftovers’ is worth watching but the finale really does wrap up this series in phenomenal fashion.
Watching a sparring match between a U.S. District Attorney and a wealthy hedge fund manager probably doesn’t sound all that exciting until you witness how ‘Billions’ has unfolded over the past two seasons. The first season was riveting but the second season was absolutely mind blowing.
U.S. attorney Chuck Rhoades will do anything and everything in his power to bring down hedge fund billionaire Bobby Axelrod but after taking it on the chin at the conclusion of the first season, he’s forced to regroup and refocus his efforts. Simultaneously, there’s an investigation launched to look into Rhoades to make sure he’s been following the letter of the law as well as enforcing it. As for Axelrod, he’s trying to solidify Axe Capitol after taking a few hits but thankfully he runs into an ambitious intern who ends up being his secret weapon. Obviously, Chuck and Axe eventually come face-to-face before the season is over and you won’t find a better clash on television without turning on the latest UFC fights.
‘Billions’ is arguably the most well written show on all of television right now with stand out performances from all of the lead actors and actresses including Paul Giamatti, Damian Lewis, Maggie Siff, Malin Akerman and Toby Leonard.
By the end of the season, you’ll be in awe of how these characters are willing to sacrifice everything to get over on each other — it’s like all the twists and turns of ‘The Sopranos’ but without all the bloodshed.
Where to Watch: Showtime
Highlight: Episode 10 ‘With or Without You’ — While the bulk of this series takes place in offices and boardrooms, this episode takes Axe out of his comfort zone as he’s desperate to save his marriage while Chuck finds himself staring at an even more powerful role as he looks transition from the U.S. Attorney’s office to a new home in politics.
‘The Handmaid’s Tale’
‘Star Trek: Discovery’
‘Fear the Walking Dead’
‘The Walking Dead’