06 Jan Best TV Shows 2017
Opening the annual year-end round-ups is the newest addition to the collection. It’s no secret that streaming services have changed the face of television as we know it, bolstering pre-established giants such as HBO and AMC… even Sky is getting in on the act now and doing it well. So many quality shows at our fingertips make this new category a must going forward and if you missed any of the following in 2017, what are you waiting for?
FANTANA’S BEST 10 TV SHOWS OF 2017
10. Mindhunter (Season 1)
Anything with David Fincher attached is always going to be an automatic in for me and the fact he directed a whopping 4 episodes of this addictive Netflix crime procedural is a treat indeed. Going into this series, I did think there would be more thrills, at least more action, spread throughout the 10-hour runtime, but I suppose the real surprise here wasn’t the lack of desired excitement, but just how engrossing the psychological drama that we got instead actually was. Watching agents Ford and Tench traverse small town after small town certainly resonated loud True Detective vibes, but the real juice was in their meetings with America’s most disturbed and sadistic criminals and delving into their psyches in a bid to establish what we now know as criminal psychology. Nothing should be taken away from the array of violent and unsettling characters that fall under the agents’ questions it I clearly Cameron Britton’s Ed Kemper who is the obvious highlight and it is his developing relationship with Ford (Jonathan Groff), and an as yet unresolved sub plot, that gripped the most.
9. Stranger Things 2
It’s always great when a brilliant show comes back with a second season of equal or greater quality. Stranger Things accomplishes the former with its sequel season, putting an even greater focus on its obvious influences – this year it is Gremlins and Aliens – but infusing them with a modern edge. There are faults to be had here – the Eleven road trip subplot and the entire character of Billy Hargrove seem superfluous (albeit the former clearly setting up another season) and you could argue the plot isn’t a million miles away from that of the first season – but they are easily overlooked when viewed as meagre parts of a much greater whole. Sean Astin and Paul Reiser added great depth to the cast and did well to avert themselves as obvious genre nods, and the special effects were vastly improved upon this time round. Most notably the lead kids were all on form and it was great to see more of Noah Schnapp as the majorly absent Will Byers in season 1. But the Duffer Brothers have created a very stylish and intriguing world here, making it a little bigger with each season and that is pretty cool to see.
8. Ozark (Season 1)
Another win for Netflix. Channelling tropes and tones from many that have come before it, Ozark would probably be the first to admit it borrows from the likes of Banshee and Breaking Bad, but when you’re taking cues from some of the best shows out there, and doing it well, and putting your own spin on things, the result is going to be gold in its own right. Jason Bateman is always good in a serious role, but the cast is great all round. What makes Ozark so good is what is done with these characters and how beautifully the world in which they do them looks. If this list was based on cinematography alone, Ozark would probably win it. You know a show is a winner when you watch it and want to visit this place where so much destitution and malice dwells.
7. Tin Star (Season 1)
Sky Atlantic impressed a couple of years ago with their own commissioned isolated thriller, Fortitude and, following its success, has moved into more this past year, the best of which is easily Tin Star. Moving the isolated location from Norway to the North American wilderness, the comparisons tonally are strong, exuding a darkness few other shows would dare, on this occasion striking a very stoic British family, the father of which is the local Sheriff, who goes about his own brand of retribution. A very western plot but littered with a cast of well-rounded and individually eccentric characters, Tin Star portrays characters in a way that hasn’t been seen before, enriching them with their own histories and interwoven dramas. It’s as if they’ve taken what makes shows like Twin Peaks, Deadwood and Fargo so great and emphasised their finer points.
6. Godless (Limited Series)
Not enough westerns out there these days so when they come along there’s always a freshness about them. The characters always make or break them and that stands true in this case also. A town populated by women, after a mining accident takes all the men, provides an abundance of strong females; a thirty-strong gang rampaging across the state in search of a defector (Jack O’Connell) who has made off with their latest spoils; a craven sheriff who’s afraid to shoot a gun and leaves town as strangers encroach. Every one of them as watchable as the next and a world enriched with its own history. A story as epic as this is just made for the small screen and a format that allows it time to breathe and twist the screw on the tension as the villains creep ever closer to town.
5. Fortitude (Season 2)
If you haven’t seen the first season of Sky Atlantic’s flagship show, get on it immediately. Rarely does a show combine drama, thrills, horror and science fiction so capably; hell, most movies that try get it wrong. All those factors culminated in an absolute barnstormer of a surprise hit, bolstered by a cast of real talent, all of whom were about as safe as Ned Stark! This was the first show to take the ‘no one’s safe’ approach that Game of Thrones established a few years earlier and benefitted all the more for doing so. This approach continued in the second season, which ramped up the mystery, ramped up the supernatural, ramped up the thrills, and – just as in season 1 – still managed to make it seem plausible. If all that isn’t reason enough to check Fortitude out, Richard Dormer’s performance as Police Chief Dan Anderssen is worth the price of admission alone. Just a fantastically understated and underappreciated show from top to bottom.
4. The Leftovers (Season 3)
It’s a fine thing to find a show that creates a multitude of questions and leaves you hungry for answers; it’s another thing to experience the sheer joy of seeing that show to come to a rewarding conclusion. Lost set up well but did nothing to satisfy viewers in the end, Flash Forward had good ideas but the cast and writing lacked, and the Event… well, the Event was just plain bad! A few years ago the Leftovers came along with all the intrigue and frustrating need for answers as when Lost first appeared on the scene… last year saw the third and final season drop and provide exactly the type of resolution anyone who had watched since day one didn’t know they wanted. Never mind the stellar performances and the sophisticated quality of the writing and production, the Leftovers gave us a scenario that demanded answers (where did 2% of the world’s population go?) and closed their account with an explanation both clear and ambiguous, frustrating and satisfying. The same way that movies like Inception come along and challenge us with an ending that orders us to involve ourselves in it, the Leftovers does the same on the small screen. At three seasons, twenty-seven episodes, this is a very palatable series that should be sought out, enjoyed and debated for years to come.
3. Game of Thrones (Season 8)
Oh it has its problems, the majority of which seem to be logistical and involving either the movements of one Jon Snow versus the movements of one mahoosive army of the dead, or the flight speed of ravens in Westeros. However! Man this is a good looking season of GoT! Compare the dragons from seasons 1 and 2 against those in season 8 and the gulf in quality is beyond words – the majority of Hollywood studio movies cannot boast this quality. On top of that we are given some great, great moments, not least of which was the season opener as Aria finally pays a visit to the Twins. Sets the tone amazingly and is bettered repeatedly throughout the season; the dragon attack on the money train and the Aria/Brienne sparring scene to name but two. All in all there is a tremendous sense of things starting to come together, starting to wrap up and the finale really laid the ground for an absolutely epic season in 2019. I hate wishing away entire years for the sake of a television show, but…
2. 13 Reasons Why (Season 1)
Seeming to divide critics and audiences alike, 13 Reasons copped a lot of flack for apparently glorifying suicide, a reaction which was kneejerk at best for me, and probably one formulated before viewing the story in its full. There is no glorification on hand here at all as we follow Clay Jensen as he recounts the eponymous tragedies that led to crush, Hannah’s, sad decision. Most certainly not all the reasons, when segregated, come across as realistic or justified, but the show does well to remind us to try and put them in context. These are minor quibbles that repeatedly hooks us into episode upon episode, only to batter our emotions and remind us how real an issue this can be in young people. Netflix have created a truly saddening but absolutely un-missable drama, laden with characters that consistently subvert stereotypes, making for a mountain-fresh depiction of the American high school trope. Let’s just hope they don’t bring their own house down by taking the unexpected decision to extend to a second series.
1. Dark (Season 1)
Not since the seminal season of Game of Thrones have I binged a series so ferociously. After releasing an enticing trailer that suggested some sort of Twin Peaks / Stranger Things cross-breed, Netflix dropped this German thriller and the reality is far detached from those suggested influences. To discuss plot would be to spoil for the uninitiated but the message here is thus: watch this immediately. Despite some midpoint twists being a little obvious, it soon becomes clear the reveal at the halfway mark is a deft move that only serves to up the stakes, the excitement and the drama tenfold. Every episode whizzes by, climaxing in cliffhanger after cliffhanger, whether it physical or dramatic, making it nigh on impossible to put down. Word to the wise however, Dark is best viewed in its native language with subtitles, that way all the nuances can be enjoyed also and just serve to add another layer to an already fantastic beast of a show.
Honourable Mentions: American Gods (Season 1), Black Mirror (Season 4), Legion (Season 1), The Punisher (Season 1), GLOW (Season 1), Taboo (Season 1), the Sinner (Limited Series), Top of the Lake: China Girl (Miniseries), Doctor Foster (Season 2), the Replacement (Miniseries), Santa Clarita Diet (Season 1), the Handmaid’s Tale (Season 1),
Yet to Watch: Fargo (Season 3), Twin Peaks: the Return (Limited Series), American Vandal (Season 1), Big Little Lies (Miniseries), the Deuce (Season 1), Peaky Blinders (Season 5), the Gifted (Season 1), Runaways (Season 1), Defenders (Season 1)
Shows That Need to Call it Quits: The Walking Dead (Season 8)