Nick’s Top Ten TV Shows of 2017

31st December 2017

Hello and welcome to Nick’s Top Ten TV Shows of 2017, a blog post about television programmes and the order Nicholas Bryan lists them in!

This is the sixth time I’ve done this, which makes it one of the longest-running ‘traditions’ in my entire life. Pretty sure this series of blog posts has now out-lasted most houses I’ve lived in. It’s nice to really create something you can build on, you know?

Anyway, if you want to marvel at the previous lists, you can find them all here on a range of websites:

Now, let’s get on with it. Although – top end of this is pretty similar to my Top Five TV Shows to be unveiled in our upcoming MFV #53 2017 review podcast, so just FYI, the below is… technically a podcast-spoiler? If that bothers you?

As ever, subjectivity is king and objective truth is dead, we can all live in our own cultural silos thanks to the on-demand revolution, so this is what I like and if you disagree, that’s fine.

In fact, personal taste is probably coming in with pretty much our first entry.

#10 – Doctor Who

It was a phenomenally competitive year for TV, and that’s evidenced right from the start, with list stalwart Doctor Who only just making it in at #10. Wild quality fluctuations between episodes have long been part of Who’s shonky charm, but this series saw a particularly strange blend of genuine excellence (the first four-five episodes and the last two-parter) and flat-out dullness (the entire middle third).

All of which lands it here at the bottom of the list, beaten by shows which… arguably weren’t as good as the best of this series but also avoided such weird lapses. It very nearly dropped to honourable mentions, but was saved by the enjoyable Christmas special, which gave me the self-indulgent Capaldi farewell I very much wanted, not to mention a charming intro to the new Jodie Whittaker Doctor.

And, well, we’ll see about her next year.

Stats Corner: Appeared in the list every time except last year (due to lack of a full series), going from #6 to #8 to #7 to #4, and now #10. So it’s the lowest placing so far for Who, but also some of its best episodes in years. This list really is just the spawn of my whims.

#9 – Orange Is The New Black

Another long-time participant, and Orange Is The New Black embarked on a fiddly narrative experiment this year, setting its entire season across a period of a few days to tell the story of a riot in the prison.

Like a lot of these storytelling gimmicks, you suspect it sounded like an amazing idea in the writers’ room but perhaps came out a little sluggish in reality. Still, I enjoyed most of it, helped by my enduring love of the characters and the ability to just binge ever onward rather than waiting a week.

But, once again, in a crowded chart, this slight proviso is enough to knock it down the list.

Stats Corner: Twice #1, once missed out entirely (season 3, a bit weaker). So, yes, a bit of a drop this year by their high standards.

#8 – Game of Thrones

Yeah, it looks like the bottom of this chart really is made up of high-placing shows from previous years which produced enjoyable but flawed runs in 2017. Don’t worry, we’ll get to something new in a minute.

But first, Game of Thrones, which began the process of ending its whole damn saga this year. We’ve seen so many different combinations of characters fighting over the years, but it’s still hard not to feel a small buzz at the prospect of folk like Jon & Dany or Arya & Sansa finally meeting up, after years separated by the cruel whims of Plot.

There was some weird pacing at times, like they suddenly realised they were finishing after not worrying about it for ages. And after years spent establishing that Westeros is massive and you can’t just zip across it in seconds, they… seemed to lose interest in that principle this season. But on the other hand, it meant we got to some big climaxes in double-quick time and I enjoyed them a lot.

Stats Corner: #3, #4, #8, #3. Say what you will about Thrones, at least it hits reliable numbers in Nick Bryan’s annual TV charts. Tune in either next year or the one after (unclear) to see where the final season lands!

#7 – The Handmaid’s Tale

Suspect other people will have this higher than me, as it was an extremely zeitgeisty bit of television. As issues around the abuse, harassment and general suppression of women continue to dominate the headlines, here was a downbeat, harrowing, painfully well-produced drama based on Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale (which I also read this year), set in a dystopian world where most women are effectively slaves.

Maybe reading the novel was a bad idea, as once I’d done that, it was hard not to spot some fairly blatant bits of padding and meandering in places. The time-honoured Premium Telly space-filling concept of “Let’s cut away to a supporting character for an entire episode!” felt particularly ineffective here.

Although even with my novel-knowledge, they’ve certainly left themselves in an interesting place for season 2.

Stats Corner: No stats really. First Hulu show ever on these charts, I guess?

#6 – Twin Peaks: The Return

I watched the whole of the original Twin Peaks in preparation for following this revival series, and creators David Lynch and Mark Frost rewarded me by making Twin Peaks: The Return often unrelated to it! Exactly as surreal as you’d expect, as Lynch and Frost realised one clear truth: in a show best known for being unpredictable, no-one needs to see a return season that just repeats itself to wank off the fans.

So we went to new places, explored strange corners of the mythos, folded in the Fire Walk With Me movie and produced one of the best (and oddest) single episodes of this year: the almost-silent eighth installment, chronicling the origins of evil in this universe. And, yes, if you waited long enough, there was eventually some fan service. But not much.

Why is it down here at #6? Partly personal taste, partly that some of the slower mid-section tried my patience a bit at times. But this was a great piece of TV and I can entirely understand why others put it at #1.

Stats Corner: Never seen before, may never be seen again.

#5 – Better Call Saul

The Breaking Bad spin-off/prequel Better Call Saul knocked about for two years, but (spoilers for Stats Corner) this is its first appearance in the list itself. Partly, it often aired quite early in the year, but also, it was always a lovingly constructed drama, building its house of cards slowly and artfully, but never quite reached that explosive moment of pay-off that really drove its claws into my brain.

This year, several of those moments arrived, and they – especially the one set in a courtroom – worked so brilliantly done that not only am I moving it straight in at number five, I almost want to go back in time and place it higher in the previous charts.

I’m not moving into the “Holy faceballs, Better Call Saul is better than Breaking Bad!” hipster mansion quite yet, but yeah, this was the year it really arrived for me as a great, memorable show that had me waiting for each episode.

Stats Corner: First appearance for Saul (as hinted above), but its predecessor Breaking Bad was #2 in 2012 and #1 in 2013.

#4 – The Good Place

This is one where my list and everyone else’s might be a little more in sync – The Good Place is definitely a TV show of the year for a lot of people, especially UK viewers who all discovered it when Netflix put the first season up just before the second started. I’ve always had a soft spot for afterlife fantasy (too many Vertigo comics as a teenager), so a Heaven-set comedy-drama from one of the producers behind Brooklyn Nine-Nine was an easy sell for me.

It also tries some really interesting format stuff, telling an ongoing serialised story rather than establishing a status quo and breaking itself down into rigid episodes. Plus there’s some good straight-up jokes about idiots.

I am wondering whether the second season is quite as good as the first – I swear it used to be funnier? – but I’m still very much on board. Looking forward to seeing where it goes when the season resumes shortly.

Stats Corner: New show. But I’ll mention here that Brooklyn Nine-Nine isn’t in the top ten. Gasp.

#3 – Rick & Morty

Another series that leapt full-bodied into the mainstream this year, Rick & Morty went from angry young whippersnapper to over-defended establishment stalwart so quickly, I barely even realised it happened. So, yes, I’m aware the fans can be annoying, but I still thought the third season was pretty great.

As ever, the combination of sci-fi parody, fully rounded characters and flat-out bizarre anarchy felt like nothing else. This is the kind of humour which people pick out as “so random”, then try to replicate by just blaring vague speech noises. Little do they realise that the reason this show works is because it actually isn’t arbitrary, they’ve planned it quite heavily.

And when that kind of humour works, it’s just brilliant. Yes, apparently stay off the message boards, but do watch Rick & Morty itself. It’s very good.

Stats Corner: First animated show to appear on any of these lists. Had to happen eventually.

#2 – Legion

There’s been a fair bit of superhero TV featured in this list in the last couple of outings, as the volume of it expanded exponentially. But thanks to a combination of other good shows vying for attention and the increased feeling that this genre needs to be properly good to stand out, only one this year.

Legion is based on the character David Haller (not sure he ever calls himself ‘Legion’ on the show, though he does in the X-Men comics), who discovers that he has extensive mutant powers, on top of his serious mental health problems. The combination of those two leads to some surreal, emotional adventures.

I like the off-the-wall, distinctive presentation of this series, I like the fact that even though it’s The Weird X-Men Show, it still features a tangible mutant team doing X-Menny things, I like the way it somehow makes the swirly astral plane stuff work. Dan Stevens is also fantastic in the lead, with a fine cast behind him. If you’re bored of superhero TV, this is the one I’d recommend watching. Interested to see if the next season of this can avoid Difficult Second Album syndrome.

Stats Corner: I got nothing. First X-Men show on these lists?

#1 – Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

I watched all 2.5 seasons to date of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend this year, and just off the first two, it probably stood a good chance of hitting the top five. But the opening half of this third season, aired just recently, pushed this series into a level of genuine emotional punch that propelled it way up here.

As with Better Call Saul above, these things don’t happen in a vacuum – the reason this show reared up and really made an impact with the climactic events of season 3 was thanks to all the groundwork laid in the last two years. But still, the sheer raw intensity and sympathy you feel for the lead character finally facing everything that’s happened is just hard to look away from.

Best show of the year by far, and I’d (probably) say that even if it didn’t have comedy songs in it.

Stats Corner: Another first timer. I’m easily impressed.

Honourable Mentions

As you may have guessed from the remarks above about all the competition, I could probably write a decent-length post just about the stuff I liked but couldn’t fit into the top ten. But for all our sakes, I’ll try and keep it brief.

The biggest near miss was probably the Flash/Arrow/Supergirl/Legends of Tomorrow monolith. There have been times this year where following all four of these felt annoyingly like a second job, but they’ve enjoyed a decent streak lately, culminating in the Crisis on Earth X crossover which really was a triumph.

And speaking of superheroes, I also enjoyed Punisher plenty, even if it was more rigidly Good than Excellent. Hell, even Agents of SHIELD had a good year.

Breaking out of comics for a moment, Stranger Things 2 proved a worthy if unadventurous follow-up, and both Last Week Tonight and Brooklyn Nine-Nine continued to do their thing.

Oh, and although I may not quite love spaceship sci-fi enough to put it on a top ten list, I enjoyed Star Trek: Discovery a lot more than I expected to.

That’s it, I think. Also re-watched The Wire this year, but that really is one-hundred percent ineligible.

And there’s your top ten post, a mere few hours before 2017 dies. See you next year, folks. Good luck out there.

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