Orphan Black aired its final season this spring, and what a final season it was. Four years of mystery and intrigue tied together in way that was not only satisfying to fans but also focused on the emotional core of the show rather than the breakneck plot. It's unlikely that we'll ever see such an intense performance from a lead actress anytime soon as Tatiana Maslany's bow: The last half hour of the finale jumped forward in time to an unforgettable coda that showed the seestras living, if not peacefully, at least freely. The bittersweet normalness of a family fractured and found seeped into every delicious moment: Though the war was over, they still had a future to face. The only difference between the pilot and finale? The seestras didn't have to go it alone.
Chef's Table is a documentary show like no other. In its three illustrious seasons, foodies and fans alike have gotten sweeping, cinematic deep dives into the most famous and acclaimed restaurants and chefs in the world. In 2017, however, the show leveled up by telling a story that literally no one has ever told before. Season 3 dared to take us into the kitchen of Jeong Kwan, a 60-year-old Buddhist monk and the first chef featured on the show who uses food as a tool for meditation instead of profit. Kwan's story is perhaps the most interesting one Chef's Table will ever tell simply for that one reason alone. She makes no money from her creations, which could be served in any Michelin starred restaurant in the world. Instead, Kwan feeds those who need it most: her fellow monks at Baekyangsa Temple, and the devout worshippers who come there to find a modicum of peace in an ever chaotic world. Kwan's episode perfectly encapsulates everything Chef's Table aspires to portray: a love of cooking that makes food essential, not just for the body, but the soul.
The poster child for Experimental Art, Twin Peaks: The Return was fantastically bizarre even by David Lynch standards. Every week was unpredictable, alternately campy and arresting, as the mastermind expanded his kooky world and characters (oh hey, Wally Brando) beyond the quirky, coffee-dependent small town and its residents. And like a damn fine cup of coffee, it was a delicious, jolting and deeply satisfying blend of flavors that was good 'til the last drop. Twin Peaks was undoubtedly one of the few shows rebooted from older properties this season that actually deserved a second life.
Season 7 wasn't without its issues, mainly that it would have probably benefited from more episodes. But the shortened, seven-episode installment propelled the narrative forward to put in place the pieces for the Wall to come down at the end of the season. And despite Jon Snow f---ing his aunt, Game of Thrones delivered on many fronts for longtime fans, including Jaime at long last breaking away from Cersei; confirming the widely held R+L=J theory; a badass death for Olenna Tyrell; Arya and Sansa finally reuniting; and its usual stunning action set pieces that resulted in a chilling dragon death... and resurrection. Now if only we can see a Lady Stoneheart appearance.
Black-ish set the tone for its fourth season with a bold, risky and unusual musical number about slavery, packed with references to Hamilton and School House Rock. That marked departure from format or even the sense of security the ABC comedy has built over the years illustrates black-ish's power and singular place in the modern television landscape. Not content to just be a standard (and very funny) half-hour sitcom, black-ish remains unpredictable and unafraid to challenge viewers with humor that actually has something to say. Not to mention, the show has so many complex layers and universal appeal that there's a spinoff happening around Yara Shidi's character in 2018: grown-ish.
The most envelope-pushing show on TV this year wasn't a dark antihero drama, or any of the prestige shows airing on vanguards HBO and FX. It was an animated comedy on Netflix that took two teenagers through all the disgusting moments and incredible wonder that come with that magical, life-changing time known as puberty. The show, loosely based on co-creator Nick Kroll's life, is the definition of Not Safe For Work (the first episode involves a musical number about penises playing basketball), but its rich regard for all of the series' characters is a wonder to behold. Between inducing gasping fits of laughter, the writing team has found a way to infuse everyone from a literal Hormone Monster to the ghost of Duke Ellington with a real humanity... even if a bit with Garrison Keillor's severed head was, admittedly, a bit too much. Don't watch it in public, but it is a must watch for anyone who has ever gone through puberty.
STARZ's explosive crime drama turned the screws even tighter in Season 4, showing yet again how skilled it is at weaving together an intricate web of twisted stories. One of the most slept on shows in television, Power dared to upend alliances, shake up rivalries viewers took for granted, and kill off characters in the most shocking ways imaginable, all while keeping viewers hooked by sticking to a simple story of a man trapped in a dark world of his own creation. Basically, Empire wishes.
Anchored by one hell of a performance by Alison Brie, GLOW could have easily been just a bunch of curvy ladies bouncing around a wrestling ring -- and at times, it cheekily was -- but it really dove into the idea of women making it in a enterprising career, and one that was heavily dominated by men. That was the macroscopic view; the micro view dealt with issues of identity and self-worth as these women, most of whom were lost souls searching for answers, took on wrestling as a means to find themselves. GLOW told their stories in the same way Orange Is the New Black dug into its complex inmates. Inner strength and physical strength (all the actresses did their own high-flying stunts) intersected for powerful tales of self-discovery and friendship. And if that doesn't do it for you, the outstanding '80s style and cocaine-filled robots will.
In its ninth season, RuPaul's Drag Race graduated to become something much greater than the mere campy competition it might have been mistaken for in the beginning. With two Emmys tucked into its, um, undergarments, Drag Race has become an institution, powerful enough to help reshape VH1 and be a force for healing and inspiration for all kinds of people - especially young LGBT people -- worldwide. From the surprise Lady Gaga appearance to Valentina being embraced by Vogue magazine, the show did more than encourage young queens to use their charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent this season. It showed network TV that LGBT programming deserves R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
The first season of Starz's American Gods was a beautiful and visually stunning adaptation of Neil Gaiman's award-winning novel about a brewing war between the old gods of biblical and mythological roots and the new gods of the growing age of media and technology. Co-creator Bryan Fuller indulged himself in his most exuberant tendencies to turn the bizarre concepts into gorgeous works of surreal art. Although the narrative could sometimes be confusing for the non-initiated, by doling out answers to its riddles only when it was good and ready, the series predictably soared.
Better Things might be little-watched by the masses, but that doesn't speak to the quality of the comedy created by Pamela Adlon. The FX series (which is also written by, directed by, and stars Adlon) is a beautifully made, necessary show about single parenting and motherhood, as well as the complicated relationship that often exists between mothers and daughters. There's no better example of this than Season 2's exceptional episode "Eulogy," an outing that highlights the way people often treat one another in which Adlon's Sam, wondering why her daughters don't appreciate her, demands they throw her a fake funeral. It's an intense, heart-wrenching episode that encompasses the very best things of Better Things, and a perfect example of why the show should be on everyone's watchlist.
Expectations were high when the Star Trek reboot was announced in 2015. Then its complicated behind-the-scenes drama, which included delayed premiere dates and showrunner Bryan Fuller's exit, had many fans concerned. Fortunately, Star Trek: Discovery proved to be a pleasant surprise. Discovery's shift to serialization -- in contrast to previous Star Trek shows' preference for standalone episodes -- allowed the show to build its own momentum and sketch its characters and world, while also experimenting with standalone episodes. (The time loop episode was the best of the season so far). Led by an assured Sonequa Martin-Green, Discovery has the makings of a Trek series that will live long and prosper.
Netflix's (very) dark comedy about a talking cartoon horse flipped the script in Season 4, with the present-day adventures of BoJack Horseman, Mr. Peanutbutter & Co. taking a backseat to flashbacks that explored the back story of the titular character's mother, and how the traumas she experienced as a girl and young woman manifested themselves in her less than stellar rearing of her own child. Even as it explores the darkest depths of depression and other mental illnesses, BoJack Horseman has somehow allowed each of its four seasons to incorporate some sense of hope. In Season 4, that comes via BoJack's illuminating interactions with his maybe-daughter, Hollyhock. A surprising reveal in the season finale means that our favorite equine '90s TV star may finally, truly be on the road to redemption. Here's hoping.
Issa Rae's awkward journey got more cringeworthy, hilarious and touching in her show's sophomore season as it built out her oft-overlooked South L.A. world. Though Issa and Lawrence's "will they/won't they (again)" romance remained a constant, Jay Ellis' work in particular showcased how it takes two people for a relationship to fall apart -- and how difficult it is to repair even a semblance of the affection you have for ex once they've wronged you. His journey paralleled Issa's to reflect how behaving badly drags everyone down, and now the question for Season 3 is not whether Issa and Lawrence can forgive each other, but rather themselves. Insecure also tackled workplace discrimination and incredibly frank conversations about sex, and ramped up the screen time of Issa's riotous homegirl Kelli (Natasha Rothwell) -- a trend we'd like to see continue in Season 3.
The Trump administration was the gift that kept on giving this year, at least as far as the writers' room of Saturday Night Live was concerned. From Alec Baldwin's vicious imitations of the president himself to Kate McKinnon's Forrest Gump/possum hybrid version of Jeff Sessions, not to mention searing "Weekend Update" commentary that warranted its own half-hour specials over the summer, SNL has been firing on all cylinders in its 43rd season, at least when it comes to political humor. The show has almost redeemed itself for letting the then-presidential candidate host in 2015.
Stranger Things' freshman season was so well done from start to finish that the possibility of a follow-up failing to live up to expectations was paralyzing. But the Netflix series' sophomore outing was another triumph. In addition to the wonderful character development of Steve Harrington (Hair-ington?), Amazing Babysitter and Mentor -- the gift we never knew we wanted or needed -- the series also expanded upon its complex mythology just enough that it pushed the narrative forward but not so much that it wasn't able to still tell an engaging, personal story about Will and the other central characters. And although we can quibble about Eleven being sidelined in a C-plot and then sent on a disastrous trip to Chicago, the truth is, the rest of Stranger Things 2 was so delightful and engrossing that we're willing to overlook it.
Although Better Call Saul has yet to reach the same level of pop culture significance as Breaking Bad, the AMC drama's third season continued its upward trajectory into the pantheon of greats by delivering yet another spectacular installment in 2017. Not only did the introduction of future drug kingpin Gus Fring propel the series into the dangerous territory of its predecessor, but the further deterioration of Jimmy's relationship with Chuck pushed the show's complex leading man into taking his first steps toward becoming the shallow and slippery Saul Goodman. And although this is exactly what viewers signed up for when we embarked on this journey, it's becoming tougher to sit by and watch Jimmy lose himself, which is why by the end of the season we were left anxiously awaiting but also dreading the impending arrival of the Breaking Bad fan favorite.
FX's freshman drama Legion was a mind-bending exploration of mental illness from inside the mind of someone who may or may not be mentally ill... All wrapped in the ostensible trappings of a Marvel superhero show. The comic book series from Noah Hawley was a creatively ambitious whirlwind of cool retro aesthetics, inventive indulgences and the best performances of stars Dan Stevens' and Aubrey Plaza's careers. It's also unlike any comic book series viewers have ever seen, experimenting in ways few shows are able to. The end product is a unique viewing experience in a world crowded with comic book adaptations... Just don't ask us to actually explain it.
In a year in which late night comedy, known for its loud and frequent critiques of American politics and pop culture, felt defanged, Last Week Tonight stood tall above the rest. While other hosts and shows were left wondering what they could do when every joke was dismissed as liberal propaganda by the populace that voted Trump into power, Last Week Tonight actually had an answer. In tackling key policy issues, particularly net neutrality, over the course of two standout episodes, the show made a huge impact that was felt everywhere from Twitter to Washington, D.C. After all, there's only one show that caused the FCC's website to crash in 2017. While the issue of net neutrality is still up in the air, Last Week Tonight has already proved it's capable of mobilizing viewers in unprecedented numbers - something fans should look forward to in 2018 as well.
This Is Us was, once again, the Feel-Bad Show of the Year, and we mean that in the best way possible. It's the only show on network television that can revel in giving viewers an emotional pummelling week after week... and then consistently get us to come back for more. The Pearsons have earned their place in the canon of TV families we love to welcome into our living rooms every week, giving us all the feels and making our hearts swell even as tears are streaming down our faces. What's most praise-worthy about This Is Us, however, is its ability to tell compelling stories that touch on subject matters rarely depicted on network television, like Chrissy Metz's delicate depiction of Kate's struggles with her weight and a high-risk pregnancy, or Sterling K. Brown's Emmy-winning portayal of Randall as he navigates the the complexities of being the only black member of a white family. The show proves there's no such thing as a "typical" family, and yet somehow its characters are universally relatable.
It's difficult to adequately convey how brilliant and impactful Master of None's second season was, although star Lena Waithe's Emmy speech after her historic comedy series writing Emmy win for the episode "Thanksgiving," might supply provide some insight. "Thank you for embracing a little Indian boy from South Carolina," she told the Academy, referring to creator Aziz Ansari, "and a queer black girl from the South Side of Chicago." As great as "Thanksgiving" was, it was just one game-changing episode in a season full of them. The Netflix series dared to open its sophomore season with an homage to Italian cinema ("The Thief"), proceeded to tell multiple stories about strangers ("New York, I Love You"), and made a provocative statement about religion and second-generation immigrant tension ("Religion"). Not only a perfect example of what seemingly effortless diversity and inclusion looks like, Master of None's second season may just be a glimpse into the future of TV.
The Leftovers was not made for everyone -- definitely not a low-key, laundry-folding show to have on in the background -- but its themes were also, at the same time, universal. The series was never interested in revealing what happened to the 2 percent of the population who mysteriously disappeared three years before the pilot episode, or offering any easy answers to the questions that plagued the survivors. Rather, it reveled in questions with no simple solutions, the struggle to find meaning in uncertainty, and the human need to rationalize the randomness. It all crested in the final season, as the show's strange, poignant and gut-bustingly funny (really!) three-year journey through unyielding grief, faith and love reminded us that ultimately, it's not a concrete answer that's paramount, but what you believe. Plus, it gave us a d--k shelf.
For a lot of viewers, The Handmaid's Tale hit too close to home in 2017, but because of that (and Elisabeth Moss' career-best performance) Hulu's adaptation of Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel is ranked so high on our list. While the show's brutal depiction of a near-future in which most women have been forced into sexual servitude made it difficult to stomach at times, Moss' embodiment of narrator Offred simultaneously made it hard to look away. It's a testament to Atwood's prescient storytelling that The Handmaid's Tale is still relevant more than 30 years after its original publication, but credit also goes to Hulu and creator Bruce Miller for giving the source material such a tragically modern and updated spin.
Though it premiered way back in February, Big Little Lies is the 'Show We're All Still Thinking About' 10 months later. The HBO miniseries, which cleaned up at the Emmy Awards in September, brought a surprising heft to its adaptation of a somewhat breezy novel. Powerhouse performances from the show's trio of leading ladies -- Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley and the indomitable Nicole Kidman in an Emmy-winning turn as the wife of a physically abusive husband -- enabled Big Little Lies to soar. Toss in a central mystery, gorgeous cinematography and a ton of real estate porn, and it's no wonder the series was as addictive as it was enjoyable. But perhaps most importantly, Big Little Lies couldn't have come at a more perfect time, kicking off a year in which women banded together against their abusers and allowed their voices to be heard more loudly than ever before.
The Good Place is everything a TV series should be: ambitious, original, clever, creative and forkin' fun. The afterlife comedy's surprise twist in its Season 1 finale was nothing short of brilliant. And just when you thought you had an idea of where it was going in Season 2, Michael Schur & Co. upended your expectations in the first 10 minutes of the premiere. Armed with an amazingly limber cast, eye-popping wall-to-wall visuals and a hilariously deep exploration of morality, the show is a rare gem that continually, expertly changes things up thanks to its deft ability to deploy curveballs, defy tropes and squeeze the most out of froyo. With all due respect to all the good and Good shows out there, The Good Place is simply the best.