Television

Glenn Garvin's Best Television Shows of 2017*

*Not that they all actually aired on television.

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'Big Little Lies'
'Big Little Lies,' HBO

Yeah, the fall TV season was an utter dog in which Delta Force clones killing Muslims were indistinguishable from SWAT teams shooting teenage mutants, and the new sitcoms, to draw on the scathing critical zeitgeist of my childhood. were all about as funny as a stop sign in a polio ward. And Roger Smith and Adam West died.

But there were salutary developments, too, none so thrilling as the news that Netflix is developing interactive series in which the viewer gets to change the plot line as he pleases.

So far they've only tried it in cartoons, and I'm dubious it will go much further—reshooting each scene five or six times to accommodate the whims of different viewers will make slow production to a crawl and make shows insanely expensive even by Netflix standards. (We'll get to that in a minute.) Imagine an episode of Homeland where half of America is watching Carrie break open an ISIS cell led by Barack Hussein Obama, while in the other half ISIS has morphed into a KGB station run by Donald Trumpski? Why should Facebook get all the fun of setting us at one another's throats?

Other proclamations of seasonal glee, though, may be premature. Lots of programmers (who want to keep the supply of TV shows down in order to force Nielsen ratings—which are mostly expressed inside the business in terms of audience share—to rise) and critics (whose supposed power as gatekeepers is threatened if there are too many shows for them to keep track of) are insisting that 2017 is the year that television imploded under the weight of the vast supply of shows generated by cable TV and streaming services like Netflix and Hulu.

The increase in shows is real enough. Discarding children's programming and unscripted reality and competition shows, about 500 original series were available on TV this year, more than three times the norm of 100 to 150 just a few years back. And overall ratings are down by some measures, though the dip may have more to do with imperfect Nielsen technology in tracking cord-cutters, viewers who watch streaming services rather than cable or broadcast.

But the most-employed argument that the TV programming bubble has burst is Netflix's cancellation of two of its highest-profile shows, Sense8 and The Get Down. Yet those shows died mostly because of their gaudy production costs: $12 million an episode for The Get Down, $9 million for Sense8. No television business ecosystem, past or present, can support those kinds of budgets.

"A big expensive show for a huge audience is great," said Netflix programming boss Ted Sarandos at an industry conference earlier this year. "A big, expensive show for a tiny audience, it's hard even in our model to make that work very long."

At some point, when human beings have evolved past eating, drinking, and having sex and do nothing but lie on their couches like giant bloated ticks watching television, TV programming will at last reach a saturation point, because there are only so many hours in a day. But there's no evidence we're anywhere near that point yet. And even if we were, you could still watch my choices for the year's 10 best shows:

  1. (tie) The Big Bang Theory (CBS), Lucifer (Fox) and Preacher (AMC). Disaffected geeks continue to resentfully refer to The Big Bang Theory as abusive "nerdface." But until somebody identifies an actual Cal Tech physicist with a wife who looks like Kaley Cuoco, I'll continue to believe it deserves a National Association for the Social Advancement of Nerds Image Award. Lucifer's theological change of focus this season, portraying God and his angels as a dysfunctional family of superpowers, kept it funny and original, while Preacher suffered slightly—but only slightly—at being reset from a hardscrabble Last Picture Show–esque Texas town to New Orleans.
  1. Big Little Lies (HBO). Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman performed the ultimate Ozzie and Harriet evisceration in their portrayal as suburban housewives whose glossy Better Homes & Gardens patina has a dark underside of domestic abuse, adultery and masochism.
  1. Feud (FX). Ryan Murphy's note-for-bitchy-note recreation of the vicious, career-long squabble between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis is also an insightful exploration of a moment when everything in Old Hollywood was under attack by the Baby Boomer barbarians.
  1. Mr. Mercedes (AT&T's Audience Channel). Airing on an AT&T proprietary network, David E. Kelley's adaptation of a Stephen King noir detective novel went largely unnoticed by TV viewers, roughly two-thirds of whom couldn't have accessed it if they wanted. Too bad for them. Crime dramas just don't come any better than this hard-boiled tale of a broken-down cop taunted out of retirement by the serial killer who got away.
  1. Taboo (FX). Tom Hardy wrote and stars in this extraordinarily dark story of a soldier of fortune who returns to London from Africa trailed by ghosts—whether real or a metaphorical is unnervingly unclear—of slave-trading, slaughter and cannibalism.
  1. Homeland (Showtime). After five years of Muslim terrorist villains, it's understandable that Homeland's producers wanted a new target. A right-wing plot to seize the White House, though, was not the most plausible direction in which to turn. Still, Claire Danes as the half-made (former) CIA operative Carrie Mathison is one of the most compelling spectacles on television.
  1. Five Came Back (Netflix). A compulsively watchable documentary on how Hollywood turned itself into a government propaganda factory during World War II, with little concern for factual accuracy and none whatever for ethnic decency.
  1. Better Call Saul (AMC). The sequel to Breaking Bad has what the original show didn't—a sympathetic (if badly flawed) lead character. In Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston's Walter White started out as a bedraggled cancer patient but quickly became a murderous drug kingpin. In Better Call Saul, Bob Odenkirk's Jimmy McGill is a formet street hustler trying to go straight as a lawyer—but his natural talent for trickery and deception has a life of its own.
  1. The Deuce (HBO). Just as they did for the drug trade in The Wire, producers David Simon and George Pelecanos break down the economics and the personalities of the sex industry, as well as the utter futility of trying to shut it down.
  1. The Americans (FX). This spy drama about a husband-and-wife team of Soviet moles whose friendly next door neighbor, an FBI counterespionage agent, is blithely unaware of their real lives, has always wrestled with the question of identity and the malleability of self. As The Americans approaches its climactic sixth season, the echo of the theme of Kurt Vonnegut's World War II espionage novel Mother Night is louder than ever: You are what you pretend.

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  1. Huh. I only watched one and two on this list. I guess that makes me a winner.

    1. Huh. I only watched one and two on this list. I guess that makes me a winner.

      Well, that’s two more than me. We got rid of cable two years ago and haven’t missed it (well, the wife complains on occasion until I point out $80/month for one or two shows just isn’t worth it. She agrees).

      Yeah, I’d like to have seen the Twin Peaks series, but for the price of just ONE month’s subscription to Crapcast and Showtime I could buy two or three copies of the DVD of it when it eventually comes out.

      We get along quite well with our three streaming services; Netflix, Hulu and Crunchyroll. We were already subscribed to Netflix even before getting rid of cable, so that cost was already there. Hulu & Crunchyroll add less than $20 to the monthly cost, so it’s still way less than a monthly cable bill. Besides, I had been watching the commercial-supported CR when we had cable, so a lot of my viewing time was there anyway. These days Crunchyroll is primarily the only thing I’m watching, while my wife and daughter mainly watch Hulu and Netflix (and I eventually had to block YouTube from nearly everything since my daughter obsessed on that).

      1. It makes sense, thank you. jasa seo murah.

  2. “Twin Peaks: The Return” on Showtime kicked the ass of every TV show (and most movies) from at least the past 20 years.

    Dude, did you not watch it?

    1. I completely agree. Twin Peaks: The Return was the most original thing that came out this year. Nothing else comes even close.

    2. First time in my life I ever actually paid for a premium channel. And it was solely for that show.

  3. The fucking Big Bang Theory is on this list and Silicon goddamn Valley isn’t, and now i sort of want to take back all the nice things i’ve ever said about Glenn Garvin.

    1. +1

      This season of Better Call Saul was great though

      1. I got no beef with the rest of the list, aside from the GLARING omissions.

        My wife is boycotting the Breaking Bad universe, though. She can’t stand seeing Hal from Malcolm in the Middle as a murderous drug lord.

        1. No Sneaky Pete for you, then.

    2. Yeah, that’s very surprising to me. I would include Bojack just because I’m a fanboy, but having anything from CBS at all should raise an eyebrow.

  4. Also, the second season of The Last Kingdom was totes kickass, brah.

  5. I watched the first few episodes of The Americans and thought it looked pretty good. Wife wasn’t into it though.

  6. Wow, I watched only one of those 10 shows. Better Call Saul rocks.
    I tried Homeland a few years ago but it was just too crazy eyed.

    Gotham is the best show on TV these days.

  7. I also would nominate Curb Your Enthusiam

    1. Just watched it. Still pretty good though I noticed I really predict the story beats now. Been on a long time. Still love JB and Larry interacting.

  8. That’s exactly why I still watch BBT.

    1. BBT is dreadful comedy, and badly misinformed commentary on nerd culture.

      I’ve not delved into the second season yet, but the first season of The Crown was quite exceptional, and I imagine the second season is no less so. It’s omission is almost unforgivable, considering the tripe that made the grade. Zombies like Homeland need to be put to rest.

      1. The best show about Nerd Culture was so good it got cancelled after one episode. Eltingville Club the animated show.

        The original comic is also a brutal commentary/documentary about awful nerds.

        1. THIS FAN … THIS MONSTER!!!

  9. Glenn, did you watch the handmaid thing on hulu? That is at the top of many other lists.

  10. This has been one of the best years for television ever, and he only mentioned one of the best shows this year.

    Preacher
    Legion
    Mr. Robot
    The Handmaid’s Tale
    Vikings
    The Expanse
    Longmire
    The Sinner
    Westworld

    Disappointments this year:

    Rick and Morty
    Game of Thrones
    American Gods
    Stranger Things

    1. Dude dont dis Rick & Morty. Your Yes list was ok except for Mr Robot which was always pretty dumb.

      1. Not to mention socialist propaganda. I suffered thru Evil Corp. I stopped when their IT security guy started stabbing bums.

        1. It’s showing his metamorphosis.

          He starts off that way. That’s not where he is now.

          Not to mess it up for other people, but he’s actually fighting that demon throughout the series.

          That isn’t him. He’s fighting the guy the guy that’s all about destroying E Corp.

          The real bad guys are the people in government. The Chinese government, the UN, even the FBI is compromised.

        2. Taking down E corp destroyed the world. The cities are piled up with shit.

          He spent the whole last season trying to restore E Corp.

          Maybe you haven’t been watching this season?

        3. Rick and Morty sucked this season.

          It wasn’t anywhere near as good as previous seasons, which was a huge disappointment since we waited so long.

  11. I’m man enuff to say that Ken Burns’ Vietnam should’ve made the list.

    A healthy section on the French Indochina years plus the NVA’s armored drive footage on Ban Me Thuot with Led Zep’s Kasmir as the soundtrack.

  12. Ditto on Better Call Saul.
    Haven’t seen any of the others.
    Should add Mr. Robot.
    Should add Ozark.

  13. I’m watching Big Little Lies now and it’s uneven. The 2nd ep was pretty good as was the 4th. Can’t tell you about the last two yet. But half of it so far including the pilot were not good. We’ve seen the agony of being rich famous beautiful successful with perfect children in the best town on earth. We’ve seen the Ubermom Wars replete with useless spineless men. We’ve seen the telling of the story backwards and sideways. To its credit it’s not 2 seasons of The Killing.

    As others have already noted

    Ozark
    Rick and Morty

    I would add Longmire but the 6th and final season was a letdown. It was a rush to end it all in the most trite way possible.

  14. I’ve decided that rather than boycott everything that’s anti-christian, anti-male and anti-capitalist, I just won’t watch TV at all (simpler). You’re not making me regret my decision.

    I suppose it’s possible there’ll be a documentary about progressives’ relationship to eugenics, or questioning if there just might be an ignoble motive behind the race-baiting industry, or the white collar jobs program that most government agencies actually serve as. Or, hell, how about a show that deals with the fact that idealistic students, indoctrinated in certain fields of study, always seem to make demands that, besides perfect justice for all, include more funds for those very departments. Probably a coincidence, and not anything that would be very entertaining. But I only see the same old shit over and over and over again anyway.

    Also, is it legal to just shoot people who insist on being on ones’ lawn? Asking for a friend.

  15. Some Netflix you missed:
    El Camino Christmas,
    Long Shot (Documentary),
    The Confession Tapes,
    Worm Wood

  16. For finding out the best TV shows without creating any login ID, Vod TV is an amazing website that lists free platforms for streaming TV shows.

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