The 25 Best TV Shows of 2017 (So Far)

TV Lists Best Of 2017 So Far
The 25 Best TV Shows of 2017 (So Far)

Why select the 25 best TV shows of 2017 now, you ask?

Because there’s really no such thing as a “slow” summer anymore, at least not when it comes to television. Because the beginning of the new season—though it ain’t what it used to be—will soon add a raft of new and returning series to the For Your Consideration pile. And because, most importantly, we’re as eager now as we were in May to celebrate the medium’s finest, from a wildly entertaining glimpse inside the world of women’s wrestling (GLOW) to an under-the-radar masterpiece set in the early years of the digital revolution (Halt and Catch Fire). Oh, yeah, and a little program called Game of Thrones returned since our last update. There really is no time like the present, huh?

Here are the 25 best TV shows of 2017 (so far):

25. GLOW
Network: Netflix

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Much to my husband’s chagrin, I did not grow up watching wrestling on Saturday mornings. But just as I didn’t have to understand football to love Friday Night Lights, I don’t need to know what an atomic drop is to adore GLOW. A nearly unrecognizable Alison Brie (credit the ‘80s hair and eyebrows for her transformation) stars as Ruth Wilder, an aspiring actress who finds her perfect role in the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. What she lacks in skill, Ruth makes up for in pluck. Her frenemy, former soap star Debbie Eagan (Betty Gilpin), becomes her perfect foil. Marc Maron is hilarious as their world-weary producer and Sydelle Noel is a stand out as stunt woman-turned-trainer Cherry Bang. Come for the ridiculous costumes, makeup and hair. Stay for the surprisingly poignant show about female empowerment. Amy Amatangelo

24. Downward Dog
Network: ABC

That Downward Dog’s narrator, Martin (voiced by series co-creator Samm Hodges), is of the canine variety might scare one away from ABC’s deeply felt sitcom, canceled after a mere eight episodes, but this is, in fact, its secret weapon. Martin’s presence, and the series’ sweet, silly premise, is delightful cover for its heroic undercarriage, squaring space for its foremost risk: At the heart of Downward Dog, led by the quietly magnificent Alison Tolman, is its radical earnestness, the belief that to be and to feel fully is almost always to court embarrassment—and that the real shame is to relent to the pressure to hide one’s emotions, rather than staring them in the face. In other words, I’ll remember the series as one of the defining network comedies of our unsettled age, a beacon of the prosaic and the humane in a world that’s been thrown to the wolves. Matt Brennan

23. One Day at a Time
Network: Netflix

I can’t remember a time I loved something the way I love the new One Day at a Time. Part of my affection stems from the fact that the show was such a discovery. It arrived January 6 of this year with almost no hype. I write about TV for a living and I barely knew it was premiering. Almost immediately I dismissed the show as yet another ill-advised remake. How wrong I was. The comedy is a pure delight. A throwback to the defining comedies of the 1970s with a modern twist, the show deftly tackles some hot-button issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, wage inequality and teenage sexuality, amid real conversations about generational differences and Cuban heritage and traditions. Justina Machado (Six Feet Under) is fantastic as the recently separated veteran raising her two adolescent children with the help of her mother Lydia (living legend Rita Moreno) and her landlord Schneider (Todd Grinnell). Moreno gives an amazing speech in the series 12th episode that should have nabbed her an Emmy nomination. But above all, the show is funny and grounded. Once you start watching, you won’t be able to watch this gem one day at a time. Amy Amatangelo

22. Riverdale
Network:: The CW

This is the way I’ve been selling Riverdale to friends who have not yet wised up and started watching it: it’s Gossip Girl meets Twin Peaks, but with the characters from Archie Comics. That alone should be enough to suck them in, but if they need more convincing, I add that Luke Perry plays Archie’s dad, Molly Ringwald plays Archie’s mom, Skeet Ulrich plays Jughead’s creepy hot dad (who is also the head of the local gang, the Southside Serpents), and for the first third of the season, Archie is boning his music teacher, Ms. Grundy—who, unlike in the comics—where she’s an elderly white-haired lady—goes around wearing heart-eyed sunglasses and picking up teen boys. It’s ridiculous and campy in all the right ways (hey, this is a CW teen drama, after all), but there’s also a compelling murder mystery driving the plot (“Who killed Jason Blossom?” is Riverdale’s “Who killed Laura Palmer?”), with new twists and turns peppered in along the way. Bonnie Stiernberg

21. Girls
Network: HBO

You have to respect “voice of her generation” Lena Dunham and her co-showrunner, Jenni Konner. Although their storylines lagged in some seasons, Girls (and they, by default) always remained a giant, pussy-hat pink “fuck you, don’t care” in the face of haters. Even in its final season, the series continued to feed a stream of think pieces about everything from whether it was anti-feminist for Dunham’s self-absorbed lead, Hannah, to not abort her surprise pregnancy, to whether it was anti-feminist to end the series with her breast-feeding the (male) infant who resulted from that decision. And, somewhere in between, guest star Matthew Rhys and a fake penis facilitated a conversation about sexism and fame. While Girls does depict a very narrow demographic (white, educated, cluelessly “woke” liberal women), it also poked fun at this stereotype in a way that made it clear it was in on the joke. Whitney Friedlander

20. American Crime
Network: ABC

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Is there a more depressing, gut-wrenching show on TV today? In its third (and, sadly, final) season, American Crime remains unwavering, unflinching and unrelenting. This season the show took on human trafficking in all its forms—the runaway teenagers forced into sex slavery, the au pair who comes to America seeking a better life, and the undocumented farm workers living in squalor. The repertory cast once again shakes it up. This time, the always stellar Regina King is a social worker fighting a daily losing battle. Felicity Huffman a wealthy housewife forced to examine the circumstances that have afforded her a luxurious lifestyle. And Timothy Hutton and Lily Taylor are creepiest of all, as a dysfunctional married couple simmering with rage. American Crime offers no easy answers. No pat solutions. You won’t be able to look away. And I promise you, you will think twice the next time you are at the grocery store buying produce. Amy Amatangelo

19. Full Frontal With Samantha Bee
Network: TBS

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This is the future liberals want. And for damn good reason. With mainstream news outlets rolling over and exposing their bellies to the current administration, it’s up to the satirists and comedic commentators to expose the euphemisms, doublespeak and straight up horseshit spewing out of D.C. While the sausage party of Oliver, Maher and Noah all get their shots in, no one is hitting the target with more accuracy than Samantha Bee and her Full Frontal crew. Their unapologetically feminist and furious show is poised to leave viewers breathless thanks to its rapid-fire pacing, rage-inducing segments and screamingly funny takes on the news of the week. And they keep the scales balanced with positive segments, like a piece about how one Georgia lawmaker tirelessly worked the system to deal with a backlog of untested rape kits. Keep making America great again also, Sam Bee. We’ll be watching. Robert Ham

18. Feud: Bette and Joan
Network: FX

American Crime Story and Feud have proven that auteur Ryan Murphy is at his best when he has a short, concise story to tell. And so Murphy’s examination of the long-running rift between Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) and Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) was more than just an examination of their experience filming Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?: It’s also a condemnation of an industry that abused them and cast them aside and what happens when your self-worth is completely tied to your public persona. We could debate for weeks whether Lange or Sarandon gave the better performance. I say let’s call it a draw, because both women had career highs with this series. Jackie Hoffman had a breakout performance as Crawford’s maid, Mamacita (I would so watch the story re-told from her perspective). Aided by strong performances from Stanley Tucci, Judy Davis, Alfred Molina, Alison Wright and Kiernan Shipka, with just the right amount of camp and Pepsi thrown in, we wanted to be friends with Feud all this time. Amy Amatangelo

17. Shots Fired
Network:: FOX

Shots Fired could have been a compelling drama if it focused merely on the aftereffects of a police shooting. A narrative about the investigation into a police department, and the emotional impact on those forced to survive the tragedy of a child’s death, could have been plenty fascinating, and still unlike anything else on TV. But creators Gina Prince-Bythewood and Reggie Bythewood weren’t satisfied with “good enough,” and instead created a portrait of a city, through the lenses of police brutality, politics, education (and school segregation), motherhood and faith. Rather than merely bringing us a story about a black cop killing an unarmed white teenager, the Bythewoods invited us into a strange and often sorrowful web of drama in a small Southern town. Actors Stephan James, Helen Hunt, Aisha Hinds and Will Patton all deliver strong performances, but Sanaa Lathan, playing investigator Ashe Aikino, steals the show with the kind of complex, groundbreaking role that feminist TV-watchers dream of. Shots Fired presents itself as a timely series, and it’s true that the (still rising) number of black lives lost to police brutality—and especially Trayvon Martin—inspired its premise. But the show’s power lies in its depiction of not just a single problem—like policing in America—but of all the many issues and institutions that contribute to racial inequality in America. That such a series manages to be wildly entertaining as well is icing on the political-art cake. Shannon M. Houston

16. Fargo
Network: FX

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In Fargo’s third season, the dark humor and petty-crime-gone-wrong murder tale formulas of prior installments are back, with Carrie Coon leading the investigation into her stepfather Ennis’ murder after he mistakenly gets killed over a valuable stamp he didn’t actually possess. Ewan McGregor pulls double duty as twins Ray and Emmit Stussy, and David Thewlis is delightfully sinister as V.M. Varga, a baddie who does stuff like sneer “Surmise.” at you when you ask a dumb question and have his goons throw you off a parking garage simply for Googling him. By the time it reaches its stirring, unsettling final scene, pitting Coon and Thewlis’ characters against each other, Fargo comes to question, rather masterfully, what karmic balance looks like in an age of misinformation, isolation and cultural division, amplified by the use of technology. When the tangible no longer exists and facts cannot be agreed upon, how can a fair and moral assessment be made? Bonnie Stiernberg and Kyle Fowle

15. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Network: CW

We, as a nation, were going through a complicated hell during the airing of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s second season, and so was Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom). She lost her most interesting love interest and song partner in Greg (Santino Fontana). She lost her best friend (Donna Lynne Champlin) for a spell. And, for a while there (especially during an epically twisty season finale), it seemed like she had truly lost her mind. Despite it all, the show’s sharp wit, expansive array of musical parody, and ever-charming cast somehow pulled us through some crazily trying times. Jacob Oller

14. Halt and Catch Fire
Network: AMC

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At the outset of its fourth and final season, Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers’ ever-evolving drama—tracking the lives and careers of a quartet of tech visionaries from the rise of personal computing to the dawn of the Internet age—again asserts itself as one of the medium’s most stylish series. (The two-hour premiere is a master class of careful craftsmanship, an emblem of the characters’ quest for connection, for control.) Still, as the relationships among Joe (Lee Pace), Gordon (Scoot McNairy), Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) and Donna (Kerry Bishé, in one of the finest performances on television) continue to fracture and re-form, Halt and Catch Fire transforms technological feats and aesthetic coups into a metaphor for human ones: On the romance of work, of making and building as a way of being, there may be no better series. It’s that good. Matt Brennan

13. Review
Network: Comedy Central

No half-hour comedy has ever broken my heart quite like Review, or even come close. Perhaps that’s why Andy Daly’s brilliant, pitch-black Comedy Central series didn’t make it past an abbreviated season three—the show parlayed its silly, meta premise into a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. If that reads as overblown, then you, like too many people for Comedy Central’s liking, clearly have not seen Review. The show, in which fictional TV show host and “life critic” Forrest MacNeil (Daly) reviews viewer-submitted experiences with a zeal that can only be described as catastrophic, is the story of a good but woefully misguided man, undone by his own desperate search for meaning. To its adoring audience, Review will likely be remembered as the most inimitable show Comedy Central has ever aired. Scott Russell

12. The Handmaid’s Tale
Network: Hulu

With precise compositions and a rich sense of color, The Handmaid’s Tale envisions the intersectional, drawing the interlocking influences of gender, sexuality and status into its portrait of a puritanical dystopia not far from our own: “Blessed are the meek,” Offred (Elisabeth Moss) says in scornful voiceover, referring to the extremists’ empty dictum. “They always left out the part about inheriting the Earth.” Indeed, as she navigates Gilead’s stony euphemisms and loud silences, whether playing Scrabble with the powerful Commander Waterford (Jospeh Fiennes), flirting with his driver (Max Minghella), or (unsuccessfully) avoiding the ire of Waterford’s wife (Yvonne Strahovski), patriarchal dominion becomes the series’ unifying principle, the poison that soaks through the body politic “under His eye.” In this sense, the first great political drama of our authoritarian age is also, as with Atwood’s now three-decade-old novel, a kind of instant classic: Forever of our time. Matt Brennan

11. Catastrophe
Network: Amazon

When Rob Delaney, the funniest man on Twitter, and Sharon Horgan, the “brutal romantic,” lock themselves up in their writers’ room for a few weeks, you know that whatever comes out of it will be nothing short of filthy magic. Season Three of their painfully funny comedy Catastrophe has confirmed this fact once again: The fusion of these two charmingly warped minds makes for a viewing experience that likens life in all its unpredictability. The shitty day-to-day aspects of marriage and life in general are voiced by characters Rob (Rob Delaney), Sharon (Sharon Horgan), Fran (Ashley Jensen) and Chris (Mark Bonnar) through a hail of blunt comic relief that will have you swinging in and out of your seat on the volatile rollercoaster ride that is Catastrophe. Roxanne Sancto

10. Game of Thrones
Network: HBO

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To paraphrase bland news features and documentaries since TV time immemorial, the seventh season of Game of Thrones is “a land of contrasts.” The bedrock of this show is pure iron—four excellent seasons, bolstered by the existence of George R.R. Martin’s source novels, followed by two pretty solid seasons of somewhat diminishing quality. We care deeply about the stories and the characters, and there is a lot of forgiveness built into this machine. The show needed it in season 7—at times, the writing and plotting were abysmal. But the direction, the acting, and the intangibles were all strong enough to sustain interest, and a solid, back-to-the-roots finale salvaged the wreckage of the lesser moments. Despite a false step or two, this is still appointment viewing, and nothing generates nearly the volume of conversation. In its penultimate season, Game of Thrones remains one of TV’s best stories. Shane Ryan

9. Rick and Morty
Network: Adult Swim

In the season three premiere of Adult Swim’s superlative sci-fi dramedy, Rick Sanchez promised us the darkest year of Rick and Morty’s adventures yet, and that’s exactly what Justin Roiland, Dan Harmon and company have delivered through six brilliant episodes. We’ve already been treated to our first-ever Rick and Jerry episode (“The Whirly Dirly Conspiracy”), a Saw parody that would make Jigsaw himself grin (“Vindicators 3: The Return of Worldender”) and the pop culture insta-fixture of “Pickle Rick,” among many other maniacal delights. Rick and Morty has infinite universes to explore, and so much more room to grow. Scott Russell

8. Insecure
Network: HBO

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Despite what the title implies, Insecure has approached its second season with an inspired confidence. The comedy has followed both Issa (Issa Rae) and Lawrence’s (Jay Ellis) journeys as they navigate their newfound singleness. For Issa that started with an effort to win Lawrence back before reigniting things with her ex Daniel (Y’lan Noel) and cultivating a revolving “ho-tation” of partners. For Lawrence it was treating his rebound girlfriend Tasha (Dominique Perry) terribly before throwing himself into his work. It shouldn’t be revolutionary that the show doesn’t make a big deal of Issa having multiple partners and embracing her sexual freedom but it still kind of is. Amid all this, the show deftly explores the casual racism and sexism Lawrence, Issa and Molly (Yvonne Orji) encounters daily, the white privilege that surrounds Issa at work and the racism Issa is seemingly okay with even when her co-worker Frieda (Lisa Joyce) calls her on it. Through it all ,the show remains hilarious, sharply skewers the TV landscape (I need to see a full episode of Due North) and I must pause for a special shout out to Natasha Rothwell, whose hilariously frank Kelli has quickly become my favorite character. Amy Amatangelo

7. Better Call Saul
Network: AMC

Impossibly, Better Call Saul has improved season-to-season at the same rate Breaking Bad did, mirroring that show and constantly revealing new layers to both as a result. But Better Call Saul stands so strongly on its own that you could be a fanatic without knowing who Walter White is at all. This is thanks largely to the show’s directorial patience and confidence (good God that wordless sequence with Mike and the gas tank cap), nuanced period details, blistering sense of humor and powerful performances (specifically Michael McKean as Chuck, Rhea Seehorn as Kim and Michael Mando as Nacho). Equally impressive is the show’s re-introduction of supporting characters from Breaking Bad, which never feels like fan service, just the reciprocal movements of the pendulum that swings back and forth in Vince Gilligan’s clockwork universe. But the show’s centerpiece always has been and always will be Bob Odenkirk, who has helped craft Gilligan’s own Falstaff; the doomed, brilliant fool we long to see rise up on his own terms, even as we know how horrifying his fall will be. Graham Techler

6. Master of None
Network: Netflix

The long-awaited second season of Aziz Ansari’s masterful Master of None begins with an homage to Bicycle Thieves and ends with a nod to The Graduate. In between are beautifully nuanced episodes as Ansari’s Dev Shah tries to navigate his love life and his career. Even when the show goes the traditional sitcom route—the will-they-or-won’t-they romance of Dev and the engaged Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi)—the dialogue and interactions are decidedly not traditional. They talk like real people not ones created in a writer’s room. “New York, I Love You,” which stepped away from the main characters to showcase the vibrant diversity of the city and “Thanksgiving,” which chronicled Dev’s childhood friend Denise (Lena Waithe) coming out to her family, are easily the season highlights. The show is fun to watch, emotionally satisfying and thought provoking. Unlike anything else on television, Master of None is not only one of the best shows of Netflix, but one of the most important in a long, long time. Eric Walters and Amy Amatangelo

5. Samurai Jack
Network: Adult Swim

The original run (2001-2004) of Genndy Tartakovsky’s animated series about a ronin stuck in the dystopian future was a masterpiece—stylistically, the closest thing the 21st century has seen to Kurosawa. Unbelievably, Tartakovsky has topped himself with this ten-episode conclusion to Jack’s saga. The hallmarks of the series remain; every frame is perfect, the action sequences rock, and there’s a fair amount of cartoonish light-heartedness. But the move from Cartoon Network to Adult Swim created the opportunity to get darker, and Jack has taken full advantage. We find Jack trapped in a Sisyphean situation, immortal and seemingly doomed to fight Aku’s oppression forever. And unlike Camus’ imagination of that tragic Greek king, Jack is decidedly not happy. What has followed is an elegant exploration of finding hope in perseverance, purpose in apparent futility, and strength in legacy. Oh, and more blood than Cartoon Network ever would’ve allowed. Zach Blumenfeld

4. Legion
Network: FX

We were introduced to Noah Hawley’s dark humor with Fargo, but Legion allows the writer/creator to play in a more fantastical sandbox—and thus to truly revel in a batshit crazy world. If ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. gave us the light-hearted comic-book action and Netflix’s quartet of interwoven series showcased the grittier side of superheroes, FX’s first partnership with Marvel embraces the insanity of a lesser-known X-Men character, making you forget it has any shared DNA with those blockbuster men in super-suits. The story is as much about Dan Stevens’ character’s grasp on reality as his struggle for survival. David Heller suffers from schizophrenia, but what’s real and what’s the product of malevolent forces is often unclear, with his friend, Lenny Busker (Aubrey Plaza), playing the imaginary devil on his shoulder. The production design, full of ‘60s/’70s psychedelia and striking color palettes, the cast, which includes Hawley’s Fargo collaborators Rachel Keller and Jean Smart, and the sharp writing make this another win for FX. Josh Jackson

3. Big Little Lies
Network: HBO

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Based on the best-selling Liane Moriarty novel of the same name, Big Little Lies has the hallmarks of what we might call “prestige TV.” The HBO miniseries has an A-list cast, which includes Oscar winners Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman, doing some of the best work of their careers as Monterey housewives. It’s got marquee names behind the camera: director Jean-Marc Vallée (Wild, Dallas Buyers Club) and writer David E. Kelley (The Practice, Ally McBeal). It’s even got a cable-ready plot that tackles domestic violence and sexual abuse in a picture-perfect if gossipy mommy community in California. And yet, with its focus on the perks and perils of female friendships, Big Little Lies is a thing unto itself: a sun-dappled murder mystery drama focused on the inner lives of women, featuring the year’s best use of a prosthetic penis—all scored by a killer soundtrack. Manuel Betancourt

2. The Americans
Network: FX

In its fifth season, The Americans’ careful aesthetic, its uncommon precision, cultivate the sincere pleasures of “slow” TV: Despite the criticism from certain quarters, the series is neither loose nor languid, using its methodical construction to reconsider, as Paste contributor Evan McGarvey writes, “the serrated edges between parenting and handling.” If The Leftovers externalizes psychic strain, The Americans bottles it up, tamps it down, quiets it, using its changes of tempo—the silent stretch capped by the report of the gun, the argument accompanied by the awkward silence—to create a sublime charge. Anchored by four extraordinary performances, from Matthew Rhys, Keri Russell, Frank Langella and Holly Taylor, The Americans pursues its portrait of spies hemmed in by history until the terse language and succinct images come to represent the characters’ evolution, turning inward as the passage of time turns their politics upside down. In other words, Season Five of The Americans is the ideal meeting of form and function, an ambitious family drama caught in the Cold War’s tightening vise: still one of the best shows on television. Matt Brennan

1. The Leftovers
Network: HBO

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In its final season, Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta’s portrait of a world in extremis remains television’s most wildly inventive series, testing the limits of faith by testing the limits of the medium in equal measure. From a St. Louis hotel room to the Australian Outback, the distant past to the unknown future, its set of strange, loosely linked dispatches, dense with unexpected allusions (Perfect Strangers, the Wu Tang Clan) and lashed together by Max Richter’s devastating score, edges toward despair again and again—and then pulls us back from the brink with gestures of kindness, of understanding, of connections not broken but forged. Written, directed and acted with almost religious conviction, it is as inexplicable and as beautiful as a lost scrap of scripture, earning our devotion by proving itself one of the medium’s signal works of art. Matt Brennan

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