If there isn’t already, there ought to be an improbably long German compound word to describe the slightly panicky, drowning feeling of overwhelmed anticipation that is one’s natural state when contemplating just how much good TV there is out there — and that’s even before additional shows like this week’s “GLOW” and “The Mist” have been piled onto the queue. Add in an appreciation of just how few hours there are in a day, and just how much “other stuff” one is supposed to be doing with one’s life, and the prospect of even making a dent in the mountain of unwatched Golden Age TV can actually trigger a full-blown panic attack.
And we’re here to make that worse today.
Sure, we often claim we’re trying to make things easier on you by sorting the wheat from the chaff and making sure that those of you who have actual lives don’t waste a single moment of them on less-than-stellar TV, but actually lists like these (and our Best Movies of the Year So Far) are designed to prey on your FOMO and make you feel bad. Because while you’re lovingly tucking your kids in to sleep or aggressively pursuing that promotion at work, or busily curing cancer in your downtime, you actually should be at home watching TV. Here are the 20 shows that have aired so far in 2017 that you should feel most terrible about missing.
“Big Little Lies”
Based on the novel by Liane Moriarty with cast up to the nines with the likes of Nicole Kidman, Reese Withersppon, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley, Zoe Kravitz, Alexander Skarsgard and Adam Scott, directed by “Dallas Buyers Club” helmer Jean-Marc Vallee and created by “Ally McBeal” stalwart David E Kelley, of course “Big Little Lies” was on our Most Anticipated list ever since we heard about it. But the sunshine-noir murder mystery, in which the identity of the victim as well as the perpetrator is the mystery throughout, actually exceeded our expectations. Rather than running from or apologizing for the seamier conventions of the “women’s picture” — the cattiness, the bitching, the scheming, the sexual jealousy — the show embraced those tropes with gusto, but also blended in humor, damage, ferocious loyalty, tragedy and warmth, making its women feel rounded and real. It touches on serious issues around domestic abuse, bullying and the pressure to conform to lifestyle ideals (especially in breezy, moneyed coastal California) but really it’s an anthemically satisfying, giddily entertaining story of female solidarity overcoming mutual mistrust.
“Dear White People”
If you love Justin Simien’s film “Dear White People” (as you should), the Netflix series based on the movie might, for the first two or three episodes, feel like a bit of a retread, with a slightly less-great cast (except for the ones who are reprising their roles). But as it develops, it becomes something distinctive, pleasingly building on its source material in a way that makes it feel utterly vital. And even if the set-up feels familiar, the actors (the terrific Logan Browning, Antoniette Robertson and Marque Richardson first among them) soon find their own takes on the characters, and the show’s character-focused, almost “Rashomon”-like structure is one of the best uses of the streaming format that we’ve seen so far. Simien and his team (including “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins for the show’s best episode, the fifth) pull off the near-miracle of melding a “Felicity” style college soap with something sharper, wittier and much more woke, and it matures into one of the best things that Netflix have done to date.
Having proven that it wasn’t just a one-trick-pony with it superior second season, Noah Hawley’s “Fargo” threatened to tip into formula at the start of its third. It’s a Minnesota Nice crime tale with a detective of pure good (Carrie Coon in the Frances McDormand/Alison Tolman/Patrick Wilson role), various colorful characters including a devilish picture of pure evil (David Thewlis’ British crime boss), oodles of style, bits of ultraviolence and some nods to Coen movies beyond the titular inspiration (“Barton Fink” being a big one this time around). But if in its early going, Season 3 felt like it might be the weakest entry to date, there was always great stuff in there (including career-best performances from Ewan McGregor and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, plus Carrie Coon continuing to be TV’s best actor). And as it’s approached its end game, it’s tied together in a way that reminds us that Hawley is one of TV’s most welcome, confident and talented voices, and that “Fargo” is one of its very best shows.
“The Young Pope”
With all due deference to David Lynch, there has been no 2017 show quite as unexpectedly weird as Paolo Sorrentino’s blasphemous, sumptuous and otherwise uncategorizable drama/comedy/mystery/theological mosh pit, “The Young Pope.” Slippery, disquieting, mordantly hilarious and even occasionally moving, the only mystery grander than the religious riddles it poses is how it ever got made at all — it seems calculated to enrage its core demo (Catholics) while also so abstruse and arcane as to be beyond the hardest sci-fi for the rest of us. And after a weird start, this Vatican-based mindfuck evolves into something even stranger and more singular, a lot due to a superb cast, centered on a blistering Jude Law performance, all of whom seem to know exactly what they’re doing even when the show spins off into places so bizarre and grotesque that us mortal viewers are left dizzy and reeling. Following the switcheroo insider politicking that takes place after the ordination of a youthful, iconoclastic and possibly faithless American pope, and investigating the idea of faith, corruption and cruelty at the highest levels of the church with a sly grin and a stunning eye for imagery, it is completely unlike anything else on TV, not just this year, but possibly ever.
We were a bit wary of “Billions” to begin with. The world needed another white-male-anti-hero drama like it needed a hole in the head, and despite the fine cast and creative team, it didn’t do too much right out of the gate to distinguish itself. But the show grew and grew over its first season, and its greatly improved second run saw it turn into one of the most purely entertaining and enjoyable dramas on TV. Coming out of the gate with a confidence that few other series can match right now, the clashes between U.S. Attorney Chuck Roades (Paul Giamatti) and billionaire hedge funder Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) gained additional relevance in a Trump era, but has always been cannily progressive, not least this time with the addition of Asia Kate Dillon’s fascinating nonbinary character Taylor. Brilliantly directed (thanks to a murderer’s row of helmers including Reed Morano, John Singleton, Fleck & Boden and Alex Gibney) and quotably written, at its best (like penultimate episode “Golden Frog Time”) it’s about as much fun as you can have on TV at present.