There’s been a big debate percolating for the last month. This debate has lived and died on the Internet, the Land of 1,000 Hot Takes, some of which are great and many of which are deeply terrible. Recently, a fair few of those terrible takes have come courtesy of those just dying to argue that a David Lynch joint cannot possibly just be television, that a piece of art that profound can’t possibly belong to the same medium as Happy Days. To those people, we at Consequence of Sound have two things to say: Yes, Twin Peaks is fucking incredible, and hey, you are also full of shit.
If you’re just waking up to the fact that TV is a vital art form, welcome! You’ve got great timing, and the water’s fine. But this isn’t a new situation. The post-Sopranos era is not likely to regress, as there are boundary-pushers in almost every genre. The conversation about whether or not Lynch’s effort is, as he described, an 18-hour movie, is far less interesting than conversations about where something fits. Is Netflix’s Five Came Back, a terrific documentary series that was shown in a scant few theaters, a film or a television show? What about Okja and Mudbound, two films released both in theaters and through a streaming platform? If Nathan for You releases a feature-length episode, is that film? What if it’s projected on a screen? Should it be both Emmy- and Oscar-eligible? And how the fuck do we resolve any of this without sounding like insufferable assholes?
The easiest answer is this: We acknowledge that no conversation about classification matters half as much as the conversation that great art spurs. Take, as but one example, the best reality show of the year. RuPaul’s Drag Race saw a transgender woman, and thus someone who is not a female impersonator, make the finals. As the French say, Scandale! Yet the casual way the show approached this said more than any amount of drama could. This, it said, is life. In life, people play with gender. In life, transgender women (and this woman, Peppermint, in particular) can be amazing drag queens. And in life, even lip-sync assassin Peppermint can lose, because sometimes someone has flower petals stuffed inside their wig — a choice by eventual winner Sasha Velour that launched a thousand conversations about love, lip-syncing, and creating art live and on television.
That rose petal moment blew my mind and broke my heart, and Drag Race didn’t even crack our top 25. This has been an incredible, complicated, messy, beautiful year for television. We’ve gone into the hearts of mushroom clouds and descended into hell. We’ve traveled in time and in space. We’ve broken rules and boundaries, seen ugliness and beauty, and drawn penises on all kinds of things (thanks, American Vandal, another show that just missed our list). Above all, we’ve experienced all these things as a culture. There may not be a water cooler anymore, but there’s this year-end moment, where we can all reflect on the art that made an impact. This year, there was a lot.
Every year, there’s a lot.
25. Mr. Mercedes
Showrunner(s): David E. Kelley
Where to Watch: Audience Network
MVP of the Show: As retired detective Bill Hodges, Brendan Gleeson brings spark, amiability, and a charming Irish lilt to a character that, in the Stephen King book that serves as the source material, never quite transcends the author’s folksy, eye-rolling dialogue. But Harry Treadaway and Kelly Lynch, as the evil Brady Hartsfield and his sad, damaged mother, steal the show by turning their revolting, incestuous relationship into something out of Greek tragedy.
Must-See Episode: Mr. Mercedes is consistently gripping, but, as with the book, there’s a touch of narrative strain to its midsection. The fat melts away, however, in the eighth episode, “From the Ashes”, which kicks off the series’ third act with a shocking scene of violence that shatters any hope of redemption as it establishes our antagonist as someone with truly nothing left to lose.
Why We Binge: King’s book is fine (the sequels are better), but Mr. Mercedes was probably always meant to be a TV show, especially one with the freedom to truly indulge in the story’s most depraved corners. One might think the man behind Ally McBeal and Boston Legal wouldn’t have the guts to go there, but David E. Kelley shows us his dark side here, using his narrative deftness and sharp dialogue to balance out this sometimes-cruel investigation into the cultivation of evil.
24. Difficult People
Showrunner(s): Julie Klausner
Where to Watch: Hulu
MVP of the Show: With a cast like this, it’s nearly impossible to choose. There’s a serious case to be made for Cole Escola, whose insufferable totally-an-ex-theatre-kid waiter Matthew had some of season three’s best exchanges without the screen time afforded to many of his co-stars. But it’s Klausner, through and through. Not only does her bit-a-minute delivery define the show’s comic tone (and yeah, we’re using present tense because we refuse to accept Hulu’s cancellation), but in the season’s last handful of episodes, Klausner cut to the heart of Julie Kessler’s unrepentant narcissism, as a woman adrift in life who’s starting to worry that this is as good as it all gets.
Must-See Episode: While “Sweet Tea” probably deserves this spot just for making the growing “group of lost urbanites takes ayahuasca” trope engaging again, the season/hopefully not series finale “The Silkwood” takes it a step further by following their blissed-out revelations with some cold, crushing reality. The cafe is bought out, Arthur’s self-styled revolution is cut short, and Billy and Julie are left mid-LA hike to wonder if it’s all actually going to be okay.
Why We Binge: Difficult People is a bitter show about bitter people, but it’s also one of current TV’s great unheralded comedies. The show’s caustic potshots at an increasingly self-serving pop cultural landscape often hit like a brick, but they’re only half the story. Klausner and Eichner are one of the best comic duos currently working, in part because they take the show from a gauntlet of referential jabs to a story of a pair of unrepentant dicks who really, truly do matter to each other. Please, Hulu, don’t take this away from us yet.
23. Dear White People
Showrunner(s): Justin Simien
Where to Watch: Netflix
MVP of the Show: Tessa Thompson’s commanding performance as Sam White in the film seemed impossible to take over, but Logan Browning more than holds her own. It’s a pivotal role: the college DJ whose “Dear White People” segments start a movement on campus, with the impact on friends and lovers somehow bearing the brunt of it. Browning perfectly plays it in equal parts strong and vulnerable.
Must-See Episode: Barry Jenkins (Moonlight, duh) directs the season’s best episode. Everyone is having a good time at a college party despite the campus tension … until a white student says “nigga” during a rap song. Debates break out, a fight breaks out, the police intervene, and … things escalate. Marque Richardson’s (“Reggie”) breakdown by the episode’s end is a series standout.
Why We Binge: If you liked the 2014 movie, good news! The series is not a reboot/remake. It serves as a sequel to its climax. While it hasn’t reached the film’s heights, there are compelling stories to hear in Dear White People. Carve out five hours and prepare yourselves for season two, which is filming now. And watch the movie if you haven’t already!
22. Rick and Morty
Where to Watch: Adult Swim
MVP of the Show: As per usual, it’s Roiland, whose repulsive deliveries make for both the show’s best jokes and some of its most poignant moments. There’s a lot more to be written about the philosophical heft of Roiland portraying the show’s most monstrously abusive figure and its most earnestly vulnerable, but for now, we’ll just say that he continues to deliver one of TV’s most ferocious comic performances, sometimes while drinking himself sideways in the booth.
Must-See Episode: We’re sure a number of you are going to berate us for not going with the Byzantine world-building of “The Ricklantis Mixup”, so just know it’s a very close second. But, for as easy a choice as it may seem, “Pickle Rick” offered everything that many fans could want from a single episode of the show. It’s built on a ridiculous premise, it’s eminently quotable, it’s outlandishly violent, it’s a pretty great action genre parody, and it’s also all rooted in the brutal truth that Rick’s antics will never stop tearing the Smith family apart.
Why We Binge: Look, it’s not lost on us that somehow the long-awaited third season of Rick and Morty almost took a backseat to the growing controversy about the show’s increasingly awful fans, some of whom have joined the ranks of the worst “well actually” types anywhere in pop culture, and others who sold their goddamn cars for the Mulan sauce. But the season was an excellent continuation of the work Harmon and Roiland have laid down, while digging deeper into the grim nihilism of the show’s broader universe. That Rick may never find happiness is almost beside the point when the series appears to be hurtling toward a reckoning with the known and unknown universes at large.
21. Vice Principals
Where to Watch: HBO
MVP of the Show: While the show’s second and final season certainly plumbed the depths of Walton Goggins’ unbelievably cruel Lee Russell, it was McBride’s growth as Neal Gamby that made for so many of the season’s highs. As Russell entrenched himself deeper into his constant, petulant rage, Gamby started to inch toward growing up. Even as he threatened to shoot his masked assailant in their privates regardless of gender, Gamby started to look and feel like the man that the better angels in his life thought he could rise to being, and McBride’s genuinely exceptional performance in both the dramatic and comic realms had a huge part to play in that growth.
Must-See Episode: “A Compassionate Man” ends up being a crucial hinge for the second season at large, but it may as well have been titled “The Passion of Lee Russell”. Gamby might start as the episode’s more pathetic figure, bringing an unwilling young ward to Russell’s birthday party in an attempt to publicly demonstrate his generosity, but when his wife brings an old friend along (who she might’ve been gaslit by Russell into ditching in college), Goggins has the kind of highly visible meltdown that’s equal parts depressing, hysterical, and deeply shameful.
Why We Binge: First of all, the show only ran for 18 half-hour episodes, so if you could finish all of Game of Thrones, you can certainly make time for one of HBO’s more interesting half-hour experiments of recent years. Vice Principals improved dramatically down its back stretch, using the first season’s character work as a launching pad to chase one of Hill’s favorite comic motifs: the sad but potentially fulfilling lives of unremarkable people. Gamby might never be as exceptional as he thinks himself entitled to being, but he could be a good man. Maybe that’s enough.
Where to Watch: HBO
MVP of the Show: It’s hard to pick a winner between the show’s holy trinity of Issa, Molly, and Lawrence; however, we’re going to have to go with Molly’s deadly combo of fierce ambition and tremendous vulnerability. Yvonne Orji’s presence is magnetic in every scene, and we just want to root for her to shake off her needy boyfriends and racist workplace and spread her wings.
Must-See Episode: The second season finale, “Hella Perspective”, is a teeth-clenching masterwork of comedic tension and incredible formal daring. Melina Matsoukas’ direction smoothly takes us through 30 days in Issa, Molly, and Lawrence’s lives, from each of their perspectives.
Why We Binge: Issa Rae’s breakout hit show unabashedly digs deep into the matter-of-fact complications of black life and relationships, while keeping these conflicts grounded to young men and women still figuring themselves out. Season Two saw Issa, Molly, and Lawrence develop in new and dynamic ways, never losing its razor-sharp sense of humor and Rae’s distinct, inimitable personality.
19. Master of None
Where to Watch: Netflix
MVP of the Show: Master of None isn’t an ensemble show, at least not in the traditional sense, but Ansari does a fantastic job turning the spotlight on his family and friends. From Brian Chang (Kevin Yu) to Arnold Baumheiser (Eric Wareheim) to Denise (Lena Waithe), they’re never not delightful, making his BFFs the true MVPs of the series.
Must-See Episode: There’s no denying the power of “Thanksgiving”. Hell, both Ansari and Waithe just picked up an Emmy for their script for the episode. Still, we would be remiss not to mention the other fantastic chapters, particularly “Amarsi Un Po'”, which may be the coziest romantic comedy of the year not named The Big Sick.
Why We Binge: It’s unclear how long Ansari can keep this going — our guess is three rounds and buh-bye — but Master of None has been a fantastic outlet for the comedian to wrestle with the pitfalls of modern romance. From first dates to lonely car rides home, Ansari has always been “with it,” and it’s been very enlightening.
Where to Watch: Netflix
MVP of the Show: As smart, hunky FBI agent Holden Ford, Jonathan Groff reserves his fireworks for the series finale, when the emotional toll of digging into the minds of the world’s most depraved killers manifests in breathtaking fashion. But Cameron Britton emerged as the show’s breakout star, bringing serial killer Edmund Kemper to life as an articulate, agreeable, and unceasingly polite interview subject. By the time you hear the words “spirit wives” drip from his lips, however, you’ll feel as duped as Ford.
Must-See Episode: Mindhunter, like much of David Fincher’s work, can feel like an insular show, one that doesn’t indulge in the sensational until it’s truly earned. As such, the finale is what brings everything that came before it into true focus. When Ford cracks, the series’ raison d’etre pours in like sunlight; this is more than fodder for fans of true crime, but rather an investigation into the corners of the human mind that should never be illuminated. The “why” at the center of this series goes beyond mere motive; the “why” here is existential.
Why We Binge: Because you can only watch so many episodes of Law & Order, and all these true-crime documentaries are their own kind of bloodlust. Mindhunter approaches it all from a different perspective, one that’s underrepresented in pop culture. Yet despite its cold, formal qualities, there’s still a compulsive quality to the series, with just enough cases peppered throughout to keep us jonesing for the next episode.
17. Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Showrunner(s): Dan Goor
Where to Watch: Fox
MVP of the Show: With an ensemble this strong, it’s surprising that the answer is unquestionably Andre Braugher. His performance as Captain Raymond Holt consists of a consistent, stoic, unreadable demeanor that is punctuated by fleeting, hilarious moments of outrage (see this season’s pie-theft interrogation montage). This is Braugher’s finest hour and one of the most underrated characters on TV.
Must-See Episode: “Halloween V” is a return to the annual holiday heist game the officers play at the precinct. After winning, Amy (Melissa Fumero) reads the inscription on her trophy to discover her boyfriend, Jake (Andy Samberg), has proposed to her. Brooklyn Nine-Nine has thousands of jokes that land, but this moment represents how much heart it has atop all the slapstick.
Why We Binge: How could you not? These are only 22-minute episodes. There are nearly 10 jokes per minute. The ensemble is the best network comedy has to offer. It manages to tackle serious events (racial profiling, coming out) that don’t cry out VERY SPECIAL EPISODE, all while maintaining the hyper-reality surrounding them. Watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and that’s an order, Peralta!
16. BoJack Horseman
Showrunner(s): Raphael Bob-Waksberg
Where to Watch: Netflix
MVP of the Show: One of the most refreshing additions to the cast was Hollyhock Manheim-Mannheim-Guerrero-Robinson-Zilberschlag-Hsung-Fonzerelli-McQuack (Aparna Nancherla), Bojack’s alleged daughter and a constant reminder of the responsibilities he has avoided his entire life. Nancherla’s snappy, lively delivery is a fantastic foil for Arnett’s moroseness, which makes the show’s bittersweet notes hit that much harder.
Must-See Episode: Bojack has never been shy to experiment with its structure, but the ninth episode, “Ruthie”, is a beautiful mixture of sour and sweet that sees the characters from the lens of Princess Carolyn’s descendent — a young, ambitious kitten named Ruthie — in a far-flung future. The end reveal of the truth about Ruthie is one of the show’s most authentic emotional anvil drops.
Why We Binge: No one could have expected Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s animated sitcom about talking animals in Hollywoo(d) to not only hit four seasons, but be one of the most emotionally intelligent, incisive, and deeply human shows on the airwaves. Season Four turned the screws loose even further with daring issue episodes like “Thoughts and Prayers” and the formal experimentation of “Time’s Arrow” and “lovin that cali lifestyle!!”
15. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Showrunner(s): Amy Sherman-Palladino
Where to Watch: Amazon
MVP of the Show: Did you watch House of Cards? If so, you’ve got roughly one-tenth of an idea of what Rachel Brosnahan is capable of. Like two of the other female-led shows on this list, Brosnahan’s protagonist is righteously backed by another terrific female performer in Alex Borstein. Borstein is capital-T Terrific, but Brosnahan is the real story, landing every moment of pathos and heartbreak with some legitimately excellent stand-up comedy work. How is that even possible? Even stand-up comics manage to blow some of their sets. Not so with this gem.
Must-See Episode: This is one of those delightful circumstances where your best investment is the pilot. Yes, it sets up everything that comes after, but it also directly ties humor and communication to the emotional health of its protagonist, and beyond that, it’s just really fucking good. Watch it, and don’t immediately start in on the next. I dare you.
Why We Binge: In terms of sheer words per minute, Amy Sherman-Palladino and her husband, Daniel Palladino, have long been unbeatable. That remains true, but this is something different. Even a die-hard defender of Gilmore Girls, and I count myself among their number, would acknowledge that in Maisel, Sherman-Palladino has drilled down to something special. The supporting cast kills, but this is the Brosnahan-Borstein show, with the two reaching deep to tell a very funny story about some very broken people. It’s a late-arriving contender for the best of the year, but a contender nonetheless. Don’t sleep on it, and whatever you do, remember to put your curlers in.
Showrunner(s): Noah Hawley
Where to Watch: FX
MVP of the Show: Fuckin’ Aubrey Plaza, man. How many versions of Lenny does she play in this thing? It’s almost impossible to say, but all of them are compelling, no more so than the jubilant version we see in “Chapter Six”. Want to see what happens when a showrunner lets a great performer go nuts? Watch Plaza strut through the mind of a victim to the tune of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good”.
Must-See Episode: Like a number of shows on this list, you can’t tune in to just one and walk away satisfied. All the same, if you want to see Hawley’s creation at its peak, check out the “Bolero” sequence in “Chapter Seven”. It’s a nearly silent, chaotic masterpiece.
Why Should We Binge? We’re living in a superhero era, but Noah Hawley has no interest in that Joseph Campbell bullshit. He has even less invested in the idea of the hero’s journey, and instead, he gets his kicks from playing with the cost of having unasked-for gifts. In Plaza and Dan Stevens, he finds the perfect co-conspirators, each totally game to underline the messiness and each more than ready to get totally weird. The result: a wholly original superhero story, one that will only get more textured and weirder with every season. Let’s hope this nightmare runs forever.
13. Big Little Lies
Showrunner(s): David E. Kelley
Where to Watch: HBO
MVP of the Show: How do you pick just one? As the year’s award shows have already demonstrated, Big Little Lies was a smash for virtually every one of its stars. That said, our hats have to go off to Nicole Kidman, who delivered a harrowing portrayal of an all-too-common iteration of domestic violence and abuse. Watching her slowly confront the reality of her victimhood in a therapist’s office is as wrenching a sequence as any series has managed all year.
Must-See Episode: Speaking of that, “Once Bitten” sees each of the show’s mothers hitting separate nadirs. For Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), it’s getting into a car accident with her theatre co-producer and secret lover. For Jane (Shailene Woodley), it’s her desperation to hide the circumstances of her son’s birth from the rest of the town’s judgmental elite. And for Celeste (Kidman), the simple refusal to clean up after her sons, as commanded by her husband, leads to the horrific realization that maybe his apologies are not only inadequate, but another form of abuse.
Why We Binge: For a show that speaks with authority to the ways in which abuse colors a victim’s past, present, and future, Big Little Lies pulls off the high-wire act of also being a searingly funny show in the process. It definitely gains a little bit of heft if you’ve ever spent any time around the sort of person profiled/satirized by the show, but it’s a bleakly realistic drama that frequently contorts itself into deliciously dark comedy. In this way, it’s one of the more realistic shows about relationships of recent vintage, as perceptive about the flaws in its parents as it is about the reasons for so many of those flaws.
12. The Good Place
Showrunner(s): Michael Schur
Where to Watch: NBC, as a part of their rejuvenated Must-See TV Thursday
MVP of the Show: This is a Sophie’s Choice situation if ever there was one, but for this season at least, the honors have to go to Janet. The continued evolution of D’Arcy Carden’s not-a-girl, not-a-robot wonder has been one of the most profound delights of The Good Place’s second season. For a crash course in how damn good she is, check out “Janet and Michael”, in which she more than holds her own against TV neophyte Ted Danson.
Must-See Episode: That would be “Michael’s Gambit”, which, quite frankly, might be the single best episode of the year and certainly the best on a major network. If you’ve seen it, you know why. If you haven’t, what the hell are you waiting for?
Why We Binge: So, there’s an episode in the current season of this bizarre, blissful comedy called “The Trolley Problem”, in which Danson’s all-powerful, otherworldly being creates a literal version of the Trolley Problem — flip a switch in a runaway trolley and kill one person, or leave things as they are and kill several — as a means of unpacking questions about morality and ethics. That’s pretty much the series in a nutshell: a bizarre, occasionally dark, and often earnest comedy that treats philosophy as its playground. It’s the most ambitious thing to pop up on a major network in quite some time. In fact, it’s downright heavenly. Get it?
11. Late Night Heroes: Samantha Bee, Seth Meyers, and John Oliver
Where to Watch: TBS, NBC, and HBO, respectively
MVP of the Show: Each of these late-night hosts take a vitally different approach to comedic news reporting – Seth Meyers is the laidback daily recapper, Oliver digs in deep on trenchant issues, and Bee channels our bitter liberal rage at the garbage fire of 2017.
Must-See Episode: It’s hard to do this for three shows at once, much less shows this tied to current events. That being said, I’d go back and take a look at all three hosts’ coverage of the Charlottesville riots. Meyers challenges Trump’s flip-flopping and equivocation beat for beat, while Oliver does a deep dive into the Confederate legacy’s allure in the South and Sam Bee projects our rage into the ether and advocates for the org Life After Hate.
Why We Binge: Yes, we cheated a bit. But still, the proliferation of YouTube as a home for late-night talk show/news segments, and the need for clear-headed progressive voices in 2017, has elevated this triumvirate of hosts-turned-newspeople to the front lines of the #Resistance. Between Seth Meyers’ “A Closer Look” segments, John Oliver’s droll but detailed long-form journalism, and Samantha Bee’s snarky catharsis, everyone sweating bullets for the next four years needs people like them in their corner.
10. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Showrunner(s): Rob McElhenney
Where to Watch: FX
MVP of the Show: In a season with so much surprising growth — Mac came out of the closet! — Season 12 belonged to Dennis Reynolds (Glenn Howerton). Maybe it’s because we’re still reeling from his potential exit, but Howerton shed a new light on the Gang’s touchy sociopath: He actually cracked, and his reasons for leaving onscreen were legit.
Must-See Episode: “The Gang Turns Black” was a risky move, arriving at a time when any dialogue on race often boils down to vitriolic exchanges and blind accusations. But Always Sunny navigated those waters with aplomb, touching on several hot-button issues under the guise of a ludicrous parody of The Wiz. It was as hilarious as it was sobering.
WhyWe Binge: Doing any show for 12 years is hard without it becoming overkill, and that goes tenfold for any comedy as subversive and outrageous as It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. But McElhenney, Howerton, and Charlie Day brought an energy to Season 12, tackling real-life issues while dipping into some unexpectedly dark areas.
09. The Handmaid’s Tale
Showrunner(s): Bruce Miller
Where to Watch: Hulu
MVP of the Show: The ensemble is great all around, but Gilead couldn’t ask for a better taskmistress than Ann Dowd’s fierce, imperious Aunt Lydia. She’s zealous, pious, and a true believer in The Handmaid’s Tale’s authoritarian patriarchy, and Dowd’s tour de force performance makes her one of the most compelling avatars of Margaret Atwood’s rape-culture dystopia.
Must-See Episode: There’s a strong case to be made for any of the first three episodes, which set up the world of Gilead and Elisabeth Moss’ Offred with incredible style. For my money, though, “A Woman’s Place”, the sixth episode, is the show in microcosm; between Mexican delegates trying to understand Gilead’s new rules, to the flashbacks to the Waterfords’ idealized future, it’s the best episode of the show.
Why We Binge: Miller’s show turned out to be far timelier than it should have been in 2017, the year of President Donald Trump and the #MeToo movement. Articulating the many facets of misogyny and rape culture in both the macro and micro, The Handmaid’s Tale is a bracing reminder of women’s continued struggles to be seen, heard, believed, and empowered.
08. The Deuce
Where to Watch: HBO
MVP of the Show: Maggie Gyllenhaal crackles as Candy, an aging prostitute whose business acumen lends itself to the burgeoning porn industry in 1970s NYC. As her character navigates the murky space between the pleasurable and transactional qualities of human connection, Gyllenhaal the actress deals in both physical and emotional vulnerability, with her character pivoting between revealing scenes of explicit sex and tender, strained ones with her young son and judgemental mother. Still, her journey isn’t one of escape or redemption, but rather an entrepreneurial one, making her journey that much more unique and powerful.
Must-See Episode: “What Kind of Bad?”, the season’s fifth episode, marks the moment when the series’ large cast of characters really begins bouncing off of each other in meaningful ways. It also includes the best scene of its eight-episode debut, which finds Gyllenhaal’s Candy verbally sparring with Rodney, a garish, pushy pimp played by Method Man. Their conversation stealthily slips from amiable to playful to genuinely antagonistic, its shifts hidden in a word’s inflection or a turn of the back. It marks one of Gyllenhaal’s most aching moments on the show, and a career-best turn from Method Man. Meth was great on The Wire, but the assist from Gyllenhaal here brings out a torrent of fire the rapper had yet to release onscreen.
Why We Binge: Because any new show from Simon, who previously created The Wire, Treme, and The Corner, is something to watch. Nobody can cultivate an ensemble like Simon, and his ability to explore systemic issues via intimate stories that sprawl across the economic divide makes him unique in the landscape. Also, porn.
07. The Leftovers
Where to Watch: HBO
MVP of the Show: Justin Theroux. While several different performances could easily earn these honors (Carrie Coon, Amy Brenneman, Ann Dowd, and Scott Glenn all come to mind), the final season’s most compelling journey was undertaken by Kevin, who traversed parallel realities and several continents in search of some kind of truth that he might accept enough to live in a world gone mad. In some of the strangest episodes of an incredibly strange show, Theroux managed to find the heart and soul at the center of a father, a brother, and a part-time international assassin.
Must-See Episode: “The Book of Nora”, the show’s near-overwhelming series finale, takes its best shot at ending a shortened series by leaning into the moral vagary that always existed at the core of The Leftovers. Nora finds her way into a maybe-illegitimate procedure that would send her to the “other side” and to whatever might be found there, if anything at all. Years later, she and Kevin reconnect in Australia, and Coon’s show-closing monologue about what she found (and didn’t find) there is perhaps 2017’s single best scene of television. It may not be the closure many fans wanted, and yeah, that climactic soliloquy is probably Lindelof and Perrotta’s outline for a fourth season delivered in a few aching minutes. But it ends on as perfect a note for this show about wanderers as it could possibly find: one of them taking the hand of another, telling them that “I believe you.”
Why We Binge: Sure, The Leftovers didn’t end up being quite the show that its creators had initially envisioned. That it even lasted as long as it did in a crowded era for prestigious HBO programming, with the semi-comprehensible lack of viewership it had and the far more baffling lack of awards-season support, is a small miracle in itself. But even in a brief final season, the series managed to sustain its momentum as one of the headiest and most truly compelling shows on television. What could have been a high-concept hook evolved into an interrogation of who we are, what we can be at our most noble and depraved alike, and what it is to live in a world that frequently abandons all logic. Get on board now so that you can be well-versed when it’s the subject of a million “the best show you didn’t watch” thinkpieces 5 to 10 years down the line.
06. Stranger Things 2
Showrunner(s): Matt and Ross Duffer
Where to Watch: Netflix
MVP of the Show: Look, David Harbour is great and Winona Ryder is the star of the show, but this season belonged to Joe Keery. As Steve Harrington, Keery dropped the whole James Spader schtick and found his inner Josh Brolin, becoming the best babysitter Hawkins, Indiana, has ever seen. If they kill him off in season three, this writer riots.
Must-See Episode: This season’s second chapter, “Trick or Treat, Freak”, pretty much encapsulates why fans obsess over Stranger Things. It’s the most aesthetically pleasing hour of the show’s current run, what with all the Halloween accoutrements, and given that this is a show all about aesthetic, it really doesn’t get better than this.
Why We Binge: By tearing a page from The Book of James Cameron, the Duffers expanded their world, upped the stakes, and dug deeper into its core cast while adding new faces. It was so much fun that the Internet managed to collectively disregard the garbage X-Men impasse and reach the end with high hopes for a third adventure.
05. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Where to Watch: The CW
MVP of the Show: Lots of people are funny on television. Lots of people are dramatic on television. Lots of people sing on television. Rachel Bloom does all three and better than most. She’d be the MVP even if she weren’t a writer and executive producer who’s written or co-written more than 100 songs for the show in its three seasons. She got the lyric “let me choke on your cocksuredness” on The freakin’ CW. All hail the champ.
Must-See Episode: “Josh’s Ex-Girlfriend Is Crazy” is one of the most stylistically daring hours of the year, transforming for an hour — well, two-thirds of one — into a ’00s horror film. It’s wild, thrilling, and wonderful.
Why We Binge: Come on, it’s a musical about mental illness that deconstructs the rom-com genre, one pop parody at a time. There’s nothing else like it. That’s been true for each of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s three seasons, but this season — Bloom called it “funny Fatal Attraction” — has gone to darker and more honest places than ever before. It’s nailing every punchline, and half of those also hit you right in the emotional solar plexus. It’s moving, thoughtful, uncomfortable bliss.
04. Alias Grace
Showrunner: Sarah Polley
Where to Watch: Netflix
MVP of the Show: In a year positively stacked with towering performances, Sarah Gadon gives one of the best of the year. In the opening shot — one shot, mind you — she becomes half a dozen versions of “murderess” Grace Marks, each dreamed up by the men she encounters. She does it all by adjusting the tilt of her head and the curve of her lips. It’s incredible, and it just gets better from there.
Must-See Episode: Listen, it’s only six episodes, and under no circumstances should you watch them out of order. The real triumph of the bunch is the last, in which Grace lets loose with something that may or may not be the truth, but every chapter of this terrific Margaret Atwood adaptation is no less than essential.
Why We Binge: For the love of god, don’t. As directed by Mary Harron (American Psycho), Alias Grace is the best Margaret Atwood adaptation of the year, and that other one won a cartload of well-deserved Emmys. But like The Handmaid’s Tale, this is an experience best consumed in smaller doses, both because it’s an experience that’s worth savoring and because it’s real damn upsetting. A fictional exploration of the life of a historical figure, Polley’s miniseries is a fascinating thing, unraveling the layers that surround Grace to reveal the stinging onion beneath. Or not. Who really knows the truth?
03. Nathan For You
Showrunner(s): Nathan Fielder
Where to Watch: Comedy Central
MVP of the Show: Nathan, duh. Our humble protagonist took on pathos and dimension in the series’ brilliant finale, but in lieu of this entire write-up focusing on “Finding Frances”, let’s also highlight some of the minor players in the season’s earlier episodes. There’s Andy, the cab owner who’s bizarrely excited about taking down Uber via a sleeper cell; the diner owner who’d rather be on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives; and, of course, the effervescent, mumble-mouthed Anthony Napoli, who can’t host the season’s opening celebration without calling into question how many Jews died in the Holocaust. Bless them all.
Must-See Episode: “Finding Frances”, the season (and maybe series?) finale, both functions as a traditional episode of Nathan for You — Mud 2: Never Clean is classic NFY — and a revealing look at the sense of untrustworthiness that emerges when our minds believe the lies our hearts tell us. In questioning what’s real in the realm of human emotion, Nathan also offers a stealth exploration of the ways in which cameras and context inevitably color our concept of what’s real. It’s one of the best movies you’ll see all year.
Why We Binge: Because it might be the funniest and most original show on TV right now. Unlike other “guerilla” comedies, Fielder isn’t out to expose or embarrass people; rather, he’s interested in pushing humanity’s patience and logic to their breaking points. In the process, he shines a light on the underhanded ways in which businesses strive to thrive in a post-depression culture where the American Dream has more or less evaporated. On its surface, Nathan for You can seem like a mean show, but Nathan is always more interested in the absurdities of human kindness than he is its capacity for cruelty. That’s refreshing.
02. Halt and Catch Fire
Where to Watch: AMC
MVP of the Show: The one good thing about the series ending is that it will open up Mackenzie Davis to more opportunities. Along with Kerry Bishé’s Donna, Cameron became the lead of the show a couple seasons earlier, and her development from an erratic, young, punk computer genius to an established, (well, more) mature, leader over the show’s decade was something to behold.
Must-See Episode: A crazy-good crop to choose from, but we’ll highlight “Goodwill”. After the death of a loved one, the characters gather together at the departed’s house to pack up. Emotions are high, never maudlin, and the care that writer Zack Whedon takes with Bos (Toby Huss) as he coerces Joe (Lee Pace) to eat some of his chili is masterful.
Why We Binge: How many times have we been told to watch a show with the caveat of “It gets bad around season X, but before that…”? You won’t find that with Halt and Catch Fire. It’s 40 episodes of people growing up and away from one another while others grow close and remain so. That’s life. That’s all it is. Cue “Solsbury Hill”.
01. Twin Peaks
Where to Watch: Showtime
MVP of the Show: There were over 237 cast members that made up Twin Peaks: The Return and not a single name could hold a candle to the inimitable Kyle MacLachlan. Lynch and Frost shouldered their star with the entire weight of the series, tasking him to play the terrifying Mr. C, the doofus Dougie Jones, and the mummified Special Agent Dale Cooper. It was a total Kafka-esque experience for MacLachlan and also for the fans who watched their hero’s journey with bated breath each week.
Must-See Episode: By now, everyone knows about “Part Eight” — even if they never watched a single episode of Twin Peaks. Like a nuclear bomb, the black-and-white spectacle consumed everyone upon arrival, scorching TV Twitter like Sarah Connor in that nightmarish scene from Terminator 2: Judgment Day. It became the television event of the year, even before the credits rolled, and it still feels like a dream. The fact that this all stems from what was originally a primetime ABC series is just baffling.
Why We Binge: All summer, Twin Peaks: The Return offered an escape from 2017. Everyone went into the 18-part series completely blind and everyone came out shaking their head, having experienced something both wonderful and strange. For many, Cooper’s inter-dimensional journey felt personal, as if they were reconnecting with a feeling that had long been missing. After all, the world is a dark place today: We’re sinking, we’re burning, we’re falling. So, seeing our hero — a beacon of virtue in every sense of the word — slowly seep back into a world that had similarly become as evil as our own quickly turned existential. We wanted to get through, we wanted to wake up; unfortunately, we’ve yet to hear Laura scream.