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Saturday, December 30, 2017

Harper's Top Five TV Shows of 2017

Before I get into it, I have to preface by saying that, of course, I haven’t seen everything that came out this year–I’m just starting the highly acclaimed Handmaid’s Tale, and there are a number of other shows that are still on my watch list. I feel like I did watch far more TV than in past years though, so here’s my distillation of my favorite shows of 2017!

(Mild spoilers for the shows on the list!)

5. Halt and Catch Fire

While I’ll admit that the middle of this final season of one of my favorite shows dragged and felt like it didn’t know where to go, the last three episodes of the season are arguably the best the series has ever had. After the first season’s quest to build a better computer, the second’s exploration of the birth of online communities, the third’s online transactions and antivirus software, this season focuses smartly on the birth of the search engine as the characters in turn are searching for their ultimate purpose. For me, Halt will go down as a show with some of the richest characters in all of TV, and the resolution this season provided was as emotionally heartbreaking as it was satisfying and exciting.

Best Episode: 8 - Goodwill

In maybe my favorite episode of the series, after an incredibly sudden and tragic event, the core cast gathers to try and pick up the pieces of their lives.

4. Master of None

I liked the first season of Ansari’s Netflix show last year–using each episode to explore a topic within the framework of a romantic sitcom was clever and even hilarious (https://youtu.be/QNBLMkCCTH0?t=6m55s). The second season steps up in a major way, taking this idea to the loftier heights of a great Italian romance. Ansari continues to play with form here, using the platform to explore a love of classic Italian cinema (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hmu3Mhrta08) in a way that feels perfectly in line with his character, and beyond that has some brilliant setups for the individual episodes: I’d watch a feature film that crosscuts between Dev’s Tinder dates like episode 4 in a heartbeat. Even more than that, the season gradually evolves into a larger romance story that is both gorgeous and poignant. The step from the first to second season was staggering, and it’s hard to imagine how the third could top it.

Best Episode: 10 - Buona Notte

The season finale deals not only with the resolution of Dev’s difficult romance, but also the sickening revelation of a co-worker and friend’s sexual predation, and both are dealt with excellently.

3. Twin Peaks

What year is it?  After a 25 year break and some contractual hurdles, the legendarily weird show returned, and let me tell you–it was weirder than ever. The essentially 18-hour movie spends 16 of those hours teasing audiences with hints of the original series while also diving into and expanding the overarching mythology of the show in ways the original never could. I don’t think a show has ever been as simultaneously exciting, frustrating, and terrifying, or has compelled me more to start taking notes while watching. It might be difficult at times, and it requires a hell of a lot of background if you haven’t already seen the first two seasons and the movie, but holy shit that last episode. The ending of the season (series?) will stick with me until my last days.

Best Episode: 18 - What is Your Name?

As the complicated resolution of the Good Coop vs Bad Coop conflict comes to a close, Lynch and Frost literally revise the central premise of the show, and the consequences are shocking and haunting.

2. Mr. Robot

Granted, I just finished this season before making this list, but damn was it good. While the second season was confusing and largely middling, the third refocuses on a central conflict between Elliot and Mr. Robot as they both find themselves in over their heads with the Dark Army’s terroristic plans. This season boils down the complex economic ideas of the show and gives each of the central characters important and interesting things to do. On top of that, it continues to be shockingly ambitious, especially for a USA show–it was hard enough to believe that the first season goes through with it’s world reshaping climax, and this season goes so, so much farther.

Best Episode: 5 - eps3.4_runtime-err0r.r00 

This incredible 44-minute one shot episode (yeah, I know it’s really 31 shots stitched together) takes us from another day at the office to panicked attempt to stop an attack to a full scale riot in one seamless motion, and it’s hard to describe how insanely intense it is.

1. Legion

If you told me an X-Men show would top my list a year ago…but under the guidance of Noah Hawley (whose third season of Fargo narrowly missed being on the list as well) there wasn’t anything else that even came close. The first season of Legion is one of the most inventive and beautiful shows I’ve ever seen. Although you’d never know this had anything to do with Marvel’s mutants, the show centers around David (Dan Stevens) whose mind-bending powers make him a target from shadowy military organizations and the underground mutant resistance. From the show’s outstandingly stylish production design that lends it a ‘70s feel to the incredibly innovative sound design, Legion successfully jumps around from great idea to great idea in a way that feels like how David’s mind must work. Each episode was incredibly thrilling to see where it would go next, and it somehow managed to get me invested into the entire cast of strange characters in the meantime. I cannot wait to watch this season over and over again!

Best Episode: 7 - Chapter 7

This episode unbelievably moves from silent movie to Italian Giallo and is both graceful and horrifying while doing so!

Runners Up:
Fargo, Rick and Morty, American Vandal
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