We are truly living in a golden age of television, where it has eclipsed film as the preferred storytelling format for some of the world’s best auteurs, actors, and writers. With cord-cutting at an all-time high, 2017 was packed with original content from Netflix, Amazon Prime, and HBO, as well as some exceptionally terrific comedies and dramas from more traditional outlets like NBC.
In this thorough round-up, Savoir Flair looks back at the best shows of 2017, the ones that defined some of the bigger overarching social themes of the year– like female empowerment – to those that take a glimpse at an alternative future should humanity really go off the rails.
Big Little Lies
Based on Liane Moriarty’s 2014 novel by the same name, Big Little Lies was one of the most critically acclaimed shows of 2017, which happened to boast a seriously talent-stacked cast like Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, and Alexander Skarsgard. Predictably, it swept the Emmys, picking up 16 nominations in total and 8 wins.
Why was it so gripping? First, the linear timeline is interspersed with police interviews, as witnesses testify about the details of a murder in a wealthy suburban coastal community in California, which adds a compelling layer.
Although the murderer and the victim remain unknown for the majority of the show, there is plenty of intriguing drama built in to keep your finger pointing at suspects. Featuring an uncharacteristically well-kept reveal – where they keep you second-guessing until the shocking end – this show is one you’ll think about long after the credits roll.
Back in the 1980s, there was, improbably enough, an all-female reality/wrestling show called the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, or G.L.O.W.. It was ahead of its time in concept, if not necessarily in execution, as the staged performances were always over-the-top and just a little cheesy. However, G.L.O.W. gained a cult following, and many of its female wrestlers, like Godiva, went on to fame.
In 2017, G.L.O.W. became one of Netflix’s most popular series, which stars Alison Brie as the fictionalized character Ruth Wilder who is an amalgamation of several real-life G.L.O.W. wrestlers. This feisty, hilarious, and heartfelt show is laced with feminist messaging that will definitely make you want to get your flex on.
When comedian and writer Issa Rae’s incredible show Insecure debuted in 2016, it was a breath of fresh air, offering a unique perspective on black culture and the struggles of dating in modern, urban Los Angeles.
Featuring an all-black cast, Insecure deals in an honest way with female friendship and the difficulties of romantic relationships. 2017 saw the debut of the second season, which amped up the drama, and we were there for every second of it. As huge fans of the show, we live for Issa’s solo scenes in front of her bathroom mirror where she tries to psych herself up for events or dates, plus, the show happens to boast a killer soundtrack.
Stranger Things: Season 2
The follow-up season to the breakout Netlix Original sci-fi/horror show Stranger Things ups the ante when it comes to 1980s film homages, but doesn’t lose the plot when it comes to the kids confronting a dark evil invading their town. Stranger Things 2 happens a year after a young boy named Will is lost in the woods, only to be stuck in another dimension known as “the upside-down”, which is controlled by some pretty scary alien-like creatures. If you liked the original, the second season is a tremendously well-done sophomore effort.
This deeply unsettling Netflix Original series returned for its third season in 2017 and brought with it new dystopian horrors. Each stand-alone episode depicts some form of technological advancement that deeply impacts human existence. In one episode, for example, humans literally and publicly rate each and every interaction – meaning all of your social behavior accumulates in a score that, if low enough, would turn you into a living social pariah. One mistake and your whole existence could change. Terrifying, right?
Black Mirror is a dark, twisted version of what could happen if certain privileges and social advancement go awry or are taken for granted. Sometimes, it mirrors real life so precisely that it can send one into a tailspin of paranoia, as in the case of one episode called “Hated in the Nation” about killer mechanical bees and this real-life scientific news story.
The Good Place
The Good Place is so good that we’d venture to say it’s one of the year’s smartest comedies. Instead of heaven and hell, The Good Place deals with a good place and a bad place. Where you end up is a result of an algorithm, calculated over your lifetime, that calculates good behavior with positive numbers and bad behavior with negative numbers. When you die, whatever your total is determines whether you go to the good place or the bad place — and unfortunately for Eleanor Shellstrop, she is a very bad person who has accidentally ended up in the good place. Obvious hilarity ensues as Shellstrop tries to keep up with her angelic neighbors, but the show also brings to light deep philosophical and theological concepts about the nature of good and evil.
This Is Us
Grab a box of tissues, because you’re about to see some of television’s finest and most emotional storytelling. This Is Us slyly reveals chapters of the Pearson family’s story, told over multiple generations and from multiple perspectives. The present and the past are intertwined, revealing the family’s history in layers.
First, we are introduced to Jack and Rebecca Pearson in the 1970s, as they prepare to have triplets. Complications during birth result in the Pearsons having to make a tough, but ultimately rewarding choice. We then see their children grown up, and bear witness to the cause and effect of the decisions made in the past. There’s a reason why this show keeps sweeping awards ceremonies, and why it’s actors, like Sterling K. Brown, have won significant awards as a result of their performances.
13 Reasons Why
13 Reasons Why, a controversial Netflix Original series produced by Selena Gomez, tangles with the taboo topic of teen suicide. This compelling show unfolds as a teenage girl distributes 13 cassette tapes to people involved in her life detailing why she committed suicide, but the full reveal can only come once all of the clues from the tapes are assembled. It’s a whodunit wrapped up in a morality tale about bullying and sexual harassment with a shocking conclusion.
In real life, Pamela Adlon is an actor, voice actor, and mother to three daughters, but playing herself on show that she writes and produces also helps pad her impressive body of work. Better Things is one of the most incredible, emotionally mature, and empathetic depictions of motherhood that television has ever been graced with. After every profound, moving, wisdom-packed episode, we come away thinking, “We don’t deserve Pamela Adlon.”
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Out of what was Amazon Prime’s highest rated pilot ever, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel appeared as one of the breakout shows of 2017. Capturing both domestic life in 1950s New York and the struggle to balance family and personal passions, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel offers a lot to love. From its charismatic and instantly likable titular character to her brave embrace of the life of a female comedian in an era where there was no such thing, the show offers female empowerment galore. As much as we wish Mrs. Maisel had existed in real life, this heroic fantasy recalls the early days of the trailblazing careers of comedians like Carol Burnett and Joan Rivers.
The Crown is such a masterpiece of period storytelling that even the current Queen of England loves to watch it. Because it’s about her, and her incredible rise to power, Queen Elizabeth the II takes a keen interest in the show, whose second season aired in 2017 on Netflix. The story is thorough, tracing her life from her wedding day to the present, with characters both current and past presented on-screen (season three is rumored to include a Meghan Markle character, for example). If you love period dramas and extravagant costumes and sets, this show is for you.
The Handmaid's Tale
This is far and away our top show of 2017. Based on the novel by Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale depicts a bleak and terrifying dystopian future in which fertile women are routinely enslaved and used as “handmaids” for barren, wealthy couples. As birth rates declined in America, and new dictatorial regime rose to power, relying on a version of religion that restricted and oppressed women.
Our heroine is Offred, one of the handmaids, and the tale is told from her perspective, complete with internal monologue that allows us to know what she is thinking and feeling even when her character dare not reveal a single emotion for fear of retribution from her “family.” This breathtaking show is an emotional punch to the gut, to be certain, but it is also a wake-up call and a warning in the wake of 2017’s rise of political extremism.