The 25 Best TV Shows of 2017

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From the latest goings-on of Westeros to the start of the World Wide Web, these are our favorite stories of the small screen this year.

Much of this year’s television provided comfort food as the familiar often trumped fresh offerings for us on the small screen. But in addition to all the returning treasures, we also embraced some new series from the likes of David Fincher and David E. Kelley and adapted from the works of Neil Gaiman and Marvel Comics. Below is a mix of comedy, drama, documentary, mockumentary, animation, historical fiction, and fantasy that demonstrates just a small helping of the variety of great programs available to viewers in 2017. Six of us selected the very best, and there’s a lot more that didn’t make the featured cut, as evidenced by our diverse individual personal top tens found on the next page.

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25. Bob’s Burgers (Fox)

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Prime-time animation has come a long way since The Flintstones first premiered in an evening slot back in 1960, but while shows like Bojack Horseman, South Park, and Family Guy earn acclaim for their dark comedy there’s a far “nicer” show that’s every bit as brilliant. Bob’s Burgers is an endlessly sweet ode to family fun, and while it’s not above fart jokes (Gene!) it couches its frequently hilarious storylines and dialogue around the loving relationship between Bob, Linda, and their three kids. Side characters add to the fun, including one voiced by the sublime Kevin Kline, and along with sharp wit and the occasional musical number, each episode becomes a joyful slice of entertainment that reminds viewers on a weekly basis to value those around us. Even if you’re not down with the sweetness, though, it remains a ridiculously funny show. – Rob Hunter

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24. Nathan For You (Comedy Central)

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In its four years on Comedy Central, Nathan for You has perfected the art of delicious discomfort, with star Nathan Fielder helping real failing businesses with “solutions” that start out bizarre and snowball from there. The first six episodes of the new season delivered in spades, with the squirmiest moments including the formation of an anti-Uber sleeper cell, a tear-jerkingly awkward attempt to get invited to a wedding, and a secretly legally binding marriage disguised as a Chinese restaurant order. But with the 2-hour-long finale, in which Nathan helps a recurring “character” reunite with a lost love, the show transcends brilliance into something truly special. One of the persistent questions surrounding Nathan for You has always been “just how real is it?” And while the feature-length “Finding Frances” doesn’t answer that question, it engages with it in unexpected ways and comes off as more real and intimate than any previous episode. Even questions of reality notwithstanding, it’s a compelling story and a remarkable look at humanity told in a style only Nathan Fielder could deliver. Nathan for You began as a great premise and has grown into a treasure. I don’t know if it’ll keep being able to top itself, but I sincerely hope it tries. – Liz Baessler

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23. Broad City (Comedy Central)

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Broad City slammed onto the scene in 2014 with its profoundly funny yet real look at being a woman, being in your twenties, and being in New York City. It was heralded by my mom (I’d say correctly) as the nicer version of Girls, whose characters were “a bit much.” Back for its fourth season this year, Broad City could have run the risk of becoming stale. But the show proved itself more than capable of creative growth, using its clout as an established and powerful force to deliver experimental gems like the semi-animated “Mushrooms” and much-needed social commentary like the wonderfully cathartic “Witches.” And as the show’s production grows and evolves, so too do its protagonists. Abbi and Ilana are beginning to embody that most frightening and defining aspect of being in your twenties: growing up. Ilana, in particular, is feeling the strain, landing a well-paying job she’s actually good at, but running into her ex at a moment that proves she hasn’t matured the way he has. At four years and running, Broad City is aging smoothly into its position as a cultural touchstone and a genuinely heartfelt look at young adulthood and friendship. – Liz Baessler

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22. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW)

Crazy Ex Girlfriend

One might think there’d be little to say about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend at this point. It’s not several seasons into being lauded with awards and praise. But if you stop and consider its third season as a stand-alone thing, you get what all the hype is about. Sure, the musical interludes make it feel like it’d be more at home on Broadway than The CW, but underneath the funny first layer, the Rachel Bloom-led show continues to be one of the most thoughtful, well-made, and enthusiastically entertaining shows on the air. This year, it even went gently into some dark corners of Rebecca Bunch’s mind. Few shows can exist on both ends of the spectrum. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is one of those shows. – Neil Miller

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21. Insecure (HBO)

Insecure

This year, Issa Rae’s brilliant HBO comedy about life, love, and getting by in Inglewood really went to another level. TIME’s Daniel D’Addario probably put it best, to be honest, saying “their dramas and their laughs of consolation take place against the backdrop of Inglewood, a city within Los Angeles whose pulsing life and character exists under threat of gentrification. Insecure is at once pause-and-rewind-it hilarious and a show with a great deal on its mind. I can’t wait to see where it goes next.” From Rae’s magnetism in the foreground to a wonderful supporting cast behind her, Insecure continues to be one of the most compelling comedies on TV. – Neil Miller

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20. Orphan Black (BBC America)

Orphan Black Finale Review Season Episode

Saying goodbye to the many Tatiana Maslanys of Orphan Black this year was difficult for fans of the show. Throughout its five seasons, The Clone Club has been a compelling female-driven dive into a world of sci-fi cloning, government surveillance, and conspiracy theory heaven. It’s also been a source of joy, even when said joy is watching Helena go to work on unsuspecting bad guys. While Orphan Black was always willing to go down a dark rabbit hole, one of the most interesting things about it has been its propensity for ending on a heartwarming note. Season 5 didn’t disappoint in this regard and for the die-hards, it even fuelled a bit of that “we should do a movie now” fire. Here’s to hoping that we haven’t seen the end of the Leda lineage, but also to the notion that what we got in these 5 seasons was brilliant. – Neil Miller

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19. Alias Grace (Netflix)

Alias Grace

Netflix’s Alias Grace got stuck in the shadow of its more popular relative this year, but despite the comparative lack of buzz, this period miniseries is as good if not (I daresay) better than The Handmaid’s Tale. Like the earlier Margaret Atwood adaptation, Alias Grace is unabashedly literary, psychologically taxing (though admittedly much easier to watch than Handmaid), discreetly subversive, and deeply untrusting of the intentions of men. Although both contain these and other familiar Atwoodian elements, Alias Grace still manages to grow into a fully realized, satisfying story all its own. During an extended psychological evaluation, Grace (Sarah Gadon) presents her history with an emphatic sleight of hand, retelling the tale of her journey from girlhood in Ireland to a servant’s life in Canada to her current state of imprisonment with all of the embellishments and misdirections of a seasoned magician. The series’ first scene, during which she admits she’s been called a “celebrated murderess” among other things, sets her up as a potentially unreliable narrator, but director Mary Harron and writer Sarah Polley leave enough ambiguity to keep us rooting for her as she spins her sorry tale. With the series’ grand ideas about womanhood, friendship, and identity, and with impressive supporting work by Zachary Levi, Edward Holcroft, and Rebecca Liddiard, Grace could have turned out to be Keyser Söze and it still would’ve been worth the watch. – Valerie Ettenhofer

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18. Preacher (AMC)

Jesse And Tulip Preacher

After a year of (albeit great) prologuing, the second season of  Preacher is the show’s long-awaited connection with its source material, the late-’90s comics of Steve Dillon and Garth Ennis. This season isn’t without problems: with three episodes more than the first, it drags at times, and it seriously under-utilizes Ruth Negga, one of its finest assets. But despite this, it was one of the strangest and most irreverent shows on television this year, delivering a Gallagher-style suicide stage act, a budding friendship in Hell with total sweetheart Adolf Hitler, and a very long sex scene featuring Jesus Christ. (And none of those even involves the scene that really made me blush.) If you want outrageous and bizarre, you don’t have to look any further than Preacher. But while you might come for the shock value, you find yourself staying for (believe it or not) the emotional depth. In a world where the veil between life and death is paper thin and awfully convoluted, it manages some very original moments of poignancy: a heartbroken angel’s inability to die, a damned man’s yearning to see his family again, a vampire’s decision to save his dying son with the curse of immortality. The best part of the season is its final eight minutes, a shocking scene of panicked desperation that takes the show’s earlier musings on love and immortality and rockets them to the breaking point. Any lag in the middle is well worth it for the excruciating payoff of those final moments. And thankfully, Preacher has finally been greenlit for a third season. The fallout from that finale ought to be worth the wait. – Liz Baessler

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17. Mindhunter (Netflix)

Fan Jonathangroff Mindhunter

A show focused on the early days of FBI profiling could easily have been a dry affair, as the focus is unavoidably on discussion, documentation, and education. Rather than be yet another show about catching killers, it’s literally about creating a new investigative tool built on the incarcerated backs of past murderers. To that end, it’s more intellectual than visceral, but any worry about that translating into “boring” went right out the window under the guiding hand and eyes of David Fincher. The Netflix show is a fascinating descent into motivations and behaviors well beyond the norm, and even long stretches of dialogue captivate in their intensity and topic. Interviews with killers become suspenseful and tense exchanges bookended by character drama, office politics, and education on the world of sociopaths. Each episode teases the growing story of an active killer, one whose work is likely to continue in Season 2, and knowing he’s a man not destined to be caught until decades later adds a frightening layer to a fascinating tale. – Rob Hunter

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16. The Keepers (Netflix)

Keepers Netflix

In Netflix’s underrated docuseries, a simple question — “who killed Sister Cathy?” a nun who was murdered in 1969 while teaching at a Catholic Baltimore high school — evolves into an emotionally shattering, endlessly kaleidoscopic uncovering of truths that had been (sometimes literally) buried for decades. When two former students from Sister Cathy’s school, Gemma and Abbie, take on the role of middle-aged gumshoes to investigate her unsolved murder, they learn about horrific allegations of widespread child sexual abuse and subsequent cover-ups. The subject matter could easily cross over into the lurid and sensational, but by keeping focus on the women involved, including a former student dealing with repressed memories of extreme trauma, the filmmakers are able to tell a story that’s more important than any single unsolved crime. The portrait of Sister Cathy that emerges is one of a young woman who, despite her disadvantages, refused to be a bystander in the face of injustice. Throughout its seven episodes, dozens of men and women take on that same call to action almost 50 years later, and the result is an utterly unique true crime series that’s devastating, timely, and ultimately inspiring. – Valerie Ettenhofer

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15. Master of None (Netflix)

Master Of None Season Couple

Following the brilliant and necessary debut of Master of None two years ago as a showcase for Aziz Ansari in a series of vignettes and overarching rom-com narrative that hilariously and insightfully challenged cultural stereotypes and social racism, where was Season 2 to go? Would it just be more of the same? No, it would have the freedom to pretty much just be a show about these characters we now know and love as they travel to Italy and have normal romantic issues and, yes, still occasionally deliver a perfect, honest standalone episode dealing with the difficulty of coming out to parents. The sophomore season was as different to the first as Curb Your Enthusiasm is to Seinfeld, not that it shares any of the cantankerousness because Ansari remains one of the most infectiously jubilant personalities on TV, even though his times of sadness and social or sexual frustration and deep contemplation in the back of a car service played out in real time. From its homage to Italian cinema to the guest performance by John Legend to the isolated episode involving a relay of character sketches tied together by a made-up Nicolas Cage movie, Master of None maintained its distinction as being one of the most beautiful and sharp and joyful and funny works produced for the small screen. – Christopher Campbell

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14. Halt and Catch Fire (AMC)

Halt And Catch Fire Scoot Mcnairy Anna Chlumsky

If Halt and Catch Fire was a straightforward morality tale, its point would be that it’s never too late to start over. The series, which began as a decent Don-Draper-in-the-’80s tech industry drama and ended as a humane examination of innovation, failure, time, and timing, is not quite that simple. Still, the pain and beauty of forced reinvention play a large part in the series’ fourth and final season, which fast-forwards years ahead to show its original players taking on the advent of the World Wide Web. In classic dream-seller Joe MacMillan style, the latter-season time jumps took a huge risk, one that paid off creatively in spades. While the ‘90s found mom and natural-born-leader Donna (Kerry Bishé) trying not to grow cold in the face of the Silicon Valley boy’s club, perpetually headbutting Gordon (Scoot McNairy), Joe (Lee Pace), and Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) were given space to mature, mellow, and grow into memorable characters even without the pressure-cooker setup of earlier seasons. The series quickly outgrew Mad Men comparisons, but forgive me for sharing one more. Very infrequently has the passage of time been portrayed as poignantly and personally on television as it was on Mad Men, but Halt and Catch Fire does it just as well. The show gave us a decade of its subjects’ brilliant, frustrating lives over its four short seasons, and if the ambiguous series finale is any indication, it could have given even more. With TV and tech alike, there’s always another idea worth sharing. – VE

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13. BoJack Horseman (Netflix)

BoJack Horseman
Animated shows for adults have long-since proven themselves capable of being both entertaining and affecting, but none have paired these two halves so continuously beautifully as this tale of a washed-up TV star making his way through life. Also, he’s a horse. The entire concept — a world where people and animal/people interact and act like people while still retaining animal characteristics — is a hurdle you either cross or you don’t, but if you consent to the ride you’re rewarded with a ridiculous array of emotions and reactions. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll be endlessly surprised by how attached and invested you’ve become in the lives of these horses, cats, and people alike. A word of warning, of sorts: there’s a real understanding of depression at work here, and while its main focus is comedy, when BoJack goes dark he does so with deep introspection and raw pain. Also, he’s a horse. – RH

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12. Big Little Lies (HBO)

Big Little Lies - Witherspoon, Kidman, Woodley

At first glance, everything about Big Little Lies, from its dramatically impressionistic opening sequence to its Monterey setting, seems poised to be irritating and soap-operatic. Yet over the course of seven hours, David E. Kelley and an A-list ensemble cast including Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon manage to transcend the elements of the show that initially appeared frivolous and create something vital and rare: a story with a beating heart. The initial set-up — a murder occurs at a school event, and scenes are framed by gossipy interrogation room tidbits — seems gimmicky, but it soon becomes secondary to what Kelley and co. are really doing. Talented actors, some at their career best, breathe life into the roles of parents who are scared, lost, and selfish, but still trying to do the best they can. Everyone, from yearning, posturing Madeline (Witherspoon) to emotionally closed-off Jane (Shailene Woodley), to crunchy stepmom Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz), is riveting in their own way, but none more-so than Celeste and Perry (Kidman and Alexander Skarsgard). This beautiful, explosive couple is the centerpiece in Kelley’s calculated domestic drama. Big Little Lies is their story more than anyone else’s, and in a year that celebrated women speaking out, it’s a story that needed to be told. – VE

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11. Search Party (TBS)

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Search Party came out of nowhere last year with a brief but remarkable tale of intrigue and introspection. Part comedy, part mystery, all pitch-perfect insight into Millennial culture, the show was hard to classify and harder to watch (for all the right reasons), and it had a powerful ending that was both decisive and tantalizing. This new season picks up at the moment of the finale’s end, and it’s wonderfully agonizing to see our heroes scramble with the mess they’ve found themselves in. By necessity, Season 2 is a different kind of show — the titular search is over, after all — but it’s the perfect continuation of the story and themes. Where before we were never sure if the conspiracy and danger were real, we now have an answer, and it’s terrifying in ways we didn’t expect. The first season was Dory’s (Alia Shawkat) search for meaning at the expense of her relationships and connection with reality. The second season is a reckoning of sorts, the crashing down of consequence on the blind elation of the first. It’s a slight change of tone, but it’s the right one, and it’s familiar enough (with hyperbolic yet wonderfully true and original characters) to be a faithful continuation and one of the best things on television right now. – LB

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10. Fargo (FX)

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The third season of Noah Hawley’s Coen Brothers-inspired farce continued to lean heavily on  referencing the filmmakers’ oeuvre (with particular homage to The Big LebowskiA Serious Man, and the eponymous Fargo) while also introducing additional nods to the work of Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (kind of like a tease of Hawley’s suitability for a planned adaptation of the author’s “Cat’s Cradle”). It seemed at first a lesser storyline for the series, maybe because it didn’t tie in as well to the other two seasons’ plots or characters — we didn’t quite know what to expect with the narrative of brothers (both played by Ewan McGregor) fighting over a stamp — but over time it built up another wise and whimsical and wild story with extraordinary performances all around (Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Michael Stuhlbarg aren’t getting nearly enough credit for being the season MVPs they are). Fargo Season 3 is not as consistent or cohesive in its storytelling, nor are its characters as memorable as any in Season 1 and Season 2, but the series continued to be full of surprises and fulfill its standing as an unapologetically derivative yet still totally unique TV program. – CC

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9. GLOW (Netflix)

Glow - Alison Brie

In the same way the original Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling did, Netflix’s GLOW came out of nowhere as an unlikely underdog that took the stage by storm. The show fictionally tackles the formation of the real-life low-budget group of female wrestlers in mid-’80s LA. Beyond accurately depicting the style and feel of the decade — the hair, the colors, and the music — GLOW’s core strength stems from its cast. Jackie Tohn, Kate Nash, Gayle Rankin, Sydelle Noel, and Britney Young deliver fleshed-out and endearing supporting characters, while Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin, and Marc Maron’s outstanding performances anchor the story. But GLOW’s greatest achievement is its refreshing and empowering take on womanhood, something we sorely needed this year. – Karen Gomez

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8. American Gods (STARZ)

American Gods Mr. Wednesday

A decade and a half after its publication, Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods” has finally gotten the TV adaptation it deserves. The series is magical, moving, and extremely violent, just like it should be. But while it’s faithful to the book, a few key elements have been updated, making it a much more socially aware critique and celebration of America than it would be if it had come out even a couple years ago. American Gods embodies the TV spirit of 2017, in a very good way. And it’s put together with such care and precision that just a little digging reveals a depth of intricate details and literacy that the best of the golden age of prestige television is capable of delivering. Sadly, showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green have announced their departure from the show, leaving the coming seasons’ future in question. No matter what happens, we will have been graced with a deeply intelligent and visually audacious eight episodes that stay true to Gaiman’s work while updating it in all the right ways. – LB

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7. Game of Thrones (HBO)

La Et Hc Game Of Thrones Loot Train Dragon

While the penultimate season of Thrones got off to a clunky start, there’s no denying that it eventually showed us some of the best stuff on TV before the season’s end. There are sequences — including the massive, flaming Loot Train Attack — that feel as if they were made for the silver screen rather than one’s iPad. It’s this unimaginable scope that helps Game of Thrones remain special. It’s also the longterm investments made by its audience. Investments that were paid off in season seven from the first scene, in which we finally got to see Arya Stark do some hardcore revenge. Thrones hasn’t been this good since season 4. At this point, if you’re not watching Game of Thrones there probably isn’t anything I can say to change your mind. But it’s worth noting that if you’re still Thrones-curious, you’ve got plenty of time to get caught up before the final season airs in 2019. – NM

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6. The Good Place (NBC)

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Most shows announce themselves by establishing early on what exactly they’re up to. For sitcoms, the story and tone are set alongside the stakes, and from there, viewers are either on board or not. Michael Schur’s (Parks and Recreation) latest creation delivered a smart first season filled with laughs, philosophy, and heart, and just when you thought its limits were reached it upended everything with its finale. Season 2 picks up that major shift, but instead of playing itself out in similar fashion, it turns each episode into a microcosm of genius that collapses and rebuilds itself on a regular basis. It’s a risky way to work, let alone to craft a TV show with hopeful staying power, but it continues to pay off with big laughs, terrific comic performances (Ted Danson is a particular standout), and thought-provoking turns. – RH

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5. Rick and Morty (Adult Swim)

Pickle Rick

Sometimes Rick and Morty is a show about the dangers of the universe. Sometimes it’s about the relationship between a mad scientist and his grandson. Sometimes it’s about the universal truth that it’s hard to keep a family together. Sometimes it’s a pickle. But only when it feels like it. In the show’s brilliant third season, Rick and Morty creative team Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland turned up the dial on Rick’s propensity for evil to 11 and with several incredibly nuanced and entertaining episodes in the middle of the season (“Pickle Rick” and “Vindicators 3: The Return of Worldender”) they went to some dark places. The whole thing was a Whirly Dirly-esque rollercoaster ride deconstructing its titular mad scientist. Is Rick really evil, or does he love his family? By the end, we think we know. Sort of. Unless we’re all clones. – NM

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4. Stranger Things (Netflix)

Steve And Dustin Stranger Things

Whenever a show strikes gold in its first season, the question is always whether it can uphold its success in its sophomore run, and Stranger Things was no exception. Since we are listing it once again as one of the best TV series of the year, we are happy to report that Season 2 definitely delivered. The Duffer Brothers found the right balance between familiarity and novelty: we got to see our beloved gang grow and evolve (particularly Will outside of the Upside Down), while the show expanded its own mythology. The family dynamic between Eleven and Hopper (Millie Bobby Brown and David Harbour) and the friendship between Steve and Dustin (Joe Keery and Gaten Matarazzo) are the best examples of how Stranger Things doesn’t run just on ’80s Spielbergian nostalgia and throwbacks, but also on heart and quality storytelling. – KG

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3. American Vandal (Netflix)

American Vandal Cars

The best parodies know their mark inside and out, so that they’re not just send-ups of the elements but are also, as a whole, almost indistinguishable from the real thing — save for a consistent level of exaggeration and maybe an injection of outright jokes and gags. They shouldn’t just be disposable spoofs. Parodies of documentaries and other nonfiction works are no different. You should want to follow their subjects as if they were the genuine article. In all entertainment, we still want compelling characters and engaging stories. American Vandal initially looked like a cheap lampoon of the staples of the current true-crime craze, including the Serial podcast and Netflix’s own Making a Murderer. Instead, its a series that mimics but doesn’t necessarily mock, so viewers become just as drawn into the mystery of “who did the dicks” — that is, who vandalized 27 high school faculty vehicles with spray-painted phalluses — as they would be a murder. The premise is ridiculously lowbrow, the execution smart and pristine, delivering not just a solid fictional whodunit but also the best high school drama of the year. It works particularly well because it keeps everything on a certain plane, such as having the investigating documentarians be fellow teens, and because Jimmy Tatro delivers possibly the greatest, most realistic portrayal of a goofball slacker type ever. – CC

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2. Twin Peaks: The Return (Showtime)

Dougie

Returning to the Black Lodge 25 years later could have gone horribly wrong. The Twin Peaks revival could have been 18 hours of disturbing nonsense, but David Lynch and Mark Frost delivered an exquisitely crafted season, that not only honored the show’s trademark weirdness — talking electrified brain trees, androgynous murderous spirits, and David Bowie as a giant kettle — but also kept its knack for delving into existential ruminations about the nature of evil, memory, and the death of the American small town. It was so puzzling and extraordinary that we are still wondering if Dale Cooper’s pan-dimensional odyssey wasn’t just a collective delusion. – Karen Gomez

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1. Legion (FX)

Legion B

Here’s to the most inventive, thoughtful, daring, well-acted vision of the X-Men universe yet. The one with the Bollywood-esque dance number and the creepy yellow-eyed demon. Few shows crisscrossed over as many genres as Noah Hawley’s Legion. At times it’s straight-up horror, while at others it exists in a fashionable 1960s pastiche bubble (even though we’re not entirely sure when it takes place). Every frame of the show is designed to be a little disorienting to reflect the mind of its protagonist David (played brilliantly by Dan Stevens). It’s this disorienting style that makes Legion such a layered affair — the kind of show you’d gleefully watch multiple times for better understanding and continued delight. Stevens is flanked by a very special supporting cast, including Rachel Keller, Bill Irwin, Jemaine Clement, and Jean Smart. But the greatest praise goes to Aubrey Plaza, who plays David’s imaginary friend Lenny. Plaza’s performance is a manic display of pure electricity. And as part of David’s distorted reality, she’s absolutely perfect. – NM

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On the next page, you’ll find our individual top tens.

 

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