"American Vandal" is a poignant and funny reflection on true-crime entertainment (specifically "Making a Murderer" and the podcast "Serial"), social media, and teen culture. The show is a fictional documentary about a high school student who is trying to uncover whether or not his classmate Dylan spray-painted a bunch of penises on a teachers' cars.
"Glow" — Netflix
"Glow," based on the 1980s show "Gorgeous Female Ladies of Wrestling," is a fictionalized story of the casting and making that show. "Glow" debuted on Netflix in June, and has been the biggest surprise of 2017. It's hilarious, heartfelt (but not in a cheesy way), and filled with complicated women from many backgrounds. It's like a ten-episode, female-centric sports movie that's also about friendship and forgiveness. Wresting is just a bonus. Alison Brie (who was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance), Betty Gilpin, and Marc Maron work so well because they fit perfectly into the world of 80s Los Angeles.
"Big Little Lies" — HBO
"Big Little Lies" didn't have a great start. The show was basically marketed as "True Detective," but with women, which didn't seem particularly appealing. And the first few episodes leave a bit to be desired. But the story quickly turns into a compelling look at strong friendships between women, as well as domestic abuse and its psychological effects. Other shows and films have covered domestic abuse, but never in the way "Big Little Lies" did, and the way Nicole Kidman's Emmy-winning performance did.
"The Handmaid's Tale" — Hulu
"The Handmaid's Tale," which won Hulu Emmys including best drama, is horrifying and strangely beautiful in the way it's adapted for the modern age from Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel. It's executed seamlessly, and stars some of the best in the business. The set combined with the use of color and light make the world look appealing, when the reality of Gilead is anything but. "The Handmaid's Tale" had a lot to live up to, but deviating from the book — and casting one of the best ensembles in years — made it one of the best new series of the year.
If you're into glossy, cheesy teen drama that doesn't require much brain power, and where the teens are played by adults well into their 20s, The CW's "Riverdale" is perfect for you. The characters are based on the Archie comics (Archie, Betty, Veronica, and many more) but they're in a modern setting, with lots of murder. Seriously. There is so much murder on this show, especially in its bloody second season.
"One Day at a Time" — Netflix
The remake of the 70s sitcom is about a divorced mom raising two kids with the help of her mother. The mother, Penelope, is an Army veteran, now a nurse. The show depicts her Cuban-American family as they adjust to their new life. It's positive, funny, smart, culturally relevant, and has great performances. The show isn't afraid to take on dramatic material, either. "One Day At a Time" is what every family sitcom aspires to be, but can never seem to pull off.
"Godless" — Netflix
In this Western from executive producer Steven Soderbergh, a man in hiding from an outlaw in the 1880s American West ends up in a mysterious New Mexico town of only women. It's a gritty, exciting, and well-acted Western with memorable performances from Michelle Dockery and Jeff Daniels. "Godless" was made to binge, and embraces every Western cliche in a good way.
"The Bold Type" — Freeform
Every woman will wish she had "The Bold Type" as an insecure teenager. The show centers on three young women in New York City who work at a magazine that is basically Cosmopolitan. The women have individual personalities that don't rely on their looks or boys. They support each other as they come into their own, both in their careers and in their personal lives. The best thing about "The Bold Type" is that unlike any other show aimed at teens, the story doesn't rely on fights between its leading women. Even their boss, who on any other show would be a monster, is a supportive mentor. This show, a surprising tear-jerker, should be boring because the conflict resolution is so friendly, and tied up in a perfect bow at the end of every episode, but its complex characters make it interesting.
"Mindhunter" — Netflix
"Mindhunter" is a slow-paced but thrilling psychological drama and crime procedural that completely reinvents what a procedural can be. It's the origin story of the FBI team that studied the psychology of serial killers, and includes real-life serial killers like Jerry Brudos, Ed Kemper, and Richard Speck. It has great performances, thoughtful writing, and it looks like a David Fincher film (Fincher is an executive producer and directed four episodes).
The heavenly NBC comedy starring Kristen Bell and Ted Danson is probably one of the most ambitious network shows ever. The comedy is set in the afterlife and premiered in 2016. It ended its 13-episode order in 2017 with a shocking twist, leaving fans wondering if it could top itself in season two. And it has so far. Season two has even more ambition, twists, and visual comedy that is unlike anything else on TV.
"Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" — The CW
In season three, "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" challenges itself, including its own title, and it's only halfway through. Within the first few episodes of the season, Rebecca Bunch (played by co-creator Rachel Bloom) attempts suicide. In the aftermath, she gets diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. While "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" certainly isn't the first TV show to cover mental illness, it is the first to approach it in such a deeply personal, vulnerable way. And while this all sounds very sad, the show and its original songs (usually one to three per episode) keep the show's quirky and hilarious roots present.
"Master of None" — Netflix
In season two of comedian Aziz Ansari’s critically acclaimed Netflix original, the writing got more natural, along with the performances. This show isn’t afraid to make a statement, but it’s also not trying hard to do so. The second season episode "Thanksgiving" won Lena Waithe a historic Emmy for writing: she was the first black woman to win the award. The episode tells the story of Waithe's character Denise's strained relationship with her mother after coming out as a lesbian. The love story that plays out in season two is one of the most captivating and heartbreaking on TV in years — possibly ever.
"The Crown" — Netflix
Season two of “The Crown" goes deeper into the lives of its secondary characters than season one, with a few episodes dedicated to Prince Philip (the Duke of Edinburgh and Queen Elizabeth II's husband). "The Crown's" secondary characters carry their own episodes well, and their captivating performances make a show that on paper sounds boring incredibly binge-able.
"The Leftovers" — HBO
In its extraordinary final season, "The Leftovers" proved it's one of the best TV dramas of the past few years, which is mostly attributed to performances from Justin Theroux and Carrie Coon. The series finale was a satisfying ending for the experimental show that vastly improved with every season. Theroux and Coon's performances made the show less about the mysterious sci-fi element, and more about the uncertainty of life itself.
"Halt and Catch Fire" ended its fourth and final season in 2017. When the show premiered on AMC in 2014, it was compared to the AMC greats: "Breaking Bad" had just ended, and "Mad Men" was still on the air. The show, which dramatized the computer boom in the 1980s and eventually moved forward to the early days of the internet, was initially dismissed as a knock-off prestige drama. But it eventually grew into its own to become a reputable one, and had an excellent final season with a series finale that rivaled the shows it was once unfavorably compared to.
"Catastrophe" — Amazon
In its first two seasons, "Catastrophe" took big risks, but never to the level that it did in season three. The heartbreaking third season combines fresh, laugh-out-loud comedy with an honest look at a strained marriage, and ends with a shocking revelation that could completely change the direction of the show. Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney work with the material and prove that comedy is not the only thing they're good at.
"Review" — Comedy Central
The Comedy Central show starring Andy Daly ended its run in a three-episode third (and final) season back in March. On the show, Daly's character Forrest MacNeil is a professional critic of life itself. From eating pancakes to divorce to committing murder, MacNeil will literally do whatever possible to get a realistic review for his audience. The humor, although sometimes uncomfortable, gets genuine laughs.
"Vice Principals" — HBO
With an ending always on the table, "Vice Principals" transformed from a dark comedy to an excellent slapstick character study. The series finale is hilarious and goes places you could never imagine (a tiger hunts humans, for one). It's also a glimpse at people not normally depicted on television: not-wealthy people in small towns. It's ridiculous and fun, but we're glad it ended when it did.
"Insecure" — HBO
Season two of "Insecure" went even deeper into the lives of millennial black women in LA than season one. Issa deals with her break-up with her live-in boyfriend Lawrence, and her struggle to jump back into single life is relatable. Meanwhile her best friend Molly finds out that she's getting paid less than a male coworker. Season two proves that "Insecure" will continue to confront important issues faced by black women and men every day, no matter how big or small. "Insecure" will also grow with its characters, who have changed significantly in just two seasons.