TV critics had a tough year — first, to keep up with all the TV shows currently available and two, trying to whittle down their “Top 10” lists to just ten. As it has been for the last couple of years, it was agonizing and difficult to try to determine which TV shows warranted a slot on my “Top 10” list this year. It is a struggle I have faced for many years as a TV critic, but it also something that yields interesting results. It makes me realize what shows I truly enjoy and why I spend my valuable time with them.
In an era of over 500 original, scripted TV dramas in 2017 — after combining traditional broadcast and cable television with those offered online through streaming services — no one can truly watch all the TV shows available. I made a determined effort to try, but even I could only manage watch about 275 TV shows during the past year. So, in an effort to provide full disclosure, I did not watch all the TV shows in 2017.
Of the 275 shows I did watch, I have done my best to weigh each on a fair scale to select which shows earned a spot in my “Top 10” list and the following reflects that criteria:
– fearless storytelling
– highly entertaining
– water-cooler factor
– clearly ascertainable “hero” and “heart”
– strong female characters
– empowered female characters
To briefly explain, “fearlessness” in storytelling means a willingness to tackle the topic or subject of their story head-on with no regrets.
“Highly entertaining” is pretty self-explanatory — the viewing audience must enjoy watching the show and are not just enduring it.
“Consistency” means that each episode must stand on its own. Lots of TV shows have one or two great episodes and then fall-off the creative-cliff the rest of the season. So maintaining the momentum of a strong, well-written season is crucial as well.
The “water-cooler” factor is also essential. People must be talking about the show. It must be part of the zeitgeist and inspiring passion in those who watch.
There had to be a clear “hero” and a reason to care about the characters — the “heart.” There are simply too many shows that forget we want to root for someone and we want to care about the characters.
This year, I added one final bit of criteria: the show had to not only have strong female roles, it had to empower those female characters. This should be a given in any TV show, but now more than ever, this criteria needs to be spelled out and recognized as crucial to any top TV show.
So that is my criteria. It actually sets a high bar and it made it a bit easier to see which TV shows truly earned a spot on my “Top 10” list for 2017 — and here are the TV shows that made it:
Tiffany’s Top 10 TV Shows of 2017
Game Of Thrones (HBO)
Big Little Lies (HBO)
The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
Black Sails (Starz)
Mary Kills People (Lifetime)
Colony (USA Network)
Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access)
The 100 (CW)
Fear The Walking Dead (AMC)
Because it helps to know what shows were contenders for the “Top 10,” here are the runners-up in 2017:
Orphan Black (BBC America)
Good Behavior (TNT)
12 Monkeys (Syfy)
The Good Fight (CBS All Access)
The Americans (FX)
Better Call Saul (AMC)
The Bold Type (Freeform)
Dark Matter (Syfy)
Wynonna Earp (Syfy)
The Magicians (Syfy)
Dirk’s Gently Holistic Detective Agency (BBC America)
13 Reasons Why (Netflix)
Teen Wolf (MTV)
Santa Clarita Diet (Netflix)
Bates Motel (A&E)
The Brave (NBC)
Into the Badlands (AMC)
The Shannara Chronicles (Spike)
Stranger Things (Netflix)
The Punisher (Netflix)
The Good Place (NBC)
The Orville (Fox)
Kevin Probably Saves The World (ABC)
Lethal Weapon (Fox)
The Good Doctor (ABC)
Animal Kingdom (TNT)
American Vandal (Netflix)
The Originals (CW)
Note: HBO’s Westworld did not air in 2017 and was not eligible for this year’s list.
In case you are interested in a bit more explanation, here are a few more reasons my “Top 10” warranted recognition for their achievements in 2017:
GAME OF THRONES (HBO)
In its seventh season, GAME OF THRONES not only let its female characters take power, it let them thrive. From Cersei (Lena Heady) to Sansa (Sophie Turner) to Arya (Maisie Williams) to Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) — women who had once been bartered and used only as bargaining chips — decided that they were no longer going to stand passively by and let men determine their fates, and it was glorious to behold. The power that they wielded and decisiveness of their actions was empowering for them and the female audience watching them. Each had a measure of power and self-determination in earlier seasons, but Season 7 clearly demonstrated how powerful and deadly each had become, and they relished it. They wore their confidence and power clearly for all to see, and the men around them acknowledged it, accepted it, and respected it. GAME OF THRONES is not just a survivor’s tale, it was a tale of women claiming their destinies — and it was damn fine entertainment throughout.
BIG LITTLE LIES (HBO)
Fearless and awesome to behold, BIG LITTLE LIES introduced its heroines at a point where they were nearly catatonic in their acceptance of their roles as wives and mothers. Yet each episode showed how each determinedly worked at taking back their power, claiming independence and self-respect. And best of all, they found that it brought them all closer together. They discovered a joy in female friendship and realized its importance and used the strength and confidence that it provided to take back their lives and to make their home and professional lives stronger and more fulfilled. The simmering rage and resentment that boiled over was cathartic and it revealed their true inner strength — and they rose as if each were a radiant phoenix from the ashes.
THE HANDMAID’S TALE (Hulu)
There was no show more terrifying this past year than THE HANDMAID’S TALE. At a time when women everywhere are being targeted, harassed and punished for just being a woman, Margaret Atwood’s story of women rounded up, brain-washed, enslaved, and used in any manner men chose for them, was like watching that fictional story unfolding in the real world around us. But the glory of THE HANDMAID’S TALE was seeing how even the smallest acts of defiance could have profound ripple-effects. It also cleverly revealed that women will always have power because we have something men want or need. THE HANDMAID’S TALE, men do not want to clean their own homes, cook their own meals, raise children, or tend to a thousand other things that they have no desire to learn or perform — and since they cannot bear children, it left men vulnerable — and, hopefully, will lead to their downfall in THE HANDMAID’S TALE. For now, we delight in seeing their inability to fully control women simply because they are too lazy or too egotistical to see how weak they are by discounting the value and worth of women, and we root for the day when they are richly punished for their hubris and folly.
BLACK SAILS (Starz)
Another fantastic surprise this year was how BLACK SAILS, the tale of the pirates fighting for their independence from the crown of England, revealed that the real power was wielded by the women of Nassau. Long John Silver, Captain Flint, and Jack Rackham were all ferocious in battle, but what gave their rage its real power were the women in their lives: Anne Bonny (Clara Paget), Max (Jessica Parker Kennedy), Eleanor Guthrie (Hannah New), Mrs. Barlow (Louise Barnes) and Madi (Zethu Dlomo). These men fought for these women and side-by-side with them and, in the end, acceded to their wishes on what it meant to truly win the war and not just battle for Nassau. Long John Silver and Captain Flint walked away from the war to spend their remaining days with their loved ones — and in the end Max ruled Nassau because she foresaw the only way to succeed and truly win was through commerce, not war. When one looks back this extraordinary series, we will remember how Anne Bonny used glass shards to win the bloodiest fight ever depicted on the show, how Max used her body and her brain to strategically claim power every chance she got, how Eleanor Guthrie ultimately sacrificed her life to save her sister Madi, how Mrs. Barlow tried to give her husband and Flint the love they both deserved, and how Madi inspired Long John Silver to give up his war for a life with her. BLACK SAILS reminded us that women are always the real power behind men, and that that they are are just as dangerous as men, when they have to be.
A revenge tale that turned into a phenomenal story of female friendship and empowerment, SWEET/VICIOUS dared to show a rape survivor turned vigilante and how she wreaked havoc in the lives of the rapists on her college campus and how she inspired herself and other rape victims to take back their power and speak out. SWEET/VICIOUS offered a humorous take on a very difficult topic. It is must-see TV for women of all ages, and men too. With collage campuses having become known as the “hunting ground” for sexual predators, it is vital that young women recognize how predators stalk, groom, ensnare women and brutalize them. Women need to feel like they can speak up and that someone is not only listening, but will stand with them to punish rapists and those who engage in sexual assault. SWEET/VICIOUS was, as its name accurately claimed, at times sweet and vicious. It an extraordinary show and deserves to be remembered for being brave, funny, heart-warming, and heart-breakingly real about what survivors go through to cope with the trauma of assault and the ripple effects on their lives and those around them. It is a show that makes you feel grateful that you discovered it. Honor and embrace all the Jules and Ophelias that you know in your own life. They are worth celebrating.
MARY KILLS PEOPLE (Lifetime)
The right to die has never been so lovingly depicted than in MARY KILLS PEOPLE. It is another one of those taboo subjects that is rarely given a chance to be seen as helping those who are forced to live imprisoned in their own body, whether terminally ill or in chronic pain. MARY KILLS PEOPLE offers a heroine who, along with her business partner, provide a unique service that puts them in a range of ethical and potentially criminal situations. The end result is a story of love, criminal hijinks, life lessons, and a series of outrageous coincidences that will make you believe in destiny. But no matter what the situation, Mary (Caroline Dhavernas) never hesitates — the right to die is a choice and she will answer the call for those in need of her services. I fervently hope that we all have a Mary in our lives, as one day we might need her — her strength, her ingenuity, her empathy, her compassion.
COLONY (USA Network)
Flying beneath the sci-fi fans’ radar is one of the smartest science fiction stories of alien occupation on television. COLONY offers a laser-focused view of one family trying to survive amidst an alien occupation. The fact that they also took up the reins of the resistance to fight back and reclaim their planet is an incredible story of bravery, tenacity and determination. What really stood out this year was the vital role women played: Katie (Sarah Wayne Callies), the mother, willing to do anything for her children and their future; Jennifer (Kathleen Rose Perkins), the agent who took her own life to protect the Bowman family; Maya (Jessica Parker Kennedy), the resistance fighter who sacrificed herself to give the resistance its first real shot at striking back at their occupiers; Morgan (Bethany Joy Lenz), another resistance fighter who fought to the bitter end to protect the Bowmans and her fellow humankind, and Madeline (Amanda Righetti), the aunt and mother who helps and rescues the children when she can, knowing that she faces death for it. Fighting other humans is hard enough, but taking on an alien race is another thing entirely. Yet the women of COLONY do not even hesitate when faced with such an extreme obstacle — they protect those they love or care for, no matter what the threat.
STAR TREK: DISCOVERY (CBS All Access)
One of the fiercest portrayals of heroism was by Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), who was deemed a traitor by her fellow officers in the Starfleet. Michael instinctively knew that she must fire first when the Klingons appeared, yet that action cost her freedom and her career. As STAR TREK: DISCOVERY later revealed, she was absolutely right. Unflinching in accepting her punishment and fate, Michael carved out a new path for her life and proved that no matter being branded as a traitor, she still could save lives and be a useful asset for Starfleet. The theme of intertwined second chances and predetermined fate resonates throughout the series. Michael despite the set back in her life and obstacles to overcome, is undeterred. Her resilience and self-empowerment remains a testament to the credo: never give up.
THE 100 (CW)
Having previously faced human foes, this past season of THE 100 offered an enemy that would never be defeated — praimfaya (radiation destroying the entire surface of the planet). With a ticking clock against them, it was a test to see who among Earth’s survivors and inhabitants could find a way to survive the approaching apocalypse. As seen time and time again, it was women who stood out and claimed the right to survive. In Season 4, the honors belonged to Clarke (Eliza Taylor), Raven (Lindsey Morgan), and Octavia (Marie Avgeropoulos). Clarke ensured that those she could save were placed in the bunker or aboard ALIE’s space rocket, while throwing the dice on her own survival relying on the Night Blood she had injected into herself. Raven faced her fears and emerged a death-defying survivor and got ALIE’s rocket ready for its first flight to save those who could not return to the bunker. Octavia abandoned her self-destructive tendencies and embraced her role as future leader of the designated survivors in the bunker. With the odds against them, they simply accepted the challenge and conquered it. It was never simple nor easy, yet they did whatever it took to save lives and survive — at great personal cost.
FEAR THE WALKING DEAD (AMC)
Bone-chillingly ruthless, FEAR THE WALKING DEAD took no prisoners in the game of survival this season. There was no “us” and “them.” It was only ever about the “us” and, in FEAR THE WALKING DEAD, that is only Madison (Kim Dickens) and her daughter Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and her son Nick (Frank Dillane). Willing to use anyone who had food, water, shelter or ammunition to spare, each did anything and everything to survive. They understood that it was not just the walking dead they had to fear, but other survivors to fight for the remaining resources available. Each day they do not ask: what would you do to survive? They just did it. Unconsciously, with a love that never-ends, Madison, Alicia and Nick seamlessly worked together to survive. It took a toll on their souls, but they willingly give up each piece for one more day to survive and to keep each other safe. What is ultimately haunting is the realization that each of us would do the same. They are the mirror to see ourselves, as the society we now live in could vanish in an instant through a global pandemic or other global catastrophe. They are the mom, the daughter and the son — and we could be anyone of them. But they have survived insurmountable obstacles and thrived in chaos. They are unusual heroes to feel empowered by, yet in those circumstances, we would unhesitatingly use their example as a survival guide. May we all be half as strong and brave — then we could conquer our fears too.
Each and every one of the shows that made it on my “Top 10” list earned its spot. I could rave about each for pages and still never be done. I recommend that if you are not watching these shows that you take the time and watch. The same goes for the “runner-up” shows; each just as worthy in its own way of praise and accolades.
There are hundreds of other worthy and delightful and fantastic TV shows on television right now. Just because they are not mentioned here doesn’t mean each of those is not worthy of your time. I happily watched 275 TV shows in 2017 and am looking forward to seeing where each of those go in 2018 — as well as embracing many more new shows debuting in the next 12 months.
This is a rich and rewarding time to be a TV viewer and critic. Embrace it all. Savor it all. And have a wonderful time. I do.
P.S. As a refresher and reference, here are my Top 10 TV Shows of 2016:
12 Monkeys (Syfy)
The Good Wife (CBS)
Bates Motel (A&E)
The Americans (FX)
Orphan Black (BBC America)
Stranger Things (Netflix)
Better Call Saul (AMC)
Downton Abbey (PBS)