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Friday
Dec292017

TV Riches. Here are just a few highlights...

Year in review lists/recaps each day. TV is too vast a topic for one list but here's a list of personal favorites from Spencer Coile 

2017 was a messy year. While we may be entrenched in cultural, political, and social turmoil, one area that keeps getting better is television. From the return of David Lynch's Twin Peaks and NBC's Will & Grace (proving that some revivals do work), to the rise of Hulu series, through  the continuation of prestige dramas from HBO, the golden age of TV continues. Because there's such a vast array of shows out there we all have our blindspots so please know that this is but a personal list and you should definitely share yours.  To make room for all of the excellent work put out this year, here are favorite individual and duo performances but let's kick things off with a tribute to the ladies via Ensembles... 

Ensemble Work

The Ladies of Big Little Lies

It'd be impossible (and insane) not to include one of the most iconic pieces of media from this last year. Let's hope that the upcoming second season of Big Little Lies is equally as compelling as the first with the irresistible cast of Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern, and Zoe Kravitz returning. 

The Ladies of GLOW 

GLOW initially seemed likely to get lost in the shuffle of so-much-programming but its fanbase is growing. It tells the story of a group of women who come together to film the first all-female wrestling TV show the "Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling".  Not only is the show a fantastic piece of 80's nostalgia, but its' also a brilliant showcase for its ensemble, especially focal points Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin. Thank heavens this fine cast was recognized at SAG. 

The Ladies of The Handmaids Tale 

You could easily single out one or two performances from The Handmaid's Tale's first season as the best of the year, but which one or two? Elisabeth Moss, Ann Dowd, Samira Wiley, Yvonne Strahovski, Alexis Bledel, etc. That confusion alone is more than reason enough to honor the ensemble as a whole. 

Duo Work

Matthew Rhys & Keri Russell as “Phillip & Elizabeth Jennings” on The Americans

In The American's penultimate season, Elizabeth and Phillip grapple with parenthood and their allegiance to the KGB -- with superb and subtle results. This is a series that never seems focused on the big picture, but rather, the tiny details that will inevitably bubble up to disturb the surface. Fortunately, Rhys and Russell sell each of these smaller moments which will hopefully cascade into a stunning final chapter of a wildly underseen show.

Billy Eichner & Julie Klausner as “Billy & Julie” on Difficult People 

May these two despicable characters rest in peace. Although Difficult People was recently cancelled, let's never forget  the delicious chemistry Eichner and Klausner had on-screen. It was biting, vicious, and sometimes mean-spirited, but always hilarious. 

Individual Work

Pamela Adlon as “Sam Fox” on Better Things 

A performance that somehow manages to get richer each episode, Adlon's semi-autobiographical series depicts motherhood as complicated and messy, but always meaningful. And Adlon is truly a pro, imbuing Sam with enough grit and heart to make any of us envious that she is not our mother. 

Aziz Ansari as “Dev Shah” on Master of None

After years of playing the broad comedic sidekick on Parks and Recreation, who would've predicted that Ansari would be putting out such layered astonishing work in 2017? Dev Shah was always a funny and awkwardly earnest creation but the second season deepened Ansari's work by focusing onDev's endless fixation on love -- what is he looking for and why? Those questions are not completely answered, but it's encouraging to know that Ansari is willing to be this vulnerable and deeply personal. 

Rachel Brosnahan as “Miriam ‘Midge’ Maisel” on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

So much can be said for the way Brosnahan plays with the dialogue from Amy Sherman-Palladino's latest series. Playing a housewife turned comedienne, Brosnahan is so assured as Midge Maisel that she makes it look so effortless. She is quick-witted, laugh-out-loud funny, and carries herself with enough grace and dignity to make any of us jealous that we cannot be her. Though she is not a newcomer, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel feels like Brosnahan's arrival into the club of TV's finest working actors.  

Carrie Coon as “Nora Durst” on The Leftovers

Honestly, just watch the series finale of The Leftovers (called "The Book of Nora") and try to disagree. 

Issa Rae as “Issa Dee” on Insecure 

The second season of Insecure topped its first season, and this is due in large part to Rae's charismatic performance. Her portrayal of Issa explores different facets of her racial and sexual identity in the modern-age of Internet dating. It is a tricky role to play, so how she manages to fill this character with empathy and humor is a marvel to watch. 

Who's on your list?

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Reader Comments (18)

#3 series of 2017: "Mindhunter" Gotta love David Fincher returning to serial killers. Episode 2 (directed by Fincher) was skin-crawlingly amazing.

#2: "Big Little Lies" Everything (including scripting, multiple great female characters and non-cliche male supporting roles) that "Top Of The Lake: China Girl" wasn't.

#1: "Twin Peaks: The Return" an 18-hour David Lynch movie? Yes, please.

December 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTravis C

Much as I hate Susan Sarandon now, her work with Jessica Lange on Feud is too good to be ignored.
Game of Thrones and its outstanding cast enough said.
Vanessa Kirby's tragic Margaret on The Crown deserves all the award for next season.

December 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

GLOW was my everything. I am a huge pro wrestling nerd and sometimes struggle explaining that to people, so the episode in which reluctant soap-star-turned-wrestler Betty goes to see the show where the wrestlers are an evil tycoon and a benevolent rancher and suddenly says, "Wait a minute. This is soap opera. I know how to do this"? I damn near hugged my television.

December 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJakey

Trio: Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, Anna Torv in MINDHUNTER

December 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBVR

jakey -- as someone who was not at all a fan of wrestling but who lived through the 80s... that moment hit me like a brick. love that show so much for that moment and so many like it. great show.

December 29, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Great list and agree with most of them. In this era of peak TV, there's just so much good. Like the unfair cancellations of SENSE8 and UNDERGROUND with the latter's Harriet Tubman episode a must watch for everyone. Ava's show QUEEN SUGAR has also been humming along just great. And a great TV list isn't complete without the CW's double amazingness of CRAZY EX GIRLFRIEND and JANE THE VIRGIN. Finally, finally... I just realize that ALL of THE GOOD PLACE aired in 2017. That show is just brilliant perfection.

December 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

Fun write-up, Spencer! Reminds me of all the TV I have to catch up with.

Some other TV highlights for me:
- BIG MOUTH's Hormone Monstress
- KIMMY SCHMIDT's Lemonade tribute
- Nicole's TOP OF THE LAKE: CHINA GIRL wig
- THE LEFTOVER's dive
- Good Janet and Bad Janet from THE GOOD PLACE
- DRAG RACE's rose reveal

December 30, 2017 | Registered CommenterIlich Mejia

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December 30, 2017 | Unregistered Commenteraosindia

Yes RuPauls Drag Race!!! Please make the show 2 hours or 90 minutes! The fans deserve it!

December 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

This year was indeed a good season for Drag Race (after several subpar ones). I saw the much-talked about rose reveal coming from a mile away, though it was thrilling to watch all the same.

Thank God America has embraced GLOW, which started off a little rocky but quickly picked up steam (and heart). Betty Gilpin is MVP, although cases can be made for Britney Young (Carmen!) and Marc Maron, who surprised me a little bit. (Alison Brie also deserves credit for pulling off a character who seems to make no sense whatsoever.)

P.S. Please no B.L.L. season 2. The first one wrapped up so perfectly.

December 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

Halt and Catch Fire had a terrific final season. It's a shame it never caught on, as it had two of the best written female characters I've ever seen. I hope people catch up with it on Netflix (they can skip the anemic first season). If you loved Joan and Peggy on Mad Men, you will love Cameron and Donna on this show.

Michael McKean gave my favorite performance of the year on Better Call Saul, the first legal show I can recall that doesn't glamorize the legal profession.

Crazy Ex Girlfriend was so moving in its depiction of mental illness, and Donna Lynne Champlin is probably my favorite supporting actress on television.

The Good Place, GLOW, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Mindhunter, Twin Peaks, and The Americans were all among my favorites as well. There is so much great television now!

December 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

This is a great list that captures most of the highlights for me.

Feud was another highlight--I loved the entire thing and if it weren't for Big Little Lies sucking up all the oxygen (rightfully so) this would have been sweeping the awards.

Would love to also single out Mindhunter for being so intriguing, though I don't know if it will sustain another season or if, like Masters of Sex, it will lose its appeal overtime.

The Sinner starring Jessica Biel was a real surprise. I wanted something specific: A short crime TV series I could binge-watch one snowy day. The choice was between this and season 3 of Broadchurch. As much as I loved loved loved season one of Broadchurch, and in many ways was trying to recapture the experience I had watching that, I hated season two and decided not to risk it with season 3. So instead I chose The Sinner and boy was I glad. I gave me exactly what I needed, and Episode 7--the one where everything is finally revealed--rivals only the finale of Big Little Lies as most satisfying TV episode of the year.

Planet Earth II was beautiful, I Love Dick wasn't perfect but I admired what it was doing, The Deuce gave me a lot to think about and I loved the period detail, Better Call Saul gave us "Chicanery" which blew me away, and Catastrophe remains hilarious. The return of Curb Your Enthusiasm was also welcome, and the scene with Larry David and the tongs at the hotel is a classic. The "Accidental Text on Purpose" episode is brilliant.

Disappointments:

Season 3 of Fargo. I stopped watching halfway through because I simply didn't care about the characters. The bar was set too high with season 2, unfortunately.

The Crown. Still can't get through this one. I've tried to watch the first episode of season 1 on three separate occasions and each time it feels like homework. Vastly overrated, especially when we already got Downton Abbey.

Stranger Things: Unnecessary continuation of an extremely popular show. First season was great, this one feels like they're running out of ideas, and the novelty of the Upside Down is gone, so what's the point?

Veep: I love this show so much and it's the only one that makes me laugh consistently, but I felt this last season was the least accomplished to date.

December 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoseph

Joseph: Stranger Things Season 3 better wrap up the Hawkins, Indiana stuff, because it would be better off as another show working in the "Fargo/True Detective/American Horror Story" kind of vein.

December 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Ensemble work:

DARK MATTER:
It's rare that I like every member in an ensemble. Imagine a show that had your favourite supporting actors and bit part players finally being given good lead parts. They are so used to creating a character with just a few lines and a few tiny scenes. Given time and space, the richness, the fun of it all!

TRAVELERS;
I don't know why I find this show so addictive. I find it dry. And chilly. Like reading a scholarly article rather than a magazine.
It's like being an observer. The actors don't seem to care about being ingratiating or performing for you. The actors seem to be on the same wavelength, with each one having something cold and distant in their character. I guess that makes sense, as they are supposed to be time travellers from a distant unpleasant future.

December 30, 2017 | Unregistered Commenteradri

Individual work: Michaela Cole - her bonkers performance on Chewing Gum is so committed to its weirdness without ever getting too grating. So glad to hear the show is coming back.

Titus Burgess - basically the only reason to watch Kimmy Schmidt at this point. Where is his Emmy already?

Tig Notaro - okay, this isn't a great performance by any means, but I love that she's just...there, being herself. It takes so little effort for her to be watchable and charming in her own way.

Selenis Levya - as much as I love Danielle Brooks, season 6 of OITNB was all about Levya and her heartbreaking work as she tries to hold it together surrounded by chaos.

December 31, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

Duo:
Susan Wokoma and Cara Theobold in Crazyheads (but maybe it was 2016?).
Sarah Polley (screenwriter) and Sarah Gadon (actress) in Alias Grace
Claire Foy and Vanessa Kirby in The Crown S2

Ensemble:
Cast of W1A S3. Might be the only American who watches this show, but I love it!
Cast of Big Little Lies. None should be singled out as the best, because they are all fantastic.

Single:
Helen McCrory in Peaky Blinders for four freaking seasons, people. Plus: Carrie Coons, Pamela Adlon, Rachel Bloom, Rachel Brosnahan, Maisie Williams

January 2, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPam

Jessica Lange's thrilling high-wire act in Feud. Incredible mind-bending work.

January 2, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

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April 9, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBritishexpress

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