In a year populated with more original scripted content than ever before — an estimated 500-plus individual series across broadcast, cable and digital platforms — focusing on the crème of the crop is quite the challenge. Creativity certainly rules, of course, but one standout series is nothing more than four stooges cracking each other – and the audience – up. I begin with why the concept of the reboot is not always a bad idea.
On that note, here are my top 10 series picks for 2017:
10. Will & Grace (NBC)
Considering the track record for revivals, there was no reason to really believe that the return of this Emmy award winning quartet – Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally – would resonate. Been there, done that…you know the drill. But, unlike the array of low-rated single-camera comedies over the years on NBC to which viewers did not seem to relate, the secret sauce in the return of Will & Grace is simple: it makes us laugh. We know these characters and reconnecting with them feels deliciously comfortable.
While the original version of Will & Grace set the stage for the acceptance of two gay male characters, this time that is no longer even a factor. Maybe that’s why this time around, these characters just seem more real.
9. Feud: Bette and Joan (FX)
The infamous rivalry between legendary actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, both grasping for another moment in the spotlight during the filming of 1962 horror classic Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, was the focus of season one of this third dramatic anthology from Ryan Murphy.
Rich in nostalgia and a reminder that aging, then and now, is not necessary synonymous with acceptance, Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange gave two tour de force performances, both dramatic and comical at times, and a sad reminder of how youth is and always has been the preferred demographic.
8. Stranger Things (Netflix)
Set in October, 1984, roughly one year after the events of season one, the central cast of preteens reminiscent of comedy horror films Gremlins and The Goonies are still haunted by the previous year’s trauma. Both nostalgic in its look, yet completely satisfying as a contemporary horror thriller, Stranger Things is the definition of the concept of binge watching. One episode into season two, and it was impossible not to binge on the remaining eight installments of this satisfying sophomore season.
7. Impractical Jokers (truTV)
Obviously, this is not what you would call a traditional best TV series recipient. It is not scripted. The production values are nothing extraordinary. And, to be honest, some of the set-ups are just plain idiotic. But in the world today where we can use a good laugh (or a few dozen in every episode in this case), these modern day Three Stooges + One—Brian “Q” Quinn, James “Murr” Murray, Joe Gatto and Sal Vulcano —on Impractical Jokers will have you forgetting about your troubles.
6. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon)
Miriam “Midge” Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) appears to have it all in her grand Riverside Drive apartment in New York City. Set in 1958, when women were homemakers and the setting was supposed to be shades of Barbara Billingsley as June Cleaver on Leave it to Beaver, Midge appears to be just that until her husband, a business executive by day and struggling comedian by night, up and leaves her. By accident, she discovers her hidden talent, stand-up comedy, which sends her on a path of self-discovery to the more seedy existence performing at cafes and comedy clubs in the hopes of landing an appearance on NBC’s Tonight Show.
From Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, and set at a time when young Jewish comedians like Joan Rivers, Totie Fields and Lenny Bruce were up and coming, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is the late-year entry in a year with an abundance of quality story telling.
5. Bates Motel (A+E)
Concluding its five-season run last April, young Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) achieved what he strived for: a life in eternity with his beloved – and wacky—mother Norma (Vera Farmiga). Most surprising in these final episodes, perhaps, was musical artist Rihanna as Marion Crane surviving her expected demise in that classic shower scene. It was Marion’s philandering beau Sam Loomis (Austin Nichols) who was the victim of Norman’s endless slashing. But most satisfying for any fan of Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece Psycho (or just plain fan of this underrated prequel) was learning the true extent of Norman’s severe mental disorder.
The next time you watch Psycho, count on a different experience thanks to Bates Motel.
4. The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
Centered around the women kept for reproductive purposes and known as “handmaids” by the ruling class in a post-American world of declining births, one of those women, Emmy-winner Elisabeth Moss as Offred, is determined to survive the horrifying world she lives in while attempting to find the daughter that was taken from her. Dark in tone, these handmaids forced into sex slavery is terrifying to imagine, difficult to fathom, and eerily mesmerizing all at the same time.
3. Big Little Lies (HBO)
Created and written by David E. Kelly and adapted from the novel by Liane Moriarty, Big Little Lies is like the Desperate Housewives of the beachfront town of Monterey, California. There, what might look perfect for a group of wives and mothers is offset by secrets and lies, jealousy and murder.
With eight Emmy Awards (including outstanding limited series and trophies for Nicole Kidman and Laura Dern in the lead actress and supporting actress in a imited series or made-for-TV movie categories), what was initially planned as a seven-episode event has now been renewed for a second season. Confirmed to return at press time are Kidman and Reese Witherspoon, with Kelly penning the new scripts.
2. This Is Us (NBC)
Midway through season two, there is no shortage of heartfelt schmaltz, past and present, in this tale of that blended family named Pearson. Chrissy Metz as Kate, who learns she is with child, loses her baby. Justin Harley as Kevin remains on a downward spiral, struggling with his addiction to pills. And Emmy-winner Sterling K. Brown as Randall, now a stay-at-home dad, focuses on foster child Deja. Then there is everyone’s favorite couple, Milo Ventimiglia as Jack and Mandy Moore as Rebecca, who we all know will be tragically torn apart in a mystery about Jack’s passing that will be revealed on the post-Super Bowl telecast on Feb. 4, 2018.
Let’s hope, though, that the writers have come up with something really good to satisfy our curiosity. After so much hype and so much teasing, we expect the tears to flow.
The Deuce (HBO)
Opening in 1971 at the rise of the porn culture in New York City’s Times Square, when streetwalkers walked the “Deuce” (slang for West 42nd Street in midtown), HBO’s The Deuce is the meticulous recreation of that time and place. The prostitutes and the pimps; the cops and the mobsters; the drugs and the corruption; the stale air and the garbage — you smell it and you feel it.
Behind these sex workers, led by Golden Globe Award nominee Maggie Gyllenhaal as “Candy” (known as Eileen to her embarrassed mother and her young son), are the back stories of what led these women to take on this work, of the pimps for whom they work and of the cops’ and city’s complicity in the rise of sex work in the 70s.
The Affair ((Showtime), The Crown (Netflix), GLOW (Netflix), The Good Doctor (ABC), The Middle (ABC), Superior Donuts (CBS), Superstore (NBC), Survivor (CBS)