“God is in the TV…”
2016 was a vintage year for new TV shows with cultural behemoths Westworld and Stranger Things rubbing shoulders with ingenious miniseries’ such as The Night Of and oddity’s like Flowers. While 2017 has had its moments, it hasn’t quite hit the heights of the year that preceded it, in terms of new shows at least. Returning favourites have not disappointed with Game of Thrones, Stranger Things 2 and Better Call Saul all turning in strong efforts. As ever, this list is only interested in new TV shows. Lets get on with it…
*Just a quick note to say that I haven’t seen Godless yet. I have heard great things though.
Peep Show is quite possibly one of the greatest ever comedy series and while nobody was expecting David Mitchell and Robert Webb to replicate the success of that comedy juggernaut, expectations were still high for their first collaboration since Peep Show ended.
Back is the Kafkaesque tale of Stephen (Mitchell), a neurotic and bereaved pub owner, being reluctantly reunited with his forgotten foster brother Andrew (Webb). Seeing those two uncoupled from their Peep Show persona’s was initially jarring but once you get past that, Back has some genuinely laugh out loud moments and plenty of interesting plot developments. It falls down slightly with the annoying supporting cast but even the best comedies can take a while to decide what to do with the background characters.
For Fans of: Peep Show, Fresh Meat, Flowers
9. The Young Pope
HBO is so often a seal of quality and their first release of 2017 didn’t disappoint. Imagine a parallel universe in which the Pope is an arrogant and morally ambiguous American. That is the preposterous set up of The Young Pope but the performance of Jude Law in the titular role sells this religious oddity.
The full beauty of Vatican City is utilised and Jude Law tackles the role of Pope Benedict with obvious relish. Throw in a strong supporting cast led by James Cromwell and you have something strange, unique and compelling. Worth a watch even if you aren’t a good Catholic boy like me.
For Fans of: Billions, Entourage, The Borgias
Arrested Development’s Jason Bateman is perhaps not the first man who comes to mind when considering a crime thriller but he carries this Netflix drama beautifully.
Marty Byrde is a financial planner who gets sucked into a life of crime… and then starts to kinda like it. So far, so Breaking Bad. Where Ozark differs from its peers is the location, namely the lawless Missouri Ozarks, and the focus on family. It is true that Ozark struggled to maintain its quality throughout the whole run but there is potential for season 2 to iron out the creases to produce something really special.
For fans of: Breaking Bad, The Night Of, True Detective
7. The Moorside
2016 was a stellar year for the Beeb with The Night Manager and War and Peace the highlights in an incredibly strong field. This year hasn’t been quite as impressive but The Moorside was a real talking point.
Featuring a career best performance from Sheridan Smith, this two parter relives the true story surrounding the ‘disappearance’ of Shannon Matthews. Director Paul Whittington channels Ken Loach for the more kitchen sink moments but The Moorside very much feels like it has its own story to tell.
For Fans of: Happy Valley, Line of Duty, The Missing
6. Room 104
The anthology series is all the rage at the moment with Black Mirror and Inside No. 9 emphatically leading the way. While the sci-fi anthology Electric Dreams didn’t quite live up to expectations, Room 104 was a mind bending revelation.
I have long been an admirer of Mark and Jay Duplass and they provide a steady hand and a whirlwind of ideas with a list of cast members as eclectic as James van der Beek and Phillip Baker Hall. The idea of 12 stories linked by a single hotel room isn’t a new one, but the the execution here is a winner.
For fans of: Masters of Horror, Black Mirror, The Twilight Zone
Last years list was topped by erm… controversial comedian Louis CK and no matter what you think about his questionable sexual attitudes, there is no doubting his influence on the world of comedy. His meta show Louie changed the face of comedy forever and Crashing is the latest to benefit from the semi autobiographical style that CK helped to popularise.
I had never heard of American comedian Pete Holmes but his HBO vehicle is as hilarious downbeat as it is watchable. I think I burned through the whole first series in a week or so and in a middling year for comedy, Crashing was one of the stand out options.
For Fans of: Louie, Masters of None, Baskets
4. American Gods
A starry cast including but not limited to Ian McShane, Gillian Anderson, Peter Stormare and Crispin Glover do a fantastic job of bringing Neil Gaiman’s beloved novel to life. Developed by Bryan Fuller, the man behind Hannibal, American Gods is weird, violent and visually striking.
Despite such a recognisable cast, American Gods is not a conventional TV show, straying closer to The Leftovers or Twin Peaks with its tendency to lean into fantasy. Not for everyone, but for those who like something a little different, American Gods should be your starting point.
For fans of: Westworld, Game of Thrones, Hannibal
Another win for Netflix this year is the real life story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling as told through the lens of creator Carly Mensch.
GLOW had the potential to be terrible but a smart script and strong performances from Alison Brie and Marc Maron amongst others, ensure that GLOW is comfortably the most fun show of the year. Another one that I binge watched, GLOW is packed full of heart, while still being plenty funny and true to the sport of wrestling for the hardcore fans. Perhaps the most unlikely success story of the year.
For Fans of: Rocky, Karate Kid, Dodgeball
2. Big Little Lies
Big Little Lies pulls back the curtain on rich suburban society to reveal a dark underbelly rotting underneath. Featuring stunning performances from Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman and Shailene Woodley, David E. Kelly’s slow burner takes a while to grab hold, but when it did I was truly hooked.
Based on Liane Moriaty’s novel, Big Little Lies builds the tension masterfully during its seven episode run to ensure its place as perhaps the most gripping TV event of 2017. One of the classiest and most human shows of recent years.
For Fans of: Horace & Pete, Rabbit Hole, Blue Valentine
1. The Handmaid’s Tale
Wow. What a truly spellbinding ten episodes of television. Elizabeth Moss simmers and simpers in equal measure to help produce a show that is powerful, visceral and sickeningly relevant. I’ll be honest and say I wasn’t a massive fan of the source material but Bruce Miller has brought this feminist fable kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
What Handmaid’s Tale does so impressively is to build a whole world that feels so vivid, so lived in and yet so uncomfortably close to our own. No other show has captured the zeitgeist as comprehensively as this one has. Vital television.