A few weeks ago, a large poster screamed for my attention in bold font at Ryerson University’s career centre. It read: “This is your life. Do what you love, and do it often. If you don’t like something, change it. If you don’t like your job, quit. If you don’t have enough time, stop watching TV.” I sat, perplexed. Why focus on television, and not pornography or social media? Surely these vices are equally time-consuming and damaging to our emotional well-being?
According to FX Research, 487 original scripted series aired on television in 2017, a record in the history of television programming. And while the medium has traditionally been considered a form of lowbrow pop culture, television series are more refined and representational than ever. Sure, there is plenty of bad TV, but unlike the film industry, TV continues to evolve at an extremely rapid pace; showrunners are facing accelerated production windows and higher expectations. Overall, it’s an exciting time for televised content.
In 2017, this continued to prove true.
- Blue Planet II (BBC)
Blue Planet II is a series of nature documentaries, each sweeping awards and garnering critical acclaim upon release. Like Planet Earth II before it, BPII evokes the same emotion I might feel watching a scripted series, but without a single actor — these animals, fish, and otherworldly creatures are just living their lives. With flawless editing, cinematography, and sound design, there is very little to dislike about Attenborough’s latest (unless you’re afraid of fish who eat birds).
- The Good Fight (CBS All Access)
The series opens with protagonist and The Good Wife alumni Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) watching Trump’s inauguration with shock and disgust. In a stroke of terrible luck, her entire retirement savings plan evaporates in a financial scandal, and she is ousted from her firm. She ultimately joins an all-black firm dedicated to prosecuting police brutality cases, shifting the season’s focus from large-scale litigation at Lockhart’s original firm. Aside from its unfortunate title, The Good Fight continues The Good Wife’s exciting legal legacy, and is surely the most well-dressed series of 2017.
- The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
Elizabeth Moss memorized her character’s lengthy voice-over in order to properly capture its emotional intensity through facial expression. Overall, The Handmaid’s Tale is a worthwhile and compelling watch, as long as you remain critical of problematic representation issues that stem from the original Margaret Atwood source material.
- Insecure (HBO)
Issa Rae’s vision for Insecure becomes more crisply realized by the season. The series is already receiving more acclaim and viewership than Girls, which it was often compared to in its inception. Although the series can sometimes feel condensed and rushed between Issa’s singlehood (“hoe-tation”), work politics, and her friends, the stunning visual direction and carefully curated soundtrack (including original songs by the likes of SZA) works in the show’s overall favour.
- Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW)
This comedy-drama-musical has dedicated itself to a sustaining, truthful, and empathetic representation of mental health. Its third season sees Rachel Bunch (Rebecca Bloom) hit rock bottom — a painful reminder of love’s inability to fix our personal underlying issues. The series serves as a case study in my research on mental health and the way in which fashion can shape identity on-screen.
- Queen Sugar (OWN)
Imagine if Ava DuVernay collaborated with Oprah and an all-black cast to create a show based in New Orleans that was directed solely by women. The result would be a phenomenal, intense, and beautiful television series called Queen Sugar. Every perfectly lighted frame drips with intimacy and care in this show, a cinematographic masterpiece reminiscent of art house aesthetic.
- Master of None (Netflix)
A few weeks after watching Master of None’s phenomenal second season, I found myself listening to its soundtrack and daydreaming of pasta-making in Italy. The first two black-and-white episodes follow Dev (Aziz Ansari) in Italy, mirroring classic 1940s Italian cinema. Although the series has since fallen into a ‘manic pixie-pasta dream girl’ trope, it is an otherwise impressive elevation of the ‘dramedy’ on television.
- Big Little Lies (HBO)
A few television critics initially dismissed this series as vapid — a typical approach to a powerful female-driven, female-produced series on motherhood, friendship, and abuse. Nicole Kidman kept reminding us of “the power of television” on the Emmys red carpet, pointing to where nuanced representation is taking place in our current media landscape. Note the use of space and sound in this California-based series, and the dichotomy between massive beachside homes and intimate scenes in cars.
- Twin Peaks: The Return (Showtime)
This reboot of the 1990s cult classic is likely to prompt a meditative state of contemplation with its quiet sweeping shots of Pacific Northwest forests and slow-moving scenes. Knowing the series wraps up in an experimental Lynchian mystery, I will refrain from unraveling its seemingly linear story. It is your choice to let a slow pace and scattered story frustrate you.
- The Leftovers (HBO)
HBO is still a relatively niche network. Aside from Game of Thrones and Westworld, I’ll often find myself at parties presenting ‘elevator pitches’ for series that deserve a wider audience. The Leftovers is usually my go-to: a breathtaking series about inexplicable loss, the individual processes of grief, and connection. The third and final season is as rewarding as it is heartbreaking and as mysterious as it is grounded in reality (Damon Lindelof brought some of that over from Lost).
Honourable mentions: The Deuce (HBO), The Good Place (NBC), Legion (FX), Difficult People (Hulu), Better Things (FX), Mr. Robot (USA), She’s Gotta Have It (Netflix), Dear White People (Netflix), The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon), and Viola Davis for keeping How To Get Away With Murder (ABC) afloat.
Michel Ghanem is an alumnus of the University of Victoria’s History of Art program, and a graduate student researching fashion and television in Ryerson University Fashion MA.
Thumbnail by Disney / ABC via Flickr