10. “BoJack Horseman”
“BoJack Horseman” continues to be one of the most depressingly real and relatable shows on TV. The titular horse (Will Arnett, “The Lego Batman Movie”) is still self-loathing and ambiguously recovering from or going further towards rock bottom. As usual, the show deftly tackles heavy existentialist themes, juxtaposing them with moments of absurdity. However, season 4 provides other more disjointed, but just as hilarious, subplots. Continuing the theme of gritty depictions of reality, Mr. Peanutbutter’s (Paul F. Tompkins, “Comedy Bang! Bang!”) campaign for governor, despite his obvious incompetence, mirrors some realities all too well.
Despite its rather bleak tone and diverse anthropomorphic cast, “BoJack Horseman” provides some sweet and incredibly human moments. The relationships are not fairy tales by any means; rather, the inevitable conflicts they engender are illustrated in a truthful light. Unlike previous seasons, season 4 shows BoJack taking his happiness into his own hands. Rather than drifting along and numbing the pain through mindless hedonism, he tries to mend his relationships, providing some of the most heartbreaking moments of the season in the process. For the first time in seemingly forever, the season ends on a note of hope in the midst of all the misery.
— Sayan Ghosh, Daily Arts Writer
9. “The Good Place”
In a year of incredible television, NBC’s “The Good Place” is a standout. From the magical inner workings of creator Michael Schur’s (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”) brain comes a series so irresistibly charming that it, indeed, feels a little bit like heaven. Laugh-out-loud funny and culturally poignant, “The Good Place” embodies a wholesome brand of hilarious that too-often flies under the popular radar. Featuring an incredible performance from the always amazing Kristen Bell (“Frozen”) as Eleanor Shellstrop, a bad person who dies and ends up in the Good Place, the series sets up an intriguing situation and a cast of diverse characters from the get-go. A testament to the excellent writing, Eleanor’s character is totally horrible and yet completely likable — a friend you didn’t even know you wanted. As Eleanor and her unlikely friends navigate life after, well, life, “The Good Place” continues to tease out heartfelt jokes from the endless shenanigans that ensue. Schur’s version of the afterlife, with flying shrimp and robot Janets, is unlike anything else. And, in a game-changing season one finale (no spoilers!), “The Good Place” delivered one of the best TV twists in recent memory. 2017 welcomed the beginning of the series second season, and fans can’t wait to get more.
— Danielle Yacobson, Managing Arts Editor
8. “The Deuce”
The grimy truth of the ‘70s New York City scene comes to life in HBO’s original series, “The Deuce.” Starring James Franco (“The Disaster Artist”) and Maggie Gyllenhaal (“The Dark Knight”), “The Deuce” reveals the graphic yet realistic everyday lives of New Yorkers in an age of drugs, prostitution, alcohol, sex and gambling. Franco plays two characters — twin brothers, Vincent and Frankie Martino. Vince works multiple jobs, trying and failing to keep his family together, while Frankie is a gambler with major swagger. Thankfully — well, maybe not so much for him — Vince gets punched in the pilot, leaving him with a scar on his forehead to differentiate Franco throughout the series.
Gyllenhaal plays Candy, a young mother who scraps by as a prostitute. She is one of many prostitutes in this series, along with pimps galore. One of the most noteworthy aspects of “The Deuce” is its tendency to skip from character to character, interweaving multiple subplots to reveal the truly chaotic and twisted makeup of life in NYC during the ‘70s.
There are many storylines, most of which are very uncomfortable to watch — professors have sex with college students, pimps abuse their merchandise, mobsters and cops turn a blind eye. Some may give up on this show because of its vulgar nature, but those that stick around will witness its themes of corruption, misogyny, sexual abuse, drug use, social hierarchy and most importantly, power.
— Olivia Asimakis, Daily Arts Writer
7. “Master of None”
When it began, Netflix’s “Master of None” appeared as a millennial-centric journal, eloquently yet predictably documenting the trials, tribulations and consequent humor of Dev Shah’s (Aziz Ansari, “Parks and Recreation”) ambition. But after enduring a protracted year-and-a-half-long wait, season two unearthed some refreshing changes in structure, tone and character evolution that took the series to a whole other level of realness and introspection. This time around, the most memorable episodes ironically have little to do with Dev and his flawed and fevered romance with the new, already-engaged love interest Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi, “To Rome with Love”). The spotlight instead shifts to the too often back-burned, ordinary people like the silent cab-driver, the deaf biracial couple or the young boy losing his religion, each shown tackling monumental, ultra-personal life struggles no longer being masked as insignificant, everyday tasks.
That rawness and creative liberation are what make “Master of None” such a rare gem in this generation of grandiose spectacles. Its greatest strengths lie not in pungent action or falsified happy endings, but in acting, setting and plot authenticity, which together composes a social commentary with a sweetly subtle impact. The series shows that being your own master and having a plan all laid out is definitely not a requirement in the pursuit of life’s more simple pleasures — and that’s some very necessary reassurance.
— Morgan Rubino, Daily Arts Writer
However disappointing HBO’s summer Sundays were in the “Game of Thrones” department this year, season two of “Insecure” made up for it. The fabulous Issa Rae — creator, actress, writer and personal style icon — came back with more confidence and attitude than ever before in a glorious trainwreck of bad decisions. Not uncommon for comedies, “Insecure” came into its own in its sophomore season. The show found its groove with key additions to the sparkling cast, honing in on a unique voice in the writers’ room and soaring the storytelling to an all-time high. Reeling from a break-up, Issa tries to do the “adult thing” in season two, but she’s a little more damaged than we last saw her. Painfully prone to overthinking (then again, who isn’t?) and saturated with the raw awkwardness that initially intrigued viewers, our leading lady shines as she struggles to figure her directionally challenged self out. This was a season of failed hoe-tations, rapping mirror pep talks and putting out some not-so-metaphorical fires. But through all the cringe, “Insecure” quickly climbed up the ranks of 2017’s best series and promised to keep delivering incredibly heartfelt, funny and relatable stories. Rae has curated a voice that is able to cut through the clutter and there’s no telling how far she can go.
— Danielle Yacobson, Managing Arts Editor
5. “Stranger Things 2”
Ah, “Stranger Things.” The Duffer Brothers’s (“Hidden”) gorgeous, hilarious and terrifying '80s homage burst onto the scene this year in its second season. Chances are high that the series — which permeated through, well, pretty much every element of pop culture from mid-October through November — was something you breezed through on Netflix during a cozy, bed-confined week around Halloween. The fact that “Stranger Things 2” became such a quintessential aspect of our collective Fall 2017 consciousness speaks to the series quality and its downright lovable cast.
Led by 15-year-old Finn Wolfhard (“It”), the show’s cast consistently wooed us with their chemistry and sheer charm. Starring alongside Wolfhard are his longtime pals Gaten Matarazzo (“The Blacklist”) and Caleb McLaughlin (“The New Edition Story”), both picking up right where the show’s debut season left off to win over our hearts again. Only this time, the show’s talented cast does it against tougher odds, as “Stranger Things 2”’s second season strikes a markedly darker and more frightening tone.
Our nightmares of the so-dubbed “shadow monster” and a demonically-possessed Noah Schnapp (“Bridge of Spies”) may fade, but our love of this charismatic, nostalgic group of characters will never subside. In a year ravaged by chaos stemming from polarizing figures, “Stranger Things 2” provided us with a much-needed sense of calm through its universally acclaimed and appreciated cast.
— Connor Grady, Daily Arts Writer
Centered around a recent murder investigation in the innocuous town of Monterey, Cali., “Big Little Lies” leaves viewers on the edge of their seats for a majority of the season — neither the murder victim nor the perpetrator is revealed until the very last episode. The whodunit suspense is one of the series’ greatest strengths, along with the fierce, snide and albeit sometimes satirically humorous portrayals of three rich, white, suburban mothers who are not as unassuming as they may seem. The leading ladies — Madeline (Reese Witherspoon, “Legally Blonde”), Celeste (Nicole Kidman, “Lion”) and Jane (Shailene Woodley, “The Secret Life of the American Teenager”) — captivate with tenacious performances and dynamic portrayals of some weighty social issues including domestic abuse, rape and deception. Those real-life controversies are never glossed over or abridged, shaping the series into an influential commentary on gender bias and female politics. The series features a highly comprehensive and intimate soundtrack, which compliments each dramatic twist and turn soulfully and sincerely. With an unapologetic, deep-seated and highly impassioned storyline and character lineup, “Big Little Lies” is most definitely one series to invest your time and conscience in.
— Morgan Rubino, Daily Arts Writer
In April of 2016, Donald J. Trump was the presumed winner of the Republican presidential nomination and a TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” had just been ordered. Though seemingly unrelated events, “The Handmaid’s Tale” became a vital commentary on the shocking nature of our future president and a cautionary tale of what could happen if we accept such disregard for our rights and laws without revolt. Just in case you were completely cut off from pop culture, the Internet or society as a whole for the better part of 2017, here is some background: “The Handmaid’s Tale” is a dystopian story in which an oppressive patriarchal group reigns over a distorted version of the United States. Women are stripped of their rights and any who are fertile are considered handmaids, forced to reproduce to preserve the lineage of the government.
It is a horrifying tale, yet one that reflects on the web of manipulation, power and abuse that has become all too familiar in our contemporary headlines. The show could not have come at a better time and, unfortunately, its motifs and messages become increasingly more relevant as our time under this administration progresses. Despite the handmaids’ ultimate rebellion at the end of the season, there is an ever-looming promise that the war is never won. Still, at the core there is always hope and a constant reminder: Nolite te bastardes carborundorum (don’t let the bastards grind you down).
— Samantha Della Fera, Daily Arts Writer
Twenty-seven red dicks spray-painted on teachers’ cars, an honor student eyewitness, a clear motive and an untrustworthy alibi. This is the case the school board of Hanover High School makes against notorious troublemaker Dylan Maxwell (Jimmy Tatro, “22 Jump Street”), leading to his expulsion. The new Netflix mockumentary show, “American Vandal” — released in September 2017 — follows a high school journalist, Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez, “Orange is the New Black”), in his compelling, cinematic quest to prove Maxwell innocent. Through the successes of Maldonado’s journalistic and directorial efforts, the case of who drew the dicks becomes a nationwide social media frenzy, with hundreds of thousands of people talking about Maxwell. The infectious nature of the documentary within the show’s fictional public mirrors the captivating effect that the story and series itself have on its real-life viewers.
With its steady climactic twists and realistic characters — crafted through authentic dialogue and logical intrinsic motivations — “American Vandal” delivers an-edge-of-your-seat viewing experience. Although shows in the high school realm have the tendency to err on the side of “Degrassi,” “American Vandal” delivers a much more serious, true-crime feel. “American Vandal” capitalizes on the satire through its mockumentary-style filmmaking. If the crime had been swapped with one less humorous — say, there was a dead body discovered instead — this series would completely play out like a true crime piece. At the end of the day, this line the series cleverly maneuvers between light and dark is the factor that really sells “American Vandal” as the one-day binge series that it is.
— Sofia Lynch, Daily TV/New Media Editor
1. “The Leftovers”
Arguably no other show reflected the uncertainty that pervaded 2017 quite like “The Leftovers.” Then again, “The Leftovers” was never about certainty to begin with. It was a miracle the series lasted so long, given its dismal ratings. But what the show lacked in strong viewership, it made up for with an incredible ensemble cast, poetic cinematography and bold storytelling. The third and final season took “The Leftovers” to even greater, more ambitious depths, shifting the setting from small-town Texas to the plains of Australia and intensifying the character arc of disgruntled cop Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux, “The Lego Ninjago Movie”). This season, in particular, raised even larger issues of how to search for meaning in a world on the brink of destruction.
As the seventh anniversary of The Sudden Departure — the day in which two percent of the global population disappeared — approaches, Kevin wrestles with a Messiah complex when he is called upon to save the world from an impending apocalypse of Biblical proportions. Meanwhile, Kevin’s long-term girlfriend Nora (Carrie Coon, “The Post”) considers a path that could lead her back to her family, all of whom were victims of The Sudden Departure. The friction between the couple’s destinies catalyzes a deeper exploration of what it means to come to terms with our own mortality and how to find peace in finality.
In eight solid episodes, “The Leftovers” succeeds in giving Kevin and every other character much-needed closure. And while most of the season was heavy on drama, there were some lovely moments of levity (e.g. a strangely hilarious penis gag in the surreal penultimate chapter). Some episodes made some daring aesthetic choices — A-ha’s iconic, upbeat “Take on Me” plays toward the end of a particularly gloomy scene. Other episodes placed an assortment of characters in odd situations — a trip on a hedonistic cruise ship challenged Matt’s (Christopher Eccleston, “Doctor Who”) vehemently religious views. However, these unconventional detours felt earned in how they helped unpack and resolve each character’s inner turmoil when facing the unknown. As 2018 begins, we can only trust that a show like “The Leftovers” is enough to restore our faith in humanity.
— Sam Rosenberg, Senior Arts Editor