Votes have been counted and tallied up, and after careful consideration we’ve managed to collate the 20 best tv shows of the year. From the anticipated return of Stranger Things to the debut of Big Little Lies, we’ve really been spoilt for choice this year on what to binge. Here’s the ultimate rundown of what you need to watch before the year’s through.
Season 4 of Broad City brings two major changes: for the first time in the show’s history it’s winter, and Trump has been elected. As Ilana (Ilana Glazer) and Abbi (Abbi Jacobson) learn to deal with the political changes and navigate a bitterly cold winter, they’re faced with new challenges in the form of Ilana’s Seasonal affective disorder and Abbi’s commitment issues. With a bevy of celeb guests Shania Twain and Steve Buscemi to name two, and all the warmth and heart that’s made the show such a hit, Broad City is better than ever.
2017 came with many questions. How close are we to a nuclear war? Will Brexit ever happen? Can you change the Bake Off’s recipe for success and get away with it? Not sure about the first two, but as for Bake Off? The answer is yes. With the show’s move to Channel 4 we lost the trio of national treasures that are Mary Berry and Mel and Sue; but we also gained the wonderfully surreal humour of new presenters, Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig, and the show never lost sight of what made it brilliant: a bunch of lovable, amateur bakers in a posh tent getting worked up over Victoria sponges.
Where some shows drip feed you the plot like it’s on ration, BBC police procedural Line Of Duty funnels it in like foie gras grain. With a number of long-ranging threads tied up at the end of season three, the latest Line Of Duty afforded a clean start of sorts: returning to the team at police anti-corruption unit AC-12, we saw Thandie Newton’s DCI Roz Huntley plunging to incredible depths to cover up lacklustre work on a serial killer case, and Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) and Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) reunited to take her down. There was no shortage of WTF moments, from missing evidence to accidental killings, a shoot-out, and a sense that the series’ bedrock, SIO
Ted Hastings, might not be as squeaky clean as we thought. Proof that the BBC can still make drama to rival that of Netflix, Amazon and HBO.
After the conclusion of Curb’s eighth season in 2011 - it seemed like Larry David’s irreverent and cringeworthy comedy could be done for good. How much further could the Seinfeld creator take his fictionalised version of himself as he navigates, and gets himself into, impossibly stupid situations? Much much further, apparently. In the first few episodes of Season 9, he lands himself a fatwa (a denouncement from high-ranking Islam figure, the Ayatollah), rails against the usage of tongs at bakery stands and complains that his therapist’s chair is comfier than his own. All is well in Larry David's’ world, it seems.
The underwater world has more freakish, nobble-faced and plain wrong creatures lurking around than a Britain First march, and only the mighty Atten-bro was capable of making the place seem accessible, earthly, even a little bit human. So we had the crabs mesmerized by the neon glowing cuttlefish hunting them, or the heartbreaking sight of a pilot whale carrying her dead calf for days after it was killed by milk polluted by human-dumped plastic. Not merely a gaze into earth’s greatest abyss, but a lesson in global humility to boot.
HBO’s star-stuffed drama chronicles the seedy underbelly of 1970s and ‘80s New York in thrilling, realistic fashion. Boasting Hollywood heavyweights James Franco and Maggie Gylenhaal, The Deuce is the brainchild of TV legend David Simon, who created Barack Obama’s favourite show The Wire back in the early 2000s. It’s a look at the life of pimps, prostitutes and gangsters struggling to make ends meet in Manhattan. Fancy yourself as a sharp, gritty hustler with street smarts? Then you’ll be able to relate.
2017 was the year in which Girls finally bowed out. Seen by many as a return to form after a couple of shonky seasons, the sixth series of Lena Dunham’s New York City-set coming of age dramedy saw some serious changes afoot for the core cast. Namely, this was the season in which Shoshanna finally told her irritating pals to shove it and Hannah went and had an actual baby. Most importantly of all though, was the stand-alone episode ‘American Bitch’, which saw Hannah visiting the fancy apartment of a famous male writer called Chuck Palmer. Pre-empting the sexual harassment scandals that went on to rock the entertainment world later in the year, it was a stark, all-too familiar depiction of sexual manipulation and power play in the creative industries.
Used to seeing Jason Bateman as the uptight, upright Michael Bluth in Arrested Development? Ozark may come as something of a shock: uptight he remains, but his Marty Byrde is as corrupt as they come. The cuckolded financial advisor buys his freedom from the Mexican cartel by agreeing to relocate his family of four – including the superb Laura Linney – to a summer resort in the Ozark Mountains, so he can launder money more efficiently and repay an enormous debt. In amongst the fraught family drama and the rural community’s oddball behaviour, the show mined a seedy seam of secrets and touted a star performance from 23-year-old Julia Garner (Ruth Langmore).
The first season of David Fincher’s long-awaited return to Netflix is a creepy, suspense-filled delight. Set in the late ‘70s, Mindhunter follows the true story of FBI agents Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), who interviewed serial killers to try and suss out how they think. These interview scenes are as tense as anything you’ve seen on television: think The Wire but with psycho-thriller elements. If you like your true crime gruesome and filled with murderous maniacs, then this one’s for you.
The first season of this Judd Apatow-backed Netflix romcom introduced an irresistibly dysfunctional love story between an everything-addict radio producer named Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) and a toxically nice tutor called Gus (Paul Rust). As they attempted to make their relationship official, their spiky dynamic continued to blossom and wilt in season two. This year’s episodes wrought the discomfort of their connection into thrillingly uncomfortable set-pieces: we saw the pair navigating an awful work party; attempting a doomed long distance thing; and, in a strangely lovely episode, experiencing madcap shrooms-inspired adventures. Let’s not forget MVP Claudio O’Doherty, who brought a bitter edge of melancholy to Mickey’s upbeat Aussie sidekick, Bertie.
For the second season of his loosely autobiographical comedy, Aziz Ansari – along with co-writer Alan Yang – could’ve simply revisited the themes that made the first such a hit. After all, there’s plenty of mileage in watching a hipster half-assedly navigate love and friendship in NYC. Instead, Master Of None opts to throw in overseas locations, a complicated romance and an abundance of twists – some hilarious, some heartbreaking. The levelled-up effort and ambition really show – and have paid off in spades.
Issa Rae’s comedy-drama is one of the most acclaimed shows of recent years, having achieved 100 per cent ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. It mines laffs and drama from the everyday lives of 30-something black women as they struggle with relationships, careers and good ol’ racism. (Fun fact: Rae snuck numerous Frank Ocean lyrics into her scripts.)
The most unflinchingly real comedy show on telly once again struck the perfect balance between relatability and hilarity. With Rob and Sharon careening towards booze-fuelled disaster, you find yourself rooting for them while also revelling in the LOLsome carnage arising from their piss-poor life choices. The third season also doubled as a moving tribute to Carrie Fisher – who guest-starred as Rob’s mother – and her peerless way with a withering one-liner.
The ‘prestige television’ concept taken to another level. Centred around a murder that shakes up an affluent community, Big Little Lies was created by screenwriting legend David E Kelley and boasts a gold-plated ensemble cast that includes Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman. Pooling all that pricey talent paid off handsomely for HBO: the show generated huge word-of-mouth buzz and garnered widespread critical acclaim. Luxury telly.
Every bit as stylish, twist-filled and darkly hilarious as the seasons that preceded it, the third helping of Fargo takes the show’s central schtick – a single crime setting a domino effect in motion – and runs with it. Grade-A scripting, direction and performances all round as usual, with special props going to David Thewlis for his portrayal of villain VM Varga.
There’s close to the bone, and then there’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Hulu’s masterful adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel about a totalitarian takeover of the US by a violent hyper-patriarchy makes for genuinely scary viewing in the era of Trump. It’s utterly impossible to look away from, thanks in no small part to career-defining performances from Elisabeth Moss as Offred and Ann Dowd as the fearsome Aunt Lydia. The show bagged eight well-deserved Emmys, including Outstanding Drama Series – the first-ever production by a streaming platform to do so.
The planet’s biggest show continued to dominate TV ratings, BitTorrent charts, spoiler warnings, meme culture and next-day water cooler convos. With the end now in sight and with no more George RR Martin books left to adapt, some fans felt that the storytelling was being over-condensed in order to get unresolved plot threads and character arcs across the finish line. Quibbles aside, though, the relentless twists, turns and backstabbings – real and figurative – once again had us OMFGing right ’til the end. Hurry up, season eight.
2014: “Haha, have you seen that weird Netflix show about a washed-up ’90s star with a horse’s head? It’s properly mad, really hilarious!” 2017: “BoJack Horseman has allowed me to work through a lot of my issues relating to self-destruction and low self-esteem. It really gets to the heart of the 21st-century human experience.” BoJack Horseman continues to be deeper, sadder and more life-affirming than any other show out there, while still serving up the occasional clown-dentist joke to keep things rollin’. A true original.
2017 was the year that profane sci-fi-com Rick And Morty made the leap from cult hit to mainstream phenomenon. Unfortunately, much of the show’s visibility arose from the debacle that unfolded when, cashing in on an obsession of Rick’s, McDonald’s briefly reissued its Szechuan sauce, resulting in tantrums from manchild superfans who didn’t manage to get hold of any. But hey, don’t let the entitled fandom of a few 4channers ruin the most hilarious, ingenious cartoon since golden-era Simpsons.
OK, so the feverishly awaited second season wasn’t without its flaws; the less said about the infamous seventh episode, with its toe-curling depiction of Eleven’s descent into cheeseball punkdom, the better. Overall, though, Stranger Things 2 delivered exactly what we wanted: lashings of Spielbergian sci-fi twinned with guileless, heart-on-sleeve emoting. There’s only one show that could make us “aaw” at an eyeless, nightmare-faced demon hound as it snaffles down a chocolate bar, and Stranger Things is that show.
Don’t agree with our list? Have your say and vote in the VO5 NME Awards 2018