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2017: Niche Watching Makes Dinosaurs Out of Top-Tens
December 30, 2017  | By Eric Gould

Some recent counts have annual premieres of new scripted shows approaching 500 per year, and no, that’s not just on Netflix.

Between streaming services, broadcast, and cable, the ability to find content personalized to your own tastes has never been greater – and the chance you’ll be able to share last night’s surprise twist in your fave drama around the water cooler (unless it’s The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones), has never been slimmer.

And if you’re like me, non-stop cable news watching of the world’s biggest, and most outlandish reality show in Washington D.C. has severely cut into your scripted TV time. In this instance, not only is truth stranger than fiction, it lurches daily, sometimes more than once.

So, unless it was a personal favorite, or getting a lot of buzz, a lot shows got by me. I had I Love Dick, Master of None, and Hap and Leonard all queued up and ready to go, and there they sit, still ready.

Reviews of Twin Peaks were so split and contentious, the content seeming so wildly random, I couldn’t muster the curiosity to take a look. (Yes, yes. Point taken… David Lynch sacrilege for any critic.)

But despite all the noise, there were shows that demanded attention. And if your standard is like mine – is it appointment viewing at the time of broadcast, or did I not have a choice to binge through it? ­– there were some gems in there worth noting for 2017. (And anyone making a top-ten list these days has to admit, along with me, they’re picking from shows they’ve seen and need to footnote the ones they haven’t.)

Although it premiered late in December 2016, Netflix’s The OA got most of it’s buzz early in 2017, and the wildly imaginative (and often willfully, enjoyably, preposterous) story of a young blind woman disappeared for seven years suddenly returned to her family, miraculously able to see, forged new territory in TV storytelling. My earlier description of The OA as a kind of Breakfast Club meets Criminal Minds meets intergalactic yoga class still stands, and if you have seen it, you know what I mean.

Similarly, FX’s Taboo – a tale of a dour, menacing, young heir returning to claim a family fortune in 19th century England – adopted the device of unraveling the disappearance of James Delaney (writer and star Tom Hardy, top, left) in successive episodes that were tightly wound and often startling, all the while embedded in brilliant art direction and cinematography – a kind of Nine Inch Nails video turned up to 11.

In terms of opaque mysteries, none persisted, and proceeded, even more delightfully than Mr. Robot, in perhaps its best season yet. Young hacker and social justice warrior Elliot (Rami Malek, top right) finally began to understand the (seemingly) wildly disparate, competing factions arrayed against him – the FBI, the Dark Army, F-Society, the Chinese government, and his own mental condition. Mr. Robot ­also remains one of the most compellingly directed series currently on television.

While often dour and sad, HBO’s The Leftovers solved its mystery – the sudden, simultaneous disappearance of 2% of the world’s population – with a truly creative finale that avoided cheap shortcuts. The series, created by Damon Lindelof (Lost) along with original novelist Tom Perotta, often swerved to the wildly surreal, but never went far from its original premise, and stars Justin Theroux and Carrie Coon (right) delivered award-worthy performances.

Speaking of Coon, she also led the third (and likely final) season of FX’s Fargo, written and often directed by TV’s current auteur, Noah Hawley. Coon faced off with perhaps the most terrifying Fargo villain yet, (and the one with certainly the worst dental hygiene) David Thewlis’s V.M. Varga.

FX appears to have taken up the space of prestige television that AMC once occupied with another winning season of Better Call Saul. While this series can never take the pedestal its predecessor occupies, it continues to spin a must-see tale about the backstory of Walter White’s crook lawyer Saul (Bob Odenkirk) all the while lovingly wrapped in the Vince Gilligan Breaking Bad mise en scène for ardent fans of that universe to continue to immerse themselves in.

2017 saw sexual misconduct scandals crack wide open, starting in Hollywood with the über-creepy revelations about Harvey Weinstein. (Kevin Spacey could not evade his prior conduct in sexual scandals, and House of Cards dumped him.)

The news about Louis C.K. wasn’t too far behind, or all that surprising given the confessional plot points of his former FX series Louie, but his obvious talents were still on display as co-creator, writer and director of Pamela Adlon’s Better Things (also on FX). Adlon (right) took up and carried the Louie formula from a female point of view, playing a concentrated version of herself, behaving badly, often boorish, but somehow excavating true grace in the worst of circumstances.

And while Netflix seems to be responsible for all new shows dropping, they continue to roll out an astonishing number of them at very high quality, further illustrating subscription streaming services continue to eat broadcast’s lunch free of the constraints of advertisers and network censors.

While they remain for me unwatched, Netflix series Flaked, Narcos, and Love enjoyed new seasons, and The Crown, G.L.O.W., and Ozark premiered to wide critical acclaim. I did manage to squeeze in Godless over this holiday break and it proved to be one of the best western dramas to come along since Deadwood.

So, there’s a not-quite top-ten list for 2017, lacking for obvious reasons. You might have a few of your own to chime in the comments section below.

I am sure they are gathering digital dust on my DVR…

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