Polygon is kicking off its best of entertainment series, which will run through the end of December and beginning of January, coming to a close just before the 2017 Golden Globes. These personal essays will examine the best, most important and weirdest moments that occurred in television, film, streaming and YouTube/Twitch in 2017. Each will examine why the author believes that moment to be one of 2017’s most extraordinary. The series will end with Polygon’s Best of TV and Best of Movies pieces.
There were 487 scripted television series last year. That’s a lot of television.
It’s actually an absurd amount of television when you sit down to think about it. The more television series that air, the greater the potential for mediocrity. In 2017, we were faced with too much mediocre television, but luckily, there were still more than a few series that stood out.
For all of the bleh series Netflix debuted, a few brilliant new shows caught my attention — eight to be exact — as well as a couple of returning favorites. American Vandal, Big Mouth and the fourth season of BoJack Horseman managed to entertain, break and revive me with an outpouring of emotion and comedy. Dear White People gave me a faux-intelligentsia series about a group of brave and resilient students at an Ivy League school.
That’s not to say that network, cable and premium cable didn’t have a strong year, either. HBO’s Big Little Lies became a phenomenon and Black-ish proved that network television can still compete with the big dogs.
When we’re inundated with so much television, it’s important to acknowledge the best of the best. Here are my eight picks — both new and returning — of 2017.
I’ve spoken so much about American Vandal since it premiered in September, one would think I’d run out of words by now. Well, you’re not wrong. I could belabor the conversation, going on and on about how American Vandal used our obsession with true-crime stories and documentaries to tell a hilarious story about a high schooler that also portrays an authentic tale of what it’s like to be a teenager. Instead, I’ll just let past me speak for current me:
American Vandal stood apart in a year packed with good television for another very good reason: it’s one of the best depictions of high school in years. American Vandal goes beyond a sociological examination of clique (think Mean Girls) and focuses on what it feels like to go through high school. American Vandal explores every nuanced emotion, the frustration that comes with being treated like a child when you feel like an adult; the shame of not being considered accepted; the fear that who you are in high school will define you for the rest of your life.
I went into American Vandal expecting nothing from a series that Netflix seemed to spring on us, it was one I revisited the most. I bombarded friends and family with demands they watch it so I could discuss my latest dick-drawing theories with them.
American Vandal shouldn’t have been the success story that it is, but I’m glad Netflix took a chance what became one of its best in years.
Like American Vandal, I’ve spoken at length about how much I adore Netflix’s Big Mouth, a coming-of-age series that turned the genre on its head with honest dialogue about how painful it can be to be a teenager.
Created by Nick Kroll, Big Mouth should have been another stupid series about kids; think South Park but even more juvenile, if possible. The artwork sucked and the first joke in the first episode is about an erection. But as the series continues, the jokes become less important than the conversation taking place.
Kroll and his teams of writers capture all of the nastier bits of being a teenager; the uncontrollable emotions, the physical changes, the anxiety over how your friends and classmates see you. The jokes help to make the series, which can be painfully honest to relive if you’re an adult, even more enjoyable.
I dubbed Big Mouth one of last year’s most underrated series, saying:
Big Mouth turns those scary moments of uncertainty into literal monsters that only the affected tween can see. They have a bond with their hormone monster who they’re revolted by, but also rely on for centuries-old wisdom. Big Mouth gives its characters an entity to point to and blame for all of life’s mishaps; by shaping puberty as an unrelenting gargoyle, Big Mouth reinvigorates one of television’s most well-worn topics.
That still holds true in 2018.
Big Little Lies
Before Big Little Lies debuted, the whole world seemed to know there was something special about it. The show starred Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley, Alexander Skarsgard and Nicole Kidman, and was directed by the award-winning Jean-Marc Vallée, who previously worked with Witherspoon on Wild.
No one could have prepared me for the emotional and psychological turmoil that came with the eight-episode mini-series. I was hooked from the first episode, drawn in by the inexplicable talent of the women on screen.
On the surface, Big Little Lies is a series about a murder and how a wealthy town in Monterey Bay react to it, but it’s about something much bigger. It’s about the power of friendship, the power of women, and the trauma of domestic abuse. It’s a story about resilience and relying on the women around you to get over the most horrific parts of your life.
Big Little Lies could have been just another HBO mini-series, one ruled by Hollywood talent and an interesting hook that made for evocative viewing, but immediately forgettable. Instead, it became an important story about getting over adversaries and finding true friends who will have your back in the best and worst of times.
I laughed, wept and overcame with Big Little Lies; it became more important to me than I first cared to admit.
Dear White People
Dear White People is supposed to be antagonistic. It’s supposed to get us thinking about casual racism, white privilege, elitism and just about every other subject under the sun that Fox News would like you to believe isn’t really a thing. What’s important to understand about Dear White People, a show that takes place in a fictional Ivy League school where black students are being belittled by a group of white students who work at a fictional humor magazine akin to Harvard’s National Lampoon, is that no one is attacking anyone.
It’s about conversation.
Like the movie Get Out, Dear White People is asking you to sit back and listen to another perspective for an entire season. It’s not insinuating that you, the viewer, hold prejudices, but rather that it’s time to listen and not argue about the realities people of color face. Dear White People uses comedy and pop culture references for it not to feel as antagonistic as it would otherwise, but that doesn’t take away from the seriousness of the conversation.
One episode, directed by Oscar-award nominated Barry Jenkins, takes a look at the relationship between black people and law enforcement. It’s one of the most jarring and emotional episodes of television in recent memory, and an incredibly important one to watch.
I love Dear White People, not just for the message that it shares, but for its courage to get up and say it.
No show took hold of people’s attention in 2017 and kept it as much as Riverdale.
The CW series took some of comic’s most beloved, wholesome teenagers and turned them into horny, crime-solving, competitive misfits; to say they received the CW treatment would be an understatement. Everything about the Archie Andrews we thought we knew from the comics, and the town of Riverdale he and his friends live in, went out the window.
And it couldn’t have been more successful.
Riverdale was like Archie Comics fan fiction come to life. Dubbed by fans as “Hot Archie Who Fucks,” Riverdale gave Archie and his friends a mature makeover they desperately needed. Jughead became a more fulfilled character and Betty and Veronica blossomed into more than just two-dimensional characters with boys on the brain.
Riverdale is campy and over the top, but it’s also the best teen drama right now. That’s kind of perfect considering Archie Comics was always the best teen comic.
Rick and Morty
Rick and Morty’s community had a tumultuous year in 2017, but the show was never stronger than it was in its third and most recent season.
With the introduction of four new writers, Rick and Morty became more self-aware and the conversations deepened with that maturity. The focus changed slightly to include more of Summer and Beth, as Rick faced the monstrous person he’s always been. Morty learned more about his co-dependent relationship with his grandfather and the family learned that even therapy couldn’t help them.
It was because of these more mature steps that people saw Rick and Morty’s third season as an abject failure. But to not acknowledge how much the characters grew over the course of those episodes is to ignore the growth of the series itself. Rick and Morty became more than just high-caliber jokes — although those were also part of the latest season. It became a series that helped us explore ourselves and how we interact with those around us.
I fell in love with Rick and Morty again thanks to this season, but I’m worried that the community’s unreasonable reaction to the third season may have driven it to its breaking point. We may be ashamed of how some in the community acted, but we should celebrate the feat of television the third season was.
Being a fan of BoJack Horseman is a masochistic affair.
Just when BoJack seems to be getting better and working toward a more decent version of himself, he falls back into a pit of self-loathing, alcoholism, drug abuse and despair. To love him is to hate who he is, and to root for him is to root for the very worst parts of myself.
I’ve been a BoJack Horseman stan since the very beginning of the series. I was attracted to the realistic portrayal of narcissism and depression, of wanting to be loved and hating everyone you meet. I saw parts of BoJack in me, much like many of his fans, I would assume. By the time the third season ended, it was getting much more difficult to retain that sense of stanhood, of supporting a character who never seemed to be getting better. Maybe it was because his failures at bettering his life mirrored my own attempts, but it was getting emotionally painful.
Then the fourth season happened; BoJack was instantly at his worst and, by the end of the season, at his best. When the season first came out, I wrote this about BoJack’s redemption arc, and I return to it now, truer than ever:
This season of BoJack Horseman isn’t as easy to marathon as the first three, and nor should it be. It becomes emotionally overwhelming and exhausting, prodding you to take breaks whenever possible. The second time I watched the season, I limited myself to a couple of episodes a day and I found that to be a much more enjoyable and healthy way to watch it. BoJack goes to some dark places this season, that often hit a little too close to home. He goes from his worst to his best in the span of six episodes and, for the first time, I wasn’t sure I wanted BoJack to receive the redemption he’s so obsessed with capturing.
Now, having time to think back on it, I’ve never wanted BoJack to succeed more. The finale gives him a vision for a hopeful future he’s never had before. For the first time in his life, it isn’t about him — and he’s more than okay with that. Unlike BoJack’s ex-girlfriend Wendy, we knew BoJack’s character going into the fourth season, and we were given the opportunity to know him better than ever before.
I’ve never loved a character more than I do BoJack after this season, flaws and all.
I used to joke that my reward for getting through an episode of Game of Thrones — and covering it that night for Polygon — was being able to watch Insecure, HBO’s best series.
Created by actress and comedian Issa Rae, Insecure is about two women living in Los Angeles, trying to navigate the world of dating, jobs and life. Think Girls, but more poignant and realistic. I was hooked on Insecure from the first time I watched it, and its most recent season was one of the best yet.
Newly single Issa, reunited with her girls, and trying to figure out how to date again after being in a relationship for so many years, is an inspiring character. She doesn’t have the answers — no one does — but she faces every battle with a sense of courage that makes you want to root for her. Issa is a mess, and the situations she finds herself in aren’t ideal, but that’s what makes her character so relatable and Insecure so enjoyable.
There’s a little bit of Issa and Molly, her best friend, in all of us.