Monday, May 07, 2018

COLUMN: Best of 2017 - TV

One of the most famous -- and perhaps most misunderstood -- pieces of advice given aspiring authors is this: WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW. Okay, then, let's be honest: I know a lot about TV. At least, I sure watch a whole lot of it. So every year, I get one week to write what I know and tell you my picks for the best TV series of the past year:

#10 - Kevin (Probably) Saves the World (ABC). - This show could have been SO hokey. An everyman loser gets visited by an angel who tasks him to do good deeds and save righteous souls. This could have been "Highway to Heaven" or "Touched By An Angel" or any number of schlocky heartstring-tugging ratings-grabbers. But Jason Ritter plays everyman Kevin with such a childlike naivety and innocent charm that it salvages the sometimes silly plotlines and makes this show just plain fun to watch. I hope it sticks around long enough to make an impact.

#9 - Life in Pieces (CBS). For three years now, "Life in Pieces" has seemed to exist simply to fill time after "The Big Bang Theory," which is incredibly unfair. Joke for joke, it's the funniest show on network TV right now. THe formula's simple: Assemble the most talented ensemble comedy cast you can, give them a script full of edgy jokes at a frenetic pace, and watch the magic happen.

#8 - Riverdale (The CW). When I first heard they were making a teen drama based on the classic Archie comics, I rolled my eyes HARD. But then it aired, and all was forgiven. This is not the Archie we read as a kid. This is Archie done CW style. That means murder, intrigue, and romance delivered in a deliciously hammy package. It's an over-the-top Riverdale where street gangs named Serpents and Ghoulies get high-schoolers hooked on drugs called "jingle-jangle." It's a world where Archie's parents are played by Luke Perry and Molly Ringwald. It's ridiculous and it's wonderful. Welcome to your new guilty pleasure.

#7 - Legion (FX). Just when I was ready to scream "ENOUGH WITH THE SUPERHERO SHOWS!" comes this genre-saving mind-melter from FX. Based on a fringe splinter X-Men comic, Legion tells the story of David Haller, a man diagnosed with schizophrenia at a young age who's spent much of his life in a psychiatric hospital. But what's real and what's a delusion? Is Haller really schizophrenic? Or could he possibly be the most powerful mutant on Earth? Maybe he's both. The show's not big on answers, instead presenting it to you through Haller's unreliable narrative as he tries to understand and control his truth and identity. It's a non-stop headspin and captivating as all get out.

#6 - The Good Place (NBC). Never bet against Michael Schur, the veteran SNL writer who went on to produce the "The Office" and create shows like "Parks & Recreation" and "Brooklyn Nine-Nine." His newest inventive sitcom tells the story of Eleanor, a soul who lived a bad life but, thanks to a clerical mix-up, ends up in "The Good Place." It's a heavenly oasis created and run by Michael, an "architect" played with scene-chewing gusto by Ted Danson. Watching Eleanor struggle to be good is a premise that seems too odd for network TV, but Schur pulls it off with liberal doses of laughs, humanity, and a surprise ending to season one that made me jump out of my chair.

#5 - Rick and Morty (Adult Swim.) The most innovative show on TV, "Rick & Morty" somehow manages the impossible: It makes the gags on "South Park" seem tame and dated. This envelope-pushing cartoon is the brainchild of Dan Harmon, who brought us the sitcom "Community" and knows a thing or two about how to push envelopes. For 3 seasons now, Rick & Morty have let us tag along with their inter-dimensional adventures, and the new season's just as shocking and laugh-out-loud funny as you could possibly want.

#4 - Search Party (TBS). Laughs come easy in this bleakest of dark comedies, where a numb hipster desperate for feelings and ambition sees a former classmate on a missing persons poster. When she tells her pack of self-absorbed and nearly intolerable friends, they begin a mission to find their missing friend, despite the fact that they were never really friends with her in the first place. Occasionally terrifying, mostly silly, and the breakout performance of the year from Alia Shawkat in the lead role.

#3 - Game of Thrones (HBO). Sometimes it's tough to even remember that "Game of Thrones" is a TV show. It certainly plays more like a movie, and new episodes are getting rarer than Star Wars sequels these days. As winter finally comes to Westeros, only a few episodes of the fantasy epic remain. This year, tensions started rapidly rising towards a looming conclusion no one knows the answers to yet. If you haven't gotten onboard GoT, you're running out of time. Trust me, it WILL be your loss.

#2 - Stranger Things (Netflix). The second season of the nostalgia-filled 80's monster throwback returned to Netflix this fall and most certainly did NOT disappoint. The Upside Down gets turned inside out this season, and as you'd expect, the only ones capable of saving the world are the same ragtag group of kids that saved it last year. It's fun, it's scary, and it might be the most binge-worthy show of all time.

#1 - Twin Peaks (Showtime). I never thought it would happen. 25 years after my favorite TV show of all time signed off with an infuriatingly vague ending, Twin Peaks returned. But this was no ordinary reboot with a new cast and similar plot. No, this was a brand new chapter to the original story, with most of the original cast returning and the plot picking up 25 years after we left it. But this time, freed by the move from network TV to Showtime, Twin Peaks director and co-creator David Lynch could -- and DID -- go full-throttle freaky, turning the new series into a nearly incomprehensible coda that fans will be dissecting on message boards and at conventions for years to come. It's not TV; it's a work of art.

The only thing bad about television in 2017 is that there might not ever be another year this good.

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