The Best TV Shows Of 2017

blank10. “Big Little Lies”
What at first glance appears to be a frothy, deliciously gossipy tale of power dynamics among rich Monterey mothers takes on a darker, more impactful hue in this would-be limited series. Based on Liane Moriarty’s bestselling novel, “Big Little Lies” explores the space between appearances and reality, particularly among the affluent in their oceanview mansions. Framed around a shocking murder in the seaside community, David E. Kelley’s drama reveals infidelity and insecurity, but it’s at its most powerful as it uncovers the layers of abuse in one of the picture-perfect families. Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and Shailene Woodley lead a cast that is impressive even for peak TV, with Alexander Skarsgård, Adam Scott and Laura Dern playing supporting roles. But amongst these big names, Robin Weigert stands out as the therapist to Kidman’s Celeste, allowing the Oscar winner to shine even more with a nuanced performance. The first season was such a remarkably self-contained story that news of more episodes threaten this perfectly finite thing, but bringing on Andrea Arnold as director gives us hope that “Big Little Lies” can continue to be among television’s most addictive yet insightful shows.

blank9. “Master of None” Season 2
Even in this golden age of television, it’s rare for a show to be as stylish and as aware of its cinematic predecessors as Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang’s Netflix comedy, while still being entirely entertaining right at this moment. Season two premiere “The Thief” is a black-and-white ode to Vittorio De Sica’s “Bicycle Thieves,” and its follow-up “Le Nozze” is sunny and full of references to Michelangelo Antonioni. But it isn’t afraid to originate and tell stories specific to the lives of Dev (Ansari) and his friends either. “Religion” explores his relationship with his Muslim parents, showing a facet of Islam that isn’t often seen on television. “First Date” is an editing marvel, whizzing us through the whirlwind of modern romance. “New York, I Love You” pays attention to the people who are often only background in NYC-set shows and movies, giving a voice to cab drivers and bodega workers in an episode that features only a glimpse of our protagonist but still keeps viewers utterly engaged. However it’s “Thanksgiving” that won a deserved Emmy for Ansari and his co-star (and co-writer) Lena Waithe. It covers decades in the friendship between Dev and Denise (Waithe), with moments both hilarious and heartwarming as it relates her experience as a black lesbian. Ansari and Yang aren’t sure when – or if – we’ll get a season three, but in the meantime, they’ve left us with two seasons of ambitious comedy that aren’t content to simply be funny.

blank8. “BoJack Horseman” Season 4
It remains something of a miracle that one of the most moving, powerful dramas right now is an animated comedy about a talking horse who used to be a sitcom star, which is also frequently more hilarious than anything else on TV. Season 4 of “BoJack Horseman” might not have quite matched the creative heights of the devastating last year, which saw our anti-hero (Will Arnett) reach rock bottom, in part leading to the death of his sitcom daughter Sarah Lynn. But in some ways, it’s for the best: Season 4 was a little more optimistic than previous years, as BoJack came to terms with his difficult relationship with his mother, and a legacy of inherited trauma, and bonded with a surrogate daughter who may or may not be his actual daughter (Aparna Nancherla, in a lovely performance). Not that it wasn’t prepared to go to dark places either: the relationship between Diane (Alison Brie) and Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins) more than ever staked its claim to be television’s most incisive portrait of marriage, and Princess Carolyn’s episode was pure [fire emoji]. That it could do all of that amidst some formally daring diversions, the usual parade of puns, and deeply silly plotlines about clown dentists, a Bunuelian breakdown in civilization and Felicity Huffman’s reality show, makes it something of a landmark.

blank7. “Alias Grace”
The other Margaret Atwood adaptation to crack our top 10, it’s a shame, if an understandable one, that the Sarah Polley-scripted, Mary Harron-directed “Alias Grace” did not catch the public imagination in the same way that “The Handmaid’s Tale” did. But if its exploration of patriarchal oppression and its effect on the female psyche doesn’t have the instantly iconic, political usefulness of ‘Handmaid,’ it arguably achieves a level of subtlety and insight that goes one better. It stars an outstanding, riveting Sarah Gadon as notorious maidservant Grace Marks (Atwood’s book was inspired by a true story) who has been imprisoned for 15 years for the murder of her mistress Nancy (Anna Paquin). Grace is undergoing a series of interviews to determine her eligibility for early release, or even retrospective acquittal, but over the course of the miniseries’ 6 absorbing episodes, she becomes less an unreliable narrator than a mischievous one, leading both the doctor interviewing her and the audience (and possibly even herself if you take it all at face value) on a merry dance of did-she-or-didn’t-she? Not only a deeply satisfying examination of manipulation and self-mythologizing, “Alias Grace” is also a fascinating snapshot of 19th century Canadian social history and a gold-standard work of intelligent book-to-screen adaptation.

blank6. Dear White People
Funny, sexy and occasionally devastating, Justin Simien’s Netflix adaptation of his own film is (unfortunately) even more relevant than the movie was in 2014. Police brutality is an even larger part of the national conversation, thanks to Colin Kaepernick – and of course the cops who continue to commit it – and the issue plays a significant role in the first season of this comedy. “Dear White People” seethes with anger, while it still manages to elicit sharp, barking laughs. Its satirical approach to race relations at a prestigious, mostly white university is biting, but it still feels real rather than an over-the-top takedown. A lot of that is due to the characters – who each get a chance to share their perspective in their own episodes – as well as the actors who play them, particularly Logan Browning, Brandon P Bell, Antoinette Robertson and DeRon Horton. These are nuanced creations, each demonstrating the idea that blackness is not a monolith through the variety of characters we see and the facets of their individual personalities and identities. As befits its academic setting, “Dear White People” is one of the smartest shows on television, engaging with complex ideas and challenging its audience at each turn.