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2017 in Television

, , and | Monday, December 4, 2017

JOSEPH HAN | The Observer

The era of “Peak TV” continued in 2017, with hundreds of programs airing on network TV and streaming services alike. Netflix alone spent $6 billion on original programming this year, ensuring not only a high volume of content to binge watch into the early hours of the morning, but a diverse range of serieses from all different genres. To kick off “best of the year” week, here at Scene we have chosen some of our favorite shows of the year, from an inventive network sitcom about the afterlife to a surreal auteur-driven revival to an animated series about puberty.

Best Jokes About Moral Philosophy: “The Good Place” 

By Nicholas Ottone, Scene Writer 

With “The Good Place,” creator Michael Schur has crafted the shining pinnacle of the network sitcom, an afterlife-centered meditation on morality and humanity interspersed with silly wordplay and warm relationships. Following an astonishingly well-executed twist, “The Good Place” improves upon its first season with new character dynamics, a radically different premise, and even more narrative possibilities. Sitcom legend Ted Danson of “Cheers” fame dominates as the constantly conflicted Michael, an immortal afterlife architect. Throughout the season, the comic ensemble delivers both jokes and philosophical explanations with aplomb. The breathlessly paced storylines thrive on invention and ambition. Wherever “The Good Place” goes next, there is no doubt it will prove exhilarating and hilarious.

Best Comedy about Crippling Depression: “Bojack Horseman” 

By Nicholas Ottone, Scene Writer 

Brazenly ambitious and absurdly confident, the fourth season of Netflix’s animated Hollywood satire “Bojack Horseman” reached new heights of its two main narrative modes: surreal hilarity and existential despair. Creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg dove deeper into the series’ human and animal celebrities, exploring messy relationships, miscarriages and mental illnesses along the way. These darkly serious plots run parallel with the series’ numerous sight gags, puns and goofy one-liners that characterize a singular sense of purpose, creating a show that is eminently watchable yet unceasingly intense. “Bojack Horseman” is simply unlike anything else on television.

Best Mind-Bending Trip through a Nuclear Explosion: “Twin Peaks: The Return” 

By Matthew Munhall, Scene Writer 

The original run of “Twin Peaks” — which aired on ABC for two seasons in 1990-91 — filtered its art-house weirdness through the conventions of familiar TV genres, fusing together small-town soap opera, police procedural, supernatural mystery and teen drama. With this year’s revival, creators David Lynch and Mark Frost once again subverted expectations, with a series that was at times breathtaking, hilarious, frustrating and utterly confusing. While it has a fairly straightforward main narrative — following Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) as he escapes from the extra-dimensional Black Lodge and returns to the titular logging town — the series often raised more questions than it answered. Nowhere more so than its eighth episode, with it surreal sequence of the first nuclear test in 1944, which was perhaps the most experimental and stunning thing to ever air on American television.

Best Musical Numbers About Mental Health: “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”

By Matthew Munhall, Scene Writer 

In the theme song for the second season of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” anti-heroine Rebecca (co-creator and star Rachel Bloom) attempts to justify her actions — which begin with moving across the country for her old summer camp boyfriend — as just those of a girl in love. “I have no underlying issues to address / I’m certifiably cute and adorably obsessed!” Rebecca sings cheerily, with a huge grin plastered on her face. This year, in its second and third seasons, the brilliant CW musical comedy delved into how heroine Rebecca pursues relationships as a way to avoid addressing her mental health issues. The series presented one of the most nuanced depictions of mental illness on television, as well as hilarious, indelible musical numbers like the Bar Mitzvah anthem “Remember That We Suffered” and ‘60s girl group parody “Maybe She’s Not Such a Heinous B—- After All”

Best Movie-Star Performances on the Small Screen: Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon in “Big Little Lies” 

By Matthew Munhall, Scene Writer 

HBO’s “Big Little Lies,” based on the best-selling novel by Liane Moriarty, revolved around a murder mystery that rocks a private school community in Monterey, California. The miniseries featured an A-list cast, but it was anchored by outstanding performances from two of its stars: Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman, both of whom were deservedly nominated for Emmys. Witherspoon is pitch-perfect as Madeline Martha Mackenzie, a gossipy, type-A mom who provides much of the show’s comic relief. “I love my grudges,” she explains to her friends, in one of her many memorable one-liners. “I tend to them like little pets.” It is Kidman’s portrayal of Celeste Wright, a lawyer turned stay-at-home mom in an abusive marriage, that is particularly devastating — as an actor, Kidman is able, as Emily Nussbaum noted in her New Yorker review, “to wear a mask and simultaneously let you feel what it’s like to hide behind it.”

Best High School Whodunits: “Riverdale” and “American Vandal”

By Matthew Munhall, Scene Writer 

Tonally and generically, “Riverdale” and “American Vandal” are very different shows. “Riverdale” is a dark, brooding CW teen soap opera that reimagines the Archie comics as a murder mystery. The series embraces its ridiculousness, with pop culture-heavy dialogue and increasingly absurd plot lines involving a serial killer and a drug called Jingle Jangle. “American Vandal,” in contrast, is a juvenile Funny or Die mockumentary parodying the true crime genre. Its budding filmmaker protagonists attempt to crack the mystery of who graffitied penises on 27 cars in the faculty parking lot. Yet, both shows turned crime-solving into an after-school activity and became endlessly entertaining television.

Best Year for a Comedian in New Formats: Nick Kroll

By Adam Ramos, Scene Editor

2017 found Nick Kroll experimenting with new mediums. From his successful stint on Broadway alongside fellow comedian John Mulaney in “Oh, Hello,” to his role as executive producer on the hilarious animated comedy “Big Mouth,” each of these new ventures showcased the comedian’s wealth of talents. “Big Mouth,” a Netflix original series, was a particularly successful project from Kroll who, in addition to his role as executive producer, voiced four central characters on the show.

Best Career Info Session for Existentialist / Nihilist Business Majors: “Nathan for You”

By Mike Donovan, Scene Writer 

There are those who love the Marketing Management Framework —  a meticulously rendered infographic that reduces creativity to 5 C’s, 4 P’s, STP  and various other acronyms — and obsess over its shrink-wrapped solutions.  

Then, there’s Nathan Fielder who — despite going to business school and getting “really good grades” — relegates business frameworks to its rightful position on the bottom rung beside One Republic and Grain Bowls.  

Two defining principles inform Fielder’s marketing strategy: (A) the invisible hand of subdued insanity and (B) a straight face. With these and nothing else, he facilitates television’s most ambitious merger — the marriage of the real and the absurd.

Profits, Fielder tells us, spring out of unexpected intersectional spaces. In his world, obesity and semi-pro hockey drive Chili sales, smoke alarms underlie the next pop hit and an aspiring Bill Gates impersonator becomes a window to the human soul.

Fielder tells stories of professions, which never (thankfully) descend to a dreary professionalism.


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About Adam Ramos

Adam is studying international economics in the class of 2018. He hails from beautiful New Jersey and says "draw" instead of "drawer."

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About Matthew Munhall

Matthew thinks everyone should listen to Charly Bliss.

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About Mike Donovan

Mike enjoys good words.

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