Comfort TV- Best of 2017
I watched a lot of freaking tv this year. Most of it was amazing because #PeakTV. There were almost 500 scripted television shows this past year, and I barely scratched the surface. I still haven’t watched what most critics acknowledged as the some of the best shows this year, including the last season of the HBO show The Leftovers, the return of Twin Peaks on Showtime, and Hulu’s breakout The Handmaid’s Tale.
Given the constant onslaught of horrible news and the dumpster fire that is the world today, my television viewing habits tended towards comfort, comedy, and stories told by new and diverse storytellers. These may not be the technically best shows from 2017, but they kept me sane, comforted, and entertained. And that’s all I could ask for. In no particular order:
1. SMILF (Season 1): "Family-Sized Popcorn & a Can of Wine"
Sneaking in right at the end of the year, the “comedy” SMILF became must-see TV. I use the word comedy loosely because this Showtime series engages with some serious issues- sexual abuse, eating disorders, the trials and tribulations of being a poor single mother. And yes I may have a fondness for the show because it’s set in Boston (and clearly filmed here as well) but the cast is also wonderful. Connie Britton is delightful as a Camberville mom, Rosie O’Donnell is doing a more-than-passable Southie accent, and Raven Goodwin is wonderful as Frankie’s best friend. Creator and lead Frankie Shaw, and the show overall, surprisingly received Golden Globe nominations. If you like your comedy dark and with depictions of single motherhood and dementia, SMILF will steal your heart like it did mine.
2. One Mississippi (Season 2): "Can't Fight This Feeling"
One Mississippi is another semi-autobiographical dark comedy featuring a female protagonist. *Scans list* I’m sensing a theme. One Mississippi had a stellar, though uneven, season two. Tig Notaro was wry and sharp and funny as always and John Rothman, who plays her stepdad Bill, was a quiet revelation. I’m a sucker for any show not set in a major city. Tig explores what it means to be queer in the town Bay St. Lucille, Mississippi and what it means to be queer in the south post-election. I can’t get enough of it. There’s also a disturbing episode that feels especially relevant in the post #metoo world, one that seems to call out show producer and noted harasser Louis CK. Watch it. You can find all 12 episodes on Amazon Prime.
3. Brooklyn 99 (Season 3 & 4): "99/Game Night"
Slowly but surely, Brooklyn 99 has taken the role 30 Rock and Parks & Rec used to play in my life- genuine comfort tv. I look forward to hanging out with these adorable weirdos every week. The writing is always solid, and the cast is unassailably funny. If you’re not watching this gem of a show (network, even!), do yourself a favor and binge it over the winter.
4. Jane the Virgin (Season 3 & 4): "Chapter Fifty-Five"
OH this was a tough one because in my mind, Jane the Virgin lives in the same space as Crazy-Ex Girlfriend- Friday nights on CW, feminist as fuck, sweet and consistently heartwarming. JtV edged out Crazy-Ex though for one reason; Rafael with a beard. Okay, two reasons- it’s still wonderful to see a brown family on TV, especially a family with strong, fiercely independent women. The show continues to be a source of warmth while being quietly progressive.
5. Bojack Horseman (Season 4): "Time's Arrow"
Bojack Horseman is decidedly the opposite of a comfort show. Sometimes it feels as though I dreamt this show into existence- it’s a combination of animal puns, skewering of celebrity culture, and stark depiction of depression that seems like it shouldn’t work. But not only does the show deliver on each of those fronts, it does so beautifully. "Time’s Arrow" is a heart wrenching episode that is both stunning storytelling and visually brilliant. Do not binge this show. You’re going to anyway, so make sure you have your therapist on speed dial.
6. Insecure (Season 2): "Hella Disrespectful"
The sophomore season of Issa Rae’s comedy was a decided upgrade from Season 1 (which wasn’t too shabby either). The writing got tighter, the cinematography and lighting even better somehow, and the actors all came into their own. Following along with Black Twitter every Sunday was the highlight of my week, and I'm thrilled to see what shenanigans Issa and Molly get into next season.
7. Master of None (Season 2): "Thanksgiving"
Season 2 of Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang's show was a treat. "New York, I love you" might be the more inventive episode and "The Thief" was a lovely homage to Italian cinema but I keep coming back to "Thanksgiving", penned by and starring Emmy-winner Lena Waithe. Much like the holiday it's centered on, the episode is both comforting and fraught with family drama. The season as a whole didn't work for me, but I'm so glad this show exists.
8. Chewing Gum (Season 2): WTF Happened?
2017 was a year in which I was careless. It was a very bad year to lose your green card while vacationing in India. Well, it’s never a good year but the current dismantling of the immigration administrative state didn’t help the situation. Season 2 of Chewing Gum was a balm during that stressful time. The incredibly talented Michaela Coel, British actress, singer, and writer, adapted her play Chewing Gum for Netflix. It is riotously, laugh-out loud funny. The show is absurd at times and almost painful to watch at others but there is warmth underlying it that never makes the show feel mean spirited. If Coel looks familiar, she’s been popping up recently all over the big and small screen. 2018 may well be the year of Michaela Coel and I can’t wait.
9. Halt & Catch Fire (Season 4): Ten of Swords
Lurking under the surface of Halt & Catch Fire Season 1 was a good show. To watch a carefully crafted show about innovation, creativity, women in tech and silicon valley emerge over the course of the last few years has been a lovely experience. But more than anything this show was about building something bigger than yourself- a computer, a platform, a community, a family. This show felt like a treat I had squirrelled away for myself (though I’ve annoyed most of my friends and family with my entreaties to please please watch). The ending of Halt and Catch Fire hit me particularly hard and given how notoriously difficult series finales are to execute, I’m happy to report the team stuck the landing. The eight words at the heart of the climax resonated with me in the way I imagine Amy Palladino wishes the last four words of Gilmore Girls was supposed to. Watch all of it on Netflix now, and please text me every part of your journey.
10. Girls (Season 6): "American Bitch"
The last season of Lena Dunham’s much criticized and overly analysed show was definitely not among the show’s strongest but it felt like an appropriate ending to the journey that Hannah, Marnie, Shoshanna, and Jessa embarked upon 5 years and a lifetime ago. "American Bitch" was a near perfect episode of television and incredibly prescient, given the current conversation about sexual harassment by older, powerful men in media. The show could be problematic but it was confident, daring, and helped usher in a new style of storytelling.
If I finished Season 4 of the WONDERFUL Norwegian show SKAM it probably would have made the list. I wasn’t thrilled about the American adaptation but knowing that creator Julie Andem is helming it gives me hope. This wasn’t The Americans best season, but a subpar season of the tense FX drama is still better than most things on TV. I was sorry to say goodbye to the charming Playing House, created by and starring Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair. This USA show is basically the equivalent of a sipping on a chilled glass of rose with your best girl friends. The equivalent of a hot cup of tea and cosy sweater would be the Great British Baking Show aka the perfect show to watch to stave off depression during a Boston winter and a Trump presidency. Shout out to The Good Place for proving that there are still surprises yet to be had on network TV and clever new shows don’t have to involve cops, lawyers, doctors, or reboots. I've already mentioned loving Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and this season continues to push the boundaries of network TV. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is reaching its expiration date, but I could (and have) watched Titus Andromedon “Lemonade” for hours. And finally, there’s a rough charm to Amazon’s Catastrophe starring Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney that keeps me coming back year after year.
PHEW. What a year. Thank dog for TV.