The golden age of television brought viewers an abundance of choice this year
Year in review: the best, the worst and the weirdest of TV in 2017
One thing we can never accuse television of is lack of choice. As we race towards the final bow of 2017, there’s no end in sight to the peak-TV phenomenon. The unprecedented growth of scripted American television series is predicted to surpass 500 shows by year’s end, up from the 455 of 2016. But, despite living in the so-called golden age of television, with so many linear and digital delivery systems, whether online, on demand or on your buddy’s smartphone, we’re finding it harder than ever to know where to point our remotes – let alone know what to watch.
Before we wade into the deluge of new shows coming our way in 2018, let’s take a moment to reflect on where our eyeballs have been this year. Here’s a sampler of the best, the worst, the bizarre and the real.
Better Call Saul
This Breaking Bad spin-off, battered in legal sleaze and deep-fried in duplicity, keeps bettering itself with each new season. The planet’s eyes are riveted on Slippin’ Jimmy (so masterfully realised by Bob Odenkirk, now up for his third Golden Globe nomination) as he completes his transmutation to criminal lawyer Saul Goodman.
Game of Thrones
When that dastardly Night King hurled his ice harpoon to bring down Dany’s beloved dragon Viserion in a smoking fireball of agony onto the frozen lake in Beyond The Wall, we learned there’s no shame in crying for CGI pixels. No other show on earth delivers such superb fantasy drama on such an epic, massive scale.
The Handmaid’s Tale
Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s dark musings haunted viewers with this drama adapted from her 1985 novel about a dystopian future where the few remaining fertile women have been reduced to breeding chattels for a fundamentalist state. A critics’ darling, it won eight Emmys, including best drama.
At long last, Albert Einstein stopped being just a sweet fuzzy-haired joker thanks to actor Geoffrey Rush, who transformed him into a real flesh-and-blood man rife with human desires and riddled with conflicts just like the rest of us. National Geographic Channel, in its first scripted series, hit a home run with this.
Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange breathed venom, fire and spiteful new life into Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in Feud, a tale of Old Hollywood royalty up against the horrors of ageism – and each other – during the 1962 filming of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Psychological horror is putting it mildly.
The Wizard of Lies
In this HBO biopic ripped from the Wall Street headlines, Robert De Niro had viewers gasping as he slipped into the thieving skin of Bernie Madoff, the investment tsar who wielded his fiscal gusto and sociopathic soul to blow billions of dollars of his trusting clients’ do-re-mi.
Stephen King’s novella about a small town in Maine, which becomes shrouded in creeping horror and the breakdown of society, is a bona fide, spine-chilling masterpiece. But unsatisfied, frustrated viewers had every right to have a foggy mental breakdown when producers padded the yarn into a sprawling miniseries with more ridiculous subplots than actual monsters.
OK, so the mammoth teleporting puppy was pretty cool – but the rest of the super-powered royal family who flee to Earth to escape a coup proved to be an embarrassment to the Marvel Universe, with lacklustre writing and lousy production values. Good thing Stan Lee’s not dead, or he would be spinning in his grave.
Netflix producers threw wads of money at the screen to update the glitz, glamour and delicious viciousness of the fabled 1980s primetime soap for a new generation. But what they failed to get right was the sizzling, cat-fighting chemistry between the self-centred brat Fallon Carrington Colby and her gorgeous, gold-digging stepmother-to-be Cristal.
Give full marks to the man of a thousand voices. With his new sci-fi comedy, Seth MacFarlane is living his dream and passion as the ultimate Star Trek fan – he has finally put himself in the captain’s chair. After a clunky, jokey start, this odd series is warping higher into the cultural cosmos with a second-season renewal.
The Walking Dead
Even Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs) can tell you this zombie apocalypse series bites at times. Negan, despite bravura nastiness by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, is perhaps its most two-dimensional villain ever. Yet there’s no denying how badly we ache to see the final face-off between Rick (Andrew Lincoln), Negan and Lucille.
Santa Clarita Diet
A peculiar entry in the undead sweeps, this series saw Drew Barrymore return to TV as Sheila the cheerful zombie realtor, whose family slays together to stay together. Unlike the shuffling hordes of The Walking Dead, the moment her heart stops, she is “reborn” with a new lease on life.
So what if we “live out our lives on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam”, as the late astronomer-philosopher Carl Sagan described our time on Earth? This powerful, poetic and awe-inspiring documentary recounts how we puny humans built the Voyager spacecraft and touched the wonders of our solar system.
Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton
When Jim Carrey chose to live four months as the Dadaist comedian Andy Kaufman while filming Man on the Moon, the shoot became a living nightmare for everyone and lit up this truly incandescent documentary.
We’ve all heard about the legendary (in a bad way) drug experiments and mind-control efforts funded by the Central Intelligence Agency during the Cold War. Oscar-winning director Errol Morris weaves drama and re-enactment to chilling effect with the true, untold story of a CIA conspiracy and death of a family man.