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The best and worst television shows of 2017 (and the biggest surprises)

December 16, 2017 Updated: December 16, 2017 at 8:01 am
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"Outlander" continued to impress this season. Photo via Starz.

What an incredible year for TV! With more than 500 new and returning programs airing in 2017, there was a little bit of something for every type of television viewer. In fact, there are probably too many choices. As you can imagine, I watch a lot of TV but even I couldn’t get to everything. There was just too much! That’s what made putting this list together so challenging. 

When it comes to picking the best of the best, it’s hard to leave some shows out. Programs that I thoroughly enjoyed this year, like “Stranger Things” and “Game of Thrones,” just didn’t make the cut. Although conversely, when it came to listing the worst TV shows to air in 2017, I easily could have made a longer list. But when I had to narrow things down to my own restrictive numbers, my selections were pretty clear. Here are my choices for the 10 best shows of 2017, the five biggest surprises, and the five worst programs of the year. 

The 10 best shows of 2017
“Billions” (Showtime) - “Shameless,” “Ray Donovan,” and “Homeland” are what most people think of when it comes to Showtime programming but “Billions” doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti are both at the top of their game as a US Attorney and a hedge fund king out to destroy each other. 

"Big Little Lies" made a strong impression in 2017. Photo via HBO.  

“Big Little Lies" (HBO) - Every relationship in this series starring Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley and Nicole Kidman is deep and authentic. Although this amazing series had a satisfying conclusion, fans are sure to have been pleased when it was announced that a second season is coming. 

“Outlander” (Starz) - Why isn’t “Game of Thrones” on this list? Because this year “Outlander” has surpassed it. While you can certainly enjoy both (I sure do) for some reason I always compare these shows to each other. This year “Outlander” became the superior show. Its use of the supernatural never takes precedence over the plot and after all this time I’m still addicted to the Claire/Jamie relationship. 

THE GOOD PLACE -- "Everything is Great!" Episode 201 -- Pictured: Kristen Bell as Eleanor Shellstrop -- (Photo by: Colleen Hayes/NBC) 

“The Good Place” (NBC) - No comedy on TV takes as many chances as “The Good Place.” Mike Schur and his team mixed up the series narrative at the beginning of season two, a bold move that paid off beautifully.  

“The Americans” (FX) - Sadly the story of Russian spies Philip (Mathew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) comes to a close next year. However, if you’ve been watching this program from the start you’re sure to be addicted. This latest season, which saw Philip start to lose his enthusiasm for his work, was yet another excellent addition. 

“Veep” (HBO) - With quick fire humor and a stellar cast with perfect timing, “Veep” makes the fictional politician Selina Meyer (Julia-Louis Dreyfus) and her cast of hapless rubes a group that’s easy to laugh at. 

DOWNWARD DOG - ABC's "Downward Dog" stars Ned as Martin and Allison Tolman as Nan. (ABC/Craig Sjodin) 

“Downward Dog” (ABC) - I loved this series about a millennial named Nan (Allison Tolman) and her dog Martin (voiced by Samm Hodges). Martin is a surprisingly philosophical canine who spoke to the audience and provided a fascinating outlook on life from his point of view. Sadly, ABC cancelled after one season, which is a shame. 

“The Handmaid’s Tale” (Hulu) - This series is a disturbing yet thought-provoking program that is sure to lure you in. Its content can be troubling, but a brilliant performance by Elisabeth Moss, a strong supporting cast and a fascinating storyline make for a series worth diving into.

"Rick and Morty" rose to a whole new level of popularity this season. And yes, R&M fans, I'm aware this is a shot from season two. Photo courtesy of Cartoon Network.  

“Rick and Morty” (Adult Swim) - After being a well kept secret for two seasons, “Rick and Morty” blew up during its third season. The draw of the show was so powerful it caused crazed fans to converge on McDonald’s restaurants across the country looking for a few packets overrated chicken McNugget dipping sauce. Of course, there’s more to the show than obscure pop culture references. “Rick and Morty” has some of the most intelligent humor you’ll find on television. 

“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” (HBO) - This weekly comedic series presents news exactly how I want it - informative but with a heavy dose of humor. While John Oliver and his team hit the world of politics hard, they aren’t afraid to deal with such things as nuclear waste, the opioid epidemic, and the NFL. 

5 Pleasant Surprises from 2017
“Brockmire” (IFC) - Hard drinking sports announcer Jim Brockmire (Hank Azaria) started as a character on the Funny or Die website but he transitioned nicely to TV. The quote worthy Brockmire ("Knowledge and assumptions are like Loggins and Messina. They seem similar, but time proves one of them to be completely worthless.”) was this year’s first pleasant surprise. 

THE ORVILLE: L-R: Seth MacFarlane, Penny Johnson Jerald, Adrianne Palicki, Halston Sage and guest star Brian George in THE ORVILLE premiering this fall on FOX. ©2017 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: FOX 

“The Orville” (Fox) - Even though I currently sit as the TV critic giving “The Orville” its highest score on Metacritic, I still had issues with Seth MacFarlane’s “Star Trek” inspired series, giving it a C+ in my review. That said, as the season went on I had a clearer understanding of MacFarlane’s vision and by the season finale I was hooked. 

“Ozark” (Netflix) - It’s hard to keep up with every new Netflix series because they churn out about two a week. This is probably why I initially missed out on “Ozark,” despite being a Jason Bateman fan. When I finally got around to it, thanks to a co-workers recommendation (Thanks Anne!), I found the show incredibly impressive. 

“The Gifted” (Fox) - I liked the pilot for “The Gifted” but wasn’t sure how it would play out over a full season. After watching it for nine episodes, however, I found it provides a unique perspective on mutants and is a fun series. 

“Young Sheldon” (CBS) - I can’t stand “The Big Bang Theory.” As with most CBS comedies (“Man With a Plan,” “Kevin Can Wait”), it lacks complexity. This is why I’m surprised by “Young Sheldon.” Its diverse relationships and sweet humor make it an enjoyable program. 

The 5 Worst Shows of 2017
“9JKL” (CBS) - I like Mark Feuerstein well enough but this comedy where he moves into an apartment right next to his parents (Linda Lavin, Elliot Gould) is just TERRIBLE. 

“The New Celebrity Apprentice” (NBC) - While I’m happy that Denver native Matt Iseman (“America Ninja Warrior”) won what is sure to be the final season of this series, this reboot hosted by Arnold Schwarzenegger proved to be a bust. 

“Valor” (The CW) - Military themed shows were all the rage this year and they were a mixed bag. Wooden acting and poor storytelling ground this military drama about helicopter pilots before it could take off.  

“Friends from College” (Netflix) - The cast of this Netflix series (Keegan-Michael Key, Fred Savage, Cobie Smulders) is strong but the story of these 30 and 40 somethings who act like middle school kids isn’t even close to funny.   

“Gypsy” (Netflix) - A New York City therapist blurs the lines between her personal life and work. While this sounds promising, it’s another instance of a strong cast (Naomi Watts, Billy Crudup) unable to fill the holes in a ridiculous plot. 

Gazette media columnist Terry Terrones is a member of the Television Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @terryterrones.

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