The past seemed to be repeating itself throughout 2017. It began with a jokey supposition you had heard in vape-clouded dorm rooms and Simpsons episodes before – imagine if Donald Trump was president – and ended with a grizzled and grumpy Luke Skywalker coming back to fight one last battle for the Resistance. The ludicrous GOP tax bill brought back the fallacies of trickle-down economics, which will only cause the next Great Depression and a few million deaths if we’re lucky, and the well-known “rumors” about Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and their ilk that had floated around Hollywood and New York for years came back to bite everyone on the ass. Just you try to enjoy a cozy night in with Seven now!
The same thing happened on TV, but it’s not like it’s a new thing. Fuller House will likely roll cameras on a fourth season later this year and there’s already talk of another order of that ghastly Will & Grace reunion, and that’s not even getting into that Gilmore Girls mess. And yet, the best TV series of the year came from similar returns, whether its David Lynch‘s triumphant return to the town of Twin Peaks or Spike Lee‘s abstracted, unfathomably generous revision of his knockout debut, She’s Gotta Have It. Friends from College mined much of its humor from an inability to grow up and stop making the same old mistakes. The not-so-buried feuds between brothers paints the hubbub that becomes a statewide catastrophe in Fargo‘s diabolical third season.
Meanwhile, an obsession with repeating what worked in the past seemed to hold entertainments like The Flash, Game of Thrones, This is Us, Ray Donovan, and Shameless in a cyclical rut. That’s true of many of their narrative decisions but also in form and storytelling. The era of allowing one looming dramatic arc to dictate nearly all the action in a season is still upon us and has reduced plenty of otherwise promising shows into safe and mundane serials, only elevated in rare respects by the strength of the cast in question. The best TV of 2017 didn’t just return to old ideas, characters, or predicaments; they also confronted them and revealed why those elements must change or become irrelevant. To progress, one must often let go of what they once loved and travel into the unknown, and if that doesn’t sum up 2017, I honestly don’t know what would.
For more of the Best of 2017, check out Allison Keene’s top 25 TV shows of the year, Dave Trumbore’s list of the best new animated series, Emma Fraser’s look at the best songs on TV, and Evan Valentine’s ranking of the year’s superhero TV.