The Best New Shows of 2017: The Handmaid's Tale, GLOW, The Young Pope, Star Trek and More!

It's the end of the year, and that means it's time to reflect on how we spent way too much time watching TV. 2017 was particularly stacked when it came to new shows, to the point where I honestly feel embarrassed about some of the shows that I didn't yet have time to watch; and that's despite the fact that this list is already 20 programs long. Despite that, in 2017, we were introduced to some truly great new shows, and it wouldn't be another year on BWP without a list of our favourite new shows. So, without further adieu, here is that list!

Shows I Haven't Watched Enough Of: The Gifted, Mindhunter, Feud: Betty and Joan, Big Little Lies, The Deuce

20. Sneaky Pete - Amazon
Lifted from the ashes of a failed CBS pilot, Sneaky Pete is the definition of comfort food TV. The show stars Giovanni Ribisi as an ex-con who steals the identity of his former cellmate and lives with his family (led by parents played by Peter Garretty and Character Actress Margo Martindale) in order to avoid the debt he owes to a gangster (Bryan Cranston). This show takes just enough from its showrunner (Justified's Graham Yost) and its tremendous cast to keep you interested, but it's missing something to lift it to the prestige TV quality that all that name value should carry with it.

19. The Tick - Amazon
If Sneaky Pete is missing something from being fully formed, Ben Edlund's resurrection of The Tick can only be described as half-baked. The first half of the first season, which debuted in 2017, is an extended origin story that inexplicably ends in a cliffhanger. It's maddening and everything you'd expect a showrunner to avoid in 2017, when there are 20 damn shows on a new TV list like this one (with another half-dozen that we didn't even have time to watch, and another dozen which we didn't care enough for to list). So what's The Tick doing here? Well, the little of it that we got was actually good, most notably Peter Serafinowitz's pitch-perfect performance as the titular character. There's a glimmer of hope in what Edlund gives us here, and I want to see more of it.

18. The Punisher - Netflix
The Punisher is in a similar boat as The Tick. It makes all the same mistakes we've been badgering Marvel's Netflix shows about and hasn't learned anything from the five shows that came before it, but it's lifted by a couple of tremendous performances (notably from Jon Berthnal in the titular role, who not only lives the character of Frank Castle but has somehow managed to redefine him in his own image). It also gives us nuggets of something important that it has to say, and that's certainly appreciated from a show in a franchise about a group of superheroes.

17. Big Mouth - Netflix
Netflix has had great success with its adult-oriented animated fair, and Big Mouth continues the streak thanks to the incredible talent behind it and its willingness to not even consider the idea of "the line", in terms of what's too crass. The Nick Kroll/John Mulaney voiced sitcom explores every corner of early puberty, and it goes places, man. While probably not for everyone, it’s a show that, unlike most of its characters, is very confident in its voice and intent, and it deserves a lot of credit for that.

16. Marvel's Runaways - Hulu
I almost left Runaways on the "shows I need to watch more of" list, but how fully formed it is from its very first few episodes really went a long way to lifting it up at the last minute. And with so many characters, and a fairly convoluted plot, it needed to be fully formed. It's very different from anything you might have already seen from Marvel, a breath of fresh air at the end of the year.

15. Shot In The Dark - Netflix
I’ll just come right out and say it; Shot in the Dark is an exploitative, voyeuristic reality show that highlights pretty much everything wrong with American culture. Not only because of how its produced (between opportunistic editing, its use of unnecessary cliffhangers and characters archetypes that are way too exaggerated), but the subject matter itself (it follows accident chasers for the local news in Los Angeles, akin to what Jake Gyllenhaal does in the movie Nightcrawler) is disturbing to the point where it almost makes me feel ashamed for liking it as much as I do. The entire first season is framed around the power struggle between three competing companies of "stringers" (what these faux-journalists like to call themselves), and it's complete with all sorts of characters; the cocky frontrunner, the sympathetic underdog, the douchey up-and-comer who's getting in everyone's way. Listen, it's annoyingly compelling, and I won't many any excuses for that or why I like it. So just deal with it.

14. Crashing - HBO
You would think that the market for a dramedy from a successful comedian playing a fictionalized, less-successful version of him or herself would have dried up by now, but somehow, Pete Holmes manages to pull it off yet again. And I don't think it's really a catch-all thing for shows starring stand-ups (you'll Jay Pharaoh's White Famous is nowhere on this list). Crashing is compelling because of its unique plot (an upstart comedian stumbles his way into the lives of various successful comedians playing themselves after his life falls apart) and the talent that Holmes and producer Judd Apatow manage to wrangle. Artie Lange is particularly fantastic in the first season.

13. American Gods - Starz
Bryan Fuller's latest is a visual feast that's more stunning, more self-indulgent than anything the TV auteur has done before (and I'll remind you that the third season of Hannibal had a kaleidoscopic lesbian sex scene). My only problem with this show is that after the first couple of episodes, I had trouble feeling compelled to go back to the show, and that's concerning, and something that stopped American Gods from appearing higher on the list; even though it feels weird to rank it this low.

12. The Orville - FOX
We're living in a world where we got two kinds of Star Trek shows; one which (spoiler alert for the list) we'll speak more of later, and one which feeds right into whatever it is that releases the nostalgia dopamine in your brain. The Orville is shamelessly the latter, and it's triggered a variety of reactions from its viewers. Critics saw right through it and hated it. Fans got exactly what they get out of The Next Generation rewatches and they've loved it. Personally, I fell someone in the middle. I didn't hate it for surpassing even Stranger Things in terms of shameless nostalgia, in fact I've grown to truly enjoy it, especially near the end of the first season when it finally found its groove and started trying more unique things. But I hated the ridiculous fake feud this show had with Star Trek: Discovery and quite honestly, it took away from my enjoyment of the show. Still, I can't deny that The Orville was one of the shows I was most excited for every week this fall.

11. Jean-Claude Van Johnson - Amazon
Like The Tick, Jean-Claude Van Johnson is short and feels like the beginning of something rather than a fully-formed thing. The difference is how, from beginning to end, the whole show is incredibly entertaining. Jean-Claude Van Damme plays himself, only his job as an actor is actually a cover for his career as a secret agent. In the show, he comes out of retirement to chase a girl and stumbles into a big conspiracy, which may or may not involve references to many JCVD movies, time travel, and even JCVD playing multiple different characters. If the first part of that description didn't sell you on the show, yet alone the rest of all of that, then I don't know what else to tell you.

10. Godless - Netflix
Westerns are the comfort food of scripted media, and as far as that analogy goes, Godless is a giant stack of goddamn pancakes smothered in maple syrop. Based on a movie script Scott Frank elongated into seven-episode miniseries, the plot in Godless is almost secondary to its atmosphere. It's about a gangster who goes looking for his former cohort on the run and hiding in a town run by women (after all the men die in a mining incident). But it's really about long monologues by a one-armed Jeff Daniels. Or close-ups of Sam Waterston's epic mustache. Or a subplot about how Scoot McNairy's character needs glasses. Or about Merritt Weaver scene-chewery as a no-nonsense queer character. Or unnecessarily long horse training sequences. Godless makes no attempts not to be any of those things, and I can easily get lost in its world.

9. American Vandal - Netflix
American Vandal is so much more than a spoof of documentary series based around a dick joke, if you can believe it. Don't get me wrong, that shouldn't deter you if that's what you actually want, because it still has a lot of damn dick jokes. It just founds a way to do a lot more, to surprise the viewer at every turn and actually build compelling, interesting characters in the process. There's a particular turn that the show takes about halfway through which is crazier and more compelling than most of what might be considered serious TV, and there hasn't been a time where this might be more needed on television.

8. The Handmaid's Tale - Hulu
I had a dilemma placing The Handmaid's Tale on this list. It really feels as if I should place it higher on this list. It's an incredibly important, prescient show that earned the Best Drama Emmy it won (despite how late in the season it premiered) thanks to a compelling story, incredible performances, and an awesome team behind the scenes which gave it some of the most unique and well-done directing, writing, production design and cinematography on TV. But, like, I don't want to place it any higher. Does that make sense? It's not a fun show. An important show, but not a fun one. And while I'm all for shows with something to say, especially ones which say things as well as The Handmaid's Tale did, I found myself thinking a lot more about the seven shows ahead of it on this list, and that's because those shows were a lot more fun (all while most of them still got their points across). I don't want to bag on what's still a tremendous show. It just feels weird knowing that my brain is telling me that it needs to be higher.

7. Ozark - Netflix
Shows like Ozark represent an interesting evolution of what we consider to be “peak TV”. It’s a show that very clearly intends to copy the Breaking Bad formula, like so many other shows have tried in recent years. But instead of taking the post-LOST route of merely attempting to recreate the success of what it's mimicking, the people behind Ozark try something different; they buck the trend of cheap imitations by raising the stakes to a ridiculous level and leaning into the qualifiers of what made Breaking Bad unique. Instead of showing us its main character Marty's (Jason Bateman) descent into evil, it starts us off by continuously punching us in the face with his bad tendencies. Instead of teasing us with a better half that may have good intentions and may occasionally do bad things, Marty's wife Wendy (Laura Linney) is just as evil as he is. Instead of starting of slow and building to an inevitable derailment, it purposely goes off the rails from the very beginning. Ozark is the soap opera version of Breaking Bad, and it's exactly what cheap imitators of the genre needed to be interesting and compelling.

6. Star Trek: Discovery - CBS: All Access
Star Trek: Discovery could have taken the easy route out and been a nostalgia knockoff like The Orville. But instead, it attempted something much more difficult, something much more necessary and painful for fans of the series and of science fiction as a whole; it aimed to evolve Star Trek, to bring it forward and match the storytelling conventions of Peak TV. It's dark, bold, serialized, and flawed. And while some Trek fans may disagree, it's exactly what I wanted out of this show. That means some growing pains, and some imperfection early on despite high expectations. Still, there's so much that Discovery pulls off. The characters and actors who play them are great (a stacked cast led by, among others, Sonequa Martin-Green, Jason Isaacs, Doug Jones and Anthony Rapp), the visuals are stunning, the science is weird, new and interesting and exactly what this franchise needed. I'm willing to admit that its status as a prequel has been a bit of a crutch, but it's even found compelling things to do with that (including a great Harry Mudd episode and some interesting stuff with Spock's dad Sarek). Discovery finds a way to balance the impossible situation it finds itself in. It needs to satisfy existing Star Trek fans of all ilks, make new ones, sell a streaming service, and actually be a good show in a year with it has 400+ other ones to compete with. And it does all these things admirably. While it may not satisfy everyone, it actually doesn't necessarily try to despite the aforementioned balancing act, and that's actually part of what I appreciate most about it.

5. Legion - FX
Fargo has already proven that Noah Hawley is a great showrunner. Legion might put him into "genius" territory, as the writer manages to take an existing comics property with a shit-ton of baggage attached to it and churn out a show that's unique, indulgent, beautiful and just all-around weird; attributes that are so much more impressive when you consider how superhero shows and movies are a dime a dozen. Legion manages to exist and even thrive in such a convoluted franchise by purposely blurring the lines of what it means to be an X-Men TV show. It's a psychological rollercoaster where you don't know what's real and what isn't. It's a show that, in the moment, I never wanted to write about or analyze. I just wanted to be in that world, take in its performances and its visuals. And after the fact, get excited about some ridiculous, long-forgotten detail from the comics. Superhero shows can be a lot of things in 2017. Legion is easily the best of those things.

4. The Young Pope - HBO
There's a scene in The Young Pope where the titular Young Pope (Jude Law) gets dressed in his finest Young Pope garb in order to address the cardinals. It's set to LMFAO's "Sexy and I know It" and it's probably the best thing I've ever seen on TV. It's one of many moments where the show that spawned an entire currency in the meme economy leans into exactly the kind of thing people lovingly made fun of it for. And while that was a big part of what made Paulo Sorrentino's big venture into scripted television successful, what truly made The Young Pope wasn't its ridiculous moments; it was its ability to parlay those ridiculous moments into sincere ones. Moments that had something to say. Moments which wound up being oddly prescient to the current American political landscape despite being written by someone who is not American and largely for a non-American audience. The Young Pope is one of several examples on this list of shows that did what The Handmaid's Tale did while also managing to have a little fun. It's the oddest of those examples, but also arguably the most unique. Also, it has a kangaroo and Diane Keaton as a nun who's bad at basketball.

3. Nirvanna The Band The Show - VICE Canada
You've probably never heard of Nirvanna The Band The Show, and I think I want to make it my life's goal to change that. It's a weird Canadian show made by weird, original filmmakers (notably Matt Johnson, who's made some of my favourite recent movies including The Dirties and Operation Avalanche) and it has a weird premise; It's about a band, Nirvanna The Band, and every episode has them hatching a scheme to get a gig at a small Toronto nightclub called The Rivoli. As the show evolves over the season and a half that aired in 2017, it becomes so much more. It becomes nostalgia parody, with episodes spoofing everything from Home Alone to Daredevil, it becomes a riff on Johnson's own aforementioned movies (which is doubly hilarious when you consider that not many people have probably seen them). And it's often a social experiment or even a prank show, as Johnson et al film much of the show in downtown Toronto, with real people who often have no idea what's happening. But it would be a disservice to call Nirvanna The Band The Show a prank show. It's actually never one individual thing. It's malleability, its uniqueness is what makes it so great. My biggest hope for 2018 is that more people get to discover it.

2. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel - Amazon
So we already spoke about one show that does a lot of what The Handmaid's Tale does without being dour. In that sense, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel may be the antithesis of its Hulu counterpart. It's just as much about womanhood and feminism as Handmaid's, and it's set in a time almost as frightening as its dystopian future (*gasp* the 1950s), it has a lead as compelling and amazing as Elisabeth Moss in Rachel Brosnahan, a unique voice behind the scenes in Amy Sherman-Palladino, and incredible writing, acting and production design as well. It manages to accomplish all the same things all while managing to be hilarious and uplifting instead of depressing. It's a show about a woman who decides to become a standup comedian after her husband leaves her, and the family drama that ensues. Brosnahan is a revelation in titular role, and she's well supported, not only by the writing and directing of Sherman-Palladino, but also the incredible acting talent around her (including Alex Borstein, Tony Shalhoub and Marin Hinkle, among others). Everything about this show (much like Palladino's previous efforts with Gilmore Girls) is insanely infectious and perfectly executed, and the exact kind of counterbalance needed in today's political climate.

1. GLOW - Netflix
I love GLOW for almost the exact same reasons I love Mrs. Maisel. It's smart, hilarious, well-acted, written and directed, it takes advantage of its period setting (in this case, the 80s), and it's politically relevant without losing sight of a need to be fun and entertaining. It may honestly be an almost arbitrary distinction, but the reason GLOW is the one that winds up being me favourite new show of the year may be because I took a little bit more satisfaction out of its conclusion. Mrs. Maisel builds to a wonderfully satisfying conclusion itself, but I remember cheering at the end of GLOW like I was a kid live at the wrestling event they were putting on in the show. The first season of GLOW is so perfectly crafted that I almost feel as if more of it would taint what we've already been given. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying we shouldn't be subjected to more Alison Brie (and Betty Gilpin, and all the rest) in spandex (although I could have done without the Marc Maron nude scene), but Glow truly is about as perfect a first season of television as you can get, and probably the Netflix original everyone should watch.

Well, that does it for us. What was your favourite new show of 2017? What did we get wrong on this list? Let us know in the comments!