TV’s Midyear Report
Credit: Illustration by Læmeur for EW
Picking your favorite children in the age of peak TV is no easy feat, but EW’s TV critic takes on the task – and singles out a work in progress that just might surpass the rest.
1. The Leftovers (HBO)
Credit: Ben King/HBO
Damon Lindelof’s spiritual drama achieved power and glory with stories of broken pilgrims locating hope in this life, not the next, and among the living, not the heavenly dead. Their strange treks proved the dynamic range of a boldly acted, brilliantly directed storytelling enterprise that could go anywhere. Kevin (Justin Theroux) voyaged into a surreal spy-fi alt-reality to assassinate his self-destructive nature. Matt (Christopher Eccleston) met “God” on a sex-cult cruise and learned how lost he was. Nora (Carrie Coon) found wholeness by placing her faith in risky human connection. The Leftovers showed amazing grace in the raw; it was sublime.
2. Catastrophe (Amazon)
Credit: Mark Johnson/Amazon Prime Video
Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan, creators and stars of TV’s funniest show about the bittersweet realities of marriage, fielded a next-level season by dialing up the drama without sacrificing ribald laughs. Another set of six salty episodes tracked nuanced, intertwined arcs: Rob and Sharon winding back to trust following the latter’s near-infidelity and the former’s relapse into alcohol abuse amid mounting insecurities and career struggles. Delaney’s portrait of unsustainable self-deception was a tragicomic triumph, matched by Horgan’s late-season assay of grief. The cliff-hanger reset their flailing quests for serenity with staggering power. Season 4, now.
3. American Crime (ABC)
Credit: Eric McCandless/ABC
It began with desperate seekers breaking into the country through a desert. It ended in a courtroom of degraded dreamers, beaten down redeemers, and unhappy spirits robbed of life and liberty. American Crime’s final season tackled issues of human trafficking and economic injustice, and presented absorbing drama about the intersection of personal fulfillment and social obligation. Creator John Ridley turned a North Carolina tomato farm into a model of modern enslavement that offered critique and empathy, while vibrant performances — Felicity Huffman, Regina King, Lili Taylor — captured the complexity and necessity of change.
4. American Gods (Starz)
American Gods Season 1 2017
Credit: Jan Thijs/Starz
In an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s dark fantasy novel, Bryan Fuller and Michael Green have created a sensational moving-picture storybook to question American values. The big-saga premise about a war between embodiments of dusty belief systems and modern idolatry is compelling, thanks to the hustling force of Ian McShane’s tricky-dicky Odin. Each episode is dense with irreverent pleasures, from the beautifully crafted vignettes that launch a subversive American mythology, to Gillian Anderson portraying the goddess Media via Lucille Ball, David Bowie, and Marilyn Monroe. The boundary-shattering sex scene between Muslim immigrants — Salim (Omid Abtahi) and the Jinn (Mousa Kraish) — is one of 2017’s essential TV moments.
5. One Day at a Time (Netflix)
Credit: Michael Yarish / Netflix
The year’s most winning new sitcom so far was a throwback to the socially conscious form minted by Norman Lear, the legend who co-created the 1975 series that inspired this one. Our scrappy single mom is Penelope (Justina Machado), a Cuban-American Army vet raising two modern kids with help from her old-world, old-school mother, played with zest by Rita Moreno. EPs Gloria Calderón Kellett and Mike Royce create polished character-driven comedy that uses generational representatives to debate gender, sexuality, religion, and race. A season with a wonderful build culminated with such emotional power, I’m crying just typing this.
6. I Love Dick (Amazon)
Kathryn Hahn, so good for so long in countless supporting roles, transformed a starring turn into a tour de force on Jill Soloway’s daring dramedy. She bared and poured all of herself into Chris, a documentary filmmaker in a dry marriage (Griffin Dunne is excellent as the husband). She becomes obsessed with Kevin Bacon’s Dick, a fine artist whose withering judgments and sex-cowboy cool threaten to unravel her. The show’s empathetic interrogation of art-making and male gaze culture expressed itself in many inspired ways, but found its fullest expression in Hahn’s commanding, vivacious performance.
7. Big Little Lies (HBO)
Big Little Lies
Credit: Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/HBO
David E. Kelley’s translation of Liane Moriarty’s novel sucked you in with a murder that kept victim and perpetrator veiled until the very end. What riveted was an all-star cast that elevated the familiar tropes of desperate housewives suffering hideous husbands and one another. Reese Witherspoon found the comedy and depth in her selfdeceived busybody, setting the tone for nuanced soap that examined postfeminist notions. Nicole Kidman and Alexander Skarsgård showed us the complicated, ugly truths of cyclical domestic violence. Director Jean-Marc Vallée turned the final revelations into pure cinema set pieces — images, music, feeling, and ambiguity — that haunt.
8. Legion (FX)
LEGION — “Chapter 4”
Credit: Michelle Faye/FX
Arriving right as TV’s glut of comic-book pop was in dire need of rejuvenation, Legion was electrifying delight. Mastermind Noah Hawley (Fargo) made the counterculture fantasy of Marvel’s X-Men interesting again, turning the story of a mad, romantic psychic with a dangerously broken mind (Dan Stevens, pitch-perfect) into a metaphor for reality-blurred contemporary culture. Aubrey Plaza was fantastic as the unhinged foil, but Team Hawley’s gonzo storytelling stole the show, from Jemaine Clement’s nutty-jazzy monologues inside giant ice cubes floating in space to the psychotic rampage presented as a silent film, set to Boléro.
9. Master of None (Netflix)
Season 2 of Aziz Ansari’s poignant rom-com was an adventurous delight. A food-fixated year gobbled up an array of cinematic references to nourish stories about Dev’s (Ansari) hungry heart. One inventive outing was a collage of dates, while an ongoing story line saw Dev court fame and folly as sidekick to a celeb chef (Bobby Cannavale). A diverse, generous vision gave us a lovely Thanksgiving ep showcasing Dev’s gay friend Denise (Lena Waithe), while its interest in emotional, ethical mess offered a polarizing cliff-hanger in Dev’s latest fraught romance, with Italian friend Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi).
10. Dear White People (Netflix)
Credit: Adam Rose/Netflix
Justin Simien’s sparky comedy about black students at a mostly white Ivy League university gives us a fully realized world—a sharp fun-house mirror to lampoon our own — that generates laughs and deeper considerations about identity, race, and how we relate to one another. As Sam, fierce, flawed activist-provocateur, Logan Browning leads a terrific collection of well-drawn characters in their struggle for maturity and reform. I can’t wait to see where they grow — and how they challenge me — next.
KEEPING AN EYE ON… Twin Peaks (Showtime)
Credit: Suzanne Tenner/SHOWTIME
After six of 18 unsurprisingly weird episodes, Twin Peaks has earned its event status, not by satisfying our nostalgia, but by being freakier and funnier than expected. Kyle MacLachlan’s marvelous turns as many different Agent Coopers pulls you through, but what thrills me most is director David Lynch’s personal investment, riotous imagination, and brilliant filmmaking. May our journey down this new lost highway continue to be wild at heart.
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