We’re almost exactly halfway through the year, and we’ve been treated to a treasure trove of amazing TV so far. So in an effort to organize my thoughts about what I’ve watched so far, and as a means of getting a head start on our year-end Best-Of’s, here are my top 3 standout shows (and one dud) from the first half of 2017.
So in no particular order, we begin with...
The Handmaid's Tale
Coming off an Oscar win for Manchester by the Sea, Amazon now has the pedigree to demand attention when it comes to their original content. Still, somehow I didn’t jump onto this brilliant show until almost halfway through this first season. It came out of nowhere for me, but it couldn’t have been a better surprise. This show seemingly got everything right. It absolutely nails the uncomfortable tone of its dystopian setting but doesn't forget to be stylish as well. The acting is top notch, particularly from Elisabeth Moss in the lead role. It even had a great release strategy, releasing its first three episodes to jump-start the season, followed by a traditional week-to-week model to allow for the conversation surrounding the show to thrive. Above all it’s the shows eerie relevance to our modern political climate that makes the show so poignant and really takes it to the next level. It’s something of a happy accident for this show (if not for us in society) that it’s able to beautifully capture the general feeling of uneasiness that is seemingly everywhere these days. It’s hard to even think about the show without contemplating how it fits into the modern zeitgeist.
If you want a paint-by-numbers X-Men story, this isn’t the show for you. If that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll probably be getting something more in that vein this fall with The Gifted. Legion, on the other hand, is anything but your traditional superhero saga. The show centres on David Haller played masterfully by Dan Stevens, a mutant with psychic abilities. The twist is that he’s been admitted to a mental asylum and told he’s crazy. It doesn’t explicitly answer the question of whether or not he’s actually crazy either, which is part of the fun. The supporting cast is anchored by Aubrey Plaza who is an acting tour-de-force as Lenny
In many ways Legion is stylistically similar to the show I’ll be talking about next; American Gods. It’s all over the place and can be tough to follow at times, but with Legion, it feels intentional and adds to the experience rather than detracting from it. Haller’s mind, whether actually crazy or not, is an intense place and the show explores that with some bombastic sequences, genuinely creepy moments, and a nice touch of humour. Legion is stylish in all the best ways, and it has the fingerprints of its showrunner Noah Hawley all over it. Hawley is the man responsible for bringing the Coen Brothers classic Fargo to TV. And while Fargo definitely feels like a Coen Brothers joint, it also has a distinct feel that Hawley brings to Legion. In this era of “peak TV,” it can be hard to find something fresh, and this show feels genuinely original. Something that much more impressive for being a comic book property.
If you watched the first season of American Gods and didn’t know it was based off a book by Neil Gaiman, only to be told afterwards, your reaction would probably be something like; “Oooooh! Of course, it is!”.
The show can be a bit much at times, with psychedelic sequences seemingly taken right out of an acid trip and with a plot that is doled out to you like a slow IV drip. It explains very little, choosing to hold onto secrets for as long as possible while instead treating you to entertaining, if seemingly unrelated, vignettes over its 8 episode inaugural season. Basically, It’s everything that you’d expect when you hear the name, Neil Gaiman.
It’s within its characters that American Gods really finds its footing. Who cares if you aren’t exactly sure what’s happening when you're having a blast hanging out with Pablo Schreiber’s Mad Sweeney or, the always amazing, Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday. Nearly every character is distinct and captivating in some way. Well… except for maybe the show’s lead, Shadow Moon, played by Ricky Whittle. Shadow is primarily used as an audience surrogate to take us into this crazy world. In the big picture, this is a minor gripe, but it’s the show’s decision to give him surprisingly very little to do in the back half of the season that's most confounding.
American Gods is another strong series from Starz, picking up after Black Sails, having wrapped up this spring. It’s certainly not for everyone, but if you can get into it, I think you’ll fall in love. It’s crazy and weird in all the best ways. Easily one of my favourite shows of 2017 so far.
Poor Iron Fist. I almost for sorry for this show. It had the toughest job of all of the Marvel Netflix shows. First of all, it centres around the character that is arguably the most difficult to adapt to the “gritty” Netflix MCU. I mean, have you ever seen a picture of Danny Rand from the comics? It’s also been dogged by a whitewashing controversy that people saw coming about 10 miles away. People were debating if an Asian American should be cast as Danny looong before Finn Jones got the role which only exacerbated the whole thing. Finally, it had the thankless task of setting up, and leading directly into, the much-anticipated Defenders crossover. Any of these things, taken on their own, would be difficult to overcome. Unfortunately, Iron Fist doesn’t manage to overcome a single one of these issues. Instead, it wallows in them while piling on a poor script, uninspired choreography, and a lead in Finn Jones who seems woefully miscast.
All in all, this is a series that fails on almost every level and doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in their strange Inhumans project - which has similar challenges and the same showrunner. Fortunately, with Netflix’s traditional release strategy of dumping all the episodes at once, the conversation surrounding the show died off relatively quickly. But not without more than a few snarky “think pieces” first. Looking forward, hopefully, we can return to the tradition of excellence that began with Daredevil and put this all behind us quickly with Defenders coming in August.
It’s been a hell of a first half of the year when it comes to TV. Lot’s of hits and very few misses. We’ve been spoiled with some of these amazing series’, and we have even more to look forward to in the back half of the year. Not the least of which is the return of Game of Thrones for its seventh season, the aforementioned Defenders and of course the long-awaited Star Trek: Discovery. The sun never sets in the era of peak TV, and I love every minute of it.