by Julian Spivey
1. “This Is Us” (NBC)
NBC’s “This Is Us” continues to be a stunning drama halfway through its second season with the most realistic portrayal of family life currently on television. The fact that it’s told through multiple timelines in the life of the Pearson family adds to the brilliance of the drama. “This Is Us” also features many of network television’s best acting performances from Milo Ventimiglia, Emmy-winner Sterling K. Brown, Chrissy Metz and Mandy Moore.
2. “Blackish” (ABC)
ABC’s “Blackish” is not only one of the funniest sitcoms on television, but likely also its most important. It’s incredibly funny and well-acted, especially by leads Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross, but also does a fantastic job at showing part of America the struggles faced by African-Americans, including affluent African-Americans in this country. One of the best episodes on all of television this year was the show’s fourth season premiere “Juneteenth,” a terrific musical episode featuring a “Schoolhouse Rock” type explanation of the date via The Roots.
3. “Orange is the New Black” (Netflix)
When storylines of Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black,” now the longest running success on the streaming platform, got darker a couple of seasons ago it turned a lot of fans of the show off, but I believe made the show even better. This change in a more serious tone led to a terrific fifth season this summer that saw the hour-to-hour (in a “24”-esque timeline) moments of a prison riot/protest. The season also made a star out of Danielle Brooks, who plays Taystee Jefferson, giving the show’s best performance to date.
4. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (Fox)
“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” has been one of the best comedies on television for the entirety of its now five seasons with the current season standing out as one of its best. It’s not common for a show over 100 episodes into its run to pull out episodes as entertaining and funny as ‘B99’ is this season. Unfortunately, despite the excellent episodes the ratings of the show are at an all-time low and it might be in danger of cancellation.
5. “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” (ABC)
“Jimmy Kimmel Live!” is the longest running late night show on television right now when you consider hosts who’ve stayed with the same show the longest, but Kimmel has never been more relevant in the pop culture zeitgeist than he was in 2017 thanks to incredibly touching moments that brought his opinions on controversial political topics like healthcare and gun violence to the forefront. These moments have gained Kimmel a ton of respect and fans, who agree with his opinions, but has also made him a punching bag among many on the right who disagree with his takes.
6. “Will & Grace” (NBC)
I’m not really a fan of reboots of older television shows in general, but NBC’s “Will & Grace” came back this year more than a decade after it ended and instantly became one of the funniest sitcoms on television in 2017. “Will & Grace,” which debuted in 1998 as the first ever television sitcom to include multiple main characters who were gay, was ahead of its time when it began. It’s now no longer shocking, but still as funny as ever.
7. “Doctor Who” (BBC America)
“Doctor Who” really revived itself for showrunner/lead writer Steven Moffat and The Doctor actor Peter Capaldi’s final seasons respectfully on the show after the previous season, which aired two years ago, was the biggest dud since the show’s reboot more than a decade ago. The stories seemed to have more life in them, the addition of Pearl Mackie as the new companion was terrific and Moffat and Capaldi just seemed to give more in their final showings. Next year should be really interesting with Jodie Whittaker taking over as the first ever female Doctor and Chris Chibnall taking the reigns of the show.
8. “Feud: Bette & Joan” (FX)
Ryan Murphy’s relationship with FX has proven to be quite fruitful with now three successful anthology series on the network: “American Horror Story,” “American Crime Story” and now “Feud,” which debuted this year with the terrific retelling of the old Hollywood feud between Joan Crawford (played by Jessica Lange) and Bette Davis (played by Susan Sarandon). It was a delight seeing two old dames go neck-and-neck over Hollywood supremacy for eight weeks.
9. “Bates Motel” (A&E)
“Bates Motel” finished its fantastic five-year run on A&E this year with Norman Bates (the terrific Freddie Highmore, who should’ve been nominated for an Emmy at some point) finally going full-throttle crazy. It was an emotional season and particularly finale for this show as Norman gets an ending that isn’t quite “Psycho,” but certainly fitting for his character and bittersweet for us fans.
10. “Longmire” (Netflix)
“Longmire” was one of the most underrated dramas on television and I can’t tell you how thankful I am that Netflix saved it from cancellation more than three years ago when A&E, which had aired the show’s first three seasons, cancelled it. “Longmire,” about the tough small-town Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire, got better on Netflix and had its swan song season this year wrapping up a series that often felt like a nostalgic throwback in a good way.
by Julian Spivey
10. Will Forte (Last Man on Earth)
Will Forte’s performance as Tandy Miller on Fox’s “The Last Man on Earth” has been the looniest on television for four seasons now, but at times over the series’ run has been a little too much. Not this season though. Forte’s performance has probably elicited more laughs from me than any other on television this year, particularly during his long monologues like the one he performs while officiating the wedding between Mary Steenburgen’s Gail and Cleopatra Coleman’s Erica.
9. Edie Falco (Law & Order: True Crime – The Menendez Murders)
NBC’s foray into the true crime television miniseries with ‘The Menendez Murders,’ under the “Law & Order” title since it was developed by Dick Wolf was solid, but also a bit underwhelming, except for the role of attorney Leslie Abramson, portrayed by four-time Emmy winner Edie Falco. Falco completely becomes Abramson, the loud-talking, hard-nosed defense attorney for The Menendez Brothers, accused of murdering their parents. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Falco nominated for her 12th Emmy next year for her performance
8. Max Thieriot (Bates Motel)
Freddie Highmore as Norman Bates and Vera Farmiga as Norma Bates always had the shinier roles on A&E’s terrific five-season drama “Bates Motel,” which ended this year. But, Max Thieriot as Dylan Massett, Norma’s first son and Norman’s half-brother, was always consistently underrated. His portrayal of Dylan, who’s entire family is crazy, is heroic as he turns into really one of the all-around good guys on television. His final scene with Norman is one of the most compassionate and yet tragic of any show you’ll see, and he pulls it off brilliantly.
7. Michael Weatherly (Bull)
I’m not sure there’s anybody currently on television, especially network television, that plays smarmy as well as Michael Weatherly does and he’s showing that perfectly as Dr. Jason Bull in CBS’ law drama “Bull.” Bull is the best at his job as a trial scientist, in which he uses analytics and psychology to help his clients, and he knows it. He’s an arrogant, egotistical, smart man, but does occasionally have a heart of gold and Weatherly was born to play these traits. His performance as Bull makes the character a little more in-depth than your typical CBS procedural lead.
6. Benito Martinez (American Crime)
I’m a huge fan of acting through emotion without using words; the show, not tell style and there’s likely nobody who did a better job of this in 2017 than Benito Martinez on ABC’s terrific “American Crime” (which ended this year after three great seasons). Martinez played Luis Salazar, a Mexican father who enters the U.S. illegally searching for his missing son and will stop at nothing to find him. He doesn’t speak much and when he does it’s in his native language, with us reading subtitles, but he says so much with his eyes we know what he’s thinking and feeling the entire time. Martinez’s great performance recently earned him a Critics’ Choice Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Limited Series.
5. Kaitlin Olson (The Mick)
Kaitlin Olson’s performance as Mickey in Fox’s “The Mick” is the most unhinged of any sitcom currently on television. It seems there are no limits to what her character and the show will go to for a laugh and I can’t think of a funnier actress for the portrayal of this cunning and incredibly irresponsible person. Olson’s incredible physical comedy will have you mesmerized and doubled over in hysterics multiple times an episode.
4. Peter Capaldi (Doctor Who)
I had grown a little bit fatigued with “Doctor Who” during Peter Capaldi’s reign, through no fault of his own, but due to stagnate storylines. But, “Doctor Who” producer and lead writer Steven Moffat seemed determined to send Capaldi and himself (as both of their tenures with the show end with the Christmas special this year) out on a high note. Capaldi’s Doctor has certainly been the grumpiest of all the Doctor’s iterations, at least since the show’s reboot with Christopher Eccleston, leading to an oftentimes serious tone to the show, that’s worked rather well of late. Capaldi’s performance in “The Doctor Falls,” the series 10 finale, was one of his finest works of his run. I can’t wait to see how his turn as The Doctor ends on Christmas.
3. Amber Ruffin (Late Night with Seth Meyers)
Oscar-winner Reese Witherspoon recently tweeted: “Amber Ruffin is amazing! Why doesn’t this woman have her own talk show?!” I completely agree, though I would hate to lose her as a wonderful contributor and writer on Seth Meyer’s ‘Late Night.’ Ruffin’s performance on ‘Late Night’ is the only on this list this year that isn’t a fictional character. Her comedy bits, especially her “Amber Says What” segment, show a new and unique voice in the comedy world that never fails to have you almost in tears from laughter.
2. Milo Ventimiglia (This Is Us)
Sterling K. Brown’s terrific performance as Randall Pearson may have won the Emmy for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series for “This Is Us,” but I believed it’s Milo Ventimiglia’s performance as Pearson patriarch Jack that’s given the best performance on the show through its first season and a half. Pearson is “greatest dad alive” material and Ventimiglia plays this perfectly with the fatherly warmth of an Andy Taylor. But, perhaps even greater is Ventimiglia’s performance in the first half of the second season when we realize Jack does indeed have his demons and isn’t the perfect person we thought he was.
1. Danielle Brooks (Orange is the New Black)
Danielle Brooks’ performance as inmate Taystee Jefferson has always been good throughout the run of Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black,” but her performance in this year’s fifth season was a revelation and maybe the best single season performance from anybody in the show’s great ensemble during its run. Still grieving from the death of her best friend at the end of season four she essentially takes leadership of a prison lockdown, with the show taking a “24” approach to the season with each episode revealing part of one long day or weekend. Brooks’ Taystee becomes the unofficial face of Litchfield Prison during the protest with her tour de force performance showing all the emotions that comes with an unjust and prejudiced judicial system. If she’s not nominated for an Emmy next season for her performance, it’ll also be unjust.