20 Best Returning Shows of 2017

20 Best Returning Shows of 2017

Day-to-Day, Staying High and Gettin’ By

TV, no matter how good it gets, remains an escape. It’s comfort, a means of engaging in a world that has no tangible way of impacting us. It only exists to the degree that we allow it to, and this year (unsurprisingly) some of the best TV shows allowed us to laugh. Of course, our familiarity with these shows helped, whether they were two or eight seasons deep. But that’s not to suggest that there weren’t also a handful of great dramas (or dramedies) returning this year, which offered the same form of contained excitement, albeit with a different slant. Regardless, here were some of the best we saw in 2017.


20. Superstore

The scariest thing about having a shitty job is the idea of being surrounded by people who love it. Put another way: if you can’t spot the arsehole at work, it’s probably you. Superstore addresses these issues perfectly. Its characters – the employees of the big-box department store “Cloud 9” – are all completely unhinged yet almost impressively apathetic about their work. And while some are often more irritable than others, no one is singled out for their ill-temperament or lack of enthusiasm. In fact, it’s these shared traits that bind everyone together.

At a certain point, though, mutual grumbling about a lack of satisfaction at work becomes unsustainable. Likewise, some of Superstore’s most successful, touching and hilarious episodes are the result of the team at “Cloud 9” banding together, for the good of the store as well as themselves. These instances range from the mundane (an incorrigible internet troll writing shitty customer service reviews) to the topical (the need for a health care plan) and legitimately threatening (a literal fucking tornado). But, regardless of the circumstances, what the show gets painfully right is how the monotony of a horrible job can be broken up by the begrudging solidarity of your co-workers.


19. HarmonQuest

Few niche talents have been as well-rewarded on television as Spencer Crittendon’s is in HarmonQuest. The Dungeons & Dragons fanatic – who met Community creator Dan Harmon by chance during a recording of his podcast Harmontown – is amazing at one specific thing: being a D&D Dungeon Master. Luckily, Harmon has the inclination and available resources to make this spectacle as interesting as possible, enlisting his many associates within the improvisational comedy scene and a group of animators to bring this D&D-esque excursion to life.

Last year, the first season of HarmonQuest introduced Harmon, Jeff B. Davis and Erin McGathy as a troupe of adventurers set on maintaining the Demon Seal which, with the aid of several runestones, prevents… Y’know what? Doesn’t fuckin’ matter, as the plot is almost impressively besides the point. What’s important is that, every week, a new comedian guest stars on this quest. The results are never less than amusing and, frequently, are as funny as anything you’re likely to find on TV. On this year’s second season, some of the best featured players include the oblivious Gillian Jacobs, the unhinged Jason Mantzoukas and the surprisingly quick-witted Elizabeth Olsen. As far as excuses to piss about and have a laugh go, it doesn’t get much better than this.


18. You’re the Worst

There’s an unavoidable shelf life when it comes to a show like You’re the Worst, whose main characters are frequently (albeit intentionally) hard to endure. Either they become even more horrible people and the show becomes unwatchable, or they get better and then there’s no more show. It’s a conundrum, and one that was a lot more palpable this year in YTW’s fourth season. Because the show has such an outwardly comedic tone, some of the more outlandish actions by its characters work to generate laughs. But, because it also wants to take their various ills and deficiencies seriously, it is getting harder to reconcile the sincere with the plainly absurd.

That aside, when the show manages the balance, it arrives at the intersection between cringe-worthiness, hilarity and relatability. Jimmy and Gretchen – who spend a majority of the season apart – each hit their own new bottoms this year. Jimmy abandons those he loves, only to be confronted by his mortality, while Gretchen returns to someone she abandoned long ago, before being swiftly reminded that she was never a great friend in the first place. Meanwhile, Edgar continues to carry the weight of his war-torn PTSD alone and Lindsay makes some admirable steps towards adulthood. Like spending time with your drunken best friend, it’s sometimes clumsy and shaggy, but never boring.


17. / 16. Last Week Tonight With John Oliver / Full Frontal With Samantha Bee

Contrary to popular opinion, political satire in the Trump era doesn’t “just write itself.” Indeed, when faced with the challenge of having to lampoon the fact that a man with the diplomatic savvy of a bigoted turnip is running the United States, I’m willing to bet that most late night and variety show hosts collectively had the same realisation: you cannot spoof a living spoofsack. Seriously, a man like Trump defies parody because he functions almost like a poorly constructed piss-take off American culture. Throw in the fact that most of us live in legitimate fear of what he’ll do next and it seems the man is almost impossible to skewer for laughs.

Luckily, we have two of the funniest and shrewdest working comedians on the job. John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight – which recently concluded its fourth season – actually predates the Trump era, and so already had its wry, eccentric approach to dissecting all facets of American life in the bag by the time he came along. In contrast, Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal debuted early last year seemingly as a reactionary move against Trump, so it tends to hone all its energy and runtime into dismantling his cocksplat of an existence. They’re both essential, in their own ways, especially in an era where humorous journalism deserves so much more than someone simply pointing and saying, “Man, that fuckin’ guy, huh?”


15. Bob’s Burgers

I’m prepared to eat my words when the time comes, but if Bob’s Burgers can maintain its considerable level of quality for at least a couple more years, then it may overshadow The Simpsons as the longest running animated show to do so. To clarify: I am not at all saying that Bob’s Burgers is better than the Golden Age of The Simpsons, just that said age was a long time ago and, arguably, only lasted for about eight or nine years. So, seeing as we’re about halfway through Bob’s Burgers’ eighth season at this point and it remains as enjoyable as ever, shouldn’t we just go ahead and give voice to its achievements?

But really, the characters of Bob’s Burgers would laugh at the idea of being the best at anything worthwhile. Bob lives for making great burgers, but he’s too unassuming and ill-prepared to gain any sort of renown for his efforts. Linda loves her kids, wine and crazy improvised songs; as long as she’s the best mum she can be, accolades don’t bother her. Maybe I could see Tina winning an award for erotic zombie fanfiction, or Gene taking home an honourable mention at an amateur musician talent show. Hell, Louise gets away with enough shit that she should be proud of her own cunning. And, when it comes down to it, this underdog mentality is what makes the Belcher family so winning in the first place.


14. Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley — which had its fourth season this year – is a quintessential sitcom for the Trump era. That’s not to say it has anything to do with politics or the declining state of American discourse; if you want that, Veep’s got you covered. But there’s something about watching Richard Hendricks and his cohorts thrash about in the world of internet programming that feels very 2017. Indeed, almost every character’s arc this season seems to fit into a sense of entitlement, frustration and unearned reward. This includes Richard’s de-evolution from a meek nerd to Walter White levels of petty manipulation, Dinesh’s brief turn as company leader followed by immediate catastrophe and Big Head’s still incredibly funny propensity for failing upwards. Even Erlich, seeing the writing on the wall, has no solution but to dip on out and hit up an opium den.

It’s this collective sense of futility and aimlessness that, rather than derailing the show, makes it feel vibrant and topical. That remains true even when – after three straight seasons of these guys briefly tasting success, failing hilariously and starting all over again – Silicon Valley has started to feel a little stagnant when it barely diverges from that formula. Because it’s still as funny as ever and, besides, this narrative cycle might be the scariest thing Silicon Valley has to say about the United States: no matter how much people might struggle against their worst impulses and former mistakes, it seems history is cruelly determined to repeat itself.


13. Stranger Things

Much as I did when it debuted last year, I had a few problems with Stranger Things’ second season. I think the show still has a tough time of getting started and that it works much better cumulatively than on an episode-by-episode basis. Honestly, I would’ve had a hard time believing I would eventually put the show at number 13 on this list while I was still only at episode three. And I’d like to think I speak for everyone when I say that we so did not need that ridiculous ‘80s punk-girl spin-off episode with Eleven and her sister, which achieved less than fuck-all because it halted the story for nothing more than an expedition into airy redundancy. So, those are my problems.

But I’d be a dirty, mouth-breathing liar if I didn’t admit to punching the air with frantic joy a lot during this season. For real, whichever Stranger Things staff writer suggested teaming up Steve and Dustin deserves all the Emmys, as they’ve become the most endearing unlikely duo on television. Meanwhile, the guarded Max and her properly scary step-brother Billy are solid additions to the cast, and Sean Astin’s goofy Bob became the enduring hero every middle-aged tech nerd hopes he’s capable of being. Ultimately, though, it was the bonds forged in the first season that were most deeply explored and struck the richest chords. From Hopper and Eleven’s father-daughter bickering to Nancy and Jonathan’s will they/won’t they dynamic. And there’s not a lot that makes me happier than watching Mike and Eleven share a dance.


12. The Americans

War has been used in countless stories to serve as a metaphor. Its very function is combative and divisive, so its presence often appears in narratives that focus on discomfort, deceit and degradation. But The Americans has gotta be the most satisfying usage possible of Cold War espionage to highlight the tension of regular domesticity. Sure, Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings are Russian spies posing as middle-class Americans in the ‘80s, but they’ve also got a son who wants to attend private school and a daughter dating the boy across the street (who’s dad, just to pile on, is an FBI agent). Yes, I’m aware of how hokey and soapy that makes The Americans sound, but I can’t stress enough how well the show combines its more relatable drama with its bananas spycraft, a lot of which is based on actual events.

Of course, one of the hallmarks of The Americans – and one that’s perfect for a show about the Cold War – is how little appears to be happening on its surface, while a sea of chaos roils beneath. This is especially true of its fifth season, which had moments of quiet, intimate beauty and subtle progression that are characteristic of the show at its best. Maybe, at times, it felt like this season was missing some of The Americans’ central thrust, but it makes sense that it would use its second-last season for this kind of breather. It is, truly, the calm before what I imagine to be an all-consuming storm, as there are so many spinning plates that its characters can’t possibly hope to keep going next year. I can’t wait to watch something so lovely come crashing down.


11. Fargo

At what point does an intentional anti-climax simply fail as a storytelling device? Many great television dramas have mastered the form, from The Sopranos through to Game of Thrones. There’s a precision involved, deploying narrative tension that builds to a point of release, before simply allowing it to deflate. When done right, it can be as satisfying as a bloody pay-off; when done poorly, however, it can retroactively invalidate an entire story. But what about when it’s done so ambiguously that you can’t even tell whether it’s a success or not?

At the very least, I’d say a show that provokes that line of questioning has had an interesting year. And – while it wasn’t as intriguingly novel as the first season or perfectly tragic as the second – Fargo’s third season was certainly interesting, filled with its share of memorable setpieces and intricate plotting. I mean, just in the very first episode we had mistaken identities, a decades-old sibling rivalry and a virtuoso, impeccably-timed sequence that resulted in a man being brained by an aircon unit. Later in the season, one of the show’s best episodes featured a mini-horror detour within a snow-capped forest, reminiscent of some of the creepiest psychological thrillers of recent years.

Besides, that’s not even mentioning the superb cast that’s been assembled. We have Ewan McGregor’s dual role as two very different brothers, David Thewlis’ turn as a damp-suited Machiavelli and the unimpeachable Carrie Coon as the necessary yet somehow engaging moral compass. So, yeah, maybe this year the show spun itself in circles towards an abrupt and inconclusive ending that didn’t really add up to a full jigsaw. But, when the pieces of the puzzle are this pretty, who cares if they don’t always fit together.


10. Nathan For You

I just want Nathan to be happy. And it helps that – for all the ways his show could be interpreted as underhanded or exploitative – it’s clear that he just wants the same for other people. At least… man, I think he does. Because the ideas he comes up with to help real-life small business owners have always been (and in this season remain) absolutely shithouse. So maybe that’s the central conflict that lies at the heart of Nathan For You, knowing that Nathan Fielder, the performer, gets the joke and realising that he makes himself the butt of it.

If the show existed purely to be at the expense of the people he lends his “expertise” to, it would quickly become meanspirited and hollow. But you’ve gotta ask yourself, why are these seemingly sensible people so ready to accept Nathan and his terrible advice into their lives. I think the secret is in Nathan’s approach, in that he comes to them with a need similar to their own: to be more widely accepted and liked. The many entrepreneurs of Nathan For You sense a sincerity in him that makes it easier to lay their professional desires at his feet.

Of course, being the sly showman that he is, Nathan’s greatest feat this season has nothing to do with aiding a small business. Yes, his attempt to bring down Uber is devious, and his idea to repurpose a smoke alarm as a musical instrument to make exporting it cheaper is convolutedly genius. Yet, it’s his willingness to spend inordinate amounts of his show’s budget to help an eccentric friend track down a woman he was once in love with that stands out as the season’s highpoint. It’s Nathan For You at its best: wistful, hilarious and unlike anything else on television.


9. Better Call Saul

My feelings towards the protagonist of Better Call Saul are beyond complicated. As Jimmy McGill, he’s industrious and respectable, a man who has grappled with his past follies and is trying to repent for them the best he can. He operates a law firm aimed squarely at helping the elderly set up their wills and defending them against nursing homes that exploit their finances. Knowing that, however, I have to accept that Jimmy will eventually become Saul Goodman, the worst kind of lawyer, one who brandishes his knowledge of the law as a means of breaking it and concealing his clients’ misdeeds.

Watching the gradual, impossibly tragic demise of Jimmy’s best intentions has made for good to very good television for two years now, but this season was the push it needed to achieve greatness. This is primarily due to Jimmy’s long-simmering feud with his brother Chuck finally coming to a head, in one of the best episodes of TV this year, as Chuck testifies against Jimmy in a legal ethics hearing, hoping to have his brother disbarred. Watching them try to outsmart one another every step of the way is captivating, even when it reaches a devastating point of no return.

But, hey, let’s not forget about Mike, who has recently come to the attention of one Gustavo Fring(!) and continues to try and aid the boxed-in Nacho, one of the show’s most surprisingly sympathetic characters. Laying this sort of groundwork is so enjoyable for two reasons: we know it’s gonna lead to more rewarding payoffs down the road and, as a prequel to Breaking Bad, it enriches the fringes of a show we already love. Better Call Saul understands that we have this knowledge while watching the show without making it wholly about that. It’s entirely its own thing, and could somehow wind up being the most heartbreaking of the two.


8. RuPaul’s Drag Race

Most often, if there’s a girl on RuPaul’s Drag Race that’s reliably funnier than the others, then she’s your winner. After all, it worked for Jinkx, Bianca and Bob. The rest of the time, if you can’t pick a unique personality, the best bet is to go with the most forward-thinking fashionista to take the crown. In that sense, I’m thinking of past winners like Raja, Sharon and Violet. I’m not saying that these wins are necessarily predictable, just that (in retrospect) they make more sense than, say, Tyra. Tyra?!

So, what do you do when there’s no early standout? When, for example, you live with two people who watch the show religiously and you all pride yourselves on making picks in the first episode that almost always wind up constituting the top five? Well, as the experience of season 9 of RuPaul has taught us, the obvious choice in this predicament seems to be the smartest queen. In the early going, Sasha Velour had some killer looks and, in her own very austere way, could be kinda funny. But it was her razor-sharp intellect that carried her through the competition and, eventually, allowed her to sashay away with it.

Still, this year RuPaul was unpredictable in the best sense, not because there were no immediate standouts but because there was such a wealth of queens with very particular skills. Nina Bo’nina Brown had the most unique look, Valentina emerged as the most elegant and Peppermint had a buoyancy that was beyond infectious. Watching these girls try to outdo each other week after week on the runway and in the challenges was one of the highlights of TV in 2017, ensuring that RuPaul has kept its mantle for best reality show nine years(!) running. From now on, though, my pick for winner is gonna be based on who chooses the most batshit Snatch Game personality. Sasha Velours? Marlene Dietrich. Choices.


7. The Good Place

With every passing episode of The Good Place, there’s an undercurrent of tension that lines up perfectly with the show’s actual plot: how long can they possibly keep this going? See, when the show started last year, we were introduced to the eponymous Good Place as a sort of Heaven. Its new inhabitants (our protagonists) are told that it’s an ostensibly flawless rendering of the afterlife, but it sure seems to come with a buttload of hang-ups. It doesn’t take long for the new residents to figure it out: “Good” is the wrong adjective here.

That’s how season one closed, with Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason realising that their benevolent overseer Michael is basically the devil and they’re in his freshly designed Hell. Instead of physical torture, he uses the façade of perfection to torture them, making them wonder why they can’t enjoy “paradise”. Once they figure that out, he erases their memories and starts again. That’s where we find ourselves at the start of this season, but it doesn’t take long for things to get off-kilter again.

Michael continually failing and getting more desperate with his reboots is hilarious, but it’s also strangely sympathetic. Here’s this celestial being who we once trusted before he was revealed to be totally evil, yet you kinda want him to succeed. So, it turns out, do Eleanor and the others: in one of the many, many narrative sideswipes this season, Michael decides to team up with his former torturees to try and deceive his bosses (the real devils) and find their way out of the Bad Place. Every episode since, a new curveball gets thrown their way, never allowing the show to rest on a plot point for longer than twenty minutes at a time. It’s thrilling stuff, largely because there’s still so much humour to be mined from the absurd setting and characters. Still, while I can’t wait for more next year, I repeat: how long can they possibly keep this going?


6. Master of None

One of Aziz Ansari’s greatest achievements in making Master of None is that I no longer automatically think of him as Tom Haverford from Parks & Recreation. For those who don’t know, Tom Haverford was the ultimate beta millennial (which, y’know… I can relate). He was well-dressed while seeming entirely without substance. He was a big-spender who would return expensive items without a receipt by crying in front of the teller. He had huge ideas with a hilarious lack of follow through. He loved Ginuwine and sang in a nasally screech that made you wanna punch The Weeknd. It was an admirable, if wholly unflattering, performance.

Now, Dev is not 100% separate from Tom. He’s of the same generation and, inevitably, falls into the same technologically inflicted deficiencies the rest of us are subject to. But his encounters and general attitude is much less cartoonish, if still self-serving. In season two, this can include moments when he misses out on a date with a girl because his phone is stolen, and he has literally no other method of reconnecting with her. In another instance, we’re treated to an episode long montage of Tinder dates, which is nothing if not the personification of informational input in 2017, a ream of tabs that mostly go unread or not properly followed up on.

It should be noted that, as creator and star, Ansari is in a unique position to craft this show around his experiences as both a 30-something-year-old and an Indian-American, an intersection that lends itself to cultural and generational explorations. With that in mind, it’s admirable the degree to which he cedes the spotlight. In one episode, he and his friends feature merely as bookends for a story that celebrates the vibrant populace that propels New York City. Perhaps most poignant, though, is the episode “Thanksgiving”, a semi-autobiographical story of coming out viewed over the course of several decades. Focussing on co-star and co-writer Lena Waithe’s own experiences, it demonstrates Master of None’s most gratifying trait: specificity that feels wholly universal.


5. Better Things

No one on television works harder than Sam Fox. I’m aware how many intrinsic eyerolls will result from that claim, for several reasons, the most prominent being that Sam is a straight, white, American woman, living a life of affluence. How hard could that be? Well, here’s my counter: 1) she’s a woman; 2) she’s a single mum to three girls; 3) she’s the chief breadwinner for herself, her girls, her mother and her deadbeat ex-husband (who sends his father to beg her for more money); 4) she manages this working as an actress, and not necessarily in the form that she would most prefer; 5) what the fuck else do you want?

As admirable as her work ethic is, though, Better Things wouldn’t be much of a show if its only function was to observe this. What makes it more profound is the honest way it engages with these entirely unprofound enterprises. Working to sustain yourself is a necessity; working to sustain your kids is a privilege, albeit a tedious one; working to sustain your parent is often an inevitability; working to sustain your ex is a fucking joke. That’s Better Things combined, a frank, funny and charming take on the ways adulthood infringes upon your personal agency, making you a slave to your past choices while still continuing to surprise you at the unlikeliest of turns.

That’s not to suggest that, at its core, Better Things is anything less than an ode to creator, writer, director and star Pamela Adlon’s relationship with her daughters. In that regard, this second season continues and enriches the tricky balance of last year, finding a way to realistically present the challenge of co-habitating with three young women of your own creation. Perhaps the most revelatory moment is Sam’s one intense display of vulnerability, when she demands – after years of catering to their every whim – that her daughters eulogise her as if she had died. There haven’t been many moments as touching and cathartic this year as when they agree, and give her mum the send-off they know she’ll one day deserve.


4. BoJack Horseman

If BoJack weren’t an animated horse, I don’t think we could take him. That’s not because he’s so boorish and unpleasant; it’s because he’s too real. We all have bad habits we can’t drop, insecurities that manifest in aggression, mistakes that we’ll never be able to truly leave behind. BoJack personifies all of that to a tee. He’s like the equine embodiment of a drunken lower back tattoo, except that tattoo is a racial slur which you took a screenshot of and sent to everyone in your contacts. These are the sort of hyperbolic metaphors BoJack inspires, largely because there’s a good chance that he’s done something much worse than you could ever dream up.

Much like You’re the Worst, though, it’s worth acknowledging that BoJack Horseman is always walking that fine line between laughing through hardship and simply making light of its protagonist’s malevolence. Strange as it may seem, BoJack is actually getting better. Really, his rock bottom was two years ago, even if he did passively facilitate the death of his surrogate daughter last year. Ok, I know that sounds bad but, after he almost fucked the underage child of an old flame back in season two, things can only really seem to be trending upwards no matter what happens. Baby cantors, y’know?

Keeping with the theme of paternal cycles, this season saw BoJack connecting with Hollyhock, the biological daughter he didn’t know he had. Erstwhile, BoJack’s mother Beatrice has begun to slip further into dementia, slowly revealing details of her own troubled upbringing. It’s clear from this – along with Princess Caroline’s dashed dreams of motherhood and Diane’s abortion last year – that the show’s most central concern is that of lineage. It’s still as densely funny as any current TV show, but BoJack Horseman also wants us to recognise what it is we’re born with, and to break down the misconception that we’re not all born with it. All we’re afforded to manage our shortcomings is this shared burden, a universal void that will never be the same shape while crying out for the same thing. It’s not your parents’ fault, really, and it won’t be yours either.


3. Review

We’re all constantly in the process of assessing and interpreting the meaning of our own lives. That’s just how we work. But few of us are so committed to examining our experiences that we completely ignore the fundamental point of them. Then there’s Forrest MacNeil, the aptly named life reviewer at the centre of Review who tends to miss the proverbial for the trees. His occupation requires him to accept any and all “reviews” – which are often just super fucked-up fantasies or outlandish desires – that are submitted to his variety show. And because he’s such a staunch professional, he basically never turns down a review, even at the expense of his marriage, physical wellbeing or sanity. Did I mention this is a comedy?

With that said, there was no show this year (comedy or drama) that went as irredeemably dark as Review. Even when the Forrest of previous seasons had become a cocaine addict, burnt his father’s house down or straight up murdered a dude, there was always hope he might redeem himself. Of course, because his beloved show had wrought so much ruin upon him, it was clear that the only way he could come out of this alive was to abandon it, to choose a life instead of having one chosen for him. Yet, in just three short episodes – that were both horrifically funny and dangerously sad – this season demonstrated why Forrest could never truly be free.

In the season’s first episode, Forrest immediately doubles down on his commitment to the show by eating a rancid burrito. Later, the show watches on as he forms an attachment to a bearded dragon which, inevitably, goes awry. This dynamic continues, functioning like a cartoonishly abusive relationship: Forrest is put in a situation by the show that makes his life worse, so he returns to it for comfort and affirmation. Rinse, vomit, shit yourself during your murder trial, repeat. But it’s not until the final episode, when Forrest’s ex-wife Suzanne enters her own review begging him to give up the show for good, that Forrest finally seals his fate. He refuses, right as one of the sickest, most nauseatingly ironic twists in television history is sprung on him. Cue laugh track.


2. Rick & Morty

It’s weird having to open with this, but being an avid Rick & Morty viewer does not make you superior to other people, despite what the worst contingent of the show’s fanbase might want you to believe. In fact, if you think “getting” this show is proof that you’re somehow special, then you’ve just plain fucked up how to watch it properly. “Everyone’s gonna die. Come watch TV.” That’s really all there is to it, and the notion that someone would formulate some sense of real-world elitism based around the shows they watch is as laughable as it is sad. Paradoxically, seeing as that’s my personal take on Rick & Morty – which, by my own argument, is no better than anyone else’s – I don’t actually have a leg to stand on. Jesus.

This is so often what watching R&M and thinking about it later can feel like, a pretentious, violent mass of contradictions and intellectual wormholes that are eventually smooshed out into a dumb fart gag. Perhaps it’s easier just to say that, my God, the third season of this show was really something else. Rick went on a bender to end them all, Saw­-ed a bunch of Marvel knock-offs and almost made Morty cry tears of joy. And that was all in the same episode! Not to mention “The Ricklantis Mixup”, which could easily join the pantheon of the greatest episodes of television ever in the few short months since it aired.

Still, I sorta feel I should reiterate something that did bug me about this season’s finale: we all need to stop idolising Rick. Not just us, but the people who write this show (who, admittedly, tended to call him on his shit a lot more this season). Yeah, we’ve all got a little bit of Rick in us, and it’s healthy to acknowledge and accept that. But, Christ, we shouldn’t be aspiring to be like this crazed arsehole. Seriously, anyone who wants to cherish or fetishize that part of themselves needs to take a good hard look at how unceasingly miserable Rick is. How much he drinks and how often he almost kills himself, either passively or directly. And look, I know that no one wants to be Jerry, but Morty and Summer ain’t so bad, right?


1. The Leftovers

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. When The Leftovers debuted in 2014, it did so with relatively little fanfare. It was adapted from an intriguing if somewhat unremarkable Tom Perrotta novel, to which it was faithful for the entirety of its first season. It was… fine. The idea of an unexplained phenomenon that led to the disappearance of 2% of the world’s population made for an interesting premise, and the performances from Justin Theroux and (especially) Carrie Coon elevated the more lacklustre material. Still, it was just a bit without purpose, as if the show had subsumed the story’s central theme of pointlessness and allowed it to leak into its very fabric.

Honestly, I can’t say that I recommended The Leftovers to many people in those early days, and was as surprised as anyone that a show with such a limited narrative and niche appeal – that had also exhausted the source novel’s plot – was renewed for another year. Then I watched the second season, and everything clicked into place. The Leftovers became exactly the kind of show its material needed it to be, one that both relished the mystery at its centre while refusing to offer any easy answers about it. It took place in a town called Miracle, featured a sassy ghost and spent an entire episode in the afterlife. It was fucking amazing, and helped to pave the way for its truly divine third season this year.

In The Leftovers’ final and most profound statement on loss, grief and the daunting quest for meaning, its characters set out for Australia, of all places! Some come in search of their departed relatives and are met with a twisted questionnaire. Some come following others and encounter a roaming troupe of tiger orgyists (who, to be fair, are from Tasmania). Perhaps most unusual of all is the person who spends the better part of a year learning an ancient Aboriginal rain dance to prevent the coming apocalypse. Needless to say, it doesn’t quite end up how you’d expect. If this all sounds intentionally bizarre or just a hair too unhinged, I don’t disagree. What’s truly breathtaking, though, is the humanity that The Leftovers distills amongst the chaos. It shows us the pure madness of the world, and asks us all to listen carefully for the beating heart at its core.

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