What’s the “best?” We each have our own definition, our own lists. Your “best” may not be my “best.” There is someone reading this right now who thinks the best series of 2017 was the CW’s “Riverdale,” someone else partial to “Nathan for You.” The fact that neither series appears here is not criticism, but pragmatism. Decisions need to be made, the “best” prioritized. The following priorities are mine alone.
So what are those priorities? A “best” show has to be consistent. It has to be smart. It has to have superior production values. It has to be original. It has to have a vision, an idea, and a reliable execution of that idea. Most of all, it has to go beyond holding someone’s attention, to rewarding that attention. Your time is valuable. Why waste it?
These 20 meet these criteria, but what was so exciting about 2017 is that so many other series did as well. So consider the following an approximation. There was a bumper crop of “best” in 2017. Just imagine what 2018 will bring.
20. 'Star Trek: Discovery,' CBS All Access
Compelling new addition to the Trek canon, with a breakout performance by star Sonequa Martin-Green.
19. 'Big Little Lies,' HBO
Addictive seven-episode mystery-satire based on the 2014 bestseller by Liane Moriarty and written by David E. Kelley with possibly the best cast of any series this season (Laura Dern, Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon).
18. 'Time: The Kalief Browder Story,' Spike
This particularly well-produced film insists that even in death, onetime Rikers inmate Kalief Browder can still change a broken system — and must.
17. 'The Deuce,' HBO
Maggie Gyllenhaal as a Times Square prostitute with two lives heads up an excellent cast.
16. 'Lady Dynamite,' Netflix
Maria Bamford spent two remarkable seasons explaining her life and the result was one of TV’s funniest series.
15. 'Planet Earth 2,' BBC America
Sequel to the 2006 classic, this one remains a celebration, while challenging viewers to imagine a world where a “Planet Earth III” might not be possible.
14. 'Alias Grace,' Netflix
Another fine adaptation of a Margaret Atwood novel, with a breakout performance by Sarah Gadon as Grace, an accused murderer.
13. 'This Is Us,' NBC
Sidestepping the sophomore slump, “This Is Us” remains commercial TV’s best drama.
12. 'Feud: Bette and Joan,' FX
Full of joy, humor, brilliant writing and performances, and a deep, abiding love for what really makes Hollywood great — the women.
11. 'Bright Lights,' HBO
Long ago conceived as a documentary, this arrived as both elegy and eulogy to two Hollywood icons who also happen to be mother and daughter, Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher.
10. 'The Good Place,' NBC
The second season reinvented something that was already ridiculously inventive — and succeeded beyond expectations.
9. 'Game of Thrones,' HBO
Great penultimate season that otherwise bobbled a couple of plot points.
8. 'Insecure,' HBO
“Insecure” was and is good because it feels so relentlessly authentic, while the ensemble — Issa (Issa Rae), Molly (Yvonne Orji), Kelli (Natasha Rothwell) and Tiffany (Amanda Seales) — just gets better and better.
7. 'Veep,' HBO
Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) saved Tibet and wants to be president again. Makes sense. Sixth season was funnier than ever.
6. 'The Handmaid’s Tale,' Hulu
Easily the most important new series of the year and fictional accompaniment to the most important social movement of the year — #MeToo.
5. 'The Crown,' Netflix
Stunning second season that bests the first.
4. 'Twin Peaks: The Return,' Showtime
Back after a quarter of a century, “TP” also arrived with the original oddness and especially the original disdain for logic, meaning, order or viewer expectations. David Lynch promised he and Mark Frost would finally do the show they always wanted to do. And how they did.
3. 'The Leftovers,' HBO
Third and final season was beautiful, emotional, funny, poignant, compelling (and offered a particularly good and harrowing trip through Australia’s Outback).
2. 'Better Call Saul,' AMC
Gets better and better and has become a co-equal of “Breaking Bad,” and in some subtle ways, its superior.
1. 'The Vietnam War,' PBS
Filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick reached for some measure of catharsis over these 18 hours, but settled for immersion instead. And “Vietnam” was nothing if not immersive, making this more of an “experience” — often a grim and remorseless one — than an actual TV program.