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Best TV shows of 2017 so far

If the first half of 2017 is prologue to the second, then we’ve got some celebrating to do. On TV at least, these past six months have been good ones, full of interesting diversions and the occasional indispensable one, too. “The Leftovers” completed its three-season run by making a solid case for an Emmy (or two). “Twin Peaks” returned after 25 years to baffle the world while hooking some old (and new) fans. Ryan Murphy launched another anthology and another winner. Dave Chappelle returned from the comedy witness protection program. We could go on, but please read the list instead. 

20. 'Fargo' (FX)

The new season of FARGO is in its
Photo Credit: FX/Chris Large

The third season of this improbable success story was, like the first two, engrossing, funny and bewildering (who knew the northern reaches of Minnesota could be so crazy?). Best of all: David Thewlis’ treacherous capitalist (with a Marxist streak), V.M. Varga. Pictured: Goran Bogdan, left,  Thewlis and Andy Yu 

19. 'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks' (HBO)

Rose Byrne and Oprah Winfrey in HBO's “The
Photo Credit: HBO/Quantrell D. Colbert

Oprah Winfrey turned in a powerful performance as Lacks’ daughter Deborah, trying to come to terms with her mother’s legacy and (most of all) her mother’s death. Fine cast and script by George C. Wolfe helped make this a winner. Henrietta died in 1951 at the age of 31, but before her death, her cells were replicated and found to be “immortal,” of self-replicating, creating the famous “HeLa” line used in dozens of medical breakthroughs over the years. Pictured: Rose Byrne and Winfrey

18. 'American Crime' (ABC)

AMERICAN CRIME - "Season Three: Episode One" -
Photo Credit: ABC/Nicole Wilder

The third and final installment of the John Ridley anthology about an America most Americans never see starred Regina King, Cherry Jones, Felicity Huffman, Benito Martinez, Timothy Hutton, Connor Jessup and Ana Mulvoy Ten — who turned in another ’17 breakout performance. The third, set in Alamance County, North Carolina, was about a father who traveled illegally from Mexico in search of his missing son and stumbles into a life of servitude — the lot of most other migrant workers. 

17. 'Age of Spin' (Comedy Central)

Dave Chappelle for best of webref on
Photo Credit: Netflix

Dave Chappelle’s return to TV (which included a second Netflix special, “Deep in the Heart of Texas”) was raunchy, offensive and very funny — and mostly a reminder of all that talent from so long ago. Avoiding politics, Chappelle stepped right back into the culture wars, sparing no one —  including himself.

16. 'Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds' (HBO)

Undated photo of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds
Photo Credit: Fisher Family Archives

This deeply moving portrait of a famous daughter and mother had a “Grey Gardens” quirkiness, but the searing emotional component was actually sealed by HBO, which moved this up from scheduled spring airdate to Jan. 7, or just about a week after Reynolds’ death on Dec. 28 — which followed her daughter’s death by a day. Pictured: Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds

15. 'Planet Earth II' (BBC America)

Planet Earth II (Jan. 28, Saturday at 9,
Photo Credit: BBC America/Tom Hugh-Jones

Eleven years after the original, “II” comes along to remind us all that Earth is still here, and still beautiful, magical, glorious and surprising. This edition was abetted by new technology, including drones — which improved even on a bird’s-eye view. Pictured: Two lion cubs approximately 10 weeks old

14. 'Saturday Night Live' (NBC)

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- "Kristen Stewart" Episode 1717
Photo Credit: NBC/Will Heath

“SNL” will win a bunch of Emmys this September, while Alec Baldwin’s Trump is as much a lock on Emmy glory as any single star in recent history. “SNL” was spotty this season but nevertheless became part of the conversation, and an important one. To have missed an episode of “SNL” this season would have been to have missed a chunk of the weekly zeitgeist. The best of “SNL” 42? Melissa McCarthy’s Sean Spicer, pictured. Who else? 

13. '13 Reasons Why' (Netflix)

Dylan Minnette stars in "Netflix's "13 Reasons Why"
Photo Credit: Netflix/Beth Dubber

Television doesn’t always take teen angst seriously, relegating it to either soap or horror. Brian Yorkey’s adaptation of the Jay Asher novel chose a third option — tragedy. “I’m about to tell you the story of my life,” explained Hannah (Katherine Langford) in one of the breakouts of the year so far. Also the story of her rape, and suicide. Pictured: Dylan Minnette

12. 'The President Show' (Comedy Central)

Anthony Atamanuik as President Donald Trump in Comedy
Photo Credit: Comedy Central/Gavin Bond

A very soft launch on Comedy Central meant this didn’t get much press, but those who did pay attention saw the best Donald Trump impersonator around — Anthony Atamanuik, pictured — headline a funny, brutal takedown of the White House. The sketches here — like a tour of one of President Donald Trump’s nightmares — are sharper than just about anything on that other late-night show.

11. 'Big Little Lies' (HBO)

Reese Witherspoon, Darby Camp, Shailene Woodley, Iain Armitage,
Photo Credit: HBO/Hilary Bronwyn Gayle

While based on a David E. Kelley script that reminded everyone why he is such a celebrated TV writer, the brilliant female cast really carried this off: Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, Zoë Kravitz, Laura Dern and Nicole Kidman. Each could be up for an Emmy, while either Witherspoon or Kidman could win one if Lange doesn’t. Tough — no, impossible — to say who is more deserving. Pictured: Witherspoon, left, Darby Camp, Woodley, Iain Armitage, Kidman, and Cameron and Nicolas Crovetti

10. 'Time: The Kalief Browder Story' (Spike)

"Time: The Kalief Browder Story" . In photo,
Photo Credit: Spike TV

This six-parter, about 16-year-old Kalief Browder, pictured, who was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack and then spent the rest of his short life in Rikers, was a remarkable tour through a notorious system, and helped launch the ongoing efforts to finally reform it. 

9. 'This Is Us' (NBC)

THIS IS US -- "Moonshadow" Episode118 --Tuesday March
Photo Credit: NBC/Ron Batzdorff

Would have gone higher except for the freshman season finale, which was a disappointment. Setting that aside, “Us” is one of the most exciting new dramas on a major network in years — also smart, thoughtful, interesting, intricate and emotionally complex. Pictured: Chrissy Metz and Chris Sullivan

8. 'Veep' (HBO)

Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars in HBO's Veep" Season 6,
Photo Credit: HBO/Justin M. Lubin

“Veep” long ago ran out of words with which to be praised, but the current season has offered a whole new salad bar of choices. Crazy, outrageous, scabrous .  .  . still great. Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, pictured), now the ex-president, is without portfolio, and funnier than ever. 

7. 'The Handmaid’s Tale' (Hulu)

The Handmaid's Tale -- "Offred" -- Episode 101
Photo Credit: Hulu/George Kraychyk

Elisabeth Moss turned in a performance that will finally  — after six lead-actress nominations for “Mad Men” and one for “Top of the Lake” (but who’s counting?) — win her a best-actress Emmy and a standing ovation at the September ceremony. Pictured: Moss, left, and Alexis Bledel

6. 'The Late Show With Stephen Colbert' (CBS)

Late night talk show host Stephen Colbert appears
Photo Credit: AP/Richard Boeth

“Colbert” has mounted the single biggest turnaround on TV, one of the biggest in late-night history. With a little help from his friends — most notably the president — “Late Show” is now indispensable viewing. The other big late-night winners: “The Daily Show,” “Late Night With Seth Meyers” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” whose host unforgettably wept for his ill newborn and for his comedy hero, Don Rickles.

5. 'Downward Dog' (ABC)

DOWNWARD DOG - ABC's "Downward Dog" stars Ned
Photo Credit: ABC/Craig Sjodin

With “Fargo” breakout Allison Tolman, pictured, as the human and Martin as the dog, Ned, these two put out a short series full of warmth, joy and psychological insight — both human and canine. Meanwhile, dogs do say the darndest things.    

4. 'Feud: Bette and Joan' (FX)

FEUD -- Pictured: (l-r) Susan Sarandon as Bette
Photo Credit: FX/Suzanne Tenner

To crib from my review (if you don’t mind), “Full of joy, humor, brilliant writing and performances, and a deep unabiding love for what really makes Hollywood great — the women.” Susan Sarandon (Bette Davis), left, and especially Jessica Lange (Joan Crawford), right, were outstanding. Lange will likely win her fourth Emmy, too. 

3. 'Twin Peaks: The Return' (Showtime)

Kyle MacLachlan in a still from ABC's 2017
Photo Credit: Showtime/Suzanne Tenner

Of all the reboots of these reboot-y times, this is the rebootinest-tootinest of the lot. It has rebooted the original flavor, 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. So far, promise kept. Pictured: Kyle MacLachlan 

2. 'Better Call Saul' (AMC)

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill jin AMC's "Better
Photo Credit: AMC / Sony Pictures Television/Michele K. Short

And speaking of third seasons, this one secured the prequel’s claim as worthy — indeed equal — companion to the rootstock, “Breaking Bad.” This one further enriched and deepened the meaning of “Bad,” while turning Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk, pictured) into a tragic hero every bit as complicated as Walter White (Bryan Cranston).  

1. 'The Leftovers' (HBO)

Carrie Coon and Justin Theroux in HBO's "The
Photo Credit: HBO/Ben King

Few watched the last season, but those who did got a first-class ticket to Australia in search of answers, closure and the meaning to all that came before (hey, two out of three’s not bad). This remarkable series managed something that few usually do — a fusion of human love with spiritual yearning, along with a powerful, moving payoff. Pictured: Carrie Coon and Justin Theroux 

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