This age of "Peak TV" can mean too much to watch, too much to sample, too much to absorb. We live in a TV age of bounty, but maybe too much bounty. Where to turn?
This updated 21st century viewers' guide to some of the newest series worth watching attempts to sort out that question. What I've tried to do here is highlight series that have launched within the last couple of years or so, although there are a handful of exceptions -- in those rare instances when recent seasons improved on earlier ones, or were radically different from them.
Some of these shows have been overlooked in the crush of 487 scripted series (in 2017 alone). Some of these are hidden gems, some are the beneficiary of vast publicity and the Emmy award machine. But to a show they're proof that peak TV is about abundance, diversity and quality. (Unless otherwise noted, these are available to stream on the networks’ respective websites, or otherwise on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime.)
“Get Shorty,” Epix
This Davey Holmes ("Shameless") adaptation of the Elmore Leonard classic about a hit man with Hollywood ambitions draws you in from the opening credits, and doesn't release its hold until the closing ones. Lots of fine performances, with Chris O'Dowd's Miles Daly first among equals.
With "Downton Abbey's" Joanne Froggatt, this falls squarely into the #Metoo movement, and then some -- her character, Laura, accuses a surgeon (Ioan Gruffudd) of raping her after a date, but he insists he's innocent. Events (and the facts) quickly prove otherwise.
This may be your last chance to catch up with "Atlanta" because starting next season (March 1) it has been re-named "Atlanta Robbin' Season." (Longish story why). Donald Glover's tale of the Atlanta rhymin' scene during the first season was unforgettable.
“The Long Road Home,” Nat Geo
Excellent short-run series that begins April 4, 2004, as a 1st Cavalry Division patrol commanded by Lt. Shane Aguero (E.J. Bonilla) makes its way through the streets of Sadr City, Iraq -- a Shia neighborhood of Baghdad -- when ambushed by Mahdi Army militia.
Another OWN winner: Grace Greenleaf (Merle Dandridge) and her daughter return to the family home in Tennessee -- more estate than "home," actually, and a vast spread funded (one assumes) by the huge success of her father's -- for the funeral of her sister, Faith. It's also about how people, good and bad, stray and before long abandon their flock, so to speak.
“Better Things,” FX
Third season wrapped last November, and given Louis CK's creative involvement, a question whether it will come back. But star Pamela Adlon did direct the third season and wrote many of the episodes, so no reason why not. But if not, this series -- about momhood and daughterhood -- ended with the most unusual graduation present ever, and incidentally one of the sweetest endings imaginable, too.
“Star Trek: Discovery,” CBS All Access
Some pre-launch production changes were not good omens, but the first season mostly dispelled concerns, thanks to a breakout performance by Sonequa Martin-Green, as Michael Burnham, the steely (and half-Klingon) first officer.
“The Good Place,” NBC
Easily network TV's most inventive comedy, which successfully reinvented some of itself for the second season.
This drama about an unusual theme park works on many levels, with the most obvious being the visceral, blood-spilling one. Sam Peckinpah must have inspired the authors of Westworld's many narratives, because more bullets fly and more bodies fall and more blood spills than even he could have ever hoped for. The violence is searing, appalling, and mitigated only by the knowledge that it's not real. Caveat emptor.
“Alias Grace,” Netflix
The beautiful adaptation of the Margaret Atwood novel stars Sarah Polley ("The Sweet Hereafter") as an Irish immigrant convicted of a murder she didn't commit, and charts a circuitous and haunting trip through her psyche. It's about past, present, memory, identity and female empowerment, also one of my favorites of 2017.
“The Night Manager,” AMC
This thoroughly addictive thriller (based on the novel by John le Carre) -- about the hotel night manager (Tom Hiddleston) recruited to infiltrate the inner circle of an arms dealer (Hugh Laurie) -- could make it to a second season. In the meantime, enjoy this one.
“Bosch,” Amazon Prime
Based on the Michael Connelly L.A. noir detective series with Titus Welliver as Harry Bosch, this is my favorite series on TV not named "Game of Thrones." Yes, it launched way back in 2014, so it really is outside the parameters of this "most-recent" guide, but "Bosch" does belong because the most recent season really was the stand-out so far. A great cast with Jamie Hector as partner "J" Edgar; Lance Reddick as smoothie chief of police Irvin Irving, and of course, Amy Aquino as Lt. Grace Billets.
“One Mississippi,” Amazon Prime
Created by Tig Notaro and Diablo Cody, this borrows from Notaro's own life, and struggles -- her character, Tig Bavaro, also had a mastectomy -- with the fictional Bay Saint Lucille as backdrop. (Notaro is from Pass Christian, Mississippi). And yes, it's a comedy and a good one.
“The Tick,” Amazon Prime
Hello world, the Tick is back after a 16-year absence, and his timing couldn't be more perfect. Starring (the funny) Peter Serafinowicz as a deeply earnest, deeply blue superhero, and his sidekick, Arthur Everest (Griffin Newman), "The Tick" is both a sendup of our current superhero overload, and an abiding, joyous affirmation of it.
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” Amazon Prime
Any resemblance between the life and career of Midge Maisel -- Rachel Brosnahan -- and the life and career of Joan Rivers is purely coincidental, but probably not too coincidental. Another fine Amy Sherman-Palladino period dramedy that -- like "Bunheads" -- requires patience (yours), which will be rewarded.
Think "Once Upon a Time in the West" with Jeff Daniels in the bad guy role that Henry Fonda so memorably filled, plus lots of other interesting narrative twists (a town with only women, after the men died in a mining accident) and great cast -- Michelle Dockery as Alice who befriends Roy Goode (Jack O'Connell) who actually is good; also Merritt Wever as the tough boss of said town, and Scoot McNairy as the sheriff with failing eyesight. Engaging from the opening seconds.
“13 Reasons Why,” Netflix
This Netflix adaptation of Jay Asher's 2007 novel -- about a teen (played by Katherine Langford) who commits suicide, but first pre-records the 13 reasons why she intended to do so -- got a lot of buzz on launch in March 2017 because it addressed a subject that can barely be spoken of, much less rendered into entertainment.
“The Get Down,” Netflix
A wildly entertaining gumbo about the early origins of East Coast rap in the Bronx had some unusual creators -- including Baz Luhrmann and playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis -- and still couldn't earn a second season. Too bad, because the beat went on.
“Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life,” Netflix
Like "Twin Peaks," this trip down memory lane was thoroughly and lovingly updated and is -- always was -- about mothers and daughters, and about navigating that most important of relationships, and about the crushing burden that culture places upon young women and (most of all) about the joy -- and necessity -- of self-discovery.
“American Vandal,” Netflix
One of the funky (and unexpected) sensations of '17, with Jimmy Tatro -- as doofus Dylan accused of spraying a picture of a certain body part on cars in the high school parking lot -- and his redoubtable and intrepid reporter/protector (Tyler-- Peter Maldonado). Funny and don't be afraid to skip around -- not a whole lot happens.
“Stranger Things,” Netflix
Of course this guide has to include "Things" which side-stepped the sophomore slump by sticking so closely to the script that made the freshman season so memorable, and successful.
“Master of None,” Netflix
Launched way back in 2015, "Master" became almost a new series upon its return in 2017, when it decamped to Italy. Italy did it wonders too.
This six-parter by Errol Morris is like nothing you've ever seen - a '50s period drama about "Project MKUltra" and the scientist who is secretly dosed with LSD - all in the name of science. With Peter Sarsgaard as the unlikely scientist, and Molly Parker as his spouse.
"The OA," Netflix
Launched in February 2017, this got instant attention, partly because the premise was so out there, in a "Stranger Things-ish" kind of way. About Prairie (Brit Marling) who can open doors to other dimensions, to find other missing people.
“The Crown,” Netflix
Claire Foy is done as Her Majesty, to be replaced by Olivia Colman, as middle-age creeps into the third season. The first season was good, the second priceless.
Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie) is a struggling actress in '80s-era Hollywood who decides to become a Gorgeous Lady of Wrestling. It's a terrific and funny series.
“Halt and Catch Fire,” AMC/Netflix
An example of a series that changed so much over its life that the beginning (in this case 2014) hardly matched the end (last October). "Halt" -- about the PC, then web, revolutions -- also got better, and better. (It also got more female-centric, less male-centric. A coincidence?)
"Room 104," HBO
Duplass Brothers' anthology about a strange motel room where the occasional cockroach isn't the only reason to ask for a refund (that is, for those patrons who live long enough to ask for one).
Unusual TV enterprise in that showrunner Steven Soderbergh launched a game app based on this before the actual series, but the series turned out to be more than enough: The mysterious murder of a children's book author (Sharon Stone, in a -- hopefully -- full-fledged comeback role) and the intrepid sleuth (by an excellent Jennifer Ferrin) who tracks down the killer.
“The Durrells in Corfu,” PBS/Netflix
With the great Keeley Hawes as Louisa Durrell, who transplants her family to the dreamscape of Corfu in Greece, this is one of the small screen's great escapes, now entering its third season.
“The A Word,” Sundance
Some power and beauty (and not just the scenery) in this show about a 7-year-old autistic boy and his parents' quiet struggles, with the "fells" (mountains) of far northern England as a backdrop.
“The Sinner,” USA
An eight-episode close-ender about a young mom (Jessica Biel) who goes berserk on a beach. Reasonably engrossing mystery (if you can get past the crime).
“Search Party,” TBS
Dory (Alia Shawkat) goes searching for a missing classmate, and finds her. The show was a little bit of Kafka-comes-to-Brooklyn while the driving idea is that obsession and narcissism are soulmates, and their progeny is self-delusion. The setting is a prettified, gentrified Brooklyn, filled with privileged millennials and -- on the fringes -- the desperate and possibly deranged.
“The Chi,” Showtime
There's a lot going on here -- arguably too much -- but "The Chi" is still one of the more unique shows on TV at the moment, about Brandon (Jason Mitchell, "Straight Outta Compton"), an aspiring chef who has big dreams of one day opening his own restaurant far from the South Side of Chicago where he and his mom Laverne (Sonja Sohn) live.
Tom Hardy -- as James Delaney, returning to 1814 London after he was presumed dead -- and "Taboo" do a fine job with the gloomy atmospherics early on, which also tend to slowwww down the story. But Hardy, as always, is terrific.
“Baroness Von Sketch,” IFC
In an apparent bid to prove that women really are funnier than men, this all-female comedy sketch show largely succeeds, and then succeeds some more. Herein include sketches about dry shampoo, a girls night out, zombie children and someone named Nicole. The Toronto-based performers are Carolyn Taylor, Meredith MacNeill, Aurora Browne and Jennifer Whalen. They are, to a woman, hilarious.
David Haller (Dan Stevens) is the mutant son of Professor X, hence making this the only TV series connected to "The X-Men" universe, and - if that still hasn't sold you - then maybe Stevens' performance will, as the schizophrenic psychic trying to exorcise the various personas that have taken up residence in his head. Provocative and...strange.
“Animal Kingdom,” TNT
Based on movie of the same name, this series about a family crime syndicate that wants to invert everything you've been taught about primetime crime dramas; with great cast and just got a third season pickup.
“The Good Doctor,” ABC
Seems out of place on this guide, until you actually watch it - a re-imagining or updating of "House," with Freddie Highmore as a gifted savant. Last fall, this series single-handedly saved ABC - struggling to get viewers and attention - and it's a worthy savior.
"At Home with Amy Sedaris," truTV
"At Home" is a sendup of every Food Network series you could imagine, but especially of a type of show that began to proliferate in the late '50s -- that risible exuberant cooking program that eventually inspired culinary TV empires like "The Frugal Gourmet," "Barefoot Contessa," "Paula's Home Cooking" and "30 Minute Meals." Better still: It stars Amy Sedaris.
“The Girlfriend Experience,” Starz
Series just wrapped its second season which didn't seem to get as much buzz as the first, but passionate fans do indeed love this series with Riley Keough as "high-end sex worker" Christine Reade, with a fine cast (Paul Sparks, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Briony Glassco).
“The Missing,” Starz
This endorsement is for 2017's second part, which stands on its own, and features a riveting performance by Tchéky Karyo who - as retired detective Julien Baptiste - methodically solves the mystery of a young woman who stumbles into a small German city years after she went missing.
“Feud: Bette and Joan,” FX
Overshadowed by "Big Little Lies," "Feud" -- with Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis and Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford -- is full of joy, humor, brilliant writing and performances, and a deep unabiding love for what really makes Hollywood great: the women.
“Queen Sugar,” OWN
Admire what's on-screen -- a fine, mostly African-American cast -- and off-screen as well. Ava DuVernay, who directed the first two episodes, handed other episodes off to an all-female director roster -- including Tina Mabry, Neema Barnette and Tanya Hamilton -- which has probably never happened on a TV series before. "Sugar" is a solid hit for OWN and deservedly so.
“American Gods,” Starz
This adaptation of the Neil Gaiman classic manages the improbable - it makes that classic almost understandable, in this rollicking series about new/old gods played by Crispin Glover as new god Mr. World, Peter Stormare as old-world god Czernobog, or Orlando Jones as another, Mr. Nancy. A whole lot of money was poured into this, which may be why showrunners Michael Green and Bryan Fuller have - sadly - left.
“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” CW
This, too, falls slightly outside this guide's not-hard-and-fast rule about launching in '16 (it launched the year before) but "Crazy Ex" does feel like a series that gets better and better, also more confident. Rachel Bloom's ridiculously original crazy-quilt of a show features music, romance, and the deeply human need for both. A real gem.
“Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams,” Amazon Prime
All-star cast in this anthology about the uncertainty of human-based reality, and the uncertainty of humanity itself, with lots of mind benders about alt-reality and alt-humans.
“Big Little Lies,” HBO
On the off-chance that this may have missed your to-view list, "BLG" is one of the pleasures of the 2017 year, with a bounty of awards as affirmation.
“The Deuce,” HBO
It's 1971 and Vincent Martino (James Franco) is trying to run a bar, while covering his twin brother Frankie's (also Franco) failed bets. Then there's Eileen "Candy" Merrell (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a prostitute who has ambitions beyond the street: The big, seedy screen. Their performances are outstanding, among many, in this latest winner from David Simon.
“Lady Dynamite,” Netflix
Maria Bamford is a great stand-up, also one who has suffered from bipolar disorder. This loosely fictionalized account of that battle, with dazzling detours into her past, is one of my favorite TV series of recent years (and of course it was recently cancelled). Not all episodes are created equal here, and on balance, the first season is a little better than the second. But there are gems throughout, so don't be reluctant to skip and sample.
“This Is Us,” NBC
By avoiding the sophomore season slump, "Us" managed to get some more attention at the awards shows (SAG, Golden Globes) and is assured more love at the Emmys.
Star Issa Rae essentially jumped from YouTube to HBO with both feet in 2016 then stuck the landing and got an Emmy nod as acknowledgment. She managed this with a little help (from the show's top-notch ensemble), but primarily with moxie, talent and screen presence. The second season in 2017 is/was even better.
“The Handmaid’s Tale,” Hulu
Hulu's breakout series based on the Margaret Atwood dystopian tale of women enslaved was blessed by an Emmy Award-winning performance and possible the most perfect timing of any major TV series in history - arriving right at the cusp of the Reckoning that continues to shake Hollywood and so much else. Catch up now before the second season begins: April 25.
“Twin Peaks: The Return,” Showtime
Not for everyone, but I devoured every episode and will again. I loved every minute - every character, mystery, cup of coffee, slice of (cherry) pie...everything.
“The Leftovers,” HBO
The final (and third) season can be viewed on its own but you will need a quick course in what came before. This also happened to be the best series of 2017, with the most satisfying (and conclusive) wraps of any series I can think of.