Well, here we are. Another December descends upon us and thus the glut of listicles decrying the best and worst “x” of the year crop up here, there and everywhere. It’s like tradition (how else do you know the year is ending?) So without further ado, here are the 5 best new shows of the year. No returning shows and they must have begun debuting their full series in the UK for the first time this year. Them’s the rules. Also these are in no particular order, so away we go…
After the success of Mad Men and Community, where did Alison Brie go next? Back to the 80’s with a perm, naturally. Brie plays struggling actress Ruth Wilder, and after one failed audition too many, she decides to take a turn for the unconventional and try out for a wrestling show called “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling”. With its band of freaks, geeks, weirdos and everything in-between, will a thespian like her drop down to such low-brow material?
GLOW was such a great dramedy and one of Netflix’s better 8760 new shows commissioned this year. It was funny, moving, tackled some serious issues, and most of all was simply great to watch. With great support from Betty Gilpin, Carmen Wade, a scene-stealing Marc Maron plus a whole roster of brilliant support, Glow was a hit straight from the top turnbuckle.
The Handmaid’s Tale
Another Mad Men alumnus, Elisabeth Moss, broke out on her own this year in a much, much, dear lord much darker new show – The Handmaid’s Tale. Set in a dystopian future, only a few women can reproduce (called handmaidens) and are enslaved as concubines in the new, altogether more authoritarian and theocratic United States of America. Moss plays June Osborne, one of the aforementioned Handmaidens.
The Handmaid’s Tale was by far and away the most important new drama of 2017 because its themes of feminism, patriarchal oppression and reproductive rights are all too relevant in our modern society. Elisabeth Moss was outstanding as June/Offred, rightly winning every award going this year, with stellar support from Alexis Bledel (the scene in the back of the truck with her handcuffed and muzzled will haunt you for weeks), Ann Dowd who turns her git-level up to 11 in a brilliantly evil role and a host of others, Handmaid’s will depress you, anger you and stay with you. They will bear no more.
The only British show on this list but easily one of the funniest shows to debut this year, Motherland is fantastic. Set around a group of London friends who are all parents, this comedy of manners, social faux-pas and the school run shone this year because it was so honest. On paper, it does smack of twee middle-class bollocks, but it elevates itself from that ignominious club thanks to the great writing and great performances.
Centered around Anna Maxwell Martin’s perennially knackered mum Julia, with support from Lucy Punch as queen bee mum Amanda, it is however Diane Morgan’s runaway performance as Liz that solidifies this show on this list. Northern, straight-talking and funny as hell, Morgan (aka Philomena Cunk) has bagged her best role yet. Just funny.
The Good Place
Now we come to the first odd entry to the list, as I’m sure every American reading this is thinking “but this began last year”. Thanks to the joys of Netflix, we here in Blighty finally got to enjoy The Good Place and bask in its sweet, charming ethics for dummies lecture. After dying, Eleanor Shellstrop is sent to The Good Place, the afterlife for those who have used their time on Earth well, by generally being a good person and a credit to mankind. Our Eleanor has actually been a nightmare to her fellow man while alive, so with a little help from some new friends, learns to improve herself to earn her place in the good place.
Kristen Bell as Eleanor is fantastic. She imbues the role with a wonderful snarkiness but shows how Eleanor really is trying to change her selfish ways for the better with great aplomb. William Jackson Harper as her soulmate/ethics teacher Chidi is great fun, all anxiety and disbelief with a heart of gold. The ever-reliable Ted Danson as architect Michael anchors the show perfectly while MVP Janet, played by D’Arcy Carden, as a human Siri, is one of the best comic creations in years. We all need a Janet. The Good Place is forking brilliant.
I may have slightly lied when I said this list was in no particular order as The Punisher is my personal favourite show of the year. No, it’s not the most important show of the year, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t enjoy it the most.
Set after the events of Daredevil season 2, Frank Castle goes into hiding, laying low and getting on with his new, violence-free existence. However an event from his past life in the military comes back to haunt him and throws him back into the open, tangling him in a web of government conspiracy and deceit that would send anybody under, let alone The Punisher himself.
Let’s get this straight, The Punisher is up there with Jessica Jones and Daredevil season 1 as the best thing Marvel has put on Netflix. It is simply gripping from start to finish and subverts your initial impression that this might be 13 hours of balls-to-the-wall violence. It takes its time, developing characters well with logical and believable traits. It tells a story, that whilst twisty and turn-y, isn’t overly complicated. It’s cleaner than one of Frank Castle’s shots. And whilst the violence is sporadic, when it hits home it really hits home (that sledgehammer fight in episode 1 earns the series’ 18 rating all on its own). Jon Bernthal plays Frank Castle again with pained restraint-yet-ready-to-explode as well as he ever has. Amber Rose Revah offers great support as steely Homeland Security agent Madani, whilst Ben Barnes gets a role where he’s more than just a pretty face for a change.
Dealing with themes of gun violence, PTSD, domestic terrorism and American foreign policy, the Punisher does offer up some weighty food for thought throughout it’s maiden season. Whilst not always thoroughly successful dealing with such heavy material it is thoroughly entertaining. It’s the joint best Marvel property on TV, and a damn fine thriller to boot. And not a single ninja in sight. Punishment, this is not.