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The Best Overlooked Shows of 2017 — IndieWire Critics Survey

In the era of Peak TV, critics don't want you to miss out on these under-the-radar gems.

Overlooked TV Shows

“White Princess,” “12 Monkeys,” “Downward Dog”

Starz, Syfy, ABC

IWCriticsPick

Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Tuesday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best show currently on TV?” can be found at the end of this post.)

This week’s question: What is the best TV show airing in 2017 that people may have missed this year? This could be a new show that debuted or a returning show that aired a new season this year.

Allison Keene (@KeeneTV), Collider

There have actually been two “forgotten” shows in 2017 that I’ve stumped for pretty hard. The first is “Hap and Leonard’s” second season, “Mucho Mojo,” on SundanceTV. It’s nearly a sea change from its first season, as it tells a difficult and complicated racial story that’s balanced with its trademark wit and quirky sensibilities. It’s a tale that isn’t being told anywhere else right now — of neglected neighborhoods, of missing black children, of male friendship — and it does so in an economical (though far too short) six episodes. “Mucho Mojo” leans in hard to the show’s East Texas aesthetic, and uses humor and heartache to create one of TV’s most unique series.

The second (regrettably overlooked) series is “The White Princess” on Starz, a follow-up to “The White Queen” and another quick watch at eight episodes. Like “Hap and Leonard,” it’s a connected anthology, but you can follow it easily without having seen its predecessor. “White Princess” also changes up its source material by giving its female leads more agency, and the exceptional cast augments the story even further into a tense and thrilling journey through one of the most fraught eras in English history (one on which George R. R. Martin based much of the political machinations of “Game of Thrones). Even if you know the outcome of that history, the show makes you doubt it as you’re swept up in its finely-wrought character drama and a compelling narrative.

So yes, Peak TV is overwhelming, but fit these two in!

Zach Galifianakis chokes himself on "Baskets"

Zach Galifianakis chokes himself on “Baskets”

FX

Daniel Fienberg (@TheFienPrint), The Hollywood Reporter

I have no idea how many people watched “Handmaid’s Tale,” but I’m going to assume the answer is “a low-but-reasonable number,” which is also the case with “Fargo” and “Better Call Saul” and even “The Americans” and “a low-but-reasonable number” is all we can hope for in our busy Peak TV era, since it’s hard to know what “people” really and truly watched this spring other than “This Is Us” and maybe “Bull.” So those two DEFINITELY aren’t the best shows that people missed this year.

Empirically, since basically nobody watched “The Leftovers,” and “The Leftovers” certainly was one of the two or three best shows this spring, it’s probably the correct answer, but it happens that this survey and I exist in the same echo chamber, and in our echo chamber, EVERYBODY watched “The Leftovers.” The second season of “Baskets” wasn’t on quite the same qualitative level as “The Leftovers,” but it was still extremely high and even in the echo chamber, there was very little discussion of the show other than an acknowledgement of Louie Anderson’s greatness. And I’m here for Louie Anderson’s greatness, but I think too many people are sleeping on what a special and weird show “Baskets” has become overall. It’s not the sort of show that’s going to live forever, so people should be sure to get on board soon. Louie Anderson is great and so is the show.

"Animals"

“Animals”

HBO

Todd VanDerWerff (@tvoti), Vox

This is a tricky question to answer, because the vast majority of the shows my fellow critics and I obsess over are, um, shows that people probably missed. “The Leftovers” was lucky if it hit a few million cumulative viewers for any given episode, and even a big-time behemoth like “The Walking Dead” or “The Big Bang Theory” is watched, in total, by less than 10 percent of the country’s total population. Everything is a niche now.

But I know what you mean, IndieWire TV critics survey. You mean the kinds of shows that TV obsessives might have missed, thanks to the fact that there’s just so darn much of it on the air right now. And I’ve come up with three answers! How magnanimous I am!

HBO’s “Animals” isn’t a perfect show, but when it hits its target, it hits its target. Having animals share the neuroses of humans (especially New Yorker type humans) is a predictable gag, but in its second season, the show really found its voice, and it was always good for a few laughs in even its weakest episodes. And in its best episodes, it was good for a great deal more than that! Plus, its lack of serialization means that if an episode just isn’t working for you, you can merrily hop to the next one.

Amazon’s “Patriot” is another show that didn’t quite work but still hung with me. The story of a guy who takes a job at a piping company in order to maintain his cover for the CIA, “Patriot” is one of the best shows I’ve seen about the way that living in the United States in the 21st century can feel like an elaborate joke where one half of your brain is withholding information from the other half in hopes of throwing it a surprise party. The series is one half boring antihero drama and one half indictment of late capitalism, and I’m not sure the latter (which is frequently great) would work without the former (which is pretty bland). I hope it gets another season to figure its weird shit out.

Finally, Syfy’s “12 Monkeys” had maybe its best season this year, but the fact that it was burned off over a single weekend, then yanked from on-demand fairly quickly for many customers, means that it kinda got lost in the shuffle. I hope folks catch up with it in advance of its fourth and final season, arriving next year sometime.

 Aaron Stanford and Amanda Schull, "12 Monkeys"

Aaron Stanford and Amanda Schull, “12 Monkeys”

Brooke Palmer/Syfy

Liz Shannon Miller (@lizlet), IndieWire

“Into the Badlands” has always been a delightful oddball in the television landscape — a fully original martial arts drama with a rich mythology, beautiful cinematography and some of the best action on TV. The second season, which premiered this spring, built on the promise of the first season to a newfound degree, addressing some of the show’s early flaws (including adding Nick Frost to the cast in a smart maneuver to increase the show’s comedic relief) and taking the story even further down the rabbit hole. Can’t wait to see what happens in Season 3.

Alan Sepinwall (@sepinwall), Uproxx

I’m inclined to pick “The Leftovers,” just based on sheer quality (everything for the rest of the year is likely playing for second place) relative to its small audience. But this is a TV critics poll being read by the kinds of people who have read me and so many other poll regulars wax rhapsodic about Carrie Coon and friends; in the real world, “Leftovers” is definitely a show most people missed (and should catch up on, because the final two seasons are all-timers), but has had plenty of light shined on it around these here parts.

Instead, I’m going with Amazon’s “Sneaky Pete,” which debuted what seems like a thousand years ago, but only back in mid-January. I have no idea how many people actually watched it, since the streaming services guard that info like state secrets, but it’s been a long time since I heard anyone mention it, and even at the time, conversation about it seemed to get swallowed up by other January premieres.

On the one hand, “Sneaky Pete” is Peak TV Mad Libs: charming anti-hero (Giovanni Ribisi as veteran con man Marius) does something crazy (assumes the identity of his former cellmate to hide from the gangster who wants him dead) where the solution to every problem creates three new problems. But it’s executed so well by Graham Yost and the gang from “Justified,” and every single role is played by an actor at least two or three notches better than is required — particularly the first season’s big bad, played by the show’s co-creator Bryan Cranston — that the formula isn’t really bothersome. And it’s fun. I enjoyed watching the first season so much, and then it just got buried under the weight of the peakiest Peak TV year yet.

Sneaky Pete Giovanni Ribisi Marin Ireland

Rob Owen (@RobOwenTV), Pittsburg Post-Gazette/McClatchy Tribune

Downward Dog”: This ABC comedy was always going to be a tough sell. It’s a talking dog show for people who hate talking dog shows. And it’s too indie-vibed and not broad enough for the people who *do* like talking dog shows. Add to that ABC’s decision to give its sole in-season midseason comedy slot to the dreadful “Imaginary Mary,” and it’s no surprise ABC canceled “Downward Dog” a few days before its first season concluded. And yet the show started pretty strong and became smarter and deeper as it went. Allison Tolman (“Fargo”) stars as the owner of Martin (Ned), a Millennial-minded, self-absorbed rescue dog who speaks to the audience, sharing his neuroses, but Nan doesn’t hear him. “Downward Dog” is at its best when the themes of Nan’s story intersects with the themes of the episode’s Martin plot. Producers say they’re trying to find a new home for “Downward Dog,” and while I hope that happens, if it doesn’t pan out, producers can take pride in crafting a series that will join past critically acclaimed one-season wonders (“Freaks and Geeks,” “Terriers”) that also deserved better. Oh, and the kicker in the final episode is perfect.

June Thomas (@junethomas), Slate

“Line of Duty,” a British show set in a police anti-corruption unit, focuses on a different investigation every season. Season 4’s six-episode arc, available on Hulu, is crazy twisty and totally compelling — writer Jed Mercurio is a cliffhanger-creating machine — and Thandie Newton is fantastic as the unit’s latest target. But what stands out about “Line of Duty” is the way it weaves in threads from previous seasons — it’s done with such subtlety that I am completely convinced that AC-12 is a real unit with a complicated history. Just don’t start watching unless you have a chunk of free time ahead of you. You will get sucked into the show’s world.

Joyce Eng (@joyceeng61), TVGuide.com

“Great News”! As I tell everyone, it’s a cross between “30 Rock” and “The Intern,” and if you don’t like either of those, you are a monster. The show takes a few episodes to find its sea legs, not unlike “30 Rock,” but it soon settles into its weird, kooky self — the fifth episode, “Snowmageddon of the Century,” is a highlight — which makes it a perfect binge right now before Season 2 premieres in the fall. Andrea Martin is great, Briga Heelan is great, Adam Campbell is great, John Michael Higgins is great, but the MVP is Nicole Richie. Her dry delivery and tremendous timing are impeccable, and I’m gonna be devastated when she’s snubbed by the Emmys on Thursday.

"Great News"

“Great News”

NBC

April Neale (@aprilmac), Monsters & Critics

“Kingdom”: Consistently an excellent watch, sadly ending after Season 3 this year. This MMA dysfunctional family yarn is set in Venice, California and it airs on AT&T’s Audience Network, which is only available to AT&T and DirecTV subscribers.

Despite the narrower audience pool, “Kingdom” was and is an exemplary family drama that weaves together the complicated lives of people who fight for a living.

Showrunner Byron Balasco artfully laced his storyline with flawed but fascinating main characters dealing with addiction, alcoholism, violence, and murder, financial stress, fear of being found out as gay in a niche Sports world where it’s not easy to do. Every person in the cast had unique burdens to unravel.

This mixed martial arts series stars the amazing Frank Grillo as Alvey Kulina, a former champion fighter with drink and rage issues who owns and operates Navy St., a gym. There he trains fighters, including his two vastly different sons Jay (the series true powerhouse star, Jonathan Tucker) and Nate (a phenomenal performance by Nick Jonas) and the former champion Ryan Wheeler (fantastic Matt Lauria), who is friends with the two Kulina boys, even being paired against Jay (Tucker) as an opponent in key matches.

The women, Lisa Prince (Kiele Sanchez), Natalie Martinez (Alicia Mendez) and the matriarch, Christina Kulina (Joanna Going), are intense and pure magic to watch in a scene. Even the side character Keith (Paul Walter Hauser) was a breakout one, turning in a memorable performance.

Also of note are the below the line crew, especially the huge art department and various stunts coordinators who all deserve a huge shout out, as the visual veracity of the fight scenes and the feel of what Venice actually is – a transient, overpriced, seedy, dangerous, funky, cool and dirty place – are perfectly wrought. These craftspeople really imparted that compressed beach town vibe in the various sets they used. Big ups to production designer Maria Caso, stunt coordinator Keith Campbell and fight coordinator Joe Stevenson for bringing the pain of the cage into our television screens.

The entire three seasons were electric, meaty, complex and heartbreaking. Make sure to find it.

Kingdom Season 3 Jonathan Tucker

Ben Travers (@BenTTravers), IndieWire

[Insert obligatory “Leftovers” ratings-inspired rant here.] But besides the shamefully overlooked gem (which did see an uptick in viewership during Season 3), “Idiotsitter” demands to be mentioned. Comedy Central dumped Season 2 on us in two hefty doses: four episodes on Saturday, June 10 and three more the following week. Whether that was a strategy implemented to promote binge viewing or a burn-off situation, like when broadcast networks move disappointing performers to Saturday nights, I’m not sure. My other duties have kept me from properly investigating, but they did not keep me from watching and loving Jillian Bell and Charlotte Newhouse’s addictive, hilarious, and creative comedy. Don’t miss out. It’s streaming right here.

Q: What is the best show currently on TV?*

A: “GLOW” (five votes)

Other contenders: “Twin Peaks,” “The Carmichael Show” (two votes), “Big Brother” (one vote)

*In the case of streaming services that release full seasons at once, only include shows that have premiered in the last month.

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