‘Mr. Robot’ Creator Sam Esmail on Why There Is Only One Correct Choice for the Best TV Show of 2017

A TV creator, TV critic, and TV editor walk into a podcast — one survives.

This would be a very bad joke if it was, in fact, a joke, and not a real-life scenario that happened just recently. On a special holiday edition of Very Good TV Podcast, “Mr. Robot” creator Sam Esmail spoke with IndieWire TV Critic Ben Travers and TV Editor Liz Shannon Miller with the intent of winning a war. Only one could exit in triumph, and the stakes were high: picking the best TV show of 2017.

Working in Esmail’s favor was a lack of bias: He’s not here to explain why the third season of “Mr. Robot” was the best show on television this year — even though it is very, very good. He’s backing another horse.

Before we reveal Esmail’s pick, here are the contenders:

Twin Peaks

Designated Enforcer: Sam Esmail

Enforcer’s Credentials: Sam Esmail is the creator of USA Network’s Golden Globe and Emmy-winning drama series, “Mr. Robot.” Esmail has been nominated for Emmys as a writer and producer on the show. He won the Writers Guild of America award for Best New Series in 2016. He’s also writing and directing Amazon’s adaptation of the “Homecoming” podcast.

Twitter Handle (So You Can Tell Him Why He’s Right or Wrong): @samesmail

“Twin Peaks” Pros: “‘Twin Peaks’ goes into a new frontier that I haven’t seen before in television,” Esmail said on the podcast. “Episode 8 is arthouse cinema at peak performance by one of the great masters.”

“When I turned that thing on, I didn’t know what the fuck was going to happen,” he said. “That’s the most exciting feeling for me. Not only was I waiting to be surprised, but at the same time I was going to be intrigued; something was going to hit me in a way that answers mysteries about the show while propelling me in a new exciting way.”

“Twin Peaks” Cons: Many have cited bloat as “Twin Peaks'” biggest flaw, complaining that Lynch is taking advantage of an unprecedented creative freedom and making his show too long just because he can. Exhibit A is a sequence in which a man sweeps a floor for five minutes(-ish), for no reason whatsoever.

But both Esmail and Travers don’t see the scene or similar sequences as unnecessary at all.

“Part of his filmmaking DNA is this deliberate, methodical pace to everything,” Esmail said. “I think that adds to the surreal quality of the tone. […] So do you gain anything from watching the guy sweep the floor for 10 minutes? Maybe not, but in the overall scheme of things it added to the tone of that thing you can’t define.”

Secret Weapon: “Leftovers” creator Damon Lindelof, a lifelong “Twin Peaks” fan, would probably side with Esmail.

The Leftovers

Designated Enforcer: Ben Travers

Enforcer’s Credentials: Admittedly, “The Leftovers” could have found a more high-profile enforcer, but probably not a more passionate one. Travers has been writing reviews since he was a 12-year-old kid obsessed with “Rushmore,” bugging his parents and friends to read scribblings about everything from “The Matrix” to “Three Kings” before earning degrees from the University of Iowa in Cinema and Journalism. More recently, he’s turned his enthusiasm to Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta’s HBO drama, interviewing the co-creators, director and EP Mimi Leder, and most of the cast over the series’ three-year run. He is annoyingly stubborn, but that makes him a pretty tough opponent in debates.

Twitter Handle (So You Can Tell Him Why He’s Right or Wrong): @BenTTravers

“The Leftovers” Pros: All three participants admit during the podcast that “The Leftovers” is virtually perfect. It’s also been voted the best show of 2017 via the Metacritic Top 10 list aggregation and Uproxx’s critics’ poll.

“The Leftovers” Cons: There are no cons.

“It’s kind of perfectly executed,” Esmail said. “I’m not trying to diss on ‘The Leftovers’ so much as I’m saying ‘Twin Peaks’ has risen to this level that we haven’t seen a season of television reach before.”

Secret Weapon: Home-court advantage. Anyone who’s been to the IndieWire offices knows that Travers has three giant “Leftovers” posters hanging on the wall, and he carefully placed other key memorabilia around to intimidate Esmail during the recording.

“The Handmaid’s Tale”

Designated Enforcer: Liz Shannon Miller

Enforcer’s Credentials: Liz Shannon Miller has been the TV Editor at IndieWire for nearly four years. She’s been a staff writer in the industry, studied film at USC, been published in the New York Times, Comedy Central, and Vulture, and she extensively covered “The Handmaid’s Tale” from its inception, interviewing everyone from Emmy winner Elisabeth Moss to Emmy winner Bruce Miller. She also knows more about “The X-Files” than you do.

Twitter Handle (So You Can Tell her Why She’s Right or Wrong): @lizlet

“The Handmaid’s Tale” Pros: It’s the reigning Emmy winner for Outstanding Drama Series that’s as much the series of the moment as anything ever has been.

“‘Handmaid’s Tale’ is on my list,” Esmail said. “Reed Morano does a great job on that show — and Elisabeth Moss. It’s a great show.”

“It’s the same way I feel about ‘Better Call Saul’: I don’t know how much thrilling fun I’m having while watching that show, but I’m so impressed by the craft and by the performances and by the storytelling and so moved by some of the moments that it makes it all worth it for me.”

“The Handmaid’s Tale” Cons: Some have complained about redundancies in tone that make the series difficult to watch, but one of the chief complaints leveled against a stellar season is that Luke’s standalone episode didn’t earn its time.

“For me, the adrenaline shot wasn’t enough,” Esmail said. “I needed a little bit more. By the way, I’m being really nitpick-y — it’s a great fucking show.”

Secret Weapon: Those Emmys are plentiful and heavy. It’s hard to argue against a show the industry has so enthusiastically embraced, and it’s equally hard to argue against Miller when she’s got The Rock backing her.

The Winner

So… who won? Well, you’ll have to listen to the podcast and decide for yourself, but we’ll give you one hint: The ever gracious, mature far beyond her years, and generally reasonable Ms. Miller relented on a few points while standing by her personal favorite. Meanwhile, Mr. Esmail ended the podcast by telling Mr. Travers: “You’re objectively wrong.”

So be it.


Don’t forget to subscribe via Soundcloud or iTunes. Make sure to follow IndieWire on Twitter and Facebook for all your TV news. Plus, check out IndieWire’s other podcastsScreen Talk with Eric Kohn and Anne Thompson as well as Michael Schneider’s new podcast, Turn It On, which spotlights the most important TV of each week.