TV

The Best Television of 2017

Josh Larsen

American Gods

In 2017, American Gods was the most interesting new show to touch on religious themes. Neil Gaiman’s source novel has won multiple awards and remained in print since 2001, and this Starz adaptation does justice to his vision of an America filled with gods brought by immigrants. The intermingling of various deities in the plot parallels the complexity of religious life in America today: omnipresent, yet seldom agreed upon. American Gods illustrates the universality of the religious drive, while also suggesting that paganism fails to satisfy hearts made to worship the living God. (Josh Herring)

Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Brooklyn Nine-Nine has been around for several seasons, and has been lauded for its diverse cast and range of representation as it explores the dynamics of a New York City police precinct. Its longer run allows those portrayals to continue to develop into empathetic characters with complex motivations. In 2017, several episodes raised questions about justice and how human justice systems sometimes make it harder, not easier, to do the right thing and achieve just outcomes. (Bethany Keeley-Jonker)

Catastrophe

Season 3 of the bawdy British rom-com continued the laugh-out-loud humor and delightful chemistry of writers and stars Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan. They play a couple whose week-long fling results in an unplanned pregnancy and impulsive marriage. This contemporary story about the ancient idea of married love between one man and one woman is told with a lot of humor, suffering, and ridiculously unromantic affection. For all its crudity, Catastrophe does a better job than any televised marriage I’ve seen in a long time evoking my laughs of recognition. In sickness and health, for richer or poorer, through arguments, parenting chaos, various crises in their community of friends (which worsen in season 3), and dysfunctional extended families (including the late Carrie Fisher in one of her last roles as Rob’s American mother), Rob and Sharon fight to be together in every way possible, especially in bed. And that’s the kind of married love our world needs to see—in real life and on television. (Tamara Hill Murphy)

Game of Thrones

The seventh season of Game of Thrones was marked by alliances. And though the show’s writers have now moved beyond the original plots contained in George R. R. Martin’s novels, the most recent episodes stayed true to characters like Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen, two of the many people who must lay aside their differences and join forces to survive. Even as fantasy lovers are treated to stunning locations and unbelievable CGI, we’re also being encouraged to choose wisely whom we trust, while also being challenged to sacrifice our pride for the common good. If we do, we might discover just how much we have in common with those we thought were our enemies. (Christy Chichester)

The Good Place

The Good Place somehow manages to be genuinely funny and inspire real reflection about morality and justice. It begins with an unusual premise—an “undeserving” woman (Kristen Bell) accidentally ends up in a variation of heaven—that sustains new and delightful visual gags every episode, while also finding humor in its well-developed characters. The show also manages to teach (and gently critique) some basics of the philosophical, ethical tradition. By setting a story in an imagined afterlife, The Good Place raises questions about justification that show me why God's grace is so necessary in response to human sin. (Bethany Keeley-Jonker)

Planet Earth II

In 2006, the BBC’s Planet Earth series brought new life to the nature documentary. With Planet Earth II, advances in camera technology have led to a truly stunning level of immersion into pockets of God’s creation. Planet Earth II reaffirms just how weird and wondrous his world can be. That the series revisits many of the same regions without feeling like a rehash adds a new facet: you’d have a hard time finding the bottom of God’s creative well. (Michael Morgan)

Stranger Things

The second season of Netflix’s horror/fantasy sensation opens under the assumption that happy days are here again. The middle-school kids of Hawkins, Ind., are back on their bikes doing 1980s things (dressing up like Ghostbusters for Halloween, for instance), eager to put the trauma of the first season behind them. But sin and its effects aren’t so easily wiped away, which is why young Will (Noah Schnapp) begins suffering from terrifying visions and the pumpkin fields around town succumb to mysterious rot. In Stranger Things, we see through a glass darkly, but it’s the Upside Down—not a vision of the new creation—that lies on the other side. (Josh Larsen)

RWBY

RWBY's latest season is a whirlwind of adventure as this animated show's namesakes—a team of huntresses who help protect humanity from malevolent monsters—find each other after a lengthy separation. Particularly striking to me was the relationship between Ruby and Yang, as Yang travels miles to protect her sister. Though Yang meets her mother and is offered answers to many questions, she sets aside her curiosity for the sake of Ruby; she doesn't make the selfish choice. Community, trust, and forgiveness are at the heart of this season, which struck a chord with me because those elements are also at the heart of the Christian life. I can't wait to see what depths this show will explore in its stories of love and sacrifice. (Allison Barron)

Topics: TV