2017 has been a great year for both new and returning TV shows. I don’t see the value in writing a post about how Stranger Things continues to be good- if you haven’t figured that one out yet then I can’t help ya. Instead I want to highlight five new TV shows that you need to check out to fill in that giant Game of Thrones-shaped hole in your lives.
#5 The Sinner
Premise: A normal, suburban mom kills a stranger for no apparent reason while at the beach with her family. The event shocks the small, Upstate New York town and a local detective becomes obsessed with the case. It’s not so much a Whodunnit as it is a Why’dYaDoIt– and it’s absolutely addictive.
Biggest Strength: Jessica Biel is mesmerizing as troubled lead Cora Tannetti. It’s a super-challenging role because the character of Cora is so nuanced. Her journey is like no other character on TV and the combination of Biel’s intense, raw performance and the dark scriptwriting serve as the foundation for what makes this show so unique and so engrossing.
Where To Watch It: Netflix.
Trivia: This close-ended series is an adaptation of German novelist Petra Hammesfahr’s 1999 book of the same name. Apparently, in addition to moving the setting from Germany to Upstate New York, the show also toned down on the darkness of the source material- which naturally makes me curious to see just how disturbing and messed-up the novel is!
#4 The Vietnam War
Premise: The best documentary-maker in the business brings us the most comprehensive and complete overview of the controversial and endlessly fascinating story of the USA’s involvement in Vietnam.
Biggest Strength: Ken Burns. The sympathetic and intellectually-curious style of the auteur that brought us The American Civil War (my favorite documentary of all time) makes this 17-hour series as engaging as any thriller or fictional drama out there. We hear directly from veterans from all sides of the conflict, all of whom provide such articulate and introspective insights into a bloody saga that changed so many lives from so many facets of society. Check any assumptions about documentaries you have at the door, because you will find this as engaging and addictive as anything else out there.
Where To Watch It: PBS.
Trivia: The 1035-minute documentary features interviews with 79 witnesses from the American military, the Viet Cong and the ARVN. Burns deliberately avoided interviewing “experts” and controversial, big-name figures such as Henry Kissinger, John McCain and Jane Fonda, preferring the perspective that best gave an impression of what things were like on the ground.
Premise: An outlaw on the run from his former gang finds his fate entwined with that of a mining town populated almost exclusively by women.
Biggest Strength: For me, what makes this close-ended drama stand out is the way in which it plays with the established tropes of a conventional Western. Women- too often relegated to the sidelines of what has been a historically macho genre- are at the forefront, but what really makes this show special is that it’s able to both subvert convention while retaining all of the essential elements of what makes the Wild West so intriguing. It’s a show that somehow feels both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. The story and its characters are excellent and it’s a show that will keep you thoroughly entertained from start to finish.
Where To Watch It: Netflix.
Trivia: The horse that Jeff Daniels rides is the same one that Jeff Bridges rode in the 2010 film True Grit.
#2 The Deuce
Premise: A sprawling, multi-faceted story of interweaving narratives that explores the rise of the porn industry in 1970s in Times Square, New York.
Biggest Strength: I would argue that the biggest strength of this gritty drama is the writing. It’s created by David Simon, so if you are familiar with The Wire, it’s a lot like that. It’s a show that really illustrates the excellence of HBO, with a slow-burning narrative that manages to touch on every aspect of the time period in such a vivid and authentic way. It’s not fast-paced and it’s not a thriller- and yet it is still so damn engaging. The characters are sympathetic figures with many voices, and we see the world of Times Square through the eyes of hookers, Mafiosi, single mothers, college students, gamblers, pimps, bartenders, drug addicts, porn directors and cops alike.
Where To Watch It: HBO.
Trivia: The series is inspired by stories told to the creators from a man who served as a mob front for the Mafia at various bars and massage parlors in the 1970s.
Premise: Two FBI agents in the 1970s- a young hotshot and grizzled cynic- team up to conduct a range of interviews with serial killers to learn how they think.
Biggest Strength: What makes this show earn the top spot on my list is how masterfully it presents the conflict of its central character- Holden Ford. His need to get inside the head of these deranged killers (all of them portrayals of real serial killers by the way) becomes an all-consuming obsession that threatens to completely destabilize his life. The idea of “thinking like a serial killer” for academic purposes sounds simple enough, but at what point does Holden stay inside their head for so long that he loses himself on the way?
Where To Watch It: Netflix.
Trivia: The series is based on a book of the same name, which is co-authored by former FBI agent John Douglas, who pioneered the concept of psychological profiling and who is the basis for the character of Holden Ford.