This year, we were glued to our TVs and/or whatever device was streaming our scifi and fantasy favorites. It was tough narrowing down a top 10—and you may be surprised by what’s missing. The bottom five took a little less time to assemble, but still, this wasn’t easy either. Here are the shows we loved and loathed most this year
Bold, daring, and boundary-pushing, Starz’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s 2001 novel benefited not just from Gaiman’s unique story, which sees figures from mythology seeping into the human world, but also the visually dazzling style of show creators Bryan Fuller and Michael Green. Season one did have a main storyline—following ex-con Shadow Moon as he enters the employ of the mysterious Mr. Wednesday—but its main delights came from its weekly dose of magical realism, as the Old Gods, the New Gods, and other supernaturally-enhanced beings (like Shadow’s unfaithful, undead wife) clashed with each other while reflecting on their own pasts and futures, as well as the parts they played in America’s early history. In an unexpected twist, Fuller and Green announced their departure from the show late last month, leaving season two—which ended on a cliffhanger—on unsteady ground. Thank Gods we got this one stunning season, at least.
It was hard to know what to expect from Fargo showrunner Noah Hawley’s foray into the comic book world, especially when the premise was adapting the story of a not-so-famous Marvel character supposedly dealing with mental illness. But Hawley’s particular prowess carried over to the story of David Haller (Dan Stevens), son of Professor Charles Xavier, and gave us a feast not just for the eyes but the ears as well. The mind-bending FX series left us wondering just what (and who) was real and what was only in David’s head, and eager for comic Easter eggs we might spot along the way. Superpowers were used with vigor and boosted with incredibly cool effects. Aided by a phenomenal supporting cast, Aubrey Plaza specifically, Legion elevated superhero TV. (We’re still not over it being snubbed at the Emmys.) The ride we took with season one left us wanting a second viewing immediately, and that’s always a great sign.
The only animated show to make this list, the excellent third season of Rick and Morty transcended the bad behavior of a small, but headline-grabbing contingent of fans, elevating what was already a cult favorite into the realm of mainstream adoration. Though we still got plenty of time and space-bending adventures starring the title characters, Rick and Morty also made time to examine how Beth and Jerry’s divorce changed the dynamic of the Smith family. We also got a deep dive into the inner workings of the Citadel, home base for Ricks and Mortys across the galaxy, in an episode that broke the universe of the show wide open. And, of course, we were also gifted with about a zillion new one-liners, weird asides, strange settings, brilliant jokes, incredibly gross jokes, random pop-culture references, random guest voices, and characters whose limited screen time didn’t prevent them from becoming instant favorites. Noob-Noob!
Two and a half decades after Twin Peaks went off the air at ABC, David Lynch made good on his promise to revisit “a place both wonderful and strange.” Showtime’s 18-episode third season of the beloved cult series was indeed wonderful and strange; it was also baffling, terrifying, surreal, and hilarious, as well as stuffed full of pie, coffee, and characters both familiar and new. Just as Twin Peaks: The Return expanded its scope beyond just a small town in the Pacific Northwest—visiting places like Las Vegas, South Dakota, and Paris, as well as realms beyond all known dimensions—the series expanded our understanding of what a TV show can achieve, both artistically and with its layered, intricate storyline. And the questions it left behind will haunt and intrigue us forever: “But who is the dreamer?” “Got a light?” “What year is this?”
Too many people have been sleeping on Legends of Tomorrow. Without many DC Comic fans noticing, it’s become the best of the CW superhero shows, because it’s just so much damn fun. Season three saw Rip Hunter creating the Time Bureau in order to help fix anachronisms spreading throughout time. But the Legends, who had returned to “normal” life, found themselves eager to return to adventuring when they discovered anachronisms themselves. Legends excels at telling big stories in a small space by adding a ton of heart and humor—shrunken sabertooth tigers at P.T. Barnum’s circus, Vikings that worship a Tickle Me Elmo equivalent, an E.T. homage that forced Ray “The Atom” Palmer to help solve his own murder as a kid, Themyscira! And the team was used to great effect in this year’s enormous superhero crossover, which turned out to have some pretty significant and emotional resonance for the Legends. The most important thing: the team that screws up together, stays together. Well, at least until someone wants to exit the show.
It’s incredible to think that Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel was released way back in 1985, because Hulu’s adaptation of the story could not have felt like a more timely viewing experience amid the turmoil of 2017. The white bonnets and red capes worn by the show’s Handmaids—women forced to become birthing vessels in a not-so-future version of America that’s been taken over by misogynistic fundamentalists—became iconic symbols that were deployed in real-life political protests when women’s rights came under fire. There are good reasons why The Handmaid’s Tale inspired so many: The show was incredibly well-crafted on all levels, anchored by a stunning lead performance by Elisabeth Moss, artful production design, and an inspired expansion of Atwood’s source material beyond the world of the book and its characters. Season two’s storyline is poised to continue the rebellion that had begun to arise at the end of season one, and once again, the timing is eerily perfect.
We swear we didn’t put the new Hulu show on this year’s list because it name-checked Gizmodo. Runaways truly ran away with our hearts. Adapting the Marvel comic by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona, Runaways takes viewers through the emotional journey of six teenagers finding out that their parents are villains, and subsequently finding out a lot about themselves along the way. It’s a refreshingly different story from the comic book adaptations we’ve been seeing the last few years and unashamed of itself. Unlike the comic, the show has been able to flesh out the story of their parents, a.k.a. the Pride. Sure, they’re evil, but are they totally evil? The show makes us question their actions by delving into their motives. It’s not quite as simple as we, or the kids, might hope it would be—but regardless, it’s been fun to see the kids in action. Plus, you can’t beat having a really cool dinosaur as a sidekick.
Season two of Syfy’s adaptation of the S.A. Corey novel series brought a third player to the intergalactic table to mix it up with Earth and the Belters: Mars, whose tangential involvement throughout season one blasted front and center as tough Martian soldier Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams) grappled with loss, betrayal, and glimpses of a new threat that’s beyond human, as well as a budding alliance with her former enemies on Earth. Meanwhile, the scrappy crew of the Rocinante continued to prowl the stars in the wake of protomolecule—an alien weapon that’s brought the galaxy to the brink of war—uncovering secrets that soon enveloped every aspect of the story. The magic formula of The Expanse is that it blends plot intrigue with effects-enhanced, space-bound action, populated with well-drawn characters we’ve grown to love even if they do things that frustrate the hell out of us sometimes. Season three will use elements from the third Expanse book, Abaddon’s Gate, which means a freakin’ star gate is coming to further complicate everything. Can’t wait.
Doctor Who entered its 10th season this year on a down note, with news that 2017 would be Peter Capaldi’s last year as the world’s favorite Time Lord. But the show immediately made up for it with one of its most refreshing and exciting seasons in years. This was partly due to Capaldi’s stunning-as-ever performance as the crotchety, passionate teacher role he took on as the Doctor this year, but it was also because of some excellent individual stories that veered from scifi epics to a gut-churning resurrection of the original, petrifying Cybermen. But the biggest key to Doctor Who’s success this year was the addition of the spectacular Pearl Mackie as the new companion, Bill Potts. Mackie’s energetic chemistry with Capaldi was so infectiously fun that it elevated even what would’ve otherwise been lackluster episodes, and Bill’s eager, earnest kindness made for a refreshing change after Clara Oswald was taken down a darker storyline. Both Capaldi and Mackie may be exiting the series at Christmas, but they were so good we wish we had a TARDIS to give us more time with their adventures.
The Gifted is that rare sort of genre show on network TV that, against all logic, is incredibly smart, stylish, well-executed, and faithful enough to the source material to satisfy fans. The Gifted isn’t exactly based on any one arc from the X-Men comics, but it instead synthesizes the very essence of what’s always made Marvel’s mutants such compelling, relatable characters. Rather than relying on expensive special effects and huge action set pieces, The Gifted zeroes in on the all-too recognizable and relatable horrors of what life can be like for a minority population living in a society that refuses to recognize their humanity. Its mutant characters are at once imbued with incredible power and subjected to a kind of profound powerlessness that only comes from living under the burden of institutionalized racism and bigotry. For those reasons and so many more—like plenty of deep-cut X-Men cameos—The Gifted is one of the strongest television shows Marvel and Fox have ever produced.
Coming off the high of not one but three consecutive hits with the Netflix/Marvel shows, hopes were high for Iron Fist—not just because of the quality of its predecessors, but because it offered a chance for the Marvel to start getting truly superheroic, bringing in the mystic and magical angle of the Iron Fist comics to the grounded world of Netflix. There were gripes about a lack of diverse casting on the series, but if it had at least delivered something exciting, Iron Fist could have abated some of its wary detractors. It did not. Mixing a distinctly unlikable lead character with an achingly dull plot that was both slow to pick up and seemingly petrified of being a comic book-y to any degree, then adding some truly lackluster fight scenes—for a show about a martial arts superhero, no less!—Iron Fist became the first true critical backfire for Marvel and Netflix’s partnership. Elements to like, including the story of Colleen Wing, or the promise the show eventually hinted at in its final episodes just couldn’t overcome what a dull, charmless flop Iron Fist turned out to be. At least showrunner Scott Buck has left the series (going on to create Inhumans for ABC, which just so happens to be the next entry on this list), so there’s some hope for a improved sophomore season.
You know those big projects that your teacher would announce at the very beginning of the school year, and warn you to begin thinking now even though it wouldn’t be due until the end of the semester? At first, your mind would be buzzing full of passion and creativity as you envisioned what a stunning masterpiece you’d eventually turn in—emphasis on “eventually.” But as the weeks went on, you kept putting that project off until, days before it was due, you realized that you hadn’t actually been doing the necessary work, so you frantically half-assed it and turned in something terrible? That’s essentially what Marvel’s Inhumans was, only instead of a high school diorama, it was a troubled movie project that ended up becoming an underfunded television show with bad writing, uneven acting, and absolutely dreadful costumes. Watching Inhumans, you got brief glimpses of the epic adventure that could have been had anyone cared about any of it. But those moments weren’t enough to make up for the fact that nobody ever really seemed to know what to do with the show, or how to even attempt to make it successful. Inhumans was nothing but squandered potential..
Though it was an unusual fit at Spike TV, this summertime show seemed almost a sure thing—bolstered by a best-selling novella (by Stephen King, one of 2017's adaptation MVPs) and a feature film that came out 10 years ago but still lingers in the memories of horror fans. The first few episodes were intriguing enough, as the titular evil fog began to wreak havoc in a small New England town that only seemed perfect on the surface. But alas, there were very few chills contained in this frustrating drama, which had a couple of bright spots (including some very creepy special effects) but was otherwise a chronicle of boring, annoying whiners taking forever to get anywhere, instead spending most of the time arguing among themselves. The Mist was cancelled after one season, which means we’ll never get an answer to its pointless climactic cliffhanger. We’ll also never again have to contemplate why the show’s creators decided that one of the show’s few sympathetic characters—an abused yet outspoken gay high schooler who was best friends with the show’s main teenage girl—should be suddenly unmasked as a murderous rapist. Bleh.
Another odd marriage of network and subject, this over-the-top Syfy oddity about a brutal road race in which the cars run on blood might’ve made for a fun movie. But Blood Drive faltered when it tried to stretch its relentless onslaught of grindhouse tropes into an entire series—an exhausting prospect—and it ultimately failed by not really innovating on the films it was trying to emulate. An homage that moves the genre along with modern twists is one thing; a carbon copy with slightly better production values is another entirely. Here’s an idea: If you want to get a heaping dose of vintage sleaze, just go straight to the source and watch Death Race 2000 or Supervixens instead.
Ryan Murphy’s long-running anthology series never fails to deliver shocks and surprises—but most of the time, the show’s glorious visuals and over-the-top twists are in service of a story we’re eager to devour week by week. This was 100 percent not the case with American Horror Story: Cult, the show’s seventh installment and the first not to include any supernatural elements. Though some fans appreciated its take on the terrors of the Trump era, we were not so enamored by its shrill commentary, which often felt knowingly, smugly “provocative” and way too on-the-nose. Cult will forever be a chilling time capsule that only slightly exaggerated what it felt like to be freaked out by current events in America, circa 2017. But did we really need a fictional TV show to remind us what it felt like to wake up every morning in a pit of political and cultural despair? No we did not,