I don’t think anyone will call 2017 the greatest year on record. Because of that, I found myself drawn to good, escapist TV even more than usual this year, seeking shows and stories that would make me happy above all else. With the generally horrific state of our country, TV was both a refuge and frankly, a reason to get up in the morning, making me especially grateful for its existence. Here are are some TV things that made me happy this year:
The idealism of Madam Secretary
There’s a lot I love about Madam Secretary: it’s feminist, it lets its characters be happy, and it features what’s currently my favorite marriage on television. And, impressively, it’s politically relevant while still feeling escapist. M Sec takes place a few years in the future, which allows it to comment on current happenings—fake news, for instance—but with a happier outcome. The promise of what could be gave me some much, much-needed fuel this year.
Supergirl‘s Lena Luthor
I think everyone has a handful of fictional characters they just flat-out love, even if they can’t quite explain why. This year, Lena became one of mine. It’s not that I relate to her necessarily; she’s got a tragic backstory, her best friend is Supergirl, and someone tries to kill her at least once a week. It’s more that she’s such a fully realized character—thanks in no small part to Katie McGrath’s performance—that I can’t help but both root for and admire her. Plus, she’s just a fun character to watch: fierce, funny, self-deprecating, and insanely good at her job.
The same way I like my TV escapist, I like my comedy heartfelt, and that was especially true this year. I certainly enjoy the occasional piece of cynical comedy, but Parks and Rec isn’t my favorite show of all time for nothing. Luckily, 2017 offered a whole host of shows that would make Leslie and Co. proud: the wonderfully specific Speechless, the consistently warm Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and the already sweetly hopeful The Mayor.
The fierce females of Legends of Tomorrow
I love the term “badass lady,” but its meaning is often reduced to “literally kicks a lot of ass.” The ladies of Legends, Sara, Amaya, and Zari, do that—and man is it fun to watch—but they’re also leaders and strategists, as well as empathetic and caring people. There are various types of badass-ness, and I took just as much pleasure in watching Sara captain the Waverider as I did her honest conversation with Alex Danvers about lost loves.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
I maintain that AOS is one of the best shows no one’s watching—not even one of the best superhero shows, just one of the best shows. Last season’s third “pod” of episodes, which found Team S.H.I.E.L.D. trapped in a computer simulation, was one of the tensest, most heart-wrenching series of episodes from any of my shows last year. What’s more, this season’s first few episodes have somehow kicked it up a notch, with a truly great premiere episode reveal that left the gang in a terrifying dystopia on…well, I won’t spoil it.
A genuinely lighter Grey’s Anatomy
I’ll admit I was very skeptical when the creatives at Grey’s promised this season would hearken back to the show’s slightly less angsty, significantly more fun glory days, but I’ve never been happier to be proven wrong. This fall, the show wrapped up relationship drama that had long grown stale, hit character beats I’ve been waiting forever for, and delivered a beautifully nostalgic 300th episode that reminded me exactly why this show is still on the air.
Late night comedy
I don’t know that this made me happy, per say, but it did make me feel understood and because of that was even more essential to my sanity this year than last. This was a mind-numbingly sad year in a lot of ways, but watching the likes of Meyers, Colbert, Bee, Oliver, and even Kimmel shake their heads in disbelief reminded me that this isn’t normal, and we can’t let it become so. Gallows humor also played a big role in 2017; sometimes you have to laugh for a second before you can pick yourself up and do something.
A creative resurgence for The Flash
Like with Grey’s, my hopes weren’t high that The Flash would actually be able to rediscover the fun of its excellent first season, but this season has struck the perfect balance of hilarious and high stakes. As their first non-speedster villain, The Thinker has proven to be an original and formidable opponent for Team Flash, and the show’s epic fall finale cliffhanger has me counting down the days ’til its return.
Shows that take risks
My two favorite shows on the air right now are Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and The Good Place, two shows that couldn’t be further from one other in regards to plot, setting, tone, etc. However, they both have one thing in common: they surprise me at every turn. I don’t want to spoil for those who haven’t watched, but The Good Place has redefined itself countless times in its first two seasons, supremely confident that its viewers could make the leaps required. Meanwhile, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend offers smart, funny, genre-defying storytelling week after week while also meditating on mental illness and the female experience. As a student of TV, watching these shows take risks no one else is taking has been an unmitigated delight.
A bloodless May
Every TV fan has a love/hate relationship with the month of May: sweeps are awesome, but May brings with it the possible renewals and dreaded cancellations of your favorite shows. However, this May, for the first time ever, every single one of my shows got renewed. I’m unfortunately drawn to shows consistently on the bubble, so I’m not expecting it to happen again anytime soon, but it certainly made me happy this year.
A truly great Once Upon a Time “requel”
With more than half of its cast leaving last season, I went into this seventh season of OUAT completely expecting to be disappointed. Imagine my surprise when I actually loved the first half of this season. I genuinely like the new characters, the storytelling has been familiar but refreshing, and, most impressively, the writers found a way to keep Emma and Killian happy despite Jennifer Morrison’s departure. Plus, though not part of this season’s “requel,” last season’s wedding/musical extravaganza and truly lovely finale managed to hit all the right notes, giving my favorite past characters the perfect sendoff.
The first ten episodes of this show were pure joy: fizzy, feminist, and funny, it offered nuanced portrayals of a whole host of female characters, all badasses in their own way. Each episode flew by, a crackerjack of a story that fed into a smartly plotted and wholly entertaining first season. This was one of the most confident introductions to a show in recent memory, and binging it was one of my favorite TV experiences of all time, not just in 2017.
Your turn! What TV things made you happy this year? Hit the comments, and let me know!