Warning: This story discusses a handful of specific moments from TV in 2017. Though we’ve strived to avoid spoilng anything major, please note this list includes specific references to Stranger Things 2, Mr. Robot S3, Master of None S2, and Last Week Tonight among others.
More and more big players started entering the TV game in 2017: Facebook and Apple began devoting resources to original content, and old media stalwarts such as CBS and Disney decided a standalone streaming service was worth an investment. The downside of this seemingly imminent TV future is obvious: if you think it’s hard to find a show to talk about at work now, wait 'til we all have to subscribe to 15 different services to stay up on the latest darling of TV critics.
Still, the upsides may be worth navigating that headache. There has never been more room and opportunity for a diverse set of creators to get their shot. And that ever-increasing mass of shows to sample means it’s better than ever for fans of certain television niches. Whether you want things that are only teen-focused, tech-focused, or terror-focused, chances are, multiple options exist and a few of them will be well worth a binge-weekend investment.
Around Ars—whether dealing with TV, film, music, books, or something else entirely—we tend to prefer our pop culture with a heavy dose of science and technology involved. So when looking back at the television that stuck with us in 2017, our mind doesn’t necessarily go to the same “best” shows you may find on lists at Uproxx or EW. Instead, we fondly remember (and recommend) some of the Ars Techn-iest moments on the small screen below in no particular order.
CNN travels back in time to the “dawn” of the Internet
I didn’t live through most of the decades CNN has given the multi-part documentary treatment to, but I still enjoyed my various trips through The Sixties, The Seventies, and The Eighties (all on Netflix currently). So I couldn’t DVR CNN’s The Nineties documentary fast enough when the network announced it earlier this year—especially since “The Information Age” stood as one of the topics.
If you want to see Tom Brokaw compare Bill Gates to Holden Caulfield or Connie Chung nudge him to jump over a chair (before the Microsoft CEO walks out), you’re in luck. “The Information Age” relies heavily on delightfully poorly aged news segments and interviews with tech journalists (such as colleague Steven Levy) to balance three main topics: the impact and mainstream introduction of the Internet, the business battles between Microsoft and all comers (from Netscape to Apple and the US Department of Justice), and the immensely important stuff to come just after the decade’s end (like Google starting up or Y2K hysteria).
Folks following the news at the time get a fun nostalgia trip filled with broadcasters in awe of the fact that Bill Clinton and Billy Idol both had e-mail addresses or Oracle’s Larry Ellison making a Nostradamus-like Game of Thrones allusion well before HBO got into dragons (“Silicon Valley is just one output against the great evil to the North,” Ellison says while flying over in a helicopter). And for folks like me—old enough to remember the sound of a modem, not old enough to remember that Microsoft was once deemed a monopoly—the hour proves quite illuminating. Either way, it’s hard to watch this hour and not come away with a few smirk-worthy moments. (I personally recommend looking for RadioLab’s Robert Krulwich doing broadcast TV on how the porn industry introduced online shopping and Bill Gates’ face meeting a pie in Belgium.)
TV returns to where no one has gone before
To those of us who seem to stream everything from Battlestar Galactica to Deep Space Nine on the regular, 2017 evidently saw this market opportunity and happily (/heartily) obliged. Star Trek: Discovery and Mystery Science Theater 3000 returned to much fanfare, each by and large delivering the stuff that attracted fans in the first place. And a pair of new “happening on a spacecraft” series—SyFy’s The Expanse and Fox’s The Orville—furthered your viewing options whether you prefer jokey or dramatic space. Given the recent news that Ronald Moore has paired up with Apple for a future sci-fi project, we may be entering a modern renaissance for spaceship TV fans.
American Vandal: The real crime? More people haven’t seen this
Are you a recovering Serial-fan who can still recite holes in the Adnan case from memory? Have you once spent a weekend obsessing over details in things like Making a Murderer or The Jinx? In 2017, Netflix gave you the greatest genre gift, and its name is American Vandal.
Calling American Vandal a mere parody of the blossoming true-crime style sells this eight-episode series way, way short. To start, it is perhaps the most well-made version of a true crime documentary done by teenagers I’ve ever seen. The main whodunnit is appropriately juvenile yet contains real stakes. The evidence collection taps into the ABP (always be posting) nature of a high schooler today. And the meticulous attention to detail—computer model recreations of house-party conversations; extensive YouTube research on one suspect’s failed Jackass-like video troupe—feels pitch-perfect as the passion project of some A/V club nerd with technical skills and time to kill.
That alone would be a worthy watch filled with plenty of genre in-jokes and over-the-top moments done in an extremely somber (and therefore hilarious) tone. But American Vandal sneaks in layers of story and meaning its trailer doesn’t even begin to hint at. I know folks went nuts over teen dramas such as The Runaways or 13 Reasons Why in 2017, but by season’s end there may be no better glimpse at the psyche and unique social dynamics of modern-day high school than American Vandal. And somehow on top of that, this series manages to also incorporate smart commentary on the continuing blurry line between life and content, the “always on” nature of the social media age. I laughed a lot, but I’ve been thinking even more afterward, thanks to American Vandal.
Listing image by Netflix