What you missed in 2017
Master of None - Netflix
The second season of this work of genius cannot accurately be called a love story, although it contains easily the greatest love story of the year. The relentless immolation of the many barriers between Dev and Francesca is tantalising and delicious, and their story is what stays with you long after you've finished watching the series in a three- to four-day burst, but there are whole episodes that do nothing to advance that story, and there's one that doesn't even include either of the characters. There has never been a show so relentlessly determined to defy any attempt to label it. It's a giant finger to the fast-dying model of familiar formula broadcast television, which it parodies in one excellent ongoing storyline about Dev's career working within it. Master of None is exciting, moving, funny and many other things, but its greatest attribute is that it constantly does things that tired old television executives, had they been given a chance, would have immediately shut down.
The Deuce - Neon
In his recreation of pervy, dirty, porny 1970s Times Square, David Simon told the story of the rise of the sex trade from a mucky backstreet game to something more in keeping with the central tenets of late capitalism. Full of big characters engaged in the necessary game of making some coin, awash in neon and grime, it was full-immersion television for the thinking person.
The Handmaid's Tale - Lightbox
The best series of the year, calibrated perfectly to tap the horrific zeitgeist, starring an astonishing actor giving her best performance. You really should have already seen this story of a future in which America is run by the most horrific possible group of stupid, murderous hypocrites. If you haven't, it's the best possible reason to sign up to Lightbox immediately. And if you have, then try Alias Grace (Netflix). It shares, as source material, the brilliant writing of Margaret Atwood along with a strong, imprisoned, female lead, a sense of righteousness in the face of infuriating injustice, and a general malevolent, thoughtful brilliance.
What to watch in 2018
Maniac - Netflix
When you're wading through lists of high-profile series, all of which are pitched as "looks amazing" and you're trying to decide whether or not they really are, you can really only look at the people involved. Maniac will be directed by smoking-hot director Cary Fukunaga, who got famous by directing every episode of the first series of True Detective. It will star Emma Stone, this year's winner of the Oscar for best actress, and Jonah Hill, twice nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar, the greatest male comic actor of our time. Patrick Somerville, who was a writer and producer on The Leftovers, one of the most acclaimed series of the year, is a writer and producer. That's enough, isn't it? It's described as a dark comedy and it's set in a psychiatric ward or in the fantasy world of a patient in the psychiatric ward, or both.
The High Road - Lightbox, February
The conversion of this small but lovable, internationally-acclaimed Kiwi web series into a handful of half-hour episodes may be the most important development in New Zealand television next year. It's Lightbox's first step into the game of commissioning content, following in the footsteps of the giant international streaming services with which it competes, who spend increasingly fascinating amounts on making shows (Netflix 2018 content budget: US$8 billion (NZ$11.3b). The High Road launches as a series of 30-minute episodes after three seasons as a lauded comedy web series about the post-fame life of ex-rockstar Terry Huffer, the most recent of which featured Oscar winner Emma Thompson alongside Kiwi star Mark Mitchinson. A second series of all-new episodes is scheduled for later in the year.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs - Netflix
"We are streaming motherf***ers!" read the entirety of the Coen brothers' statement announcing this new series, which they are writing and directing, and which will almost definitely be one of the best new things on television next year. The Coens have regularly redefined what great movies are by consistently making them: The Big Lebowski, No Country For Old Men, Fargo, Miller's Crossing etc. They have never before made anything for television, which are words we are hearing less and less about movie geniuses. The series will be six episodes, each of which tells a standalone story about the American frontier.
Wellington Paranormal - TVNZ 2, mid-2018
After years of embarrassing TVNZ with the story of how it rejected the pilot for Flight of the Conchords, and how it continued to reject his other pitches long after he was internationally famous, Jemaine Clement finally has his show on TVNZ, which will under no circumstances be accused of taking a risk. Made with Taika Waititi, now a world-famous and much-acclaimed director, the show is a spin-off from their funny and lovable smash hit movie What We Do in the Shadows. Never in the history of New Zealand television has there been a hit more surefire.