Television Tops 2017: Paul Asay’s Year-End Picks

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Most of television’s nicknames are severely dated. How can it be called the “tube” when most of our HDTV’s don’t even have tubes anymore? I’ve been known to call it the “small screen” too, even though there’s nothing small about most television screens today.

There’s nothing small about the influence of television, either. Experts say that most of us watch up to five hours of it a day. And, alas, it’s not all Leave It to Beaver reruns. Some of the world’s most popular shows are also among its harshest. Journalists have spilled plenty of ink reporting on HBO’s Game of Thrones, but the show itself has spilled even more blood.

But not all is human giblets on a stake in the world of television. In fact, I came across some pretty decent shows this year. None of the following five is perfect, of course. In fact, one pick this year is as big an outlier as I’ve ever picked. But even with those caveats in place, these shows offer something for the discerning television viewer, be it a smile or a tear or just a good, healthy opportunity to think.

The Good Doctor (CBS): This CBS drama might’ve been one of the year’s biggest surprises, in part because the titular doctor is actually, y’know, good. Sure, he has his flaws: Who doesn’t? But those flaws don’t make him a perpetually snarky sourpuss, like the doctor on House. In some ways, perhaps, his challenges (he’s autistic) actually seem to make him kinder. The show is not perfect. It has plenty of foibles. But its heart is a good one. And as mentioned earlier, it points to a truth that we’ve long talked about: Good-hearted television shows can turn a good profit, too.

Kevin Can Wait (CBS): Long, loooong ago, I interviewed actor/comedian Kevin James for Plugged In’s dearly departed podcast, and I discovered that he’s Catholic. He’s talked to other folks about his faith, too. “All good is from Him (God), and so I want to honor Him,” he told CNS. Maybe that’s why his sitcom, Kevin Can Wait, seems to sidestep problematic content while still being pretty funny. This sitcom underwent some controversial changes between Seasons One and Two, punting his television wife (played by Erinn Hayes) and bringing back James’ long-running King of Queens co-star (and frequent Scientology denouncer) Leah Remini. But hopefully, the show’s relative lack of problematic content will never change.

Kevin (Probably) Saves the World (ABC): I really felt that this list needed two shows with Kevin in the title, and thankfully ABC’s strange, silly morality story provided me with just such an opportunity. The Kevin in question is apparently one of 36 Righteous Souls in the World (purportedly a real Jewish legend). Alas, the rest have gone missing. And alas some more, Kevin ain’t so righteous himself. But with a little help from an angelic guardian named Yvette, he’s learning step-by-halting-step how to become a better person and how to make the world around him (or, at least, his little corner of it) a better place. This show is rated TV-14, and while some episodes can be pretty clean, others may go in some unfortunate directions. It can be edgy, and obviously its spirituality is questionable. But this sitcom offers more than just a nice, heartwarming moral at the end: It’s positively predicated on morality. And that, in today’s relativistic times, is pretty refreshing.

The Long Road Home (NatGeo): Warning: Don’t sit down with your family to watch this. Just … don’t. This miniseries is gritty, bloody and frequently profane. Never in a million years would I typically put a show like this in a list of the “best” shows on television … if it wasn’t for this really salient fact. This well-acted, well-written, well-produced show offers a look at how faith—real faith—manifests itself in some incredibly trying conditions. Predicated on the tragic events in Sadr City, Iraq, in 2004, when an unexpected rebellion took the American forces there by surprise, The Long Road Home shows us soldiers who believe in God and take Him into battle with them—leaning on Him, crying out to Him and sometimes trusting Him with their lives. Again, this show isn’t for the whole family. But for those who want to see how God sometimes shows up in a very fallen world, this drama might be worth consideration.

VeggieTales in the City (Netflix): I have a soft spot for Phil Vischer’s famous tomatoes, cucumbers, kumquats and whatever other talking produce might show up. My kids grew up watching those original VeggieTales videos. And while the new Netflix version loses a bit of the franchise’s characteristic wit, it doesn’t skimp on what the show’s all about: Teaching kids a little something about God. Netflix has always claimed to want to provide shows for all sorts of people, including discerning, faith oriented families—a statement that, frankly, I’ve always viewed a little cynically. But watching VeggieTales’ proud declarations of faith, I’m a little more inclined to give the streaming service the benefit of the doubt.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Joshua Witherell 3 months ago
My list would be:
Made in Abyss
Stranger Things 2
Game of Thrones season 7
Dan Haynes 3 months ago
+1 for GoT. I inadvertently left it off of my list below. It sure seems like it was a lot longer than a year ago I was refreshing my Kindle obsessively at 8:59 every Sunday night!
bobed 3 months ago
Why would Pluggedin include Game of Thrones?
Dan Haynes 3 months ago
I didn't see anyone suggest that. Joshua and I said that it was on our lists. 
Anonymous 3 months ago
By CbinJ
My list for this year:
The Good Place- I binged the first season on Netflix and the twist ending got me hooked. (You guys really need to update your review.) It’s got some conetnt issues, but it’s one of the few shows that makes me laugh out loud. The acting is great and the writing is super sharp. It’s a dumb show that has some intellectual things to say about philosophy in particular. Definitely feel this show has been overlooked.

Young Sheldon- I’ve really warmed The Big Bang Theory over the past few years, as well as Chuck Lorrie’s shows generally despite the man himself (Moms is another one). I’ve only watch the pilot, but this prequel is definitely on my watch list.

Raven’s Home- Not as great as That’s So Raven, but it is brilliant when you realize that [since] That’s So Raven was premised on I Love Lucy (yes, it’s true) and Raven’s Home is modeled on The Lucy Show.

This year I also binged several older shows: Community- Despite its cynical nature, it has some interesting things to say about friendship and culture. Person of Interest- A fun show that sort of falls apart in the last two seasons culminating in a supremely disappointing finale. It is certainly not as violent as other shows in the genre, especially considering that it is a show about saving lives rather than killing or death.
By CbinJ
Dan Haynes 3 months ago
My list would include The Handmaid's Tale and Stranger Things 2, but in ail fairness, those are the only things I watched on the teevee in 2017 besides the news and football. 
charitysplace 3 months ago
Stranger Things is fabulous.

I also loved The Crown, both seasons. 

And of course, Doctor Who made my summer. It was worth the wait. 
Steved . 3 months ago
Honestly I think transformers prime is one of the best shows out there, it is "only" TV-Y7 and bobed would probably faint just watching it but I has a solid story and has got to be the best transformers show out there
bobed 3 months ago
A) I'm in a houseful of girls, so I probably would never end up watching Transformers Prime, as I usually only watch children's entertainment with my children. B) Transformers Prime ended several years ago so why would it be on this list? C) Why are you defending some random, irrelevant, forgettable kids' show from 5 years ago that barely made it to 2 seasons? Don't throw my name into the mix.
Anonymous 3 months ago
First of all, Transformers Prime lasted 3 seasons, not barely two. In fact it lasted 3 seasons and a full length tv movie, a wee bit more than barely two in my opinion. Second of all, for anyone who likes Transformers and does not care for Michael Bay Transformers Prime is where it is at. Great story, great characters, and good animation to boot. Probably one of the most enjoyable 'kid' shows out there. It is the definition of entertainment that can be enjoyed by kids and adults alike. It is far from forgettable and irrelevant. Also, bobed, you can't really help it that your name is mentioned. You are such a recognizable figure in the PluggedIn community that saying your name almost immediately puts any comment into context. At least that is my opinion.
-AR
Evan Weisensel 3 months ago
Drop what you're doing, and go watch Transformers Prime now. It is one of then best children's cartoons I've seen in years. I mean, you could even just watch the first five episodes to see if you'd like it seeing as they're a miniseries.
bobed 3 months ago
In case you were not aware, I'm a grown-up. Not to be haughty and superior, but I genuinely don't have any interest.
Evan Weisensel 3 months ago
I'm an adult (a young adult, but still), too, and I love to sit down with a good cartoon from time to time. I don't see why people can't enjoy (Somewhat) childish things like that in a moderated and healthy way and still be functional members of society.
Anonymous 3 months ago
By CbinJ
I know I still enjoy a good cartoon show every once in awhile. I watched the second season of Avengers Assemble last year and was surprised how much I enjoyed it. (I was watching Season 1, but Netflix removed it before I could finish.) And I’ll always watch Phineas and Ferb if I happen it catch it.
By CbinJ

Anonymous 3 months ago
Best VeggieTales movie= Lord of the Beans. It's definitely older, but it's great. Haven't seen the new VeggieTales yet. 
Evan Weisensel 3 months ago
My favorite is actually Sumo of the Opera.... 
bobed 3 months ago
You can't go wrong with Larryboy.
Evan Weisensel 3 months ago
Where's my Larryboy Cinematic Universe directed by Christopher Nolan and Gennedy Tartakovsky? I'm waiting, Hollywood!
Evan Weisensel 3 months ago
You put the soulless, terrible, franchise-killing cash grab reboot of Veggietales on this list and not Voltron: Legendary Defender? I am so disappointed in you, Plugged in.....
bobed 3 months ago
Hey, what's wrong with the new Veggie tales? My kids love it, and kids are good judges.
Evan Weisensel 3 months ago
It's terrible. It's shallow, it won't shut up, there's an episode in which Junior tries to get laid, the art style dives deep into the uncanny valley, someone though Bacon Bill was a good idea and wasn't immediately fired (from an active volcano into the ocean Ninjago Movie Style), I could honestly be here all day. But, different strokes for different folks, I guess.
bobed 3 months ago
An episode in which Junior tries to get laid???? When and where??? I think you're exaggerating. Why on earth would you hate a silly kids show so much? Waste of time.
Anonymous 3 months ago
As someone who semi grew up with VeggieTales, the tv show is very different then the originals. I believe Evan is referring about how different it is (not only animation but story lines). Personally, I like the old movies and animation. But hay if the tv show sparks learning virtues and learning more about God, that's great! After all that's what it's all about :) 

~ Fern
Anonymous 3 months ago
I have to agree, Voltron is phenomenal and should have been mentioned. This reboot of Veggie Tales in the other hand.... I loved the originals and I tried to like this one but couldn't. It just feels cheap, uninteresting, and frankly annoying.
Evan Weisensel 3 months ago
Same here. Does every little thing need to have an annoying stock sound effect in that show? It honestly makes it really hard to watch without getting a headache or something.
bobed 3 months ago
I really don't see the difference.
AsayPaul 3 months ago
Alas, Voltron never quite made the cut for review, thus not eligible for the list. I know, Princess Allura would not be pleased.
Julienne Dy 3 months ago
How do you pick out which shows to review by the way?  Is there a predetermined list or do you just pick as you go?
AsayPaul 3 months ago
We use a lot of factors: If something's getting a lot of attention in the culture at large is one. Ratings are another. If we think something might be of particular interest to our audience is a third. We try to hit things early on in their run when we can, particularly if they're Netflix (or other streaming service) shows, which can leave programs like Voltron at a little disadvantage. If we can't hit it within the first couple of weeks in release, I kinda figure that lots of folks have already binge-watched it, which would make a review rather pointless.
SJamison 3 months ago
Still a few seasons to get around to Voltron, it seems.
Anonymous 3 months ago
Its really cool to hear how you guys pick your shows! I have always wondered......
-AR
Evan Weisensel 3 months ago
That's too bad, I've heard great things about it. (Still gotta find time to watch it myself...)
bobed 3 months ago
I would have included Ryan Defrates: Secret Agent.