In previous years, BOP has chronicled the evolving nature of television consumption. During the earliest years of The Calvins, virtually all of our favorite programs aired on network television. When the category debuted in 2006, eight out of ten nominees came via conventional networks. Only HBO and Comedy Central programs prevented a clean sweep.
2017 Calvin Awards: Best TV Show
By David Mumpower
February 20, 2017
Fast forward to last year, when it was easy to tell just how much streaming media has altered our group’s viewing habits. Only one network program cracked the top ten, a historic low. The good news for the alphabet channels is that they have a heightened presence on our list this year, tripling their total from last year. Even so, the trend is no longer a trend.
The basic law of television consumption today is that streaming services and other historically unconventional outlets are now the superior choice. These programs play faster, oftentimes lack commercials, stream at a higher quality (most cable companies still broadcast at 1080i or 720p to save money), and offer the best binge-watching options. Technologies that didn’t exist when we introduced the category now dominate the medium. Our recent scoring results have reflected this hallmark change within the industry, although we’re a bit more conventional this year.
Nine out of ten selections in our 2017 list are available to watch on networks or cable. As usual, HBO dominates with three entries in the top five; however, they don’t claim the top prize this year. Instead, that honor goes to the only streaming service selection in our list. So, we favored regular television consumption for most of our list this year, but the top spot goes to something quite different.
Yes, a brand new show aptly named Stranger Things debuts as the category winner in Best Television Show. And the results aren’t even close. After a nail-biter last year where only two points meant the difference between first and second place, a Netflix offering exploded into pop culture as the next big thing. BOP’s staff wasn’t immune to its charms, either.
Our staff gleefully ventured into The Upside Down, relishing the journey of a handful of dedicated children as they bravely stared down the Demogorgon. We loved the mystery hidden within fictional Hawkins, Indiana, and we adored the brave kids who stood together against a nightmare creature from their Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual.
We loved the leadership of Mike, the sweetness of Dustin, the savvy of Lucas, and the innate decency of Eleven. We feared the fates of Will Byers and Barb. We empathized with the struggles of poor working mom, Joyce, and lost soul/supercop Jim Hopper. In only eight hours of television, we felt a rare, penetrating emotional connection to all these denizens of this 1980s mystery town that seemed equal parts Steven Spielberg and Stephen King. Instantly engrossing, meticulously paced, and self-aware of its purpose, Stranger Things is the clear choice as the Best Television Show of the year.
Last year, a brand new series exploded into the public consciousness and almost won the category. This year, we again embrace change by selecting new offerings as our favorite two series of the year. Second place this time goes to The Good Place, a sitcom with impeccable leads in Ted Danson and Kristen Bell, but one whose virtually unknown tertiary characters oftentimes steal the show.
The Good Place is ostensibly an examination of the afterlife through the eyes of undeserving entrant. Through some unlikely cosmic error, Eleanor Shellstrop died at the same moment as a different Eleanor Shellstrop, the woman who rightfully earned her spot in The Good Place. “Fake” Eleanor tries to fit in as a series of cataclysmic events unfold, each of which hints that she’s the source of disruption in this utopia.
On its surface, The Good Place sounds like a high-concept sitcom with an extremely small shelf life. In execution, it’s a sublime exercise in pointed storytelling. We don’t want to give away anything, so all BOP can say is that if you haven’t watched the show yet, spend the five hours binge-watching it. The Good Place enjoys a similar structure to Lost in that it has a clever reveal at the end of each episode. Each new twist upsets the delicate balance of this paradise, causing a constantly increasing but organic amount of chaos. The Good Place is the most deceptively clever sitcom in recent memory and a worthy choice as the second best Television Show of the year.
How great were the two new programs this year? Their presence prevented Game of Thrones from becoming a three-time champion in the category. Since its inception, the HBO fantasy masterpiece has finished in our top five in every vote, and that streak continues this year with a third place finish.
When Breaking Bad ended, Game of Thrones had already shown signs that it was ready to usurp the story of Walter White’s tragic tale to become the most iconic program on television. That’s exactly what happened the last two years, but while Game of Thrones had a wonderful season including its best finale to date, two new series intrigued us more. The decline of Game of Thrones is more about those two programs than anything it did wrong. In fact, it could very easily wind up winning the next two years as it heads to a dazzling, frenetic finish. Stranger Things and The Good Place had amazing rookie seasons, but Game of Thrones has proven over time that it’s got staying power.
A pair of additional HBO offerings rounds out the top five. One of them, Westworld, is the latest triumphant drama for the network that has mastered the art form. Westworld is a 21st century take on Michael Crichton’s 1973 directorial debut of the same name. Whereas the original film was a celebration of quasi-futuristic science fiction conventions of the early 1970s, the new version of Westworld is a grim evaluation of mankind’s basic flaws.
As robots function as entertainment slaves in an amusement park setting, humans act like monsters, ceding to their base needs. Meanwhile, some of the robots are attaining a kind of sentience. On some level, they’re aware that humans are flawed creatures but since they’re the models for life, the robots still mimic them in some ways. Like The Good Place, Westworld evaluates the nature of good and evil in novel fashion, which is why we can’t wait for more of both.
The other HBO offering represents the odd time in which we live. With a presidential campaign marked by strife and hostility, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver became a refuge, a place where we could hide away from the horrors of the news long enough to enjoy a laugh with our stately British friend. Of course, this wasn’t the first time we’d shown such dedication to the show. Two years ago, the first season of Last Week Tonight actually finished second in the category, showing that we love John Oliver the most during election years. He’s the voice of reason that we need during an era of pure political madness.
A new entrant and a standing favorite finish in sixth and seventh place this year. The rookie is Atlanta, the offbeat Donald Glover comedy that reminded the world of what a natural talent he is. Glover’s writing and acting in this series he created is so impressive that he’s earned the iconic roles of Lando Calrissian in a standalone Han Solo Star Wars film and Simba in a live-action remake of The Lion King. All of this career success secures his future in the industry, but it does make BOP’s staff worry that this gem, Atlanta, may suffer as Glover’s career ascends.
Seventh place goes to Better Call Saul, which dropped from third place last year. It’s not that the Breaking Bad crew did anything wrong with the latest offering of Saul Goodman. It’s that we had other needs to fill and new passions to entertain us this year. What’s important here is that since season two of Breaking Bad, every year of The Calvins has included a nod to Vince Gilligan’s twin masterpieces. The shows are that great…and that consistent.
A pair of perennial favorites and new entrant finishes our list this year. Brooklyn Nine-Nine earned selection for the third straight year, although it did fall from fifth to eighth place this year. The Americans returns to the top ten after a 2015 top five finish followed by a near-miss in 2016. And our staff finally delivered long overdue recognition to Black-ish, a sitcom that somehow tackles socially significant issues from the most charming perspectives.
Since we live in the golden age of television, the list above is just a starter kit on what's worth watching. Here’s a list of our staff’s 15 favorite programs that didn’t quite earn a nomination: The Night Of, Veep, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Archer, Transparent, The Grinder, New Girl, Daredevil, Bob’s Burgers, Silicon Valley, You’re the Worst, Girl Meets World, Luke Cage, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Lethal Weapon.
Best Overlooked Film
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best TV Show
Best Use of Music