10. MR. ROBOT (USA)
Last year, Mr. Robot suffered a sharp sophomore slump, trying to chase the same high as its first season's Shyamalan-esque twists, with Shyamalan-esque diminishing returns. I did not expect it to even be in consideration again, and really 10th is about as high as any show revolving so closely around Imaginary Friend tropes is ever going to get on my list. That and the persistent opaqueness of the various sinister conspirators seem fated to keep me always at a slight remove from the action. But on the whole, Mr. Robot bucked this year’s trend of established shows putting out weaker efforts*, roaring back to life with a heavier reliance on its signature cinematic style over narrative trickery. It also displayed an increased sense of humor even as it is plumbed darker depths than ever, with an increasingly dystopian landscape creeping quietly into the margins of the show’s NYC, and the sympathetic characters boxed into increasingly nightmarish scenarios.
But if the show still felt more sprightly despite growing ever bleaker, a lot of it is down to the Bad Guys letting their hair down. While malevolent puppetmaster Whiterose relied too heavily on the questionable trope of opting not to just kill the heroes in favor of “sending a message” by murdering her own dudes, there was a good deal of fun to be had with her henchmen. On that front, rapper Joey Bada$$’s expanded role provided a hypercompetent, laconically lethal counterpoint to Elliot’s brand of hypercompetent, twitchy intensity. But the major addition was Bobby Canavale’s as the weirdo fixer Irving. Switching between goofy and icily menacing, sometimes within the same scene, he helped provide a welcome contrast to the moping and ranting of every other character. For a show that can be so claustrophobically focused on its protagonist’s tortured psyche, having supporting characters that can take us outside of his head and remain entertaining is vital.
While the show’s direct swipes at him could feel clumsy, the election of Donald Trump also seemed to refresh and invigorate its general social cynicism. While he is still on the verge of taking power in the show’s alternate timeline, the season’s thematic preoccupation with erasing the past marked it as particularly of this moment. For many of us, whether we are voters or Denver Broncos fans or season of television tasked with cleaning up after a disappointing year that went too far up its narrative sphincter, 2017 was The Year We Really Wanted A Do-Over. That is the stuff of science fiction the likes of which Mr. Robot does not (as yet) traffic in, however, so it looks like we’re all going to have accept our mistakes rather than erase them. Hopefully the rest of us can all rebound as quickly and thoroughly as this season did.
Watch It For: The awesome, left-field needled drops, ranging from Gang Star to the Bill And Ted soundtrack.
*among them Game Of Thrones, The Americans, You’re The Worst, and Veep, all of which fell off the list from last year due to inconsistent, if still enjoyable, seasons