TV Features

Staff TV Favorites 2017: Returning Series

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This article previously appeared on Crossfader

With so much attention given to the year’s new series, films, games, and albums, we at Crossfader TV thought it was high time to show our old favorites some love. The ability to grow and change over long periods of time is somewhat unique to the televised medium (barring neverending film franchises), and those shows who have withstood the test of time deserve just as much credit as the shiny new projects. From season two to season 20, here are our favorite returning series of television for 2017.

returning series bojack

BOJACK HORSEMAN S4 (Netflix)

The depressed horse show strikes again, and season four brought an unbelievable amount of emotional complexity to the Netflix comedy. This year the Emmyless wonder had the most damning satirical commentaries on sexism, gun control, and the 2016 election: “Time’s Arrow” and “Ruthie” destroyed a part of my soul I thought I’d lost, and through it all, the show kept up its remarkable dedication to animal puns. It’s not just a season with no misses, it’s a season of several impressive standalone episodes that link together, frequently circling back to Bojack’s inherited family trauma and Hollywood’s obsession with storytelling. In “Ruthie,” Princess Caroline’s well-deserved solo episode, her story about her future child takes a heartbreaking turn, and standout “Time’s Arrow” succeeds by making full use of animation to obscure and reveal story details in inventive new ways. This season, Bojack’s family was fully featured in ways past seasons only hinted at, but the final uncharacteristically left us with a glimmer of cautious optimism as we wait for season five. Those of us who need to laugh through the pain got another amazing season, and as usual with Bojack, the darker the better. [Teresa Zarmer]

returning series crazy

CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND S3 (The CW)

On first blush, the premise behind CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND barely seems sustainable over the length of a feature film, let alone multiple seasons of television. It is a continued testament to the talent of Rachel Bloom, Aline Brosh McKenna, and their incredible team that this show remains damn near untouchable after not one, not two, but three seasons. It continues to deliver non-stop musical laughs (“Let’s Generalize About Men” is an immediate showstopper up there with “The Sexy Getting Ready Song”) balanced with a depth of story surprising to even the most die-hard fans of the show. Season three takes a deep dive into mental health awareness, tackling the most stigmatized aspects of mental illness with a level of grace and intelligence surprising from a show featuring a snappy tap-dancing number about all the places the male love interests have “tapped that ass” in the protagonist’s house. As always, it knocks it out of the park on the diversity and representation front. Valencia and Heather especially blossom with their own songs and character arcs (Heather’s “The Moment Is Me” is another musical highlight). It’s tough to say whether season three trounces season two in quality because they are just so different, but it’s not tough at all to give this amazing show yet another glowing recommendation. If you’re looking to support original, diverse, and impactful content, look no further than West Covina. [Kate Brogden]

returning series rupaul

RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE S9 (VH1)

Glamazonian Goddess RuPaul famously quipped that drag will never be mainstream, but her picture on the cover of Entertainment Weekly says otherwise. DRAG RACE’s transition this year from Logo TV to VH1 opened the series up to a whole new audience, and as a result, season nine found itself uncharacteristically low on drama, but high on fashion and queer history teaching moments. Lady Gaga kicked off the season in a historic no-elimination episode with the tone of a master class, setting the stage for an amazing season with an undercurrent of learning. Don’t be fooled, though—so-called “RuPaul’s Best Friend Race” still delivered its fair share of iconic moments, from Aja’s Linda Evangelista tirade to the lip sync catastrophe that brought down frontrunner Valentina—but season nine does represent a gentler, more welcoming iteration of the cult classic. The crowning of “brainy queen” Sasha Velour communicates a desire to embrace outsiders and foster an environment of learning and understanding. If you haven’t hopped on this train yet, it’s time to get on. You will never find a more talented group of people than these queens, who consistently produce gag-worthy lewks and plain ol’ damn good television. [Kate Brogden]

TERRACE HOUSE: ALOHA STATE (Netflix)

The zeitgeist is beginning slowly but surely, friends, but just before it becomes cliche to do, I suggest, nay, demand, that you get into Netflix Japan’s reality series Terrace House. Though it existed in its parent country for several seasons before getting picked up by the streaming titan, it couldn’t be more imperative to check out BOYS AND GIRLS IN THE CITY and ALOHA STATE. Terrace House’s premise is simple: set six attractive, young, Japanese-speaking singles up in a luxurious pad and let them live their lives, with a roster of six sardonic hosts ripping them a new one for every minor infraction they rack up. If it doesn’t sound groundbreaking, it’s not meant to be, but the show’s unassuming nature is the very essence of its appeal. In an era of such virulent conflict, Terrace House’s steadfast dedication to portraying the pleasant niceties of daily cohabitation is commendable. Well, at least most of the time. Die-hard fans of the series, even before BOYS AND GIRLS, may take some umbrage with ALOHA STATE “ratcheting” up the pulp. Whether this is because the series was catering to an American audience or not, I do not know, but ALOHA STATE deserves commendation for taking both explicit and implicit risks on a beloved formula (effectively doubling the length of episodes during the middle of the season, bringing back contestants that left the season to interact with and even become romantically involved with current contestants) and delivering something comparatively more high-octane and messy. It’s this balance between different tones that makes ALOHA STATE so captivating, with two characters watching ONE PIECE without sound on a cracked phone screen feeling just as much of an “Oh shit” moment as two characters getting into a screaming match at the dinner table as the finale approaches. As always there’s characters you’ll hate to love (Taishi) and love to hate (Cherie), but the strong cast and tender and thorough care given to the minor trials and tribulations most of us don’t even stop to think about make for another surprisingly captivating season of reality television. [Thomas Seraydarian]

returning series search party

SEARCH PARTY S2 (TBS)

It could have been SO easy to phone in season two of SEARCH PARTY, but yet again Michael Showalter and co. delivered some Grade A television. Season two finds Dory and the gang facing a script that has completely flipped: no longer the hunters, they are being hunted. Instead of a murder mystery, we are met with a psychological thriller, waiting for Dory and the gang to be caught or to break, whichever comes first. What makes season two arguably stronger than the former is its attention to each character’s individual story and splitting them up as they each deal with the repercussions of what they’ve done. While each member of the cast is strong as ever, this season belongs to John Early: his season-long breakdown is hilarious and uncomfortably realistic. He steals every scene, even those in which he has zero lines—if his face doesn’t say it all, his outfit certainly does. I would highlight every scene if I could, but this one really sums it up. The season finale bit the bullet and wrapped with a flawless cliffhanger—season three cannot possibly come soon enough. [Aya Lehman]

returning series the bachelorette

THE BACHELORETTE S13 (ABC)

2017, baby, and ABC realized after 12 seasons of THE BACHELORETTE and 21 seasons of THE BACHELOR it was finally time for a person of color to hold the esteemed title of Bachelorette. And who better than lawyer, dog-mom, and N*ck V*all runner-up Rachel Lindsay? Rachel had her head in the damn GAME. Day One she introduced us to her perfect pup Copper, she booted DeMario’s cheating ass, and stated her goal for the season: after all of this is over, she does not want a boyfriend, she wants a fiancé. Enter Peter Kraus: the salt and pepper gym owner who did nothing but impress. The tailored suits! The gap tooth! His first date with Rachel was a fucking DOG POOL PARTY. But it was too good to be true: Peter didn’t want to propose. And in one of the most dramatic twists in Bachelor(ette) history, Rachel and Peter said a tearful goodbye and she left his hotel in the rain with 30 MINUTES LEFT IN THE FINALE. We waited for him to run after her, or to crash weak-ass BRYAN with the weird cheeks’ proposal. Nothing happened. She said yes to Bryan. It was so windy at their proposal it was as if The Lord himself was begging Rachel to reconsider. It was the finale that launched a thousand thinkpieces: a third were condemning Rachel for being superficial, a third were condemning Peter for being flaky, and a third were begging for an answer about what happened to Copper’s leg?? Every Bachelorette viewer I’ve spoken to still talks about Peter as if he is their own ex-boyfriend, but no matter how much it hurts, it made for some DAMN good television. [Aya Lehman]

returning series animals

ANIMALS S2 (HBO)

Of the current shows I got around to—I decided to take upon the burden of SEINFELD’s nine seasons this year—the sophomore season of ANIMALS stood out for its frantic pace, stylistic diversity, and pitch-perfect satire. Of all the Trump commentary that’s been made this year, out of every work of art that has aimed to tear down our President, the one that stuck with me the most was President Pile of Garbage from Episode 15: “Humans.” Voiced by Jonah Hill, a sentient garbage pile with a ruddy red face and a conspicuously yellow paper crown summarizes in 45 seconds what everyone has been thinking about this deeply stunted man. ANIMALS delivers the 2017 brand of nihilistic blunt humor through the visage of poorly animated fluffy creatures. What more can you ask for? [Dan Blomquist]

returning series black mirror

BLACK MIRROR S4 (Netflix)

Season three cemented Charlie Brooker’s technopocalypse anthology as a Show That Is Cool To Like, but season four snuck in the end of the year to show that while they don’t always know what to do with their own concepts, their devotion and commitment to those concepts remains unparalleled. Doing 41 minutes of mostly wordless grayscale television takes guts, even if 15 minutes or so of “Metalhead” are kind of boring. “Arkangel” delivers deeply unsettling scenes to compensate for the lack of surprises plotwise. “USS Callister” and “Black Museum”, the two 70+ minute bookends of the season, felt designed to be the most talked about episodes and certainly earned that distinction. Both episodes focus heavily on the horrors experienced by digital consciousness copies, so the ethical questions of advancing artificial intelligence hang heavy over the stomach-churning depictions of human suffering. “Hang the DJ” provided a moment of sweet release with a glimpse at future Tinder. Methinks “San Junipero”’s success has convinced the team to make the fourth episode a palate cleanser. “Crocodile,”my personal favorite this time around, felt the most true to BLACK MIRROR’s original essence: a story that on its surface is about technology run amok, but also hints that these devices are merely extensions of dark impulses that have always existed. Black Mirror’s age has started showing, but I’d say it’s aging gracefully. [Dan Blomquist]

returning series SNL

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE S42 (NBC)

SNL. The institution. The bastion of comedic talent. It’s been around 40-odd years, and for good reason. Year after year and administration after administration, SNL provides relief for the mounting pressure that the rest of the country is trying to ignore while conducting their daily lives since the election of the current president. After SNL was hosted by Trump in November 2015, SNL had a long way to come back from that misstep. Perhaps it isn’t enough to right their poor choice, but since the ill-fated hosting, SNL has given no mercy to Trump, his family, or his aides. Though Alec Baldwin has portrayed a perfect Trump through numerous scathing skits, one of the best segments to come out of season 42 was Scarlett Johansson’s Ivanka Trump in the “Complicit” perfume sketch. Other highlights of the season included the “Hallelujah” cold open, Melissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer, Tom Hanks on “Black Jeopardy,” along with Hanks’s opening monologue in which he addressed the country as “America’s Dad.” And last but not least, to brush away the ponderous cobwebs of of the heavy political themes, season 42 also brought us the “Haunted Elevator” sketch, introducing the infamous “David S. Pumpkins.” Season 43, which premiered in September, is going even stronger, recently airing one of the best episodes of all time with Will Ferrell as host, reprising his George W. Bush persona for the episode. [Nicole Barraza Keim]

returning series jane

JANE THE VIRGIN S4 (The CW)

It was just last season where Jane, the titular virgin from the CW comedy Jane the Virgin, lost her virginity and left her titular identity behind. It can be hard for a series to lose its strength once the hook of its main premise is gone, but Jennie Snyder Urman is seamlessly able to want her audience to stick with the Villanuevas long after Jane’s infamous pregnancy. Even with the loss of a main character last season and with a drug-lord antagonist that’s been absen tup until this point, Jane the Virgin is still able to remain as engaging as it has through the complicated relationships of its remaining characters. This season brings a newfound happiness to Jane, one that we haven’t seen in a while since tragedy hit in season three. With that, we have new and old romances return, while Jane continues to pursue her dream of being a successful romance writer. But the most intriguing of transitions we actually find is in Rafael. When Rafael first met Jane, he was her complete foil, a playboy and heir who believed money was the only way to achieve happiness. But after a stint in jail due to insider trading and losing his hotel ownership, we see Rafael in season four finally understand Jane’s life more as he becomes part of the middle class. In doing so, Jane the Virgin still brings to screen complicated issues that have yet to be explored on screen. We see Jane battle with the idea of lying about her address to ensure her son gets into a good public school, and we see her ask honest questions in terms of sexuality when her boyfriend comes out to her. Even though the show’s premise changes from what we saw in the beginning of Jane’s telenovela story, it’s the changes in the characters that keeps this season on par with its predecessors. [Michelle Vera]

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