The past year gave us some superb Certified Fresh fare: Big Little Lies, Legion, American Gods, Better Call Saul, GLOW, Narcos, The Deuce, The Crown, Master of None, Stranger Things, Game of Thrones, and so much more — all of which you could binge, of course. But this isn’t that list. (See all of 2017’s Certified Fresh TV.)
Rotten Tomatoes’ staff chose 13 of our personal favorite series of 2017 that you should get to binging before the 2018 midseason premieres and returns are full swing.
What It Is: A workplace comedy set in a big-box chain store.
Why You Should Watch It: Superstore is the rare comedy where the majority of the characters are working class and the brunt of the humor thankfully doesn’t come from mocking them for being working class. It’s a workplace comedy grounded in reality that deals with real issues, like immigration, divorce, gun laws, and workers’ rights, but isn’t afraid to veer into the surreal. (Why does Amy’s dad paint those creepy portraits of famous people? What happens to all the unclaimed lost and found items?) Superstore is a funny, weird, and thoughtful look at the lives of people behind your shopping experience. Catch up soon, because season 3 begins on January 4.
Commitment: about 7.5 hours
Picked By: Sara Ataiiyan, Review Curator
What It Is: The Star Trek universe returns to small screens, but on an epic, big-screen scale. Discovery tells the story of exemplary First Officer Michael Burnham whose brash choice in one conflict is blamed for kicking off the Federation-Klingon war and ultimately lands her under the leadership of mercurial cowboy Captain Gabriel Lorca.
Why You Should Watch It: The Certified Fresh series is set in a turbulent, but intriguing time of war about a decade before James T. Kirk is to take the helm of the legendary Starship Enterprise in the 1960s original series created by Gene Roddenberry. The new, streaming-only series features a stellar regular cast, including The Walking Dead’s Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham and the Harry Potter franchise’s Jason Isaacs as Lorca, as well as The Shape of Water’s Doug Jones, stage and screen actor Anthony Rapp, and newcomer Mary Wiseman. Its guest stars include Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), James Frain (Gotham), Wilson Cruz (My So-Called Life), Jayne Brook (Chicago Hope), and Rainn Wilson (The Office). Plus, binging Part 1 (nine episodes) of season 1 now gets you caught up in time for the premiere of Part 2, coming January 7.
Where to Watch: CBS All Access
Commitment: about 7 hours
Picked By: Debbie Day, TV Features Editor
What It Is: In 1969, Sister Catherine Cesnick, a beloved Maryland teacher, was found murdered. The cold case haunted her former students for decades, and this series chronicles their passionate investigation and search for answers.
Why You Should Watch It: I began watching this series thinking that I was watching another murder mystery. Within its expertly crafted episodes, The Keepers focuses on much more than just the initial cold case, involving not only sexual abuse allegations in the Catholic school Cesnick taught at, but also an incredible triumph of the human spirit among her students. The women who were greatly moved by Cesnick, now mostly retirees, never stopped seeking justice for the woman who shaped their lives. Their passion united them with each other and the Cesnick family many years later — and brought them that much closer to getting justice for Sister Cathy and the children affected by abuse. The series manages to be both heartbreaking and heartwarming, and with cliffhangers at the end of every episode that will keep you watching (and crying).
Where to Watch: Netflix
Commitment: About 7.5 hours
Picked By: Grae Drake, Senior Editor
What It Is: A follow-up to the BBC’s groundbreaking 2006 nature documentary series, Planet Earth II similarly utilizes pristine high definition footage to shed light on the lives of wild creatures in exotic locales as they employ remarkable strategies to survive.
Why You Should Watch It: At some point over the past year, you might have come across a short video of a young iguana on the Galapagos Islands scrambling across the sand to escape hundreds of snakes, eluding certain death by mere inches. That remarkable clip came from the first episode of Planet Earth II, and it’s just a small sample of what the series has to offer. Plenty of nature shows are educational — Planet Earth II shines because it’s also beautifully shot in ultra high definition, impeccably edited, and narrated by the peerless David Attenborough. Not only will you see rare species in disparate environments all over the world, but you’ll also see some familiar creatures behaving in ways never before documented on camera. It’s all fascinating stuff, and if you weren’t a nature junkie before, this might be the show to change you.
Commitment: about 6.5 hours
Picked by: Ryan Fujitani, Editor
What It Is: Imagine waking up in a brightly lit office lobby and being told you’ve died and gone to “the good place” — then discovering that there’s been a mistake and you were really supposed to end up in the other place. What would you do? For Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), the answer’s simple: lie through your teeth and rope your helplessly conflicted, mis-assigned soulmate (William Jackson Harper), an ethics professor, into helping you learn to be a better person. It’s a pretty high concept setup for a sitcom, but it’s really just the beginning for The Good Place, which has spiraled off into all sorts of smart, unpredictable, and above all hilarious directions over the course of its one and a half seasons.
Why You Should Watch It: Part goofball comedy about an afterlife filled with frozen yogurt and fraught with bureaucratic mixups, part surprisingly deep examination of ethics and basic human responsibility, The Good Place deftly balances gut-busting lowbrow humor against complex, thought-provoking themes — no surprise given that it comes to us courtesy of producer Michael Schur (30 Rock, Brooklyn Nine-Nine). It also benefits from one of the most talented ensembles on TV; aside from Bell and Harper, you’ve got the dramatic range and crack timing of Ted Danson, Jameela Jamil, and Manny Jacinto — plus the show’s increasingly indispensable secret weapon, D’Arcy Carden. The second season picks back up on January 4 — get yourself caught up now.
Commitment: about 11 hours
Picked By: Jeff Giles, Curation Editor
What It Is: A noir-tinged murder mystery. Surrealist art. A magnifying glass held on small-town America. Electricity. 27 years ago, Twin Peaks redefined primetime TV, and continued to build a cult legacy over the ensuing years. As high as anticipation was for The Return, the resulting series was impossible to predict: an enthralling, immersive experience that shattered its own history along with the boundaries of peak TV.
Why You Should Watch It: While the original series took place primarily in the Pacific Northwest, Twin Peaks: The Return widens its scope, stretching cross country with new locations and characters, but also upends the show’s trademark tone and style. The initial result is jarring: in early episodes, Lynch rejects the beloved quirky humor of the original series (but brings it back — stick with it!) in favor of a rabbit hole narrative reflective of Inland Empire and Mulholland Dr., a spiral that is infectious in its confounding plot lines and infinite mysteries. While his approach shuns a nostalgic view, tenderness is visible in Lynch’s treatment of familiar faces. Bobby, Norma, Hawk, the Log Lady, Cooper, and perhaps most poignant of all, Laura, have aged before our eyes, a reminder that at its core, Twin Peaks was and continues to be a meditation on the pain inherent with the passage of time and in unresolved grief.
Where to Watch: Showtime Anytime, on demand through your cable provider with a Showtime subscription
Commitment: 18 hours (with recommended prerequisite Fire Walk with Me, roughly 20 hours)
Picked by: Jenny Jediny, Critic Relations Manager
What It Is: An animated series inspired by the classic vampire-hunting video game of the same name.
Why You Should Watch It: It’s the easiest binge on the planet, with only four episodes clocking in at under two hours. The animation is lush, with gothic castles and crypts and caverns to boot. It’s also about an all-powerful vampire on a revenge quest, so there are floods of blood and violence galore. But there is also a vampire hunter and plenty of humor that follows him as he tries to help the townsfolk he encounters stay out of the vampire’s way. This show will have you swinging between LOL and OMG moments through its four rollercoaster-like episodes that go down like blood-red candy.
Where to Watch: Netflix
Commitment: Only two bloody hours
Picked by: Beki Lane, Associate TV Editor
What It Is: A true-crime mockumentary that doesn’t shy away from asking the important questions — in particular, who drew dicks on 27 faculty cars in the high school parking lot?
Why You Should Watch It: Don’t let the crass premise fool you, American Vandal is a brilliant send-up of society’s ongoing obsession with entertainment offerings like the Serial podcast and Netflix’s own Making a Murderer. It employs tricks of the investigative journalism trade and applies them to an ensemble high school cast. What begins as an attempt to clear one hopeless student’s name (Dylan Maxwell, who is brilliantly played by Jimmy Tatro) evolves into a complex web of reputations and intentions. By the end of the first episode, I was already swept up in the mystery and emotionally invested in Dylan’s defense. Throw in the show’s hilarious writing scene-to-scene, and you have one of 2017’s most delightful new series.
Commitment: About 4.5 hours
Where to Watch: Netflix
Picked by: J.S. Lewis, Media Coordinator
What It Is: ER doctor Mary Harris (Caroline Dhavernas) partners with a former plastic surgeon (Richard Short) to moonlight as a team of underground euthanizers for terminal patients in need while eluding a detective and potential love interest (Jay Ryan).
Why You Should Watch It: Brave and honest, Mary Kills People is one of the more emotionally intelligent shows currently running. While other amazeballs female star–led dramas like Good Behavior, The Girlfriend Experience, and Claws, too, stand out from the crowd, Mary is noteworthy for its truthful — with some added heightened antics for entertainment value, sure — portrayal of a topic still not easily discussed. These newer female-centric shows tend to outshine much of the male-lead opposition, rather than merely compete. Mary has a unique, evocative tone, with painfully empathetic characterizations in situations each of us hopes we never have to face.
Commitment: About 4.5 hours
Picked By: Kerr Lordygan, Associate TV Editor
What It Is: If Tracey Gordon had a £1,000, she would buy hair like Beyoncé, a lip reduction, red velvet cupcakes, and a dustpan and broom for her shop, probably. She’s 24, living in government housing with her well-meaning, but devoutly religious mother and sister, and she’s a virgin. But she’s going to change all of that with a little help from her friends, whether they mean to lend a hand or not.
Why You Should Watch It: Chewing Gum is on another level. Within the first five minutes you’ll laugh just as often as you squirm in your seat. The show captures the feeling of every awkward conversation you’ve ever replayed in your head a thousand times, only it’s not you, it’s the brilliant and whimsical Michaela Cole. You know, the girl from Star Wars: The Last Jedi, who turns around, eyes big and mouth gaping, to warn her fellow rebels of their impending doom? No? Well, you should. Her turn as Tracey earned her the 2016 BAFTA award for Best Female Comedy Performance, and for good reason. Cole is a singular comedic force. She’s so willing to explore the most uncomfortable of places with such endearingly horrific candor, it’s impossible to take your eyes off of her, though you’ll want to to catch the absurd, captivating performances of her very-game ensemble. Especially her religious zealot of a sister, played by the equally but differently brilliant Susie Wokoma. I’m not going to lie, Chewing Gum can be painful. Like, I need to hide under my bed for three years before I can ever talk to you again, painful. But Cole and company take on these cringe-worthy moments with fearless fervor that is more than worth the mere 6-hour binge time. For two seasons! Brilliant, init?
Where to Watch: Netflix
Commitment: 6 hours
Picked By: Hañalina Lucero-Colin, Review Curator
What It Is: The Handmaid’s Tale, based on the Margret Atwood novel of the same name, is a dystopian thriller about what happens when women lose autonomy over their own bodies. Set in the not-so-distant future, in a not-so-far-fetched U.S., we follow Offred (Elisabeth Moss), a handmaid who’s been ripped away from her husband and daughter and placed into the home of a high-ranking commander and his wife to serve as their birthing chattel. This is, more than anything, a story of survival and one woman’s journey to be reunited with her family by any means necessary.
Why You Should Watch It: Aside from this show being beautifully shot and incredibly well acted, The Handmaid’s Tale is a deep drama from which you rarely find a moment to come up for air. It is stressful, thrilling, complex, and heartbreaking. The currency of the show’s politics, Offred’s situation, and how women are treated from the beginning should not be taken lightly. It’s not hard to picture a world where birthrates have fallen and politicians are calling for women to have more children, which makes the show all the more compelling to watch. The series returns for its second season in April.
Where to Watch: Hulu
Commitment: About 10 hours
Picked by: Zoey Moore, Production Coordinator
What It Is: PBS series tells the story of young Victoria, who inherits the British throne after King William IV passes away and must forge her own path.
Why You Should Watch It: I almost chose The Crown or Outlander, because I’m obsessed with period dramas, and one historical drama you may have missed is Victoria starring Jenna Coleman. The acting and cinematography of the show is first rate, and you’ll be surprised what you learn about the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign. How an 18-year-old became a monarch, became a mother, and ruled during a time when women were not even able to vote, is fascinating to watch. I am personally drawn to the marital love and struggles between Victoria and her husband Prince Albert (Tom Hughes). There’s even a little Upstairs, Downstairs–type story telling (not as compelling as Downton Abbey), enough to give you an assortment of characters to root for. Season 2 debuts on PBS in the United States on January 14.
Where to watch: Amazon
Commitment: nearly 7 hours
Picked By: Eileen Rivera, Sr. Director of Production
What It Is: A town. A community. But it’s not all pom-poms, milkshakes, and maple syrup for the good people of Riverdale. Last season, Archie (KJ Apa), Betty (Lili Reinhart), Jughead (Cole Sprouse), and Veronica (Camila Mendes) were caught up in the whirlwind surrounding the murder of Jason Blossom. This time out, our heroes’ bonds are severely tested as a serial killer runs amuck in their town.
Why You Should Watch It: Stranger Things might get all the love for its expert pastiche of 1980s sci-fi films (no complaint here), but Riverdale’s scope is far wider: an omnivorous mixing-and-matching of 70 years of teenage popular culture. Sure, it sometimes veers into preposterousness (Archie’s vigilante group, Jughead’s always-hilarious noir prose), but mostly, Riverdale works because it’s aware of its campy trappings and is unafraid to revel in them. It’s also stylistically audacious, with its visual references to Zodiac, Pulp Fiction, and bathed in a neon glow that would do Wong Kar-wai proud. Even at its darkest, however, Riverdale is offering a sense of community — that of shared experience and an idealized past — that feels especially comforting in these divided times. Riverdale season 2 returns on January 17.
Commitment: About 7 hours
Picked by: Tim Ryan, Senior Editor