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

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.