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The Top 10 TV Shows of 2014

January 19, 2015

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As I begin to look back on the year in TV (or film as we’ll get to soon), the first thing that my mind tends to drift to are the things that I couldn’t watch. There are show that I had watched and enjoyed in the past, but fell behind on and couldn’t catch up with during 2014 ( ‘Boardwalk Empire,’ ‘Game of Thrones,’ ‘The Bridge,’ ‘The Walking Dead,’ and ‘Mad Men,’ which I will definitely catch up with before its final season in 2015), streaming shows on Netflix and Amazon Prime that I just didn’t have the time to get around to watching (‘Orange is the New Black,’ ‘House of Cards,’ ‘Happy Valley,’ ‘Bojack Horseman,’ ‘Peaky Blinders,’ and ‘Transparent’), shows on channels I do have that I just missed (‘The Good Wife,’ ‘Broad City,’ ‘Key and Peele,’ ‘Veep,’ ‘The Honorable Woman,’ and ‘Olive Kitteridge’), and finally shows on channels that I don’t get (‘The Knick,’ ‘Homeland,’ ‘The Affair,’ ‘Penny Dreadful,’ and ‘The Missing’)

However, to me, the point of looking back at the year, making lists, and remembering the media that I observed is to re-experience the joy of the things that I loved and appreciated in 2014. With that said, after the jump are a few honorable mention TV shows followed by my top 10 TV shows of the year.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Season 1:12-22 & Season 2:1-11)

The back half of season 1 of ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ was even better than the first half (which made my top 10 last year), but there were just too many good shows in 2014 for it to crack the top 10 this year. Consider it number 11 if you wish.

Community (Season 5)

With creator Dan Harmon back at the helm, ‘Community’ returned to form after its dismal fourth season. The show lost a bit of momentum after Donald Glover’s Troy left in the middle of season 5, but it still remained one of the shows that I was most eager to watch every week to see what they would be able to pull off.

Doctor Who (Season 8)

After the weak, episodic nature of season 7, Peter Capaldi joined as the new Doctor and gave a biting, asshole-ish edge to the show that was a welcome change of pace. There were several stand-out great episodes (‘Listen,’ ‘Flatline,’ ‘Death in Heaven’), but the large arc teases were a bit too laborious for the payoff.

Orphan Black (Season 2)

The second season of the clone drama had several improved individual pieces from season one (the humanizing of Helena, emphasizing the humor of Alison, and the increased presence of Kira), but the conspiracy and plot tied itself into a few too many knots and became too confusing for its own good, thus forfeiting much of the impressive momentum of the first season.

Parks and Recreation (Season 6:10-22)

Never not funny or sweet, ‘Parks and Recreation’ had another great season as it pushed its characters forward and made a great jump at the end of the season to set it up for its final season.

Rev. (Season 3)

Another show that just about made my top 10 (I’ll call this number 12). I watched all three seasons over the course of the fall, which took away a bit of the feeling of uniqueness from the show, but I still related to and cared for Tom Hollander’s Reverend Adam Smallbone as he navigated the needs of his small, inner city congregation with that of the greater Church of England.

Rick and Morty (Season 1:4-11)

A very different animated show than my other favorite, ‘Bob’s Burgers.’ The cadence of ‘Rick and Morty’ with its stammering, stuttering, slobbering heightened dialogue was as goofy as the sci-fi explorations of the show, but the family dynamic evolved into something surprisingly sweet over the course of the show.

Sherlock (Season 3)

Through 95% of the third season of ‘Sherlock,’ I was sure it was the best thing that creator Steven Moffat and actors Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch had done with these characters yet. But the last 20 minutes of the final episode (from the point Sherlock knocked out his family) really rubbed me the wrong way and soured my thoughts about the season as a whole, perhaps more than it should have done.

Silicon Valley (Season 1)

The first season of ‘Silicon Valley’ was a brief 8 episodes, but the Mike Judge created comedy was extremely funny and it captured a great dynamic of male friendship and competition among the non-athletically inclined. Christopher Evan Welch gave a brilliant supporting performance as the idiosyncratic tech billionaire Peter Gregory and his presence will be missed on the show after his passing in late 2013.

  1. Enlisted (Season 1)

This short-lived (13 episode) comedy about a trio of brothers who work in the Floridian rear detachment of an Army company, started on the poignant note of the three coming together and ended its almost perfect run with the three lifting each other up one more time. The supporting cast of troops were each able to make their mark with minimal screen time and everybody came together to feel like one big family, while also being very sympathetic and supportive of a different side of the army than what is traditionally portrayed in the media.

  1. True Detective (Season 1)

HBO’s dark and twisty story of a murder in Louisiana was anchored by two incredible performances from Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. The structure of the episodes played with truth and revelation in an interesting way without holding the hand of the audience, until culminating in a beautiful six-minute, unbroken shot at the end of episode 4. Unfortunately, the structure broke down a bit for the next couple episodes before coming together to a quiet, but emotionally satisfying conclusion in the final episode.

  1. The Leftovers (Season 1)

Another dark HBO drama, this time set in the alternate present 3 years after the disappearance of 2% of the world’s population. Wisely, the show chose to keep the drama confined to a group of characters from a small New York suburb and explored the implications of such a depressing event on the changes in the lives of those characters. A powerfully emotional show that asked big questions about sanity and abiding in the face of change while shrugging aside traditional narrative answers and plotting.

  1. Review (Season 1)

The oddball tale of Forrest MacNeil (played with reckless abandon by Andy Daly) mixed comedy and drama in a unique way that was unequalled on TV in 2014. The conceit of a review show where the reviewer rates life events and allows his own life to be swallowed by his work, allowed for crazy jokes and real personal stakes. The structure of the episodes permitted lesser jokes to disappear quick enough to not bother, and great jokes to not wear out their welcome. The show ended on such a perfect note that I don’t know how season 2 will top it, but I’m already excited for it to try.

  1. Bob’s Burgers (Season 4:9-22 & Season 5:1-7)

The continued excellence of ‘Bob’s Burgers’ is increasingly enjoyable as FOX has yanked the show around different time slots and its small audience doesn’t have much of a say in the larger animated show landscape. I hope the show’s presence on Netflix will get more eyeballs to observe the Belcher family dynamics and the sweet way that the family is there for and cares for each other. The voice acting from H. Jon Benjamin, Kristen Schaal, John Roberts, Dan Mintz, and Eugene Mirman is so unique and distinctive (two of the guys voice female characters) with rapid-fire jokes and catchy songs. Another great year!

  1. Rectify (Season 2)

The second season of ‘Rectify’ was boosted from 6 episodes to 10, but never lost its unique sense of pace or digressional spirit. While this allowed more actions and events to happen, the show remained focused on the emotional and spiritual state of the characters while using the extra time to deepen some of the surface characters from the first season. Asking the audience to sympathize with a hard to understand character is a dicey proposition, but everything in ‘Rectify’ is grounded (though not explained) by the reaction of the family and community to Daniel Holden’s actions.

  1. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (Season 1)

I didn’t watch John Oliver’s stint on ‘The Daily Show,’ but I was familiar with his comedy from his supporting turn throughout ‘Community.’ In addition, I’m really not much of a news or current world events guy (as uncultured as that makes me sound, I do have to admit it). So I was curious how ‘Last Week Tonight’ was going to work and appeal to me when I first turned it on, but it took a grand total of 10 minutes to completely hook me. The mix of humor, news, outrage, and (especially) deep dives into topics that were off the radar of other news programs completely absorbed me and was thrilling in a way that I had not anticipated. The fact that there will be even more episodes in 2015 will be one of the best gifts of the year.

  1. Hannibal (Season 2)

What was a dark, disturbing, beautiful show about criminal profilers and serial killers in season one maintained the level of gorgeous tableaus in season two, but twisted and became an even more gruesome nightmare in season two. Creator Bryan Fuller seemed to take particular glee from playing on the audiences familiarity with characters (based on the books to which I was completely unfamiliar) and running them through radically different story arcs than expected. The performances on the show were universally great, from the twitchy Will Graham played by Hugh Dancy, to the confident liar Hannibal Lecter played by Mads Mikkelson, to over-the-top supporting turns by Michael Pitt and Eddie Izzard that all felt a part of the same nightmare of a universe.

  1. The Americans (Season 2)

While I loved ‘The Americans’ in season one, it certainly took “the leap” in season two by shoring up a couple of its weaknesses (superfluous children characters and humorous wigs) and creating a story that wasn’t just a mystery to be solved, but tied all of the main characters together in emotionally devastating ways. All of the brilliant actors stepped up their game for season two making every action feel like they were left bruised and battered and barely able to hold it all together. What takes the show over-the-top and makes it great are the continued exploration of identity and marriage through the view of the Russian spies living in America.

  1. Fargo (Season 1)

As I stated in my thoughts on the number 2 film of 2013, the Coen brothers are my favorite living filmmakers, although, while I love their film ‘Fargo,’ it is actually not one of my personal favorites in their oeuvre. All that to say, I was as skeptical as could be about someone who was not the brothers adapting their film and, most importantly, capturing their sense of humor and dark humanity into the dialogue and rhythm of a TV show. By that account, creator Noah Hawley’s 10 part mini-series was a masterpiece of adaptation in how it perfectly mimicked the brother’s style while creating characters that were unique, but maintained the familiar Coen archetypes from the film. And the people who brought these characters to life ranged from big film actors (Billy Bob Thorton, Martin Freeman, Colin Hanks, Oliver Platt), to familiar TV actors (Bob Odenkirk, Keith Carradine, Glenn Howerton, Kate Walsh, Key and Peele) to a relatively unknown stage actor who ended up stealing the show (Allison Tolman). Every time I thought the show would zig, it would zag and the end result was a perfect 10-episode run that was the best TV show I watched in 2014.

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