I must write this before getting on with the list, this was the most difficult thing I had to think of. I’m dead serious, this might be the hardest thing I written all year long. 2014 was a phenomenal year for the landscape of TV. Be it limited series, streaming shows, animation, hard hitting drama, gut busting comedy, superheroes, Time Lords, clones, there was something for just about everyone and I found A LOT of TV to love. It was just difficult and this list was hard to do.
Think of a basket full of the cutest puppies imaginable and you’re told to just pick 10 of them. Its hard, you want them all but you have to suss out what is indeed the best of the best that’s that I have done. I will say this is a much more diverse list than last years. We’re all over the place people. alright I addressed what I needed to, let’s get on with the list.
No Honorable Mentions since it would take up HALF of this piece.
Where Avatar: The Last Airbender was a show that encapsulated a whole world, its spiritual successor The Legend of Korra was much more condensed, but they both share something in common. A story, a well done, well told story that had some the best and richest characters, ideas, story, action, and animation. They also both ended on the highest notes possible.
The third and fourth seasons of Nickelodeon’s animated series came in full force with a steep and centered focus on story and character. Not just Korra, but everyone. We learn backstories, get deeper with the characters, have engaging stories, and gorgeous animation. The heights of storytelling and writing the show reaches for surpasses the first two seasons by being much more consistent. Week in and week out was a treat for the show. I absolutely loved it and think there is nothing on the channel that at all touches it.
The show was also inspirational to those younger viewers watching it with inspiring characters but how it was so different from all of Nick with how it dealt with breaking ground on issues involving race, sexuality, gender roles and equality, religion, and politics, but never talked down to its audience, it got its points across well with its story.
The series finale was one the absolute best episodes of TV and might be the best series finale all year long with The Colbert Report and Boardwalk Empire. It hit all the highs it needed too and kept you hooked. The ending scene was a nicely done touch to show things are looking up for Avatar Korra. If this is the end of what we get with the Avatar universe, I’m happy with what we got.
The first half of Mad Men’s swan song further showed what a damn great show this is. 1969 and our characters are once again starting over: Don’s working for Peggy, his marriage to Megan is struggling to stay afloat, Roger stepping up to be the father he always should have been, Pete has a whole new life in California, Betty tries to be a much better mother and starts questioning her marriage, Sally is becoming more and more mature by the minute, and Joan is pulling double duty among all things going on. At least we can take solace in the one aspect of things, Bob Benson is the most perfect thing ever. Minus that one bit where he proposed a sham marriage to Joan in order to secure a promotion, but look at that smile.
Well moving on, the show is still as engaging as ever with its character drama, story settings, and amazing use of historical events into the plotlines of the show. The performances are still great with Jon Hamm proving why he’s one the best leading men out there today, but Elisabeth Moss steppe up this season as its just about Peggy this season as it is ending the story of the man we know to be Don Draper. Peggy has been Don’s student and equal, but now she’s the boss, she’s in control and seeing Don’s struggle with that as well as his constant clashing with the management of the agency has made for great television this year.
Mad Men is every bit the show everyone made it out to be when it first debuted. What I look for in stories, is character stories. Of course overall story matters, I mean hey I am a writer myself, but the story is only as good as the characters that are in it and helping to tell the story. The shows chose here are because of how damn well character driven they are since they are truly the lifeblood of the show and Mad Men is a high bar example of that. Studying every character perfectly where when we think we have them figured out, there a new layer being discovered about them making them a lot more interesting. That’s prevalent here in the last days of the show and I can’t wait to see where they all end up come 1970.
The second season of the Netflix prison comedy drama was the pure standout among all of Netflix’s slate of original programming. Season one did so much right and there was immense hype and eyes on season two which turned out to be far superior. I mentioned character driven stories with The Legend of Korra and Mad Men above, the first season of Orange had that but an honestly rather less than interesting main character in the center with Taylor Schilling’s Piper Chapman. Season two moves away from that and lets everyone take center stage. The characters are what’s on point this season. Even Piper gets more interesting and I cared for her way more this season, but I’m about Red. She’s the best.
While the show had the pregnancy storyline and Larry as its weaker links, their stories were used when needed and didn’t feel like they were too dragging, well sometimes, but whenever we’re back at Litchfield with the likes of Red, Nicky, Crazy Eyes, Taystee, Poussey, Morrello, Rosa, and the season villain, Vee, played perfectly by Lorraine Toussaint.
The flashbacks and times we get with the characters in the present with everyone help to truly flesh everyone out and let them show why we love and care about them. Even some the most unlikeable get a good look at themselves and a somewhat likable side for maybe a moment.
Orange is the New Black is one the most honest, gripping, and funniest shows airing, or rather streaming on TV. The second season felt tighter, more condensed and focused, even felt like it was written in a way the showrunner knew it might be consumed quickly. I’ll open up to this since it only took two days for me to get through the whole story. Yeah its that damn good. I can’t wait for wait 2015 brings to our favorite jailbirds.
Well if its characters your want, Game of Thrones has you covered. They have so many, some of them who are still alive that they won’t even be around for the fifth season next spring! Yeah I made it no secret I don’t have the time or resources right now to read the books the popular HBO juggernaut is based on, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the show.
Season 4 for the medieval fantasy drama was its best yet. It had characters reaching the peak of their awesome, mainly Tyrion, gripping and engaging stories that you couldn’t wait to see next week, stunning cinematography and music, and of course those moments you got so excited about that might lead to angry Facebook discussions over accidental spoilers.
The season was a highly memorable as those that came before with all the moments everyone was talking about right after the episode ended. Now while there were some moments that didn’t quite sit well during the season, Jaime and Cersei rape, it didn’t derail it at all. Its world building still goes on and on with newer stories and characters. The action keeps turning up much further then ten Thrones is a powerful force that won’t be stopped anytime soon.
Among all the fine programming FX has as one the top TV channels these days, The Americans is a fantastic standout. The Cold War spy drama is one the most perfectly crafted shows on the airwaves with its heightened tension, sharp writing, complex characters, and brilliant acting.
The story of the Jennings continuing to live among us in the 1980s while serving the KGB is just great television. The cast is high caliber which made the story of the season better with how the Jennings balance their parent life while staying loyal to their duties for the KGB. Coming straight out the gate from where it ended at season one, two was a powerful force that got more and more memorable with each passing episode. I found myself on edge watching it week in and week out. FX has one the truly best shows on TV.
I’m unabashedly putting this on my list, I love it! The Flash has always been a huge favorite of mine no matter who is donning the costume, I’ve loved them all. Arrow is a damn good show, but it did need to find its footing first, which it did pretty early in its first season, but Flash for lack of better phrasing, came out of the gate running. Having introduces Barry in Arrow’s spectacular second season was the right thing to do. Grant Gustin captures Barry Allen’s spirit and heroism so well. I find him perfectly suited for the role. In fact I find everyone on their perfectly casted in their roles.
The show is having fun, its being exciting, something we need more in superhero adaptations. There is a place for the darker stuff, but that doesn’t mean Flash can’t be serious. Its dramatic moments and more serious scenes are well handled too and they even have made Reverse Flash scary as hell. The shows balance of tone is great, but its love and dedication to the source material and the world is exceptional. I feel such love and craft being put into this. It also managed to balance well with Arrow when the excellent crossover happened. The Flash is the best comic book adapted of the recent ones airing and I look forward to more of it.
Comedy seems to get a short stick when it comes to great TV talk and with all the quality dramas, its kinda easy to see why but that doesn’t mean comedy still can’t prevail. With so many good ones out there it was kinda hard to choose one, but I think for 2014, Veep was the standout comedy series. HBO’s political satire is still bitingly funny and brutally honest with is smart writing that is perfectly executed with its exception cast led by Julia Louis-Dreyfus. This season saw lots of changes for VP Selina Meyer as she was hot on the campaign trail and dealing with the press that would watch her every move, even worse when part of that press is Jonah, who is as lovable to hate as ever here.
Veep’s look into Washington D.C. has been stellar from dealing with the people, dealing with congress, and dealing with incompetent politicians. The show remains a prime comedic showcase for not just the regular cast but an outstanding roster of recurring and guest stars. Veep is just great television and if you’re not already watching it, you need to be.
Going back to FX, Fargo I’d say is 2014’s biggest television surprise. A TV adaptation of one the most memorable movies in decades from two of film’s finest creators, Joel and Ethan Coen. I wasn’t expecting much from it or to be anywhere close to the quality of the movie.
Fuck me silly when about five episodes in I was saying its maybe the best thing on TV. The show was conceived as a miniseries, which seems to be making a strong resurgence, but has gone the way of American Horror Story, in terms of set up, thankfully not quality, in a new season, new story, new characters.
I’m excited because the story here, and its connection to the movie, was nailbiting. Its humor mixed in among the serious mystery and grisly killings were magical and the cast was just spectacular. A great mix of veterans and rising newcomers, Fargo knew how to set itself up and get viewers hooked quickly, which is what work in much of its favor. Fargo kept surprising me week in and week out, I hope the next season can do more of the same.
Well another new anthology series made its 2014 debut and man what a hell of a show True Detective is. Its brilliant writing and acting shine through all the exceptional TV out there. Creator Nic Pizzolatto’s tale of two detectives drawn and torn together via one case and how it brings them back years later is truly engrossing. From its writing of the story but the characters. Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson both give career performances here as they each bring something to the table. They are the anchors that hold the show firmly in place. The levels in which each character is explored just made my mouth water with the detail of writing involved, I just couldn’t get enough.
Another reason for its success was Cary Joji Fukunaga as director who just moved the camera perfectly. His six minute tracking shot at the end of episode 4 is still breathtaking in how rich it is. I just think True Detective is a whole new level of television.
With all the shows out there, Hannibal is what truly stood out. Bryan Fuller’s adaptations of the infamous cannibal from the novels of Thomas Harris has been outstanding, more so in its recent second season. Now of course its easy to say this because of its distinct visual style and how well it utilizes that in every aspect of the show.
Where the show left itself at the end of season one left it more than open for a second season which started off with a bang as Jack Crawford and Hannibal started to throw down. Then from there we have proving Will’s innocence and the price some pay for that, Hannibal working himself further into Will’s mind, Bloom’s rethinking of Will, and the introduction of the Verger’s which only made the show that much more captivating when they came on.
Fuller is stringing together such an intriguing tale that’s captivating, horrifying, beautiful, and disgusting. Its a truly unique show in every way of how all the parts come together for episode after episode of pure greatness. Hannibal such a truly consistent show in how much it kept going. Of course the writing and stellar direction did its job but the performances from Mads Mikkelsen, Hugh Dancy, Laurence Fishburne, Caroline Dhavernas, and the others truly made the material richer. The mystery that was there all season long kept things properly intense and had you on edge waiting for the pin to drop in the exceptional season finale.
I haven’t thought about any of the shows on here as much as I have Hannibal and I’m waiting ever so anxiously for the next season of the best TV show of 2014.