Tuesday, January 20, 2015

My 20 Fave TV Shows of 2014

So here we are at the end of another calendar year (yeah, I know, I'm late - sue me), and time for another list of the best of said calendar year. This time though, I will not just be looking back at the best that cinema had to offer in 2014 (as I did in 2013, 2012, 2011, and back and back and back) but, as the title clearly states, the best that television had to offer in 2014 - something I have never done before, or at least never done publicly. So, with that being said, here is my take on the state of TV in the year 2014. The 20 best TV shows of the year. Let's get this countdown going. Oh, but before we get to that, let us break down the numbers here. As has been the case for several years now, network television seems to be dying in the water. Of my 20 choices here, only three are network shows. and even one of them is finishing off their final season this coming year, on a non-network platform. For the best in TV, the place to be this year (as again, like for several years now), is away from the tired programming of network television. Along with those 3 aforementioned network shows, my list contains 2 HBO shows, 1 Showtime, 2 AMC shows, 4 from Netflix, 1 on Amazon Prime, 1 from BBC America, 1 from A&E, and in a surprising twist (even for me), 5 shows from FX. Yup, FX leads the pack. As for a few runners-up, howzabout these shows, listed in no particular order whatsoever (and including more network shows than the list proper does): Boardwalk Empire (HBO). Louie (FX), Veep (HBO), Masters of Sex (Showtime), Jane the Virgin (CW), Silicon Valley (HBO), Modern Family (ABC), Rick & Morty (Adult Swim), Trophy Wife (ABC, who wrongfully cancelled it back in June), & The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon (NBC). There is also The Blacklist on NBC, but that is more James Spader than the show as a whole. Anyhoo, let's get on with things. Here is my countdown, with a pair of special mentions. Have at it!

Special Mention: Breaking Bad (AMC) - Yeah, yeah, I know, the final episode of Breaking Bad was waaay back in September of 2013, and therefore has no damn right to be on any sort of Best of 2014 list. No right whatsoever! But guess what? I'm including the bitch anyway! You see, I'm kind of a late-comer to the world of Walter White and the gang. The show ran for five seasons on AMC, but I didn't watch even a single episode until just this past Summer, where I binge-watched the whole kit-and-kaboodle. I know, I know, blasphemy. But hey, this late-to-the-game thing really makes Breaking Bad seem like a show that did run in the past calendar year, and so, with that in mind, I just had to slip it in here somewhere. So here it is. Now let's get on with the countdown proper, shall we?

Special Mention: The Best 7 Minutes of TV in 2014 (Comedy Central) - These seven minutes took place on one of the final episodes of The Colbert Report, as Stephen Colbert's show is suddenly hijacked by none other than the President of the United States. POTUS comes on and performs a pitch perfect portrayal of Colbert's The Word segment. Granted, as with any president, but especially with this one, President Obama, has his detractors, but I have never been one of them. This just makes his seven minute segment on The Colbert Report all the more funny, and dare I say, all the more genius. I'm sure POTUS did not actually write his segment, but he probably had a part in it, and he delivers it oh so well. But enough of these special mentions. Let's get on with the countdown.

20. The Killing (Netflix) - Based on a Danish TV series, The Killing first aired on AMC back in 2011, but was eventually picked up by Netflix for a third season of original episodes in 2013. The show is moody and brooding, and as anyone who knows me can attest, I love me some moody, brooding shit. It is a crime drama with a twisted sensibility. The show is similar, at least in mood, to the UK series, Broadchurch, which attempted a rather lackluster US remake called Gracepoint this past year, and in turn, influenced by Twin Peaks, again, at least in mood. This final season, consisting of just six episodes, wrapped up the series for good, and it will be missed.

19. Archer (FX) - This animated series just began its sixth season on FX, but it is its fifth season that we are here to discuss and praise today. This said fifth season actually had a change of pace, and setting from its first four. After the rise of the terrorist organization known as ISIS, the producers of Archer decided it was probably a good time as any to disband the show's spy organization known as, you guessed it, ISIS. The characters of the show then went their own ways, and became drug dealers. Taking a turn toward a satire on Miami Vice, jokingly calling itself Archer Vice, the show still kept its meta humour and sardonic pop culture-obsessed wit.

18. Derek (Netflix) - Made for Channel 4 in the UK, this Ricky Gervais creation made its US debut on Netflix in 2013. Its final season (or its final series, as is the term used for British programs) took place in 2014, with a final hour long special just last month. Gervais has said that the Derek character is the first time he's ever felt like he was acting, and not just doing some version of himself. As is par for the course on Britcoms, Derek is quite a dry witted show, and of course, as is also par the course, Gervais is heee-larious in the title role of the socially awkward retirement home care worker. Heee-larious.

17. Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox) - Yes, the new crop of sit-coms from the 2013-14 season had some high points. CBS's Mom, ABC's Trophy Wife (a show that due to bad scheduling, ended up not being renewed for a second season), and NBC's midseason replacement, About A Boy, are all three worthy of recognition. But it was FOX's Brooklyn Nine-Nine, the best comedy to show up on TV since Modern Family premiered six seasons ago, that takes the proverbial cake. One wouldn't normally think a cop show starring Andy Samberg would be all that great, but damn if it ain't. And hey, it's a network show too. Imagine that.

16. House of Cards (Netflix) - No one plays ruthless bastard better than Kevin Spacey, and that ability is smack dab front and freakin' center in this Netflix series. Playing a central figure/player in Washington politics (a no spoiler policy stops me from saying how high a player) Spacey wraps this series around his clenched fist. There is great acting throughout (Robin Wright is especially fantastic) but it is Spacey's ruthless bastard portrayal that makes the show fly as high as it does.

15. Sons of Anarchy (FX) - After seven seasons, FX's biker gang adaptation of Hamlet, has come to a final curtain call. This is a show I came to rather late (just this past year, finally) but as they say, better late than never. The show revolves around a gang of gun-running (amongst other sources of income) biker gang in California, and as I alluded to earlier, is a modern day adaptation of Hamlet. This is another one of those quality shows (The Walking Dead, Bates Motel, Orphan Black) that never got any real awards show love, but it damn well should have.

14. Transparent (Amazon Prime) - Now that TV is expanding beyond the idea of TV, with original programming on outlets such as Netflix and Hulu,Amazon has thrown their proverbial hat in the ole ring. Their first attempt is a pretty good one too. Transparent is a single camera situation comedy about a transgender father of three, who finally comes out to his now grown-up kids. Jeffrey Tambor, who is pretty much great in everything, plays the title character here, and once again, he is beyond great. Tambor's ability to garner both humour and pathos from any given situation, is front and center on display here. The show just won Golden Globes for Comedy and Actor. granted, this show has not been seen by that many, due to its run on the pay service of Amazon Prime, but the Globes should help to get people watching this, not only endearing and funny show, but an important show as well.

13. Penny Dreadful (Showtime) - Blending together everything from classic film and literary monsters, German Expressionism, and Steampunk aesthetics, and with a little bit of Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen tossed in for good measure, Penny Dreadful is a delightful piece of Grand Guignol filmmaking..er, I mean TV making. Oh, and on top of all this, we get Eva Green too. What more could one ask for?

12. Bates Motel (A&E) - This show doesn't ever get much attention when it comes to awards (Vera Farmiga has been robbed of her rightful Emmy!) but it damn well should. Based ever so loosely on Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (same characters but very different at the same time), with its small Northwestern town creepiness, it owes more of a debt to David Lynch's Twin Peaks - and that is just alright with this guy.

11. Fargo (FX) - At first, I thought the idea of adapting Fargo for television was a bad idea, even if the Coen Brothers were still involved, if only as producers. I figured they could not pull off what the Coens had done back in 1996. Boy was I wrong. Taking merely the name, and cold climate of the film, this TV adaptation, lasting 10 episodes, revolves around a small Minnesota town, and the characters of a meek insurance salesman, a small town deputy, an big(ish) city cop, and a hired killer. The latter is played by Billy Bob Thornton, in a role that makes me wish he was my best friend. Seriously, this assertion probably makes me seem a bit messed up in the head, but I'm sticking with it. Anyhoo, Fargo will be back with a second season, revolving around a different mystery and a different cast of characters.

10. Orange is the New Black (Netflix) - This was one of Netflix's first attempts at original programming, and one of the best. Actually, not one of Netflix's best, but THE best from Netflix. Part comedy, part drama (so split that it wavers on just which category it belongs in at awards shows), this women in prison show is a fun fun fun ensemble piece. What a great slew of fun fun fun characters, as well. And now season three is on its way. Should be another fun fun fun time, indeed.

9. Hannibal (NBC) - One of the few network shows on my list, Hannibal takes a different look at the characters from Thomas Harris' Red Dragon, and what a show. Sort of like the aforementioned Bates Motel, this show slants a different take on the iconic characters, and especially on that ever so infamous titular cannibal, played brilliantly by Mads Mikkelsen. Perhaps this is a good sign that maybe network programming isn't as dead as we all thought. Then again, it could just be a beautifully twisted fluke. Yeah, I'm going for the latter.

8. American Horror Story: Freak Show (FX) - We are currently just finishing up season four of this FX anthology series, and it's been a freakin' hoot. A freak show hoot, if you will. Each season of this show revolves around a different creepy scenario, often using many of the same actors, but in different roles. Well, mostly different roles. In my opinion, this season has been the best yet. It is sort of like if Douglas Sirk had remade Tod Browning's Freaks. Yup. How's that for a descriptive? I know I'm loving it. Jessica Lange and Sarah Paulson are especially wonderful. They say two heads are better than one. Trust me, if you watch the show, that last line was heee-larious.

7. Game of Thrones (HBO) - Magic, dragons, beheadings, and Peter 'Freakin' Dinklage. What more do you need to make a great show? Seriously, what else? There have been more than your usual backlash and complaints about Game of Thrones. Calling it too violent or misogynistic, the show certainly has its detractors and haters (haters always be hatin'), but I love the so-called ultra-violence. I love the dragons, and the dragon mothers. I love how dangerous it is to attend a wedding. I love it all.

6. Community (NBC) - Meta humour has always kinda been my thang, so when Community came around back in 2009, with its ultra meta take on pop culture (some might say annoyingly so - damn haters!) and its deconstruction of the situation comedy, I was quite taken. In fact, I can see myself in the show, in the form of Abed, the most meta of all the meta, and the most self-aware of the bunch. One can imagine me doing Troy and Abed's secret handshake right about now. Yup. 2014 ended up being the final season of the show on NBC. But not to worry true believers, for the show is not going away quite yet. Later this year, Community will return for their sixth, and most likely final season. And it will all be on Yahoo Screen, as they attempt to compete with Netflix and Hulu. I can't wait. Cool cool cool.

5. True Detective (HBO) - A new style of television programming these days is the anthology mini-series. Both Fargo and American Horror Story (seen earlier in our countdown) fall into this realm, as does HBO's True Detective. Here we get the story of a murder investigation, taking place over a seventeen year period. The performances of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson are wonderful, but it is the mood, the intensity of the show, made palpable by director Cary Fukunaga, that makes this such a great and powerful work. Later this year, True Detective will return with a brand new story and a brand new cast. Let's see if season two makes our list next year.

4. The Americans (FX) - Yet another FX show. This one revolves around a Soviet couple in the early 1980's, who have infiltrated US society, via middle class suburbia, and must live a lie in  order to serve their country. The show is as much about family as it is cold war politics, and it is in this juxtaposition that the show shines. What is more powerful, love of country or love of each other, and love of family? This is the question. An intense show, indeed, with more than mere espionage going for it, and it returns next week for season three. Woot woot!

3. Mad Men (AMC) - Mad Men will end its run this coming Spring, and it's been one hell of a run. When the show debuted back in 2007, it was one of the first TV shows that seemed like more of a movie theatre experience than what we have always thought of TV being. Don Draper, as played by Jon Hamm, is one of the sharpest characters on TV, and the show is one of the sharpest written shows around. But then, I suppose you already figured I thought such a thing, especially considering the show rests at number three on my countdown. But seriously, this show has been one of the finest shows of the past decade, and this final season has kept the quality of the show as high as it has ever been. It'll be sad to finally see it go.

2. Orphan Black (BBC America) - This is a show about clones. There are many clones. A dozen have been revealed so far, and most of these are played by Tatiana Maslany, in what is one of the (or several of the, as it were) finest performances in recent TV history, maybe in all of TV history. A performance that has been shamefully overlooked by almost every awards branch. Maslany's multiple portrayals in this intense, thrilling drama, is the highlight of a show already filled with great writing and production values. I know I can't wait for season three, coming in April.

1. The Walking Dead (AMC) - I suppose this shouldn't come as much of a surprise to any of my regular readers. Maybe the Emmy's don't give the show its due, but I am dammit! Beyond just mere zombie apocalypse fare, this show, based on Robert Kirkman's long running comic book series over at Image Comics, is less about the walking dead, and more about the survivors. In fact, technically speaking, it is not the dead (the term zombie is never used!) who are the title characters, but the survivors who are the true walking dead. Smartly written, with socio-political and philosophical undertones, The Walking Dead is actually the only show that I consider must see television. All the other shows I like, including of course, the other shows on this list, I find the time to watch on demand or in a binge-watching Netflix night, but The Walking Dead, is that one show I must watch on Sunday night at 9pm. Granted, season two is my personal fave of the show's five (so far) seasons, but the second half of season four and first half of season five (the 2014-aired eligible episodes for this list) are still some of the best TV on, um...on TV. End of story. Huzzah!

That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

4 comments:

  1. I have not seen most of these...Ok I have seen Mad Men and love it....that's it. I don't have Netflix and I don't have HBO and I am kind of done with all the negative...maybe my age is showing. If I turn on Murder She Wrote, we know I am done. I would like to see Freakshow and True Detective once. My hubby and I would place Downton Abbey as #1

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    1. I tried Downton Abbey, but I think I just fell asleep with boredom. ;)

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  2. Game of Thrones-my complaint is the same as South Park made. They keep promising dragons, but where are they? Really, my complaint is the general lack of magic. It's ramped up, but not nearly as much as I'd like.

    I haven't seen Penny Dreadful yet. It keeps getting higher and higher priority, the more people say about it. And, a mention of Alan Moore bumps it up a LOT. But, I'm watching less TV, now, and have a few seasons of too many other shows to watch.

    American Horror Story, I didn't watch the first two seasons because they were too much of a downer. And, 13 depressing episodes is a lot. But, Iris and I started watching it and something funny so we're watching it. I think the fourth season is better than the third, but I've only seen an episode or two.

    I was iffy about Orphan Black-a whole series about clones? But, they've done a lot with that idea.

    House of Cards. I usually try to watch the original version first. So, after deciding to watch this, I watched the UK version. I think the US version has more to it. But, I like the UK version's Francis more. The US version's Frank is pretty damned good, but the UK version is so much colder a bastard.

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    1. Yes, there could be more dragons. And yes, I suppose I would like to see it ramped up even more. Maybe then it would make it into the top 5.

      Penny Dreadful is fun...but I do tend to see Alan Moore in everything, so don't expect the connection to be anything more than a theoretical kind of thang.

      AHS, a downer? Maybe I'm just a bit twisted, cause I find all four seasons quite fun. Yeah, I'm probably a bit twisted.

      I was kinda iffy about Orphan Black too, but damn if it didn't wow the hell outta me.

      I haven't seen the UK House of Cards. I keep meaning to watch it, but I am really proficient in procrastination.

      Thanx for stopping by.

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