To say that there has been an abundance of good television shows this year is an understatement. I really wanted to make this list a top 20, then thought maybe 15, considered 12 for a moment, before realizing that it would only be right to narrow it down to just ten and give honorable mentions to all the shows that did not make the final cut. Is that cheating? Maybe. But so what. Here we go with honorable mentions (and for the record, there are no spoilers for any show):
Honorable Mentions: Comedies
Louie (FX) – Always great and this year’s episode of “And so did the fat lady” was perhaps my favorite half-hour of television this year. Just a fantastic job by Louis C.K and guest star, Sarah Baker, a thoughtful, smart and funny 30 minutes that everyone should find and watch.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (FOX) – The only network comedy I can stand to watch right now and it consistently makes me laugh every week.
Last Week Tonight (HBO), The Daily Show (Comedy Central) – John Oliver’s new show on HBO did a wonderful job of mixing the way The Daily Show covers topics in the news, with the way, The Bugle, Oliver’s podcast, finds important stories that are not being covered by the mainstream outlets. Meanwhile, Jon Stewart’s Daily Show remains the go-to place for coverage of everything that is going on in the political world and beyond.
Silicon Valley (HBO) – Well put together show and enjoyable first season, but it was not must-see like the comedies that did make the list.
Transparent (Amazon) – The hardest omission from the top ten and one I desperately wanted to find a way to include it in the list. Jeffrey Tambor is absolutely brilliant in the leading role, but the supporting cast is also fantastic and I watched the entire season within a week.
Honorable Mentions – Dramas
Mad Men (AMC), Homeland (Showtime) – Both of these shows have been among my favorites in previous years, but neither had strong overall seasons in 2014. The second half of Mad Men and a string of five Homeland episodes were among the best installments of any show this year. However, I seriously wondered why I was still watching Mad Men during the opening few weeks of the half-season, while I was outright hate-watching Homeland until it suddenly got good again.
Boardwalk Empire (HBO) – It was not the best season of this once-great gangster story, but it was good enough to give a fitting finale to the show. The penultimate episode was one of the most entertaining hours of television in 2014.
The Affair (Showtime) – I thought this was a compelling and excellent new show, though to be fair, I will always watch McNulty (Dominic West) in a leading role. Throw in any actors from The Wire and you can usually guarantee I will be in…except if it is a show about zombies (sorry The Walking Dead fans, you’ll not see that in my top 10…or Game of Thrones – all of my favorite shows take place in a version of the real world). The split-narrative of The Affair could have turned out to be clunky after the opening episode, but it was handled brilliantly and gave the show a unique story-telling device. Alongside Dominic West, Ruth Wilson is also great as the other participant in the affair that gives the show its title.
Sherlock (BBC/PBS) – My wife and I did not watch any of the Benedict Cumberbath/Martin Freeman version of Sherlock Holmes until this January, so it was tempting for me to include it. However, the three episodes that were released in 2014 were not as good as what had come before, so it drops down to honorable mentions.
Justified (FX) – A really fun show every year, but next year’s final run of episodes with a much-anticipated showdown between Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder could find it crack the top 10 in 12 months’ time.
The Missing (BBC/Starz) – Another import from the UK, the first hour of The Missing was an incredibly hard show to get through, not because it was bad, but because of the harrowing nature of the subject matter. James Nesbitt stars as the father of a boy who goes missing in France in 2006 and the duel narratives between present day and the events from eight years earlier are incredibly well intertwined.
Onto the main list.
My Top 10 TV Shows of 2014
10. Short Poppies (Netflix) – An absolutely brilliant show that most people will not yet have watched, with the entire season available to stream on Netflix Instant. It features a journalist – David Farrier – as the host of a mockumentary detailing life in a small New Zealand town. Each of the first seven episodes focuses on a different resident, all seven of which are played by Rhys Darby (Murray from Flight of the Conchords). Both Darby and Farrier are fantastic and I urge everyone to check out this fantastic show.
9. House of Cards (Netflix) – Although many people were down on the second season of this political drama, I completely enjoyed this year’s action once again. I covered the season every few episodes and all of those reviews can be found here, but the one thing I can say is that when I was watching it, I expected it to finish even higher on this list than 9th place. However, other shows usurped it for me and not just because of the timing of when I watched them.
8. Veep (HBO) – Armando Ianucci’s smart political comedy is the perfect blend of superb acting and impeccable writing. Every single week the creative swearing and abuse the characters direct at each other are poetically brilliant, while the situations in which Vice President Selina Meyer finds herself make you squirm. So many times we have to rewind Veep to catch up with lines we have missed because we have been laughing so hard.
7. Orange is the New Black (Netflix) – It was a tricky challenge for the makers of Orange is the New Black to come back a year after their show had received so much praise for its first season and match the quality. However, they managed to do that and this year’s 13 episodes were as good as last year’s. This was not on my top 10 list show in 2013 for the simple reason that we did not get around to watching it until this year, but it definitely would have been included otherwise.
6. Fargo (FX) – When I heard that they were making a television series of the movie Fargo (which they did not exactly do, but it did take place in the same world) I was very skeptical about it being any good. Nevertheless, it was a fantastic opening year for the show and the performances of Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton and Colin Hanks all helped make it great. What helped take it to the next level was Alison Tolman, whose performance as Molly Solverson, a cop investigating the events from the opening episode, was among the best of the year.
5. Derek (Netflix) – It is a testament to the quality of the first season of Derek that I considered this year’s six episodes to be a slight decline, while also placing it as my top comedy of 2014. The heart, humor and humanity that Ricky Gervais brings in the form of Derek is sheer brilliance and again it was a show that made me laugh, cry, and be a better person. That’s quite an achievement for just 22 minutes per installment.
4. Sons of Anarchy (FX) – Another show that ended in 2014, the gloves were most definitely off in the final year of the drama centered on Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club. Kurt Sutter was thankfully immune to criticism from critics who always wanted the show to be something other than pulp fiction. What Sutter did produce was seven years of high-octane entertainment, with fantastic characters and acting making the show the one I looked forward to watching more than any other in 2014. Without spoiling anything, the penultimate episode included a sequence where Jimmy Smits was reacting to information he was being told over the phone. We cannot hear what is being said (though we already know what it is), but it would be hard to find a better minute and a half of acting anywhere on television this year.
3. True Detective (HBO) – From the great performances of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, to the winding plot and the stunning six minute single track shot to end the episode, True Detective had a brilliant opening year. The only reason it did not end up as my number one show was the disappointing final episode, which took away some of what had come before. That was only personal preference, however, as the finale wasn’t badly done, just a little saccharine – a bit like the novel “Life of Pi”, which I really enjoyed as a whole, but hated the ending. It was also awesome to see Brother Mouzone as one of the detectives interviewing Rust and Marty – ahhh Wire alums!
2. Hannibal (NBC) – Now, when I think about the definitive version of the Hannibal Lecter books, it is this television series that I consider the best, usurping even The Silence of the Lambs and Manhunter movies that I absolutely loved. This latest season of Hannibal was intriguing, gory, convoluted and fantastic – it is amazing that this show is on a network channel, not a premium cable one.
1. The Newsroom (HBO) – It is finally time to proclaim that Aaron Sorkin is a genius. His ability to subtly include his own views in the words of his characters, all the while creating a fascinating narrative…okay I am joking. The final few episodes of The Newsroom were more sanctimonious bullshit that made every character stand on a soap box, even when they were preaching to victims of rape about how their story lacked believability.
The Newsroom (HBO) The Americans (FX) – Another show that entered its second season attempting to match the heights it had achieved in its freshman year. The Americans had no trouble doing that, in fact, it actually improved and was my favorite show of 2014. Both Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys are fantastic as KGB spies pretending to be a normal married couple in the suburbs of Washington D.C. The show was always going to be in my wheel house – during my degree I took courses on both United States and Soviet politics – but the execution is superb and the first two seasons rank among my favorite all time television shows. I cannot wait for new episodes in the first part of 2015.