My Top 10 TV Shows of 2014

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

Louis C.K and Sarah Baker combined for seven amazing minutes of television on Louie
Louis C.K and Sarah Baker combined for seven amazing minutes of television on Louie

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.

Jeffrey Tambour has his best role of an incredible career in Transparent
Jeffrey Tambour has his best role of an incredible career in Transparent

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.

In my mind, McNulty moved to Brooklyn from Bawlmore and vacations in Montauk
In my mind, McNulty moved to Brooklyn from Bawlmore and vacations in Montauk

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. Continue reading

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My Top Ten TV Shows of 2013

Such was the abundance of good shows that aired in 2013 – which included the conclusion of my second favorite program of all time –  I have an “honorable mentions” list  that is nearly as long as my top 10 list, but I wanted to stick to a round ten rather than expand it to (SEO and all that jazz).  A side note, I have heard great things about the Netflix show Orange is the New Black and Showtime’s Masters of Sex, but I have not had the opportunity to watch either as yet so they will be absent from my top 10 list.

Honorable mentions

Top of the Lake: A beautifully directed, compelling show set in New Zealand and starring Elisabeth Moss, I enjoyed Sundance’s first foray into original programming, but it was a little heavy going and when a couple of episodes piled up on the DVR, it felt like something of a chore to get through, rather than the enjoyment that other shows provided.

The VP...and some former Senator from Delaware
The VP…and some former Senator from Delaware

Veep –  Creator Armando Iannucci’s imaginative use of swearing is the highlight of this show, but there is plenty more beyond that, including Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s hilarious performance as the Vice-President.  It also gave me my favorite line of the year: VP Meyer had been consistently telling Jonah – on one of his many visits to the office “on behalf” of the President – to f*ck off, then bates him once more:

Meyer: So let me get something straight, you like to have sex and travel?

Jonah: (Enthusiastically) Yes!

Meyer: (Mouths) So F*CK OFF

Justified – The search for Drew Thompson was not a bad plot, but the best part of Justified is when Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) and Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) share screen time, which they just did not do enough of this time around.  It continued to provide a thoroughly enjoyable hour of television each week however, but unlike last year, this time it did not crack into my top 10.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart  – And in particular, the guest host stint by John Oliver when the main guy was directing a movie over the summer.  Oliver is a fantastic comedian and proved himself adept in the big chair, something that has earned him his own show on HBO in 2014 – his writing and correspondent gigs on The Daily Show will be missed.

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee – The web series from Jerry Seinfeld was once again fantastically funny and an enjoyable way to spend twenty minutes.  All of the guests in season two were hilarious, but the Chris Rock installment was my favorite and I cannot wait for the new episodes to come on, starting on January 2nd.

Arrested Development – The much-anticipated return of Arrested Development finally happened for real in May, when 14 new episodes were released on Netflix to a mixed critical response.  While they were not as good as the first two seasons of the show – I thought the third year, when they were focusing a lot on the fact that they were being cancelled, was less funny – the new episodes when considered as a whole were clever, witty and enjoyable, plus they provided closure for all of those who wanted the show to be brought back.  Of course, they still might make that movie…

Treme – With non-stop action this year…just kidding, the pace of David Simon’s most recent television show remained slow throughout the five episodes of the final season, but that was part of what was enjoyable about the look at the New Orleans music and culture scenes after Hurricane Katrina hit the city.  Despite a shortened run, Simon still took the time to let us enjoy some extended moments, most notably: Davis having a multitude of musicians into the radio station to perform a live version of “Sing Sing Sing”; and the goodbye to Albert Lambreaux from his family and fellow Indians at the start of the finale.

Dishonorable Mentions

Dexter – I had seen the first half of the final season when they first aired, but then did not have Showtime for a few months and, even though I could now go back and watch the finale, I have not found the will or motivation to do so, such was the poor quality of the last few years of this once great show.

Bates Motel – I am a fan of Hitchcock’s original movie and the A&E series about Norman Bates’ early life sounded much better than it turned out to be.

(Major spoilers for all of the shows listed so do not read on if you do not want the latest seasons ruined)

Top 10 List

10. Hello Ladies

Of all the shows I watched this year, none made me laugh as much as Hello Ladies, the new HBO show by co-creator of The Office, Stephen Merchant.  The supporting cast – in particular Nate Torrance – were funny, but it was Merchant’s performance as Stuart Pritchard that was the standout aspect of the show, which borrowed some of the material from his standup tour of the same name.    Hello Ladies continues the tradition of  The Office and Extras of providing harsh, painfully funny situations – the type of humor that will not always be to everybody’s taste, but makes me crack up – but it does slightly surprise me that out of Merchant and Ricky Gervais, it is the former who made a show like this, while the latter made a bittersweet one about kindness (see number 5).

9. Mad Men

This was the only show that I attempted to do episodic reviews of in 2013 – though I saw the final two episodes late and did not get the opportunity to complete the season recaps – but ultimately Mad Men has shifted to a program that I enjoy watching, but do not think it will ever reach the standard it set in its first few years.  Perhaps my lack of enthusiasm with the ending was because I was convinced that this year’s run of episodes was leading up to the death of Megan Draper – who seemed to be drowned out by sirens whenever she spoke – and was disappointed to be wrong (not because I wanted the character out of it, I just thought I had found some hidden clues).  Nevertheless, the Bob Benson/Pete Campbell storyline was fantastic, Don Draper’s Hershey pitch was also brilliantly done and Mad Men remained one of the better written and acted shows on television, the only thing it falls down on is by comparison to its own first three seasons. Continue reading

My Top 10 TV Shows of 2012

As the year comes to a close, here are my top ten shows of 2012, with an honourable mention to The Daily Show, which made my list last year and remains outstanding, as well as Wilfred and Life’s Too Short that were on the fringes of making the top 10.

General Gyp Rossetti
General Gyp Rossetti

10. Boardwalk Empire

While HBO’s Boardwalk Empire did not reach the heights of last season’s epic power struggle between Jimmy Darmody and Nucky Thompson, this year’s conflict between the show’s anti-hero and his new adversary, Gyp Rossetti (Bobby Cannavale) built to a crescendo with the final few episodes being amongst the best the series has done.  However, the first half of the run struggled to accommodate Boardwalk’s large cast effectively and great characters such as Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams), Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon) and Richard Harrow (Jack Huston) were not utilised as much as I would have hoped in the early part of the season.

tom_haverford_20399. Parks and Recreation

I was a late comer to NBC’s Parks and Recreation and only caught up with the show around this time last year.  Nevertheless, it has quickly become one of my favourite comedies, even though I did not feel that the run of episodes that were aired in 2012 matched the heights of seasons 2 and 3.  Leslie Knope’s campaign for City Council had hits moments (especially her debate against Bobby Newport, played by Paul Rudd) but it did not provide the comedic heights that the show has reached before when the gang were fully involved in resolving a minor problem in the Parks Department of Pawnee, Indiana.

8. The Hour

BBC America’s The Hour has not yet completed its second season, but the five episodes (of six) that have been shown in 2012 have surpassed the level that the show reached in its debut last year.  With the spy story element now complete, The Hour has been able to focus on immersing us in 1950s London and that has made it stronger.  Peter Capaldi – known to those who have watched The Thick of It or In the Loop as the foul-mouthed Malcolm Tucker – has joined as the much more mild-mannered, but equally persuasive, Randall Brown, further strengthening an already excellent cast.

7. Justifiedjustified-olyphantpg-vertical

Like Boardwalk Empire, Justified’s third season did not reach the level’s of its second, mainly due to the absence of Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale), but it still remained one of the most watchable shows on television this year.  Any time that US Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) shares the screen with Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), Justified is electrifying viewing and with Ellstin Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson) now in the mix, season 4 – which premieres on FX January 8th – promises to be as compelling as the show’s first three years.

6. Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee

The concept is as simple as it gets – Jerry Seinfeld drives a classic car, picks up a fellow comedian and takes them to get a coffee.  I came to this web series to watch the episode with Ricky Gervais, but was instantly hooked and would wait for each week’s new episode with as much anticipation as any show that was on network or cable television this year.  The installments with Gervais and Larry David are where to start, but the one with Colin Quinn and Mario Joyner is perhaps the best, while the “season finale” with Michael Richards was fascinating and moving.  I have never been an aficionado of web series before, but this one is a great modern-day view of Seinfeld, better even that the funny Twitter feed @Seinfeldtoday.   Continue reading

Sons of Anarchy Season 5 – Episodes 2 and 3

Life on the inside deals a blow to SAMCRO

Within the first three episodes of the start of the fifth season of Sons of Anarchy (Tuesdays, 10pm on FX) the show has unleashed a ruthlessness it had previously shied away from and has become even more compelling to watch as a result.  There will be some (major) spoilers here through to the end of last week’s hour, so do not read on if you are not caught up with the show.

Episode 2

Following on from the brutality of the season premiere, the second hour of this year returned to a familiar premise for the Sons to deal with, complicated circumstances restricting their movement, while they tried to deal with other matters.  On this occasion, they faced the threat of jail as Damon Pope had found witnesses willing to state they had seen Jax and Chibs carry out a shooting on the freeway, as well as someone who could identify Tig as the man who had killed Pope’s daughter.  Before they gave themselves up to the authorities, the trio needed to ensure they get protection on the inside from affiliates of the One-Niners and find Tig’s other daughter, Fawn, before she ended up suffering the same fate as a her sister at the hands of Pope.

In previous years, the show may have found a way for the characters to work their way out of all forms of trouble but this time – while the short-term goals were achieved – the risks to their safety were still very much present.  Fawn was found – companionating with her boyfriend, whom Tig incorrectly thought was connected to the One-Niners – and given money to get out of town until it was safe; while the CIA/Carter double act used their contacts to secure the safety of Jax, Chibs and Tig in prison.  However, there was no fast quashing of the chargers by Romeo and the RICO case still hangs over the club, though only Jax and Bobby are aware of that particular threat. Continue reading

Sons of Anarchy Season 5 Episode 1 – Sovereign

Jax is in a circle

Sons of Anarchy (FX, Tuesdays 10pm) returned on Tuesday night to start the fifth season of a show that can loosely be described as “Hamlet on Motorcycles”.  Last year’s run of episodes saw SOA return to form – after a disappointing third season – and it ended up third in my list of the top shows of 2011.  By the end of the finale, Jackson “Jax” Teller had taken over as the head of SAMCRO (Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Redwood Original), usurping his step-father, Clay Morrow, whom he discovered had been responsible for his Dad’s death.  However, because a gun deal between the IRA and a Mexican cartel Clay had been orchestrating was being secretly arranged by the CIA, Jax found himself in a position where he could not yet avenge his father’s death – nor allow his friend, Opie (whose Dad, Piney, Morrow had also killed) to do the same.

Season five takes up the story a few weeks after all of that action had taken place: Jax is now President of SAMCRO and has fully taken on his father’s mantle by writing a memoir for his children, Abel and Thomas, to read some day; much like the manuscript of his Dad’s that he discovered in the pilot episode.  At the beginning of the premiere, Teller is leading the bikers on a drug run for the Mexican cartel, but the cargo gets ambushed by members of the One-Niners – an African-American gang out of Oakland, whose leader’s daughter was murdered by Tig Trager as supposed revenge for the shooting of Clay, which was actually carried out by Opie.  The result is that Jax has been put into an impossible position: he must work to get the gun deal done with the Irish – who will not deal with anyone but Clay – and the Mexicans, who have two secret CIA agents working with them; if he fails, then his club will face RICO charges and most of its members will end up in prison, meaning SAMCRO is unlikely to survive; he cannot have his first-choice Vice-President, Opie, because of Clay’s continued presence at the table; and he is trying to negotiate all of this whilst subduing his own thirst for revenge of his father’s death and trying to make peace with the One-Niners.  Jax has also been able to negotiate with the CIA for the release of Bobby Munson – who had been ratted out by Otto – but is unable to explain how this was possible to the club, raising the suspicions of Clay. Continue reading