It’s time for my entry into the flood of year-end best-of lists!
I had a hell of a time narrowing my list down to just 11 shows (I couldn’t cut it to just 10! And you’ll see a bunch of honorable mentions at the end), there’s just so much terrific TV out there now. These are presented in alphabetical order because trying to rank them would have been damn near impossible.
Agents of SHIELD
I don’t think anyone would try to argue Agents of SHIELD was anything but decently entertaining TV in the early parts of 2014. And then, Captain America: The Winter Soldier came out, and it was a whole different ballgame. Since the release of that movie (and the destruction of SHIELD as we knew it), the show has operated on an entirely different level. The stakes are higher, the focus on a serialized story stronger, and the character development better. The new characters added in Season 2 (particularly Adrianne Palicki’s Bobbi Morse) helped give the team some new, interesting layers as well. It drives me crazy that the series doesn’t have a bigger audience because so many people gave up during the early episodes.
I spoke about my love of Broad City in one of my vlogs this summer, and it’s one of my most anticipated returning shows in 2015. I love everything about this show. It’s hilarious, quirky, and the perfect showcase for two brilliant young female comedians in Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson. They completely nail what it’s like to be young and living in New York City (in a somewhat heightened way, of course), and their friendship is a delight to watch.
I have written and vlogged about Brooklyn Nine-Nine a ton this year, so it’s appearance on this list shouldn’t be a huge surprise. It’s been my favorite comedy on the air for the bulk of the year. The ensemble is terrific – throw any combination of characters together and the show still works and gets laughs (it is very reminiscent of Michael Schur’s other show, Parks and Recreation in that way). Andre Braugher’s deadpan is a thing of beauty (his loud exclamation of HOT DAMN! was one of my favorite moments on TV all year). The show has also handled the Amy/Jake will-they-or-won’t they – which I was initially terrified would be an awful idea – in a really great way. They’re not leaning too heavily on it but are letting it exist in a way that feels right for both characters.
This show could have made the list solely for introducing me to the wonderfulness that is Alison Tolman, but it had so many other great things happening as well. The writing was fantastic, and completely nailed the tone of the Coen brothers movie without feeling like it was attempting to be a clone. The characters were quirky, the town felt weird, and it was the perfect winter setting. The casting was also terrific – Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Colin Hanks, and the aforementioned Tolman were all amazing. I’m still not sure they nailed the ending – the story was mainly about Molly Solverson (which was one of the things I loved about it), and to have it wrap up while largely leaving her on the outskirts seemed like a misstep. Either way, though, this was a terrific season of television and further proves the potential upside of short, mini-series-style series.
This show continued to baffle me with its ability to exist on network television this year. It’s gruesome, dark, twisted, and difficult to watch. It’s also the most gorgeously shot thing I’ve ever seen on TV. Bryan Fuller has such a clear vision for how this show should look and the feel of the show, even though it’s emotionally draining and horrific, is absolutely perfect for the story of Hannibal Lecter. Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy were both incredible again this year, as Hannibal and Will Graham danced around each other, trying to stay one step ahead of the other all season. The season finale was one of the more batshit insane cliffhanger endings I’ve ever seen, and I can’t wait to see where Fuller takes us in 2015.
Last Week Tonight
I’ve always loved John Oliver. I was thrilled when I heard he was getting his own show. I was not, however, sure how he was going to make it anything more than a Daily Show clone. I have never been happier to be proved so completely wrong. Last Week Tonight turned into its own extremely good, extremely important thing REMARKABLY quickly this year. Because of the format, Oliver and his staff were able to pick topics that were not otherwise covered (or not covered nearly as in depth) and give an interesting, informative, and funny take on them. And for once, a network embraced the internet – HBO put large chunks of every episode on YouTube, allowing Oliver to go viral on social media on a weekly basis. I can’t wait to see what he does in the coming year.
Orange is the New Black
When something starts as good as Orange is the New Black was in its first season, I always fear there’s going to be a letdown. That was not at all the case here. Season 2 more deeply developed many of the ensemble characters we’d barely gotten to know in our first year at Litchfield. Poussey, in particular, got a chance to shine. Rosa, who I don’t think I even knew by name coming into the second season, became an extremely sympathetic and relatable character as we learned more of her past. Vee was an amazingly effective “big bad” for the season, tearing Poussey and Taystee apart and giving Red a reason to get back to being the Red we knew and loved for most of season one. I think one of the greatest things the show did was pull back from Piper a little bit – this is no longer just her story, it’s all of these women’s stories.
It’s entirely possible I’m just a sucker for good female-driven comedy, but I adored Playing House. I am SO THRILLED that USA finally decided to give the series a second season last week after months of no renewal news. Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham play a truly believable and realistic set of life-long best friends, struggling with major life changes (and all the sometimes hilarious obstacles that come with it). The show is sweet, funny, and just a fun way to spend 22 minutes every week. Bonus points for Keegan-Michael Key!
Comedy Central is on fire right now with its original series. Review is just one more example of the unique and strange stuff the network is willing to invest in, and putting these sorts of comedy voices on TV is paying off in spades. Andy Daly is perfection as “life reviewer” Forrest MacNeil, and watching him spiral out of control as the show slowly takes over his life was darkly hilarious. There were very few things on TV this year that made me laugh as hard as the episode “Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes” – Forrest’s dead eyes when he’s downing his second “upsetting” number of pancakes is funny in a horrifying way. #thereallisaching
I’ve tried to write about Transparent a few different times since watching it earlier this fall, and I’ve utterly failed every time I tried. The show is heartfelt, raw, emotional, and completely terrific. Jeffrey Tambor gives one of the most incredible performances of the year. He should win an Emmy on the strength of the scene in “The Wilderness” in which Maura reacts to Leonard’s meltdown at dinner alone. The Pfeffermans feel like a real family, with real, serious issues – there’s no hiding the ugliness or the problems anywhere. Long story short: it’s an amazing series.
You’re the Worst
If you were following me on Twitter towards the end of the summer, you know I was briefly COMPLETELY OBSESSED with You’re the Worst. It may just be that I’m (relatively) recently single and dating for the first time in 7 years, so it speaks to many of my own insecurities in regards to relationships, but the show is terrific. It’s balances being truly sharp and funny with some fairly heavy emotional stuff (Gretchen and Jimmy’s commitment issues, Edgar’s PTSD, Lindsay’s infidelity) in a really great way. I love that the best friend characters feel like real people and have their own stuff to deal with, rather than just being cardboard cutouts for the leads to talk at sometimes. Aya Cash and Chris Geere also have INSANE chemistry and make the Gretchen and Jimmy relationship one that you are instantly invested in, even if the characters might not be. This show surprised the hell out of me this year in the best way possible.
Bojack Horseman (darkly funny in all the right ways), The Flash (a refreshing entry to superhero TV), The Leftovers (bleak, but extremely moving when it was firing on all cylinders), Mad Men (split season hurt, but the last couple eps were terrific, especially “The Strategy”), Masterchef Junior (could easily been cheap and exploitative, instead is sweet and fun), Orphan Black (stumbled a bit in season 2 but is still terrific and Tatiana Maslany is still a magician), Sleepy Hollow (also stumbled a bit in season 2, but character dynamics are still among my favorite on TV)
What were your favorite shows in 2014?