2014 in the Tube
As the years of my life tick by like eternal steps down the gang plank of the proverbial pirate ship of my slowly decaying life it seems as though the TV gets more dominant and the big screen gets less and less dominant. Just a few years ago the idea of having a show like Game of Thrones with a budget the size of a Hollywood blockbuster or Marco Polo with its John Carter-esque dollars for quality payoff would have made the front office of HBO and Netflix laugh themselves to death. But today in 2014 there is nothing like a huge television hit, the payoff is more sustained than a film and the audience is far wider with the rising movie ticket prices. Which shows took the cake this year in the dominant medium?
I’m not going to lie to your face upfront; I watch everything, everything…. Except I haven’t been able to catch The Americans or Hannibal to an extent that I would feel comfortable speaking on their quality. I mention these in particular because from what I’ve heard about them and the little I’ve seen there is a chance that they could have made the list if I had been doing my fucking due diligence. But yes… other than that if it’s not here it’s because it just wasn’t good enough—sorry Orange is the New Black fans.
20: New Girl
Admittedly this spot could have been handed to one of two Fox sitcoms, and while Brooklyn Nine-Nine is stronger overall than New Girl the latter outdoes it at its best tenfold. Zooey Deschanel is not only unfunny she is insufferably annoying, which you would think would be the end of any show named New Girl in which she is the main-ish character. But the show managed to do the one thing most sitcoms can’t they avoided turning the will-they-won’t-they story into the demise of the show itself and Nick, Winston, Coach, and Schmidt are enough funny and have enough on-screen chemistry to make up for Jess.
19: Bob’s Burgers
With Archer Vice being kind of a disappointment overall Bob’s Burgers takes the crown as the TV’s best animated show, H. Jon Benjamin probably isn’t all that broken up about the switch. Bob’s is quirky, well-written, and oddly enough for Fox’s animated shows nothing like The Simpsons. The mixture of irreverence and plain weirdness works really well for Bob and his family at the family owned burger joint.
18: Happy Valley
In a world inundated by particularly crappy police shows during a summer that gave us some of the worst piece of shit signature shows we’ve ever seen, the British cop drama Happy Valley was an oasis. Happy Valley is nothing special conceptually, its the story of police sergeant, Catherine Cawood whose small rural town gets terrorized by a brutal series of crimes. The show gets its charm from Sally Wainwright’s brilliant storytelling technique and Sarah Lancashire’s stellar performance.
17: The Wrong Mans
I’m not sure when the first season made its trip to American television—if it was actually in 2014 or not—I can’t remember that far back. But that doesn’t matter because the second season is off to a roaring start and because it’s been relegated to the ugly step-child of the internet, Hulu no one heard about it before 2014 anyway. The Wrong Mans is a surprisingly well-done action comedy starring two very unfortunate Englishmen. The show lives and dies on the on-screen chemistry of James Corden and Mathew Baynton which is good because it’s been working out well so far.
16: Doctor Who
Peter Capaldi’s first season taking over for a personal favorite, doctor number 11, Matt Smith went exceptionally well. Usually the growing pains of new Doctors detract from the show but this doctor’s shtick worked really well with Capaldi settling into the role himself. Clara got a redemptive story arc that turned her into an actually interesting character and we saw stellar Who stories like “Listen” and “Flatline.”
15: Orphan Black
Black Mirror’s smarter sister follows up an excellent premiere season with an even better sophomore one. There isn’t much to say about this show if you haven’t seen it before, Tatiana Maslany is fantastic and as far as TV mysteries go this is one of the only that is completely unpredictable.
14: Broad City
One of the few “sister comedies” that isn’t depressing as fuck. Few stories of girls in New York are both realistic and fun and don’t spend 20 minutes every week hating their female subjects. Ilana Glazer completely outpaces her co-star, Abbi Jacobson which is saying a lot because Jacobson herself is hilarious. Like its two co-creators/co-stars the show is unapologetically hilarious which is weird to see out of a cable comedy.
13: Peaky Blinders
Honestly what is there not to love about this show? It’s Gangs of New York, in England, with better dialogue. It always amazes me how gangster movies and TV shows manage to be so much about the art of conversation when there is no doubt in my mind that of all the gangsters that ever lived, only six of them ever had anything clever to add to a conversation.
12: Penny Dreadful
A show unlike any other on TV right now, Penny Dreadful stands apart from the pack with its dark and bleak tone. The British-American produced horror TV show is one of the few of the genre that manages to avoid the trap that comes with serial horror story telling. It rides on the back of its stellar cast, starring Eva Green and Josh Hartnett and the cast does amazingly well with the, at times, mediocre storyline.
11: You’re the Worst
The best, by far, of FX’s adult comedies. High concept comedy of a romantic comedy of when two assholes fall in love. Normally I’m very anti-romcoms, there’s little more to be done in a genre that’s been beaten to death over the last 40 years. But this is one of the few that continues to charm—it helps that Aya Cash and Chris Geere have some of the best chemistry on TV today.
10: Masters of Sex
It is unsurprising that that for a show who’s first season got exponentially better as it went on that the second season would be this strong. “Fight” is one of the best episodes of any show this year and is the premiere moment of an incredible season.
9: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Normally this list would be very much free of variety shows and late night TV and all that. Normally that would be the case, but there is something so special about what John Oliver and his team at HBO are doing that there is very little I could have logically done to keep them off this list. Every Sunday for over half a year John Oliver put on the highlights reel version of John Stewarts show and broke the internet in the process.
8: Silicon Valley
The funniest cast on TV had to make this list. Eight episodes might not have been enough to get full stride on this show but it still had a monster showing in an incredible spot following Game of Thrones. I’m just happy to see the boys in Paolo Alto returning for what I hope will be an equally well-done season.
7: Mad Men
The first half of Mad Men’s final season aired in the early months of 2014. There was much tribulation about this season—choosing to use the exact same gimmick that that they had with Breaking Bad as well as the stories coming from Matthew Wiener—there was little hope we’d see a conclusion this show so rightfully deserved. The first season episodes did not disappoint though, this may have been the best season we’ve seen from Mad Men since the first—when we all still loved Betty.
6: The Knick
All hail Steven Soderbergh. No really. Of the twenty shows on this list, The Knick is the only one that is unlike any other show that has ever been on TV. Even if we discount the story and the subject matter and the shows tackling of race and gender issues in a real way, the production quality alone puts it among the elite on television today.
Yeah motha fucka! Top five! Say something about it! And just to piss you off, I’m just going to leave it here, no explanation, no synopsis, no reasoning, no—fucking—nothing.
I know you’re still recovering from that drive-by that just happened at number five, I’d apologize but I don’t want to. But here we are, 2014’s best comedy Louie CK does it once again. With a brilliantly done season, even despite the crowded nature of production the FX forced upon him. I can’t imagine a more ambitious season from a self-proclaimed “sitcom” and it paid off so well, the Elevator storyline alone was a work of genius.
3: Game of Thrones
If you’re here, it means you’re not under a rock. Which also means you ran into the behemoth that is Game of Thrones at least once this year. Following one of its more infuriating seasons GoT continued to take no prisoners and make no apologies. Also, Peter Dinklage.
Arguably this year’s most fun show, Fargo managed to keep the wit and integrity of the Cohen brother’s dark comedic masterpiece while not feeling like a cheap imitation capitalizing on former success (*cough cough* Gracepoint, oh and Skins, House of Cards, Coupling, Elementary, actually basically everything the Americans have done way worse than the British). Fargo also sports the best ensemble cast on TV bar none.
Admittedly it might just not be fair at this point. At this point it is seeming less and less likely that in a year where we get a Sherlock season it won’t be the best show on TV. When you have two of the best five television actors on the same show and your show is essentially just three movies per season there isn’t much the 24-episode 44 minute crowd can do to complete. It’s like running a marathon against Kenyans—really you should just be trying not to get your time doubled, you’re not going to win.