As usual, plenty of stuff I didn’t catch up on in 2014 (I’m only just now getting into Orange Is the New Black). But from what I did see, here’s what stood out…
10. Teen Wolf
Yes. Teen Wolf. That movie with Michael J. Fox. Turned into an amazing TV show by Jeff Davis. Yes. Amazing. Well, by Season Three anyway. Season Four, which aired in 2014, wasn’t quite as amazing, but still delivered the goods, including an outstanding cast (especially Maze Runner breakout star Dylan O’Brien), clever writing, and moody direction by Duran Duran music video vet Russell Mulcahy (whom I celebrate here, he really did some wacky/astounding shit back in the day).
While not as solid as Season Two – due to a very problematic season opener – the most recent season of Sherlock provided much of the same great writing and performances and, to boot, a worthy successor to Moriarty in Lars Mikkelsen’s deliciously evil Charles Augustus Magnussen.
8. Silicon Valley
In what could have easily been a one-note nerdfest or, worse yet, a completely inaccessible inside baseball wormhole, Silicon Valley instead remembered to deliver jokes. Jokes that were funny because they were funny, not because you did or didn’t know one thing or another about the startup universe. That having been said, it was eerily accurate in its portrayal of the characters and rituals that populate that world, and skewered them appropriately. Mike Judge has still got it.
7. Boardwalk Empire
Sometimes, not often, but sometimes a show knows exactly when and how to end. With a season-long arc that flashed back to our anti-hero’s origins in Atlantic City (with an uncannily Buscemi-esque turn by Marc Pickering) Empire managed to take us out by showing us things we already knew in a way that made them fresh and relevant, while still surprising us in the end. Also gave us one of the most succinct dissections of male privilege when one character says to her male business partner, “Imagine all of the things you want in life. Now imagine yourself in a dress.”
6. True Detective
Though it certainly drew on genre tropes from serial killer narratives and film noir, Detective still managed to create a unique tone, feel, and structure and introduce a singularly fascinating nihilist protagonist to tie it all onto. Not to mention directorial style to spare (witness the incredibly long, action packed tracking shot from “Who Goes There”).
5. Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey
It could have just been Neil DeGrasse Tyson standing there spouting science and it would’ve been interesting (trust me, I’ve seen him stand there and spout science). But they went and put on a show with an Alan Silvestri (Back to the Future) score and Bill Pope (The Matrix) cinematography and excellent animation and location shoots all to hammer home the value (and diversity) of science.
4. Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Brooklyn Nine-Nine suffered no sophomore slump as it launched into its second year. If anything it picked up momentum with established characters and relationships upon which to build and experiment and emerged as the most consistently funny show on television.
A long overdue exploration of the history of feminism and its struggles and gains in contemporary America. Smartly broken up into an overall look at the struggle and a vertical-specific, if you will, episodic look at women in the military, government, business, Hollywood, etc. Even the episode I was personally the least invested in actually ended up being one of the best. It’s all available on the Makers site which has plenty more to offer in addition to the series itself.
2. Game of Thrones
I should be sick now of dragons and swords and Grand-Guignol levels of douchebaggery, but I’m really not. Part of the reason is that showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss keep finding interesting ways to use those tropes to comment on power, mortality, family, obligation, and more. Part of the reason is withering speeches (link is spoilery) like the one Peter Dinklage delivers in “The Laws of Gods and Men.” Part of the reason is just Peter Dinklage, period. Part of the reason is clever-ass foreshadowing that you don’t even realize is foreshadowing (link is even spoiler-ier). But it all comes together into one of the most entertaining, if occasionally harrowing, hours of television currently on-air.
1. Last Week Tonight
There was a lot of skepticism when John Oliver launched his weekly mock-news show on HBO. How could he possibly improve upon his alma mater? How could he stay current when he only aired once a week? Wasn’t this a step backwards?
I was actually psyched to see what would happen when a comedy news organization had a full week to digest what had happened the week before. And while Oliver delivered on that psyched-ness, he brought something to the table that I didn’t expect. Investigative journalism. He also baked in a prankster/activist element that made good use of the web, a rarity in television. What results is the must-watch (or must catch up Monday morning on YouTube – another platform of which they made excellent use) show of the season, if only to be smarter and to laugh, two things we desperately needed in 2014.
Honorable Mentions: Outlander, Fargo, Orphan Black, Agents of Shield, Doctor Who, Bob’s Burgers, The Walking Dead, Parks and Recreation