Monday, February 2, 2015

End-Of-Year: Favorite 2014 TV Shows, Part 2

Happy Monday! So, I already picked my favorite TV performances as well as listed Part 1 of my TV rankings. As we head into the second month of 2015, I can now present to you...

My Top Fifteen TV Shows of 2014

15. The Americans - Everything I loved about the show in its freshman season--the cool Cold War spy stuff, the subtle period stylings, the interplay between work and family--was still around in its sophomore season. But this time around the actors are even better with even crazier, more emotionally hefty storylines that revolved around family and what that actually entails when lies and secrets take over. I would also be remiss if I didn't praise the phenomenal work that Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys are both doing, in and out of their ridiculous wigs.

14. The Leftovers - This unique post-apocalyptic tale based on the novel of the same name seemed like a tough sell. It dealt with a world suffering from the effects of the disappearance of 2% of the world's population. It's a tough sell, because it's undeniably bleak and its initial focus on one small town created the added sense of claustrophobia. Weirdly, all of that worked for me and while it wasn't a perfect show by any means I was still awestruck by the imaginative storytelling and the commitment of the cast to bring this world alive in their small ways. This show wasn't for everyone, but I couldn't stop thinking about it.

13. In the Flesh - Its first season was a top 10 pick for me last year and while this second season didn't reach the emotional high of the previous season, it still packed a wallop. The ebb and flow of the town's feelings to the PDS (or rotters) among them was still a great source of drama as we continue to see this world through Kieran's eyes. A little bit of romance and a little bit of a tragic end makes me even more disappointed that we're not getting a third season.

12. Faking It - This MTV show was a pleasant discovery via Tumblr and I'm so glad I tuned in. It revolves around two girls who are best, best friends who pretend to be lesbians to gain popularity at their super liberal high school only for one of the girls to realize she actually is a lesbian and is in love with her best friend. The concept is ridiculous befitting the show's mostly irreverent, sarcastic tone and yet most of its storylines, including the complicated relationship between the two leads, are handled with surprising deft and heart.

11. Parks and Recreation - I'm writing this in the midst of the series' final season (spoiler alert: they are killing it), so I may be biased but I still thought the latter half of season six was damn good. Maybe it's because no matter what I just enjoy hanging out so much with this show and its cast so even a weak episode or plot line here or there doesn't matter much. Plus the two-part finale was one for the ages with the Unity Concert, Ben and Leslie's trip to San Francisco, the Michelle Obama cameo, and of course the now infamous time.

10. Fargo - The movie is an all-time best so it was pretty brave of them to try and adapt it for television. Thankfully they just took the feel of the place and the characters and made it work for television to fantastic results. The technical stuff like directing/writing/cinematography are all top-notch, but I think it's the cast that really made this show work anchored by Billy Bob Thornton, Allison Tolman, and Martin Freeman making all of its quirky characters and dark comedy quite accessible.

9. The Comeback - Even though I'm a HUGE Lisa Kudrow fan, I admit that I didn't watch the first iteration of The Comeback a decade ago until this past year in preparation to see, well... its comeback. And both seasons are truly remarkable in chronicling every cringe-worthy misadventures of an older actress trying to get her mojo back. Kudrow and company don't miss a beat in the most recent season keeping the tone consistent with the first, but also displaying different and evolving stakes. The finale was a thing of beauty and, if we don't get any more of Valerie Cherish, a perfect series finale.

8. Brooklyn Nine-Nine - One of my favorite new shows last season maintained its high quality through the end of its freshman season and into this new season. The cast is still wonderful together and separately and it was enjoyable seeing some of the evolving characters and relationships. The handle on Boyle's character is especially inspired taking his early obsession with Rosa and segueing it with a thing with Gina. They also are giving Andre Braugher more to do as befitting his awesomeness. "BOOM! Did it both ways! No regrets!"

7. Veep - This group of potty-mouthed misfits continues to make me howl with laughter headlined by the always wonderful and game Julia-Louis Dreyfus. That bathroom scene alone with Tony Hale was one of the funniest things on TV all year. How this show does what it does in ten half-hour episodes per season is amazing to me and its brand of political satire is just going to be that much more needed in the years to come. I can't even imagine what they have in store next.

6. Shameless - I'm fine with this show changing its categorization to comedy especially if it means people are paying more attention to this lovely gem of a show. I do find it amusing that they did this during the emotionally bleakest season they ever had with Frank suffering from liver disease, Fiona going to jail, Lip struggling at college, and Ian spiraling. There are darkly comedic moments throughout, but drama/comedy really doesn't matter. This underrated show is simply great TV filled with a superbly talented cast. Everyone should watch it.

5. The Good Wife - Oh boy, all of us thinking that this show was just going to rest on its laurels had a shock coming in early 2014 when they unexpectedly (understatement) killed one its lead actors in dramatic fashion sending not only fans reeling but the characters as well--a harder Alicia, a lonelier Diane, a lost Kalinda, etc. This most recent season isn't kidding around either with Alicia running for state's attorney, Cary in jail, Diane leaving her own firm, and Kalinda... well it's the beginning of the end for her sadly. Perhaps the show is biting more than it can chew, but it's still been a thrilling ride.

4. Game of Thrones - I was excited to see what the post-Red Wedding season of this show would look like and it's pretty much more drama and more death! From Joffrey's Purple Wedding death to the epic battle on the Wall, it was a season of chess pieces moving and getting their heads smashed in, literally. Like every season of this show, there are new characters and new plot threads which could feel overwhelming. Taken as a whole though, it's still one of the most beautiful and ambitious shows on the small screens today. It helps that the actors are just as great as the locales they shoot in.

3. Hannibal - *BEST DRAMA* I respected, more than love, this show's first season, but something just clicked for me in the second season. Perhaps it was Hugh Dancy's Will going toe to toe with Mads Mikkelsen's brilliant portrayal of the title character and it all finally feeling like a fair (and bloody) fight. The deadly chess game these two played on each other as well as on the mostly oblivious people around them was a joy to witness and this isn't even mentioning the strong supporting characters and superb technical aspects of the show. With regards to the latter, no show has displayed food and crimes scenes in a more beautiful, grotesque way.

2. Jane the Virgin - *BEST NEW SHOW* There's always one show every season that just pleasantly surprises and for me this was it. I just didn't have any high hopes about a telenovela-inspired show on the CW about a virgin who gets accidentally pregnant. Its strong pilot sold me. It's hard to put into words my love for this small show. It's like someone mashed up everything that is wonderful about Ugly Betty, Pushing Daisies, and Gilmore Girls and cast an amazing leading lady surrounded by a talented cast who can handle both the sudsy overdramatics and the sweet, quiet human moments. It also has, hands down, the best voice-over narrator in the history of television.

1. Orange is the New Black - *BEST COMEDY* It's hard to argue that this show broke ground when it debut in 2013 and last year it took advantage of all of that buzz to deliver an excellent sophomore season making my previously favorite new show to my favorite show overall. The diverse and large predominantly female ensemble was a continued highlight including a lead character who felt more at home, a new villain that really rocked the boat and added real stakes, and the many, many supporting and background characters that were duly given plenty of moments to shine and grow.

Final Note: In terms of the tally of my top 35, HBO comes out ahead with 6 shows including 4 in my top 15. Showtime and ABC tie with 4 a piece while FOX and FX has 3 each. Also in my list are shows from the following networks: Comedy Central, the CW, BBC America, History, PBS, AMC, and NBC. New shows, not including The Comeback, number at 12 while 2 shows have been canceled (Enlisted, In the Flesh) and another 2 will be ending their runs this year (Mad Men, Parks and Recreation).

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