Before I begin, I have to place a disclaimer. I don’t watch everything, mostly because that would be insane to do and no one pays me to watch TV. With that said, I’d like to give some shout outs to the shows I didn’t get the chance to check out that may have made my list. So apologies to Louie, The Knick, Transparent and Black Mirror. Maybe next year… Here is my favorite television shows of 2014.
The Show You Should Really Check Out of 2014:
Getting On (HBO)
To be fair, this show was underappreciated by me as well until I caught up with the first season earlier this summer (it originally aired November of 2013). HBO isn’t giving Getting On (now in its second season) much of a chance to become a well known or beloved show as it did with Veep or Girls. But to be fair, Veep had one of the most popular TV actresses (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) heading it, while Girls first season blew up your twitter feed with the continued discussions of Lena Dunham’s naked body. So what does Getting On have going for it? Three terrific, hilarious, and fully realized female characters, who are played wonderfully by actresses (Laurie Metcalf, Alex Borstein and Niecy Nash). These characters are void of egos but full of authenticity in this darkly funny, sometimes cringe worthy show about the sometimes entertaining aspects of the elderly ward of a hospital.
The Most Overlooked Performance of 2014:
Woody Harrelson in True Detective (HBO)
In every memorable buddy show or flick, there’s the wild loose cannon character that must be paired with a straight lace man, better known as the “straight man”. Riggs had Murtaugh, Buzz Lightyear had Woody, and The Marx Brothers had Zeppo. The straight man is there to keep balance to the credibility of a situation or to watch over the flawed but beloved loose cannon. Woody Harrelson in the role as Detective Marty Hart is asked to be the straight man to Matthew McConaughey’s loose cannon performance as Detective Rust Cohle. Although Harrelson received an Emmy nomination, he didn’t ever get the adoring love that McConaughey got. This was mostly because his character wasn’t full of the anti-hero mystic that Rust was given. Marty Hart was a bad husband, bad father, and genuinely a flawed, unappealing man that had nothing to show for himself but his work. Harrelson’s performance brought us into that world with his humor,intensity, and flaws; this was something needed to counteract McConaughey’s spacey poetic depression.
Best Television Moment:
True Detective (HBO) – The Six Minute Single Tracking Shot with Rust Cohle
This was a really tough choice for me. How do you not choose Bert Cooper’s song and dance fairwell from Mad Men, or The Red Viper vs. The Mountain or the share joy of watching this happen.
Instead I chose the scene that was unlike anything else on television and had only been something films had the bravado to capture. The one take tracking shot is nothing new, it’s been in several films and when not done effectively, the showiness of it can take you out of what you’re watching. Director Cary Fukunaga was already getting acclaim for his amazing eye and scope on True Detective, but the 6-minute tracking shot made him the MVP of the show. What’s key for making long take tracking shots work isn’t so much the movement of the character we are following but movement of the world around the lead character. Everything needs to fall right into place without you feeling as though it’s being choreographed. Just watch for yourself (link above).
Best Television Performances:
Honorable Mentions – Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones), Danny Pudi (Community), Amy Poehler (Park & Recreation), Martin Freeman (Fargo), Matthew McConghauy (True Detective), Viola Davis (How To Get Away With Murder), and Carrie Coon (The Leftovers).
10. Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister (Game of Thrones-HBO)
Few have done so much with so little as Charles Dance as done in handful of scenes this year on Game Of Thrones. The harbinger of many deaths in Westeros was brought to life by Dance methodical performance. He made Tywin a terrifying character with only the use of his words and pen as a weapon of choice.
9. Woody Harrelson as Marty Hart (True Detective-HBO)
Read above about the most overlooked performance.
8. Allison Tolman as Molly Solverson (Fargo-FX)
Tolman was pretty much an unknown prior to Fargo but her performance as Molly Solverson is breaking her out. Naturally the show would be compared to the Coen Brothers film by the same name as would Tolman’s performance would be compared to Francis McDormand Oscar winning performance but Tolman is her own person here. This unlikely lead of Fargo held her own while playing along side more familiar faces (Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman and Colin Hanks) giving the show a realism it needed during some of it’s bizarre moments.
7. Jon Hamm as Don Draper (Mad Men-AMC)
Not perhaps Hamm’s strongest year playing the 60’s ad man Don Draper but he continues to give great performance of one the best characters on television. That being said, I don’t think Hamm is getting the credit he deserves for his continued terrific work. Is it because we think he is Don Draper so it comes easy to him or have we just gotten so used to him being good that we’ve taking it for granted?
6. Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister (Game of Thrones-HBO)
After what could be considered a low-key season 3 for Dinklage, he came back with some of the more memorable Tyrion Lannister moments in season 4. The charm and wit that we’ve grown to love has slowly been pulled out of Tyrion as the people around him have continually tried to break him, what this has done is given Dinklage portrayal more complexity as Tyrion as had to harden as the scapegoat of Lannister problems.
5. Uzo Aduba as Crazy Eyes (Orange Is The New Black-Netflix)
Crazy Eyes was easily everyone’s favorite inmate of the first season of the unexpected hit Orange Is The New Black. Her furiously unique performance had us terrified and loving her at the same time. In season 2 Crazy Eyes becomes unlovable and genuinely terrifying, as the she is now the psychotic muscle of the new prison gang. What a risk to take for a character loved by all, to make her the bad guy. Despite Crazy Eyes villainous turn, Aduba manages to still show us the scared fragile girl inside her character who wants to be understood and loved.
4. Laurie Metcalf as Dr. Jenna James (Getting On-HBO)
The great thing about Metcalf’s performance of Dr. Jenna James is she plays it as though she is not in a comedy but in a serious drama. She believes she should be in the trenches of ER and not in the slow quiet death of geriatric ward of the hospital. Metcalf’s serious take allows for more laughs in surprising ways in this darkly funny show (that you should watch, read above).
3. Elizabeth Moss as Peggy Olson (Mad Men-AMC)
The thing you have to realize about Mad Men is that it’s not about the evolution or change of Don Draper but that of Peggy Olson. Don in one way or another is becoming extinct, while Peggy is part of the sea change of the late 60’s. Moss performance of Peggy Olson as been building season by season as the center of Mad Man’s universe, perhaps that was Matt Weiner’s (creator of Mad Men) plan the whole time but perhaps Weiner realized what he had in Moss. For Moss it’s her ability play her performance as if she is a silent film actress, she does an amazing job wearing her emotions without showing all her cards. She’ll probably never get the credit she deserves (she’s never won an Emmy for her role) but it should be said that she has been playing one of the great and consistent female TV performances.
2. Billy Bob Thornton as Lorne Malvo (Fargo-FX)
Although the Coen Brothers had very little to do with the show Fargo (they were given the credited of executive producer) the show is filled with Coenesque <(http://thedissolve.com/features/movie-of-the-week/349-in-the-coen-brothers-punishing-world-morals-are-ev/ ) inspired characters, none better than Lorne Malvo. Thornton is pretty much playing the part of Death in a grey coat and a bowl cut, which isn’t to say he has darkly comedic moments in Fargo. Thornton hasn’t been this good in a long time, giving us what we most like about his acting, the humor, creepiness and dread that he’s capable of especially in the villain part.
1. Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Selina Meyer (Veep-HBO)
Few are fortunate to have the career arc that Dreyfus is had; this is especially true of a woman over the age of 40. Fewer can say they’ve done their best work in the second half of set career such as she’s done too. Dreyfus provides so much to her performance, the charisma of an elected official while also having egocentricities of one as well. Her willingness to be a complete asshole to the people that dedicate their lives to her as the vice president is bold for a female character that could easily be categorized as a “bitch”. Now as the President of the free world the realm of possibilities are endless for her character.
Best Television Shows
Honorable Mentions- Hannibal, Broad City, Drunk History, Girls, Orange Is The New Black, Too Many Cooks, Too Many Cooks, Too Many Cooks, Too Many Cooks, Too Many Cooks, Too Many…
10. The Leftovers (HBO)
The question of where did 140 million people all of sudden go on October 14, can only take you so far. Damon Lindloff writer of The Leftovers and co-creator of Lost, understands how troublesome mysterious questions can become. Instead the real mystery of The Leftovers is what “Sudden Departure” day did to those who weren’t taken. This 9/11 allegory examines how we move on or don’t move on once we go through something so catastrophic.
9. Getting On (HBO)
As I mentioned above (The Show You Should Really Check Out) this female dominated show, has an amazing cast of women who occupy their space in honestly beautiful way. There are few places for women over the age of 40 to shine on TV such as this cast does. How lucky we are to see these women who are usually day players given there onstage to do so.
8. True Detective (HBO)
Who is the Yellow King? What’s carcosa? Is Rust Cohle the killer? What’s with deer antlers? True Detective gave us much needed water cooler conversation during those cold winter months of which otherwise is a dead season. Playing like a David Lynch influenced buddy comedy at times, True Detective kept us on the edge of our seat knowing any ending was a possibility for this quasi-mini series. Not a perfectly executed crime drama but it never wavered from our interest nor speculation.
7. Community (NBC)
After the terrible season 4 (known as the gas leak season to us Community fans) they could only go up for this show, which saw the return of creator Dan Harmon (Harmon was fired by NBC after season 3). The return of the shows fearless leader revitalized the show to its familiar glory days with classic moments as Lava World, G.I. Jeff and meow meow beenz. With the good, came the bad with the exit of the much-loved character Troy (played by Donald Glover) who was one half of the great duo of Troy & Abed (several tears).
6. Fargo (FX)
The expectations were high for this show that was loosely connected to the Oscar winning film by the same name. Lucky for us it delivered, given us the best attributes of Coen Brothers films (the Coen’s only executive produced the show and had very little to do with it’s creation) with bizarre plots, bizarre characters who are often on the fringe of good and evil.
5. Parks & Recreation (NBC)
Every season of Parks & Recreation can feel like it’s final season. The writers seem to be ready for the end at any given moment too (although loved by the critics and a cult following the show as never had high viewership). This allows Parks to be bold and willing to change at the drop of the hat. Whether it is the departure of beloved characters, goodbye Chris & Ann (single tear) or the emergence of new problems such as the Pawnee-Eagleton merger, the show as kept us guessing unlike any other comedy.
4. Mad Men (AMC)
Any other year this would be #1 for myself but AMC’s greediness (dividing the final season in two parts a year apart) got in the way of that. All though things felt rush at times for the first half of the season Matt Weiner still delivered some of strongest moments of the shows tenured. The show as lost some love from fans who want to see more of Don Draper being the womanizer they grew to love and hate. Weiner was never interested in seeing Draper getting laid but instead the toll in which his lifestyle was putting on his soul. At it’s core the show is about change, whether in the culture or in ourselves and the inability for some us to be able to change for the better.
3. Veep (HBO)
Is Veep the most realistic look into the D.C. politics? That’s tough to say for sure, but I’d like to believe it is. Instead of all the wishful thinking of the idealized world of The West Wing or the over the top Machiavellian corporation of House of Cards, Veep shows the self centeredness and short comings that lie in all politicians. Besides the obvious greatness of Julia Louis-Dreyfus (my #1 performance of 2014), Veep is cast with the best ensemble outside of Westeros. Each cast member has his or her moments while contributing to the bigger picture, working together in perfect chaotic harmony.
2. The Americans (FX)
Would you believe me if I told you this Cold War spy show is the best thing on television dealing with marriage and family. Handling the double life of being a Russian spy in America can be complicating enough but adding your spy spouse and teenage kids in the mix seems suicidal. Work, “work” and family are the focal point of these KGB agents (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys) who try to balance all this while trying to love one another. This joggling act of being a spy and being a parent makes for truest stacks on television, in this dangerous world of espionage
1. Game of Thrones (HBO)
Given that season 4 of GoT was mostly following the second half of arguably the best book of Song of Ice and Fire series, it would be hard for them to screw this up. Thankfully as the show goes on the guys behind the wheel continue to get a good handle of the material making each season stronger than the last. This was easily Game of Thrones best season, because we seem to be finally getting somewhere (that somewhere could still be three seasons away). This is not to say Games is slowing down, the show continues to expand it’s universe with new locations and characters, making it the boldest endeavor on television, while keeping us interested with the characters we love (and hope won’t die).