Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My 20 Favorite Television Shows of 2014

"Great TV comes in all shapes and sizes."  That's become my motto over the course of this year, and something I want people to remember when they find themselves pre-judging a show based on some arbitrary standard.  We're increasingly moving away from the idea that every good drama has to be an antihero show in the vein of The Sopranos and every comedy has to be something fast-paced and single-camera like Arrested Development.  Now, we're living in an age where the best new series of the fall is a CW show based on a telenovela (watch Jane the Virgin, people!) and one of the best comedies of the year is a charming little Australian show that airs on a network called Pivot (watch Please Like Me, people!).  Say it with me now: Great TV comes in all shapes and sizes!

2014 was not quite as good of a year for television as 2013, which I consider the best year of TV since I started following the medium closely.  Last year featured a breadth of terrific new shows, but some of them faltered a little bit in 2014 (Masters of Sex, Orphan Black).  Even still, there are so many great shows popping up out of new places.  For example, this year saw Amazon solidify themselves as serious content creators with Transparent, Jill Soloway's shaggy, intimate tale about family and identity.  As a result of this continued expansion of the medium, I watched more television than ever this year -- the number of shows I followed completely in 2014 was a whopping 104.

There was quite a bit of turnover between my list last year and the one this year, with 14 of the shows that appeared on 2013's list being absent on this one.  Even what I consider to be some of my favorite shows are missing.  Game of Thrones had a fourth season that had some astonishing individual moments, but the show as a whole feels like it's increasingly spinning off its axis.  For every time Girls was brilliant in season three, it was just as maddening a scene or two later.  Orphan Black was fun and exciting while it was airing, but a bit of a mess when viewed in hindsight.  Justified had a chance to go down as one of my favorite dramas of this generation -- and it still does, if it sticks the landing -- but it's hard to see this year as anything other than a misstep for the show.  And I've thoroughly enjoyed the final season of Parenthood, but NBC chose not to air the entire run in 2014, so the material that would've likely pushed it in to the top 20 won't appear until next year.

Another trend I noticed is that this year was a better year for comedy than last year, if my lists are anything to go by.  Last year only featured two pure comedies, while this year has triple the amount at six.  So don't let anybody tell you that TV isn't cyclical.

The rules: Shows are considered for this list based on the episodes that they aired in 2014.  This is a pretty plain and simple rule for cable dramas, where full seasons usually air within a single calendar year.  However, it gets slightly messy when considering network shows, which usually air the first half of their season in the fall and the second half starting January of the next year.  So something like, say, Brooklyn Nine-Nine would be judged based on the second half of its first season (which aired at the beginning of the year) and the first half of its second season (which started in the fall of this year).  As for what constitutes a TV show, anything that airs on, you know, a TV station counts.  But shows that air exclusively on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon count too.  Unfortunately, "web series" don't qualify (but watch Jules and Monty anyway, because it's great), even though that distinction is becoming harder and harder to make.  Okay, everything clear now?  Good, let's get this list started...

Honorable Mentions (25-21)
At first it seemed like a terrible idea, but the TV version of Fargo (FX) turned out to be a clever, entertaining riff on the Coen brothers classic.  After appearing at number 15 on my list last year, Masters of Sex (Showtime) had a wobbly second season, but one with staggering highs.  Australian import Please Like Me (Pivot) is one of the most charming, likable, and aesthetically pleasing shows currently running.  Veep (HBO) smartly took the show away from Washington for most of the year, following Selina Meyer's campaign tour, and delivered the funniest, most brutal season yet.  TV is full of quick deaths, but the brilliant tragicomedy Getting On (HBO), a show about an underfunded extended elderly care facility and the harried workers who keep it running, is the rare series that provides an unflinching look at the process of slowly dying.

20. Space Dandy (Adult Swim)

I spent much of the back half of 2014 binge-watching The X-Files on Netflix, and one of the biggest thrills that comes from watching that show is the fact that it has the potential to be almost anything from episode to episode.  It's an exciting, but increasingly rare quality for shows to have.  An episode of, say, The Americans is always going to be an episode of The Americans.  However, there are a few shows that still have that X-Files quality: Community, Louie, and of course, Space Dandy.  Some of Space Dandy's versatility can be attributed to its creative process.  Legendary anime figure Shinichiro Watanabe served as the chief director, and he used his power and resources to round up his friends, who happen to be some of the best writers, directors, and animators in the business, to play in his little sandbox.  The result was a series that seemed like it could do literally anything.  Here are a few places the show went: a zombie parody, a time loop episode, a whatever-it-is-that-Masaaki Yuaasa-does episode, a solemn rumination on death, a courtroom drama, a sitcom riff, a dance party, a musical episode, and more.  Anime doesn't get much love from the TV critic community, but Space Dandy proves that the medium can produce something just as substantial as a cable drama.

Highlight episodes:
1. Sometimes You Can't Live with Dying, Baby (Season 1 Episode 4)
2. Lovers Are Trendy, Baby (Season 2 Episode 10)
3. I Can't Be the Only One, Baby (Season 2 Episode 1)

Additional reading:
-Space Dandy has renewed my boyish enthusiasm for anime
-Episode of the Week: Space Dandy - "Lovers Are Trendy, Baby"

19. Manhattan (WGN)

Manhattan, WGN's drama about the secret town in New Mexico that housed the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project, was probably the year's most underrated and underseen TV show.  At first, it felt like Mad Men Lite -- period piece, the first major drama from its network, large cast of characters -- a solid show, but nothing spectacular.  But in a very short amount of time, it developed into a rich ensemble piece, generating drama from the gap between our knowledge of the history of the atomic bomb and these characters currently living through it.  By the end of the season, it was a top-notch show, full of high stakes and perspiring paranoia, while also remaining lively and fun.  Manhattan shows that World War II can be just as exciting when reduced to numbers and letters, instead of bullets and mortars.

Highlight episodes:
1. Perestroika (Season 1 Episode 13)
2. The Understudy (Season 1 Episode 10)
3. Acceptable Limits (Season 1 Episode 6)

18. Review (Comedy Central)

If there was anybody who was suited to adapt the Australian show Review with Myles Barlow, it'd be Andy Daly.  He's a master at finding the latent darkness in comedy (see: any of his characters on the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast).  Review, a show about a man whose job it is to review aspects of everyday life (going to the prom, hunting, etc.), pushes the extremes of both comedy and tragedy.  Part of the hilarity and sadness comes from the way Daly's Forrest Macneil tries to maintain his jovial devotion to the job while everything around him is falling apart.  Throughout the season, the tasks he's given cause him to develop a cocaine addiction, get a divorce from his wife, and eat too many pancakes (it's much more horrifying than it sounds), but he trudges on for as long as he can.  Review is a comedy about comedy itself, reveling in the thrill of escalation and seeing how far it can go before it pops.

Highlight episodes:
1. Best Friend; Space (Season 1 Episode 5)
2. Pancakes; Divorce; Pancakes (Season 1 Episode 3)
3. Revenge; Getting Rich; Aching (Season 1 Episode 7)

Additional reading:
-Pilot Talk 2014: Review with Forrest Macneil

17. Broad City (Comedy Central)

Four years ago, I would've never imagined having one Comedy Central show in my top 40, let alone many in my top 20.  But the network has entered a new golden age recently, in part because they are letting the people to whom they give shows express their full creative vision.  Broad City, which started as a web series before becoming a full show, is a great example of that.  It's a series that allows creators/lead actors Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer to be strange and gross and unfettered in a way that women don't often get to be on television.  There's a wonderful, ramshackle quality to Broad City, and half of the show's charm comes from following it down whatever rabbit hole Abbi and Ilana find.  The first season's 10 episodes were full of fun premises: a bottle episode featuring all of the characters trapped in an apartment due to a hurricane ("Hurricane Wanda"), an entire episode of Abbi and Ilana frantically running to a wedding we never see ("Destination: Wedding"), and the two of them trying to transport weed across New York by hiding it in their vaginas ("Pu$$y Weed").  But at its core, Broad City is about the endearing friendship between its two odd, but perfectly matched protagonists.

Highlight episodes:
1. Destination: Wedding (Season 1 Episode 8)
2. Hurricane Wanda (Season 1 Episode 9)
3. The Lockout (Season 1 Episode 4)

16. Fresh Meat (US: Hulu/UK: Channel 4)

I do a great deal of thinking about TV.  (Perhaps too much?)  And when you think about TV as much as I do, sometimes you just need a show to watch that makes you relax and feel nice.  Fresh Meat, the UK comedy about six university roommates living together in a ratty dorm house, is that show for me.  It's my favorite hangout comedy on TV, despite being about characters who are, by most definitions, terrible people.  Usually the genre thrives on the viewer liking the characters -- and by extension, the viewer wanting to hang out with them, hence the name -- but that can make them feel a little too soft and safe (see: the most recent seasons of Parks and Recreation).  By having unlikable, but still somehow watchable, characters, it has a bite that others of its ilk don't.  Season three was both the show's funniest and most satisfying from a storytelling perspective, ramping up everyone's lovable awfulness and quotability factor.  Chances of a renewal were looking dire for a while, and if it had been cancelled, this season would've been a blaze of glory to go out on.  Thankfully, though, it's coming back for a fourth season.

Highlight episodes:
1. Season 3 Episode 4
2. Season 3 Episode 7
3. Season 3 Episode 2

Additional reading:
-Three seasons in, Fresh Meat continues to get better and funnier

15. Rick and Morty (Adult Swim)

Rick and Morty feels like an Adult Swim show and unlike other Adult Swim shows at the same time.  Sometimes the network's American animated programming can be a little too loose and unstructured, but the comedy is insanely satisfying when it hits.  Rick and Morty basically cuts all of the bad qualities of Adult Swim's brand and keeps all of the good ones, resulting in an all-killer-no-filler experience.  Being the brainchild of Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon (Community), it has the same tight construction and pop culture riffing of the latter's work and the gleeful insanity seen in the former's voice acting.  The best episodes, like "Rixty Minutes" and "Meeseeks and Destroy," take a single concept and completely run with it, carrying it far past the point any other show would go.  This is the kind of show that features alternate dimensions, deals with the devil, love potions that turn people into grotesque Cronenbergian monsters, clones, and aliens.  And that's only the half of it.  Rick and Morty is one of TV's most exciting shows, simply because it makes the possibilities of storytelling seem endless.

Highlight episodes:
1. Rixty Minutes (Season 1 Episode 8)
2. Meeseeks and Destroy (Season 1 Episode 5)
3. M. Night Shaym-Aliens! (Season 1 Episode 4)

14. My Mad Fat Diary (UK: E4)

"Not I," the penultimate episode of the second season of the UK's My Mad Fat Diary, may very well be one of the four or five best television episodes of the year.  After watching the first season, I found the show to be an alternately charming look at being a British teenager in the 90s and an affecting insight into mental health and body image issues.  I thought it was a fine show, but not essential enough to continue with when there's so much other TV out there.  Yet something caused me to trudge on, and I'm glad I did.  "Not I" is a game-changing episode, one that re-contextualizes everything that came before it, making it better and deeper.  All that was frustrating about the show and protagonist Rae (the excellent Sharon Rooney), makes sense once she's revealed to be an unreliable narrator.  What makes season two so good is that it can comfortably rest at opposite poles, filled with funny moments and onscreen hand-drawn graphics, but also genuine despair and tragedy.  My Mad Fat Diary is the full meal.

Highlight episodes:
1. Not I (Season 2 Episode 6)
2. Glue (Season 2 Episode 7)
3. Girls (Season 2 Episode 3)

13. The Eric Andre Show (Adult Swim)

The Eric Andre Show, Adult Swim's gonzo 11-minute late-night talk show, is a show about deconstruction.  It follows the general format of your Lettermans and your Fallons, but it throws that structure through a warp pipe and into some truly bizarre territory.  The opening monologues are intentionally awful, the interviews are designed to make the guest as uncomfortable as possible (often unwittingly), and the man-on-the-street segments are just elaborate and disturbing pranks.  It's also a show about destruction.  After all, every episode begins with host Eric Andre completely destroying the set.  But there's also a sense of destruction in the show's anarchist, "anything goes" spirit.  This is the kind of program where Lauren Conrad walked off the set in the middle of an interview because Eric vomited in front of her and then began to slurp it back up.  Or where this strange, brilliant thing happened with James Van Der Beek.  The Eric Andre Show is easily one of the weirdest things on TV, but also one of the best at generating gut-busting, tear-inducing laughter.  #LegalizeRanch

Highlight episodes (with links to them on Adult Swim's website):
1. Lauren Conrad; Reese Witherspoon (Season 3 Episode 2)
2. Seth Rogen; Asa Akira (Season 3 Episode 1)
3. Wiz Khalifa; Aubrey Peeples (Season 3 Episode 6)

12. The Knick (Cinemax)

God bless Steven Soderbergh.  That's what I said to myself every Friday for the 10 weeks that The Knick aired this year.  The always interesting auteur director "retired" from film last year and moved over to TV to direct, shoot, and edit every single episode of this show's first season.  He's not the first film director to helm an entire season of television -- Cary Fukunaga on True Detective, Jane Campion on Top of the Lake, etc. -- but nobody has ever done the distinctive, mic-dropping work that he did on The Knick this year.  Not only is this show visually stunning, full of his lovely natural lighting and terrific lens work, but his compositions are also fraught with meaning.  You gain a new level of understanding from the way he blocks characters, the way he cuts angles, the way he represents and navigates space.  Eventually, the writing caught up with the direction, starting out as a standard story of a great man (Dr. John Thackery, played by Clive Owen) hiding a terrible secret (an addiction to cocaine), but morphing into something more oily and sweaty.  Ultimately, The Knick is a show about people trying to better the lives of others, but destroying themselves in the process.  It might just destroy you too.

Highlight episodes:
1. Get the Rope (Season 1 Episode 7)
2. Working Late a Lot (Season 1 Episode 8)
3. The Golden Lotus (Season 1 Episode 9)

Additional reading:
-Pilot Talk 2014: The Knick

11. Outlander (Starz)

There are many barriers to entry with Outlander.  First, it's based on a series of fantasy novels that have an element of romance in them and, of course, the internet refuses to believe that anything aimed at women can be good.  The network it's on, Starz, isn't known for having "serious drama" (even the good shows, like Spartacus, are kind of silly).  Additionally, the premise seems sort of ridiculous on paper, and at first glance the show looks like a cheap Game of Thrones knockoff.  But listen, this is some good TV.  It'd be worth recommendation solely for giving us Claire Beauchamp, one of the year's best new characters.  She's smart, determined, level-headed, kind; and the show throws her into difficult scenarios and lets the drama unfold.  Some of the best moments of this half-season revolve around watching Claire navigate a situation in a way that will result in the biggest benefit, or at the very least, the smallest amount of damage.  But creator Ronald D. Moore (of Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek fame) also crafts an intoxicating world full of details and history and simmering tensions.  That, most of all, is what makes it so enjoyable to return to again and again.

Highlight episodes:
1. The Garrison Commander (Season 1 Episode 6)
2. The Gathering (Season 1 Episode 4)
3. The Wedding (Season 1 Episode 7)

Additional reading:
-Pilot Talk 2014: Outlander

10. The Legend of Korra (Nickelodeon)

Boy, Nickelodeon sure did hate The Legend of Korra.  First, they announced the premiere date of the show's third season only a week before it was set to air, and with little promotion.  Then, they burned off the episodes two at a time, before pulling the show completely from their schedule and premiering them exclusively online.  Then they slashed the show's budget for the fourth and final season (leading to the creators having to make a dreaded clip show episode) and aired it only a month after season three ended.  But the show fought on, delivering some of its strongest material ever.  Season three was arguably the finest achievement of the Avatar universe -- the stakes were high, the fight scenes were incredible, the villains were nuanced, and the supporting characters were deepened and enriched.  It was hard to believe that a kid's show was achieving such dark and deft storytelling.

Season four was a bit of a step down (partially because of the aforementioned budgetary restraints), but still excellent.  After season three broadened the scope of the show with its familial themes, the final season got back to focusing on Korra, who was still shaken from the events of the season three finale.  The final season closed off her arc beautifully, marking her change from the stubborn, headstrong teenager in season one to the mature, even-tempered young woman who suffered loss, depression and PTSD, but came out on the other side.  She's not just one of the best protagonists on a kid's show, but one of the best TV characters of this decade, period.  The Legend of Korra faced the near-impossible task of following up Avatar: The Last Airbender, one of the greatest cartoons of all time.  This year solidified its place in the pantheon next to its predecessor, giving us more gorgeous animation, intricately choreographed fight scenes, three-dimensional characters, and genuinely moving moments.

Highlight episodes:
1. Old Wounds (Season 3 Episode 6)
2. Operation Beifong (Season 4 Episode 10)
3. Venom of the Red Lotus (Season 3 Episode 13)

9. Olive Kitteridge (HBO)

Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of short stories, is considered to be one of those "unfilmable" books.  The stories, which revolve around a small coastal town in Maine, are told out of chronological order, features dozens of characters, and are sprawling in scope.  But writer Jane Anderson and director Lisa Cholodenko managed to do it, condensing the book into a four-part miniseries and delivering one of the most stunning, complex character pieces of the year.  The show's titular character (Frances McDormand) is hard for people to like -- she's so ready to point out other people's flaws, but so entrenched in self-denial when it comes to her own.  Many of the town's other residents get stories too, but even then, Olive is always in the background judging, loathing, and scolding.  A lesser actor would make her just as unlikable to the viewer as she is to the rest of the characters in the story, but McDormand, in one of the year's best performances, makes her sympathetic and understandable.  Olive Kitteridge is a sweeping exploration of mental illness, loss, and the suffocating intimacy of small-town life.

8. The 100 (The CW)

No current show better embodies the spirit of my "great TV comes in all shapes and sizes" mantra than CW's The 100.  It gets written off by so many people as a dumb show about sexy teens (and true, the first couple of episodes are a little rough), but it's actually one of the most daring, audacious shows on television.  The 100 is dark stuff, and whenever you find yourself asking, "are they really going to go that far?," the answer is almost always "yes."  Torture, biological warfare, genocide -- there's no boundary the writers won't push.  But the key is that they earn those moments.  This show bathes in untenable scenarios and punishing ultimatums, and it constantly develops its deep cast of characters through the tough decisions they make.  These are the basic tenets of drama, sure, but no other show is channeling them in such pure, liquefied form.  The 100 is a better sci-fi show than Orphan Black, a tougher post-apocalyptic story than The Walking Dead, and a richer ensemble piece than nearly everything else of TV.  Underestimate it at your own peril.

Highlight episodes:
1. Human Trials (Season 2 Episode 5)
2. Twilight's Last Gleaming (Season 1 Episode 5)
3. I Am Become Death (Season 1 Episode 10)

Additional reading:
-The 100: TV's best sci-fi show comes from an unexpected place

7. Rectify (SundanceTV)

There was a little bit of worry when it was announced that season two of Rectify was increased to 10 episodes from the first season's six-episode count.  That first season was such a strange and singular entity -- ruminative, spiritual, mysterious -- that anything could disrupt its delicate balance.  Luckily the show, which tells the story of a man who finds himself released from death row on a technicality, maintained its power this year.  While the glacial pace may be hard for some to get used to, if you adapt to its rhythms, it's a rich and rewarding experience.  Rectify has a great deal of Southern Gothic in its genetic makeup, from the show's dark wit to the weird interludes that break up the main story.  But it's also steeped in religious symbolism, with all the talk of exile and penitence that popped up in season two.  Is every life worthy of consideration and salvation, no matter what they've done?  Rectify trudges through those tangled vines with grace and beauty.

Highlight episodes:
1. Weird As You (Season 2 Episode 7)
2. Unhinged (Season 2 Episode 10)
3. Donald the Normal (Season 2 Episode 4)

6. Hannibal (NBC)

The experience of watching Hannibal's barnburner of a second season was like witnessing an hour-long art film for 13 weeks.  A grotesque, macabre, unsettling art film, that is.  This show is a full sensory experience: the gorgeous cinematography; the intricate, ornate set designs; the unshakable score from Brian Reitzell.  But it's also a deeply internal experience too.  Season two doubled down on the show's themes of psychic co-dependency and the need to envelop one's self in darkness in order to catch the worst criminals, cranking up the cat-and-mouse game between Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter past what anyone thought to be the maximum setting.  Hannibal is an operatic show, and this season seemed to progress in grandiose movements, all leading up to "Mizumono," one of the most shocking, exciting, and bloody television episodes of the year.  Season three can't come soon enough.

Highlight episodes:
1. Mizumono (Season 2 Episode 13)
2. Takiawase (Season 2 Episode 4)
3. Mukozuke (Season 2 Episode 5)

Additional reading:
-Is Hannibal vs. The Americans the new Breaking Bad vs. Mad Men?

5. Louie (FX)

Louis CK took a 19-month break in between seasons three and four of his wildly unique Louie, and though he was missed in his year-and-a-half absence, that break paid off.  He continues to push the boundaries of auteur television -- CK writes, directs, and edits every single episode -- and season four found him as creative and experimental as ever.  With the "Elevator" series, he told a tumbling feature-length story that worked as individual component parts at the same time.  It was a lovely, lyrical stretch in the middle of the season, full of strange detours and subplots, and it was exciting to just follow Louis CK down whatever storytelling wormhole he chose to propel himself into.  But he still retained his skill for telling single-episode short stories, and he delivered some of his best ever in the beginning of the season with "Model" and "So Did the Fat Lady."  Louie still feels like no other show on television, and watching it provides an exhilaration that few shows can match.

Highlight episodes:
1. So Did the Fat Lady (Season 4 Episode 3)
2. Back (Season 4 Episode 1)
3. Elevator, Part 4 (Season 4 Episode 7)

Additional reading:
-After a 19-month hiatus, Louie is still unlike any other TV show, and better than almost all of them

4. The Americans (FX)

If season one of FX's staggering Cold War spy drama The Americans was about how Philip and Elizabeth's duty as spies intersected with their marriage, then season two was largely about their duty intersecting with their parenting.  We saw that in the way their jobs indirectly spur on a crisis of faith in Paige and a crisis of conscience in Henry, but especially in the breathtaking revelation in the season finale, one that's sure to reverberate throughout the series.  This season also continued last year's exploration of these people struggling under the weight of their own deception, how the cons bleed into real life and vice versa.  Ultimately, The Americans is a character piece first, one with strong, layered people who have emotionally complex entanglements with one another.  But it's also got a smart, labyrinthine spy plot gurgling under the surface.  When those two elements of story and character synced up, it resulted in some electrifying, dizzying television.  Luckily for us, it did so basically every week.

Highlight episodes:
1. New Car (Season 2 Episode 8)
2. Echo (Season 2 Episode 13)
3. The Walk In (Season 2 Episode 3)

Additional reading:
-Is Hannibal vs. The Americans the new Breaking Bad vs. Mad Men?

3. Orange Is the New Black (Netflix)

Who knew that the great sprawling epic of 2014 would be neither the continent-spanning Game of Thrones nor the decade-spanning Boardwalk Empire, but a Netflix show set in a women's prison?  Mowing through any signs of a sophomore slump, Orange Is the New Black took the already expansive show it was in season one and made it even bigger and deeper in the second season.  Like the previous year, this season juggled so many compelling characters with their own arcs, but this time around the show did something even more difficult by having them all swirl around one larger narrative: the tyrannical reign of Vee.  Orange Is the New Black has so many things on its mind -- institutional failures, race relations, the fluidity of human sexuality -- and yet this hefty helping remains easily digestible.  Where season one positioned Piper as the necessary entry point, season two presents such a complex, thriving ecosystem that you can see the show working without her.  (But keep Piper anyway.  She's great.)

Highlight episodes:
1. You Also Have a Pizza (Season 2 Episode 6)
2. It Was the Change (Season 2 Episode 12)
3. A Whole Other Hole (Season 2 Episode 4)

Additional reading:
-Season 2 of Orange Is the New Black gets bigger and goes deeper

2. Nathan For You (Comedy Central)

Nathan For You, arguably Comedy Central's greatest creation ever, is secretly about the human condition.  Host and star Nathan Fielder has a gift for creating scenarios within the format of his "expert who helps failing businesses" premise that expose the weirdness and rawness of the people he comes across.  Part of the joy -- and yes, discomfort -- of watching the show is seeing how people react to Nathan's oddball demeanor.  There's something about his coaxing that garners comedy that neither scripted nor reality television could produce.  "Dumb Starbucks" is the segment of the show that most people are familiar with, seeing as the stunt made national news before the episode even aired, but there was so much more to this brilliant second season: ELAIFF, the ghost realtor, the boat sequence in the hot dog stand segment, the list goes on.  Watching an episode of Nathan For You is like seeing an idea unfold and evolve before your eyes -- the plans for bits shift and reconstruct themselves, sometimes becoming a better, more insane creation.  It's really thrilling, hilarious stuff.  Who knows whether Nathan For You can sustain itself any longer -- you can already see the seams more in this season than in the first -- but for the time being, enjoy this amazing tightrope walk.

Highlight episodes:
1. Souvenir Shop/ELAIFF (Season 2 Episode 2)
2. Pet Store/Maid Service (Season 2 Episode 3)
3. Daddy's Watching/Party Planner (Season 2 Episode 6)

Additional Reading:
-Episode of the Week:"Souvenir Shop/ELAIFF"

1. Mad Men (AMC)

Yeah, this was not even a competition.  Mad Men is the gold standard of the current television landscape, and though it may have stumbled ever so slightly in its sixth season, the show re-established its monolithic status this year with the first half of its final season.  (Heck, there was even an episode titled "The Monolith."  You can't argue with that!)  With just seven episodes, Mad Men managed to thoroughly outclass every other show on TV, delivering some its finest hours ever with  stories like "Field Trip" and "The Strategy."  For the most part, this half-season spent its time riffing on one of the show's favorite themes: how the unrelenting wave of time effects these characters.  Many of them found themselves fighting against their own obsolescence, from Don trying to get his job back at Sterling Cooper & Partners to Ginsburg's paranoia about the office's new computer.  Usually, when final seasons are split in half, the first half feels a little too much like water-treading (see: Breaking Bad, The Sopranos).  Not so with season seven of Mad Men; this was some unfiltered genius.

Highlight episodes:
1. Field Trip (Season 7 Episode 3)
2. The Strategy (Season 7 Episode 6)
3. The Monolith (Season 7 Episode 4)

Additional reading:
-Episode of the Week: "Field Trip"

Well, that wraps things up for my best shows of 2014 list.  I love reading other lists, so feel free to share yours in the comments.  Or if you want to just tell me that I deserve to die for my horrible list, then you can do that too!  (But please don't.  I'm very fragile.)  To see a complete inventory of all the TV I watched this year (with even more rankings), CLICK HERE.


  1. #20-Yeah, I know I still need to see this. I'll torrent it and get on it sometime soon.

    #19-Never heard of it

    #18-Saw this mentioned by several critics, haven't seen it.

    #17-Never heard of it.

    #16-Never heard of it.

    #15-May have heard of it in passing, but don't know anything about it.

    #14-Never heard of it.

    #13-Never heard of it.

    #12-This is on my eventually list. It's on HBO Go, right?

    #11-Haven't checked this out yet, but clearly it's worth my time?

    #10-Lol. I've never even watched Avatar.

    #9-Never heard of it.

    #8-You mentioned this once or twice, and the only thing I know about it is that Henry Ian Cusick is involved. I pray he sticks around?

    #7-Seen it because of you. Not surprised it's here again (is this the same spot as last year?)

    #6-You know how I feel about this one. Glad to see it's higher on the list now.

    #5-Heard about it for years, never seen it.

    #4-You got me into this, and I got sucked in pretty well. Not surprised this is here again, and significantly higher this time.

    #3-I'm actually surprised this is so high. It might have to do with the way I binged the entire thing, but I thought this was a step down from last year with SO much focus on Vee and her crew; and the show seemed to start to be in love a little too much with some of its characters in my opinion.

    #2-You know I just got into this one, but we'll talk about it whenever I do my list.

    #1-I shouldn't be surprised at all.

    I think what I'll do is torrent pretty much everything you recommend and store it for the long haul.

    1. I'm kind of surprised at some of the stuff you haven't heard of. lol you've got to read better sites if they didn't talk about Broad City or Olive Kitteridge at all.

      Wow I just checked and Rectify is in the same slot. I think I liked season 2 a little more though. Also I've heard alot of people make that same complaint about OITNB S2, and while I recognize it, I just don't agree. I thought the show got way more ambitious and empathetic this year.

      Okay, now a ranking of everything you haven't seen in priority of when you should get to it, with reasons why I think you may like it (also you should read what I wrote in the lists to see if something I say there interests you more):

      1. The Knick: It's on Cinemax Go (which you get if you get HBO Go), you'll appreciate how grotesque this show gets, only 10 episodes, Steven Soderbergh, Steven Soderbergh, Steven Soderbergh, etc.

      2. The 100: Lots of Lost/BSG/Person of Interest actors (yes, Cusick is on it still), you're into this kind of sci-fi action-y stuff, characters who actually grow and change, surprisingly brutal storytelling, there's only about 20 episodes so far and all of season 1 is on Netflix, REALLY fun to binge. I'm surprised this wasn't more on your radar because I hear IGN raves about this show (and with good reason!)

      3. Outlander: Even though it's very different from BSG it still feels alot like a Ronald D. Moore show, only 8 episodes so far, great worldbuilding, GREAT protagonist.

      4. Space Dandy: There are some clunkers, but the best episodes are transcendent.

      5. Louie: One of the most important shows of this decade, season 2 is one of my favorite seasons of all time, unlike anything else on TV, funny and depressing and beautiful, it's on Netflix.

      6. Korra: This would be a must watch but it's important to watch Avatar first (and you should!). But it's got some of the best animation and fight scenes I've ever seen.

      7. Review: Judging by your love of Wilfred, you seem to like comedies with an edge of darkness.

      8. Manhattan: This is one of those shows -- like The Americans last year -- that has the potential to really skyrocket in its second season. You like Mad Men, so you'll probably be into this and the subject matter (people working on the atomic bomb) is really fascinating.

      9. Olive Kitteridge: You should probably just read its section on my list to see if it's your speed. Incredible performances, only 4 episodes.

      10. Rick and Morty: This is basically the American Space Dandy in that it's CRAZY and inventive. Only 10 episodes.

      11. Fresh Meat: British show, very fun characters, it's all on Hulu.

      12. The Eric Andre Show: This show is most likely too weird for you, but just do yourself a favor and watch the Seth Rogen episode I link to in the highlight episodes to just how weird it is (it's only 11 minutes)

      13. My Mad Fat Diary: It gets really dark at points and I think you'll be interested in what it has to say about mental illness, but it's not essential for you to watch.

      14. Broad City: This show is super funny, but comedy is subjective and you hate women! (I'm sure you don't actually hate women.) Only 10 episodes so far.

    2. And as promised, here's a list of my favorite dramas (or dramedies) of all time that I don't feel like writing a full post about:

      15. Slings & Arrows (2003-2006)
      14. Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000)
      13. Angel/Firefly/Dollhouse (I decided to put all of Whedon's non-Buffy stuff together)
      12. Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009)
      11. Avatar: the Last Airbender (2005-2008)
      10. My So-Called Life (1994-1995)
      9. The Shield (2002-2008)
      8. Friday Night Lights (2006-2011)
      7. Deadwood (2004-2006)
      6. Gilmore Girls (2000-2007)
      5. The Wire (2002-2008)
      4. Breaking Bad (2008-2013)
      3. Mad Men (2007-2015)
      2. Buffy (1997-2003)
      1. The Sopranos (1999-2007)

      I'm still trying to work my way backwards through TV history (I just finished The X-Files so I'm like at the early 90s), so this list is with a caveat that there's alot of stuff from the 80s and before that I at least want to check out. But it seems like as the years go by, there are "TV lovers" who aren't even willing to watch stuff before like 2005, which is just crazy to me. TV history is important! You wouldn't find a film buff who wasn't interested in any movies before 2005, but TV people have this weird recency bias. lol what I'm saying is it makes me very sad that you haven't seen The Wire or The Sopranos or Deadwood etc. Watch The Sopranos, Michael!!!

  2. Finally, here is my incredibly late Best TV of 2014 list: