Best of 2014 Television

If network television has been slowly dying for the past decade, then 2014 was the year that the plug was pulled. Of our top ten picks, only two of them (Bob’s Burgers and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, both of FOX Sundays), came from one of the four major networks. And only two of the other choices in this year’s poll came from either ABC, CBS, NBC, or FOX.

Networks as a concept just don’t matter anymore. Does it really matter that New Girl airs on FOX when you can watch it anytime you want on Hulu or Netflix?

But, wherever you’re watching it, TV remains pretty damn good, as it has been for most of the century. This year’s poll mixes old favorites with fresh new voices, and is the first year since we’ve been doing these polls that Breaking Bad isn’t around to claim the top spot in a landslide (we patiently await Better Call Saul in next year’s results).

Here are our picks for the best television series of 2014, based on votes from our staff, contributors, and invited editors of other publications.

 

THE DRUNK MONKEYS

TOP TELEVISION SERIES OF 2014

 

10.) ORPHAN BLACK

You can do one of two things with the second season of a breakout hit: play it safe, or go batshit crazy. Orphan Black did that second thing. Not all of the gambles paid off (trans-gender clone Tony was a well-intentioned failure), but Tatiana Maslany continued to impress, bringing even more depth to the sestras.

Matthew Guerruckey, Editor-in-Chief

9.) LAST WEEK TONIGHT

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When it was announced that John Oliver would be hosting his own news show on HBO, people genuinely wondered what sort of format it would follow.  Would it be similar to The Daily Show?  Would it be more farcical like The Colbert Report?  Fortunately both of those answers were a resounding no.  Instead host John Oliver found a balance between news, jokes and long-form journalism.

His stories on income inequality, the Ferguson protests and drones could all be considered Peabody-worth reporting and demonstrate just how terrible America’s 24-hour news networks really are at in-depth news and analysis.

Taras David Butrej, staff writer

8.) BOB’S BURGERS

Bob’s Burgers has more fart jokes per minute than any other show on television. This isn’t necessarily what makes it the funniest show on TV right now, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Of course it also helps that it has the best characters in all of television right now. Walter White, for all of his complexity, couldn’t hold a candle to the riddle of hormones that is Tina Belcher, and the creative genius of Don Draper pales in comparison to musical prodigy Gene.

Matthew Guerruckey, Editor-in-Chief

7.) HOUSE OF CARDS

House of Cards season 2 had the unenviable task of topping the first season, which many consider to be the finest season of television for 2013. It’s hard to argue with how those same people seem to feel about season 2, which upped the stakes for its characters, the intensity of performances from Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, and did so without ever veering into the ridiculous. The final episode of this second season is as good as television can get.

Gabriel Ricard, Film Editor

6.) BROOKLYN NINE-NINE

Andre Braugher is the funniest man on television right now, and I’m just as surprised as the rest of you. In the hands of a less talented actor, his Captain Holt could be one-dimensional, but Braugher (along with a talented writing staff) continues to reveal more of the secretly jovial Captain, while staying true to the core of his character.

But beyond Braugher, each member of the cast has upped their game in Season Two, turning a group that felt too-similar to past sitcom crews into a well-defined group of lovable misfits.

Matthew Guerruckey, Editor-in-Chief

5.) BROAD CITY

At its core, the show is about nothing more than the friendship of two twenty-somethings, Abbi and Ilana, and their struggles to keep a job, get laid, and get high as fuck on the reg. If their bantering, stream-of-consciousness conversations feel like they’re drawn from real life, that’s because they are. Real-life best pals and improv partners Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer bring a wacked-out charisma to the show. Both have natural comedic timing on their own, but together, they’re an awkward, perverted force of nature.

Matthew Guerruckey, Editor-in-Chief

4.) FARGO

Nothing about the series is a caricature. It never once comes across as something so desperate to copy something that shouldn’t be copied, the whole project feels like the longest, saddest Saturday Night Live sketch imaginable. Yet Fargo consistently keeps us immersed in a universe that is clearly a spiritual sibling (or perhaps a cousin). Hawley deftly combines mood with originality, and the result is something that deserves a much larger audience than FX can reasonably allow.

Gabriel Ricard, Film Editor

3.) MAD MEN

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There are myriad reasons Mad Men continues to get under our skin: Our nostalgia for the narratives that underwrote many of our parents’ (or grandparents’) lives, our enthusiasm for clever, subtle (or not so subtle) interrogations of race and gender relations, the cultural and industrial precursors to the age of technology, the deconstruction of the traditional family, or our keen interest in post-mid-century fashion and pop-culture, as well as our ceaseless thirst for a nuanced, self-contained story-lines on episodic TV.

Frances Roberts of Den of Geek notes that “Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men has been “a circus of disenchantment and unfulfillment,” and Season 7 continued in this vein. From the first episode when Roger crashes the commune where his daughter is revising her outlook (wherein the formerly bitter Margaret forgives Roger all his transgressions), to the dismal school picnic at the idyllic farmwhen Betty and Bobbie sit uncomfortably together on a blanket unable to bridge Betty’s perpetualgap with her children, to Don Draper the prince of situational mastery floundering uncomfortably in the office he once essentially ran, waiting for Roger to arrive and tell him how/where he’ll now fit in—each episode surely surprised and dismantled the viewer, the wrap-up sometimes most markedlyrevealed in the individual song played upon closing credits. This segment, the first half of the final season, gave us the specter of a techno-beast which galvanized the excise-ment of Ginsberg’snipple. It presented character arcs back-grounded by moon landings, the salacious offering of athreesome, the cavalier dismissal of an inherently doomed marriage, and a seminal Don Draper daydream of Burt’s show-tune, “The Best Things in Life are Free,” swan-song after Don pulls off a strategic coup which once again grounds him in the leadership of the firm.

Mad Men’s strength has always been grounded in fully-fleshed, flawed, intriguing characters, and smart, unpredictable storylines that finesse like novellas. We could watch a single episode and have something to chew on for months. But most of us couldn’t get enough and anticipate the season closing with the melancholy reserved for such pivotal endings as a child taking off for college, or the family dog passing away. It’ll be a big, semiotic deal!

Pamela Langley, editor, The Writing Disorder

2.) TRUE DETECTIVE

True Detective is a show about morals. While this might seem like an outrageous claim on the surface, there’s more to this show than existential dread or even a compelling murder mystery. Creator Nic Pizzolatto and director Cary Joji Fukunaga force us to consider how our actions reverberate throughout history and, on a even more personal level, how we might be fated to repeat those decisions for eternity. Just that last thought calls into question even the most basic human interactions we all take for granted. How might you treat each important or inconsequential decision if you had to repeat it forever?

While you don’t need to dust off your copy of Ecce Homo just yet, it’s important to remember this show isn’t about philosophy, but rather friendship. “Rust” Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and “Marty” Hart (Woody Harrelson) have a cantankerous working relationship, yet ultimately complete each other, like any good detective paring. The acting is another strong aspect of the show. Only Matthew McConaughey could make the (sometimes) clunky dialogue seem realistic.

Overall, True Detective is an enthralling mystery, more hopeful than nihilistic. Just remember this as you watch: “All truth is crooked, time itself is a circle.'”

William Lemon, writer

1.) ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK

If you liked Season One of Orange is the New Black, you probably found a lot of the same stuff to enjoy in Season Two. Piper is still an entitled princess, Crazy-Eyes is still crazy, and Larry is still a grade-A douchebag. But what you might not have expected was for the series to deliver a grade-A villain, as it did in Season Two’s Vee, a cold, calculating Mama Bear.

Vee’s machinations (especially the infuriating wedge she drove between best-buds Taystee and Poussey) made this year’s central plotline gripping, and culminated in one of the most satisfying TV endings in recent years. Don’t fear the reaper, indeed.

Matthew Guerruckey, Editor-in-Chief

LISTS OF NOTE

MATTHEW GUERRUCKEY, Editor-in-Chief

  1. Broad City
  2. You’re the Worst
  3. Mad Men
  4. Last Week Tonight
  5. At Midnight
  6. Orange is the New Black
  7. Orphan Black
  8. New Girl
  9. Bob’s Burgers
  10. Brooklyn Nine-Nine

RYAN ROACHstaff writer

  1. Shameless
  2. Mad Men
  3. The Leftovers
  4. Please Like Me
  5. Game of Thrones
  6. Hannibal
  7. Orange is the New Black
  8. Fargo
  9. True Detective
  10. Brooklyn Nine-Nine

WILLIAM LEMONwriter

  1. True Detective
  2. Archer
  3. Orange is the New Black
  4. Jane the Virgin
  5. Game of Thrones
  6. Louie
  7. Brooklyn Nine-Nine
  8. House of Cards
  9. Mad Men
  10. The Comeback