Best TV, 2014 Edition

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Well, it’s that time of year. I’m hesitant to do a traditional Top 10 list, if only because there may not be ten shows that I loved, or there may be more, and, as I’ve said before, it’s my blog and I’ll make the rules. So without being beholden to numbers, let’s dive in to the television that I enjoyed the most in 2014. Note: some of these will be individual episodes or moments from a show, and some will be the show’s entire season. I’m sure you’ll figure it out as I go along.

There isn’t a show I enjoyed more this year, minute-for-minute, than “True Detective.” While I wasn’t sold entirely on the ending (and wound up hoping for a more byzantine conspiracy than was ultimately proven), the show kept me on the edge of my seat every episode. Fantastic acting, incredible direction (that long tracking shot at the end of the fourth episode especially), and my favorite scene of any TV show this year:

If time is a flat circle, I only hope the next season lives up to the past.

In keeping with the spirit of depressing HBO prestige dramas, I loved “The Leftovers.” While the show was incredibly bleak (its first episode featured one of the most depressing scenes I’ve ever seen, and I’ve watched a lot of television), it won me over in episode three, focusing on Matt the preacher. Lots of unanswered questions, just like another Damon Lindelof-produced show, but it certainly kept my attention. Bonus points for making Nora Durst the most believable character on a show about unbelievable things.

Note: this is a pic of that scene in the first episode I was talking about. And it doesn’t begin to capture the awkwardness.

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When HBO announced that it was doing an Aaron Sorkin show about the news two years ago, I was giddy. Then I watched the first season of “The Newsroom,” with Sam Waterston spewing “You’re a goddamn newsman, Don!” and Mac and Maggie unable to understand technology despite, you know, working for a media company, and I was left cold. I stuck with the show, which showed marginal improvements in season two. This year, in an abbreviated six-episode send off, the show has become what I hoped it would always be. Characters have things that real people do: emotions, normal reactions, desires, tendencies, personalities. That may sound like I’m damning the show with faint praise, but I’m not – I am really enjoying this last season, especially Sloan and Don’s romance. While not as gripping as “True Detective” or “The Leftovers,” “The Newsroom” at least puts a smile on my face.

The show that left me with the biggest smile on my face on HBO for the better part of the year was “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” I could sing the praises of this show all day. The fact that Oliver can turn topics like civil forfeiture, overcrowded prisons and the scam that is the lottery into comic fodder is nothing short of genius, and the fact that he can deep dive into one topic, commercial free, makes this the perfect marriage of content and format.

AMC seems to be in love with these halved final seasons (see also: “Breaking Bad”), but no matter: I very much enjoyed the first seven episodes of the final season of “Mad Men.” The thought that we only have seven episodes left to see of Don Draper and company makes me go nearly as crazy as Ginsberg.

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Speaking of final seasons…well, there’s no easy way to put it. The last season of “How I Met Your Mother” stunk. And that finale…yikes. But the moment where Ted and Tracy do (finally!) meet on the train platform was sublime. Here’s to wishing that’s where the show had ended.

(skip to 3:50 to see to what I’m referring)

As far as shows that signed off the air this year and stuck the landing, none was perhaps as satisfying as “Boardwalk Empire.” While there was the (perhaps inevitable) demise of many of my favorite characters (RIP, Chalky), the fifth season provided interesting context on how Nucky became Nucky, and blended fiction with history, creating an Al Capone character as memorable as any villain on TV.

I’m an unabashed “Simpsons” lover. I’ve seen every episode of “Family Guy.” I adore “South Park.” And yet, no animated show this year made me laugh harder than “Bob’s Burgers.” I can’t think of another show that would do a “Die Hard/Working Girl” mash-up musical. Brilliant.

People have mocked the preponderance of the rom-com sitcoms that debuted this year: “Marry Me,” “A to Z” and “Manhattan Love Story.” I actually enjoy “Marry Me” – it has the manic comic timing of “Happy Endings” (not surprising, given that its lead, Casey Wilson, is a former cast member, and its creator, David Caspe, was the creator of HE). And “A to Z” has two leads with great presence and chemistry in Ben Feldman and Cristin Milioti. (The less said about “Manhattan Love Story,” the better, although Analeigh Tipton’s real-life story is amazing). But if all of these rom-coms gave us just one thing this year, it’s one of my favorite SNL bits in years: Vanessa Bayer’s “Daisy Rose” appearance on Weekend Update:

“Silicon Valley” had no laugh-out-loud moments its first few episodes. I enjoyed it every week, but it had no business making a “best of” list. And then…wow. That last episode wrapped up everything perfectly. This clip is decidedly not safe for work (Mom and Dad, please don’t watch), but wow is this hilarious.

Another HBO comedy that had an excellent, wonderful, terrific season was “Veep.” A cringe-worthy heir to “The Office,” “Veep” excels at presenting every character with a major flaw (or three). See, for instance, Dan having a nervous breakdown, or Gary giving Selina (now President!) the world’s squeakiest shoes. An amazing season, and I can’t wait to see where the show goes now that Ms. Meyers is President Meyers:

Billy Eichner aka “Billy on the Street” got Drew Barrymore to play “Would Drew Barrymore Like That?” Incredible.

“Masters of Sex” had a solid second season, and (I can’t believe I’m saying this), I thought Sarah Silverman was the best actor on the show. Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan were both great as well.

It has not been a stellar year for “SNL,” but I loved everything about Bill Hader’s return.

I never expected his character Anthony Peter Coleman to make a return, but I am very glad he did.

As always, “Parks and Recreation” had a fine season – maybe not its best, but always consistently funny. But the most memorable part of its 2014 is the three-year time jump in the finale, complete with Jon Hamm cameo:

“Community” is a show that’s always on the precipice of being cancelled (thanks for the save, Yahoo! #SixSeasonsAndAMovie). Its fifth season finale ended well, with the Save Greendale Committee saving Greendale (natch). Jeff had a nice moment where he connected emotionally (especially to Annie). But the end credits and potential NBC shows bit still cracks me up the most:

The third season of “New Girl” was so disappointing in so many ways – I really thought the writers wouldn’t have had Jess and Nick drag down the entire show just because they became a couple. Thankfully, this fall the show has bounced back. I’m anxious to see how the pairing of Jessica Day and Mr. Geauxinue fares.

Honorable mentions go to “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” improving vastly after the second “Captain America” movie; “Brooklyn 9-9”; “The Knick”; the debut of “Girl Meets World” (with ghost Feeny!); “The Tonight Show Starring¬†Jimmy Fallon”; “The Mindy Project”; and those reruns of “Beverly Hills, 90210” that take up a ton of space on my DVR.

But given that there are just a few weeks left in the year, I wanted to end this post with the end of a show that has entertained me for the better part of two decades. “The Late Show with David Letterman” isn’t a show I watch every night, and isn’t a show that has bits that go viral the way Fallon or Kimmel’s shows do. And yet Dave is a comedy institution. The way he can insult and probe a guest he doesn’t like, or fawn over one he does (See: Julia Roberts. See also: Jennifer Lawrence), the way he can repeat one word or phrase throughout a broadcast, and the rapport with Paul make for entertainment whenever I watch. I’m just glad Matt Damon could give him one final McConaughey impression before he left:

So, what did I miss? Let me know in the comments.

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2 thoughts on “Best TV, 2014 Edition

  1. Loved your comments. Everything is so well written. You really could be an excellent critic/reviewer for a magazine or newspaper. So insightful. Makes me feel I missed most of the season. Great job!

    Sent from my iPad

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