The Blog Formerly Known as Rebel Prince

Cult TV, Gen Y rants, and endless opera.

My favourite TV of 2014

Posted by therebelprince on December 31, 2014

New GirlDisclaimer: Yes, I hate “year-end” lists as much as the next guy but, guess what? I’m doing it anyway.

Second disclaimer: I realise the above wasn’t really a ‘disclaimer’ in the technical sense, but so what?

Well, here we are. It’s actually been a busy year, and I’ve not been on top of the hip new shows as much as I usually am, but nevertheless, I thought I’d briefly shout out to the 10 shows  I enjoyed the most in 2014, and also to a few that tried their darndest.

I Should Check Out:

These are shows that I’ve not seen but wanted to mention, since I know I should!

  • New Girl
  • Shameless
  • Masters of Sex
  • The Affair — will be binge-watching in January, I promise.

ScandalI Should Check Out, But Won’t:

  • Hannibal. I know, I know, it’s wonderful. And I’ve only been in love with Gillian Anderson since I was 7. But I just don’t have the stomach for it, okay? Quit yapping at me!

I Wish It Were On The List:

  • Curb Your Enthusiasm. Larry David keeps telling us that he’d consider bringing it back, but then he never does. STOP DEPRIVING US, LARRY! Force Jeff Garlin and Cheryl Hines to give up their network television careers to return to your weird world of misanthropes. Please.

Thanks For Playing:

These shows had interesting years, although ultimately I wasn’t quite satisfied.

[20]. Scandal – I gave up on Scandal earlier this year, but I have a great respect for all the rides of Shondaland. It’s not just the progressive nature of her characters and stories, it’s the fearless way in which Scandal plunges headfirst into every storyline, no matter how lunatic. The third season took the series too far into the world of Alias, but it seems as if the fourth season – if no less ridiculous – has remembered everything the show does well, particularly its staggering roster of female talent. I don’t intend to rejoin the show, but I wish it all my best.

24[19.] How I Met Your Mother. Over the years, I certainly struggled with this CBS sitcom, which seemed sensitive to the needs of my generation even as it cherished a not inconsiderable amount of heteronormativity in there. But the cast – especially Josh Radnor and Cobie Smulders – consistently brought their A-Game. The final season got some flak for its final ten minutes, in which the writers’ attempted to make a statement about the power of narrative, and tie up nine-years’ worth of storylines, but instead – in the face of many viewers – slapped fans in the face. While I actually didn’t dislike the ending, what was undoubtedly impressive was the high-wire act of staging the whole season over the course of one weekend. This was a show that never existed on any kind of logical space-time continuum, and the ninth season managed to make the conceit work. Well worth mentioning, even though – I’ll concede – I’ll probably never watch the show again.

[18.] 24 – I would have taken any bet that FOX’s wish-fulfillment fantasy would ever come back on the air, but somehow the eternal magic of Kiefer Sutherland continues to overpower everything in its path. While the new season was essentially a “greatest hits” package of everything that had gone before (honestly, aside from the London setting, I think literally every plot maneuver had been seen at some point in the show’s lengthy past), this was a well-cast (Michelle Fairley! Stephen Fry!), taut piece of drama that certainly asked us to forgive endless narrative contrivances (I mean, was the return of that long-forgotten villain really necessary), and failed to give us Tony Almeida, but still, reminded me why 24 is the only action show I can honestly say I’ve been a fan of. (Give or take an X-Files.)

Selfie

[17.] Selfie. This cute rom-com couldn’t catch a break with audiences or critics, and it was far from perfect. Selfie is another for the annals of weird workplace comedies (think Better Off Ted) with one of the most racially varied casts on network television and an interest in watching minor characters perform karaoke numbers for a full 2 minutes of your episode’s short running time. Honestly, I was surprised we even got 13 episodes, but I truly enjoyed it. The supporting cast – led by David Harewood and the lovely and very funny Giacomo Gianniotti – were delightful, and the leading performances reminded us all of the endless awesomeness of John Cho, and the power of Karen Gillan.

[16.] Community. I’ve always adored this show, but – like anything experimental – it’s regularly hit or miss. Season 5 returned Dan Harmon to the fold, wrote out Donald Glover, and became increasingly inventive (and/or desperate) in its ways to keep the characters together on campus. The show remains creative and hilarious at its best, but I feel as if the bloom is off the rose. I hope that, after we get our promised sixth season and the movie, the cast – and Harmon – can be freed to go on to newer things. (Half of them have already.)

Looking[15.] Looking. HBO’s quiet series about a bunch of thirtysomething gays in San Francisco was like Sex and the City meets Treme. While critics – gay and straight – went wild for the show, I have to admit I wasn’t one of them. Frankie J. Alvarez’s Agustin didn’t have so much a character arc as a downward spiral of negativity. Murray Bartlett’s Dom was stuck in the most uninteresting storyline since Dawson’s Creek tried to spin-off the title character into the world of filmmaking. Perhaps it’s because my own experiences are far removed from their lives, but I didn’t feel as if the series invited me into its world with anything approaching a creative spark. Thankfully, the series was saved by three charismatic performances: Russell Tovey, Jonathan Groff, and Raul Castillo created characters of depth, spiky but warm, neurotic but functional. Looking for the Future, the series’ fifth episode, is easily in my top five episodes of television from 2014. I may not have greatly enjoyed the show’s first season, but I’ll be back for the second.

Recommendations

These guys didn’t quite make the Top 10, but they were a good time.

14. Brooklyn Nine-Nine – now entering its second season, this police comedy is constantly surprising, witty, and character-based. Making every character funny is still a challenge for a great number of sitcoms, but Brooklyn Nine-Nine has found a way to have it all. With a sizeable cast, B- and C-plots are often reduced to a few scenes, but the strong cast manage to do so much with even the poorest lines. Andre Braugher is – unsurprisingly – the standout, playing the phenomenal deadpan role of Captain Holt, but he’s provided fierce backup by Melissa Fumero, Terry Crews, Stephanie Beatriz, and Andy Samberg (among others). Fans of lovable goofballs and unfortunate puns, please get on this.

Boardwalk Empire13. Archer – what the hell was this? I’d begun to tire of Archer by its fourth season. Don’t get me wrong, the series was still hilarious and subversive, but I’m not really a cartoon person. However, Archer‘s fifth season was a genuine treat for fans, taking the audience on a 13-week serialised ride of depravity and mayhem. Drug addiction, country music, international incidents, espionage, and endless secrets. The series has become increasingly labyrinthine for newcomers, but jeepers, this was an hilarious, filthy, destructive season of television. By all reports, the show will return to episodic television for season six, but here’s hoping that this level of inspiration doesn’t completely go away.

12. Boardwalk Empire – the Prohibition-Era series’ final season wasn’t an unqualified success. With only eight episodes to wrap up the series, storylines came to rather abrupt ends, with fascinating characters being short-changed, including Michael K. Williams and Gretchen Mol (fantastic nonetheless). Still, I’ll miss the murky moral world created here, and the flashbacks to Nucky’s early life proved justified in the series’ fantastic final episode. Boardwalk never entered the pantheon of HBO greats, but at its best, it was damn fine.

11. You’re the WorstStephen Falk’s beguilingly misanthropic series speaks to me like a demented, drug-fuelled Seinfeld. Chris Geere and Aya Cash are absolutely captivating as Jimmy and Gretchen, a pair of selfish, self-destructive thirtysomethings who start a relationship but refuse to even acknowledge the fact. The revelation of Gretchen’s utterly disgusting living conditions may have been her character highlight, while who could look past Jimmy – a self confessed “foot guy” – disdainfully telling an ex-girlfriend that her feet were horrible but he forced himself to “finish on them” to please her. The pair were ably supported by Desmin Borges and Kether Donohue, whose quirky comic talents only became clear as the series went on. Very much looking forward to the second season.

You're the Worst

Top Ten

Game of Thrones10. Game of Thrones – as the series moves further and further from the source text, Game of Thrones is reaching new heights (as in the beautiful pair of episodes The Lion and the Rose, and The Mountain and the Viper) but it’s also creaking under the weight of the vast expanse of characters and locations in George R.R. Martin’s sprawling – and endless – novels. Season Four managed to breathe life into some storylines that had been faltering, but continues to ask us to invest in characters like Theon, not appearing often enough to experience true arcs, while many episodes struggle to find the thematic links between their stories. There is no series that gets me as excited week-by-week as Game of Thrones, but I feel as if every week is fraught with peril – as much in the writer’s room as in King’s Landing.

The Comeback9. The Comeback – Resurrecting one of the most underrated cult hits of the last 10 years was a smart move on HBO’s part. Michael Patrick King and Lisa Kudrow rose to the occasion, creating a very different series from the one that premiered ten years ago, while retaining that series’ satirical bent. Lance Barber’s Paulie G – arguably the villain of the piece – was treated with a fascinating ambiguity, while Kudrow’s startling performance managed to convey every moment that Valerie is “switched on” for the camera. And a host of supporting performances lent the series a creepy verisimilitude that Entourage was never able to grasp. (I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Inbetweeners star Mark L. Young in the tiny role of Tyler. But maybe that’s just because I’m completely in love with him.) Refusing to make anything easy for themselves, Kudrow and King allowed Valerie to rise and fall with each passing episode, until the series’ startling final sequence. While I doubt The Comeback will… come back again, this was a warm return to a modern classic.

8. Bob’s Burgerseven a weak episode of Bob’s Burgers is a half-hour of delight. The series is building up a roster of well-voiced, wacky supporting characters while tending to its just plain lovely regular cast. Linda and Gene, Tina and Bob, and of course Louise, the Belchers are my favourite animated family of all time.

Veep7. The Americans – like every series in which some of the regulars are holding a dark secret from the world (and other regulars), The Americans always looks as if it’s going to crumble under its own weight. Yet, to this point, the dream team of Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, and Noah Emmerich have managed to make it work. Alongside memorable guest work by Margo Martindale, the series has smartly integrated Alison Wright’s sharp-but-deluded Martha further into the mix, and even found intriguing storylines for the Jennings children, played with intelligence by Holly Taylor and Keidrich Sellati. It’s not always an easy series to like, but it’s one I’m growing to love.

6. Veep – a glorious, profanity-laden look at politics, flawlessly cast (anything Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Anna Chlumsky can’t do?) and constantly awkward. If you’re not watching Veep, I don’t want to know you.

5. Adventure Timethe land of Ooo is, by now, so densely populated that one never knows which characters will appear in any given episode. Nor do we know whether the episode will be a conventional adventure tale, a romance, a farce, a morality tale, a drug-fuelled fantasy, a film noir or otherwise. Season six is the first not to be produced under Pendleton Ward’s watch, and it has shown signs of a bewildering shift in focus, often away from the characters as its centre. Still, the series’ willingness to grow and mature is providing us with constantly startling inventions, and it shows no sign of slowing. If you’re going to start with this show, I’d suggest starting earlier in the run. As it matures, Adventure Time is becoming a stranger and stranger beast, one that rewards in spades, but asks much of you in return.

Adventure Time

4. Orange is the New Black – For the record, I still feel as if Jenji Kohan is a maniac with a Writers’ Guild membership, but I must concede that the colourful, deeply-characterised, female world created by this series is remarkable. Taylor Schilling’s Piper – the audience surrogate of season one – became more integrated into the ensemble this year, as the series was allowed to expand its own brand of insanity.

The Good Wife3. Louie Louis C.K.’s persona is of a type that appears every few years, frank-speaking in his refusal to be politically correct, but forward-thinking enough that he challenges all of our assumptions about cultural stereotypes. This series is going to age in strange ways, but if you’re curious about the development of the television comedy, this bizarre concoction is whatever C.K. wants it to be each week. While Model and So Did the Fat Lady got all the mainstream press, the fourth season was literally filled with stellar episodes, from the “traditional” Back to the six-part cross-cultural romance Elevator. And then there was the haunting flashback episode Into the Woods. C.K’s ability to efface himself is one of the series’ quieter strengths.

2. The Good Wife – Is there anything this show can’t do? The creators of The Good Wife have hinted that they plan for the show to end after the seventh season in May 2016. I sure hope that the trucks of money CBS delivers to Julianna Marguiles’ door won’t stop the series from ending where it should. The characters’ arcs are coming to natural climaxes, and it’s a joy to behold. True, the sixth season has had its troubles: the Cary plot has rendered somewhat moot the fascinating War of the Law Firms that made season 5 so compelling. The loss of Josh Charles and the charming Graham Phillips is acutely felt. Christine Baranski has been woefully underused, even as the series expands its gorgeous roster of recurring characters. And I’m as dismayed as the rest of the fans about whatever the hell is going on behind the scenes with two of the show’s lead cast members. Still, The Good Wife is the most powerful show on network television right now, and I can’t wait for what happens next.

Mad Men1. Mad Men – “oh, what a surprise”, I hear you say. “Give up now, you hispter scum!” Yes, I accept the charge. Still, Matthew Weiner’s utterly perfect series continues to be Shakespeare on television, with its steady pace, humanist joy in side-scenes and televised short stories, and that inexorable, unspoken road to 1970. Like all great art, Mad Men (most of the time) doesn’t tell us what to think about its storylines, but at the same time, asks us to approach it on this level. Undoubtedly in the pantheon of great TV series of all time,  I have absolutely no idea what is to come in the final 7 episodes, due to be broadcast in early 2015. I just know that I’ll be along for the ride.

 

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