We are living in a golden age for TV with most of the really interesting stories and characters being portrayed through this medium instead of on the big screen. It’s been a fantastic year for many shows so here is my countdown of what I consider the best of the year. I don’t usually like ranking things but I thought I’d go for it this time. Let me know what you thought of the shows in the comments or on twitter and tell me what your favourites were.
I’ve tried to keep everything as spoiler free as I can but be warned there may be a few spoilers in the trailers if you haven’t seen previous seasons.
25 – Under The Dome
The TV adaptation of Stephen King’s classic novel, about a town trapped under a transparent dome, had its second season in 2014 and things started to get weird. The first season got off to a slow start but was very exciting once it got going and left us with a huge cliff hanger so I was very excited to watch the story continue. They’ve really picked up the pace this season with lots of action and plot twists that initially had me on the edge of my seat and dying to see the next episode. Unfortunately these constant twists started get a little tiring as I became somewhat desensitized to the strange happenings which would soon be forgotten or become irrelevant. Despite this I’m really enjoying Under The Dome as it’s satisfying the sci-fi cravings I’ve had since Lost came to an end.
24 – South Park
It’s strange to think that South Park is now in its 18th season, that’s a lot of episodes and in recent years the show has been increasingly hit and miss. This is understandable considering almost every episode of the show has been written by Trey Parker, while other longstanding animated comedy shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy have a different writer almost of episode (and are still hit and miss). It has been a pleasant surprise then, to see South Park go in a slightly different direction from previous seasons. Unlike older episodes with completely self-contained story lines, this season has had continuity with plots running throughout. Although still a bit hit and miss, this alternative approach has breathed new life in to the show and with storylines including Lorde actually being Stan’s dad Randy, South Park has got its edge back.
23 – Harry and Paul’s Story of the Twos
I wasn’t sure whether or not to include this in my yearly round up as it was only a one off episode but it was so hilarious I had to. As part of BBC 2’s anniversary celebrations, UK comedy legends Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse put together this mockumentary of the history of the channel. The duo manage to brutally satirize almost everything that’s ever been on BBC 2, from old war documentaries to modern panel shows, all with their laugh out loud brand of silliness.
22 – Broad City
When I hear people say that women aren’t funny I always jump in to tell them how wrong they are but sadly often get stuck when providing examples, and with 30 Rock ending last year, truly funny female created shows are very thin on the ground. Fortunately Llana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson are here to prove women are just as capable of making fantastic comedy as men are. The show follows the antics of 2 twenty something girls living in New York, as they struggle with dead end jobs, dodgy guys and dreadful parties. Think Sex and the City but with poor stoners instead of rich spinsters.
21 – Workaholics
2014 saw Adam, Blake and Anders back on our TV with more of their bizarre shenanigans and desperate attempts to look cool. They’ve taken things even further than usual in this season with some of the most disgustingly funny things I’ve ever seen and lots of really outlandish plot lines. This show isn’t for everyone but episodes such as “Three and a Half Men” where Karl decides he wants his penis removed are pure comedy genius.
20 – The League
After a slightly disappointing season in 2013 I was dubious about The League starting again this year. The show had started to feature more football related plots (I know it’s all about a group of guys in an American fantasy football league but it was previously kept to a minimum) and lost some of its original quick wit and bold rudeness. Fortunately after a fairly dull start this season really picked up, delivering some of the funniest episodes since the start of the show. Kevin’s ongoing sexual problems and Taco’s insane business ventures had me in stitches as well as the psychotic Raffi continuing to be a strong source of laughs.
19 – Orange Is The New Black
Netflix original series Orange Is The New Black follows the story of a seemingly straight laced woman spending time in jail for transporting drug money when she was younger. The show depicts her troubles trying to fit in, the friction between gangs and the corruption of the jail staff, but does it all with decent dose of comedy. Picture a cross between Desperate Housewives and Oz, and you’re pretty close to what this show is like.
Continuing from the cliff hanger at the end of season 1, with plenty of drama and grit perfectly balanced with heart-warming moments and humorous situations Orange Is The New Black is addictively entertaining. If you’re anything like me you’ll binge watch the whole season in no time at all.
18 – The Trip
I can’t think of many things more entertaining than Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon sitting around in restaurants taking the piss out of each other, so you can imagine how ecstatic I was to hear they were making another series of The Trip. This time the duo are touring around Italy, experiencing the culture, the food, the wine, and of course, the women.
Although this series was not quite as laugh out loud funny as the first the writing is impeccable, Coogan and Brydon have switched roles in many ways and subtle parallels to first series are drawn. We previously had a few sombre moments, like Coogan struggling to discipline his children and further his career while travelling around the North of England, but it was light-hearted for the most part. In this series while the backdrop may be sunnier, the tone is much more melancholy, as the two watch their youth fade and desperately attempt to maintain their charm. It looks like we will get a 3 series of The Trip and I am looking forward to where they take the story as this installment really exemplified the quality of writing that they are capable of.
17 – Orphan Black
One of BBC America’s few original series, Orphan Black passed by a lot of people when it first came out but the second season has brought it more attention, and deservedly so. The show is a sci-fi drama about orphan Sarah, who witnesses someone identical to herself jump in front of a train and then pretends to be that person in attempt to make sense of what she just saw. Things quickly get complicated when Sarah discovers there are other clones out there along with mysterious corporations behind it all.
This season especially has been very fast paced and exciting with new twists and surprise revelations at every turn. The level of acting from Tatiana Maslany is flawless as she gives each of the characters she plays such individuality that you forget it is the same person playing them.
16 – Mad Men
After the success of Breaking Bad, AMC decided they would go down the same route of splitting the last season in half when it came to wrapping up Mad Men. I personally think that was a bad idea as Mad Men is a very different style of show with a much slower pace that would have benefited from having the last season all in one go. That being said, the first half of this season has been almost perfect and it looks like we will get a fantastic conclusion to the series.
After years of getting pretty much anything he wants, Don’s luck and charm is finally running out and his life is falling apart, this has created a shift in the tone with this season. All the characters in Mad Men have been fascinating and complex, it’s been a constant pleasure watching them grow since the start of the show and I can’t wait to see how it all ends.
15 – Modern Family
Modern Family has quickly become one of the most consistent and watchable TV shows being made. Full of puns and recurring jokes the show has a level of writing that you don’t get in many sitcoms, especially ones as popular as this. That is where the real genius of Modern Family lies, it has managed to be intelligently written but also very accessible. There are subtle jokes that you may miss on the first viewing but enough obvious jokes to keep you laughing the whole way through.
They have built layered and genuine characters without the series ever feeling slow. We are now half way through the sixth season and we are seeing the children in the show mature while the adults try to deal with their own problems. After spending so long watching the group’s lives you almost feel like part of the family yourself, and it’s always a pleasure catching up.
14 – In The Flesh
Zombies are now a subject that has been done to death in TV and film so it’s incredible that the writers of In The Flesh have created such a fresh and interesting TV show about them. The series follows Kieran Walker who suffers from “Partially Deceased Syndrome”, which is basically the politically correct way of saying he’s a zombie. Kieran lives in a small town in the North of England and is on medication to stop him behaving like a zombie, so while he may not have a heartbeat or be able to eat food, he is just like a normal person.
The first series was short at only 3 episodes but the second has a full 6 so the plot has been able to develop a lot, allowing it to become deep and often very intense. The main focus of In The Flesh is the relationships between the characters, the way a family copes with having their dead son back, how a woman reacts when she’s moved on after her boyfriend dies only to have him return and what a community does when the sick people who were trying to kill them all are now integrated amongst them. It is this focus on human emotions that sets the show apart from other zombie stories, making for an interesting and emotional piece of TV.
13 – A Touch Of Cloth
Charlie Brooker’s parody of UK crime dramas returned in 2014 with another 2 episodes of pun filled silliness. A Touch Of Cloth is a perfect example of a parody in that if you’re not really paying attention to what the characters are saying you might not even realise that they’re taking the piss. UK crime dramas are rather ridiculous to start with which makes them a great target for satire, and having grown up watching them it’s incredibly fun to see Charlie Brooker play with all the classic tropes contained in them.
But it’s not only the satirising of clichés that make this show so hilarious, it’s the fact that Brooker has managed to make almost every line in to some kind of gag. I thought they may have ran out of ideas for the show by now but this series has been just as funny as the other two and has again been of the my TV highlights of the year.
12 – Black Dynamite
Many of you will be familiar with Black Dynamite the feature film but fewer will know the Adult Swim animated show based on it. The show, like the film is a parody of 70s Blaxploitation films and chronicles the misadventures of Black Dynamite and his friends living in the whorephanage (that’s an orphanage and a brothel in the same building).
As much as I loved the premise, the first season of the show was hit and miss with some episodes lacking any real laughs and seeming to drag on for too long. Fortunately in the new episodes the writers have really hit their stride creating some hysterical moments woven in to interesting plot lines. As in the first season the animation is spectacular, this is a very welcome change from the usual basic style used in most animated comedies. This season sees Black Dynamite clash with a disillusioned, gun toting Mr Rogers, a crowd of whore hungry zombies and Black Jaws. It’s just as hilarious as it sounds.
11 – Hannibal
Hannibal, as the name may suggest is based on characters from the Red Dragon novel and is somewhat of a prequel to the book, although creator of the show Bryan Fuller still seems a bit unsure of where he wants to take the plot going forward. I was recommended the show by a friend and although the start of the first season was slow he assured me if I kept watching it would get better, he couldn’t have been more right.
The whole of the second season is sublime, the way it’s written, the acting, the way it’s shot, it all blends perfectly to keep you on the edge of your seat. The Hannibal character is played amazingly, he is calm and friendly but you can always sense the deranged killer behind it all. You’re never allowed to relax throughout the series as you know that the next horrific event is just around the corner. One of the things I really loved about this season was the mystery behind what was going on in the heads of the characters, you can’t tell who is bluffing, who is genuine and even who the good guys are supposed to be. The season finale was one of the most intense TV episodes I’ve ever seen and has me dying to see what Dr Lector gets up to next.
10 – House Of Fools
Since a child I have always been a huge fan of Reeves and Mortimer with their insane random slapstick brand of comedy. When I heard they would be making a sitcom together I was very excited but also a little unsure of how their style of humour would work in a different format. Fortunately my reservations were put to rest within the first five minutes of episode 1, these two are just hysterical and their transition in to the sitcom genre couldn’t feel more natural.
The premise of the show is simple, as with most sitcoms, it’s just Vic and Bob living together in a house with some odd neighbours, all of them getting into strange predicaments every episode. There are a lot of people who try to do the random, bizarre style of comedy but it all too often comes off as forced and unfunny (I’m looking at you Mighty Boosh), this has never been a problem for Vic and Bob and their talent for the ridiculous is shining brighter than ever. House of Fools definitely isn’t for everyone, it’s extremely stupid, but it’s the kind of concentrated stupidity that takes a genius to write.
9 – True Detective
HBO continued their streak of quality programming this year with new show True Detective. Every season will be self-contained and revolve around different detectives trying to solve a case. This season focused on 2 detectives in Louisiana looking in to the ritualistic murders of young women across the state.
This was really a break out year for Matthey McConaughey as an actor, playing multiple big roles throughout the year and really shining in each of them. For me, this was McConaughey’s most impressive performance but what made the show so great was that Woody Harrelson was just as good. These two had such amazing chemistry together, their relationship was one of the main driving forces behind the plot and made the series so watchable. Louisiana was the perfect backdrop for this story and was shot flawlessly, adding to the intensity and unsettling tone throughout. True Detective really was one of the most cinematic and complete TV series of the year, let’s see if they can top it in 2015.
8 – Rick And Morty
There have been so many new animated comedies in recent years that some have become a bit lazy, simply trying to cash in on the popularity of shows like Family Guy and American Dad!. But Rick and Morty is different. Watching Rick and Morty is incredibly refreshing, it’s very original and hits all the right spots that other shows are missing. You get the interesting, complex, sci-fi plots Futurama has; the complexity of animation you only get in shows like Boondocks and Black Dynamite; the laugh out loud funny of Family Guy and the all-out weirdness of other Adult Swim shows like Aqua Teen Hunger Force. This series really has everything.
It’s about Morty, a kid who lives with his family, including his crazy scientist grandfather Rick. Rick is constantly creating new inventions that inevitably wind up getting Morty in trouble and sending the duo on an adventure to set things right. The only complaint I have about this show is that there weren’t enough episodes. Bring on season 2!
7 – Nathan For You
Nathan For You may be one of the greatest parodies ever made, it takes aim at an easy target but the end result is one of the funniest TV shows I’ve had the pleasure of watching. As a spoof of improvement reality shows like Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and Mary Queen of Shops, the show follows Nathan Fielder as he visits struggling local businesses and attempts to improve them with his fantastic ideas. The thing is, Nathan is incredibly awkward and unlikeable, and his ideas are actually terrible. The format of the series is a bit weird in that some of the characters are just real people, oblivious to the fact they are on a comedy show, while other characters are obviously played by actors. So in that way it isn’t much different to most normal reality shows, blurring the line between what is real and what is fictional.
In this season we see Nathan implement a no ghost guarantee at a real estate agents, turn a souvenir shop in to a fake movie set and disguise an exterminator as a hotel award presenter. The idea for the show is great in itself but Nathan Fielder is what really brings the show together, he plays the part so amazingly well and had me in hysterics throughout.
6 – Boardwalk Empire
It’s not often a series comes a long that really grabs you, that immerses you in a different world and makes you truly care for the characters. Boardwalk Empire is one of those series and I’m very sad to see it end. Although I would have loved for Boardwalk Empire to continue for another season or two, everything here was wrapped up in a satisfying manor and cemented the show as one of my all-time favourites.
This season jumped forward 7 years from the last but wastes no time filling you on what has happened and instead makes you put the pieces together yourself. As prohibition seems to be coming to an end and the crime bosses are aging, everything in the lives of the characters is changing and this is the focus of the season. Alongside the main plots we are shown flashbacks to Nucky’s earlier life, getting an insight in to what made him the man he is. I’m usually not a fan of flashbacks, especially so late in the timeline of a show but the phenomenal casting and writing of these flashbacks made them a pleasure to watch and an integral part of the overall story. Although this wasn’t my favourite season (that would be the third) it is still better than most shows ever get at their peak and was a beautiful way to end everything. If you haven’t seen Boardwalk Empire, do yourself a favour and watch it as soon as possible, you won’t regret it.
5 – Fargo
Inspired by the film of the same name, Fargo depicts the events that take place when the mysterious and violent Lorne Malvo passes through the small town of Bemidji, Minnesota in January 2009. I don’t want to say any more about the plot because I feel that could spoil it a bit. One of the things that make this series so exciting is not knowing what the hell comes next.
Fargo is impeccably put together, every line seems almost poetic, every shot has an artistic brilliance and even when not much is happening, it still feels fast paced. Billy Bob Thornton excels as the unpredictable villain, set on causing problems for people with seemingly no motivation other than it entertains him. Martin Freeman also impresses in his role as a quiet insurance salesman stuck in over his head in all the chaos he is now a part of. Wildly unpredictable and shockingly entertaining, Fargo is one of this year’s standout shows.
4 – Trailer Park Boys
The last full season of Trailer Park Boys finished way back in 2007, they had a one off special in 2008 and then in September 2009 the movie Countdown To Liquor Day was released as an end to the show. It was a satisfying ending, but really there was no need for it to finish there because the characters of this series are so lovable that we will always want to see more.
There had been talk of reviving the show for a while and then in March 2014 Netflix announced they would be bringing the guys back together for season 8. This was an exciting moment but also a worrying one, not too long ago Netflix brought back the cult classic, Arrested Development to a mixed reception and without Mike Clattenburg as director there were fears the new season would be a disappointment. Fortunately our fears were laid to rest as the crew really pulled off a fantastic season, true to the earlier seasons and packed full of the usual high jinks that will have you in hysterics. If you’re a fan of Trailer Park Boys you need to watch this, and if you’re not then you need to catch up with one of the greatest sitcoms ever made.
3 – Utopia
It’s rare that a British drama is quite this ambitious. That isn’t an insult to British drama, but we tend to stick to simpler concepts when making TV shows. A big part of this is obviously due to the fact that most UK production companies have smaller budgets than those in the US. In Utopia we have something different for British TV, a show that is aiming for the heights of US successes like Breaking Bad, Lost and House Of Cards, a complex story with realistic characters that will unfold over a number of seasons.
The show follows a group of people who met online through their love of a graphic novel called The Utopia Experiments and when one of them acquires the sequel to the book it seems the story may not be as fictional as they thought. It’s hard to say too much without giving things away but the second season continues the excitement and twists of the first, making for real addictive television. What I love about this series so much is the ambiguity of the characters. Like in real life there are rarely any true good guys and bad guys, everyone has their motives and everyone thinks they are doing what is right. Even as a viewer it is hard to decide what the right thing to do would be, it leaves you conflicted and unable to stop thinking about what you have just watched.
It was recently announced that Utopia has now been cancelled and it seems we may not see the end of one of the best British TV shows ever made because Channel 4 seems to think that “normal people” sat at home watching the telly and a barrage of poverty porn is better programming. Hopefully Netflix or another on demand service will come to the rescue and bring us the ending we so desperately need.
2 – House Of Cards
The most successful Netflix original series returned in 2014 with another intense season causing people all over the world to shut themselves inside and watch the whole thing in one go. House of Cards may be one of the most addictive TV shows ever and it really lends itself to the Netflix model. I got through the season a couple of days, I kept telling myself I would only watch one more episode but by the end of it I just had to see one more.
This season follows Frank Underwood as he continues his quest to become president, at any cost. It’s a real pleasure watching Frank’s plans unfold, every time you think he’s going to slip up he has another idea, he’s always one step ahead. There is something fantastically dark about this series, there have been a lot of shows recently that have depicted some really horrible violence and gore, but none of them have been as unsettling as House of Cards. All of the characters are selfish, manipulative liars trying to get what they want and these people who are supposed to be running the country for the better of the people are committing the most horrific acts with absolutely no remorse. This is a side of humanity that is hard to watch, we like to think there is good in people but pretty much the only character in House Of Cards with any redeeming qualities is BBQ joint owner Freddy. House of Cards is an incredibly powerful TV show, it depicts a reality that we don’t want to believe in yet it’s extremely enjoyable to watch. Now give us season 3!
1 – The Leftovers
It’s strange that my favourite TV show of 2014 is not the one I enjoyed the most, instead it’s this, The Leftovers, a show that I didn’t really enjoy at all until a few episodes in. So why is it my favourite show of the year? Because it’s challenging, it’s exciting and it’s fascinating. I haven’t been quite this excited about a show in a long time, throughout the season I really had no idea what was going to happen next, but I couldn’t wait to find out.
The show is set three years after an unexplained event where 2% of the whole world’s population disappeared in to thin air and we follow the inhabitants of a town in New York. In the first few episodes I was getting a bit frustrated with the lack of focus on this event, the writers were almost ignoring what seemed like it should be the focus of the show and I didn’t understand that at first. It soon became obvious though, that what happened is not important, it’s how the people deal with it that matters, it’s the humanity that is interesting, the relationships between these people who lived through an unbearable loss.
This series is definitely not for everyone and had critics completely split, half of them loving it and the other half hating it. The Leftovers is relentlessly bleak throughout, most of the characters aren’t very likeable and some episodes are quite uneventful, but all this serves its purpose, it creates an atmosphere and crafts a complex story about love, loss, depression and insanity. It examines what happens when people are lost, when something shakes the foundation of their reality and leaves them asking “why?”. The acting has been impeccable, spawning some truly heinous characters and some intensely emotional moments. If they can keep this quality up I may have a new all time favourite TV show.