Well, with the end of the year fast approaching, it's time now to relay my top ten TV shows of 2014- and though this year wasn't quite as full as last year (many of my favorite shows were uneven at times, with hit and miss episodes during the season) I did manage to come up with a top ten filled with great television that I'd gladly watch all over again.
The second season of Sundance's eery and absorbing drama continued the story of Daniel Holden in just as compelling a fashion as the first. Which was all the more surprising, considering that this year really progressed in a very different direction from the first season. These were ten episodes filled with angst, intimacy, compelling human drama (the unfolding of the mystery from the night Daniel was sent to prison is finally revealed), and still the quiet moments of reflection from Daniel, his family members and the locals who inhabit the Georgia town where the show takes place take you by surprise. I continue to be mesmerized by every moment of this show, whether surreal, dreamlike or reality based.
Finally, a new comedy series worth getting hooked on. Amazon's first acclaimed show is a home run, telling the story of a 70-year-old man (Jeffrey Tambor), who finally decides to live out the remainder of his life as the woman, Maura, that he feels he is. A series that explores the fluidity of sexuality as a whole, that dives deep into the complicated sexual relationships, identities, and changing feelings of a whole host of characters- not just Tambor, but his grown children, all of whom are struggling in different ways. Funny, melancholy, and nonchalantly matter of fact in the way it portrays all kinds of emotional and physical connections- definitely one of the best of the year.
3. THE KNICK
Steven Soderbergh's foray into episodic television was a triumph of directorial style finally making its way to the small screen. Set in turn of the century New York and dealing with the hospital setting of a time that feels like another universe, with rudimentary and graphic medical procedures it's hard to believe were commonplace. Great acting from a big ensemble cast that includes Clive Own, Andre Holland, and Juliet Rylance, it's a genre show that gets all the juice and atmosphere it needs from the setting, with amazing production values and camerawork that makes it feel downright cinematic.
4. ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK
There was not the slightest hint of a dip in quality for the second season of Netflix's hit prison dramedy. This time an arc involving Lourraine Toussaint's villainous Vee took the show in a much darker direction, but there was still time for flashbacks for all our favorite characters, funny moments sprinkled throughout, and more development for side characters like new administrator Caputo (Nick Sandow). This is the biggest of the big ensembles on TV right now, but how nice it is to see a female dominated, racially diverse cast can't be said often enough. It hasn't missed a step.
5. LAST WEEK TONIGHT WITH JOHN OLIVER
My favorite Daily Show correspondent came over to HBO with guns blazing as he set out to stake his claim upon a new form of satirizing the news- the expose. Oliver's shift from The Daily Show was to seize upon topics in a more in depth fashion, giving us more information, more details, more to be outraged about in general, especially as it relates to international issues that don't see enough of a spotlight in a country most often focused on domestic politics. It was a nice change of pace, and he remains just as bitingly hilarious and on point as he was on Comedy Central.
6. ORPHAN BLACK
Tatiana Maslany returned as the seven clones of herself in the sophomore season of BBC American's cult hit, and the show was just as wacky and entertaining as ever. More mystery was unraveled, more questions raised, more subplots crammed into this overstuffed sci-fi extravaganza, but it all remained inherently addictive and watchable, as we buy each of Maslany's doubles (okay, maybe not the trans man Tony), and even the show's missteps are so amusingly nonsensical that I can really forgive and forget just about all of it. I love watching this show, and I just wish there were more than ten episodes a season.
7. BOARDWALK EMPIRE
The last season of Boardwalk was a perfect wrap up of the gangsters we've been following for five years, and it went out Godfather II-style, in an epic arc that took us from the very beginning of Nucky Thompson's rise to his inevitable, series finale fall. Alone the way we got endings for Chalky, Van Alden, Eli, Margaret, Capone and Gillian, every one of them satisfying to the tee. Boardwalk was a class act and remained so 'til the very end, paying off its fans' devotion in spades. All long running series should look to this one for tips on how to sign off well.
8. MAD MEN
Mad Men's first half of the final season conveyed to me how remarkably good the show has remained, well into its later years, which is not something a show that's been on for seven seasons can usually say for itself. But the consistency with which Matt Weiner and his writers have produced quality, contemplative episodes as they begin the wrap up the saga of Don Draper really warrants more credit than it's received so far. This year Don earns his way back into the upper standings of the SCDP, and looks to be repairing his relationships with his colleagues and children (the episode with Sally in the restaurant was a breakthrough). Could a happy ending actually be in sight here? We'll find out soon enough, as the end of 1969 draws ever near.
9. THE AFFAIR
Showtime's sudsy The Affair took a neat concept and ran with it- the idea of telling stories from one person's point of view, then the other, Rashomon-style over an entire season. The idea's kind of cool, but the execution of it is another story, and it's amazing that it actually held up over ten episodes as well as it did here. Ruth Wilson and Dominic West are two married people who embark on an illicit affair one summer, one that seems to be leading up to an eventual murder and arrest sometime years later. It's a little trashy and soapy, but the show's production and cast are so polished and professional that it manages to feel like high class trash at the very least, with an addictive quality that pulls you in in spite of yourself. I was enthralled.
10. THE MISSING
There will be a full review of this series coming in a couple of weeks, but Starz's The Missing, which was a co-production with the BBC, was one of the most grippingly intense thrillers I've ever seen on television, despite a subject matter so overbearingly grim that it guarantees it won't appeal to everyone. A British couple played by the sensational James Nesbitt and Frances O'Connor suffer the kidnapping of their 6-year-old son while on vacation in France one summer, and from that point on the series volleys back and forth between the time the tragedy took place in 2006 and the resumed investigation eight years later when new evidence has come to light. It's very dark stuff, but the acting is incredible, the pace suspenseful, and the resolution a gut punch. By the end of this eight episode run you'll be impressed with the achievement and relieved that it's over at the same time.
Honorable Mentions: Other shows I loved this year but that didn't quite make the top ten were The Americans, Masters of Sex, Fargo, True Detective, The Fall, 24: Live Another Day, and Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. All of them are worth watching in full though, as we head into whatever the next year brings in television.