by WSN Arts Staff
10. TIE – “New Girl” and “The Mindy Project”
These two shows tied for tenth in our year end poll, and though they have a lot of differences, they also share a many similarities. They’re both incredibly funny and witty and romantic female-led comedies on the same network, FOX, with talented and diverse supporting casts, and if you watch one, chances are you probably watch the other. So it’s no surprise that they both had great seasons this year, “Mindy” in its third and “New Girl” in its fourth. “New Girl” managed to keep the laughs and chemistry between its central cast intact even after Nick (Jake Johnson) and Jess’ (Zooey Deschanel) break-up, while Damon Wayans Jr. as Coach and Lamorne Morris as Winston continue to infuse the show with a wonderfully weird brand of comedy and elevate the performances of the rest of the cast.
Meanwhile “The Mindy Project” has been able to capitalize on the success Danny (Chris Messina) and Mindy’s (Mindy Kaling) modern fairytale romance while putting their relationship through the ringer, and giving supporting players like Ike Barinholtz, Adam Pally, and Xosha Roquemore more time to shine and show off their impeccable comedic timing. All this is to say, there are certainly other shows on network television with loftier ambitions, but you’d be hard pressed to find two more purely enjoyable and funny shows than these.
9. “Orange is the New Black”
“Orange is the New Black” blew up when it premiered in 2013, earning acclaim for its creator (Jenji Kohan), star (Taylor Schilling), and wide array of talented supporting actors (Laverne Cox, Uzo Aduba, Natasha Lyonne, Kate Mulgrew, and many more) portraying the inhabitants of a womens’ prison . But somehow, Kohan and company managed to surprise us again, when the show returned on Netflix this year a turned in a second season even better than the first. Schilling’s Piper was challenged in all new ways, characters changed and hardened, Lorainne Toussaint’s Vee emerged as a true villain of the series, and Aduba’s Crazy Eyes became an unlikely internet hero. Whether the show really is a comedy or a drama, it’s compelling, funny, heartbreaking, and surprising at every turn. Here’s to hoping season three will be even better.
8. TIE – “Veep” and “Fargo”
Sure, the national midterm elections signaled a major sea change in American politics, but by far the most exciting political power-move of the year came in the form of Selena Meyers’ rise to the presidency in HBO’s “Veep.” Julia Louis-Dreyfus has rightfully won the Emmy for lead actress in a comedy since 2012 for completely inhabiting Selena’s viscous narcissism and manipulative tactics, and she and her outstanding supporting cast (Tony Hale, Anna Chlumsky, and Timothy Simons to name a few) absolutely killed it in the show’s third season. The last two episodes of the season, “Crate” and “New Hampshire” make a serious case for being the funniest half-hours of television all year.
The show that initially seemed like a disaster waiting to happen (why remake an excellent movie into an FX show?) turned into one of the best shows of the year. Creator Noah Hawley took the best parts of the Coen Brothers’ classic (they also executive produce the series) and stretched it out across 10 hour-plus long episodes, adding new characters and using the film as a jumping off point to delve into the dark inner workings of a small, Minnesota town and its heavily accented inhabitants, including Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thorton, Colin Hanks, and a breakout performance from Allison Tolman as Deputy Molly Solverson. Undoubtedly eerie with flashes of great comedy and violence, “Fargo” proved itself to be much more than a copycat of the film, and definitely something worth seeking out. And look out for season two in 2015, which will depart even further from the source material.
The show that the internet literally cannot stop talking about, “Girls,” returned for a third season in 2014 that was arguably its best, or it worst depending on who you ask, but I think we can all agree that no matter its ranking compared to other seasons, even a bum season of “Girls” is still among the best things on television in any given year. This year saw Lena Dunham and company take some great risks in characterization and storytelling, some which didn’t pay off but a lot of which did, mainly in the two stand-out capsule episodes of the season, “Beach House” and “Flo”. You may love to hate Hannah, Marnie, Jessa, and Shoshanna, these adventurous “Girls” won’t ever leave you bored.
Among other things, 2014 was the year that online streaming platforms announced their arrival as serious entertainment providers and awards contenders. One of the more recent and unexpected online powerhouses was Amazon Studios, but they established themselves as the new ones to beat with a group of original programs, the crowning achievement of which is Jill Soloway’s “Transparent.” The series follows a man, (Jeffery Tambor) as he reveals to his three adult children (Gaby Hoffman, Jay Duplass, and Amy Landecker) that he is transgendered and will live out the rest of his life as a woman, Maura. The delicate balance of family drama, comedy, and coming of age, combined with Soloway’s fresh direction and cinematic inclinations make for a completely original creation on a completely new network that feels like the start of something revolutionary. Season 2 will be released in 2015, so hopefully you asked for Amazon Prime for Christmas.
5. TIE – “Mad Men” and “How to Get Away With Murder”
Like “Breaking Bad” before it, AMC decided to split the final season of this television institution into two parts. Though we only got the first seven episodes of the last season this year, they were spectacular and made just as much of an impact as any of the six previous full seasons. Without giving too much away, a lot of things came to an end with foreshadowing of big changes to come, but the biggest water-cooler moments came in the last two episodes of season seven, part one with Don (Jon Hamm) and Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) finally getting their father daughter dance, and with Bert Cooper’s (Robert Morse) departure. With one of the best, if not the best acting ensembles on television, from Hamm to Kiernan Shipka’s Sally Draper, “Mad Men” has never disappointed and this first half was a pitch perfect set up to what is sure to be unforgettable final farewell to one of the best television shows to ever grace the medium.
The New York Magazine dubbed 2014 the year of Shonda Rhimes. She was already a force on television as the creator of ABC’s long running hit “Grey’s Anatomy” and the wildly successful “Scandal”, but it was her executive produced series “How To Get Away With Murder” that put her over the edge into world domination status. The series, created by Peter Nowalk, follows Viola Davis’ Annabelle Keating, a fierce, whip-smart law professor and her five best students as they argue cases and get caught up in a murder plot of their own. Following in “Scandal’s” footsteps, “How to Get Away With Murder” is a sexy, suspense-filled melodrama with the most diverse cast you’ll ever see on a network sitcom, and combined with Davis’ commanding performance, there’s never been a legal drama quite like this.
4. “Parks and Recreation”
Though it’s unfortunately preparing for its last season that will begin airing in early 2015, NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” had a stellar sixth season this year that not only managed to find new humor in its characters’ changing personalities and life circumstances, but also saw Amy Poehler’s Lelslie Knope face her biggest personal and professional challenges yet – from the Pawnee-Eagleton merger to her being recalled to the departure of her best friend Ann (Rashida Jones) to a triple-pregnancy to a new job as Regional Director for the National Parks Service in Chicago. We’ve come a long way with the fantastically funny cast of “Parks and Recreation” and its 2014 season was a bittersweet reminder of why it’ll be so sad to see this show go off the air.
3. “Broad City”
What began as a web series from two UCB upstarts caught the attention of Amy Poehler who helped them turn it not only into a smash hit for Comedy Central, but also into one of the best commercially and critically adored shows of the year. Starring Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, the show finds the fictional Ilana Wexler and Abbi Abrams as young twenty-somethings navigating their way through low-level jobs and casual relationships armed with very little money and a lot of weed. In its ten-episode first season, “Broad City” was consistently funny, subversive, and inventive both in its comedic style and in the visual gags and non-sequiturs the show frequently employs. Abbi and Ilana are the new cool girls at the party – get to know them before season two airs in January.
2. “Game of Thrones”
Joffrey’s death set the tone for this year’s gripping season of Game of Thrones and even without the presence of the shows most hated villain, viewers weren’t left questioning whether the remainder of the episodes could keep us just as absorbed in the battle over the Iron throne. With the King out of the picture this season of Game of Thrones was all about the underdogs – Arya Stark, Tyrion Lannister and John Snow – and Arya really stepped out of the shadows of the hound and into her own this season. John Snow and the men of the knight’s watch had their hands full keeping us entertained fighting off wildlings and giants in what was the most epic battle witnessed thus far on the show, that was also filled with plenty of “holy $%#*!” moments all leading up to the ultimate trial for Tyrion. Another season filled with epic battles, strong performances and unexpected twists, “Game of Thrones” is absolutely at the top of it’s game.
1. “True Detective”
“True Detective” was probably the most talked about, analyzed, and spoofed series of 2014, while also playing a major part in the McConaissance. Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) are a team of detectives in Louisiana on the trail of a particularly artistic serial killer over the course of 17 years. While the case provides many twists and turns in the drama, writer Nic Pizzolato and director Cary Fukunaga also weave in the personal trials of the two men (and Marty’s wife, played by Michelle Monaghan) as they wrestle with demons of past and present over the years. And while McConaughey and Harrelson certainly deserve recognition for their scorching performances, Fukunaga also made a name for himself with a series of amazing shots, not the least of which was the long take in episode four that was a directorial feat. Season two will switch out all talent in front of and behind the camera (excluding Pizzolato), but “True Detective” season one will surely go down in history as one of the greatest seasons of television.
Ife Olujobi is the Entertainment editor. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.