The consensus seems to be that 2014 was a phenomenal year in television, giving audiences more quality and variety than ever before. In our TV Awards post, we counted down the most deserving shows and performances. In this post, we share observations about shows we saw this year, talk about some shows we didn’t get a chance to mention there, share discoveries from before 2014, and look forward to what’s awaiting us in 2015. Thanks to Luke Annand, Jordan Ferguson, Lisa Fernandes, Lauren Morocco, and Mike Surerus for sharing their thoughts.
Some of our favorites didn’t get a chance to shine in the staffwide poll, so we championed the ones we felt deserved more love.
Boardwalk Empire, which had one of the most perfect series endings ever; Scorsese and Terence Winter’s epic period drama on prohibition came to a close this summer, and it was beautiful. Beautifully shot, beautifully acted, and beautifully written. You can’t ask for a better finale than that. Honorable mentions I think should also have made it - Fargo, Utopia, Peaky Blinders. - Lauren Morocco
So many shows fail to gracefully ride off into the sunset. The last season of Psych - particularly the finale, which was a warm, touching, funny love letter to their loyal fanbase - bucked that trend beautifully. Sure, it had its flaws - most of them caused by the hole made in the cast by Maggie Lawson’s unavailability due to her being cast in the already-forgotten sitcom Back in the Game. But overall it provided one of the strongest viewing experiences possible, tying up loose ends perfectly and even giving us a glimpse into a tantalizing future. – Lisa Fernandes
Two of my favorite shows of the year did not get enough love in the staffwide poll: The Americans and Louie. The former was a very good show that got great in its second season, expanding its “Cold War as American marriage” metaphor to include meditations on duty, loyalty, family, legacy, and the encroaching changes brought on by modern technology. It’s a tightly constructed espionage story that has a lot more on his mind than just delivering consistent thrills, and its stellar cast carries across all of the show’s multiple levels. Louie, on the other hand, continued to be a series of daring formal experiments, this year including a mid-season six-parter that basically functioned as a film doled out in serialized form. The show had a lot on its mind, from romance, to gender roles, to white male privilege, and while it made those points haltingly and in ways that were sometimes uncomfortable, the show had the courage of its convictions. It was smart, funny, painful and thought-provoking television with a complete mastery of tone and perspective most series barely even aspire to. Louie is like nothing else on TV, and the television landscape is all the richer for it. – Jordan Ferguson
Key & Peele is the best sketch comedy show out there. Now in its fourth season, Keegan-Michael Key & Jordan Peele continue to provide a fresh, funny look at race, pop-culture and stereotypes. While not every sketch lands well, the ones that do are excellent and guaranteed to get people laughing. If you’re not watching this show, do yourself a favor and watch when it returns this spring. – Mike Surerus
Honourable Woman. Before this year, I was never drawn to miniseries. I must have had some bad experience with a really boring “adult” drama some time during my childhood, but now that I’m a boring “adult,” this aspect of television is quickly becoming my favorite. I love the idea that by the time I’m done with a season, I’ll be satisfied. Cliffhangers are so painful. The Honourable Woman is a devastating, stylish, and thrilling 8 episode series. It features a fierce and fascinating woman played by Maggie Gyllenhaal at the center of a complex web of intrigue, betrayal, politics, and weak men. It features the best treatment of sexual violence I’ve come across, as well as great portrayals of female friendship and motherhood. The difficulty of using very real and raw Middle East conflict makes the show’s success a complete miracle. They somehow found a way to tell this story with intelligence, authenticity, and heart without choosing sides. Despite how much I loved the show, I’m glad there isn’t more to come. It was the perfect length to tell this story. Instead, I plan to seek out the other miniseries from creator Hugo Blick. – Simone Akkari
FX’s latest anthology series, Fargo. If you had told me a year ago that I would fall in love with this show, I wouldn’t have believed you. As big a Coen Bros fan I am, Fargo is actually my 2nd least favorite film of theirs. Heresy, I know. Maybe it’s because I saw it at a young age (11 or 12, I think) and I didn’t know what the Coens were all about, but I never got why this was the most critically praised and wildly popular of their films and why I’m glad that The Big Lebowski has been taking a bit of the spotlight off of Fargo. I see the technical brilliance to it, but it never clicked with me the same way all their other films did. So like Hannibal last year, I went into the show actively expecting to hate it. So imagine my surprise and delight when the show turned out to not a be a stretching of a 2 hour movie over 10 hours, but Noah Hawley basically asking the Coens “Can I play in your sandbox with your toys?” and them going “Yeah, sure.” Some might describe the series as faux-Coens, but I think this is as close as anyone’s gotten to matching the look, tone and spirit of the Coen Bros without falling into bad parody or cheap imitation. Hawley has basically taken elements of every Coen Bros film and turned it into the most compelling Mid-West crime story on TV today while putting his own spin on it. I won’t spend too much time talking about the show since I plan on doing a retrospective of the 1st season before the 2nd one debuts in April. But all I’ll say is that the scene in “The Six Obstructions” between Gus and his rabbi neighbor that leads into a parable told and shown in the style of A Serious Man about a rich man trying to end the suffering of the world is not only my favorite scene of the show (and when I fell in love with it) but my favorite scene of any TV show this year and why I prefer it over True Detective. True Detective is 8 hours of cool nihilism. It’s no surprise that the most famous line from it is the “Time is a flat circle.” assertion. Fargo, on the other hand, sees the disparity, acknowledges it but continues on, which is perfectly summed up in this exchange.
“Only a fool thinks he can solve the world’s problems.”
“Yeah, but you gotta try, don’t cha’?”
Maybe it’s because I see a lot of myself in Gus Grimley or that it reflects my own personal philosophy, but that for me was the bar that was set in terms of narrative television this year. And for it to come on a show that I had negative expectation on is nothing short of incredible. - Luke Annand
With the overwhelming amount of good stuff to catch up on, sometimes it doesn’t feel worth it to keep going with shows that don’t live up to their promise. These were the shows we gave up on.
Oh, A to Z. You had all of the makings of a charming, quirky sitcom in the mold of How I Met Your Mother. You even cast the mother (the winsome Cristin Milioti) as your heroine, the slightly dorky and yet uptight Zelda. But something ended up going south in the chemistry department after a heartening series premiere. I didn’t choose to stop watching the show but - like many sweet-natured sitcoms that met a cruel fate before - it will evaporate into nothing after a ten episode order. – Lisa Fernandes
Silicon Valley. I’ve heard that it got better as the season went on, but I just couldn’t get into it so I gave up after the fourth episode. Also, this is the first time I’ve fallen behind on New Girl and I’m in no rush to get back into it. – Simone Akkari
When you watch a lot of television, there are always shows you end up leaving behind. Two of my most recent ones were Mulaney and A to Z, both series that never really found themselves, and lost me in the process. Mulaney was a lifeless Seinfeld clone that didn’t ever figure out how to use its star, or why we should be watching a show about his life. John Mulaney is a very funny comic, but his series was episode after episode of bland sitcom-y plotlines that never captured his sensibility, or figured out anything to say. It had dark moments, but seemingly for no other reason than that Seinfeld did that once, and it worked. Here, it didn’t. A to Z, meanwhile, had two incredibly charismatic leads in Ben Feldman and Cristin Milioti, and an interesting premise, but largely squandered that in favor of spending time with a supporting cast that never rose above caricatures, most confusingly Christina Kirk’s willfully unpleasant boss, a character that never fit into the show and felt shoe-horned into every episode. There was potential in both of these series, but by the time I jumped off, it felt clear to me neither would ever realize it. – Jordan Ferguson
[Best Pre-2014 Discoveries]
It’s easier than ever to stumble upon older shows and binge the entire show in a matter of days or weeks. These are some of the shows we discovered this year.
Six Feet Under wasn’t really on my radar until HBO put all of their shows on Amazon, which at the time was the only way I had access to HBO content via streaming. It became my favorite show of all time after only a few episodes, and by the end I felt like a completely different person. – Simone Akkari
I guess you could say one older series that I had never seen before but finally got around to watching was the Canadian series Slings and Arrows about the fictional New Burbage Theatre Company. As a Canadian comedy nerd, a Shakespeare fan and as someone who’s been working in the theatre for the last year as a stagehand, I really latched onto the series with its particular sense of humor and pathos. Plus, it makes me feel better about trying to get into the film industry. Because while film people are crazy, theater people are insane!!!! – Luke Annand
M*A*S*H* - Lisa Fernandes
Black Mirror, In the Flesh, The Returned, Utopia (UK comic book, conspiracy show, not Fox reality show). – Lauren Morocco
I finally got around to watching Gilmore Girls this year, and it was everything I ever hoped: a wonderful exercise in world-building that was full of quick banter and great characters. The show is largely plotless, a series of short stories about the quirky hamlet of Stars Hollow and the mother-daughter pairing who has made it their home. If your show is enough to convince me that Alexis Bledel is well-cast and well-used, that alone is worth all the praise this series gets. Yet Gilmore Girls is so much more, comfort food in the form of television, and a refreshing break from a television landscape still liberally littered with anti-heroes and cynics. – Jordan Ferguson
For various reasons, shows get lots of buzz and praise they don’t necessarily deserve, or they just don’t have the cultural staying power critics and pundits expected.
That’s easy for me: True Detective. When the show debuted, it quickly gained a reputation as one of the greatest television programs of all time, a level of praise and obsession that confused me deeply. To me, the show was a well-done police procedural with a cool time-hopping structure and two sterling performances from Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, but it never rose above B-level television. I liked the show a lot, gave it very good reviews here at Next Projection, and plan to write about season two, but I always thought the show was a good one with interesting philosophical trappings and delusions of grandeur, rather than truly great TV. It seemed to me the show was the best version of a trend exemplified by Low Winter Sun: shows that are just good enough at mimicking prestige television to convince some people, but without enough on their minds to really become great themselves. – Jordan Ferguson
Gotham. The trailers had all the flair of a show that would bring the dark, grittiness of Gotham City before Batman came around. I was worried that the show would be winking far too much at characters or events that would occur in the future once Bruce Wayne eventually becomes Batman. Those fears have come to light, unfortunately. I honestly think the show would be much better if they nixed all the Batman villains and stuck with the storylines of the Maroni and Falcone families. – Mike Surerus
The Knick. It’s a very well done show. But even though it was consistently intriguing, it was extremely uneven on an episodic level. It would’ve been a much better experience if I had binged it instead of watching it week to week because it’s structure more like a very long film than a miniseries or a traditional TV show. That being said, I’m glad the show exists because it looks great and tells a unique story, but it falls back on familiar choices as often as it feels unique. I also had a problem with how hollow some of the performances were, but I adored Andre Holland and Clive Owen. If there’s more, I’ll definitely watch it, but I’m not as obsessed with it as I am with others. – Simone Akkari
I wouldn’t say overhyped because it earns its praise, but at the same time I can’t help but feel that people are making a bigger deal about True Detective than necessary. I don’t get the sense that it’s as revolutionary as everyone’s making it out to be and in fact I kinda find it maybe a bit too self-serious. Like I said when I was talking about Fargo, I think I prefer the parody videos of it over the actual series, with the best one being the one of Joel McHale and Jim Rash doing killer McConaughey and Harrelson impressions while speaking total nonsense and everyone confused as to what they’re saying. – Luke Annand
Marco Polo. – Lauren Morocco
Remember when Red Band Society was set to be Fox’s big heartwarming post-Glee dramady of the moment? Remember how in the first episode we discovered the entire show is being narrated by a kid in a coma? Remember how his first narration ended with the words “yeah I’m in a coma - deal with it!”? Remember how millions of households turned the channel that very night, eventually resulting in the show’s defacto cancellation three months later? I remember. - Lisa Fernandes
[Underrated or Unfairly Vilified]
Not many shows were outright dismissed this year, but many great new and returning shows unfairly flew under the radar.
I’m going to go with the Netflix series BoJack Horseman. On the surface it looks like another Adult Swim show that’s more annoying than funny. But I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by it. The opening credits is an effectively moody way to ease you into the surreal world of the show, Will Arnett is doing his usual funny douchebag character, but he’s so good at it I’m willing to go along with it. The whole sub-plot involving breakfast muffins and Neil McBeal the Navy seal made me laugh so hard I had tears coming out. But by the end, the series takes an unexpectedly dark and emotional turn that made up for any of the shortcomings the show might have had. So this was one show whose negative attitude towards it I don’t think is deserved and deserves a second look by people who might have given up on it early. – Luke Annand
Maybe its because season one was just that good, but I think Orange is the New Black ended up being one of the more underrated shows this year. Its second season widened the scope, and told great stories about the older generation of prisoners, and some of the show’s side characters got a chance to shine. OITNB is the most nakedly compassionate show on television, a plea for empathy and understanding that reminds us the people that so often get written off in our culture are still people with hopes and dreams, frustrating flaws but also deep-seated pain our system never seems interested in solving. This is a show we needed in the dark times this year, one that reminds us that every human life is worthwhile and invites us to try to understand the people around us better, more fully, and with more grace. Orange is the New Black is vital television, and I wish we were talking about it more as the year comes to a close. – Jordan Ferguson
Why oh why is no one watching Cristela? A smart and sometimes painfully truthful take on life as a single latina woman in a professional setting, Cristela is about as bright as Black-ish in the satire department and just as funny, but it’s languishing in its Friday night slot, which it will likely meet cancellation by the spring. Some people root for Jane the Virgin’s rescue from the cancellation bear, but me, I’m pulling for Cristela. – Lisa Fernandes
The Mindy Project. I’m basing this entirely on the amount of my friends that don’t watch this show (and the fact that she got hardcore snubbed at the Emmys). The comedic timing, and writing has always been strong on this show, but this year it’s on a roll. Every line is so quick, and laugh out loud hilarious, it’s worth watching twice. – Lauren Morocco
Libby Masters’ storyline on Masters of Sex. I was surprised that even though the season was uneven that her storyline kept getting beat up. I really loved Libby’s transformation, which was constantly pointed to as something the show had no idea how to handle. It’s the only time the show has done something interesting with the time period in terms of race relations, which may not have been central to the lives of the two white protagonists but was gripping the country around them. It was revealing how easily Bill and Virginia were able to dismiss an entire racial group as if they didn’t matter when it came to the study, but Libby put herself directly in that conversation and came out the other end a different person. Her life didn’t revolve completely around her husband, even though no one would’ve been surprised if she had soldiered on and suffered in silence. I found her inspiring and was deeply touched by her transformation. She’s now the character that draws me to the show more than anyone else, which is a huge deal given how huge a fan I am of Lizzy Caplan. – Simone Akkari
Here at Next Projection, we like our music dark and anachronistic.
Peaky Blinders - The opening credits are Nick Cave’s Red Right Hand, and this epic BBC gangster period drama, with Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy and Sam Neill, features music from the likes of Arctic Monkeys, PJ Harvey, The Kills, Dan Auerbach, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and more. – Lauren Morocco
Bob’s Burgers and Gravity Falls have and will always provide some of the best music moments in every season, but both outdid themselves this year, BB turning in not one but three musical episodes and Gravity Falls procuring both a battle of the bands and a karaoke battle that opened the season with whimsy and delight. – Lisa Fernandes
The use of modern rock songs in Peaky Blinders injected a lot of energy and honored the atmosphere of gangster stories in surprising ways. I loved the Fiona Apple song “Container” as the theme song for The Affair. The one that was stuck in my head the most was the one for You’re the Worst. Black-ish has had some great musical moments as well, flawlessly incorporating classics like “I’m a Thug” and “No Flex Zone” into character moments and jokes. No other show surprised me more with inspired musical choices than The Leftovers. I’ll never forget those moments when I was hearing a song I thought was familiar but couldn’t quite place, and how the scene I was watching would from that moment be associated with that sound. Deep and dark all around. – Simone Akkari
The Walking Dead theme gets me every time. It’s a beautiful, haunting theme that fits perfectly with the atmosphere of the show. It never fails to send chills up my spine when it starts. – Mike Surerus
Two theme songs blew me away this season: Those for True Detective and The Affair. “Far From Any Road” by The Handsome Family is a cool bit of dark swamp rock that captured the bleak mysticism and Chambersian horror of the show better than most of what followed the opening credits ever did. It was pitch black, alluring, and ear-wormy, basically everything True Detective needed to pull you into this story. Meanwhile, “Container” by FIona Apple gave The Affair immediate stakes and made it feel like it might fit within the annals of great romantic literature. There is a gothic sweep and mythic undercurrent to Apple’s song, but it also fits the show’s theme of two people diving into a strong current, and dragging their loved ones down with them. Yet the most memorable music of 2014 to me came from Transparent, a show where every needle-drop, from the theme song to the end-credits music, was absolutely perfectly pitched to pull viewers into the emotional head space where the show needed them. It was absolute magic, consistently the best use of music I saw on TV this year. – Jordan Ferguson
For best overall score, hands down it belongs to Cliff Martinez for his techno score for The Knick. The whole series deserves way more attention than it’s getting, but Martinez’s score does the impossible in that it makes an unlikely pairing (electronic score for a turn of the century period series) work spectacularly. It, along with Soderberg’s hand held, long take aesthetic gives the series a ‘you are there’ immediacy to it that very few period shows are able to pull off. For best opening credit song, it’s a tie between “Skye Boat Song” from Outlander and “Container” from The Affair. The former for stirring up the Scotsman in me and setting the tone of romantic adventure in the Scottish highlands (particularly when the bagpipes and snare drums kick in) and the latter for capturing the essence of the series in a concise manner that gets you on edge as you get into each episode. Also, nice to hear something new from Fiona Apple. As for best new opening credits, that would have to go to The Leftovers with its moving modern day fresco depicting the Rapture of the series. Grabs your attention, puts you on edge and draws you in with rapturous terror and awe. – Luke Annand
[Most Anticipated Shows of 2015]
Better Call Saul – Mike Surerus
Heroes Reborn (not kidding) – Luke Annand
Galavant – Lisa Fernandes
Hannibal, in a landslide. Yum. - Jordan Ferguson
Shameless - Lauren Morocco
Parks and Recreation series finale– Simone Akkari
What did you enjoy about 2014? Have any complaints? Share your thoughts in the comments or find us on twitter!