Television last year might as well have been known simply as the year of Netflix. Not only did the sudden powerhouse player create captivating shows like Orange Is The New Black and House of Cards, it also saw fit to resurrect cult favorite Arrested Development. Those three shows alone, available in bingeable goodness, appeared to be the beginning of muscle-flexing not seen since young Arnold Swartzenneger burst onto the scene. Sadly, like the Governator himself, it already feels old, and, dare I say, normal.
If anything, this year was all about the continued evolution of television. Seriously, everyone that could began making shows and the surprising thing was, that they were good. Amazon brought everyone Transparent, Pivot introduced Please Like Me, Hulu turned out Blue, Crackle displayed hilarious Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee while YouTube is creating viable channels, and stars, by the boatload. The online revolution may have been started and made credible by the success of Netflix, but it isn’t over. Where there is an audience, there is opportunity and opportunists abound. If there is a story worth telling and people who will willing listen to it, then BOOM, success.
And yet, amidst the chaos, no network had a better year than HBO, a network that expertly exists digitally and on your standard television. Name something television related and HBO did it in 2014. The network had a few series end, like the campy True Blood and ever-serious Boardwalk Empire, but it also took risks. With new shows like The Leftovers, Silicon Valley, Last Week Tonight and True Detective, HBO proved it isn’t done telling amazing stories, or continuing good ones, as evidenced by the continued brilliance of Veep, Girls, Getting On and Game of Thrones. The overflowing wealth of creative and engaging scripted shows is enough for me to dub HBO the runaway network of the year. Job well done.
Elsewhere, the television landscape remained very much the same as always. Though increasingly fragmented audiences lead to more diverse viewing options, and thusly more creative advertising to boot, old truths remained true. Live shows, namely sporting events like the Winter Olympics, World Cup or NFL, again gained value for advertisers and live-tweeters, but live musicals and spoiler-ruinable shows jumped into the fray. No one wants to be left out of the conversation on the big comeback or shocking death so must watch live programming is pure gold. Unfortunately, the cost of watching live television only served as a reminder of how terrible repetitive, annoying ads can be.
Ultimately, 2014 may prove to be the year that television fully merged into the digital space but the key takeaway is still that good storytelling drives viewership. The greater the story, the richer the characters and the more unpredictable the scenarios, the better the show. The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones are the current flag bearers for this storytelling model but the shift towards subtlety, as exquisitely shown in shows like Fargo and Mad Men, is proving equally intriguing. All in all, 2014 was a tremendous year for storytelling on “television” and if it was just the beginning, well, aren’t we lucky?
2014 TV Quick Hits
Worst Newcomers: The McCarthys, Bad Judge, Stalker, Gracepoint
Best Newcomers: You’re the Worst, Gotham, Jane the Virgin, True Detective
Before Their Time Cancellations: Selfie, Community, Enlisted, Rake
Good Riddance Cancellations: Mulaney, The Millers, Glee, Hemlock Grove
Sad Concluded Series: Boardwalk Empire, Sons of Anarchy, True Blood, The Newsroom
Most Promising New Shows for 2015: MaddAdam, Ballers, Preacher, Better Call Saul
10. Masters of Sex (SHOWTIME)
Any show set in the 1950s that has sex at the forefront of everything is bound to be intriguing. Throw in titillating acting performances, an attack on age old gender stereotypes and a racially charged backdrop and you find yourself in a world ripe for change. Um, yes please!
Best Performance: Michael Sheen
Best Episode: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
9. Parks & Recreation (NBC)
Heading into its final season in 2015, Parks & Rec is going out on a high note. Though still criminally under-appreciated, the characters on this show are so well integrated that they truly feel like family to us all. If only Duke Silver could be our cool uncle.
Best Performance: Nick Offerman
Best Episode: The Wall
8. Last Week Tonight (HBO)
Anyone who watched John Oliver temporarily replace Jon Stewart on The Daily Show knew what the snarky Brit was capable of as a “news anchor.” Who would have guess that on his own show, he would be so much better. There is no one, NO ONE, on television that digs into “news” stories with such depth, witticism and heart as John Oliver.
Best Performance: John Oliver
Best Episode: Episode 18 (Scottish Independence Referendum)
7. Veep (HBO)
The political version of The Office that you never knew you wanted, Veep is cringeworthy goodness that is overflowing with standout performances and ridiculousness. The political train-wreck of a campaign of Selina Meyer and company is must watch television.
Best Performance: Tony Hale
Best Episode: Special Relationship
6. The Walking Dead (AMC)
Separate missions pushed character development to the forefront this season and the result were tremendous. The show is at its best when zombies are but a back drop to the remaining humans and as the mid-season finale showed, humans are as unpredictable as they are in-humane.
Best Performance: Andrew Lincoln
Best Episode: Coda
5. Game of Thrones (HBO)
Admit it, when you look at your DVR, you’ll never find this show. The reason is simple, you watched it live. Your favorite characters may come and go (Prince Oberyn!) but the incredible, sweeping storyline always drives on. Well, for as long as Tyrion keeps his head, that is…
Best Performance: Peter Dinklage
Best Episode: The Lion and the Rose
4. Mad Men (AMC)
The downward spiral of Don Draper led to a maddening but necessary reinvention that left jaws clenched as viewers watched helplessly as our anti-hero attempted to reclaim his rightful place in his ad firm. His reinvention isn’t over, and it won’t be pretty, but it is gripping and impossible not to watch.
Best Performance: Jon Hamm
Best Episode: Collaborators
3. The Affair (SHOWTIME)
Steamy? Check. Nerve-wracking? Check. Conflicting viewpoints? Check. Supremely flawed characters? Check. A shower of Golden Globe nominations? Check. Murder Mystery? Kind of. Worth your time? Check!
Best Performance: Ruth Wilson
Best Episode: Episode Six
2. True Detective (HBO)
It is not often when a show, especially a new one, is equal parts thought-provoking and shocking. The brilliant cast, slow-building timeline and beautifully constructed conclusion are truly captivating. Time may be a flat circle but it there is no time wasted watching this modern day masterpiece.
Best Performance: Matthew McConaughey
Best Episode: The Secret Fate of All Life
1. Silicon Valley (HBO)
The Pied Piper, the best fake company on the best show you’re not watching, is as scattered, hilarious and unpredictable as the brilliantly awkward founders. Stop reading this and go watch this show. NOW!!!
Best Performance: Christopher Evan Welch (R.I.P.)
Best Episode: Optimal Tip-To-Tip Efficiency