Another year, another top 10 list. This time, I’ll be covering the best shows that aired during the year, new or old. We had a lot of good hits this year, from new staples like Jane the Virgin and The Affair to returning favorites like Mad Men and Veep. Netflix and HBO pave the way for great original programming, but that doesn’t discount some great network hits from ABC and NBC. It was hard making a list of 10 great shows this year simply because there were so many good ones, but I’ve come up with a confident list of shows that I think everyone should be watching now.
10. The Goldbergs
In its first season, I didn’t think much of The Goldbergs. It was a funny, better than average network sitcom that luckily got a renewal. Season two so far has been the highlight of my Wednesday nights – it dethroned Modern Family as my favorite ABC sitcom. The family is just so likable, and the characters are so endearing and relatable. Barry, who I initially disliked, has quickly become my favorite. His one-liners and lovable stupidity is so charming that I look forward to seeing whatever mishaps he and Adam get into each week. Beverly as well, played with vigor by Wendi McLendon-Covey, is an under appreciated mom who any parent will relate to. The family’s interactions are hysterical, and the ’80s nostalgia is just icing on the cake.
9. Jane the Virgin
Who would’ve thought a show called Jane the Virgin would become one of my favorite shows this year? The concept, a virgin young woman is artificially inseminated and becomes pregnant, is ridiculous. But stick with it and you’ll find a hilarious and surprisingly smart and complex show with plenty of twists and turns. With its telenovela style and Latin lover narrator, Jane the Virgin is a parody, but one that takes its high-concept and runs with it, leaving great storytelling and characters to boot. Gina Rodriguez is the breakout star of the fall season as Jane Villanueva, and don’t discount Jane the Virgin just for its silly title.
8. Parks and Recreation
One of my favorite sitcoms of all time aired its penultimate season this year, and along the way we saw the departure of Ann Perkins and Chris Traeger, Ron Swanson’s struggles to be a good father, Tom’s entrepreneurial pursuits, and Leslie and Ben’s governmental struggles and recall. Only on Parks and Rec can you find great storytelling like this, thanks to its great cast of characters. We also saw one of the best season finales of the year, with a surprising twist that shocked everyone. Parks and Rec gets better every season, and I am highly anticipating its final season, and you bet I’ll be there with tissues in hand for the goodbye to one of NBC’s best shows.
7. How to Get Away with Murder
Shonda Rhimes continues to dominate network television with her well-written, female-driven shows, and How to Get Away with Murder is the best part of TGIT. Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) is one of the best new characters of the fall, and her band of law students make for an eccentric gang of attorneys who don’t have the cleanest moral code. Murder pushes the boundaries of network television with its violence and steamy sex scenes, and the great cast borrows from all over the Shondaland canon. While believability has never been its strong suit, Murder keeps you on the edge of your seat, wondering what happens next in this high-stakes series and I am highly anticipating its return.
I feel bad for ranking this so high, because Hannibal’s popularity has been overshadowed by other great hits. Creator Bryan Fuller has made a cult hit with Hannibal, one that might be under appreciated during its entire run. But Hannibal is one of the best network shows this year, thanks to its grim and dark tone, and excellent characterization. Everyone is still talking about the finale for good reason, because it shocked us like none other. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) is a frightening character, and the show plays with our feelings for him and messes with our head every episode. Hannibal also boasts beautiful cinematography and excellent dream-like imagery, almost like something you’d find in a multi-million dollar production.
5. Orange is the New Black
One show that definitely entered the zeitgeist this year was Orange is the New Black, Netflix’s biggest original series. Its second season gave us a frightening villain in Vee, who challenged our characters and pushed them to their limits. Season two wisely took the focus off of Piper and instead shined the light on the brilliant ensemble of likable inmates, including Crazy Eyes, Nicky, Lorna, and new fan-favorite Poussey. Even the guards got their chance to shine. The cliffhanger storytelling and excellent finale led for a great 13-episode season, and I and plenty of others are hungry for more.
4. Game of Thrones
What is left to say about Game of Thrones? HBO’s biggest hit and fan-favorite entered its fourth season hot off the heels of a brilliant third, and boy did it surpass my expectations. As a book reader, it’s difficult to critique the series because it has handled so many moments well, but this season we saw a few changes as the series catches up to the current publication of the fifth book. But this changed little. We still got jaw-dropping moments, characters dropping like flies, another violent wedding, and a fight scene that I don’t think I can ever watch again. Peter Dinklage was robbed of his Emmy last August, one he definitely deserved for his trial episode. Other players like Cersei, Daenerys, and Sansa also had outstanding arcs this season. The most talked/tweeted about show has a long road ahead, as it has been renewed for at least two more seasons. As we head into uncharted territory, it’ll be exciting to watch where Thrones goes.
3. Mad Men
While I’m still unsure of the decision to split the final season, Mad Men’s seventh season started off quiet and subtle, and we saw some beautiful and brilliant characterization leading for an excellent final half. Don Draper, television’s most mysterious leading man, went through some dark times this season. The split between New York and California gave some great moments for characters Pete and Megan, and SC & P saw some internal changes as well. This all led up to the sad death of Bert Cooper, one that will shock our characters for the second half of season seven. Mad Men’s biggest feat has been its slow building of our favorite characters’ personalities. I’m anxious but excited for the series to end, because AMC has given us one of the best dramas in a long time, one that will be remembered for years to come.
I can’t believe I’m putting Homeland this high on the list. A less-than-stellar third season should’ve spelled death for the series, but the death of Brody and removal of his family from the show has energized the series and kickstarted a new era for Homeland. The wise decision to leave the drama behind and get back to the core of what made Homeland great, its CIA action-thriller roots, has given us a tense and smart drama that touches on current topics and delivers excellent action sequences. In this season we got at the core of Carrie and Saul’s relationship. Despite taking a few episode to gain its footing, the Pakistan setting has given us great new characters and thrown old favorites like Quinn for a loop. With two episodes left in the season, I trust that Homeland will bring us home with a great finale, and I look forward to the fifth season with high hopes.
The best show of 2014 comes to us courtesy of Amazon and creator Jill Soloway (Six Feet Under). Transparent is a deep and affecting dramedy about one California family who is shaken to the core after their father Mort comes out as transgender. Becoming Maura has opened old wounds amidst the family, among siblings Ali, Josh, and Sarah, who all have problems of their own. But Transparent isn’t just a family drama, it allows us to examine ourselves and our inner demons. We see ourselves and our families in these characters. Lovable or not, the Pfieffermans are family, and they sick together. The theme of acceptance is ever-present in Transparent, and issues are handled with such delicacy and humor that makes the show endearing and affecting in its own unique way. Its shocking storytelling and well-written dialogue gives us believable characters, the likes of which I haven’t seen on television before. Couple the brilliant writing with awards-worthy performances from Jeffrey Tambor and Gaby Hoffman, and we have a hit on our hands.
Masters of Sex
House of Cards
Inside Amy Schumer
I rarely watch/talk about reality TV, but I love a good cooking show here and there, and I’ve found it in Masterchef Junior. Host Gordon Ramsay, known for his foul language and hellish temper, has toned it down, as kids ages 8-13 compete for the title. Unique cooking challenges push these kids to the limits, and the kids are so darn cute and ambitious that it makes them easy to root for and hard to watch them fail. When they do however, fellow competitors lift them up. Instead of commenting on what they did wrong, Ramsay suggests how to fix it and compliments on what they did right. It’s hard to watch these kids go home week after week, but knowing they have bright futures ahead gives me comfort. In a cynical world of reality TV garbage, Masterchef Junior is the standout, and we could all learn a thing or two from these kids.