by Matthew Thompson
Last week I ran through my top ten shows of 2014 (check out Part 1 and Part 2 for yourself!), but that barely scratches the surface of all the great things on television in the past year. So I am here to talk about a bunch more things I loved this year. No real rules for this list other than not hitting any of the same shows I touched on in the top ten. In no particular order, here they are!
The 100 Season 2
When The 100 debuted last spring, it was pretty much what you might expect from a Young Adult novel turned CW show, not unlike The Vampire Diaries five years ago. But also similar to TVD, it has grown into something great over the course of its first 20-some episodes. The show focuses on a group of juvenile convicts who are sent down to Earth years after a nuclear war to see if the surface is habitable again. I have grown to really love watching the various factions on the ground (which all have their own unique feel) interacting, fighting and trying to carve out a space of their own. One bit early in Season 2 also teased some other regions to this version of Earth which is something I’d like to see them explore further. The 100 has shown some hints of boldness too especially compared to other network shows which is laudable. It is not without its faults (Finn’s arc in the Fall had some major shortcomings), but it has grown into one of my favorite shows this season and I can’t wait to see more next year.
Morello’s Flashbacks in Orange is the New Black
Orange is the New Black just missed out on my top ten with another excellent season in its sophomore outing. It had the same great mix of drama and humor as the first season and remains one of TV’s must-watch shows. There was plenty to like in Season 2, but the most memorable aspect for me was the reveal of Lorna Morello’s backstory via the show’s trademark flashback mechanic. Seeing how she landed in prison was both surprising and even a little heartbreaking despite some of the revelations included. Yael Stone’s performance helped make for an episode that really stuck with me at year’s end.
I didn’t finish watching this until after I wrote up my top ten, but it proved to be another series worthy of consideration. The Missing tells the story of a couple whose son goes missing and the investigation into his disappearance, flashing between the time period in which he was taken and the present day. The dual-timeline storytelling shows just how much a horrific event like this can affect those involved. The story wraps up by the finale, telling a complete tale that stays true to the characters to the very end. A haunting and emotional journey about loss, this is yet another successful anthology-style series worth checking out from 2014 alongside the likes of True Detective and Fargo.
Tatiana Maslany’s Peformance in Orphan Black
Orphan Black was one of my favorite shows of 2013 and while I still enjoyed it a lot this year, I feel Season 2 was bogged down by some plotting and mythology issues. Despite that, Tatiana Maslany was as good as ever. If playing all the different clones (of which there were more this season) wasn’t enough, she is often tasked with playing one clone pretending to be another and somehow manages to make each different performance feel unique. No one on TV is asked to do as much as Tatiana and she keeps on delivering. Other than McConaughey, she gave my favorite acting performance on television this year and made Orphan Black a joy to watch even when the plot went a little haywire.
The Legend of Korra, Homeland and The Walking Dead Improve
I’m lumping these three together, but they are all different situations. The Legend of Korra had a misfire in Season 2, but rebounded in a big way in its third season. Excising some of the romantic drama that brought down earlier seasons and adding in the show’s best villain, Zaheer, helped make Season 3 Korra’s best. The final two episodes of that season delivered perhaps my favorite action sequences in the series and the end made for an interesting cliffhanger. Season 4 wasn’t as good, but I still enjoyed it quite a bit and it wrapped up the show well. It is a shame Nickelodeon pushed the series off the network to online-only viewing right when it hit its stride again, but at least it had a hell of a final run this year.
After its first season, Homeland was basically a mess for two years. While I don’t think they have quite matched the brilliance of Season 1 this year, it is certainly the best it has been since. Getting rid of the Brody family has done wonders and there was a particularly great stretch (episodes 8-11) that was as riveting as just about anything on TV this year. While the finale was a bit of a dud and Carrie is possibly the worst mom ever, Homeland has become a show I actually look forward to watching which is a plus after feeling like a chore for much of Seasons 2 and 3.
The Walking Dead is a whole different deal. After absolutely loving the pilot, I have never been a big fan (and that may be putting it kindly). The beginning of Season 4 was alright, but had to deal with the bad decisions made at the end of Season 3. I think 2014 was the first time I thought it was legitimately good television throughout the year. It was a still a little inconsistent, but at worst a bit dull and at best it had me saying, “That may be the series best episode” which is certainly worth some praise. I particularly liked “The Grove,” “A,” and “No Sanctuary.” Hopefully TWD can keep it up in 2015.
Old Shows I Caught Up On
Every year I catch up on some old shows I missed out on and this year was no different. One show that took me by surprise was Spartacus. All the nudity and sex was a bit at odds with my tastes, but I really fell for the characters and the story they were telling. And of course the action was top-notch. The first season, Blood and Sand, was my favorite, but the series finale blew me away as well. So much so it’d surely be in my top ten series finales of all-time.
Spartacus made me realize I loved that type of period piece, so looking for more Roman action I dove into HBO’s excellent Rome. It had a distinctly different feel to it than Spartacus, but I enjoyed it all the same. Fantastic actors brought to life some of history’s most famous players (James Purefoy was terrific as Marc Antony), but I was even more captivated by the show’s fictional characters in Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo. Season 1 is definitely the show’s high point, but the second season did an admirable job of squeezing several seasons worth of material in before the show’s sooner than expected end. With only 22 episodes, it is a journey worth taking for any big TV fans.
As for something completely different, I loved the French drama, Les Revenants (aka The Returned). It is like a zombie show on the opposite side of the spectrum from The Walking Dead. I can’t put my finger on why I liked it so much. Certainly the wonderful atmosphere. It’s ability to be at one moment beautiful while at another creepy. It’s certainly unique though and worth a look if you aren’t morally opposed to subtitles.
Even More New Shows
Between this blog and my top 10, I’ve already covered a number of new shows, but they were hardly the only ones worthy of praise. Few shows have made me laugh more this year than Black-ish. Silicon Valley grew into a nice new comedy by season’s end and is worth watching if for no other reason than the hilarious and elaborate dick joke in the finale (seriously it is that funny). After a slow start, Black Sails final got out on the high seas and gave us the kind of pirate show viewers were hoping for. For superhero fans, The Flash delivers a fun new romp which includes actual superpowers giving the series a different flavor than similar TV shows. Enlisted and Selfie were two fun new comedies with a lot of heart that were cancelled too soon. I’ve soured a bit on The Affair as the season has gone on, but its Rashomon-style storytelling makes it a fascinating watch. Red Band Society didn’t live up to my expectations, but was still an enjoyable teen drama. Starz struck gold with Survivor’s Remorse, a clever dramedy whose second episode hit at just the right time given some of the headlines athletes made this year. And there was Penny Dreadful which took me a bit to warm up to, but finished the season strong, worth a look for fans of the supernatural or those who want to see a riveting performance by Eva Green. There really was a little something for everyone looking for a new show this year.
The Veronica Mars Movie
I love Veronica Mars. It is one of my very favorite series. The first season is on my short list for the best single season of television ever. And Veronica the character is one of my all-time favorites as well. Getting a continuation of that, especially after a Season 3 ending that left me a bit wanting, gave me as much happiness as anything on TV this year. Sure it was a movie, but it easily could have been a couple of episodes of TV. They did a good job of working in the kind of mystery that might span a whole season into the running time of the film. It gave me more of that lovely father-daughter bond that was so special in the series. It gave me more of Logan punching people. It gave me more of that dark feel that the series always had. It gave me more of that Veronica snark that is just kind of the best. It was just really wonderful and I’m proud to say I played a part (however small) in helping bring it about. I’d love it if there was more Veronica Mars (other than the books of which I enjoyed the first this year as well), but if not I’m very happy we got this.
That will do it for this blog. After two posts praising the year that was in television, it is high time I look at the ugly side of TV in 2014 which I will do in a blog some time after the new year. Thanks for reading!