With New Year’s so close, I’ve put off my list of favorite television shows of 2014 long enough. Surprisingly, this list wasn’t as hard to figure out as I originally thought it would be. Of course, as Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker recently pointed out, these six series aren’t the end-all-be-all of the television I watched in 2014.
Starz’s Black Sails was an addictive and politically complicated pirate drama, while the network’s Outlander provided a fantastic adaptation of a cool sci-fi novel. Arrow and The Flash on The CW as well as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC have revitalized the superhero genre on TV. Syfy hooked me with two new shows that have wildly different premises: Helix and Dominion. Orange is the New Black returned for a second season on Netflix and gave me my favorite quote of the year:
Bob’s Burgers and Brooklyn Nine-Nine continued to keep Fox’s block of Sunday night comedy interesting. Meanwhile, Once Upon A Time returned from a boring Neverland/Peter Pan plot to provide an interesting take on The Wizard of Oz, as well as a slightly-bonkers live-action adaption of Frozen. Orphan Black had a decent second season with an exciting twist in the finale that left me wanting the third season immediately. Parks and Recreation also featured a series-changing finale in their sixth season that will provide an interesting final season.
All in all, 2014 was a good year in television. But, even after looking at the best of the shows mentioned above, these are the six series that really stood out to me this year.
In recent years, television networks have been trying to bring the romantic-comedy genre to the small screen. After the success of New Girl and The Mindy Project — two series with romance at their heart, but not their premise — we got A to Z, Manhattan Love Story, and Selfie (all of which have since been cancelled). On the opposite side of the spectrum, there was FX’s You’re the Worst. The show tells the story of Jimmy (Chris Geere) and Gretchen (Ava Cash), two horrible people who manage to find something together.
Created by Stephen Falk, You’re the Worst has managed to become a successful half-hour romcom because it acknowledges the conventions of the genre — the exclusivity conversation, exchanging of keys, etc. — but reinvents them in a fresh way that feels more true to life. You’re the Worst also features a fantastic cast of characters, which includes Jimmy’s roommate Edgar (Desmin Borges) and Gretchen’s married best friend Lindsay (Kether Donohue). The four core characters offer enough heart and humor to the series that it doesn’t matter if You’re the Worst slips into romcom cliche sometimes — though that is still very rare.
Another comedy series that offered a fresh take in an established genre is Comedy Central’s Broad City. Originally begun as a YouTube show by comedians Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, Broad City made the jump to network television at the beginning of 2014 thanks to some help from Amy Poehler. The show follows slightly different versions of its stars: Abbi Abrams and Ilana Wexler. With a strange cast of side characters — including Abbi’s roommate’s boyfriend Bevers (John Gemberling) and Ilana’s boyfriend-type guy Lincoln (Hannibal Buress) — plus big-name comedy cameos, Broad City is a mixture of slightly crazy stories and humor.
Broad City is often described (by others and myself) as a combination of Comedy Central’s Workaholics — silly stoner comedy with heart — and HBO’s Girls — a look at twenty-something women living in Brooklyn, New York. Although that’s a pretty apt description of the series, it doesn’t fully encapsulate what makes Broad City so good. The series is wacky, creating situations that are a bit out of the range of plausibility. But at the heart of the show is the friendship between Abbi and Ilana, which manages to keep the whole thing grounded. Plus, Broad City is the funniest show I’ve seen in a long, long time.
I discussed Jane the Virgin recently in my list of the best new series that premiered on television this fall. It’s based loosely on a Venezuelan telenovela and follows Jane (Gina Rodriguez), a virgin, who becomes pregnant after she is accidentally artificially inseminated. This causes problems with her long-time boyfriend Michael (Brett Dier) and brings old flame Rafael (Justin Baldoni) back into Jane’s life. Meanwhile, her father Rogelio (Jaime Camil) appears and causes some conflict with Jane’s mother Xiomara (Andrea Navedo).
As I said in my previous post, I wasn’t sure what to make of Jane the Virgin based on the show’s premise, but it completely surprised me. It quickly became my new favorite series of the fall and earned a spot on my year-end list as well because it’s new and outside the box for the big networks, including The CW on which it airs. In the show’s midseason finale, the storylines got even more complicated and I’m excited to see how they progress throughout the rest of the show’s debut season.
The followup series to Nickelodeon’s critically acclaimed children’s show Avatar: the Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra continues to explore the world of Avatar. From creators Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, The Legend of Korra follows the Avatar after Aang (the central character of AtLa), Korra (Janet Varney), who must learn to bend all four elements and keep peace in the world between humans as well as spirits. With help from her group of friends — Mako (David Faustino), Bolin (P.J. Byrne), and Asami (Seychelle Gabriel) — Korra faces many threats that challenge her skills and courage.
In 2014, Korra faced plenty of struggles in its fictional world as well as with its home network. Both the show’s third and fourth seasons aired this year, first on television, then online-only. However, despite all the airing troubles, Korra delivered its best two seasons and the best series finale that I’ve seen in a long time. What made the final seasons so good were the villains — Zaheer (Henry Rollins) and Kuvira (Zelda Williams) — who provided exciting and poignant conflict for The Legend of Korra. Aside from the antagonists, though, the other characters of Korra remain some of my favorite and the fourth season of the show revisited my favorite character from AtLa, Toph. All in all, The Legend of Korra was a fantastic ending to the entire Avatar television franchise.
Another series on this list that surprised me is The 100. Based (loosely, very, very loosely) on the young adult novelof the same name by Kass Morgan, The 100 was created for TV by Jason Rothenberg. The series is set a hundred years after a nuclear war made Earth unlivable. The human race has survived on a group of space stations constructed together called the Arc. However the government aboard the Arc must face the fact that the station is dying. To test whether the Earth has become livable again, 100 teenage criminals are sent to the ground. The first season follows both the 100 and those left on the Arc and the decisions they are forced to make in order to keep the human race alive. The second season develops those stories further, but I won’t say more than that so as to avoid spoilers.
The 100 had a rough start, the first 2-3 episodes are generally what you would expect from a post-apocalyptic young adult series with a cast full of attractive young actors and few consequences. However, as I’ve discussed in depth previously, the show surprises its viewers by creating real life-and-death stakes. On top of the drama, the character development in both the first season and so far in the second season is well done (for the most part). In 2014, The 100 has become my favorite sci-fi series currently airing and certainly has the potential to become one of the best of all time — some have already compared it to cult favorite Battlestar Galactica.
I’ve written extensively about the the E4 series My Mad Fat Diary so the fact that it tops my list for best TV of 2014 shouldn’t come as a surprise. The show follows Rae Earl (Sharon Rooney), a teenaged girl recovering from an eating disorder who attempts to reintegrate into normal life. In the first season, Rae reconnects with her best friend, Chloe (Jodie Comer) and forms new relationships with the gang: Archie (Dan Cohen), Izzy (Ciara Baxendale), Chop (Jordan Murphy), and Finn (Nico Mirallegro). Rae also struggles to figure out where she fits in with her family, which includes her mom Linda (Claire Rushbrook) and her mom’s new beau Karim (Bamshad Abedi-Amin). In the show’s second season that aired earlier this year, Rae returned to school, which provided its fair share of obstacles.
The first season of My Mad Fat Diary easily solidified the show as my favorite of 2013 and the series’ sophomore effort earned it the spot at the top of my 2014 list. My Mad Fat Diary is the show I recommend to everyone who will listen. It deals with serious issues like mental illness, as well as those that are typical to teenagers like fitting in and discovering who you are, in a manner that is funny, relatable, and poignant. The characters are all well-developed and endlessly charming, though none more than Rae herself (however, the episode in season 2 that focuses on Chloe is by far one of the best of the series). Thankfully 2014 also saw the renewal of My Mad Fat Diary and I’m excited for the show’s third season, whenever it airs — fingers crossed for 2015!