The Best New Shows of 2014 Part 1: Superhero Origins, Affairs, Mike Tyson Mysteries And More!
Over the last couple of years, many have wondered whether the golden age of TV would have to come to a quick end. With shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men leaving or already gone, and the networks struggling to find new hits, those arguments may have some merit, but not after putting together the list of the year's best new shows. We didn't think that things could get better than they did last year, with shows such as Hannibal, The Americans, House Of Cards and Orange Is The New Black joining the ranks of television's must-watch shows, but somehow, they did.
From brazen attempts at a new television format (the limited series), to unexpected animated sitcoms, to the race towards superhero show oversaturation, networks, both cable and broadcast, are seemingly finding new ways to bring us quality television.
In fact, it's almost too much great TV. Even in composing this list, we realized that there are well-reviewed new shows that we didn't get a chance to see, and we still had over 20 great programs to list. But blogging is all about making tough decisions (not really), so below, you'll find part one of our listing of the 20 best new shows of 2014, along with a few honorable mentions.
For frame of reference, check out last year's list of the best new shows TV had to offer, and check back tomorrow for the top 10!
Honorable Mention: Z Nation
I’ve been saying for a long time that TV needed more than one zombie show. With The Walking Dead having established itself as a serious, high-quality drama, I'm glad that Z Nation quite the opposite; good, ridiculous, self-referential, DJ Qualls-starring fun.
Honorable Mention: The Strain
Speaking of ridiculous fun, The Strain started off slow, but turned into must-watch vampire-killing TV the moment it started blowing up gas stations and having David Bradley behead vampires on the reg. If you're a fan of that kind of thing, or Corey Stoll wearing ridiculous toupees, then this show's for you.
Honorable Mention: Undateable
People will tell you the multi-cam sitcom is dead, but there are still shows like Undateable hanging on, an impressive feat, especially on NBC where the sitcom in general seems to be on life-support. But a great, hilarious cast of comedians (Ron Funches, Chris D'Elia, Brett Morin, among others) and this silly idea that sitcoms are supposed to be fun have made Undateable a good summer watch.
20. 24: Live Another Day - FOX
Latest Review: Season Finale - "10:00 PM - 11:00 AM".
This is kind of cheating, but I can’t make this list this year and not acknowledge the glorious return of 24. Technically, it’s not a new show, but the rejuvenation of a long-running franchise under a new format that was gone for so long may as well have been. Ostensibly, bringing back the show in a 12-episode format focused on plot development and action is a series reboot worthy of a spot on this list as much as a new idea, but I'll compromise and put it in 20th place just to be fair to everyone else. Live Another Day still follows Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) and still takes place over a 24 hour period, but completely reinvents the series by taking it overseas to London and tying up a lot of loose ends from the show's past. It's questionable whether the show will rise from the dead again (the end was a bit of a cliffhanger but satisfying enough as a finale, and Sutherland has questioned whether he'll take the role again now that he's nearing his 50s), and if it is, we'll just be happy that we got 12 more hours of one of TV's best all-time characters kicking terrorist ass.
And oh, how he kicks ass. Live Another Day sees Jack on the wrong end of the law after 4 years as a fugitive, in London to save the president once again after finding out his life may be in danger. And, oh yeah, the president is James Heller (William Devane), the father of Jack's one true love Audrey (Kim Raver), who hates Jack for what he did to his daughter. Eventually Jack gains the favor of Heller and the CIA (thanks to an agent played by Yvonne Strahovski), but he keeps the edge by DEFENSTRATING the season's major villain (played by the great Michelle Fairley) unceremoniously instead of bringing her in, and literally beheading the man who caused most of his trouble over the last few years. Not to mention how they almost blew up the president halfway through the season. Live Another Day is 24 in top form, and may go down as one of its best seasons.
19. Black-ish - ABC
It's still early in Black-ish's run, and it has its fair share of problems, but on paper, the Anthony Anderson-starring show has all the makings of a sitcom capable of being a classic, and not only for the minority is representing. Growing pains aside, it’s much more than just “the black show” on TV. Its writers may veil everything with some sort of black issue-of-the-week, but behind that there are larger messages about family and acceptance that everyone can learn from and that give Black-ish that potential to grow into a new hit. If anything, it's already tapped into those ideas better than five season of their lowest-common denominator Modern Family lead-in ever has.
18. Garfunkel and Oates - IFC
When it came to this year’s crop of shows given to comedians, 2014 was interestingly the year of the female comedy duo, which is great. Broad City and Playing House got a lot of critical attention, but for me, the true gem was Garfunkel and Oates. But while those shows play up to certain tropes, to me, Garfunkel and Oates simply presents itself as the best show that it can be about Garfunkel and Oates, a.k.a. singing comedians Kate Micucci and Riki Lindhome. The way the musical duo incorporates their songs into the plots of the episode, and how they’ve managed to break down any sort of gender barrier than you may have expected from their Comedy Central sitcom makes it one of our favorite new comedies on TV this year.
17. Cosmos - FOX
Plenty of science shows come on and go away every year, so maybe it’s a little disingenuous to include the one aimed at the mainstream, but it would be even more disingenuous to ignore a sincere effort from a network owned by Rupert Murdoch, of all people, to educate the public on science on such a grand scale. Cosmos debuted with a record worldwide launch, always stayed true to the voice of its presenter, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and presented scientific ideas to the masses that most people aren't necessarily exposed to. Even if only some were reached by those ideas, Cosmos did its job, and proved that television needs more educational shows like it. Doing so in a tightly produced, visually beautiful, and informative way all while pushing certain important environmental agendas is an achievement worth noting.
16. How To Get Away With Murder - ABC
Objectively, How To Get Away With Murder is sorta bad. It’s unnecessarily melodramatic, it reeks of soap opera heartstring-pulling and outside of Viola Davis, the performances aren’t that great. It's also kind of cheesy at times with its hamfisted flash-forward plot techniques and jammed-in love triangles, but much like she did with Scandal, evil genius Shonda Rhimes manages to pull it all together to make an extremely watchable, almost guilty pleasure type of show. The legal drama follows a group of law students who help their teacher (Davis) on cases, all while covering up a murder for own a few months in the future, which is interesting and well put-together if you can get over its soapy nature, although Rhimes would rather you embrace it. Either way, if the first handful of episodes pulled you in, you're probably in for the long haul, as HTGAWM has been an instant hit paired with Scandal, and probably won't go away any time soon.
15. Enlisted - FOX
It’s slowly becoming a yearly tradition for Fox to introduce us to an adorable, hilarious new sitcom, only to take it from us thanks to low ratings. And these last couple of years have been terrible if you like a) laughing and b) watching Fox. Ben & Kate, Raising Hope and now Enlisted are all shows the network has taken away from us thanks to sheer executive incompetence (and also the fact that no one watches live broadcast TV anymore). Since you probably didn’t watch it, the show told the story of three brothers stuck in an incompetent army reserves platoon in Florida, and the hijinks they got themselves into. More importantly, Keith David was their one-legged sergeant, which in and of itself rivals Andre Braugher as Captain Holt in terms of casting. Unfortunately, the show never saw more than 13 episodes thanks to a Friday night deathslot, but we’ll always have that one short-lived season. And just so you don’t get to excited, Fox has like three more sitcoms slotted for mid-season.
14. Gotham - FOX
Latest Review: Midseason Finale - "Lovecraft".
Of all the shows on the list, Gotham is easily the most inconsistent. When it wants to be, it’s exciting, entertaining, fun, and provides a unique look into the origins of any character from the Batman universe that you can think of. Moreover, the show’s been fantastic at casting, from Ben McKenzie as a brash, young Jim Gordon and Donal Logue as his smarmy, corrupt partner Bullock, all the way to young Bruce Wayne and Alfred as well as the wonderful Robin Lord Taylor as the Penguin. But I’ve already mentioned 5 people and haven’t even scratched the surface of how many characters we’ve already seen. We've already talked about how overloaded the show is, and that’s not even really my problem. It’s more problematic that the characters aren’t balanced and well-portrayed, yet the show insists on catching us up with each one in every episode even if they have nothing to do, as if the audience will forget about them if they’re away one week, which makes a lot of them expendable. What’s more, the show clearly wasn’t meant for a 22-episode season, leaving us with repetitive, boring procedural episodes that just aren’t needed.
But we say these things because we love Gotham, and we want it to succeed. There's a good show hiding within the overloaded, procedural-heavy Gotham that makes it to air every week, and there are stories here that I want to watch, even taking into account the easy complaint of it being a Batman show without Batman. Call it growing pains, because I think that Gotham can get its shit together and give us a much better show in 2015, much like Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. turned a new leaf in 2014, although Gotham doesn't have the benefit of a Cinematic Universe to tie into. All of that said, it was still a must-watch part of our Monday nights this fall, and that is certainly worth a berth on this list. When Gotham was good, it had the ability to be really good, and I hope we can see more of that show in the winter.
13. Mike Tyson Mysteries - Adult Swim
This show features an animated, tracksuit-donning Mike Tyson solving mysteries with his adoptive Asian daughter, a curmudgeonly pigeon voiced by Norm Mcdonald, and a ghost voiced by Jim Rash. I don’t know why I would need to say any other words to get you to watch this, but just in case you’re not sold, here’s a sampling among the plots of the handful of episodes Adult Swim has already aired:
- In the premiere, Mike Tyson saved author Cormac McCarthy’s horses from a chupacabra.
- In episode 3, Mike Tyson murders a bunch of astronauts, including Buzz Aldrin, and travels to the moon in Elon Musk’s rocket.
- In another episode, the gang and an elderly wizard play high stakes poker with Robert Redford.
All of this, by the way, from the mind of Tyson himself, who gets sole creator credit. And they’ve only aired five 12-minute episodes. I’m starting to wonder how this isn’t number 1.
12. The Affair - Showtime
I have to admit that I was originally ambivalent and maybe a little bored with the idea of a show about an affair in a small Atlantic tourist community, but The Affair, as has become the norm with Showtime, turned out to be so much more than what it advertised. It’s a drama about an affair that turns into an old-school, almost noir-style mystery, and its presentation is completely unique. The story is told from two perspectives, one from Noah (Dominic West), and the other Alison’s (Ruth Wilson), under the pretense of a police investigation, which each character getting to tell their own side of the story for half the episode.
That in itself is great, but what’s especially astounding is how each story is presented. They’re essentially telling the same sequence of events from two perspectives, and they’re both totally different. For instance, Noah will have you believe Alison initiated the affair, and vice versa, even going as far as to portray the other character acting totally different from how we initially saw them, implying that someone is lying. Little things like clothing, timing, context, all play important roles in how these stories play out all while we find out more and more about why they're being interrogated and how their lives shaped up years down the road after the initial adulterous relationship. It’s slow burning, probably making a case for binge-watching, but great performances and fantastic production values (considering all the pitfalls of an idea like this) make it extremely watchable and the perfect companion for Homeland every Sunday night.
11. Sonic Highways - HBO
Review: Sonic Highways - Album & HBO Documentary
At a glance, it might seem like Sonic Highways is a show for Foo Fighters fans, about creating their new album and little more. And while it is relatively heavy on the Foo nostalgia and Dave Grohl perspective, and the creation of their album of the same name, it actually wound up being something much bigger. Sonic Highways takes a deep look into an aspect of American music history that you don’t often get to see; the history of a city's music scene, and how that can affect and connect individual musicians.
The show follows Grohl and the Foo Fighters as they trek to eight different major U.S. cities, where they explore its musical history and record a song, all in one week. Grohl conducts interviews while the band sets up and starts recording, and then composing a song using notable quotes from those interviews. But this isn’t just about the album, or about each city’s big stars, its about the interesting, little-known aspects that make it so great and allow for talent to come out of them and transcend the industry, how that talent flows from city to city and creates people like Dave Grohl. On the one hand, it's an intimate personal tale for Grohl and the Foo Fighters as they record an album, making it a perfect documentary series for their fans. On the other hand, the finished product is just a great musical documentary series in general, well-directed and interesting with more shelf-live than one season and one album, making it a must-watch for any music fan.
Check back tomorrow for the top 10 new shows of 2014!