The Best New Shows of 2014 Part 2: True Detectives, Movie Remakes, Bojack Horsemen And More Superheroes!
Yesterday, we looked at our 11th through 20th favorite new shows of the year, an eclectic list that included superhero origin stories, cooky meta animated sitcoms hilarious high concept sitcoms and a couple of gritty dramas. Much of the top 10 could, well, be described the same way, but that's only at a very basic level.
In reality, the 10 new shows that follow are a wide array of great programs that prove that television is the place to be at the moment for any viewer, surprising us at every turn. Shows that we declared with relative certainty to be the best early in the year were eclipsed several times, while others rose beyond any sort of expectations. Either way, if you have nothing to do over the holiday season, we can think of 10 great time fillers below, so without further adieu, check out the top 10 new shows of 2014!
The List So Far:
20. 24: Live Another Day
16. How To Get Away With Murder
13. Mike Tyson Mysteries
12. The Affair
11. Sonic Highways
10. The Flash - CW
A season and a half in, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a solid, exciting, entertaining and productive part of their Cinematic Universe. But it took them a long time to get there, wading in a season's worth of tossable, procedural episodes and waiting for their movie compatriots to catch up. One has to wonder whether that has something to do with bureaucracy of a dozen movies they have to navigate, not to mention as many producers that have looking over their shoulders. Greg Berlanti doesn't have the benefit of such a support network, and he's managed to give us something just as great with The Flash in a fraction of the time.
The Flash is only 10 episodes old. They barely just stopped calling Barry Allen by his real superhero name, and yet the show matched the must-see aspects of post-Captain America: The Winter Soldier SHIELD. Why that is may be a tough question to answer, especially when you factor in that Arrow took just as long as SHIELD to pan out, and #14 New Show Gotham is also experiencing growing pains. Maybe The Flash just lends itself better to superhero television, maybe Berlanti figured out after working on Arrow that you have to let the stories tell themselves. The Flash isn't held back by anything, and that's led to some great episodes very early in its run. On top of that, it's well-complimented alongside the more grounded, grittier Arrow, which allows it to have those great crossover aspects that SHIELD has access to without overdoing it.
But it’s not just that. It’s also that it's easy tobelieve in everyone’s character motivations, from Barry to Dr. Wells, and the mystery that shrouds Wells especially only adds to that must-see aspect. On top of that, despite airing on the CW and having access to a much smaller budget than SHIELD, it blows its special effects out of the water. Its high-speed scenes are on par with what Days of Future Past did with Quicksilver in the summer, and that's saying a lot. This only 10 episodes into its first CW season.
9. The Leftovers - HBO
Latest Review: "The Prodigal Son Returns" [Season Finale]
The Leftovers is probably the one new show, and maybe of any show at all in 2014, that evoked the most emotion out of its viewers. Not only in terms of the usual "hate-watching" and opinions about one of its co-creators, Damon Lindelof and how this could just turn out to be the next Lost (in the bad ways), but actual, sheer, raw emotion. The Leftovers is a sad fucking show, emphasis on the fucking. It’s about loss and depression and one’s ability (or lack thereof) to cope with terrible, inexplainable things, emphasis on the inexplainable. It follows the residents of a small town in suburban New York three years after a worldwide disaster "raptured" 2% of humanity. How they deal with that is the main subject of the show. Some start cults, others bottle up their despair, but everyone's affected.
That's kind of the most impressive aspect of the drama's 10-episode first season. Elements of the underlying mystery (whcih, by the way, aren't ever explained in the Tom Perrotta novel on which it's based) are present and teased, but those teases are more thematic than plot-based. The Leftovers has almost no concern with solving that mystery, at least not in the first season. In and of itself, that's shocking to see coming from Lindelof (although you shouldn't worry, season 2 rumors seem to indicate that might change), but it also makes the show a lot better. Avoiding those temptations and merely focusing on the plight of the characters makes this a better show, one that's unique in a television landscape that would have you believe you've seen everything.
Lindelof displays incredible restraint, maybe because this is HBO and it's frankly hard for them to mess up drama. On top of that, The Leftovers has fantastic, award-deserving performances from Justin Theroux, Carrie Coon, Christopher Ecclestone, Amy Brennerman, Ann Dowd and others, all of which makes this one of 2014's must-watch dramas, even if, at first, it may have not worked for everyone.
8. True Detective - HBO
Latest Review: "Form And Void" [Season Finale]
When True Detective premiered in the winter, I (and many others) already had it pegged for the top spot on not only new show lists, but best of TV lists in general.It took the seemingly straightforward idea of a character-driven neo-noir detective story and twisted it into something completely original and compelling. Not to mention fantastically directed (earning Cary Fukunaga a well-deserved Emmy) and acted (with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, of course).
That said, it did end sort of weak, or at least oddly or out of breath, more a loose pile of big ideas than a cohesive resolution, and nearly a full year later, it may simply be a victim of time, giving us just a bit too much time to think about it and watch all the other amazing shows the year had to offer, which is why we may have struggled to fit it in our top 10. Is that a statement on how great TV was this year, or that maybe our view of True Detective was originally over-inflated? It’s hard to tell, especially considering the early backlash over the bizarre season 2 casting (Vince Vaughn, Taylor Kitsch, Rachel McAdams and Colin Ferrell), but keep in mind a McConaughey/Harrelson-led HBO drama was also kind of a bizarre proposal this time last year.
Putting season 2 casting and the mere passage of time aside, True Detective was still a fantastic eight episodes of television. The acting is some of the best we've seen on TV from two leads in a while, the plot twisted and turned over eight episodes in an exciting and unique way, and it was chalk-full of moments that belong on our main top TV moments list, making it a deserved part of the new show list this year.
7. Silicon Valley - HBO
I don't know if Silicon Valley would have made it into the top 10 if it wasn't for its season finale. It's a hilarious show with a fantastic cast of comedians including Kumail Nanjiani and T.J. Miller, but it was also sort of low key, dumped in a sea of great television like a single drop of water, much like the guys behind Pied Piper tried to navigate the storms of Silicon Valley with their tech startup. I don't want to make it sound like the first 7 episodes weren't great, they were, even as the sitcom tried to find its footing. It's more that that final episode introduced us to one of the most ridiculous and funniest things we got to see on TV all year.
And that thing was a fucking dick joke. Albeit a scientifically proven one. And one that ends up being the crux of the entire season's plot. Silicon Valley truly deserves a full watch if you haven't seen it yet, but if the following 3 and a half minutes don't sell you on it, then nothing probably will. Relive the infamous dick scene for yourselves with our 7th favorite new show of 2014 by clicking here.
6. Review - Comedy Central
Similar to Silicon Valley, Review won us over with something so elaborate, yet so crass and simple. Sure, Andy Daly's odd little Comedy Central show had its fair share of dick jokes, but the moment we knew Forrest MacNeil was someone who belonged on any sort of best of list was when he had to eat 15 pancakes. If you haven't seen the show, that may sound odd, but put it into the context of a fictional man who steadily loses everything. His wife and family, the respect of his peers, his livelihood and eventually his will to live, not to mention his harrowing addictions to cocaine and sex. His show, which has him reviewing life experiences, is the cause of all this.
So imagine, after all of this, being presented with the daunting task of eating 15 pancakes. It's the perfect metaphor for sadness, and it may be five of the best minutes of television all year. Not only the situation itself, but also for how the amazing Andy Daly reacts to all of it, deadpanning lines like "this certainly is an upsetting number of pancakes" or politely refusing to have his picture put up on his wall. There's also a subtlety to his performance, once again, within the context of everything he's gone through, ironically approaching the minutia of such a ridiculous task but going through with it with an earnestness that's the result of simply needing to accomplish something as his life falls to shambles. His performance, not only in these 5 minutes, but over the first season as a whole, had many, us included, campaigning for Daly to be nominated for an Emmy.
Once again, for eating 15 pancakes on cable television:
5. Bojack Horseman - Netflix
Latest Review: Bojack Horseman Season 1
It seems like 2014 was the year of comedies that turned into more than what they appeared to be. Silicon Valley was an elaborate dick joke, Review was the Heart of Darkness of Comedy Central variety programs. And finally, we had Bojack Horseman. A show that started off as just a silly little cartoon about an anthropomorphic horseman and former sitcom star with his fair share of problems, and turned into so much more.
Netflix’s first foray into adult animated comedy goes a long way to establish that animated sitcoms don’t have to adhere to the strict set of episodic rules that the likes of The Simpsons and Family Guy have established. The merits of those shows aside, they're satisfied with their own formulaic nature. Bojack is satisfied with nothing, raising the bar from something you'd expect to something only Netflix can provide, much like how they turned Arrested Development into something entirely different merely because it was on their service.
Similarly, Bojack Horseman caters tot he idea of binge-watching, without necessarily succumbing to it. Things matter from week to week, plot points in episode one will come back all the way to the finale, and not just in terms of ideas that advance character development or major plot ideas, but little things that give it its charm. If someone steals the “D” in the Hollywood sign, people will refer to it as Hollywoo thereforth. And wordplay is just the beginning.
I was drawn to the show originally by it’s silly premise and its great voice cast (Will Arnett in the titular role, Aaron Paul, Alison Brie, Paul F. Tompkins, etc.), and stayed because of this amazing little world they created where animals are television stars and things seem to matter. The best parts of Bojack Horseman are the little jokes and Easter eggs you have to search for on multiple viewings, and to get excited for that second or third viewing is proof that this is a great show that may have slipped under a few radars this year.
4. Last Week Tonight - HBO
These last couple of years have been a major transitional period for late night television. Since 2013, we've seen Jay Leno retire (again), leading to a NBC lineup with Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers, Conan tried (and unfortunately failed) to launch Pete Holmes in the 12AM spot, a timeslot now literally synonymous with Chris Hardwick’s @Midnight, even Arsenio Hall tried to mount a short-lived comeback. The changes will continue into 2015 with James Corden taking over for Craig Ferguson, Stephen Colbert taking the Late Show from David Letterman, and Larry Wilmore replacing Colbert.
It’s been kind of a lot to take in, and frankly impossible to juggle all the late night programming that any savvy TV viewer should be watching. But no matter how crowded the new landscape is, the one show everyone should take a half-hour out of their week not to miss is John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight, a spot which Oliver landed following a successful summer stint guest hosting The Daily Show in Jon Stewart's absence.
But this isn't a Daily Show knockoff where the only difference is a British host who's allowed to swear and show shriveled old penises. It's also a show with procreating space gecko mascots, breakdancing Lincolns, dog courts and meaningful 15-minute rants about important things that no one else is willing to cover. Oliver's brazen approach in giving away much of this content for free on Youtube the next morning has only aided him in getting his points across as well, creating similar cultural responses as those that Stewart has harbored, only in a fraction of the time.
Still, after 25 episodes and 25 important, newsworthy rants, the best thing he did was dress us a bulldog as Supreme Court justice Anthony Scalia, which we'll watch on repeat until the end of time:
3. Fargo - FX
On paper, a show based on the 1996 Coen Brothers film “Fargo” would have probably topped another list here at BWP, one of terrible-sounding ideas. But donchaknow, Noah Hawley somehow made it work, delivering (you guessed it), "Fargo", an FX miniseries of the same name as the film that otherwise had little to do with its source material, outside of spirit and a somewhat important briefcase, but a miniseries that delighted us in both its ability to tap into the bizarre humor of the film and deliver a compelling set of stories from a bizarre part of the United States
It helps that the casting, from top to bottom, was as on the mark as any show currently on the air, from legitimate moviestars Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton to breakout actresses like Alison Tollman, and previously underrated character actors and bit players that range from Bob Odenkirk to Colin Hanks to Adam Goldberg to even Key & Peele and so many others.
It all begs the question of whether or not Fargo could have been as great and compelling if it kept all those elements and merely changed its name, butt hat doesn't matter, because it almost laughs in the face of all these Hollywood reboot that instead try to bank on such names. Fargo simply exists in that universe and makes the most of it. Questions aside about the viability of its upcoming second season (set to take place in the past, following a younger version of Keith Carradine's retired cop character in the 70s) aside, Fargo was one of the best shows on TV this past year.
2. The Last Ship - TNT
Latest Review: "No Place Like Home" [Season Finale]
If it takes the rest of my life, I’m going to convince people that The Last Ship was the second best new show on television this year. I'm like this show's Moses. Yes, it’s silly. Yes, some pretty heavy suspension in disbelief is needed to buy into it, and it’s kind of heavy on the “Fuck yeah the navy!” proud American rhetoric, but somehow, The Last Ship manages to come together to make one of the most exciting experiences I had on TV in a while.
If you haven’t seen it, and shame on you if that's the case, The Last Ship follows a US Navy Destroyer gone dark in the Arctic to research a cure for a virus, only to discover that the world has been ravaged by it when they come out of hiding, leaving them alone in the ocean to deal with rogue, murderous Russians, insane dictaterous cruise captains, even a Taliban-occupied Guantanamo Bay, and even second of these 13 episodes proceeds to be magical.
The cast is strong, led by Eric Dane and Rhona Mitra (with great guest hooks late in the season from Titus Welliver and Alfre Woodard), the plot is the kind of big screen ridiculous action that TV has deserved for a while, and what's more the show is well made, with much of the filming on the ship taking place on an actual Navy Destroyer supplied by the army (which is probably why the show is so military friendly), all of which adds up to something incredibly entertaining.
The Last Ship is everything you might want out of an action movie, only in a television drama format. It’s insanely over the top and ludicrous, but they make it work to a point where it’s legitimately one of the most entertaining shows on television and something I greatly looked forward to every week when it was on, well worth shutting off your brain for an hour to enjoy it.
1. The Knick - Cinemax
After remakes of 90s movies, serial animated sitcoms about horses, dick jokes, pancake eating and an action-drama that’s basically convinced me to join the American navy, it seems only appropriate that our number one new show of 2014 is a turn of the century period drama about a New York City hospital on Cinemax, created and directed by Steven Soderbergh and featuting a scene in the premiere where Clive Owen gets his dick injected with heroin.
That may be how The Knick starts, but it's not just about taking drugs through sexual appendages. It's a fantastic show about the cost of innovation, the brutality of the past, about racism and religion and all the things from the supposed good old days that make us happy to be living when and where we are, all within the unique and warped vision of one of the greatest directors of the last two decades, translated through one of his best muses in one of his best roles in recent memory.
Everything about The Knick works on levels you probably wouldn't expect it to, especially coming from a place like Cinemax. The set design is absolutely beautiful, the casting, right down to cameos from the likes of John Hodgman and Tom Poppa is spot on, and the way Soderbergh's unorthodox style blends into this very serious world just works. The director breathes live into a purposely stiff universe with shaky cam and electronic music, and helps us invest in a cast of characters that's mostly despicable, from top to bottom.
All of this, once again, bringing prestige, award-worthy drama to a network like Cinemax, which somehow finds itself on the top of our list in 2014.
Check back soon for more year-end coverage right here on BWP!