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Best of 2014: Shows

Of all the year-end lists, this one is by far the hardest for me. There are fewer choices when compared to my lists of characters, episodes, or actors but it’s also the least defined. I don’t even entirely know what I mean when I say these are the best shows of 2014. I watch and love so much television that it’s hard to know what the “best” is. Are they the shows I loved the most? Sometimes. I do love all the shows on this list but different ways. Are they the best, most popular shows I watch as determined by the wide variety of television critics online? Again, sometimes. There does seem to be a consensus that many of these shows are good-quality television. So what I’m left with is a combination of the shows that I feel consistently did things well over the past year and the ones I have loved the most. I’ve left off many of the “big” shows of the year that may have been technically good but failed to emotionally engage me in the same way. I’ve probably overrepresented comedies or comedy-adjacent shows but apparently that’s what I most wanted to watch this year because this list just feels right to me. As always, this is a list that says more about me than it does about the state of television in 2014. Head to the comments to tell me what you think makes a show worthy of a place on a “Best of” list and let me know your choices for 2014!

The Good Wife (CBS) Since the start of season 5, The Good Wife has proven itself to be a show that doesn’t shy away from the unexpected. It continues to reinvent itself and head in new directions. This year saw some changes for the show – Will’s death being the most notable. Diane left Lockhart Gardner, Cary was arrested, and Alicia started a run for state’s attorney. None of these characters are in the same place they were a year ago and the show is better for it. It’s allowed characters to interact in new ways and in combinations that had been previously lacking. With a continued use of fantastic guest and recurring stars, it remains one of the best-acted and most compelling dramas on TV.

Enlisted (FOX) You know a show must be something special when it touches the hearts of so many people. Enlisted’s fanbase may have been small but like many other comedies that have come before it, fans were passionate about this show and what it meant to them. It gave the focus to a set of duties that is little-known to civilians and it provided a look into just how hard the transition from war to peace can be. There was a lot this show did right. It thoughtfully examined the effects of PTSD, provided a wonderfully empathetic male character in Randy, and did it all by being genuinely funny. Perhaps the thing it did the best though was the focus on the relationship between the Hill brothers. All so very different, especially in the way they expressed their emotions, but the bond was always there. “Hands on head” moments were a surefire way to make me tear up because it felt so real. The chemistry between Geoff Stults, Parker Young and Chris Lowell was perfect. I wish we could have seen more of this amazing show but the 13 episodes we did get were well worth the time and emotional investment.

Transparent (Amazon) I knew this was a show for me very early on in the first episode. The Pfeffermans may not be the most likeable family on TV but they feel achingly real. The kids are selfish and self-absorbed in a way that a lot of us are without necessarily realizing it but they have moments of incredible kindness and compassion. They make big, life-altering decisions on a whim. They mess up and fight with each other and hurt each other but they forgive and accept each other as they are. The acting is wonderful and it is a beautiful look at becoming who you are. Maura’s transformation is the heart of the show. Flashbacks speak to her struggles and process of discovering who she is and the present time shows the lightness that comes with embracing yourself. This show is about people in all their beauty and ugliness and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Jane the Virgin (CW) I’ve already written up why I think this is a show more people need to be watching, but since I wrote that piece I’ve only fallen more in love with the show. In a TV landscape often filled with unhappiness or unrelenting drama and angst, Jane the Virgin feels remarkably grounded for a show about a girl who was accidentally artificially inseminated and whose roots are a telenovela. The plot may be extraordinary and soapy but the characters are full and emotionally rich. It’s hard not to love Jane, Xo, and Alba and want happiness for all of them. Rogelio is a true joy to watch. His personality is large and over-the-top but he remains real by his love for his newly-found daughter and his affection for Xo. It’s a show that makes me happy to watch every week because no matter what is happening (and it’s often a lot), my connection to these characters will draw me in to this heightened world.

In The Flesh (BBC America) What a beautiful gem of a show this is. At only 9 episodes between two seasons (with the fate of more seasons still up in the air), In The Flesh is a twist on the popular zombie stories of late. It’s not a story of human survival after a zombie apocalypse but rather a story of how medicated zombies are reintegrated into the society on which they wreaked havoc. The cinematography is beautiful, the characters will break your heart and make you love them, and and it examines issues like bigotry, the way religion is used to create zealous movements, the effects of PTSD and other mental illnesses on both individuals and their loved ones, and accepting who you are and the person you’d like to be.

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Best of 2014: Actors

In my second to last installment of the Best of 2014, I want to take a moment to celebrate the brilliant work that so many actors did on TV this year. It was a year full of talent and it could be found everywhere you looked, across all networks and platforms.

Jeffrey Tambor (Transparent) I’m sure that Jeffrey Tambor has been in a great number of things but until this year, I only knew him as George Bluth, Sr. Within just a few minutes of meeting Maura Pfefferman, all images of George Bluth were erased in my mind. Jeffrey Tambor has been rightly praised for his work in Transparent. He captures the vulnerability, the strength, the fear and the relief that comes with being the person you always knew you were supposed to be. There is a gentleness to his portrayal of Maura, a sense of trying to relearn everything you thought you knew about the world while holding onto sometimes (like family) you don’t want to leave behind.

Allison Tolman (Fargo) The casting department found gold in Allison Tolman. Without the warmth and dedication she brought to her role as Molly Solverson, Fargo would have been far less memorable to me. Whether it was her relationship with her father, her growing relationship with Gus and his daugher, or her pursuit of Lorne and Lester, there was an emotional and moral base to all she did. I sincerely hope this becomes a breakout role for her and we see much more of her in the future.

Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys (The Americans) I’m cheating and picking two people for this spot. Each of them are fantastic on their own and definitely shine in their individual scenes but it’s the combination of Russell and Rhys that makes the acting on The Americans so compelling. The Jennings are complicated characters, torn between their loyalties to their mother country and their children who are still unaware of who their parents really are, and every bit of that conflict and complication comes through in these two performances. Whether it is a quieter moment, like Elizabeth reaching out to Emmett and Leanne’s son and deciding to not tell him the truth about his parents or a louder moment like Philip’s meeting with Paige’s pastor, you don’t want to take your eyes away from them.

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