No-one could deny we are living through the Golden-Age of television; ever since The Sopranos ushered in the age of fantastic, character driven, thought provoking, movie-rivalling, drama we’ve has shows such as The Shield, Breaking Bad, and Rome all come and go, and yet there’s still a wealth of fantastic TV series’ left to choose from. So, with the year drawing to a close, Matt Wheeldon, and Terry Lewis decided to look back at the year, and run down their Top 5 TV picks of 2014.
Honourable Mentions: With the sheer volume of high-quality TV we’ve got available nowadays it’s hard not to find something to enjoy (even if there’s never anything on when you want), and that means a number of great shows unfortunately failed to make the cut for my Best TV Of 2014 list. Some, like the critically idolised True Detective, The Newsroom, and House of Cards, as well as Sons of Anarchy, and Hannibal because I’m not fully up to date with their offerings, and other thoroughly enjoyable shows which are a great watch, but just short of the crown; Vikings; Hell On Wheels; Gotham (a solid effort, despite some irksome changes to the source material, and a sense the endless cameo villains can’t be sustained for too long); The Black List (continuing much as the first season did, and now becoming one of the highest cost-per-episode network show to be sold to a streaming service); as well as BBC’s Sherlock (which unfortunately let comedy character moments override interesting and intricate cases during it’s seemingly rushed third season).
5. The Flash
Despite an iffy first couple of episodes, DC’s latest small screen effort (alongside Gotham) manages to take an outlandish concept; The Flash, the fastest man alive, battling a series of meta-humans (baddies with superpowers); and make it work, by refusing to go down the now-popular hyper-realism route, and instead making it an exercise in pure, light-hearted, fun. Barry Allen (The Flash’s everyday persona) has a constant smile on his face, as do those who know about his abilities, the bad guys get cute nicknames, and the whole show is pasted with an air of teen-friendly wonder which not only makes it easy viewing, but light, enjoyable, fun; just as a telly show should be. The lighthearted and fun nature of the show also makes any emotional issues that much more impactful, the core characters have great chemistry with one another, and when Barry & co. happen to cross paths with Oliver Queen and the cast of Arrow we’re treated to some of the best crossover episodes filmed for years. Neither gritty, original, or especially taxing, The Flash is a nostalgic trip down a road of classic TV; a weekly hour of escapism which is not only a prime example of why DC are hand-over-fist better than Marvel at the TV game, but a breakthrough new show which is exceptionally easy to tune in to.
As with a number of shows now, a Christmas mid-season break means we saw the final half of Arrow season 2, at the beginning of the year, and recently wrapped the first half of the third season. While the third season of DC Comics small screen adaptation of their Green Arrow character has been mostly dealing with the fallout from season two, and setting up the next big bad guy for the final half of the season, the show (following a masked vigilante who, after five years on a deserted island, returns to his city armed with a bow and an extremely low tolerance for criminal behaviour) really hit it’s stride, and likely peaked, with the close of season 2; as after a full one-and-a-half season’s worth of excellent set-up, we saw a friend of Oliver Queen become his most dangerous adversary (Deathstroke), his entire city and family placed in very real danger, and saw Oliver, and his team, questioning the very moral fabric of their entire quest. It was a huge payoff, and while I have plenty of issues with it, they’re all minor niggles, and do nothing to hamper the enjoyment of a surprisingly gripping TV show.
A brand new show, we’re currently only half way through the first season of CBS’ latest procedural drama (airing on Sky Living in the UK), Stalker; a show about an LAPD Threat Assessment Unit who investigate stalking crimes within the city. It sounds, simply, very run-of-the-mill, but what makes Stalker such compelling viewing is not only the strong performance of Dylan McDermott (Olympus Has Fallen), but both the psychology behind the investigations, the perpetrators, and even their victims, as well as the gripping side stories which have yet to reach their conclusion; one detective is actually stalking their ex-lover, one has a dark and hidden trauma in their past and is also becoming the victim of a stalker. It’s interesting, it’s a little unnerving, and a solid watch from CBS, not only for the so-far consistently strong episodic cases, but also to see how the main characters’-arcs play out.
2. The Walking Dead
Due to the awkward mid-season break, 2014 actually saw the final half of The Walking Dead’s fourth season, and the first half of season 5; both of which proved to be hugely compelling viewing. Some gore-obsessed fans thought the final half of season 4 was a little slow, but by splitting the group and dedicating episodes to individual survivors/small groups we witnessed some of the best character development the show has ever seen (with just the right amount of zombie-bashing thrown in), and built to a brilliant cliffhanger ending. Season 5 also had its moments, and continued to up the ante in terms of action and horror, whilst letting us grow even closer to some of the major characters (whilst also ripping one or two away), and despite the poor, clearly rushed, mid-season finale it was a great ride overall, and places the show in good stead for the return of season 5 this February.
1. Game of Thrones
It may be predictable, but there’s a reason for that; Game of Thrones is the best show on TV bar none. HBO are the premium television network in the world (they’ve truly earned the name Home Box Office over the past few years), and their adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s fantasy novels (A Song Of Ice And Fire) is nothing short of breathtaking. There’s a reason it’s one of the most watched shows in the world, even earned a mention during the Queen’s Speech this year; it’s sprawling fantasy epic not only creates a number of believable and visually stunning cultures, but it’s filled with political intrigue, violence, backstabbing, action, and sex. The fourth season of the show also continued to deliver week-after-week with new shocks, major character deaths, twists, turns, and frequent bloodshed. We’ve still not seen enough of the dragons, but with everything that’s happened, and the amazing season four finale, season 5 will definitely be one to watch in 2015.
5. The Flash
A spin off of the successful comic adaptation Arrow, one of DC Comics’ premier superheroes is given the full TV treatment in an excellent conversion of The Flash comic book. The Scarlet Speedster manages to ditch the grim and gritty realism which seems to be in vogue with other comic TV shows at the moment and embraces it’s heritage with the actual heroism of a superhero being paraded about. As the first big costumed hero to be featured on the small screen in quite some time, it’s refreshing to see Barry Allen’s secret double life being shown to be quite fun at times in displays of power and making a difference to the city he inhabits. Grant Gustin manages to balance the drama and colour the Flash character needs to succeed and it’s fast catching up to it’s parent show in terms of quality. If I could throw a critique, there is alot of teasing about where they want to go with the show and I’m a little apprehensive whether they can do it justice on the small screen after seeing the moments of CGI used in the show already. But hey, half the joy in watching this show is seeing which villain and aspect of The Flash mythos they throw at you next in a worthy small screen comic translation.
4. The Leftovers
To be honest, I’m still unsure of HBO’s The Leftovers high concept for personal reasons. This is a show about the rapture of Christianity faith, where all the good people ascend to Heaven and those left are made to suffer. But thankfully unlike most H.C. programs, The Leftovers is not a show which tackles the who, what and why of it’s concept. Instead, it nicely (and more interestingly) looks at small town America for the most part and what the big problem means for the local joes with cults being started up and “helping” people cope with their various losses and truth seeing priests continually attacked by denying crowds. The local eye helps create massively sympathetic characters who have lost loved ones and their way after the rapture. It’s easily Lost creator Damon Lindelof’s best work since that show ended and the marriage between him and HBO is ace,; as it has attracted some top names such as Christopher Eccleston & Liv Tyler. It also has my favourite hour of television of this year with Eccleston’s investigative priest character (who finds out information on those taken by the rapture indulging in sinning, when people continue to believe that they are good) trying to pay off debts and save his church before it’s sold on in an encompassing and sucker punch of a 60 minutes.
3. Doctor Who
Another fresh start from the BBC’s premier sci-fi adventure drama about everyone’s favourite time travelling alien Time Lord as it’s revival enters it’s 10th year. Yes, it seems a bit odd to continue using that term for something that’s been going for so long but for once the word revival seems apt when talking about Doctor Who. Simply put, the writing of showrunner Steven Moffat combined with the energy of the new Twelfth Doctor played by Peter Capaldi has given the show a new lease of life. For the past two Doctors you could argue that they were very kid friendly, but here the Doctor this time has been given a bit of a darker edge as this latest regeneration ponders “Am I a good man?” whilst going around and doing dodgy things we’ve not seen in a long time. This Doctor lies and puts his companions & innocents at risk to save the day in a shocking twist on a character you expect to be untouchably good. The drama between the Doctor and continuing companion Clara (played by a much improved Jenna Coleman) over the new attitude of the Doctor potentially corrupting this companion was gripping from start to finish. Whilst of course being unoriginal, the “Into The Dalek” episode where the Doctor was miniaturised and journeyed inside a ‘good’ Dalek and corrupted it by showing his ideals (which the usually dull domed menaces foresee as inspiration as Dalek ideals) made it my favourite episode of the show since it’s return to screen 10 years ago. Despite not having many standout episodes otherwise, this character exploration of Capaldi’s wise & thoughtful yet dubious mannered Doctor was must see television every week and well worth watching.
2. The Walking Dead
You would have thought with that cliffhanger ending to the first half of Season 4 at the end of 2013, with the resolution to the Prison status quo, that our favourite ongoing zombie show had reached a natural climax but again The Walking Dead reinvented itself as one of the best character based shows on TV. Whilst still delivering on the action and horror fronts with plenty of gore and zombie dispensing to keep even the most rabid of fans satisfied, there was a focus to develop characters in dedicated individual episodes after splitting up the group which was highly rewarding. Given the short space of time realistically to make an impression from such a massive cast, it’s nice to see some care and treatment given when the creators could phone it given how big the show has grown. Similarly, longtime fans of the comic were treated to worthy adaptations of the epic Hunters & Lonely Carl storylines. The overall highlight in 2014 was the truly horrific episode where Carol & Tyreese debate over murdering a little girl whose lost her mind and can’t tell the difference between the Walker zombies and humans anymore. Not only did it make me surprisingly care about the bland Carol, but it was easily the best horror and most uncomfortable viewing that has been on television in awhile. A nitpick is that there’s still a too big group to really get into and care for all of Rick’s ‘family’ and the ones we lost were pallet swapped straight away pretty much but The Walking Dead can always throw back at us the beauty of Daryl braining a bad guy’s face in with the still alive skull of a walker. Glorious.
The journey of Oliver Queen’s mission to save his city from the corruption and crime which claimed it whilst he was lost on a remote island reached it’s peak in 2014 – and then some. This super creatively successful adaptation of the Green Arrow comic from DC Comics continues the domination DC has over taken Marvel in the television world at least. It helps that, unlike other comic shows past & present, Stephen Amell really gets into being Queen and is willing to get into near superhuman shape & take up bow lessons to accurately deliver a worthy conversion of the Emerald Archer. The main highlight has been the payoff to the long standing Slade Wilson arc with the arrival of A-list mercenary with a purpose villain Deathstroke, who was brought to life by the superb Manu Bennett in an epic final showdown with the hooded archer. Arrow is a show willing to take risks creatively to fuel it’s continuing entertainment with deaths of long standing characters and progression of cast members you would not expect to take up main physical roles, which I applaud as so many comic shows feel like they can get by being safe and dull and straight. It’s pure high octane comic book thrills and action with no let up and twists galore. More shows like this please DC. You haven’t put a foot wrong so far.
Agree with our lists? Think we both made a glaring omission or included something which has no place being on any ‘Best Of’ list? Or simply want to talk about the shows we have mentioned? You can get involved and let us know in the comments section below.