“The Walking Dead” used to be big on spectacle and short on character. Now the reverse seems to be true.
In 2014, “The Walking Dead” had very strong episodes in the back half of season four and the first half of season 5 that built up its supporting cast into more than just random zombie chow. Lawrence Gilliard, Jr. was particularly good as Bob Stookey, alongside the always reliable Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, and a recent addition to the cast, Michael Cudlitz. Danai Gurira, Melissa McBride and Chad Coleman also shined when the spotlight fell on their characters.
Unfortunately, the season and midseason finales have been lacking. After being built up for nearly half a season, Terminus was an underwhelming payoff and the most recent episode felt extremely rushed and sloppy as it resolved the fate of Beth (Emily Kinney).
I still think that “The Walking Dead” is a great TV show. But it can do better, and I think it will do better in 2015.
Steven Soderbergh’s “retirement” didn’t last very long. While the filmmaker says that he’s done making movies, Soderbergh went all in on TV and directed the ten episode first season of “The Knick” on Cinemax.
“The Knick” was Cinemax’s first attempt at prestige programming and it was a very unique show. Set at the turn of the 20th century, “The Knick” followed Dr. John W. Thackery (Clive Owen) and his medical colleagues during the early days of modern medicine. The depictions of the surgeries and procedures were brutal, and when mistakes were made, lives were lost.
This isn’t the uplifting medical show we normally get on TV. But “The Knick” is very compelling and I can’t look away.
“The Leftovers” is Damon Lindelof’s first TV series since “Lost,” and the influence of that series can be felt in this adaptation of Tom Perrotta’s novel. The biggest difference between “Lost” and “The Leftovers” is that the latter has no interest in solving the mysteries of why 2% of Earth’s population was taken in a rapture or whether the messianic types like Holy Wayne (Paterson Joseph) are for real. Even Holy Wayne doesn’t know for sure!
The story primarily focuses on the Garvey family, including reluctant sheriff Kevin Garvey, Jr (Justin Theroux), who might be losing his mind. The series even pulled a “Lost” with strong spotlight episodes on Christopher Eccleston’s fallen reverend Matt Jamison, and Carrie Coon as Nora Durst, a woman who lost her husband and children to the rapture.
This show is about as bleak as it gets, as the characters are forced to deal with their grief. But what really makes the story sing is the way that hope hasn’t entirely been abandoned. Just wait for the moment with the dog.
“Boardwalk Empire” Season 4 killed off one of its best and most sympathetic characters. To fill the sympathy void, series creator Terence Winter brought in Marc Pickering and Nolan Lyons to play younger versions of Steve Buscemi’s Nucky Thompson in flashback sequences while the adult Nucky dealt with the impending end of Prohibition.
The result was a devastating series finale as Nucky’s biggest mistake came back to haunt him. “Boardwalk Empire” also delivered great sendoffs to Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams), Al Capone (Stephen Graham), and Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon). Even Gillian Darmody (Gretchen Mol) became compelling while suffering in a mental institution.
“Boardwalk Empire” was a brilliant series that would have been the best show on television a decade ago. But in this era, it’s simply one of the best.
Any year that delivers a new season of “Sherlock” is always going to a good one for TV. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are simply the best Sherlock Holmes and John Watson in a long, long time. No other recent adaptation of Sherlock Holmes even comes close.
The third season sidestepped an actual explanation for how Sherlock faked his death, but it didn’t matter. Just getting the team back together was fun enough. Amanda Abbington was also a brilliant addition as Mary Morstan, John Watson’s fiancée and later wife, who easily meshed with the Sherlock and John dynamic while hiding secrets of her own.
“Did you miss me?” Yes, yes I did.
"I am enchanted and terrified.” - Mason Verger
“Hannibal” is the only broadcast network drama on this year’s list, and it is simply amazing that this show is on TV at all, much less on NBC. Under Bryan Fuller, “Hannibal” has outshined the previous cinematic adaptations of Thomas Harris’ novels with unforgettable performances by Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter and Hugh Dancy as Will Graham.
The second season was essentially divided in two. During the first half, Will attempted to find a way to escape being framed for Hannibal’s crimes. In the second half, Will got far too close to Hannibal as he tried to expose him for who he really was. Along the way, Michael Pitt delivered an electric turn as Mason Verger, while Laurence Fishburne, Caroline Dhavernas and the rest of the cast were also very strong.
Even though this series is mining Harris’ original stories, the remix by Fuller has allowed “Hannibal” to shock and surprise the novel readers. Like a good meal, each course of “Hannibal” brings something new and exciting to the table. Just don’t eat the meat...
“The Americans” had a very solid first season on FX. But it was the second season that catapulted “The Americans” into elite territory.
FX’s Cold War spy drama added more tension as Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) faced internal and external threats to their family, including a potential killer targeting Soviet agents, murderous Naval officer Andrew Larrick (Lee Tergesen) and even organized religion.
“The Americans” also developed supporting characters like Martha (Alison Wright), Nina (Annet Mahendru) and Oleg (Costa Ronin) into some of the most compelling figures on the show. Oleg’s turn was particularly surprising, as the show played against expectations with his response to Nina’s fate.
With FX rapidly losing some of its signature shows to the end of their runs, “The Americans” could become one of the new flagship series. And it deserves that slot and a wider audience to enjoy the show.
I really thought that this was going to be the year that "Game of Thrones" reclaimed its top spot on this list. “Game of Thrones” has been great since the very first season, with excellent writing and one of the best casts on television. The fourth season continued that run of excellence and it became even more popular than before.
George R.R. Martin’s novels provided the blueprint for this season’s twists, which included the murder of a character whom fans loved to hate, the trial of the beloved Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), an unforgettable episode-long battle at the Wall and the shocking end to a trial by combat. I can’t remember the last time I was so upset by a character’s fate, but that’s the sign of good writing and acting.
“Game of Thrones” is legitimately one of the greatest shows on television. Four seasons in, the creative team and the cast have only gotten better.
“Fargo” was the great surprise of 2014’s television crop. No one really expected a rehash of the Coen Brothers’ most famous film to make for great TV. But Noah Hawley proved everyone wrong with a story that evoked the film (and shared a universe with it) while becoming its own thing across ten episodes.
Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, and Colin Hanks were all on the top of their game, but it was Allison Tolman who stole the show as Deputy Molly Solverson, the unlikely heroine who had to untangle the murderous mess left behind by Lorne Malvo (Thornton) and the increasingly monstrous Lester Nygaard (Freeman).
“Fargo” was alternately dark, funny and uplifting. But it was consistently top notch entertainment. There was only one TV show that was better in 2014...
Even before “True Detective” Season 1 came to an end, there was a backlash against the show by some critics and fans because of its perceived failure to have women in strong roles, or feature more diversity in the cast. There were also several detractors who hated the ending of “True Detective.” But everyone seems to forget one important thing.
“True Detective” was phenomenal.
It was the fusion of film and television and there was nothing else like it anywhere in 2014. Nic Pizzolatto’s scripts had a life of their own and Cary Joji Fukunaga’s direction gave the show a real cinematic flavor. Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson were also amazing as Police Detectives Rust Cohle and Marty Hart.
No characters on TV left a bigger impression than Rust and Cohle, as “True Detective” showed the audience that duo in the past and the present to great effect. Even in the quieter moments of “True Detective,” the show was riveting when Rust and Marty played of of each other or Old Rust shared his views about the world.
“True Detective” Season 2 is going to have a hard time living up to the standard set by the first season. “True Detective” was television at its finest, and it is CraveOnline’s pick for the Best TV Drama of 2014.