In this age of segmented demographics, declining ratings and a reliance on sports and reality programming to pad network schedules, it can often be hard to buy into the whole idea of this being a "golden age" for TV. After all, it is kind of a trite sentiment. Every decade since the developed world welcomed the picture box into homes has produced generation-defining work that made millions laugh and cry, often at the same time.
That said, the sheer quantity of wonderful television shows currently available to viewers, whether it's on a TV network, a cable station or streaming on a website, is overwhelming. To only single out a few of the usual suspects would be a great disservice to those curious about the great works of art looming around seemingly every corner of the television landscape. It would be disingenuous to write a definitive list of the best TV shows of 2014 without mentioning shows that have been earning accolades for years.
"Orange Is the New Black," the surprise hit of 2013 that put the cherry on top of Netflix's "House of Cards" sundae, became even better in its second season, as did MTV's "Faking It." Both shows have taken the baton from programs like "Will & Grace" and hit the ground running, not only proliferating gay and lesbian representation on television, but transgender and intersex representation as well.
"Game of Thrones" continues to thrive as an Medieval fantasy epic on an unprecedented scale for the medium. "Scandal," a once plucky also-ran on ABC, has become an iconic pop culture staple, proving again that if Shonda Rhimes builds it, they will come. Critical favorites like "The Good Wife," "Hannibal" and "Mad Men" continued to compel audiences willing to expect more than just fluffy entertainment.
But if fluffy entertainment is what you wanted, you got it from shows that continue to be stellar as the years progress. "Community" rebounded in a big way and earned its coveted sixth season (and a movie?). "Parks and Recreation" gracefully moved into a future without co-stars Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe, substituting in comedians like Billy Eichner and Jon Glaser and hitting a new stride. "Bob's Burgers" and "The Middle" continued to deliver a completely honest depiction of the real modern family, warts and all. Where can we even start on the comic goldmines that are HBO's "Girls" and "Veep?"
Since there are simply too many good things on television today, we are limiting the list to the ten best new shows of 2014. All have proven to have the gusto to enjoy long lives, assuming their creators and financiers decide to keep them going beyond this point. We can only hope.
"BoJack Horseman" Premiere Date: August 22, 2014 Network: Netflix
While premium cable comedies like "Entourage" and "Californication" have tried to wrap a scathing indictment of the one-of-a-kind hellscape that is Los Angeles into a showbiz comedy, nothing has ever succeeded quite like "BoJack Horseman." Ostensibly an animated comedy built around animal puns, "BoJack Horseman" is a serialized exploration of damaged people in a glamorously unhealthy environment. It helps that the show is among the funniest things you'll see all year, but its underlying intention is heard with overwhelming clarity.
"Broad City" Premiere Date: January 22, 2014 Network: Comedy Central
Based on a web series of the same name by co-stars Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, "Broad City" manifested itself as the show "Girls" was hyped up to be. While Lena Dunham is "a voice of a generation," as her character says in "Girls," "Broad City" has perfectly encapsulated the sentiments of media-savvy millennials. As profane as it is feminist, "Broad City" is as whip smart as they come, even as the antics it depicts become mind-blowing in their foolishness.
"Fargo" Premiere Date: April 15, 2014 Network: FX
The idea of a television series based on the iconic Coen Brothers film of the same name seemed crass when it was announced last year, but the cast, led by Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman, commanded attention. Good thing, too, because Noah Hawley's extrapolation of a seemingly untouchable classic is just as devilishly funny as what inspired it and twice as intense. Knockout performances and a keen visual vocabulary make this one of the biggest surprises of 2014.
"Gotham" Premiere Date: September 22, 2014 Network: FOX
Nobody expected for Fox's much anticipated "Batman" prequel to become its own beast. It would have to play by the rules of the comic's illustrious canon. The pieces in the box are simply too precious to break apart to make something new. Luckily, showrunner Bruno Heller did just that, establishing his own canon and letting the expanded universe of "Batman" come to life organically. Walking a tightrope between Frank Miller, Christopher Nolan and even Joel Schumacher's interpretation of these characters, Heller captured the spirit of the series in a way that hasn't been achieved since "Batman: The Animated Series." Could it fall apart at any moment? Sure. As of right now, however, this show is, as the kids would say, "hella rad."
"Review" Premiere Date: March 6, 2014 Network: Comedy Central
Despite low ratings and little fanfare, Comedy Central announced that it was keeping "Review" around for a second season. Why, you ask? Andy Daly's remake of an Australian format where he plays a critic who reviews life experiences rather than arts and entertainment is a performance art masterpiece. Played straight as a show within a show, Daly's character Forrest McNeil sacrifices everything in the pursuit of truth, reviewing everything from divorce to nymphomania to eating thirty pancakes in one sitting. The result is physically breathtaking.
"Rick and Morty" Premiere Date: December 2, 2013 Network: Adult Swim
The show's pilot technically premiered in 2013, but Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon's "Rick and Morty" received the vast majority of its airtime in 2014, where it became a bonafide hit for Cartoon Network's Adult Swim block of programming. "Rick and Morty" is a surreal sci-fi comedy about a boy and his psychotic grandfather, deconstructing everything from TV tropes to the rules of quantum mechanics. Watching this show can often be exhausting, as there are few things on TV that dare to be this esoteric, disgusting and genuinely disturbing. If those adjectives excite you, and they should, catch up immediately.
"Silicon Valley" Premiere Date: April 6, 2014 Network: HBO
Mike Judge is a master of capturing a time and place in perfect detail, mining the specificity of an experience for comedy and truth. "King of the Hill" is destined to be studied as the definitive text of suburban Texas life at the turn of the century. "Office Space," a cult classic if there's ever been one, speaks to anyone who has burned in the metaphorical hellfire of an office cubicle. His newest work, "Silicon Valley," is an absolute riot, bringing us head first into the absurd, terrifying world of the tech sector. Special attention must be paid to the final episode of the first season, which features perhaps the smartest joke about male genitalia ever written. Scientists even wrote an academic paper on it!
"Transparent" Premiere Date: September 26, 2014 Network: Amazon Prime
It seems like Amazon has been trying for years to get into the streaming TV game, throwing lots of money at shows like "Alpha House" and "Betas" to score one on the Netflix behemoth. Finally, it has paid off in Jill Soloway's "Transparent," a dramedy starring Jeffrey Tambor as a transwoman who comes out to her adult children in her later years. This is only the tip of the iceberg, as her revelation unravels a web of secrets and conflicts within her entire family. "Transparent" is a sensitive, heartwrenching and often hilarious show about a family just like yours.
"True Detective" Premiere Date: January 12, 2014 Network: HBO
Probably the most talked about new show of 2014, "True Detective" mesmerized audiences during its limited series run and created a social media fervor not seen since the final episodes of "Breaking Bad." While some may take issue with creator Nic Pizzolatto's pulpy writing, there is no denying that "True Detective" is the result of incomparable craft. Director Cary Fukunaga, who has shown remarkable talent with films like "Sin Nombre" and "Jane Eyre," is given a pressure cooker of an insane story to work with, as well as a killer duo of actors to work with. Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson turn in some of their best work, while music supervisor T-Bone Burnett plucks the right sounds to create an unrivaled sensory experience for the ages.
"You're the Worst" Premiere Date: July 17, 2014 Network: FX
Last but not least is "You're the Worst," a wonderful anti-romantic comedy about what it means to be a horrible person. Jimmy (Chris Geere) and Gretchen (Aya Cash) begin the series as deplorable people bonded together in erotic embrace by their own despicable behavior. As creator Stephen Falk and explores these characters' inner humanity and those of the people they associate with, the truth becomes much more complicated. "You're the Worst" does what few shows have ever been able to do — its subjects are so well-defined that you truly get to know them inside and out. It is a marvel of sociology coexisting with art.
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