I know, I know. You’re thinking, “This dude sure loves his lists!” Hey, it’s what we critics in the television and film biz–or, as in my case, those of us desperately clawing at the door in the hopes of one day being invited into the party of said biz–do. I mean, yeah, lists are plenty arbitrary as I’ve discussed on here previously, but TV critics the Internet over seem smitten by this idea, so like a good lemming, I’ll jump on board!
Plus, I love lists. Deal with it.
The following are shows that have left an indelible mark on my television psyche already this year. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to put them in alphabetical order because I’m not really in the mood to stir up a whirlwind of controversy, okay? For the purposes of clarity, let me also say that the shows I included here began their seasons in 2014, so beloved series like The Good Wife, Person of Interest, and Parks and Rec didn’t make this list simply because of my revised criteria….You don’t care about any of that, but I told you anyway.
Here they are!
The Americans, FX
And you think your family is tough to handle? The Jennings household battled unrest on all fronts this season, both personally and professionally. Few shows can replicate the greatness of their inaugural season, but even fewer can find that elusive second gear and launch into a stratosphere of uncompromising excellence. Yet somehow, The Americans–buoyed by incredible performances and sharp writing–managed just that. Two overarching narratives (the clandestine operation to pilfer American stealth technology and the ongoing operation to track down the murderer of fellow operatives) lead us down roads with few easy answers** and, by season’s end, forced Philip and Elizabeth to consider what the future holds not just for themselves but their children. It’s a parable, a cautionary tale, an allegory–oh, and just about the smartest, most cooly confident series on television.
**Seriously, the reveal of who killed Elizabeth and Philips’s friends and fellow operatives? Absolutely chilling.
The season isn’t yet over, but this show has already been teaching us a masterclass in how to tell a short form narrative. Seriously, each episode feels like you’re binge-watching an entire season; there’s not a scrap of filler but, miraculously, nor is there a dearth of characterization. In managing that perfect balance between propulsive plot and attention to character, Fargo has managed to create a television event that isn’t a revisiting of the Coen Brothers’ outstanding film so much as an extended jazz cover of it.
Martin Freeman, currently giving Walter White a run for his money, has turned Lester Nygaard into television’s most dramatically transformed character–all in a span of eight episode–as Fargo uses Lester’s dark tale to explore the nature of evil and its seductive allure. Will critics be talking about this one when it comes time for their Best of the Year lists? Ya, you betcha!
Game of Thrones, HBO
Westeros, am I right? If Thrones‘s fourth season has accomplished anything (and, in truth, it’s accomplished a great deal), it’s this: Westeros is a place where zeal, passion, honor, and integrity have no foothold and can, in fact, bring about one’s ruin. Sound familiar? When a work of fantasy has become the most damning allegory of our current times, you know you’re in the presence of great art.
Plus, this continues to be the most shocking series on television. From nuptial poisonings to deflating trials-by-combat, no other show can disarm its audience so completely while still remaining true to its central conceit. Swirling around this narrative tapestry is an enormous menagerie of characters, each so distinctive, so expertly drawn, that the ever-expanding cast manages to deepen this world without confounding its audience. In virtually every facet of its story, Game of Thrones remains simply brilliant.
Also, hurray, Joffrey’s dead! Best TV gift of the season so far!
Unlike anything else on television, Louie manages to ground its narrative predictability–paradoxically–in its consistent unpredictability. Without missing a beat, this show can oscillate from the insanely hilarious (the garbage man bit in the beginning of the season) to the awkwardly funny (everything in episode two, “Model”) and veer three-sixty to the movingly dramatic (the brilliant speech about what it means to be a single fat woman in New York).
Comedic genius Louis C.K. took a considerable amount of time off between the third and fourth seasons, but when this is the result, then who would dare complain about such a hiatus? Although the excellent opening credits are sorely missed, that’s about the only negative I can attribute to this amazing season, which has grown in scope in terms of its storytelling and aggregation of recurring secondary characters. We’re also seeing Louie revisit and build upon an ever-complicating joke over the span of several episodes (Hurricane Jasmine Forsythe anyone?) much in the vain of Seinfeld. In short, C.K. continues play to his proven strengths while continuing to challenge himself. I’m loving everything about this season thus far, and I’m so, so glad it’s back.
True Detective, HBO
What else can we say that hasn’t been said already? Time is a flat circle, and no matter where you are on that geometric continuum, this is hands down the Best Show of 2014.
Besides, some genius TV blogger already waxed poetic about the glories of this show: http://overstuffeddvr.com/?p=215
Honorable Mentions: Veep, Silicon Valley
Keep up the amazing work, HBO and FX! All other networks can bow down to you now, as your dominance is hereby commemorated and therefore official!
Well, that about wraps it up. I can’t wait to see what the rest of 2014 brings to us on the small screen and not just because it means I can make another list. (But mostly it’s because I can make another list tbh.) Hurray lists! #Listology #ListlessWithoutListsofLists