I’ve surprised myself a little this year.
Now that it’s time to rank the 10 best television shows of 2014, it turns out one of my most beloved for several years could not, in all honesty, be included.
Forgive me, “Top Chef,” I still love you. It’s just that you’ve gone and switched up things a little this year, enough to – by a hair – knock you out of the top 10. But you’re still right there at No. 11, I pinky-promise.
Maybe we can talk in 2015 about why the show fell, but for now, let’s stick with the core topic: the 10 best shows 2014 had to offer, in this avid TV watcher’s humble, premium-channel-free opinion.
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1. “Justified” – Said it before and I’ll say it again, this FX drama would be at the top of my list even if former Modestan Timothy Olyphant wasn’t its star. But he is, and he’s amazing as Raylan Givens, a U.S. marshal with a mean stare and a meaner gun. A new/old family of vicious criminals infiltrated Raylan’s old Kentucky home in 2014 while his relationship with his boss turned decidedly rough. It’s all set up for an early 2015 series finale that no doubt will send off this wonderful pseudo-Western into the sunset in fine form.
2. “The Americans” – If binge watching is wrong, I don’t want to be right. I spent a significant number of nights (and early mornings) powering through two seasons of this FX espionage drama set during the Cold War. The show, which follows two KGB spies living as Americans near Washington, D.C., is gripping and somehow makes you really like the bad guys, despite them, you know, being enemies of the country and all.
3. “Mad Men” – Like “Justified,” this AMC drama set up its series finale in 2014. The life and libido of ad executive Don Draper did not fare well, but the show remains one of the finest dramas on the air. Don lost his second wife and his standing at his own ad agency. Watching things end in 2015 for Don and the rest of the men and women in this 1960s-set show will be equal parts anticipated and melancholy.
4. “Orange Is the New Black” – See binge-watching declaration above. Watching two seasons of this Netflix comedy/drama was how I spent the rest of my nights and early mornings in 2014. Oddly, the central character is not the most interesting in this ensemble of women doing time in a medium-security facility: There are so many others in the show whose unfolding back stories grip you with each new episode.
5. “Sleepy Hollow” – Contrived, ridiculous and absolutely wonderful, this supernatural Fox thriller about Ichabod Crane’s return 200 years later so he and his new-found partner – police detective Abbie Mills – can save the world from the apocalypse is easy to love. You don’t have to think too hard (thinking too hard actually would ruin it) to watch. Plus it manages to name drop almost everyone from the Revolutionary War chapters in U.S. history. Turns out our Founding Fathers were fighting demons as well as the British. Far-fetched? Who cares?
6. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” – Andy Samberg, Andre Braugher and the rest of the ensemble cast of this Fox sitcom were even better in Season 2. Samburg’s police detective Jake Peralta might be the center of the show, but the rest of the characters surround him with perfection. It’s “Barney Miller” for the new millennium.
7. “The Good Wife” – Maybe this CBS show would be higher on the list if they hadn’t killed off Will Gardner (yes, still bitter). But that the law drama could continue to thrive and pull in viewers despite the loss of not just a main character, but half of the heart of the show, is testament to its brilliance.
8. “Downton Abbey” – Period drama, soap opera, escapism extraordinaire. The lives and loves of the Crawley clan and the people who serve it continue to draw raves. This PBS “Masterpiece Classic” also managed to stay afloat despite the killing off of a major character. But it’s the grandeur and the stiff-upper-lip nobility of not just the rich, but their servants as well, that draw.
9. “Gotham” – This was not going to be my show. Beyond the Adam West “Batman” of the 1960s and one or two films based on the comic-book hero, my Caped Crusader knowledge and interest were lacking. But my son couldn’t wait for this new show, and a mom knows to grab the chance when she can share something with her teenager. Turns out the Fox drama about future police commissioner Jim Gordon and the boy Bruce Wayne is transfixing. The filming – part realistic, part comic-book goth – sells this back story of the heroes and those who would become their nemeses.
10. “Modern Family” – Clever and quick-witted, the cast and writing keep people coming back for more of this ABC comedy stalwart, told in mockumentary fashion. The kids are getting older, but the lines are just as fresh as ever, six seasons later.
Reach Scene editor Pat Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org.