So this is the time of year that everyone enjoys making lists of the pop culture that influenced them that year. Television is a daily passion of mine and it seemed fitting I do a Top Ten of my favorite shows this year. I wouldn’t necessarily consider these shows to be the best for everyone, but for me this year these are shows that got me going and excited every week.
- Broad City
I have never connected with two characters as quickly as I did with Abbi and Ilana. Every time I sat down to watch a new episode, it felt like I was catching up with my favorite friends. Abbi is ambitious, if a bit spacey, and prides herself on being independent and hard-working. Ilana on the other hand is completely content being a loveable stoner, big dreamer and laziest slacker in chief at her job. Jacobson has incredible physical comedy and Glazer’s view on the world and IDGAF attitude is highly infectious. The two’s friendship is rife for judgment but neither of them ever fall prey to that. Whether they are trying to climb a fire escape or go on the subway with weed in their vaginas, their friendship continues to be supportive and always hilarious. The highlight of the season is easily the image of Abbi high out of her mind rolling on the floor of a dentist office. What started off to me as Workaholics for chicks became one of the most enjoyable and laugh out loud hilarious shows of 2014.
- Orange is the New Black
There is no other show on television with as diverse of a cast as OITNB. The second season took the time to take some of the spotlight off Taylor Schilling’s Piper and focus on telling stories of inmates we already know and love as well as ones who haven’t been explored until now, namely the stories of Poussey, Tastee, and Lorna as well as my favorite character this season Miss Rosa. This year there was more focus on the corruption within the criminal justice system and the difference between people in charge who want to make things better (Caputo) and those who are using the system as a means to an end (Figueroa). It also humanized characters like Pennsatucky, who has some great moments this season, and gave background on characters we may not like (Healy). The best part of OITNB is the fact that it feels like everyone gets a chance to tell their story. The background on Cindy gave us a better idea of why she is who she is, but it doesn’t necessarily make me like her (in fact, I liked her a lot less). No matter what, her story still gets told because everyone’s story in Litchfield matters in order to understand who they were before and what led them to prison as well as who they’ve become since then. Of all the ensemble casts on television, Orange stands out for not only the fascinating characters and their diverse stories, but it understands that there are more experiences out there, especially women’s, than just the handful we’ve see constantly recycled on television for years.
Hannibal stands out this year as being one of the most beautifully shot and most incredibly interesting character studies on television. This season we saw the dueling madman killers Hannibal and Mason Verger, a dazzling Michael Pitt, as well as a more grounded and focused Will Graham, intent on incriminating Hannibal. At its most basic, Hannibal is a story about a friendship between two men who, while not trusting, are endlessly fascinated with each other. The interaction between Will and Hannibal is part of what keeps me coming back to this show. We all know what Hannibal is capable of and yet I want him to escape the clutches of the law just as much as I want for Will to catch him red-handed. Since the first episode, Hannibal has been a tour de force and I hope it continues on that track.
My best friend begged me to take a look at Amazon’s new ground breaking show, and I was not disappointed. I savored each episode, not wanting to finish too soon; it was that good. The cast is flawless, specifically Gabby Hoffman and Jay Duplass. What is so wonderful about watching the Pfefferman family is that there is never a dull moment. One moment you love them and next you wish they would shut up. All three children are so selfish they frequently can’t look beyond their own problems and Maura’s reveal is a catalyst for them to maybe take a look at themselves and their decisions in terms of the other people in their lives. Jill Soloway never tries to make Maura’s experience feel universal or inclusive to everyone- when it comes down to it, this is Maura’s story and hers alone. And I for one, am definitely along for the ride.
- Orphan Black
Season One of Orphan Black was absolutely addictive and thrilling. I binge-watched the entire season one Saturday and could not wait for the next season to start. (My dad even got caught up for the Season 2 premiere!) Tatiana and Co. did not disappoint. This season we saw another side to Helena that was not violent and disconnected as she explored what it was like to have a “seestra” and connect with a cute stranger in a bar. This season we also learned more about Rachel as she became one of the more interesting clones along with Allison and her skills on the stage and covering up a few murders. Orphan Black has always dealt with themes of bodily autonomy, as the clones themselves technically don’t have ownership of their own bodies, but this season provided more examples of how these women cope with that constantly hanging over their heads. Helena has experienced it far more intensely than any of the other clones and I think that’s why her story intrigued me most this season. Despite a few choices I was not a fan of, the trans-clone being the main one as he did not feel like a fully realized character, I am extremely looking forward to next season and hope it improves upon some of the storylines this year that were a bit lacking.
I’ll admit I came a bit late to the game with Shameless. Unemployment this year has lent to my ability to binge watch shows with abandon and earlier this year, I began to watch Shameless from the beginning. I was able to catch up to the current forth season and watch that while it was on each week. Season four has arguably been one of the best seasons of the show so far. Carl and Debbie are going down questionable paths, but both have several good and always funny moments this season. Lip is trying to figure out what to do with his life while going to college but also feeling like he needs to take all the responsibility for the family. Ian is struggling with his bipolar but he is also in one of the most nuanced and individual gay relationships on TV right now. Ian and Mickey’s storyline was easily one of the best of the season, showing Mickey coming to terms with his sexuality and deciding that he can be himself and screw what everyone else thinks. It was an extremely powerful moment when he came out to his Dad and everyone in the bar. Fiona’s struggle with who she is outside of the family caretaker take a turn for the worse as she makes immature decisions when she feels like she’s not needed anymore by her family. Emmy Rossum’s work on Shameless has been impressive and she definitely deserves a bit more credit.
- Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
When I heard John Oliver was going to have his own show, the obvious question everyone was thinking was: how is he going to set himself apart from the likes of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert? I was so excited, I even interviewed for a position as a writing PA for the show. Alas, despite the lack of employment, I tuned in anyway. I was completely blown away. Every week Oliver surprised me with his in-depth instructive journalism, largely gimmick-free format and impassioned world view. Stewart and Colbert have solidified their places in American political comedy, but Oliver’s singular European perspective coupled with a deep understanding of American culture is unyielding in his criticism of injustices all over the world. More than ever we need people like Oliver who realize that America is only one part of the puzzle and we would do well to learn more about not only our own country but see it in perspective with the other billions of people who also share this earth.
- True Detective
Despite the surface issues I had with True Detective, namely it’s concern, or lack thereof, with diverse females characters who do not fall into the cliché tropes of nagging wife, whore, or mistress, I cannot deny that I was captivated by Nic Pizzolatto’s mysterious and extremely dark script and director Cary Fukanaga’s gorgeous cinematography. The mystery of The King in Yellow and Carcosa were so fascinating I went out and bought the book. Rust Cohle, Matthew McConaughey at his brooding best, nihilistic, stubborn and brilliant detective was exceedingly enjoyable to watch his interaction with Woody Harrelson’s Marty. Throughout the season, my obsession with the case only heightened the more we learned each week. Fukanaga’s vision was consistent throughout the entire season and made it feel that much more cohesive. While I’m not very keen on the casting for season two it cannot be denied that season one of True Detective was one of the most polarizing, and talked about, shows of the year.
Upon learning Noah Hawley was going to create a story within the world of The Cohen Brother’s film of the same name, I was a bit skeptical how that bleak worldview would transfer into miniseries format. However, upon first viewing I was pleasantly surprised. Noah Hawley constructs a self-contained narrative that flows effortlessly between connections and acts of fate, putting the pieces together in an almost choreographed way. The cast is superb, especially newcomer Allison Tollman who shines as a police detective who will not quit when the pieces just do not add up. Martin Freeman as the insufferable Lester Nyguard shocks and disgusts as he descends deeper into the egotistical, maniacal man always lurking under the seemingly amenable surface. All the other characters, including Billy Bob Thorton’s cold and calculating Lorne Malvo and Bob Odenkirk’s small town Police Chief Bill Oswalt, provide a quilt work of dubious and noble characters that inhabit the stark cold landscape that is North Dakota. While some elements of the miniseries seemed fantastical in reality (fish rain shower, anyone?), they worked in the Noah Hawley world where everything comes up checks and balances and the good guys all prevail in the end.
- Inside Amy Schumer
Before tuning in to the fifth season of Amy Schumer, I had only seen one of her stand up specials. In it, she frequently walks the tightrope of raunchy and sweet so I expected much of the same sexual humor and a penchant for not shying away from taboo subjects. While she does all that on her show, this season also showed her feminist side, and her unflinching critique of gender in our society was not only refreshing in general but much needed on a network like Comedy Central. Along with her sketches, Schumer peppered her show with small stand up bits, much like Key and Peele, as well as extremely versatile and interesting one-on-one interviews, including one with the sweetest old lady I’ve ever seen on television. Schumer has truly solidified her comedic voice and I can only hope her vision continues on into next season.
Honorable Mention: Game of Thrones
This season on GoT marked one of my favorite seasons thus far. I was thrilled to see Geoffrey go (find me someone who wasn’t; except maybe Jack Gleeson) and I have never screamed and cried as much as I did when we lost Oberyn (even the Red Wedding couldn’t hold a candle to my hysteria). While the episode at the Wall was not my favorite, it must be said that no show on television has ever gone to such lengths to film that intense of a battle sequence and I was impressed. Story-lines that seemed to be losing their spark, Daenerys and Bran specifically, began to take better shape and hinted at a bit more for them to do in the next season. It was also the first season we got to see Sansa doing some very sneaky manipulation in the world outside of King’s Landing. While some characters and story-lines aren’t working for me (ahem Theon I’m looking at you) I’m still very excited for next year. Can’t wait to see how big they make those dragons!