These were my 10 favorite shows of 2014:
1. “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” (Season 6, Netflix) – “The Clone Wars” saves the best for last with arcs delving into the Order 66 brainwashing, Palpatine’s manipulations to take over the galactic banking system, and Yoda’s surprising encounter with a dark avatar and his first communication with a beyond-the-grave Qui-Gon. Even the “Jar Jar in Love” arc works due to the Gungan’s odd-couple banter with Mace Windu. While Ahsoka is certainly missed in this straight-to-Netflix season, she nonetheless feels like the absent center of this canceled-too-soon series. We can only hope that the storylines will continue in books, comics or “Star Wars: Rebels.”
2. “Parenthood” (Season 5-6, NBC) – This isn’t a series where I fire up my DVR to watch it the second I get home; heck, I found myself more anxious to watch the mystery series “Gracepoint” this fall. However, no series better rewards a viewers’ time with genuine emotions from characters who have gradually gotten under our skin. While I root for Joel and Julia to get back together in their soapy storyline, I’ve been most impressed by the advances by two generations of Aspies – Max, who deals with his first heartbreak, and Hank, who is doing his darndest to not drive off Sarah.
3. “The Walking Dead” (Season 4-5, AMC) – This slow-burning post-apocalyptic gem continues to demonstrate how people evolve – or devolve, as the case may be – when faced with a shattered world dominated by roving zombies. The writers steadily come up with new creepy concepts, ranging from a hospital run by corrupt cops to a society of cannibals. While you’d be hard-pressed to find a series with a premise that’s further removed from reality, no show is better at illuminating the truisms of humanity and society. (And I love how “Talking Dead” helps illuminate things further.)
4. “Fargo” (Season 1, FX) – I’m not a big fan of the Cohen Brothers movie this series grew out of, but I love the first season because of Billy Bob Thornton’s deliciously evil turn as sociopath Lorne Malvo – and he is just the tip of the iceberg of a great cast. Martin Freeman, in a much-less cuddly answer to his “Office” character, continues to be the master of playing put-upon, self-centered adults; while Allison Tolman is worth rooting for as the only competent detective in the Bemidji PD. Plus, “Fargo” is a great way for a Southerner experience the brisk cold and snow of the north without, you know, actually having to feel the cold or trudge through the snow.
5. “The Mindy Project” (Season 2-3, Fox) – I love the way Mindy Kaling (the writer) makes fun of “herself” (Mindy Lahiri is a thinly veiled stand-in for herself) and all her other creations regularly. In various asides, we learned that Mindy’s hair comes from a dead woman, Danny loves Ken Burns documentaries and Morgan dries his Speedos on the heating duct at the office. No other show delivers more snort-worthy moments while also making a viewer smile throughout each half-hour.
6. “Bates Motel” (Season 2, A&E) – Out of all the remakes of classic franchises on TV right now (see also “Gotham” and “Hannibal”), “Bates Motel” is the one where I’m most impressed by the new layers brought to the mythology and characters. Vera Farmiga (as Norma) and Freddie Highmore (as Norman) are big reasons for this, but I also enjoy the creepy Oregon coastal town and the women who subtly shape Norman’s character, from Emma to Bradley to Cody. It’ll be interesting to see how the writers handle the black-market marijuana plotline in Season 3 now that weed is legal in the state.
7. “The Strain” (Season 1, FX) – This adaptation of the horror novel series is great lights-out TV every week, but it also delivers a wide variety of episode types and dramatic beats: a claustrophobic thriller in a convenience store, a quest through the sewers to find the vampire king, “The Thing”-style fears about who might be infected, and a vampire-lore parallel to the Nazis’ oppression of Jews.
8. “Gotham” (Season 1, Fox) – Did we really need the backstory going back a decade before Bruce Wayne became Batman? Yes, when it’s done this well. David Mazouz and Camren Bicondova make an outstanding teen Bruce and Selina; Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock have a deliciously gruff, noir-detective partnership; and Robin Lord Taylor is delivering a definitive Penguin portrayal with his own twist. Plus, it’s fun to get the occasional glimpse of future villains (if the series stays popular), like the Riddler and Poison Ivy.
9. “Almost Human” (Season 1, Fox) – The cancelation of this future robot cop series hurt more than I thought it would. I enjoyed the growing camaraderie between John (the human) and Dorian (the robot), and the increasingly compelling futuristic crimes they investigated. The final episode’s unabashed “Blade Runner” homage had me hooked – and then it ended too soon.
10. “Garfunkel and Oates” (Season 1, IFC) – Similar to “The Mindy Project’s” formula, this duo (who broke through with joke songs in their stand-up act) is funny because they never hesitate to make fun of themselves. First-season highlights include Riki jabbing herself in the leg with a needle as part of a fertility treatment and Kate being thrilled to learn she has Peter Pan Syndrome.
What were your favorite TV shows of 2014? Share your lists in the comment thread below.