Just like in 2013, this year viewers had a wealth of excellent TV programming to choose from in and I did my best to narrow the field down for you. There are at least another ten shows that easily could have made any top ten, but I chose these below as my personal favorites.
Honorable mentions go to Doctor Who, Orphan Black, Mad Men, Homeland, Justified and the Walking Dead as ones that I juggled in and out of my list. And let's give a huge shout-out to Comedy Central for giving us so much quality content:
How do you choose a best show from a list that includes Broad City/The Daily Show/Key & Peele/Colbert Report/Tosh.O and everything else they have running? And I'm also totally hooked on Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
15) Transparent: Amazon's quirky coming out story of a 68-year-old man finally admitting to the world and his family that his real name is Maura. The Pfeffermans are a traumatized family which includes the ex-wife, and you love and hate them equally. The real star is Jeffrey Tambor's performance. (Amazon Prime)
14) Wentworth Prison. Many reviewers picked Orange Is the New Black as a top show, but I chose Australia's women's prison drama over it. Here's what Vulture had to say about this dark and deeply engaging series:
Australian prison drama Wentworth seems like a natural companion to Orange Is the New Black: Both are set in women's prisons, include charismatic brunette lesbians who find ways to make others do their bidding, and feature a variety of actresses turning in wonderful, deeply unglamorous performances. ButWentworth isn't a vaguely inspiring dramedy; it's a ruthlessly dark drama, more like Breaking Bad with ten Gus Frings, or Deadwood but with competing Swearingens. It's tragic and gripping, and one of very few recent shows that has truly shocked me. On the one hand, I wish there were a hundred more shows like Wentworth, intricately plotted and predominately about women. On the other, given the show's all-encompassing sense of brutality, I don't know if I could take it.
You can stream both seasons on Netflix right now.
13) The Affair: This series started out like any other extramarital affair drama, but quickly developed into a Rashomon-style whodunnit with electric performances by the entire cast. It's great to see Alice Morgan, er... I mean Ruth Wilson get the chance to shine on U.S. television since we've already seen James McNulty, er...I mean Dominic West do the same.
12) The Missing: Add another BBC show to this list that is also being shown on Starz so U.S. audiences can check it out and that's a good thing. I reviewed it in November and called it "riveting television" and it is.
The story line beautifully bounces between the present day and eight years earlier when the tragedy took place. I've seen the first three episodes and it is everything Sam Wollaston wrote and more. The entire cast is tremendous led by the terrific James Nesbitt, Frances O’Connor and Tchéky Karyo.
I would be remiss not to mention Ken Stott's mesmerizing performance as well. A second season has been commissioned as we speak.(Starz)
11) Sherlock: How Steven Moffatt goes from show running Doctor Who to producing as top notch a Holmes as has ever been created is beyond me. It does help having Mark Gatiss at his creative side along with megastars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman doing the honors bringing these legendary characters to life.(Netflix)
10) Peaky Blinders: I thought I had my fill of mobster stories after the Sopranos ended, until I bumped in the Peaky Blinders last year. This is a story about a real life gangster family named the Shelby's takes place just after WWI in 1919, and it's second season easily surpassed its first season and put it on the level of any other gangster sagas that came before it. (Netflix)
9) The Good Wife: After a bumpy road in 2012, The Good Wife is once again on top of its game. After the shocking death of Will Gardner, the show quickly transitioned into the prosecution of Alicia's partner in law Cary and along with Mrs. Florek's run for public office has made this must see TV.. And I have to give a shout out to Carrie Preston (True Blood), who's performance as the off-the-wall Elsbeth Tascioni is simply marvelous. (CBS, Amazon Prime, Hulu)
8) The Honourable Woman: In an unexpected but brilliant casting move, the BBC hired Maggie Gyllenhaal, an American actress to play Nessa Stein, a Jewish Brit, who inherits her father's arms business and finds herself in a international maelstrom when as she continues to promote the reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. There are twists and turns that you can see coming and others you can't. And the show tackles a very touchy subject matter that exploded in the news as this show was airing and handled it quite admirably. (Netflix)
7) Line Of Duty: I imagine not many Americans has seen this terrific series yet. It's a drama about a police anti-corruption unit investigating their own and it sizzles. Keeley Hawes is exquisite as a possible corrupt copper/femme fatal, you're never quite sure which, and the plot will have you guessing until the end. Do watch season one for continuity purposes which you'll love almost as much with the great Lennie James leading the way. (Hulu)
6) Fargo: Does anything ever surprise you when the Cohen Brothers get their hands on it? They've taken elements from their own tremendous movie and turned it into an original, pot boiling ten episode story arc that reminds you how terrific Billy Bob Thornton (Lorne Malvo) can be with the right material. I just binged this series last week and it was all that and more. Big props to Martin Freeman and Allison Tolman for their awesome work as well. Season two will take place in Sioux Falls, in 1979 and I can't wait to see that.
5) Game Of Thrones: After the Red Wedding, you wonder how David Benioff and D.B. Weiss could continue to surprise us, but they did. The show runners kept the characters and twists coming in the land of Westeros and beyond that featured another wedding and a brutal UFC cage match. Nobody saw the demise of the cruel child that was King Joffrey and the subsequent arrest of Tyrion Lannister for his murder which led to patricide. The Hound became likeable and poor Sansa found herself in the hands of another scheming madman who kicked off the entire war. (HBO)
4) True Detective: Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson set the tele on fire with their bravura performances in a time jumping, psychedelic cop drama about the search for a serial killer and the effects it had on their lives. (HBO)
3) Hannibal: When I heard about this series I thought, what for? haven't we seen every incarnation of the Hannibal Lecter character possible bynow? It appeared movie producers were eventually going to have a Hannibal vs Jason PPV event lined up at The Mandalay Bay if they could, but who knew that the imagination of Bryan Fuller could take those characters from Red Dragon and turn them into a witty, ultra gory, brilliantly stylized series and give them their own universe to work in? Mads Mikkelsen takes Anthony Hopkins Hannibal and makes it his own, which is somewhat of a miracle on it's own and season two's finale set up what looks to be the manhunt of the century. (NBC, Hulu)
2) Happy Valley: I wrote back in August that Happy Valley was the best BBC show of the year and I'm sticking to my guns. It starts out like a typical cop/kidnap formula, but turns into a gut wrenching personal drama for Catherine Cawood, played incredibly by Sarah Lancashire, who should win every acting award possible. Each episode built on itself until it's delicious conclusion. (Netflix)
1) The Americans: This cold war/KGB in America undercover spy series was great in its first season, but then turned into the best series on television in 2014. After another Soviet spy family is found murdered which leaves the KGB spy ring distraught, the Jennings go on a mission to find out who did it and why. There are many other plots and characters populating the series that never seem contrived or out of place and the final episode will rip your hair out of your head. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys tear up the screen as a spy couple extraordinaire with the always wonderful Margo Martindale as their handler. (FX)