What a year for TV. I watched more of it than ever but, as you’ll see at the bottom, there was so much I couldn’t even get to. Such is the embarrassment of riches we have on our TVs, tablets and computers. Below are my top 10 series of the year. I’ll add 10 honorable mentions in their own post.
Note: A version of this list previously appeared on Screen Invasion.
10. Veep (HBO)
Though not as gut-busting as Season 1, this season of Veep found new cast MVPs (looking at you, Sufe Bradshaw) and guest stars (looking at you, Dan Bakkedahl) and of course new, creative ways to use the F-word. The satire is even sharper and bleaker, and even the promise of the last minute of the finale won’t end well. That’s what happens when you work in D.C. – “District of C—s.”
Standout episodes: “Andrew,” “Shutdown,” “Running”
9. Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox)
My favorite new comedy of the year was the only one I kept up with this fall. Andy Samberg leads an all-star ensemble in a show that’s clearly Parks and Recreation with gunplay. But there ain’t nothing wrong with that. As expected, Andre Braugher is a consummate pro, even when looking goofy.
Standout episodes: “48 Hours,” “Sal’s Pizza,” “Thanksgiving”
8. Key & Peele (Comedy Central)
There are more sketch comedies than ever, but this duo continues to show the rest how its done. The secret to their success is director Peter Atencio, who uses a variety of film stocks to add the extra touch to their extremely well-written sketches, including insightful and hilarious takes on race. In some ways, they have surpassed Dave Chappelle.
7. Parks and Recreation (NBC)
Despite airing their worst episode (yes, “Swing Vote” is worse than anything in Season One), Parks and Rec continues to be the warmest, friendliest show on TV. Leslie’s recall vote adds an opportunity for the writers to make the connection even tighter. This show doesn’t have long, as cast members are dropping out to move on to other projects, but I’ll enjoy it right to the end.
Standout episodes: “Leslie and Ben,” “Doppelgängers,” “Gin it Up!”
6. Happy Endings (ABC)
Sadly, my favorite comedy ensemble is done. ABC could have kept it. USA or TBS could have picked it up. But in the end, we got three magnificent seasons of hanging out with fast-talking but close-knit group of friends. I’ll cherish them forever.
Standout episodes: “Our Best Friend’s Wedding,” “Un-sabotagable,” “Brothas and Sisters”
5. The Americans (FX)
A show with this many classic rock hits and bad wigs shouldn’t work. Yet The Americans was often the most thrilling show on TV. Allegiances were tested, no more thoroughly than the one between Elizabeth and Philip Jennings (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys), the Soviet spies living undercover next door to an FBI agent. The ‘going AWOL’ option volleyed back and forth between the two parents, but both chose to stay the course, risking their lives, at least for another season. Like Breaking Bad, this is a show about liars, and how their lives are affected by each one, as they dig themselves deeper into a hole. But it sure is exhilarating to watch.
Standout episodes: “Trust Me,” “Duty and Honor,” “Only You”
4. Orange is the New Black (Netflix)
Netflix’s unclassifiable hit is not only a prison drama, but also a comedy about surrogate family. It’s a satire of institutional corruption, but also pokes fun at the upper class. Featuring a diverse cast that frankly would never be seen on network TV, there are far more interesting, fleshed out characters on this one show than on some network’s entire slate of programming. Even if Taylor Schilling’s Piper Chapman could be a little whiny, she was supported by the deepest bench of supporting characters assembled since Friday Night Lights. Even the most despicable or prickly people showed some empathy by the end of the season. I binged on the show not because Netflix designed it that way, but because it was just that good.
Standout episodes: “Lesbian Request Denied,” “F—sgiving,” “Bora Bora Bora”
3. Hannibal (NBC)
By the time Hannibal premiered in April, we had been serial killer-ed out. There had been so many specials and series (including the wonderfully terrible The Following) that hadn’t done much of anything, there was little to expect from the world’s most famous cannibal. But Bryan Fuller turned the story into a psychological two-hander about an FBI agent standing on the edge and a psychiatrist pushing him off ever so subtly. Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen are simply astounding. Add to that the best cinematography television has ever seen, and you’ve got the year’s best new series.
Standout episodes: “Potage,” “Entrée,” “Savoureux”
2. The Newsroom (HBO)
Sorry, haters. Aaron Sorkin’s idealistic journalism series got even better in Season 2, thanks to the addition of Hamish Linklater as unethical producer Jerry Dantana. It didn’t quite stick the landing as the finale indulged in the series’ worst impulses, but the eight episodes before that were some of the most intense and well-written on TV. Even when the show covered the Trayvon Martin shooting, it didn’t do so in a preachy way. The entire cast stepped up their game, and they were supported by Sorkin stepping up his as well.
Standout episodes: “News Night with Will McAvoy,” “One Step Too Many,” “Red Team III”
1. Breaking Bad (AMC)
As if it could be anything else. Walter White’s (Bryan Cranston) farewell brought him lower than he’d ever been, and dragged everyone he ever cared about along with him. Vince Gilligan gave us eight devastating hours that constantly had us second-guessing ourselves as we rooted for and against Walt to get out of the mess he made of his life. And it still found ways to be both thoroughly gripping and occasionally hilarious.
Standout episodes: “Blood Money,” “To’hajilee,” “Ozymandias”
15 shows I didn’t get a chance to watch or finish but probably would have loved: Alpha House, Black Mirror, Broadchurch, Derek, Family Tree, The Goldbergs, Gravity Falls, Hello Ladies, Masters of Sex, Orphan Black, Rectify, The Returned, Top of the Lake, Trophy Wife, A Young Doctor’s Notebook