2014 in Review: The Best Shows – Honorable Mentions

As I mentioned previously, there was even more great TV than usual. So, as in years past, I’ve taken time to mention some shows that weren’t quite good enough on the whole to make my Top 10, but still turned in some great episodes, as well as one-off specials and other miscellany that was still worth watching.

Billy Crystal in 700 Sundays
Billy Crystal: 700 Sundays
There are great comedy specials every year, but this one hit me right in the feels. Billy Crystal takes his book about his all-too-brief time with his dad and turns it into a poignant but hilarious one-man show. His recreation of a family video is priceless visual comedy, but his recollection of treasured memories makes this a classic.

Neil deGrasse Tyson in Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey
Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey – “The Immortals”
I didn’t catch all of this brilliant update of Carl Sagan’s landmark science series, but what I did was truly awe-inspiring. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s sarcastic but sharp hosting gave mainstream audiences just a taste of all the advances science has made in the years since PBS’ original show. But in this episode, Tyson gives us a warning that all those advances could be for naught, since we as a species continue to fuck up this incredible gift we’ve been given with war and pollution. It’s not a downer, just a strongly worded omen.

Kevin Spacey in House of Cards
House of Cards – “Chapter 26”
Tap tap. With just a sound effect, Kevin Spacey cleverly closed out this often improved second season. His enemies may have been easy to defeat, but it was a glorious trip to the top.

Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele in Key & Peele
Key & Peele – Season 4, Episode 1
While this season found the duo stretching themselves with new, longer sketches and slightly different format, the show never hit the satirical heights of its season premiere, which found them skewering bigots left and right in a variety of brilliantly filmed sketches.

John Oliver in Last Week Tonight
Last Week Tonight
I never found the time for John Oliver’s current events show, only digesting it in bits here and there. But he immediately distinguished himself from Stewart and Colbert by taking advantage of his full 30 minutes to devote long chunks to everything from India’s elections to predatory lenders to the Miss America pageant. But he still kept silly when needed to, devoting one segment to whacking people in the face with salmon.

Mindy Kaling and Chris Messina in The Mindy Project
The Mindy Project – “Danny and Mindy”
The show took a long time to find its comedic voice and striking the proper romantic tone, but in the back half of Season Two, The Mindy Project knocked it out of the park, and never looked back. This season finale is as unabashedly corny and romantic as the Season Two finale of Girls. The difference here is this ending felt earned, and I actually wanted them both to be happy.

Eric Stonestreet, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Ed O'Neill in Modern Family
Modern Family – “Message Received”
This, folks, is what you call stakes. While Modern Family will never reach the heights of its first two seasons, it always manages to turn in at least one top-notch episode per season. This episode finally gives the families some true emotional tension, with Jay and Mitch having a brutal falling out. That this episode still turned out to be hilarious, just proves that Modern Family is still capable of genius.

The cast of Parks and Recreation
Parks and Recreation – “Moving Up”
Like a lot of shows in their sixth seasons, Parks and Rec started to fade a bit. It’s still funny and warm, to be sure, but it wasn’t in peak form anymore. Then, it pulled a super-ballsy move in its finale, jumping forward three years in the future, skipping over any trite storylines it might have had to trot out (including the inevitable birth episode). It also featured a concert by Ginuwine and the Decemberists. More shows should take these kinds of risks.

The cast of Silicon Valley
Silicon Valley – “Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency”
Mike Judge’s skewering of tech companies had a rocky start, but like its uncomfortable protagonists, it gained a lot of confidence, and by its brilliant finale, it had become one of TV’s best comedies. This episode featured the entire cast at the top of its game as well as the most mathematically complicated dick joke in the history of joke-telling.

Homer and Bart in The Simpsons
The Simpsons – “Steal This Episode”
While I also loved the show’s LEGO episode, it covered a lot of ground already done much better in The LEGO Movie. This brilliant skewering of piracy (and the FBI’s overreaction to it) made for one of the best episodes of The Simpsons‘ second decade.

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