The Best Television of 2014

by PopMatters Staff

6 January 2015

In 2014, we let Russian spies, biker gangs, Silicon Valley techies, and existentially frustrated detectives into our living rooms. As these 25 picks reveal, we had good reasons for doing so.
 

In 2014, we let Russian spies, biker gangs, Silicon Valley techies, and existentially frustrated detectives into our living rooms. As these 25 picks reveal, we had good reasons for doing so.

 

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Sons of Anarchy

Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Katey Sagal, Mark Boone Junior, Mathew St. Patrick, Walton Goggins

(FX)

25

Sons of Anarchy
FX


The final season of Sons of Anarchy brings the legacy of SAMCRO well and truly full circle in more ways than one. In doing so, the “final ride” gibes us the casually terrifying Moses Cartwright (Mathew St. Patrick, reminding us how far in the past Six Feet Under is), far from both Egypt and the Ponderosa. It brings us a version of Jax Teller (brilliantly realized by the colossal talents of Charlie Hunnam) at the end of his rope, putting his house in order, knowing full well that Warren Zevon himself would say that “my ride’s here” in his position. But finally, and perhaps most importantly, the swan song season has perhaps the series’ finest moment in the now-famous “Faith and Despondency”, as SAMCRO Sergeant-at-Arms Tig (Kim Coates) and transgender escort Venus (the beyond incredible Walton Goggins) discus and attempt to define the nature of their ever-growing romantic relationship in a scene that, for many viewers, stops time. Yes, the final season is amazing, and Kurt Sutter and company all deserve a standing ovation. Above all, though, the transcendent, affectionate work put into the relationship between Tig and Venus gives these last episodes that little boost they needed to go over the top and ride the show, assuredly, into its rightful place in television history. Kevin Brettauer

 

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Last Week Tonight

Cast: John Oliver

(HBO)

24

Last Week Tonight
HBO


At first, the formula for John Oliver’s “mock news” show for HBO seems too simple: “The Daily Show plus HBO swears”. Indeed, much of Last Week Tonight bears that strategy out, albeit Oliver only takes to the air once weekly rather than four times, like The Daily Show and the recently departed The Colbert Report. Oliver developed serious chops during his many years at The Daily Show, and as he’s proven in his standup comedy, he’s more than capable of holding an audience on his own. But while the first few episodes of Last Week Tonight prompted the question, “Just how different is this from The Daily Show, after all?”, by the end of the year Oliver came to his own. The peak of each episode comes when Oliver takes to a long-form examination of a major international issue; these segments include hilarious and enlightening takes on Scottish independence, the death penalty, and predatory lending. Many of these topics, such as civil forfeiture, are subjects that even major news outlets either under-cover or skip entirely. Much like Stewart before him, Oliver has distanced his program from the “journalism” label, for reasons that are understandable and predictable. However, make no mistake: few programs on the air offer a take on current affairs as creative, enlightening, and riotously funny as this one. Call it journalism, call it comedy; no matter the label, you’ll leave Last Week Tonight being more aware of what’s going on in the world. Brice Ezell

 

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Homeland

Cast: Claire Daines, Rupert Friend, Nazanin Boniadi, Laila Robins, Tracy Letts, Mandy Patinkin

(Showtime)

23

Homeland
Showtime


After the mediocrity of the second season and the utter and complete fiasco that was the third season, many viewers returned to Homeland quite ready to give up on it. Yet lo and behold, following those tepid seasons the show has undergone a complete rejuvenation, owed partly to the showrunners killing off one of the leads in the previous season finale. Instead of having complex heroine Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes who has remained consistently brilliant season after season) dwell in the past, the writers immediately shipped her off to yet another deadly mission, this time set in between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Refocusing on the show’s thriller potential, the creators have come up with some of the most nailbiting-ly watchable episodes in the entire series. Carrie is given the chance to battle her own demons, particularly those related to motherhood and mortality. More ruthless than ever, the showrunners have had no fear of killing beloved characters unexpectedly, making for what might very well be the show’s most courageous season yet. Jose Solis

 

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Veep

Cast: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Anna Chlumsky, Tony Hale, Matt Walsh, Reid Scott

(HBO)

22

Veep
HBO


Veep, HBO’s funniest series, returned with a vengeance in 2014. Its third season is arguably the most accomplished to date; in it, Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and company struggle to assert their power in a political system that has no place for them. More than anything else, Veep deserves credit for showcasing the art of the insult. Each line is a brutally funny takedown of someone’s incompetence, and the excellent cast delivers them as if they were written by Shakespeare. Creator Armando Iannucci has crafted television’s pure comedy series. At a time when the “dramedy” is considered the ultimate desideratum, Iannucci’s priority is to make the audience laugh, and he could care less about sentimentality. This is never clearer than with the episode “Debate”, in which we watch a slew of political candidates display their idiocy on live television. None of them deserve their positions of power, and as they try to make a case for themselves, Iannucci wants us to draw comparisons to the many unqualified individuals that regularly run for office in the United States. The joke may be on us, but Veep dares us to laugh at the absurdity of it all, and we do every single time. Jon Lisi

 

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Jane the Virgin

Cast: Gina Rodriguez, Andrea Navedo, Yael Grobglas, Justin Baldoni, Ivonne Coll

(The CW)

21

Jane the Virgin
The CW


Loosely inspired on a Venezuelan soap opera of the same name, The CW’s Jane the Virgin is a refreshingly charming comedic drama about a young religious woman (breakthrough star Gina Rodriguez) whose plans to save her virginity until marriage are slightly altered when she’s accidentally inseminated during a checkup. Torn between her devotion to her boyfriend (Brett Dier) and the feelings she starts developing for the baby’s father (Justin Baldoni), Jane must deal with problems she thought were reserved only for the heroines of the telenovelas she loves so much. A show that embraces Hispanic culture without being stereotypical or condescending, Jane the Virgin might very well be the first mainstream television show that acknowledges the growing Hispanic population in the United States. Instead of going for on-the-nose politics, the showrunners simply weave a well-told tale into a larger social context where people don’t sit around and discuss cultural differences, but instead enjoy them, and in the process become smarter. The show does everything so effortlessly, that you don’t even notice the fact that the weekly installments are simply not enough, and you crave for daily episodes, like you do with any great telenovela. Jose Solis

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