TV of the Year 2014

I wasn’t looking for a theme in this year’s television output but if there is one it’s series that matured in their second outing. Time and again shows that were good first time round – and had featured in previous years’ lists – hit their stride in season two and became truly great.

Couple that with consistent work from the usual stellar performers and some breathtaking debuts and 2014 turned out to be one hell of a year for TV drama.

Utopia

Utopia – Channel 4
One of the more disturbing shows of 2013 turned in one of the finest hours of television this year. A flashback from 40 years before the events of season one that wove the complex conspiracy in amongst real events, portrayed perfect younger simulacra of the cast & presented the whole thing in a very mid 70s 4:3 picturebox. Near enough every frame of every episode was a delight to watch and it gripped right to the end. An absolute triumph.

The Americans

The Americans – FX
Another show that really tightened up in its second season. The sense of extreme jeopardy throughout forged the two mirrored relationships (Elizabeth & Phillip / Stan & Nina) into even stronger unions than we’ve previously seen.

Probably the best plotted show on television.

Bron

Bron/Broen – DR / SVT

As good as The Bridge was in its initial outing is was inherently a standard policier. Albeit one fronted by two fabulously rendered leads that led to a devastating climax. This year the plot – a series of spectaculars planned by eco-loon commies – played out in the shadow of Martin’s disturbing psychological descent and was all the stronger for it.

The Trip

The Trip – BBC
Coogan and Brydon reprised their roles as amateur restaurant reviewers, relocating from the North West of England to Southern Italy. Ostensibly they were following Shelley’s famous footsteps but along the way we got ribaldry, one-upmanship and of course perfect Michael Caine impersonations.

Ray Donovan

Ray Donovan – Showtime
The rather touching moment of grace in the final scene of season one was shattered right from the beginning of Ray Donovan’s second outing. This season saw a neat role reversal with the usually unflappable Ray caught in a downward spiral while his dad – surely Jon Voight’s finest role in twenty years – took control and, aided by a little bit of magic realism, started to climb his way back to the top.

Honourable Woman

The Honourable Woman – Sundance / BBC
A sequel of sorts, this was Hugo Blick’s follow up to the sublime The Shadow Line. It maintained the same labyrinthine plotting, deep character studies and surprising reveal. It took a while to get going (three hours since you’re counting) but when it did it really, really got going. Stephen Rea and Igal Naor were particularly good but the standout was Janet McTeer as the no nonsense head of MI5.

Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones – HBO
Another show that took a while to get up and running but when it did it sure made you sit up and take notice. GRR Martin is notoriously unsentimental with the lives of his characters and this season saw five main players meet their end, all totally shocking and one during the most memorable sword fight I’ve ever seen.

Gomorrah

Gomorrah – Sky / La7
Unlike most cinema viewers I never went crazy for Roberto Saviano’s 2008 film about organised crime in the slums of Naples but this series, based on the same source material takes its time to tell the story and emerges stronger for it. Each week delivered a shattering portrait of a different individual caught up in the ruthless maw of Neapolitan gangsters, coincident with the rise through the ranks of an ambitious lieutenant.

Justified

Justified – FX
If you thought Elmore Leonard’s death last year would have weakened this show you’d be wrong. The sharp back and forth dialogue is here in spades and the characters, even the incidental ones are drawn so well you sort of suspect the writers are channeling Leonard from beyond the grave. Exceptional.

True Detective

True Detective – HBO
While this was, at its heart a pretty ordinary hunt-the-serial-killer tale it was structured so brilliantly and performed so memorably that it transcended the genre like no other show in 2014. From the high octane episode four long take to listening in on Rust and Marty philosophise on their long drives through the bayou every moment was a joy to be part of.

Happy Valley

Happy Valley – BBC
Similar to True Detective this took a fairly standard crime trope – a kidnapping in a small town – and atomised it. Everyone was affected and actions had consequences that sometimes even chimed through generations, back and forward in time. Add to that some of the most effortless character building this year and you have a piece of world beating drama.

Honourable Mentions

  • Mad Men
  • The Fall
  • Salamander (Fell apart quite disastrously from episode 8 onwards but up to that point it was a hell of a ride)
  • The Code
  • Orange is the New Black
  • Boardwalk Empire – astonishing wrap up to the best period drama on TV.
  • Veep
  • Penny Dreadful (Slightly derivative but fun nonetheless)