The golden age of 2014. The 10 best blockbuster shows.
The 'Golden Age of TV' moved from rumour into reality this year. I was never without something I really wanted to watch. I was always asking, "can we watch one more?" as the clock approached midnight. Like that ever growing list of books I will never read, the list of TV shows I have started but not finished is ever growing.
These are not necessarily bad shows, it's just that there are so many that only the essential now make the mark. I have a stupid ambition to be laid up in bed with a debilitating but not painful malady and finally get to watch the rest of Orange is The New Black and Vikings, and half the shows on the new Zone channel I started but gave up on. There were so many good dramas and comedies this year that Hannibal, Louie, Girls and (I can't believe I'm going to write this) Madmen don't even make my top ten.
The Soho channel had me by the short and curlies this year with hit after hit, from Game of Thrones to Masters of Sex, to the terrifically oddball but totally genius Olive Kittredge, not to mention the final season of Boardwalk Empire and the underrated Ray Donovan, or the bloody and drug addled The Knick. Rialto had me glued earlier in the year to the Irish gangsta saga Love/Hate, and the off the hook violence and ciggie smoking of French cop show Braquo.
But things are changing, with online services like Lightbox and Neon making a mark and Netflix on the horizon. But the high-end free-to-air fair was good this year too, Gotham, Walking Dead, The Good Wife, all brilliant, and save for The Good Wife, all hot off the press. I've left off ace shows like John Oliver's Last Week Tonight or BBC's Dateline London, both topical gems that will add greatly to your knowledge of the world, or at least make you laugh, but you had to be there.
The shows below are ones that I reckon you should seek out if you haven't seen them, or perhaps if you gave up after one episode. These are the glossy big budget shows that call to you at end of a hard week, the ones that get played first when you hear the words, "what TV do we have?"
I came late to this party but series 2 was as compelling as it was brutal. The dark world of espionage took on the unfamiliar dimension of family drama, so it's a little bit The Sopranos too. Sex, death, commies and honey traps, this show has it all.
"I get the Pope, but Gary f**king Busey? How did he make the cut?" Said Leftovers star Justin Theroux (as Kevin Garvey) as the news ran pictures of eminent people who had disappeared and had possibly been taken up to heaven or whatever has happened to them and the rest of the missing 2 percent of the population. There's a rapture theme running through this but don't let it put you off. I'd call it the most intense, stylish, and surprising drama of the year.
Like Happy Valley and The Fall, it's as if the makers of Broadchurch looked at all that Scandi-noir and said, we can do this better. I think they succeeded. Although all these shows tip their hats to the likes of The Killing, they are essentially Prime Suspect. I'm not sure why watching strong, credible women taking on the most heinous crimes makes for such a satisfying experience, but it does. Broadchurch is my pick of the bunch because it was so cinematic, and because I love anything that Olivia Coleman is in.
American Horror Story: Freakshow
From the people who bought us the madly twisted trashy Nip Tuck comes another installment of the American Horror Story franchise, complete with the same superb ensemble cast of actors (Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates). Some say it's tawdry and exploitative, and yeah it is, but this visually enriched circus of freaks has a heart and a soul that transcends easy labels. It's terrible and terrific at the same time.
The glossy prequel to Batman was surprisingly fun and just violent enough to fit the bill. Gothic, campy and owing as much to the original Robo Cop as to the various iterations of the capped crusader.
The real Modern Family. This show was commissioned by Amazon and screened in NZ via Lightbox. Those words wouldn't even have made sense a decade ago. This is a bittersweet family comedy of the highest order. Jeffery Tambor has never been better in this complex, brave and occasionally shocking, adult comedy. Don't miss it.
Wow, and that was just the title sequence. This was compelling and innovative even if it ended up in a wee bit of a clichéd mess at the end. Still magic moments were plentiful and Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson have never been better.
Cinematic as all hell, and funny too. I was skeptical at first, partly because I love the film so much. This riff on the original and actually worked a treat, thanks partly to Billy Bob Thornton playing someone with a heart 100 times darker than his Bad Santa. Hobbit and Office star Martin Freeman nailed his version of William H Macy and Alison Tolman played tribute to the genius of Frances McDormand's Marge Gunderson, not by copying her, but by being brilliant. A cameo from Key and Peele didn't hurt either.
An Honorable Woman
After giving up last year I actually got right into the new season of Homeland this year, it's back and it's really gripping. But when a DVD copy of An Honorable Woman came into my life, Maggie Gyllenhaal kicked Carrie Matheson out of my middle-east espionage bed. Gyllenhaal, plays Nessa Stein, a woman who inherits her father's arms business and tries to make peace between Israelis and Palestinians. What could possibly go wrong? The BBC production also stars Stephen (Crying Game) Rea. Classiest thriller of the year.
Comedy Central's Broad City was easily the next best new comedy, but Silicon Valley hit the parts that used to light me up with delight as I watched Entourage, so maybe it's a guy thing. Still the zeitgeisty start-up satire was a rich vein that the makers excavated with gleeful aplomb.
* What were your picks of 2014?