The Top 25 Television Shows of 2014

21 Jan


HONORABLE MENTIONS: Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Justified, Archer, Wilfred, Community, 24: Live Another Day, Penny Dreadful, Arrow, New Girl, Homeland, Girls, Parks and Recreation, The Bridge, The Walking Dead

Other notable shows I haven’t seen: The Flash, Broad City, Over the Garden Wall, The Legend of Korra, Rick and Morty, Looking, Black Mirror, Bob’s Burgers, The Honourable Woman, Jane the Virgin, Manhattan, Enlisted, Peaky Blinders, The Missing

Special mention: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

25. Silicon Valley

24. Orphan Black

23. Boardwalk Empire

22. The Knick

I wasn’t as impressed with this as many were, but there is no denying that it was a brilliantly acted and directed season of television; although the story never quite gelled for me, it was still an immersive and engaging experience.


21. Game of Thrones

I can guarantee most people will have this higher than #21, and I think this placement is just the result of my ambivalence about the series as a whole. I still did enjoy season 4, though, which featured tightly plotted episodes like “The Lion and the Rose”, the visceral impact of the end of “The Mountain and the Viper”, and the thrilling “The Watchers on the Wall”.

20. Fargo

This was in the same boat for me as Game of Thrones. It ultimately didn’t stick with me for very long, but it was enjoyable to watch when it lasted: impeccable set design and directing, as well as excellent performances by Allison Tolman, Billy Bob Thornton, and Martin Freeman. Also, it produced two of the best episodes of TV in 2014: “Buridan’s Ass” and “A Fox, A Rabbit, and A Cabbage”.

19. The Affair

18. Orange Is the New Black

17. Masters of Sex


16. Banshee

It’s easy to write this show off as a softcore+violence fest, and while it certainly has those elements, it’s so much more than that. The violence hits harder because the characters around it are intriguing and well written, and the prevalent theme of identity is well handled throughout.

15. Louie

The fourth season of Louie cut down on the comedy quite a bit, but it still delivered poignant and beautifully written episodes like “So Did the Fat Lady” and “In the Woods”. In addition, CK used a six part “Elevator” arc to essentially create a short film on television, and it was great.

14. Veep

Season three turned it up a notch by focusing on Selina Meyer’s presidential campaign, and as always, it featured the excellent physical comedy, vulgar language, and quick wit we’ve come to expect from the hilarious cast and crew. It all culminated in the finale with one of the funniest scenes of the show: Gary and Selina breaking down in laughter in the bathroom.


13. Transparent

Amazon made a huge splash this year with its new series from Jill Soloway, and it quickly started receiving attention for Jeffrey Tambor’s incredible central performance. That was a huge part of it, but aside from that, it was also a funny. moving, respectful, and nuanced exploration of a family and of transgender characters.

12. The Americans 

Season two delved into the profound impact the work of Philip and Elizabeth Jennings had on their kids, and it was a complex and constantly compelling thirteen episodes of television. Episodes like “New Car” and “Martial Eagle” solidified the show as one of the best on TV, and Rhys and Russell continued to deliver fantastic performances.

11. You’re the Worst

This was possibly the most pleasant surprise of the year. Chris Geere and Aya Cash immediately displayed a crackling chemistry, and the show became one of the most entertaining to watch week to week. “Finish Your Milk” was an impeccable half hour of TV, and Aya Cash was the best thing to happen to TV in a while.

10. Review

It was already an original concept to begin with, but Andrew Daly took it to a whole new level by developing a serialized storyline that played out through the season. It was hilarious, but it was also a profoundly sad look at the character of Forrest MacNeil (played brilliantly by Daly).


9. Nathan For You

Nathan Fielder is the master of awkward situations, and he proved that every week this year in Nathan For You. From masterful episodes like “Souvenir Shop/ELAIFF” to the highly anticipated “Dumb Starbucks”, Fielder was able to extract funny, strange, and most importantly, human, reactions from those he interacted with.

8. The Leftovers

This was a deeply flawed show with some incredibly frustrating writing choices throughout, yet it resonated with me on a level that not many shows reach. It was wonderfully acted–specifically Carrie Coon–messy, and beautiful, and both one-character-focus episodes were among the best of the year.

7. The Good Wife

The second half of season five dealt with the most shocking event of the show in a near-perfect manner, and Julianna Margulies made a case for another Emmy with her performance in “The Last Call”. Season 6 continued to maintain the quality we’ve come to expect from the show.

6. True Detective

Two great performances, a very interesting location, and an intriguing mystery. True Detective had it all, and its high points in “Who Goes There” and “The Secret Fate of All Life” were extremely area; in addition, McConaughey gave a show-stealing performance.

5. Mad Men

Seven seasons in, and the show is still fantastic. Season 7a was home to some of the series’s best episodes–“A Day’s Work”, “The Strategy”, and “Waterloo”–and it set up what should be a satisfying final seven episodes.


4. Person of Interest

The back half of season three was some of the show’s best work yet, and the front half of season four didn’t take its foot off the pedal at all. By delving into the idea of Samaritan and by bringing all its characters together, the show was able to explore themes of humanity vs. technology, connection, and power, and it did so with aplomb. It could deliver complex characterization while it was delivering exciting action sequences, and that’s what made this year in POI special. 2015 is also shaping up very nicely for the show right now.

3. Shameless

This is an oftentimes overlooked show on a network that still manages to bring in recognition for its other shows, and it’s been consistently one of the best on TV. Season four was the show at its most dramatic, and it also happened to be the show at its very best. Anchored by heartbreaking performances by Emmy Rossum and Noel Fisher, Shameless kept us entertained, moved, and wanting more.

2. Rectify

What a powerful, affecting, and rich show this is. An expanded season two allowed for the cast to show off even more, and we got powerhouse performances from Aden Young, Abigail Spencer, Adelaide Clemens, and Clayne Crawford as a result. It was a season about community and marriage and the media and the past, and it looked at all those ideas through the portrait of a small town in Georgia. It was intimate and gorgeous.


1. Hannibal

This was a masterful season of television. The show not only looked stunning and showcased the best of Mads Mikkelsen, Hugh Dancy, and the rest; it was also incredibly well written, with scripts full of rich dialogue at every turn. There were moments of quiet reflection, but when the show wanted to let loose, it did so better than any show in recent memory. That was best exemplified in the season finale–“Mizumono”–which was a shocking, visceral, and breathtaking experience. TV at its finest right here, folks.

That does it for my TV year end lists! Check back here in February for my movie lists.

Photo credit:, 

13 Responses to “The Top 25 Television Shows of 2014”

  1. Mark V. January 21, 2015 at 4:13 am #

    I need to get on most of these ASAP, starting with True Detective.

    • polarbears16 January 21, 2015 at 7:06 am #

      I hope you enjoy it. It really is fantastic.

  2. Michael F. January 21, 2015 at 7:07 am #

    Great list. Glad to see Hannibal in its deserved top spot, and POI at 4.
    But I’ve been wondering, what are your favorite shows of all time?

    • polarbears16 January 23, 2015 at 6:09 pm #

      Hey, sorry for the late reply! There are quite a few shows I haven’t seen that I’m sure would make it on the list, but for now, here are some:

      Friday Night Lights, The Shield, Band of Brothers, The Office, Battlestar Galactica, Fringe, The Sopranos, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The West Wing, 24, Lost, Arrested Development, 30 Rock, Spartacus, Veronica Mars, etc.

      And Deadwood I’ve seen one season of, which was great.

      Haven’t seen yet but should soon: The Wire, Six Feet Under, Rome, Pushing Daisies, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Twin Peaks, etc.

  3. JustMeMike January 21, 2015 at 7:25 am #

    Nice work on this list however, we are clearly on different pages as I haven’t watched any of your top four picks, wasn’t impressed by The Leftovers, and haven’t watched your #9 or #10. But I will get to Hannibal and Person of Interest eventually.

    My top 6

    6. Homeland
    5. Mad Men
    4. True Detective
    3. Fargo
    2. The Good Wife
    1. House of Cards

    • polarbears16 January 21, 2015 at 12:27 pm #

      We do pretty much agree on Good Wife, mad Men, and True Detective. The Leftovers was a pretty polarizing show, that’s for sure. And House of Cards I’ve never been a huge fan of, but I don’t know if season two improved or not.

  4. Matthew Thompson January 21, 2015 at 9:11 am #

    Great list. Rectify and You’re the Worst are two I am always happy to see as they seem a little under-viewed, so spreading the word about their quality is a plus.

    I enjoy year-end lists because a) it is fun to see what others liked the most and b) I realize what I might have missed. We seem to enjoy a lot of the same shows, so that helps make me think I’ll enjoy some of the ones I missed here that much more. Hannibal and Banshee are probably at the top of my list of missed shows to catch up on. I’m behind on a few more of these like Mad Men and Boardwalk, but I’m so behind they are a little less manageable to catch up on. I hope to one day though.

    This seemed like an especially great year of TV with a lot of depth. I know I had a hard time just picking ten for my list and your top 25 really shows how much great stuff there was to watch in 2014.

    • polarbears16 January 21, 2015 at 6:07 pm #

      Yeah, those two I’m trying to spread the word about. Same with Shameless (last year, it was Person of Interest, but people finally seem to be catching on).

      I hope you enjoy Hannibal and Banshee. They’re both fantastic.

      And yeah, there’s no way I could have cut it down to 10 without feeling bad about leaving stuff out. 25 at least allows for some room, and even then, there are tons of other shows I either haven’t seen or just didn’t make it. Lots and lots of quality TV on right now.

  5. jorru January 21, 2015 at 2:53 pm #

    Great list PB!!!

    My top 25

    1) Person of Interest
    2) The Leftovers
    3) Hannibal
    4) Fargo
    5) The Good Wife
    6) The Americans
    7) True Detective
    8) Community
    9) House of Cards
    10) Archer
    11) Arrow
    12) You’re the Worst
    13) Homeland (excluding the finale)
    14) Mad Men
    15) The Knick
    16) Orange is the New Black
    17) Louie
    18) Game of Thrones
    19) Brooklyn Nine-Nine
    20) The Flash

  6. #peggyatthemovies January 21, 2015 at 3:14 pm #

    I liked most of the list…worship Hannibal as it’s pretty damn mind-blowing for a network TV show. But Brooklyn Nine Nine only getting an honorable mention??!! #boooo 🙂

  7. holditnow January 24, 2015 at 8:02 am #

    Glad to see Shameless rank so high, such an underrated gem.

  8. boxofficebuzzab January 26, 2015 at 1:33 pm #

    I just discovered “Orphan Black” this year — I love it!

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