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Ranking the 15 Best TV Shows of 2014

By The Pajiba Staff | Guides | December 19, 2014 |

By The Pajiba Staff | Guides | December 19, 2014 |

There’s just too much TV. Too much. You can’t watch it all and also have a life that involves going outside and interacting with others. It’s a good problem to have — an abundance of riches when it comes to quality storytelling, not to mention those riches coming in a variety of formats. But it makes year-end lists like this one difficult for the TV-obsessed; leaving out a favorite show feels like choosing which internal organ you can live without. We accepted the challenge, however.

Here is our list for the best TV series of 2014:

15. Transparent


There are a lot of things to love about Transparent. Focusing on a group of maladjusted adult siblings and their parents is still an infrequently seen subject. It’s like a more f*cked up Parenthood, or a relatively lighter Six Feet Under. Also, the cast is incredible (there’s a Duplass, and this show is Peak Hoffmanaissance) with a slew of equally fantastic guest stars. But even more than all that, there is one thing that puts this in the top shows of the year, if not all time. And that is Jeffrey Tambor straight-up killing it in the role of his whole damn career. — Vivian Kane


14. The Knick


You don’t realize how many television shows share similar visual palettes until something comes along to vaporize the mold. Sure, Steven Soderbergh’s turn-of-the-century medical drama featured a wonderfully anachronistic score and visceral performances by Clive Owen, Andre Holland, and Juliet Rylance. But I could probably enjoy the entire freshman season just as much with the sound off, basting in my own drool as gorgeous scene after gorgeous scene unspools in front of my eyes. Never has a failed Cesarean been so beautiful. — Brian Byrd

13. Veep


Veep is top-shelf political satire coupled with insults about Vice Presidential staff members ingesting dog semen. Your move, Two Broke Girls. The HBO comedy’s highbrow vulgarity so rare, so brilliantly constructed, and so devastatingly accurate that you can’t help but bow down before the mad genius (Armando Iannucci) behind the curtain. There isn’t a show — comedy or drama — that impresses me more on a consistent basis. — BB

12. Brooklyn Nine-Nine


Writing why comedies are good is tough: it’s funny, it has heart, it’ll make you laugh. But see, you say the same things about all comedies, so there’s little to distinguish the commentary short of trying retell the jokes and that never ever works. It’s the Anna Karenina effect applied to entertainment: dramas are easier to talk about because they’re all sad in their own ways, comedies are all happy in the same way. So I resort to simile: it’s like Scrubs in a police station. Watch it. — Steven Lloyd Wilson

11. Mad Men


As much as it pains fans to see the final season of Mad Men split in two, at least we know the wait for the finale next spring will be worth it. How could it not be after that wonderful first half of Season Seven? Don Draper and company are on a road to redemption. Some think they, especially Don, won’t make it, but I’m a believer in Draper finding the peace - the “paradise” — for which he’s looking. (I also believe it’s past time Jon Hamm wins that damn Emmy. Same goes for Elisabeth Moss.) If the show is all about what we want versus what’s expected of us, Don needs to make that final leap to ditch society’s expectations and return to his true identity. He, or Peggy, or Pete, won’t get that kind of satisfaction from work. That’s what we learned during these excellent episodes: The best things in life are free. — Sarah Carlson


10. Louie


Challenging us to confront stereotypes and prejudices through his own warped lens, Louis C.K. spent this season of Louie playing around with relationships between men and women, friends and lovers, and those tricky, unsettled in-betweens. Through his character’s funny, often uncomfortable exploration of the differences in perceptions, nearly every episode of Louie starts a week long social conversation about the way we view — and — treat each other. Discussing Louie’s flaws, we face and (maybe) accept our own; you can’t ask for more from a series than that. — Cindy Davis

9. Shameless


Shamless has always been a very good show wrapped around a dark comedy center. This last season opened with things looking up for the Gallaghers, but trying to stay in that (relatively) good place turned out to be heartbreakingly painful to watch. It’s been eight months since the fourth season wrapped (which also means the fifth season is just a month away!), so it’s easy to forget about Shameless when doing these year-end lists. But by emphasizing the dark part of “dark comedy,” Shameless finally took the leap from a good show to one of the year’s great shows. — Seth Freilich

8. Hannibal


Hannibal’s sophomore outing opened with an exhilarating fight, and closed with a devastating killing spree that left several characters in peril or on the lam — and us with our jaws dropped. Bryan Fuller’s brilliant reinvention of the beloved Thomas Harris series is filled with impossibly clever dialogue, gorgeous (and hideous) murder tableaus and dead-on performances by every actor — especially Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy. With not one second of filler, and cat and mouse games that command our attention, Hannibal achieved the rare distinction of being even better than its first season. — CD

7. Jane the Virgin


What can we say about Jane the Virgin? We went in skeptical. After all, it’s on the CW. It’s a telenovela remake and that’s not really our bag. It’s about a woman who is accidentally artificially inseminated and DOESN’T spend the entire rest of the series trying to ruin that doctor’s life. It seemed like nothing but a potential guilty pleasure. But our cynicism was gone before the pilot episode’s first commercial break. This show is smart, consistently funny, has one of the kindest, coolest characters on television, and the best narrator since Arrested Development. — VK

6. The Leftovers


This isn’t a show about the rapture any more than Moby Dick’s about a whale. It’s a show whose main character is sadness, how it changes us, how we react to it, how it sits at the kitchen table every night whether we invite it or not. It’s not a show about mysteries, or about what the strange occurrences mean, it’s about the way that when we live in hell we’ll look for a guiding hand in the chaos all around. It’s a societal gaze into the abyss. — SLW

5. You’re the Worst


I’ve had a Coupling-shaped hole in my life for the past 10 years, and while many have tried to replicate the perfect mix of funny, weird, real and honest, it took until this year, this show, to fill that hole. And, oh my, were holes ever filled. Some of the frankest sex on TV, superb characters, and, in spite of those characters and how they wish they were perceived, a ton of heart. It’s got the bizarre and dark side of humanity other FX comedies have but we actually root for every single character (Lindsay and Edgar — I ship it hard). We care about all of them, not just laughing at their pain. And the performers? Perfect. What did we even do before we had Aya Cash in our lives? If you never gave this show a shot, I implore you —You’re the Worst is the absolute best. — Courtney Enlow

4. Game of Thrones


Every season of Game of Thrones is epic in ways almost never seen on TV, but this year expanded the world of Westeros in so many ways; introducing Dorne through the handsome and tragic Prince Oberyn, giving Daenerys a kingdom to rule instead of a straggling group of survivors to lead, throwing the leadership of King’s Landing into discord by putting a child on the throne with no real advisor, and scattering characters far and wide across Westeros and Essos. While there were stumbles, it was an incredible season that transitioned the show out of the war that’s been raging for the past three seasons into a world that is even more uncertain and leaderless than before. I can’t wait to see what’s next. — Genevieve Burgess

3. Last Week Tonight


The arrival of Last Week Tonight this past April made sense — John Oliver’s star turn subbing as host of The Daily Show for Jon Stewart last summer proved he had the chops to carry a show on his own. But many underestimated just how much of a force to be reckoned with Oliver is and would make his weekly news show. He’s hilarious and silly but also biting, probing, forward-thinking. His staff takes their week and digs - digs for information on stories not getting enough coverage. We knew Oliver would be great; we didn’t know we would become obsessed with segments on the likes of net neutrality, LGBT rights in Uganda, student debt, payday loans, and the lottery. Last Week Tonight is more than entertainment; it is a public service. — SC



2. True Detective


Nic Pizzolatto may be an asshole, if the behind-the-scenes rumors are true; and he may have plagiarized some of the philosophical underpinnings of True Detective, but hell if the guy didn’t also deliver the most exhilarating, brain-fucking, immersive television experience of the year. I still don’t know if True Detective would’ve been successful without Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson’s towering performances, and I still don’t like the way the first season wrapped up with that cop-out formulaic ending, but for nine goddamn episodes, no television show in 2014 was more thrilling, engaging, and thought provoking than True Detective. — Dustin Rowles

1. Fargo


Noah Hawley did what no one could have predicted with Fargo: He created an entirely new story, but managed to perfectly match the tone and spirit of the Coen Brothers’ original film. Fargo wasn’t a remake; it was a pitch-perfect spiritual successor that happened to boast three of the best performances of the year: An against-type performance from Martin Freeman, a career resurrecting one from Billy Bob Thornton, and just the best performance from a new actor in all of 2014 in Allison Tolman. Fargo even managed to make us like Colin Hanks again after his dismal season of Dexter. It pulled all of that off while also beautifully executing the most novelistic season of television since The Wire. — DR