Top TV shows of 2014
End of year things are everywhere now and we’re no different. There have been a bunch of good shows this year but we’re focusing on the great, in fact ten of the best. We’re talking British and American shows predominantly - disclaimer: we haven’t watched them all - and that’s not to say there haven’t been some great shows elsewhere but hey, we haven’t watched them. So sorry Borgen, et al.
Hinterland - BBC4
Who’d have thought that the closest to those excellent Nordic drama’s the UK would get would be with a Welsh show. Filmed simultaneously in Welsh and English languages - they did each scene twice – these were sumptuously filmed, darkly played mini-movies of the highest quality. The four parts followed different cases focused on the locals of the Aberystwyth location, linked together by Richard Harrington’s moody, frowning, detached turn as DCI Tom Mathias. Harrington led the show to heights not seen before and Hinterland proved that British television really can match anything else produced in the world today.
Games Of Thrones – Sky Atlantic
What kind of show would pull off a murder at a wedding twice in four episodes? This kind of show: one with balls the size of a dragon’s eye; that has a cast of characters good enough to cope with the death of at least three major ones each year; with showrunners that have a clear vision for their show; and an audience that follows the twists and turns of Westeros with an eagerness not seen before. This is the fantasy show that’s gone mainstream; Joffrey, Jaime, Tyrion, Dany, Jon Snow, Sansa and Arya, first names known in pop culture. And the scene with Prince Oberyn and The Mountain; the most delicious, devious, visceral, violent, disgusting, shocking, and jaw dropping yet? Absolutely. Television has a new benchmark. And it’s bloody high.
Happy Valley – BBC1
But then the Beeb can do shocking, violent, disturbing and disgusting too. Exhibit one: Happy Valley and it’s central kidnap / rape theme. The vilest television creation of 2014 in Tommy Lee Royce (a word for the truly marvellous James Norton who made the transition from this abhorrent character to a whiter-than-white vicar in Grantchester without missing a beat) faced off against the might Sarah Lancashire as Sergeant Catherine Cawood, a salt of the earth copper and the kind of character that Sally Wainwright can knock up in her sleep these days. Don’t take that as a slight though, Cawood is one of the most rounded, realistic and well written people that has seen the inside of a TV screen for a long time. Add in twists and turns, terrific support from Steve Pemberton, Joe Armstrong, George Costigan, and Charlie Murphy as the victim Anne and you’ve a winning combination. Not too sure about that second series though Sally…
Doctor Who – BBC1
You might have noticed we like The Doctor around these parts. And this year was a good year to like the old Time Lord. A few grumbles greeted Peter Capaldi’s announcement as the latest Doctor, just as there are anyone is announced as the new Doctor. Thankfully his introduction was handled masterfully: just the right amount of mentions of his age; difference in appearance; previous flirting with Clara; all melded with a beautiful blend of Capaldi’s comic timing and a huge dollop of “dark” storylines and a sense of foreboding; it was laced with emotion and heart. Whilst maybe lacking that one outstanding episode to lift it to the heights, it was a simplification of what had become quite a convoluted storyline with Matt Smith. A more adult Doctor Who was a bold move just as the show is finding an audience outside the UK. Happily for all it paid off in style.
Ripper Street – Amazon Instant Video
The most shocking thing about television in 2014 was the BBC’s decision to end Ripper Street after the creative awesomeness that was its second series. With critics raving, though audience figures now quite so exciting, old Auntie decided to plough money into something new. Time for a new player with something to prove to step in. Amazon brought its money and pulling power to the table and here we are with a third series on the go. The second most shocking thing? It’s bloody brilliant! With all the main cast back in situ the show has gone to even greater heights with a freedom of storytelling that is maybe part of this new world, where 60 minutes (or 47 minutes in the US or ITV) are the constraint. The set / costume design and attention to period detail are as good and authentic as ever but it’s the writing and performance of the central trio that have continued to soar. Honestly, would you have ever thought you’d be staring in wonderment at the sheer skill and deftness, the feeling, of Jerome Flynn’s acting? You do here, and for that we have to be grateful. If you want to catch the show in its purest form then Amazon Instant Video it is. BBC will be showing it in 2015 but in a “shorter”, 60 minute format.
Rev - BBC2
After a couple of years away from our screens the Reverend Adam Smallbone returned with his inner city church in financial trouble. Sharing many of the same problems as Sherlock - in demand cast, busy writer, BBC budget, no long-term contracts - Rev has now made three series and a Christmas special. The beauty of the show is that it appeals to both non-religious and religious types through clever scripting, the great cast, and some fantastically observed characters. Oh, and it’s subtly hilarious. Slight comedy is tough to pull off at the best of times but Tom Hollander’s excellently observed and reserved turn is an absolute treat.
The Walking Dead - Fox UK
After a patchy run through season two and three the AMC drama really got back to its best in the back end of Season Four and first half of Season Five. Badass Rick was back but more importantly the rotating door for showrunners stopped spinning and Scott Gimple was given a run at the helm. This gave the show an impetus and some much needed character development with each character, or set of, getting their episode in the spotlight. That meant growth for Bob and Beth, meat on the bones of Daryl and Carol, and a backstory for Michonne. It wasn’t all perfect but when TWD is on it, it’s tough to beat. And the audience numbers in the US are still on another level from anything else. Not bad for a zombie show that’s really about the human condition. And cannibals.
The Missing - BBC1
This BBC Autumn drama divided opinion over its run and that barometer of viewer satisfaction that it Twitter tells us that many were unsatisfied with the conclusion of this eight week missing child story; but we felt differently. Yes it was a bit flabby and could have had a couple of hours trimmed, but the central performances from James Nesbitt and Tcheky Karyo gave the drama its emotion. The first and last episodes were the finest, in between were red herrings galore, stories of conflicted child molesters, Eastern European child traffickers, addiction, stricken parents, divorce and marriage. We called it genius; therefore it’s on the list.
Fargo - Channel Four
The very idea of turning the Coen brothers 1996 film into a TV show seemed ridiculous. What would be the point of retelling that story? Or setting something up in the same world? Well everything as it turned out. Interested started in earnest with the casting of Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton in key roles. Even then it was under the radar. Gee whiz it turned out well though. Beautifully shot, perfectly paced, fabulously written, and with a taken-for-granted turn from Freeman as everyman Lester Nygaard, Fargo blasted away any preconceptions. And all set against the world that the Coen’s created back in ‘96. Masterfully done and showered with awards nominations this was the adaptation of 2014.
Line Of Duty - BBC2
If you thought the story of Tony Gates and AC12 in series one couldn’t be bettered then you’d have made a serious error of judgement. You wouldn’t have been alone though, the first Line Of Duty was a huge success, the second went stratospheric. Alongside the gripping, twisting, well researched central arc and authentic feel of ehri police force there were two key things: the end of the first episode; Steely Keeley. After building the new girl through great stunt casting of Jessica Raine as the new DC, and some getting-to-know-you time with the lothario that is Steve Arnott, she was promptly dumped out of a window before the first hour was up. From that point on it felt like all bets were off. The real success story is Keeley Hawes and her tremendous portrayal of the morally ambiguous DI Lindsay Denton; through clever writing and subtle, nuanced acting the audience were kept guessing right until the last about her innocence: the performance of the year; almost certainly the performance of the decade. This was so extremely good it was recommissioned for two more series.
True Detective - Sky Atlantic
There are as many people who love this dark, almost mythical, buddy cop show, as loath it. Whether you were caught up in the McConaissance, or thought the script was mystical and clever, or whether you thought it was a confused, trippy mess, you’ll likely have watched it till the end. For the rights and wrongs of the story, the one thing that kept people glued was that central relationship between Woody Harrelson’s cheating, savvy, world weary Marty and Matthew McConaughey's existential, broody, detached Rust. The interplay between the two, those long dialogue driven car rides, the drawn out interview scenes, were all brought to life by the talent of those two. McConaughey may have got all the press but in the less showy, more challenging role, Harrelson’s turn is a career best too. Whatever your thoughts on the show the cultural impact it had is not up for debate.
So they’re our shout. What are yours? Think we’ve missed something obvious ? Tell us in the comments.