the fifth annual karen sisco award

teevee 2014

Here is my annual television wrap-up. I don’t make a Top Ten list, I just look back and some of the things I wrote since the last time I did one of these (December 22 of last year).

First, for what it’s worth, I’ll note that my choices for the five best shows in 2014 are Justified, The Americans, The Leftovers, Happy Valley, and Jane the Virgin. I just made this list up off the top of my head … there are probably other shows I should put on the list. At the very least, I loved all five of those shows. If I had to make it ten, Shameless, Mad Men, Penny Dreadful, The Bridge, and Rectify might be there. Oh, Transparent, too. I also included Treme below, because its series finale came after last year’s post. (Sorting those 11 shows by network, there are 3 on FX, 2 on Showtime, and one each on HBO, AMC, the CW, Sundance, Netflix, and Amazon.) (Discussing this list with my wife, who knows my preferences, I might agree with her to swap Penny Dreadful and Jane the Virgin. And she thought I liked Orphan Black enough for it to make the above list somewhere.)


Treme: “I already miss the characters from Treme: Big Chief Albert Lambreaux, LaDonna, Janette, Annie Tee, Antoine and Harley and Aunt Mimi.”

Downton Abbey: “But the acting is still very good, and if the storylines are less than I’d hoped for, at least after four years we’ve come to know the characters enough to want to visit them weekly.”

True Detective: “What we will remember about this season down the road is not the mystery plot, but the two characters and the actors who played them.”

Girls: “In a better world, Shameless would be the water cooler show, and Girls would be that other show we liked. But this is the world we have.”

The Walking Dead: “I still don’t think The Walking Dead is much more than an excuse for pushing the envelope on how much violence can be shown. But I have come to realize that the creators of the show are trying for more than that.”

Helix: “Helix is like the guy hitting 8th in the batting lineup of a major-league team: it may not be as good as the first seven guys in the lineup, but it’s a lot better than most of the baseball-playing universe.”

Shameless: “Shameless isn’t about happy endings. As Fiona asks Lip, ‘is this family ever going to catch a break?’ The wonder of Shameless is that it always asks the question, and never quits hoping for a positive answer.”

Justified: “It was too obvious, though, by the end of the finale, that everything was just setting up the final season we've always known was coming. It promises to be a great season.”

24: “As long as 24 offers us Jack Bauer saving the world (and there is no other reason for the show to exist), the idea that he is ‘different’ can only be cosmetic.”

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: “It’s so refreshing to have a 50-year-old woman as a central character in a show like this, and when she kicks ass, it’s even better.”

The Americans: “It’s an ordinary family drama, with parents who keep some things from the kids, with kids who rebel, with neither side really understanding the other. Except Mom and Dad are Russian spies.”

Mad Men: “There are so many characters in Mad Men that we still care about, and the possibility of another classic episode is always there, and did I mention, it’s Season Seven? Mad Men isn’t just great, it is historically great.”

Game of Thrones: “You could do a decent overview just by naming characters and talking about what you liked or didn’t like. I like pretty much the same characters everyone else likes.”

Fargo: “I wouldn’t call it a great series, although Allison Tolman needs to get more attention, she was great all on her own.”

Orphan Black: “it would be nice if Orphan Black-the-series kept up with Tatiana Maslany the Should-Win-an-Emmy actor.”

Orange Is the New Black: “Orange Is the New Black does a terrific job showcasing a diverse cast. You’ll meet all kinds on this show, and they are well-served.”

Penny Dreadful: “For the lurid elements, for the joyful way it dragged us through the world of penny dreadfuls, for Eva Green, for vampires, for these reasons and more, I looked forward to each episode.”

Longmire: “This is a solid show that tends to pile up on the DVR. But I’m never given up on it.”

The Bridge: “If you haven’t seen it, it is a worthwhile streaming binge.”

The Strain: “You don’t have to wait forever to figure out what The Strain is about … it’s about creepy, scary stuff, and who cares if it makes no sense.”

The Knick: “I’d talk about Clive Owen, and the horribly ugly scenes in the operating room (probably quite accurate regarding 1900 medicine, but holy moly).”

True Blood: “But even at its best, in those first couple of seasons, True Blood was only a B+ show. When it fell off, which usually happens with shows that run seven seasons, we were left with mediocrity.”

The Leftovers: “The Leftovers is about depression, and the attempt to escape it. It’s overwhelming to watch this week after week … I can’t imagine anyone binge watching it, even a week isn’t enough time to recover from an episode.”

Rectify: “To say that the writing is good, that the acting is good, that it is a character-driven series where the characters are finely-drawn … all of that is true, but it doesn’t distinguish Rectify from other good shows. That kind of praise neglects the most significant fact, that McKinnon has given us a unique show.”

The Honourable Woman: “Sometimes it’s fun to break free of the NCIS school of storytelling, and to just bounce all over the place hoping something works.”

Outlander: “Claire on Outlander is plucky … she thinks well on her feet, uses brain over brawn, and in general is a better role model than Starbuck if you care about that stuff.”

Masters of Sex: “The one episode that basically just put Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan in a hotel room (‘Fight’) was the best of the season.”

Transparent: “One way it is honest is that nothing goes smoothly, people have their bad days as well as their good days, families have fights and then come back together.”

Happy Valley: “In a world of Walking Dead and Sons of Anarchy, where butchering happens with clockwork regularity, Happy Valley gives us a feel for the impact violent acts have on good people.”

Boardwalk Empire: “I admired Boardwalk Empire, but I was usually more eager to watch The Walking Dead.”

The Comeback: “It puts us alongside Valerie Cherish with her head between Seth Rogen’s legs, insists that even as we laugh, we get the humiliation factor from the perspective of the abused. The Comeback is not fun.”

Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce: “The writing is sharp … Noxon is very good here at moving between funny and serious, making this a dramedy that elevates the tired genre.”

Sons of Anarchy: “If someone down the road decides to binge watch, I’d recommend Season One for context, Season Two for excellence, and then go find another show.”

The Newsroom: “And now it’s done, and I realize I won’t miss it.”

Olive Kitteridge: “That we become invested in Olive Kitteridge is a testament to the great things Frances McDormand does with the character.”

Jane the Virgin: “The best friend of one character is sleeping with the friend’s wife. The wife has a mysterious, Eastern-European background. Jane’s boyfriend, a policeman, learns about this affair when doing a stakeout looking for information about an international drug kingpin. The wife is the person who was supposed to receive the artificial insemination that ended up in Jane. Her cuckolded husband is thus the father to Jane’s baby. In the midst of all this, Jane learns the identity of her own supposedly long-dead father, and he is … well, enough with the spoilers.”

The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson: "It was the most spontaneous late-night show of its time."

Ascension: "It's already better than Killer Women."

Shows I never got around to writing about: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (a YouTube fave); Homeland (after the first few episodes, much better); The Roosevelts: An Intimate History (still have two episodes to watch); The Bletchley Circle (done after two seasons, a good binge-watch); Too Many Cooks (if you haven’t seen it, it’s too late … it’s moment has passed).