What a year it has been! With over hundreds of TV shows to capture our hearts, minds and imaginations, there was so much to watch and savor. It has been as tough and agonizing as ever to come up with only ten television shows that rose to the level of entertainment that we would hope and wish for. True to most critics, there are different standards of measurement that go into the annual Top 10 list and my primary criteria was entertainability combined with addictiveness and excellence. (Another caveat: I have only included shows that I watched entire seasons for, so shows that were only sampled or not watched were excluded — after all, no one can watch every TV show, hard as one might try.)
1. OUTLANDER (Starz) – What a year it was for Starz and its buzz-worthy new series. The time-traveling romance series OUTLANDER exceeded everyone’s expectations — though for those familiar with Ron Moore’s work, it was not too much of a surprise. His golden touch combined with some razor-keen casting (we bow down before Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan) and a gifted writing staff lifted the story from the pages of the book series that inspired it and dazzled and enthralled viewers. The show gained viewers in leaps in bounds, going from 500,000 viewers to over 5 million viewers in just 8 episodes. It also honored its roots and delivered a romance that made fans weak in the knees. Better yet, OUTLANDER never lost sight of its sci-fi side and made sure to remind viewers that there was another epic love of its heroine constantly searching for her and wondering how she could have disappeared completely. From the outset, OUTLANDER revealed itself to have multifaceted stories and characters, each worthy of a place in its rich world creating a tapestry of television art. In addition, fans and viewers were not the only ones who took notice as the show conquered TV Guide’s annual Best Drama and Best Duo award categories. OUTLANDER is one of those shows that is the lightning in a bottle magic that every television executive prays for.
2. ORPHAN BLACK (BBC America) – Ever since its debut in 2013, ORPHAN BLACK has broken the mold with the phenomenal performance of Tatiana Maslany portraying 5 (and sometimes more) characters seamlessly. Her performances are mesmerizing and it nearly impossible to believe that it was just one actress bringing to life all those amazing characters: from Sarah to Cosima to Allison to Helena to Rachel — for which she finally received a well-earned Screen Actors Guild nomination. Also benefitting from a strong ensemble of actors that enrich the ORPHAN BLACK world. Deserving special mention, co-star Jordan Gavaris is a particular delight bringing believability and comedy to the outrageous world where clones seem to pop up when you least expect it. Incredibly, ORPHAN BLACK also makes viewers forget that it is a science fiction show. It has created a fictional reality so strong that it has changed our understanding of the world we live in, and as ORPHAN BLACK’s world expands, our addiction grows with it.
3. THE 100 (The CW) – While some shows take us back into the past and others re-imagine the reality we live in today, one show that took us straight into the future was the CW series THE 100. Set 97 years in the future, humanity fled into space only to come crashing back down to Earth (literally) once oxygen supplies ran out. Worse yet, Earth was not the uninhabited planet they assumed — there were warring factions, each willing to die and kill anyone in their way just to survive. With each new revelation, it only drew viewers in deeper. After the show demonstrated its willingness to kill off core characters to emphasize the brutal and harsh circumstances Earth’s survivors face, THE 100 became a must-see show just to see how far it would go. Hand in hand with the show’s incredible writing is the strong casting of fresh faces (including Eliza Taylor, Bob Morley, Richard Harmon, Devon Bostick, Lindsey Morgan, Ricky Whittle) that brought an array of characters so compelling that we fell in love with them — even villains turned out to be heroes. Some shows have such a strong beating heart that we cannot help be drawn into their worlds and feel for each and every character. Incredibly, THE 100 made the future seem so much enticing than it should be after a nuclear holocaust. We just hope and pray that it stops ripping our heart out in the process.
4. THE GOOD WIFE (CBS) – Delivering stellar performances and brilliant storylines, THE GOOD WIFE is at the top of its game. It has been consistently strong for six seasons and remains a prime example of how a great TV show stays great. Seen through the prism of its dynamic lead character, Alicia Florrick (phenomenally portrayed by Julianna Margulies), the show illustrates the thorny choices of a woman carving out her own path in her career while balancing a personal life. Astoundingly, the show always finds a way to be both entertaining and root-worthy, while steeped in the interwoven worlds of law and politics. In addition, the show brilliantly cast its regular cast as well as its guest cast, which ensures a wicked good time for each episode. Even the most unlikely characters have risen up to be fan favorites and it is a joy to see how well the show serves even the smallest roles. THE GOOD WIFE is a prime example of what a television show should be year after year — strong, consistent, addictive and constantly surprising. I can’t wait to see what it does next.
5. JANE THE VIRGIN (The CW) – Taking dramedy to a whole new level and offering one of the most deliciously outrageous new shows on the TV landscape, JANE THE VIRGIN has blown both critics and viewers away. Combining wholesome goodness and wicked deeds makes for a fun cocktail of storylines. Remarkably, under the fearless creative vision of Jennie Urman, the show willingly embraces its zaniness and yet also offers such compelling and charming characters. Its strong casting of Gina Rodriguez, Justin Baldoni, Yael Grobglas, Brett Dier, Andrea Navedo, Jaime Camil makes the show more poignant and believable than it should be. But with the clever use of a telenovela style of storytelling, we fell in love with all of them. JANE THE VIRGIN is an unconventional fairytale mixed with a cop drama, but mostly it is a show with a beating heart that makes us want to adopt each and every one of its rich characters. Dare to fall in love JANE THE VIRGIN. It’s worth it.
6. FINDING CARTER (MTV) – Based on the idea of reuniting a teenager with the family that she had been abducted from 13 years earlier, FINDING CARTER demonstrates a surprisingly light-touch to such a dark subject matter. The family Carter returns to is loving on the surface, but the more she gets to know them, the more the cracks in the happy family facade begin to show. It offers a twisty mystery story amidst a family drama tale — and what really sells it is the curious family dynamic. Lots of secrets. Lead by a powerful performance by Kathryn Prescott as Carter, the show makes us feel intensely the pain she feels from the loss of the only mother she knew and her instinctive wariness at this new family that is suddenly thrust upon her. Benefitting from strong writing and well cast characters, FINDING CARTER offers an addictive and fascinating world that we are dying to find out more about.
7. ELEMENTARY (CBS) – In 2014, ELEMENTARY really hit its stride. It dared to rip apart its two lead characters, Joan Watson (Joan Watson) and Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller), and let them investigate their own cases. It also had the audacity to bring in a new protege for Sherlock to mentor. What had been a well-balanced procedural with ample mystery cranked up its serialized storyline with the addition of both a regular love-interest for Watson and another student for Holmes. Credit goes to the amazing casting of Ophelia Lovibond as Kitty, and introducing both Rhys Ifans as Mycroft Holmes and Raza Jaffrey as Andrew Paek as Joan’s love interests. Their characters have brought a much needed expansion to the myopic world of Watson and Holmes. It also allowed ELEMENTARY to explore a more diverse world of mysteries that are interlaced, opposed to just the case of the week. The show benefitted from the extra layers and mysteries and credit also goes to the show’s writers who rose to the occasion and have delivered some incredible stories.
8. CONTINUUM (Syfy) – Another show that cranked up the stakes was Syfy’s CONTINUUM. In its third season, the show decided to throw a wrinkle into the timeline of its heroine Kiera Cameron (Rachel Nichols), by having both her and Alec (Erik Knudsen) time-travel back on their own recent timeline — Alec in a race to save the love of his life Emily (Madga Apanowicz) and Kiera to make sure the two Alec’s did not irreparably destroy her own family and future in 2077. It was a race to save the future — but what future were they really trying to save? The storyline was complex, tricky and an absolute roller-coaster ride. Show creator Simon Barry had created a science fiction masterpiece. Kudos also go to the gifted ensemble (including Rachel Nichols, Victor Webster, Erik Knudsen, Madga Apanowicz and Richard Harmon) who rose to the occasion and delivered thrilling performances to enrich the dense storyline.
9. ARROW (The CW) – Coming off a stellar second season and jumping right into an adrenaline-pumping third season, ARROW is constantly raising the bar for its characters and its audience. It fearlessly kills off characters and pummels its heroes with insane situations and tests of physical endurance. It also emphasizes the personal cost for taking on the responsibility of heroism and the physical toll as well. And with the exception of Barry Allen’s (Grant Gustin) brief appearance as THE FLASH on the show, ARROW determinedly tries to emphasize that an average person can be a hero, but there is a price to be paid for being a superhero without superhuman abilities. Despite these challenges, it also finds a way to make us laugh and cheer and still want to spend as much time as possible with all of them in their evil-infested world. ARROW offers characters that we cheer for and feel for through their triumphs and their losses. Because it feels surprisingly real and grounded, the audience feels it all that much more intensely. But we relish the pain as well as the rewards.
10. MADAM SECRETARY (CBS) – Another newcomer that was strong from the outset, MADAM SECRETARY melds the worlds of fictional White House politics with real world issues while its lead character Elizabeth McCord (Tea Leoni) also manages to be a strong wife and mother. Whether at home or at the office, the stories are moving and compelling. It is a fantastic and fun portrayal of a woman daring to have it all. It also offers strong supporting characters to ensure that there is always more going on in a scene than at first glance. World politics is rarely humorous, but it is nice when the show sprinkles a bit of comedy amidst its tense drama. It keeps the tone more inviting and adds to the addictiveness. Kudos to creator/producer Barbara Hall for her exceptional work in bringing MADAM SECRETARY to our screens.
Tricky as it was to distill, these are my Top 10 TV Shows of 2014. There were many more shows that were quite exceptional and just as awesome to watch in 2014, including: FARGO, PERSON OF INTEREST, BANSHEE, TRUE DETECTIVE, THE FLASH, BATES MOTEL, TEEN WOLF, GRIMM, FAKING IT, THE ORIGINALS, MAJOR CRIMES, THE AMERICANS, and SONS OF ANARCHY. There were also shows that were personal favorites, like: STAR-CROSSED, RECKLESS, DROP DEAD DIVA, HAVEN, GOTHAM, THE MUSKETEERS, FOREVER, REIGN, HEMLOCK GROVE and CHASING LIFE. Then there are the other 80+ TV shows that I watched and adored in their own ways as well. So Top 10 lists are always deeply personal and subjective. These are just the one that consistently met my expectations of excellence, addictiveness and entertainability.
(For those who are interested, my Top 10 of 2013 were: ORPHAN BLACK, BROADCHURCH, THE GOOD WIFE, THE NEWSROOM, THE AMERICANS, HOUSE OF CARDS, JUSTIFIED, THE BRIDGE, THE KILLING, and PERSON OF INTEREST; and my Top 10 of 2012 were: SHERLOCK, DOWNTON ABBEY, HELL ON WHEELS, JUSTIFIED, SONS OF ANARCHY, DEXTER, HOMELAND, PERSON OF INTEREST, and FRINGE.)