The Year in Television

● by Dan Melnick

There are people who say, “Film is story. Television is character.” More often than not, most will remember the plot of a movie over the intricate details of a protagonist’s backstory. This is where the smaller budgeted TV show has the benefit of time and pacing and provides some excellent opportunities to explore character depth and growth. Sure, we’re invested in the overall plot of our favorite shows, but what keeps us coming back more than anything else are the people who populate them. They are the vehicles getting us from episode to episode as we eagerly await what hijinks, conflicts or calamity ensues next.

That has never been truer for TV than this year. Whether it was a motorcycle riding gangster or a kilted Scottish warrior, characterization and setting were king this year. It’s the time, place and viewpoint more than anything else that stand out and prove why the shows below are the best of 2014. There are also people who say that this is the Golden Age of television. I’m inclined to agree.

Mad Men (AMC)

Yes it’s still on. And that’s a good thing. A diamond doesn’t seems to shine less brightly after its seventh viewing, but this many faceted beauty still sparkles and glows just as much as the first time around.

Game of Thrones (HBO)

New setting. New characters. Same great delivery we’ve come to expect. After the Red Wedding, how could anyone be fooled again? Well, they went and did it, didn’t they?

Orange is the New Black (Netflix)

It’s packaged as a comedy, silly even, but there’s an underlying anger to this series and a political voice that can’t be ignored. Ever wonder what happens behind closed doors?

Sons of Anarchy (FX)

The Sons kept getting badder, which only made them better. The club took its final ride this year and as predicted, it was a gut-wrencher. But maybe not as expected, it was also touching, endearing and left a hole in the heart like a 9mm slug.

Fargo (FX)

[Image at the top of this post: Fargo.]

Even better than the Coen Brothers original. The film was praised for its quirky characters and wacky setting. Each episode is like a chapter in the novel of Fargo, taking us even further down that rabbit hole and letting us play with these elements for as long as we can.

Silicon Valley (HBO)

The Real Big Bang Theory. Another gem from Mike Judge, his techy savory nerds thrust in the spotlight of Silicon Valley is hilarious, smart and industry perfect.

Penny Dreadful (Showtime)

Vintage Gothic. What every supernatural/paranormal romance wants to be when it grows up. Wonderful and dark, the atmosphere is as sexy as any of the characters.

Constantine (NBC)

Critically underrated, but a huge cult following. Sound familiar? Wonderful world-building, an incredibly charming and flawed leading man and cinematography ripped from some of the best horror around. NBC needs to order that second episode and quick.

True Detective (HBO)

Debate about the metaphysical setup and finale payoff all you want, it doesn’t change the many, many great character moments. Sometimes you don’t need storytelling chicanery. Put the two detectives in a car together and just let ‘em go.

Outlander (STARZ)

Hauntingly beautiful. Framed around torn allegiances, it’s the setting and characters that makes this show incredible. You’ll think you’re a sassanach in 1700’s Scottish Highlands as well.

The Ryder ● January 2015