This week I am rolling out a series of Top 10 Lists celebrating my favorite things in pop culture for 2014! We are going to hit up movies, music, television, wrestling, and comics this week, so you can learn all about what cool stuff really made the year for me. Since I always do multiple Top 10 lists per year celebrating the best in network television, I wanted to mix up the television category by talking about the best shows on “cable” this year. A pleathora of shows pushed boundaries and explored creative avenues untouched by the major networks, but which ones caught my eye? Hit the jump to find out!
Before we get started, no I have not yet watched Justified and Sons of Anarchy. I know you love them and think I would love them, but I totally missed them when they started. I promise I will get back to them and tell you all about it!
I also completely spaced on watching Fargo and the second season of Orphan Black, so consider them Honorable Mentions as I am sure they were totally brilliant.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Nickelodeon)
With few missteps, the newest version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the best television adaptation yet thanks to constancy in its character work and impressive action animation.
Adventure Time (Cartoon Network)
This year saw some of the finest moments in Adventure Time history, but also saw a few surreal episodes that were so far off the beaten path that they were nearly unwatchable. It was more good than bad, but still had too much bad to make the final list.
Cutthroat Kitchen (Food Network)
Food Network’s most addictive show since Chopped finds chefs competing not only to make the best food, but also to backstab one another in the most devious ways possible. Alton Brown is delightfully sinister as he introduces innovative ways to torture competitions.
Eliza Coupe of Happy Endings and Jay Harrington of Better Off Ted play off one another perfectly in this quirky comedy following the lives of Los Angeles public defenders. The charm of the actors lifts an otherwise forgettable premise to new heights.
Bates Motel (A&E)
It pains me not to put this Psycho prequel on the Top 10 list because it is so fantastic. Freddy Highmore is amazing as a young Norman Bates, though Vera Farmiga steals the show as his mother.
Review (Comedy Central)
I wish I could have just one more slot on this list so that I could put Review, which follows the always amazing Andy Daly as a “life-reviewer,” on Top 10. If you aren’t familiar with Andy Daly, you need to watch this. If you are familiar, I’m assuming you did the right thing and already have.
10. BITE THIS WITH NADIA G (Cooking Channel)
I am a sucker for quality food-related programming on TV, whether it is cooking competitions, demonstration based programs, behind the scenes exposes, etc. On this “road show” chef Nadia G travels the country seeking out the best off-beat food and breaks down what makes it so good. While this might sound a lot like its predecessor Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, what sets it apart is the often shockingly edgy humor from Nadia G and her sidekicks. The envelope-pushing humor is so well done that the food becomes secondary to the antics, making every episode a “must see,” even if you have no interest in the cuisine being discussed. Shows like this can quickly become repetitive, but the unexpected nature of Bite This keeps each episode fresh—instead of tired catchphrases you get laugh-out-loud humor that is often bizarre and offensive (in the good way).
09. THE WALKING DEAD (AMC)
While I’m still pissed off at the crack social media team for this show spoiling a character’s death moments after it aired on the East Coast in a poorly timed Facebook post—despite the fact that it is a DVR darling and hadn’t even aired on the West Coast—the show was crazy solid in 2014. The year started with the close of Season 3’s final battle with the Governor, which was brutally fantastic, and closed with multiple exciting storylines that took full advantage of the show’s ensemble cast. The show excelled this year by focusing less on Rick “Superman” Grimes and his annoying son Carl, instead giving screen time to B-characters that were considerably more interesting, including Carol, Beth, Abraham, and Eugene, who were all given a chance to shine in 2014. I’ll admit that at the close of 2013 I was close to giving up on the show, but the last half of Season 3 and the start of Season 4 saw the show at its finest.
08. @MIDNIGHT (Comedy Central)
Comedy Central continued its winning ways with the debut of @Midnight (which had a brief run in October/November 2013, but fully debuted this year), a runaway hit gameshow hosted by nerd extraordinaire Chris Hardwick. The show sees three comedians competing to crack jokes on everything from viral videos to absurd Craigslist ads, attacking the entirety of the internet with all sorts of hilarity. The showed aired a staggering 160 new episodes in 2014 with very few bombs thanks to the amazing guests from superstar comedians such as Doug Benson and Kyle Kinane to rising talents like Emily Heller and Nikki Glaser. @Midnight was insanely consistent this year in delivering the comedy goods and, perhaps more importantly, was a great way for up-and-coming comedians to get some high-profile exposure. If nothing else, the show should be applauded for unleashing Ron Funches into the mainstream!
07. THE AMERICANS (FX)
Over the last several years, FX has gone from an often overlooked rerun machine to the home of some of the most exciting and innovative programs on television. While their parent channel Fox has had more than its fair share of bombs, FX has churned out some of the most talked about shows in television. While often overshadowed by shows like Justified and Sons of Anarchy, one of these brilliant FX originals is The Americans, a cold-war drama that centers on Soviet spies in the late 1980s that have fully integrated themselves into American society, posing as a suburban couple and raising their American born children. The Americans features some of the most thrillingly intense storylines you’ll see on TV as the main characters carry out their dangerous missions, it also boasts some of the most compelling family drama you’ll see on TV. The Americans might not be the most visible show on FX, but that shouldn’t stop you from watching this highly addictive and tightly-plotted masterpiece.
06. REGULAR SHOW (Cartoon Network)
Regular Show was one of a number of great shows for Cartoon Network, who had a banner year in 2014. For those unfamiliar, this surreal workplace comedy follows the slackers Mordecai and Rigby as they find new way so avoiding work and find themselves in all sorts of bizarre trouble. This past year saw the backstories of the awesome supporting cast revealed, including the true identity of intern Thomas and the story behind Skips’s ill-fated romance, as well as continuing the Mordecai’s romantic dilemmas as he deals with two major love interests. Unlike its brother-in-programming Adventure Time, Regular Show found a really great balance between the surreal and the grounded this year. We did see some of the most bizarre things possible, but it was neatly folded into storylines that were highly relatable.
05. DOCTOR WHO (BBC America)
This past year saw the debut of the newest incarnation of Doctor Who and the reaction has been rather polarizing. As for me, I couldn’t be happier with Peter Capaldi as the Doctor. He is far more gruff and brooding than the last two incarnations, but still retains some semblance of the silliness that made Tennant and Smith so popular. As the Doctor acclimated to his new regeneration, the controversial Clara remained by his side, with plenty of time spent developing her stories. For many viewers, satisfaction levels of the show hinges on how much you enjoy Clara as his companion. Personally, I thought she was great. This season also features one of my favorite all-time Doctor Who episode, “Listen.” Capaldi’s first year as the Doctor was pretty phenomenal and I’m really excited to see where he takes the iconic character in 2015.
04. GAME OF THRONES (HBO)
I have been pretty obsessed with Game of Thrones, as well as George R.R. Martin’s source novels, for the last several years and the fourth season did not disappoint. It’s hard to explain what made this season so great without spoilers (and I know many of you are waiting on the DVD/Blu-Ray release), but this season featured some of the biggest moments yet in the adaptation, while also deviating from the source novels in some new and interesting ways. With an incredible cast and an incredible vision, Game of Thrones continued its near-perfect ways this year. While there are some great parts of the books (particularly in the storylines for Sansa and Danerys) that were cut for the show, this season was beyond satisfying and remains well worth my HBO subscription.
03. THE LEGEND OF KORRA (Nickelodeon)
Nickelodeon’s follow-up to the acclaimed Avatar: The Last Airbender had a tumultuous year in 2014. While remaining a critical darling, the show was pulled from the air midway through season 3 thanks to low-ratings, despite having been poorly marketed and placed in a less-than-stellar timeslot on Friday nights. After finishing out the season and debuting the final season online, The Legend of Korra returned to the air on NickToons (sadly in low-definition) to finish out its run. The two seasons that aired this year were some of the most complex storylines in any show this year, with Korra and her friends dealing with everything from personal freedoms, totalitarianism, post-traumatic stress disorder, religious freedoms, broken relationships, and, in a shocking move, a same-sex romance. With strong writing and perhaps the best voice-cast in all of television, this series was phenomenal this year as it tackled these complex issues. While Avatar is a masterpiece, I think that the final two seasons of Korra actually topped what came before.
02. BROAD CITY (Comedy Central)
As mentioned previously, Comedy Central had a great year filled with incredible shows from some of the hottest comedians in the industry. The biggest surprise on the network was Broad City. Produced by comedy juggernaut Amy Poehler, the show stars Abbi Jacobson and Illana Glazer (who created the show) as twenty-something slackers dealing with all sorts of bizarre situations in the underbelly of New York. The show is non-stop laughs from start to finish and might just be the best cable comedy to come along since the early seasons of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. With backup from the always hilarious Hannibal Burress and breakout star John Gemberling, Jacobson and Glazer have something extremely special on their hands here (and the second season debuts this week!).
01. TRUE DETECTIVE (HBO)
Is there anything I can say about True Detective that hasn’t already been said? Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson were perfect. The writing was perfect. The directing was perfect. The opening credits were perfect. Everything about True Detective was perfect.
What are your favorites?