Here is Step On’s roundup of TV we loved this year and will eagerly await for in 2015. A note: a few of these picks were released in prior years but finally seen, through recommendations or Netflix additions this year. While January is drawing to a close, we just couldn’t start the new year without a few minutes of reflection and a note on which shows we are looking forward to returning in 2015. This piece is spoiler-free.
Each of these TV shows offered a lot of originality, surprise, and hit several or all of the key marks that make a program a new classic for us: writing, story, acting, cinematography, peeking-through-the-fingertips tension (Fargo, True Detectives, Vikings) or great belly laughs (Silicon Valley). It’s been a great couple of years for TV and each of these picks also covered off some very different themes, periods or preoccupations, which made them even more enjoyable.
Vikings (Season 1 & 2)
If you haven’t caught this one, be prepared to embrace the next big thing as Ragnar Lothbrok and co return in February 2015 to The History Channel (!!) with season 3 of the stellar Vikings. Vikings, history’s ultimate badasses, are getting their long overdue moment. As Game of Thrones has fallen off a bit in the last two seasons, Vikings has stepped in to fill that void. The production values are high, as good as GoT and even the Lord of the Rings films once upon a time. For those disappointed in the final season of Sons of Anarchy (and who isn’t?) we’ve got Travis Fimmel who looks like Charlie Hunnan’s twin, Rollo who helps with the void left by Opie, and not a pretension of Hamlet anywhere. Plus- one of the most effective title sequences/songs ever made.
(Vikings Title Theme – If I had A Heart by Fever Ray)
The Fall (BBC) (Season 1 & 2)
The Fall ranks among not only the best of the year, but the best of any year. It uses elements of a boilerplate cat and mouse detective and bad guy scenario we all know reflexively, but quickly defies that label as it is written and acted (by Gillian Anderson) to stunning effect. The pacing and the tension are top – rate, the recent pastime of yelling at the TV (writers) in frustration that happens in long, American-style TV seasons never happened here. The terrible crimes committed by one man in this story are illustrated effectively without crossing lines into gratuitous garbage, as happens far too often in crime dramas. Gillian Anderson’s Stella Gibson is a character fully-formed with all the iconic weight of the great TV and film classics (who usually are men) and the layers of complexity and contradiction between this cat and this mouse are riveting. Not to be missed and highly re-watchable. How did I not geek out? Stella Gibson is my hair, attitude, life and cool idol and as iconic as Walter White, just give her time.
Fargo (Season 1)
We held off on this one since we loved the 1996 Coen brothers film so much and give the side-eye to remakes in general. After reading a few reviews we jumped in and were hooked. Fargo is everything that great film was, and lovingly created by people who are clearly fans of the material and give it the proper homage and tone, but with a whole new story that fits perfectly into Fargo’s universe, even if Martin Freeman’s Lester starts out as a bit of an avatar for William H. Macy’s hapless, banally evil, Jerry Lundegaard from the film. Freeman and Billy Bob’s Lorne Malvo deliver the darkest black comedy perhaps ever seen on television, which will make you ashamed of yourself for laughing. The cast is rounded out by some great supporting players like Bob Odenkirk, Oliver Platt and Keith Carradine and “Sunny’s” Glenn Howerton as perfectly named “Don Chumph” need we say more?
House of Cards (Season 1 & 2) Veep (Season 3)
We like to say that HBO workplace comedy Veep starring All-Star Julia Louis Dreyfus as the Vice-President of the United States is deep down, possibly darker and more cynical than the thoroughly enjoyable House of Cards.
Watch them together and see.
Silicon Valley (Season 1)
From Mike Judge, the mind behind Office Space, the modern classic movie that has led untold numbers of people to beat up printers, silently buck authority, and, when that fails, walk right out the door of that job (throwing our flair in one hand and flipping the bird with the other) brings a great new take on the tech world that proves once and for all that Martin Starr needs to be on our screens always (with the frequency of a Hank Azaria or Oliver Platt). From insanely eccentric venture capitalists, to annoying child geniuses, to Satanists, to making writing code funny, to that epic brainstorm at the tech conference, Silicon Valley is a binge the whole thing in one day bright spot in the TV landscape that is actually just laugh out loud funny.
Sherlock (BBC) (Season 1, 2 & 3)
By now everyone knows the greatness of Sherlock. Hooray. This can only mean good things for television as a whole. At its best this program with its British style (vastly superior way of delivering creativity and quality) short seasons ranks among not only the best of the last couple of years, and among the best TV ever, but arguably some of the finest art ever created in any popular medium. Here’s hoping for this one to go the Colombo or Poirot-type distance, 20 years, please.
The wedding speech has been rightly cited for one of the best examples of TV writing of all time. But there’s so much to lose yourself in: the twists, the performances, that great apartment, our first and maybe best popular superhero of them all.
True Detective (Season 1)
For us this went from “there’s some new show with Matthew McConaughey coming out…” to once in a decade EVENT Television at breakneck speed. To say a lot about it would be to diminish its effects for a new viewer, but it invited the kind of close watching, obsession, and agonizingly long weeks in between episodes that were intoxicating. Lone Star beer figures forever.
The Comeback (Season 2)
The Comeback, with Lisa Kudrow, is definitely not for everyone. It’s also an acquired taste. Once one has the taste for it, it finds its own place among the best of entertainment. It would be nice to see this show enjoy a wider audience in time as its first season (10 years ago!) gradually did. It hits the same notes, and as capably, as Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm and Ricky Gervais’ The Office (BBC) with a very raw, honest, and almost painful meta cringe comedy about Hollywood. Our hero, a middle aged actress, navigates the options available to her in the world of shifting values between reality TV and the prestige of HBO, and reality itself and what is left of a person when you’ve made these pursuits your reason to live. The show is brilliant as it spins out over many weeks the question of whether our star, Valerie Cherish, has any acting talent at all, or, whether she’s such a consummate actor that she’s “on” all the time even inside her brittle, long marriage. In a television landscape (and genre) we have grown accustomed to being pretty nihilistic, the season finale offered some unusually satisfying, poignant moments that rank this among the best finales ever. Yes, even as good as Six Feet Under.
There are some great shows – perennial favourites – we’ve followed with dedication in prior seasons that did not fully satisfy in 2014, such as Mad Men, Game of Thrones, and Justified. We’ll still watch again for Justified’s final season, Mad Men’s final season, and Game of Thrones when it returns.
Honourable mention: The Americans; Bojack Horseman
What did we miss? What else should we watch to fill the winter hours? Let us know.