If you didn’t own a TV, it was a GREAT year for TV. Really. In our modern age where we are slowly becoming more and more like the Jetsons, all you need is your friend’s HBO GO password, and a functional computer, and you’d be privy to some of the best pieces of episodic storytelling an Amazon Prime Subscription can buy.
Between our two lists, there’s not a network show in sight, with just some a few Comedy Central entries making the cut. Even shows that continue to be amazing like Bob’s Burgersand Brooklyn Nine-Nine didn’t make the cut. We talked about them last year, so it’s fine. They know they’re great.
So without further ado, here are our Best TV Shows of 2014!
Nathan For You (Comedy Central)
Nathan Fielder’s “reality show” has just one purpose; to help struggling businesses thrive again. But “Nathan Fielder,” the character we see on Nathan For You is just trying to make a connection. With someone, with ANYONE. That’s the underlying brilliance of the already ridiculous antics of this show. Nathan is a ridiculous human being who has no idea how proper social interactions work. He’s just doing his best, and his best, apparently, is creating amazing schemes like having 40 maids clean a house so the maid service process is less time-consuming. Or pretending that a film with Johnny Depp is being filmed at a souvenir store and tricking to buy souvenirs so they can be extras in the fake movie (which results in Nathan having to make a fake movie so that he doesn’t get arrested for technically robbing these innocent civilians). And people go along with him because, well, they’re gonna be on TV. They want their 15 minutes of fame. And boy, do they get it.
Best Episode: The coup de grace of this fantastic second season was of course Dumb Starbucks, a project that you might have heard about in February of 2014. What started as an attempt to help out an independent coffee shop turned into one of the most outlandish comedy stunts of the year. It’s Nathan’s ability to manipulate real people, and manipulate the media around him that makes him a comedic force to be reckoned with.
BoJack Horseman / Rick and Morty (Netflix / Adult Swim)
Nowadays, animated shows tend to fall into two categories; Simpsons-esque shows about a family (or close-knit group of friends) with very sitcom-like tendencies, or weird, experimental “out there” shows like you might see on Adult Swim. This year, however, we got two shows that dared to break the mold of what is possible in an animated TV Show. BoJack Horseman might be one of the only animated shows I would describe as a “dramedy.” It effortlessly navigates between dark moments of pathos and anxiety, and ridiculous animal puns and jokes about Hollywood. It’s one of the best depictions of depression on television I’ve ever seen, all through the gaze of a man with a horse head.
Rick and Morty is the Community/Doctor Who/Back to the Future mashup you didn’t know you needed. It sets out to tackle every sci-fi trope out there, and dismantle it until it reaches peak hilarity. And somehow, under all of this, we get deep commentary on the nature of family, friendship, and our very existence in the universe. There’s also freaky aliens and multi-dimensional televisions and sentient dogs. It’s a blast.
Best Episode: For BoJack, it’s going to be Downer Ending. BoJack attempts to write his memoir by going on an insane drug bender. The animation is gorgeous, the commentary is poignant, and it’s unlike anything you’ve seen in animation before. For Rick and Morty, I’ve got to go with Rixty Minutes, in which the family sits down and watches television shows from various dimensions. And that’s really all the episode is “about.” But the humor that stems from within is sure to knock your socks off.
Silicon Valley (HBO)
Mike Judge, one of the best comedy writer/directors working today, has returned to television with one of the smartest and funniest live-action comedies of the year. Silicon Valley follows a young tech start-up company and their mission to create a new app called “Pied Piper.” This isn’t some dumb “Big Bang Theory” knockoff. It’s a highly intelligent, satirical look at a group of techies who are just trying to become successful, albeit through highly “nerdy” schemes. What makes this show pop is the dynamic ensemble cast, with genius comedic players Thomas Middleditch, T.J. Miller, Kumail Nanjiani, Martin Starr, Zach Woods, and what would be the final performance of the late great character actor Christopher Evan Welch. It’s a perfect ensemble doing some of the finest work on television in 2014.
Best Episode: The season finale, Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency. I talked about it before during our Emmys coverage, but this episode is a master class in comedy, more specifically, how to take a joke, let it run it’s course, and then keep going at it until it becomes ingeniously funny again. It’s perfect.
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)
Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert helped to create and define the model of using a news show to deliver comedy. In 2014, John Oliver took that model and perfected it, creating the most consistently funny, and consistently informative program of the year. Last Week Tonight wasn’t just a Daily Show clone; it makes The Daily Show look like Weekend Update. With the freedoms of airing on an commercial-less, sponsor-less network like HBO, John Oliver had free reign to talk about whatever he wanted, for however long he wanted. He tackled issues such as police militarization, the Miss America pageants, the elections in India, the FIFA organization, and whatever else was causing unrest in US/Foreign policy. Oliver picked apart these issues with humor, passion, and a true desire to not just talk about these issues, but talk about how we can help to rectify them. In 2014, Monday through Thursday, Stewart and Colbert told us what was happening in the world. But on Sundays, Oliver told us what we could do to help.
Best Episode: It’s hard to say which episode is the “best,” But Episode 5 was the first episode which showed the sheer power of the show, with Oliver urging people to flood the FCC’s comment page to let me know about the people’s concerns with the ongoing Net Neutrality issues. A day after his episode aired, the FCC page had crashed. This man is making a difference, and I can’t wait to see what he brings us in 2015.
The best show of the year was Transparent. It almost doesn’t even feel real how wonderful this show is. I’m even afraid to talk more about it because it’s just something that needs to be seen to be believed (Also because every critic and their mother is talking about this show). It’s full of glorious performances (Jeffrey Tambor especially), fantastic meditations on gender identity, sexuality, marriage, religion, everything else you could think of. It’s funny and sad and you just need to watch it. I’m going to stop talking and you will watch this show. Please.
Best Episode: Just start with the Pilot and keep going. You’ll thank me later.
Broad City / Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central)
Tina Fey, my queen, said it best when she told us that “bitches get stuff done,” and this year, three bitches in particular – Ilana Glazer, Abbi Jacobson, and Amy Schumer – were gettin’ it DONE. Between a sitcommish series, Broad City (produced by my other queen, Amy Poehler), and a groundbreaking sketch show, Inside Amy Schumer, these three women took over Comedy Central and played hard with the boys (I would stack any of Schumer’s sketches up against anything on Key & Peele – which, to be clear, is no disrespect to Key and Peele). While Schumer is tackling things like Sorkinese and sexual assault in the military, Jacobson and Glazer are just living their lives even as everything fucks up around them. Schumer, in particular, made an important stride for women in comedy this year – Comedy Central will now stop bleeping the word “pussy,” at her behest. (About time.)
Standout Episode(s): For Schumer, I’ll just go with “The Foodroom,” the best sketch I watched all year; for the Broad City broads, I have to go with “Apartment Hunters,” if only for Amy Sedaris.
Game of Thrones, Season 4 (HBO)
Let’s all stop acting surprised. This show is amazing and I’m just going to keep picking it every year. I will be honest, though – season 4 had the huge advantage of picking up halfway through the third book, and it got to jam-pack this season full of twists, turns, and a lot of murder. From Joffrey’s murder in Episode 2 to Aunt Lysa taking a midnight stroll through the Moon Door to Tyrion’s trial by combat and subsequent escape, we didn’t get much of a break this season, and that was just fine. (There were a few missteps – the rape of Cersei and exclusion of Lady Stoneheart among them – but I think I can move on from those.) This was an extraordinarily good season of television (making it all the more egregious that both the series and Peter Dinklage were left off the Golden Globes nominations… more on that later too) that kept the audience biting their nails and cursing the TV after that last shot of Arya sailing away – WHY do we always have to wait ten months, HBO?! Why?!?
Standout Episode: “The Mountain and the Viper,” which was maybe the best episode of Game of Thrones has ever aired. (This was a hard choice – “The Children” and “The Lion and the Rose” were neck and neck as well.)
Veep, Season 3 (HBO)
Again, no surprise here. Thanks to the reigning queen of comedy (and Emmys), Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and her insanely talented cast and writers, Veep remains one of the funniest shows currently on TV – it’s probably one of the only ones that makes me belly-laugh out loud on a regular basis. Most comedies come with a side of pathos these days, but not this one – Louis-Dreyfus as Selina Meyer, the most foul-mouthed Vice President of all time, keeps the laughs coming so steadily you barely have time to breathe. This season elevated the stakes even more, letting Selina ascend to the presidency so she can screw that up too. Four more years! Four more years!
Standout Episode: Both Louis-Dreyfus and Tony Hale (her sycophant assistant, Gary) submitted “The Crate” for Emmy consideration, and with good reason – the scene where Selina and Gary are laughing and crying in the bathroom in the midst of one of Gary’s nosebleeds was nothing short of majestic.
Black Mirror (Channel 4, UK / DirecTV, US)
Yeah, I know. Black Mirror is a total technicality for a “best of 2014 list” because it first aired in 2011. I get it. But those of us with Netflix over in the US just discovered it this year, plus they DID release a Christmas special… so, it counts! Besides, it would be virtually (hah) impossible to forget about this show when thinking about great TV I watched this year. Black Mirror, named after the blank black screens of technology, is a Twilight Zone-style anthology wherein none of the episodes are related except by one vague thread – the idea that technology has the capability to destroy, in one way or another, our way of living. From American Idol-esque game shows, to public humiliation of politicians, to an extreme measure of justice, this series shows us what our society could look like in ten or so years – and what the consequences are when we get there.
Standout Episode: I happen to think they’re all really great, and “White Christmas,” starring Jon Hamm, was particularly excellent – but my gut wants me to go with “White Bear,” a completely chilling hour of television. Watch it right away before someone spoils it.
Orange Is the New Black, Season 2 (Netflix)
Well, I’m sure this one is a shocker too, but I’m not ashamed of repeats, particularly not when the show deserves it – and Orange Is the New Black‘s triumphant sophomore season deserves every bit of praise it’s gotten. The first season, while excellent, focused a lot on Piper, who was our audience surrogate in this new environment, but the second season did away with that concept now that we’re familiar with these ladies and their lives, and in doing so, it opened the series up to entirely new backstories and struggles. We heard a lot from Taystee, Crazy Eyes, Poussey, and surprise hero Miss Rosa this season, and every moment was better than the last. Danielle Brooks and Samira Wiley were especially heartbreaking this season as Vee, Taystee’s former drug lord, threatens to pull the two girls apart, and Uzo Aduba (Crazy Eyes) and Yael Stone (Lorna) both made me ugly cry pretty hard. Moving away from Piper for a season let us into the lives of even more of the inmates, and we’ll have a little more Vause in our life for season 3 (the only thing lacking this year) thanks to Piper’s clever scheme to land her back in Litchfield. Summer can’t come soon enough.
Standout Episode: This was another tough choice, but I think I have to go with “You Also Have a Pizza,” the funny and incredibly sad Valentine’s Day-themed episode.