Best of and Top Ten lists are filing in, and the latest comes from HitFix’s Alan Sepinwall. In an especially robust year for television, Sepinwall picked HBO’s “The Leftovers” as the best show of the year. Here’s the full top ten:
1. “The Leftovers” (HBO)
2. “The Americans” (FX)
3. “Transparent” (Amazon)
4. “Review” (Comedy Central)
5. “Fargo” (FX)
6. “Orange Is the New Black” (Netflix)
7. “Rectify” (Sundance)
8. “Hannibal” (NBC)
9. “Mad Men” (AMC)
10. “True Detective” (HBO)
And here’s Sepinwall on his number one pick:
When it comes to my top pick, you could argue that other shows had fewer flaws, made more narrative sense, and/or were more fun to watch. But no work of art in 2014 resonated with me more deeply than HBO’s “The Leftovers.” When books are adapted for TV or the movies, they’re often made more accessible, more conventional, less dark and less dense. But Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta went the opposite way in adapting Perrotta’s novel about an unconventional Rapture that sends the survivors into an emotional turmoil. This was a show that plunged its audience right into the broken world alongside all the poor saps stranded in a reality that no longer makes any sense, some trying to go on as before, some going to extremes in violent religious cults like the Guilty Remnant.
Sepinwall calls the show the year’s most rewarding series as well as the hardest one to get through. For those looking for something a little less grim, they could turn to Amazon for “Transparent,” the placement of which at number 3 is probably going to be among the lower rankings this year (it’s essentially television’s version of “Boyhood” this year).
This was gorgeous, intimate storytelling, at times incredibly funny, at times deeply sad, and Tambor has never been better — not even on “Arrested Development” or “The Larry Sanders Show.” “Transparent” is so specific and odd that it’s hard to imagine any other outlet making it, so I’m happy Amazon felt the need to make such a bold move in its ongoing battle with Netflix for streaming video supremacy.
Not that Netflix was all that wanting this year – Sepinwall writes that “Orange Is the New Black’s” placement at number 6 (as opposed to season 1’s number 2 spot last year)) is the result of an especially strong year, not a dip in quality:
Season 2 leaned even more than before on the show’s deep, wonderful ensemble, setting Piper off to the side to focus on Taystee, Poussey, Crazy Eyes and Red all getting caught up in a gang war instigated by the arrival of Taystee’s mother figure Vee, played so memorably by Lorraine Toussaint. “Orange” continued to get tremendous production from deep on its bench — who would have imagined in season 1, for instance, that elderly cancer patient Rosa would wind up being the emotional keystone of season 2?
Not too many network shows made an appearance, but the best (and, *ahem*, my personal selection for the year’s best overall) is also one of the boldest and most astonishing shows on television, in no small part because it’s amazing to think that “Hannibal” is on a major network at all.
In its second season, the Hannibal Lecter origin story was more baroquely violent than ever, to the point where I still have shudder to think about its bloody finale. But where so many of television’s serial killer dramas are just exploitation schlock, “Hannibal” is thoughtful and oddly beautiful. Each episode comes loaded with imagery that would belong on the wall of a museum — provided it’s a museum for people with very strong stomachs.
Finally, those obsessing over “True Detective” might be a bit disappointed at the show just barely making it into the top ten, but Sepinwall argues that for all the hype and all the backlash, Nic Pizzolatto, Cary Fukanaga, Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson made a damn good show.
The performances by Woody Harrelson and, especially, Matthew McConaughey were jaw-droppingly great and the direction by Cary Joji Fukunaga beautiful and hypnotic. Will writer Nic Pizzolatto’s philosophizing about evolution being a mistake, time being a flat circle, etc., withstand the test of time? I don’t know, but McConaughey made that stuff sing, and the multi-tiered structure Pizzolatto devised gave so much more weight to what was on paper a pretty straightforward serial killer story.