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by Liz Shannon Miller and Ben Travers
June 13, 2014 3:42 PM
23 Comments
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The Top 10 TV Shows of 2014 (So Far)

We're halfway through 2014, which feels like the perfect time to look back at the TV which has come before. If only because by December, some of these shows might have been forgotten -- which would be a tragedy. So we each picked five shows that really stood out over the first six months of 2014 (working not to overlap with each other).  These choices are, of course, subjective, but still represent some of the best television we saw this year. 

5) "Scandal" (Liz)

There are, technically, better shows that should be on this list. "The Americans," "Orange is the New Black," "Hannibal," "Orphan Black"... But to not acknowledge "Scandal" as a major player in the 2014 TV landscape just feels wrong.

The third season of "Scandal" lost a little of the grounded element that made Season 2 so captivating, but it represents a very important endangered species: Appointment television, the kind that terrorizes viewers with the threat of spoilers into watching as soon as humanly possible, DVRs and commercials be damned.

And wow, it was FUN, especially as Season 3 came to a close, to try to keep up with the lightning-fast monologues and plot twists, to watch characters dig deeper into their darkest selves, and then question the decisions they've made. Hearts were broken. Lives were threatened. Bombs were exploded. Children were murdered. And all under the watch of the brilliant Kerry Washington and a diverse and talented cast.

It might not have been high-falultin'. It might have strained the boundaries of believability. But it was the kind of television that made you remember why you liked television in the first place.

5) "Bob's Burgers" (Ben)

The number of comedies may be dwindling, but the quality continues to climb. "Bob's Burgers," a brightly animated comedy with equally brilliant characters, was once seen as a third fiddle to FOX's recently-cancelled Animation Domination line-up. However, after four seasons, it's arguably the network's best program ("Brooklyn Nine-Nine" is right there, too), aided greatly by subtly maneuvering its titular character to more of a supporting role and letting the ensemble work together like never before. 

The move paid big dividends thanks in no small part to the unparalleled voice work from H. Jon Benjamin, Kristen Schaal, and Dan Mintz (as Bob, Louise, and Tina, respectively). "Bob's Burgers" is a rarity of creative convergence. Everything works even as its creator, Loren Bouchard, continues to push for original stories, concepts, and executions. Between the Bronies homage episode "The Equestranauts" and the two-part season finale "Wharf House" and "Wharf House II: The Wharfening," "Bob's Burgers" is still bursting with ingenuity in its fourth season.

READ MORE: Late Season Pickup: Five Reasons to Start Watching 'Bob's Burgers' Right Now

4) "Trophy Wife" (Liz)

Freshman comedies never have an easy time of it (yet two made this list). The first season of "Trophy Wife" wasn't as successful as "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," especially when it came to its moving pieces. (I think Natalie Morales is FANTASTIC, but I bet you five dollars that if it hadn't been canceled, her odd-man-out character wouldn't have returned for Season 2.) But for a young new show with a borderline not-great title and an occasional weakness for sitcom cliches, it found its way.

Alas, the ABC gods have spoken, but worry not for one of the best ensemble casts of the 2013-2014 season -- they'll find other work, though it's sad that they won't be working together. The combination of established comedic actors Malin Akerman and Michaela Watkins, Emmy-winning Bradley Whitford, Oscar-winning Marcia Gay Harden and three of the best under-18 performers seen on a new show since MAYBE "Modern Family" (Bailee Madison, Ryan Lee, Albert Tsai) was at times a little awkward. But midway through the first season, they blended into a unique family situation that managed to be both heartfelt and hilarious.

In its short run, "Trophy Wife" brought us the joys of Marcia Gay Harden making out with Dennis Haysbert, Bradley Whitford's erotic legal fiction, a truly amazingly disastrous Christmas and of course wunderkind BERT! It also got away with some truly amazing jokes. (A young man looking at a spice rack: "Gross." Meg: "It's pronounced 'cue-min.'") Rest in peace, show.

Amy Poehler and Chris Pratt in 'Parks and Recreation' Colleen Hayes/NBC

4) "Parks and Recreation" (Ben)

The sixth season of Amy Poehler's undervalued comedy classic was the saddest yet. Not only did we lose two beloved characters when Ann and Chris moved from Pawnee to Michigan (Michigan?!), but their departure marked the beginning of the end for a show that's struggled to survive this long (ratings have never been stellar). Then the time jump at the end of the season illustrated the creator's need to move quickly in order to wrap everything up, while new cast members marked the show's age simply by existing.

Yet all of it was hilarious, warm-hearted and smart as a whip -- or as fans would call it, "classic Knope." Ann and Chris' departure was handled with grace and proper respect without sacrificing laughs (finding out Anne dated Perd Hapley during her "dark days" is unforgettable), the time jump gave us the best cameo in years (Jon Hamm > Michelle Obama), and it feels like Billy Eichner has been with us all along (also, yay for Jim O'Heir and Retta making the opening credits!). The end is nigh, but "Parks and Recreation" has shown no signs of aging where it counts: On screen.

3) "Fargo" (Liz)

I will always and forever remember "Fargo" as the show that convinced me how good an actor Martin Freeman is. He's been a favorite of mine for over a decade, ever since discovering the original "Office" on DVD via Netflix (remember when Netflix was a company that sent you DVDs in the MAIL?). But even after years of watching him solve crimes with a sociopath and steal stuff from a dragon, it took an FX miniseries to inform me of his real talents.

Freeman is just one of the many fascinating pieces that make "Fargo" such an engrossing puzzle; while exactly the opposite of a mystery, the Noah Hawley-scripted series still manages to take the tone of the Coen Brothers' bleak snowbound 1996 masterpiece of a film and translate it for a new cast and a new narrative. 

"Fargo" is much more than Martin Freeman, with a real murderer's row (pardon the pun) of great actors (including Billy Bob Thorton, Colin Hanks and brilliant newcomer Alison Tolman). But as Freeman sank deeper and deeper into the role of weasily, cowardly Lester Nygaard, his depiction of the nice guy gone wrong became a thing to behold. By the horrifying twists that conclude Episode 9, you totally believed him -- and a beloved actor became someone you could hate. 

3) "Mad Men" (Ben)

Splitting the final season in two was always going to make the first half a challenge. No matter what Matthew Weiner gave us in 2014, the payoff wouldn't arrive for another year. Yet the skilled planner managed to create a half-season almost as enriching as full years of the past, with many standout moments (Ginsberg's nipple, Don's gamble and Peggy's dance) and enough to dwell on until 2015 arrives.

READ MORE: The 9 Most Shocking TV Moments of 2014 (So Far)

Don, in particular, moved forward in ways we hadn't seen before. Imagining him slow-dancing with Peggy during episode one would have been impossible, and his acceptance of the burden laid down on him wasn't one of defeat but resilience. Even his few moments of melancholy were met with an openness previously unassociated with our stubborn protagonist. Don's grown up -- now we wait to see if he can find life's meaning outside of maturity. 

What shows topped our lists? The answers lurk on the next page. 


23 Comments

  • Simon | July 2, 2014 12:41 AMReply

    My absolute favourite shows of this year:
    Fargo- This is a show unlike any I've ever seen before, portraying such dark themes in such a fun and lighthearted tone, yet still managing to express these themes in a way that impacts the viewer. Fargo has changed the way I watch television. Oh, and also... How incredible was the second half of that season?!

    Rick & Morty- Absolute golden television. This show is a comedy that holds a perfect balance of Justin Roilands insane, crude humour and Dan Harmon's more personal, touching and much less crude storytelling. Every single episode contains both a great A plot and B plot that, while consistantly hilarious, also express a great message about who the characters are or who you are based on the reactions it evokes from the viewers. It's too early to tell if this is my favourite comedy of all time since it is only 11 episodes through it's run, but it definitely in the running.

  • Miles | June 17, 2014 8:43 PMReply

    Have to say I'd put Fargo at the top, though I'm still catching up on Mad Men and Game of Thrones. It's so slyly amazing, and Freeman is just terrific. The other shows listed here are also great, though I'm a little disappointed to see no Orphan Black.

  • Dave B | June 16, 2014 10:03 AMReply

    Sorry to break this to you Liz, but Netflix is STILL a company that sends you DVDs in the mail. Maybe you have a crappy mailman.

  • Carmen | June 16, 2014 9:53 AMReply

    Scandal? Seriously? It's more ridiculous than The Dynasty for heaven's sake!
    Where is The Good Wife? House of Cards? Master's of Sex?

  • Terrence | June 14, 2014 11:44 PMReply

    Hannibal

  • Adam Willis | June 14, 2014 11:43 PMReply

    Leaving off Hannibal is a BIG mistake. Seriously Scandel?

  • Joe | June 15, 2014 1:01 PM

    Ikr

  • Joe | June 14, 2014 11:10 PMReply

    Game of Thrones, True Detective, Fargo, and Hannibal

  • Greg Cwik | June 14, 2014 7:26 PMReply

    GoT is TV's LORD OF THE RINGS: bloated, grossly fantasy overrated. FARGO, HANNIBAL and TRUE DETECTIVE have genuinely taken the television medium into new territory. There are no other shows that have ever done the things they're doing.

  • Miles | June 17, 2014 8:57 PM

    I definitely agree that True Detective and Fargo are the best things on TV (Yet to watch Hannibal!) but to say GoT is TV's LotR is firstly not that bad a thing, and secondly if you are into fantasy it's actually pretty okay, solid drama and brilliant twists, though it does boggle me when people put it in anywhere near the same league as such shows as Breaking Bad, True Detective, The Sopranos and Fargo.

  • Jo | June 14, 2014 11:10 PM

    You speak of LOTR as if it's a bad thing. You sir are in the minority. Everyone loves Lord of the Rings. Everyone loves Game of Thrones.

  • Robert | June 14, 2014 6:44 PMReply

    Hannibal isn't on this list. You've been terribly rude indiewire... what's to be done about that?

  • Vivid | June 14, 2014 6:20 PMReply

    Missing from the list is a show full of suspense, terror, drama, psychological theatrics: Hannibal

  • Joyll | June 14, 2014 2:44 PMReply

    The only show I don't think belongs on this list is Scandal. Especially after all the gratuitous violence against female lead & the constant back & troth with any lack of continuity in plot. All this to keep Fitz & Olivia apart?!?! I would replace it with the Americans or an honourable mention for OITNB, House of Cards, or Graceland even (highly underrated IMO). Sad because Scandal USED to be a tremendous amount of fun & a solid offering that I chased people down to get them to watch. Sad it's just not that way anymore. It's as if it's being written with believability & continuity be DAYUMED. Oh well...

  • Elcoolguy | June 14, 2014 1:22 PMReply

    Hannibal is easily top 3.

  • Brando | June 14, 2014 12:02 PMReply

    February 14, 2014 was not just another day; it was a world event. For the first time, masses of people waited not-so-patiently for a season to be released. Not a book, or an album, or a movie, or even a premiere episode; but a season, and the way we watch, produce and think about television will never be the same again. What "House of Cards" did was nothing short of changing the game forever.
    When you do something for the first time, it has to stick. When Branch Ricky was seeking out a ballplayer to break the MLB color barrier, he knew this player had to be patient and classy, but also very good so that he would start a trend instead of being a novelty. When Pixar went to produce the first fully CGI feature, it not only had to look good on the screen, but it had to be a new type of movie that brought animation into the impending new century. Jackie Robinson and "Toy Story" are monuments because they weren't just the first, but they began a lasting revolution.
    Obviously, it is yet to be seen if the effect of "House of Cards," as well as "Orange is the New Black," "Hemlock Grove" and Amazon's work, will have the same impact, but all of the tools are there and I am pretty optimistic.
    Like Robinson's poise, "House of Cards" was heavily leaned on in its position. It had to be just right, a great show as it were, or it would just become a trivia question. It passed with flying colors. Brilliantly shot and acted, "House of Cards" was a triumph of production and story in both seasons. Season two, released this year, was the first serial written with the intent of making it impossible for you to leave after an hour. It was shocking, thematically daring and at times an edge-of-your-seat thriller. It was the political drama for people who don't like political drama, and for those who do. It was universal enough for anyone to enjoy and be engrossed, but also technically locked in enough to keep insiders who know the world of F.U. with their eyes glued to the screen as well.
    "House of Cards" is one of the five best shows of the year so far, period.

  • JK | June 14, 2014 8:59 AMReply

    Seriously? Where is Louie?

  • laroux | June 13, 2014 10:33 PMReply

    I agree. I am from Croatia, and all these shows are well-known to our audience.

  • Wulf | June 13, 2014 10:03 PMReply

    Pretty shocked (and sad) to see The Americans not on this list.

  • Joyll | June 14, 2014 2:46 PM

    I emphatically agree about the Americans. No way should it not make this list!

  • nat von | June 13, 2014 6:07 PMReply

    What about the Walking Dead should also be#1

  • Adam Scott Thompson | June 14, 2014 10:13 PM

    I don't mean to condescend but "The Walking Dead" is basic -- that is to say easily accessible. I hear any and everyone talk about TWD but only certain individuals talk about "True Detective" or "Hannibal" or "The Americans" -- or even "The Wire" when it was on.

    TWD plays to the lowest denominator and that's all well and good -- eyeballs on screens is the money and motive (see "Two and a Half Men"). But for those who prefer a few extra layers in our sandwich -- some of which we didn't know were there until we started to digest -- the edge goes to shows with depth of character and plot and, sometimes, more questions posed than answered.

    I can watch a TWD episode once but never again. Meanwhile I watch and re-watch shows like "Mad Men," and like a great book they just get better each time.

  • Liz | June 13, 2014 6:59 PM

    It didn't make either of our lists because we're not really fans, but which show would you replace it with, Game of Thrones or True Detective?