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It's been a great year for television, and narrowing down the list of best TV shows for 2014 was no easy task. Between comedy, drama and the growing number of shows that fall somewhere in between, the bigger challenge isn't finding ten great shows, it's narrowing down the selection of favorites to the series that standout as this year's absolute best. Without further ado, I give you my list of 2014's best TV shows.
SPOILER alert: Some of the entries include spoilers from the listed series. So if you're not caught up, consider yourself warned.
Be sure to also check out Jesse's, Jessica's and Nick's top tens as well.
10. FargoOnce upon a time, a Fargo TV offshoot might have been developed as a watered down crime procedural, so loosely adapted from the Coen Brothers' 1996 film that we might only barely notice the connection between the show and the inevitably ill-fated TV series. Fortunately, today's TV viewers have an appetite for dark humor and gritty drama, and cable networks like FX are willing to make them. What's more, anthology series are on the rise, giving Fargo the opportunity to tell its story in the space of a season, rather than attempt to drag it out for years. Add in good writing and direction, and an incredibly talented assortment of actors -- Martin Freeman, Allison Tolman, Billy Bob Thornton and Colin Hanks among them -- and edge it with the dark humor that worked so well for the film, and Fargo not only lived up to its potential (and our high hopes), but also proved to be one of 2014's best TV offerings.
9. ShamelessEmmy Rossum's consistently brilliant performance alone should be enough to warrant Shameless a spot on every Top TV list of 2014. But when it comes down to it, Shameless is a series that delivers more than merely the sum of its talented parts, of which it has many. In its fourth season, the Showtime series continues to build momentum, showcasing the Gallaghers as they face some serious struggles, including Frank's failing health and some major legal issues for Fiona. The series took a turn for the darker this year, but it still managed to find room for humor and a bit of the old Gallagher charm.
8. Jane the VirginI try to shy away from celebrating brand new shows that have yet to complete a full season. Jane the Virgin is one of two exceptions to that rule for this years Best-of-TV list. Arriving in time for the Fall 2014 season, the CW drama finds the sweet spot where drama and melodrama overlap, offering a sprinkle of humor and a hard nod to telenovelas as it tells the story of a chaste young woman who finds herself impregnated when her distracted gynecologist gives her an injection of sperm during what should have been a routine pelvic exam. Jane the Virgin's unapologetic approach to serving up big drama and episode cliffhangers is part of its charm. To top it off, Gina Rodriguez delivers a fantastic performance as the titular Jane, who's the perfect blend of likable, strong and sweet, allowing Jane the Virgin to be one of TV's best new shows in 2014.
7. True DetectiveHBO has been pushing the TV's boundaries for over a decade and True Detective is the latest great example of their efforts paying off. The anthology nature of the series allows the network the opportunity to secure top shelf talent to lead the series. In the case of Season 1, this came in the form of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as two detectives whose lives and work collide when they team up to hunt a serial killer in Louisiana. The series which told its story in the space of eight episodes, was less about whodunnit and more about the evolution of the working relationship and friendship that developed between McConaughey's Rust Cohle and Harrelson's Marty Hart. It's this kind of gripping, outside-the-box television that put HBO on the map as a TV force to be reckoned with, and I can't wait to see what series creator Nic Pizzolatto delivers when the drama returns for a new story in its second season.
6. The ComebackAs a huge fan of the original one-season series, my expectations for The Comeback's return seemed impossibly high going into the decade-later second season. And somehow, Valerie Cherish managed to live up to them. Rather than revisiting the original plot with a new sitcom and reality series, The Comeback succeeded in bringing the best of what the original series had to offer -- the cast, the characters and the format -- while telling a new, updated story about Lisa Kudrow's ridiculously self-unaware but strangely likable actress character Valerie Cherish. The Comeback's second season hasn't shied away from darker subject matter, which not only shows the show's ability to adapt to the current climate for TV comedies, but it's also made for some truly compelling TV. I thought I knew how much I missed Valerie Cherish (and Lisa Kudrow's outstanding performance in the role), but The Comeback's return somehow managed to surpass my hopes, delivering an even sharper, funnier and surprisingly emotional followup.
5. Silicon ValleyHow hard is it to come up with the next big tech thing? Mike Judge, John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky's new HBO comedy seeks to answer that in its first season, by introducing us to a shy but brilliant programmer (Thomas Middleditch) who may be on the brink of brilliance, along with all the fame and fortune that comes with those really big technological breakthroughs. But winning has its challenges, and with that brings ample opportunity for humor as Richard Hendriks and his brainy team of misfit programmers work hard to get and stay ahead of the curve.
I couldn't tell you if Silicon Valley is as accurately hilarious a portrayal of the high-pressure lifestyle of a group of tech-geniuses as Office Space was (and is) to those who've experienced the doldrums of office life, but the HBO comedy sure is funny. And it also manages to build some serious momentum in its first eight episodes, allowing us to join these lovable geeks in their awkward efforts to reach the top.
4. OutlanderOutlander is the second exception to my soft rule about new series that haven't completed their first season making the Top 10 list for the year. Technically, we've only seen half of Season 1 thus far, but the first eight episodes were some of the best TV has offered us this year.. Starz has proven to be a great destination for adventure television, and Ronald D. Moore's adaptation of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series is no exception. Merging adventure, romance and a period drama with just enough time travel to make it really interesting, Outlander transports us to a visually stunning Scotland backdrop where a married World War II combat nurse finds herself facing all the dangers of 18th century Scotland and a budding romance with a gallant warrior named Jamie Fraser.
Adapting Diana Gabaldon's beloved series of novels is likely no easy task, but with the assistance of a great cast, a beautiful location, outstanding music (courtesy of Bear McCreary) and wonderful source material, Ronald D. Moore is making it happen. Outlander's easily one of 2014's best TV shows, for all the suspense, adventure and (ahem, occasionally steamy) romance it offers.
3. Game of ThronesIn its fourth season, Game of Thrones continues to deliver one outstanding episode after the other. Beyond that, the latest season of the HBO fantasy-drama took chaos, carnage and heartbreak to the next level, delivering a couple of epic death scenes, including that of "King" Joffrey's memorable wedding exit, and later in the season, Oberyn Martell's epic showdown with Gregor Clegane. Game Of Thrones is more than just a series of great moments and big death scenes. In a TV climate where binge-watching has become preferable for many a show, Game of Thrones remains a shining example of the kind of series you want to watch live, not only to avoid spoilers but also simply because we need to know what's going to happen next. `
2. ArrowOf all the shows that network TV is offering right now, Arrow tops the list. This underrated CW drama has figured out the formula to adapting a superhero story for television in a way that incorporates elements from the comics but also keeps fans guessing. In its third season, Arrow is becoming one of those shows that benefits greatly from featuring great characters -- both heroes and villains -- while never entirely relying on that to keep fans tuning in. It's with that in mind, added to my own eagerness to catch every new episode as it airs, that putting Arrow in this year's Top 3 was a no-brainer.
Is it too optimistic to draw a comparison between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Arrow as it relates to genre programming and an excellent ensemble of heroic but relatably flawed characters? It might be a shade premature, but as it relates to my own continuously growing love for this series, I'm confident enough to put the comparison on record, at the very least to show my own optimism that Arrow will be on this list next year... perhaps even at the top. It's headed in that direction.
1. The Walking DeadAfter much consideration, The Walking Dead wins 2014 for me. The second half of the cable zombie drama's fourth season took a risk in splitting up its characters and following them in small clusters from one episode to the next, but it's one that paid off massively in terms of the quality of the story and character development. The division among the characters gave the series time to zoom in closer on them and offer the necessary build up so that the disturbing and occasionally shocking moments that transpired had the necessary depth to make them mean something.
Not only is The Walking Dead willing to kill off its characters, but it's also willing to corner them in horrific situations just to see how they'll get out. For Rick, that might mean biting a man's throat out. For Carol, it might mean putting a bullet into the back of a little girl's head. And for Beth, it might mean stepping up against the wrong kind of leader and losing her life in the process. The Walking Dead is a survival story, and this is a series that is figuring out more and more what it needs to do to be more than just zombies and gore. Five seasons in, The Walking Dead should be showing its age. Instead, it continues to keep us guessing, hoping, gasping and occasionally getting very emotional. That's what good TV is all about.
Honorable Mentions: Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, The Flash, The Goldbergs, Grimm and Scandal.