My BFF Nicole and I were recently enjoying our annual tradition of watching Love Actually while drinking wine and debating the logistics of porn stand-ins and whether or not Andrew Lincoln’s character is two seconds away from turning into the villain of a Lifetime movie (he totally is!), when we started talking about TV and all of the year-end lists that have been coming out in recent weeks. Most of this year’s critics’ ‘best of TV’ lists look nothing like our own (HitFix has done a great job of amalgamating all the big ones). They tend to revolve around “prestige” shows like True Detective, Mad Men, Game of Thrones, etc. Not that those shows don’t have a lot going for them, but for us, we prefer talking about the ones that we found the most entertaining — and those didn’t always match the critics’ picks. Which 10 shows were the most flat-out joy to watch? Which ones never piled up on our DVRs? Which ones featured the most shirtless Joshua Jackson scenes? (Ok, that particular criteria might only have applied to one of us…)
I decided to post our convo here. Below are both of our picks for the 10 best TV shows of 2014. (Warning: the more wine we drank, the stronger our opinions got.)
Nicole: I’m opening strong with my best pick… You.
Jen: Aww..thanks, buddy. You didn’t make my list. Maybe next year!
Nicole: Stupid iPad keyboard! I was trying to type You’re the Worst. I love this because it feels different from anything else on TV and yet so similar to people I know and love. The whole thing is so funny and quotable. It’s my favourite new show. And let’s not forget that this show taught us our “Sunday Funday” brunch song.
Jen: “Sunday Funday/ Better than a Monday/ Can only do it one way / And that is the drunk way!” That song’s become our brunch tradition, which I’m sure everyone else in the restaurant super appreciates!
Nicole: It helps that we bang our champers glasses on the table when we chant/sing it.
Jen: Totally not annoying to others AT ALL. I love that you love this show. I basically badgered you into watching it.
Nicole: You did and it was sooo worth it. I’ve already re-watched some episodes.
Jen: I think it’s a super smart take on modern relationships. Even though it’s so cynical and bitter, it’s also surprisingly sweet. More so than all those rom-com-y sitcoms that debuted this fall and tanked immediately.
Jen: Ok, my first pick is one that I know you also loved this year: The Good Wife.
Nicole: It’s one of the ONLY shows that I watch within a day or two of it airing. Love. Although I’m so worried about the longevity of characters on this show since Will died! I fear for Kalinda. I don’t want her to be killed off.
Jen: You should fear it. It’s already confirmed that she’s not long for this show. But I love The Good Wife. I have a handful of shows that I try to watch that same week that they air, and this is one of them.
Nicole: I think Will’s death was a highlight. As strange as that sounds because I loved his character but… yes. It was. (So was the moment I had with Josh Charles during TIFF this year.)
Jen: Yes, yes, you eye-f***ed Josh Charles when he walked by you on the street. You need to get that story tattooed on your forehead. It would save a lot of time retelling it.
But seriously, Will’s death reset the series in such a clever way. I’m not sure that the fall episodes have lived up to the spring ones, and I’m a little worried that the writers are so addicted to all the praise they got for last season’s big shake ups that they’re overreaching (the storyline about Cary going to jail hasn’t quite connected for me). But damn, it’s still fine TV.
Nicole: I appreciate that Will’s death wasn’t over-dramatized or replayed in flashbacks ad nauseam. It felt respectful. I’m enjoying that Cary finally has an actual story line. I’m not loving the campaigning plot but David Hyde Pearce is fun.
Jen: I especially like the morally grey area they keep inching Alicia towards, especially now that she’s campaigning. Our good wife isn’t all so good anymore.
Nicole: So in a strange and unexpected flip, this year I like The Mindy Project but I love New Girl more. These two keep trading places for me.
Jen: Wow, I’m surprised by that.
Nicole: I am liking Mindy right now a lot more than I was liking New Girl around this time last year, though. But with these last few episodes, New Girl has pulled ahead. I still find Mindy and Danny charming and fun together. There’s a bit more Rhea Perlman in the show now than I’d like but overall, it’s really enjoyable.
Jen: I think The Mindy Project has been strong all year, and has proven that they can avoid the curse after the main couple gets together. The spring run of New Girl was TERRIBLE, but I’m liking the fall episodes a lot. (I just had to stop typing to yell at Alan Rickman’s secretary in Love Actually. I hate her!)
Nicole: Spring’s New Girl episodes were the worst. But now I am loving the ensemble cast this year and it’s just so damn funny again! (Except the breast reduction episode. Total fail on that one.)
Jen: Ok, so here’s my thing with New Girl. As funny as the fall run has been, don’t you think it’s just a bunch of running gags stuck together? Like, “Winston can’t use a ruler!” “Nick pretends to be gay!” It’s a funny take on sitcom tropes, but they are no longer characters anymore. Just a collection of quirks. Hilarious quirks, but still.
Nicole: I feel like Schmidt and Cece are building towards something. And I really appreciate the back and forth between Nick and Jess since the breakup.
Jen: Ok, I’m totally cheating for my next one. Instead of a show, I’m picking a network: The CW. Yes, I’m a grown-ass woman whose favourite network targets teens. I don’t know when it happened, but there it is. Three out of the four shows I always try to watch within a few days are on The CW (The Good Wife is the fourth).
Nicole: You’re regressing in your old age. I love it and somewhat agree.
Jen: My first (and favourite) is Arrow. Most critics may ignore it because it sounds like a stupid supehero show, but when it comes to a character-driven actioner, it’s a goddamn workhorse. The finale that aired in May with the city filled with drugged up super soldiers might have been my favourite season finale in all of 2014. And it wasn’t just me. After that ep aired, Mo Ryan of the Huffington Post wrote, “Arrow isn’t just the best show on the CW network. Arrow isn’t just one of the best dramas on broadcast network television. Arrow is one of the best shows on TV, period.”
Nicole: Wow! Strong feelings! I hated the Felicity twist in that episode, but that just tells you how strongly I feel about their back and forth so it speaks well of the show overall.
Jen: Yeah, the “I love you” fake out seemed a bit too cruel for Oliver’s character, but when the show returned they addressed it in a way that changed my interpretation of that scene. The fall episodes have been a little bumpy (the flashbacks lack focus, they’re rushing Oliver & Felicity, they intro’d interesting threads about Thea, Malcolm and R’as and then dropped them for long stretches to focus on Laurel, who remains THE WORST), but even bumpy Arrow is still one of the most consistently entertaining shows out there. And the last two episodes before xmas were some of the strongest of the series, so I’m hanging in.
Nicole: I’m super behind (I blame the Gilmore Girls now being on Netflix) but I’m looking forward to catching up on this season.
Jen: Do it over the holidays. Last week’s winter finale episode was insane.
Also on The CW, The Flash is a delight. It’s rare for a new series to nail its tone so completely right out of the gate. I’m certainly not as invested in the characters as I am with Arrow, but it’s a cute diversion kind of show. Something that’s a joy to watch after a long day.
Nicole: I’m still in the early episodes in this one as well but Barry is so likeable. I love a comic book character that isn’t completely tortured.
Jen: Agreed, he’s so light and cute. When you catch up, there are some Arrow/Flash crossover episodes where they directly address how both of these guys had their mothers murdered in front of them and ended up with totally different world views.
Nicole: Oh, goodie.
Jen: And my other CW addiction is Jane the Virgin. No new show has won me over like this one. Get over the lame title and even lamer premise – this is a charm bomb. Everyone compares it to Ugly Betty, but it gives me more of an early Gilmore Girls vibe. So much heart! I was also lucky enough to preview the first episode of iZombie (which debuts in a few weeks) and it’s another winner. So my CW addiction is clearly showing no signs of slowing down. Luckily, I’m in good company.
Nicole: So I loved Girls this year. I enjoyed the first two seasons but this season it all came together. It was funny, complicated and I felt like the characters were less caricatures and better developed. They felt more relatable.
Jen: Yeah, it was a really strong season. The episode when they all went to the Hamptons and got in that huge fight was so funny and raw.
Nicole: I so loved the dance in that episode. It really reminded me of boozy nights where we did the same. I’m also obsessed with Jenna Lyons so that didn’t hurt.
Jen: Why don’t we do synchronized dances anymore? If we didn’t spend so much time drinking wine and watching Rick Grimes stalk Keira Knightley, we’d get really good at it again!
Jen: Ok, my third pick is Orange Is The New Black. It wasn’t as strong as the first season overall, but it was still super entertaining. We also learned that the show doesn’t need Piper. As a matter of fact, the episodes that she was barely featured in were some of the best (and they made me appreciate her more when she returned).
Nicole: I loved the first season so hard and then read the source material this summer in preparation… so when it came back, I really tried to pace myself. But I stalled mid-season — not for lack of interest but because I want to give it my undivided attention. It begs for binge watching.
Jen: Agreed. One thing I loved about this season is that it managed to turn bit players like Rosa and Poussey into the show’s beating heart in just a few episodes.
Nicole: Oh, something to look forward to! Might tackle this over the holidays.
Jen: Yeah, you definitely have to finish it. You’re getting a lot of holiday homework today!
Nicole: I know you’re not sold on The Affair but given that it has Pacey in it, I’m at a total loss as to why not! I’m loving the split narrative, the full attention to the female perspective. Ruth Wilson and Dominick West are electrifying. I just love their chemistry; they’re so hot.
Jen: I dunno. It’s crazy that I’m not bonkers about a show that stars Pacey Witer, Alice Morgan, Tommy Merlyn AND Det. McNulty, but I’m just not. I loved the pilot and have felt let down ever since. I think a big part of it for me is that I’m so much more interested in both marriages than the affair. Plus, the central mystery isn’t grabbing me. It’s moving from character study to plot-driven.
Nicole: It’s the whole back and forth that I find so interesting. They have great stand alone lives and yet take such risks. I also like the way sexuality plays out across all the characters.
Jen: True. I have a bit of an issue with the dual narratives because in some episodes, the two stories are so wildly different that they’re hard to reconcile and I don’t get the point of that. But I do think it’s interesting that he’s basically always a dick, no matter who’s perspective we’re seeing.
Jen: Speaking of romance-driven shows, my fourth pick is Outlander. It took me a while to get on board with this one because people kept telling me it was soapy like Downton Abbey, which is totally not my jam. But this show is absolutely my jam!
Nicole: All I’ve heard is that it’s a bodice-ripping story. Is time travel a thing in this? I’m so lost… Oh my god. I can see that you’re writing a novel to explain this to me.
Jen: It’s like Jane the Virgin — the stupid-sounding premise could turn people off, but if they give it a chance, they’ll love it. A nurse gets sucked from her happy married life in the 1930s to Scotland in the 1700s. The best part is how pro-woman it is. A lot of TV critics who are way smarter than me have written about how this show has upended traditional sex scenes and focused on the female gaze. The season finale may have undone some of its good work when it got all assault-y, but the show was still one of my favourite surprises of 2014.
Nicole: Can we just pause and watch Love Actually for a sec ’cause Carl is taking his clothes off?
Jen: Yes, please! This scene makes me so happy and so sad at the same time. DON’T ANSWER YOUR PHONE, Laura Linney!!
Nicole: My next pick also has a super strong and not altogether likeable female lead. I really enjoyed House of Cards this year. I love that Kevin Spacey is so campy and mean and over-the-top evil.
Jen: Ok, you need to convince me on this one. I watched half of the first season and was so distracted by how over the top and bad it was. Why should I give it another chance?
Nicole: I’m predisposed to political shows. This one has a terrible character as the lead and he’s totally, transparently evil all the way through. Nothing he does is anything other than self-serving, which I love. It’s pretty honest actually. And yet he still comes across as someone that I want to root for. How they do that I’m not sure.
Jen: The first season felt like watching hammy characters who were evil just because and got away with everything. I’ll give it another shot, though (holiday homework strikes again!)
Nicole: And back to Robin Wright’s character… she is so cold but she really isn’t. She’s so lonely and I relate to that somehow.
Jen: Whoa, you just went really dark. Quick, turn your attention back to the screen. Mr. Bean is on Love Actually right now!
Nicole: Are you going to dip it in yoghurt and cover it in chocolate buttons?
Jen: For you, I’ll even add a sprig of holly!
Nicole: “Could you be quite quick?”
Jen: “Ready in the flashiest of flashes, sir!” God, we’ve seen this movie too many times.
Jen: Ok, for my last pick I’m cheating again. Instead of picking a fifth show, I’m picking small cable dramas that are super niche and well done. One of the best things about this year’s TV is that you can read a dozen top 10 lists from critics, and each has named a different show as the best, and that’s mostly because of all the variety cable is churning out. My favourite was The Americans, which somehow figured out a way to make the teenage daughter essential (take notes, Homeland).
Nicole: I loved season one; I still have to catch up on season two. Matthew Rhys is so good. The wig watching alone makes it worth it. It’s another show where we’re rooting for the villains.
Jen: Yup, he’s even better in season two. If season one was about a marriage, this season was about family. They somehow make all the spy stuff secondary.
In other small cable dramas, critics loved Fargo a lot more than I did, but even I must admit that Allison Tolman’s breakout performance was a revelation.
Nicole: I couldn’t. I watched 4 episodes and let it go. But with Kirsten Dunst coming into season two with what sounds like a great female-centric story, I might have to jump back in.
Jen: And Jesse Plemons from FNL!
Jen: Other small cable shows worth mentioning: I couldn’t get into The Knick, but the two episodes I watched were undoubtedly the best directed, most beautiful thing I’ve seen on TV in ages. And I loved The Honourable Woman. I can’t remember a show that’s ever trusted an audience’s intelligence more.
Nicole: Which says terrible things about my intelligence. It required undivided attention and yet was in no way interesting enough to hold my interest.
Jen: Yeah, it’s definitely a slow burn. But stick with it. Maggie Gyllenhaal is phenomenal in it!
Nicole: My best list is turning out to be pretty sitcom-heavy but I’m also still super into Brooklyn Nine-Nine. So funny. Andre Braugher kills me!
Jen: I’m not sold on that one. Lots of episodes are just piling up on my DVR. It feels like a chore.
Nicole: Really? It makes me laugh out loud.
Jen: My honourable mentions are 24 (so fun!), Shameless (ish got real), Hannibal (a beautiful nightmare), Game of Thrones (except for that rape-y episode), Being Human (don’t judge me; the final season was great!), Enlisted (RIP), Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown (this has informed a lot of vacation eating), The Bridge (cancelled just when it was getting good), and Bob’s Burgers (Tina is my spirit animal).
Nicole: If we’re doing honourable mentions, we can’t not talk about Orphan Black. What an amazing show. Although “show” doesn’t even cover it. It’s an incredible collection of characters all played by Tatiana Maslany. Talk about getting my undivided attention!
Jen: Yes! It wasn’t as good as season one so it didn’t crack my top 10, but it was close. She’s so, so good. And that dance scene!
Nicole: We had so much good TV to choose from this year (despite most of the new fall shows totally tanking). I feel like there are a bunch of other great shows we didn’t even get to talk about.
Jen: Yeah, this was a crazy strong year for TV. Especially because everything was so different. It wasn’t like the last couple of years, where stuff like Breaking Bad dominated every conversation and year-end list. There was way more variety this year, and not just from the “prestige” networks like HBO. And with platforms like Netflix and Amazon amping up their original content, it’s just going to get more and more niche and fragmented, which is great news for anyone like us who love geeking out about TV (and Joshua Jackson’s scruffy beard).
(Depending on how much wine we have left, we might tackle our Worst TV of 2014 later in the week. Stay tuned!)