Doc Jensen's 10 Best New TV Shows of 2014
10. Silicon Valley (HBO)
I found the first season of Mike Judge's sweet-and-tart comedy about young tech strivers trying to make a mint while never selling out always endearing, sometimes hilarious, wildly uneven, and not fully formed. The sudden departure of Peter Gregory from the story at midseason (due to the death of scene-stealing Christopher Evan Welch) cost the sitcom mojo and big picture cohesiveness. And that finale laid an egg. Still, Judge's satire is sharp, star Thomas Middleditch is perfect as the shy geek hero, and the cast around him is superb. I look forward to seeing Silicon Valley fulfill all of its promise in season 2.
9. Outlander (Starz)
If there was one place on Earth I wouldn't want to be magically transported while watching Earth witches perform a fertility dance on Halloween, it would be cold and craggy and haggis-y Scotland, at any point in its history, especially the time of kilts. My legs, they are not a-flattered by such things. This is all a way of saying how good Outlander is: I have near zero appreciation for its sense of place, and yet I watch it anyway. Ronald D. Moore of Battlestar Galactica, one of television's top world-builders and sophisticated dramatists, finally scores anew in an unlikely genre, honoring and elevating Diana Gabaldon's don't-call-it-romance! historical fantasy. EW 2014 Breakout Caitriona Balfe is fantastic as the time-tossed heroine struggling to survive and reinventing herself following the horrors of World War II, and Tobias Menzies gives us not only one of television's more admirable husbands as Frank Randall but most memorable villains as Jonathan ''Black Jack'' Randall. And that Sam Heughan, he be dreamy. Acts good, too.
8. The Flash (The CW)
Get on your cosmic treadmill and travel back in time to when I first sung the show's praises. Or just click here.
7. The Affair (Showtime)
To a banner year for unreliable narrators and psychological thrillers, from True Detective to David Fincher's adaptation of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, you should add The Affair, an engrossing he said/she said/who's lying? examination of sex and marriage, truth and desire. A quartet of fine actors—Dominic West, Ruth Wilson, Maura Tierney, and Joshua Jackson—assay the twists and turns and tortured psyches with skill.
6. The Knick (Cinemax)
After Jeffrey Tambor in Transparent and Matthew McConaughey in True Detective, my favorite performance of TV 2014 came from the star of The Knick?director Steven Soderbergh. No offense, Clive Owen, you were swell, but I've seen your miserable genius antihero kind before, if not in turn-of-the-century scrubs and natty white shoes. What I rarely see is an auteur like Soderbergh coming to television, staying for an entire season, and producing such an inventive, refined filmmaking statement.
5. Last Week Tonight With John Oliver (HBO)
We thought we didn't need another late-night satirical news show. We were wrong. John Oliver becomes the latest Jon Stewart graduate who threatens to do his old boss's gig better, and the fact that no one seems happier about that than Stewart himself (see: this clip) still makes Stewart, like, more awesome than all of them. Oliver's declaration of greatness: Net neutrality. No need to say more; just watch.
4. Jane the Virgin (The CW)
To borrow from the hilariously cheeky telenovela narrator, it is important for you to know...that Jane the Virgin is utterly muy bien. Its virtues are as paradoxical as its pregnant virgin premise: funny and full of feeling, wickedly ironic and wonderfully sincere. Gina Rodriguez is the season's breakout star, grounding the soapy dramedy's winning whimsy and hairpin twists with real humanity. I love drinking its milkshake every week. And if that makes no sense, then start watching, pronto.
3. True Detective (HBO)
The year 2014 will be remembered as the big bang of the modern crime anthology drama. True Detective was the first shot fired, and finished an enthralling, pop phenom run as a messy masterpiece. It was immersive and urgent (kudos to Cary Joji Fukunaga, runner-up for television's director of the year), iconic (thank you, Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson), and flawed (hello, not-so-lovely lady characters). Watching how rookie showrunner Nic Pizzolatto builds on his success and learns from his mistakes will make season 2 must-see TV, even without McConaughey and Harrelson.
2. Fargo (FX)
Melissa and I selected Fargo as one of the 10 Best Shows of 2014. This pick was due, in no small part, to creator/writer Noah Hawley emerging as a potent, original storyteller who aped the sensibility of the Coen brothers' classic—a glorious irony that itself feels quite Coenesque. As I write these words, news is breaking that Kirsten Dunst will play the lead in the second season's new faux true crime take set in the Midwest. Can't wait.
1. Transparent (Amazon)
No new character this season captured my imagination more than the transgender parent of the title, and no performance moved me more than Jeffrey Tambor's realization of Maura, the woman formerly known as Mort, coming into her true self when she should be thinking about retirement. The prospect of watching her continued evolution over the years to come thrills me, as does the prospect of watching her adult children grow—each of them, like her, works in progress, mysteries of self resolving. Sarah (Amy Landecker), Josh (Jay Duplass), and Ali (Gaby Hoffmann, in a breakthrough year) could have been an annoying trio of overgrown unhappy lost-in-life L.A. brats. They aren't, thanks to the portrayers and their maker: Writer/director Jill Soloway observes, does not judge, shows, does not tell, and in the process precipitates a quality of amazing grace that inspires. My colleague Melissa Maerz recently wrote that Transparent belongs to a beautiful 2014 entertainment trend that challenges and stretches the way we look at the world while also entertaining us. I couldn't agree more.