The 15 Best New TV Shows of 2014

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If 2013 was a great year for new, suspenseful thrillers and dark comedies, this was the year of new comedies. Now it’s true, we have plenty of dramas and thrillers in our top spots, but three of our top five choices are comedies (okay, with one dark-ish comedy, but still). This week we also named Amazon’s Transparent the most important new show of the year, and it’s in good company with many other series that sought to revolutionize television in a variety of ways. These new shows did not shy away from social critique, strong feminist messages, philosophy and high theory. That such things were explored, and we still found plenty to laugh about, proves that many of the people behind our favorite new shows have mastered the fine art of entertaining audiences, whilst dropping knowledge. Here are our picks for the 15 best new TV shows of 2014.

15. How To Get away with Murder

Creator: Peter Nowalk
Stars: Viola Davis, Billy Brown, Alfred Enoch, Jack Falahee, Katie Findlay, Aja Naomi King, Matt McGorry, Karla Souza, Charlie Weber, Liza Weil
Network: ABC

I’ll admit, I was a bit skeptical about Shonda Rhimes’ new show. But as more episodes have premiered, and the story-lines have become increasingly more interesting, the show has exemplified itself as witty, invigorating, and addictive. In what could be her breakout TV role, Viola Davis excels as cunning Professor Annalise Keating, whose only viable weakness lies in her emotions. HTGAWM offers a fresh new perspective on network television. Merging comedy, drama, suspense, mystery (and lots of sex), this is one of the most appealing shows of 2014. The most impressive component of HTGAWM (other than Viola Davis, of course) is its attempts to boldly and honestly portray gay couples, along with dialogue and plots that inspire discussion of racial issues. The David Allen case centered on gentrification and the displacement of low-income blacks by wealthy white moguls, while Connor’s openly gay, casual relationships invite the kinds of storylines that primetime networks normally shy away from. My
only complaint is the forever-away January 29, 2015 return date.—Lesley Brock

14. Halt and Catch Fire

Creators: Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers
Stars: Lee Pace, Scoot McNairy, Mackenzie Davis, Kerry Bishé, Toby Huss
Network: AMC
Like Cameron’s worker bee/gamers whose forward thinking only pertains to what’s in front of them, several shortsighted critics expected a whimpering end to television’s Halt and Catch Fire. But not unlike fictional Cardiff Electric’s visionaries who are creating the next big thing in 1980’s computing, AMC sees a future for this wonderful series, giving the drama a chance to prove itself with at least a second season. The acting alone deserves a day of binge-watching. Scoot McNairy’s and Lee Pace’s brain vs. brawn performances are electric, and Mackenzie Davis is splendid as the passionate programming punk genius Cameron. There’s plenty of gold left in these storylines.—Tim Basham

13. The Knick

Creators: Jack Amiel and Michael Begler
Stars: Clive Owen, André Holland, Jeremy Bobb, Juliet Rylance
Network: Cinemax
Even though The Knick was conceived by Jack Amiel and Michael Begler, and even though every episode of it is filled with fantastic acting performances (Clive Owen should win a lot of awards for his work as the drug-addicted megalomaniac, Dr. Charles Thackery) and incredible attention to detail… the success of this series falls square in the lap of Steven Soderbergh. By allowing him to direct, shoot, and edit each installment, he turned The Knick from just another medical drama into something far more artistic. Even when the most gruesome medical procedures were playing out on screen, Soderbergh’s use of color, lighting, and camera movement made it so you couldn’t look away.—Robert Ham

12. BoJack Horseman

Creator: Raphael Bob-Waksberg
Stars: Will Arnett, Alison Brie, Paul F. Tompkins, Amy Sedaris, Aaron Paul
Network: Netflix

BoJack Horseman, the title character in Netflix’s original animated series, exists in that weird world between fame and obscurity. He shows the outward signs of the Hollywood life—the gorgeous party pad in the hills, the perennial houseguest, and the agent who is always on the other end of his phone—but the work isn’t coming. Years after his hit sitcom, Horsin’ Around, it’s time for the anthropomorphic equine to write a memoir. The book is essentially the premise for the first season of this showbiz satire. BoJack (Will Arnett) becomes too close to his ghostwriter (Alison Brie), who is also dating his rival (Paul F. Tompkins), and has to face some hard truths about his life. Bojack Horseman could have easily lost its way in the deluge of insider humor and L.A.-centric references. Instead, the show emerges with well-developed characters and a sense of cynicism that pushes the story forward. It’s a comedy that’s perfect for the Netflix marathon age.—Liz Ohanesian

11. You’re the Worst

Creator: Stephen Falk
Stars: Aya Cash, Chris Geere, Desmin Borges, Brandon Smith, Kether Donohue
Network: FX
In detailing the tumultuous coupling of two self-obsessed and self-destructive individuals,You’re the Worst rapidly evolved past its shaky pilot to become one of the most incisive comedies on television. In a season where the broadcast networks tried and failed to capitalize on lightweight romance stories with the likes of A to Z and Manhattan Love Story, You’re the Worst’s major appeal came from witnessing Jimmy and Gretchen (the titular “worsts”) gleefully skewer the conventions of a traditional rom-com, even while their lives slowly transform into a raunchier, more realistic version of one. Indeed, as abrasive and biting as the show could be, it never shortchanged heartfelt moments and character development for the sake of maintaining its edgy, alternative aesthetic. Boasting a pitch-perfect cast, as well as some of the most spirited and quotable dialogue exchanges of 2014 (a personal favorite: Jimmy’s assertion that Gretchen’s celebrity crush, Daniel Craig, “looks like an upset baby”), You’re the Worst was “the worst” in name only.—Mark Rozeman

10. The Leftovers

Creators: Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta
Stars: Justin Theroux, Amy Brenneman, Christopher Eccleston
Network: HBO
No, this was not a show for everyone. And it’s true that the first few episodes so consistently furrowed one’s brow, that, for many, it didn’t even seem worth it to finish the season. Watching those early episodes felt a bit like trudging your way through all of the “So-and-so begat so-and-so”s in the Bible, just to get to those beautiful Psalms, or the book of Isaiah, or perhaps—more accurately—the book of Ecclesiastes, or Revelations. This year, no one show achieved such intoxicating sensations of pure hopefulness and near-simultaneous hopelessness in its plots and themes. Leftovers played like an epic poem of rapture (or non-rapture, since we still don’t know what happened on the day of The Sudden Departure), and, indeed, there was a hero… we think. The hero shifted with each scene in a way that we rarely see in TV, or even film. Justin Theroux’s Kevin Garvey was the good guy, turned bad, turned pitiable, turned very bad, turned good—oftentimes, all in one episode. And Liv Tyler’s Meg Abbot—along with Carrie Coon’s incredible performance as Nora Durst—made the series a terrifying, twisted, beautiful experience. Don’t even get me started on Ann Dowd’s Patti. Patti! These characters are so flawed and human, in a story that both challenges and embraces themes in organized religion, all while being exciting, violent, sexy, smart, and difficult. To borrow from another excellent show (The Good Wife), “This is Kafka in action,” (or even Derrida in action). So perhaps, this is a show for everyone, but everyone has to do a little work to get to the payoff. And the payoff—in this case, one of the most riveting season finales, possibly ever—is huge.—Shannon M. Houston

9. Rick and Morty

Creators: Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon
Stars: Justin Roiland, Chris Parnell, Spencer Grammer, Sarah Chalke
Network: Adult Swim

Rick and Morty is funny. Damn funny. Anyone who knows the work of co-creators Dan Harmon (Community) and Justin Roiland (House of Cosbys) could have guessed that it would be. Far fewer could have anticipated the impressive density of the cartoon, originally imagined as a one-note Back to the Future parody. The genre-bending first season of Rick and Morty packs in fresh riffs on everything from “The Monkey’s Paw” to collected works of David Cronenberg, resulting in one the most inventive fictional universes in recent memory, animated or otherwise. Pair it with a stellar voice cast led by Roiland himself, and the often bizarre, always hilarious Rick and Morty becomes required viewing for science fiction-loving comedy fans, as well as one of television’s best new offerings in 2014.—Hudson Hongo

8.The Affair

Creators: Sarah Treem and Hagai Levi
Stars: Dominic West, Ruth Wilson, Maura Tierney, Joshua Jackson
Network: Showtime

Showtime has managed to produce a series that is about an affair, without being entirely about sex. Yes, there is booty involved (thank you, Dominic West), but this is no 10-episode booty call. The Affair is an intriguing murder mystery that makes you think about how you perceive the world, and how you are perceived by others. The complexity of the characters, combined with two conflicting story lines leaves you in a constant, but thrilling state of “Wait, what?”—which is what I want from a premium cable channel drama. Most importantly, The Affair deserves our unending gratitude for bringing Josh Jackson back to television.—Keri Lumm

7. Broad City

Creators: Ilana Glazer, Abbi Jacobson
Stars: Ilana Glazer, Abbi Jacobson, Hannibal Buress, John Gemberling
Network: Comedy Central
For the last few years, Comedy Central has consistently presented us with great comedy duos: Key & Peele, Kroll and Daly, and now Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson. Broad City—one of the year’s best debuts—sets up its premise in the premiere’s opening lines, where Abbi and Ilana are desperately trying to become the boss bitches they are in their minds. This epic friendship is instantaneously contagious, and the brilliant plots, centered on the two twenty-somethings scraping by in New York City, makes this one of the great, promising new series of the year. And it is absolutely one of the funniest shows on television right now.—Ross Bonaime

6. Review

Creators: Andy Daly and Charlie Siskel
Stars: Andy Daly, Forrest MacNeil
Network: Comedy Central
Hands down, one of 2014’s most pleasant surprises was the Andy Daly-led reimagining of Review with Myles Barlow, an offbeat, controversial Australian format about a man who “reviews” life experiences. In adapting the series for the U.S., Daly and Co. softened some of the original show’s harsher edges, while never steering away from the inherent tragicomedy of its premise. Leading the charge in this version is Daly’s Forrest MacNeil, Review’s affable, yet overzealous host who, over the course of nine episodes, puts himself through all manner of surreal challenges. Whether it involves experimenting with drug addiction, becoming a racist, participating in an orgy, or—in the season’s highlight episode— eating an ungodly amount of pancakes, Forest’s dedication to his show, in spite of the disastrous implications it has for his personal life, makes for some of the most brilliant, cringe-inducing, comedy this side of Louie.—Mark Rozeman

5. Transparent

Creator: Jill Soloway
Stars: Jeffrey Tambor, Gaby Hoffmann, Amy Landecker, Jay Duplass
Network: Amazon
There’s so much that could have gone wrong with Transparent. For one, an out-of-context image of Jeffrey Tambor in a dress is bound to attract some smirks. What’s more, on initial glance, the show’s content (marital discord, adultery, unplanned pregnancy) reads like a writers’ room whiteboard on a network soap. As creator Jill Soloway demonstrates, however, sometimes it’s all in the execution. Indeed, what’s immediately striking about the show, is how disarmingly intimate it all feels. In telling the story of an elderly parent’s decision to finally reveal her transgender lifestyle to her children, Soloway does not take any shortcuts in depicting the subsequent shockwaves the decision causes. In the process, she endows each character and plot development with the proper dramatic weight, without ever sacrificing a sense of levity. Maintaining such a tone is a proverbial tightrope act, and Soloway and her creative team somehow manage to keep their balance throughout each of the season’s ten episodes, without breaking a sweat. Hear that? That’s the sound of Amazon Studios throwing down the gauntlet in the online TV revolution.—Mark Rozeman

4. Silicon Valley

Creator: Mike Judge
Stars: Thomas Middleditch, T.J. Miller, Josh Brener, Kumail Nanjiani
Network: HBO
While the rest of Mike Judge’s television shows have had a certain fondness for the subjects they lampoon, it’s the sheer anger of Silicon Valley towards the tech industry and its investors that infuses the show with life. This places Silicon Valley more in the style of Judge’s movies, which tend towards a caustic loathing of the entirety of broken systems. That isn’t to say that the show isn’t funny, but that its humor, even the wacky slapstick bits, is more cutting than any traditional sitcom. Silicon Valley isn’t cringe comedy, but it has the same level of antipathy towards much of its cast, which makes the show feel real in a way that sets it apart from other sitcoms. Above all, though, Silicon Valley simply finds its world absurd and hilarious, a counterfeit utopia so out of control that there’s always something entertaining going on. This isn’t just good satire, it’s good comedy, and the show’s success at both of these levels is what makes it one of the best of the year.—Sean Gandert

3. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Creator: John Oliver
Stars: John Oliver, David Kaye
Network: HBO

When John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight was first announced, it was easy to assume the show was going to be just The Daily Show all over again. While it’s undeniable that there’s plenty of Daily Show in its DNA, Last Week Tonight found its own voice, placing just as much focus on international topics as it does local ones. More than this, though, it took the advantages of its weekly, commercial-free format to create long-form journalistic essays. This newfound time—both on the air and in the research room—has led the show to a depth rarely seen on any news program, let alone comedic ones. And while Last Week Tonight couldn’t hit it out of the park with every episode, there’s a good reason why so many of its segments went viral this year.—Sean Gandert

2. Fargo

Creator: Noah Hawley
Stars: Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Allison Tolman, Colin Hanks
Network: FX
If you made a list of untouchable auteurs—that is, creators whose work should never be built upon or remade—the Coen Brothers would sit comfortably near the top. That did little to alarm Noah Hawley, whose reimagining of the Coen Brothers’ classic 1996 murder mystery took on the unthinkable, and succeeded brilliantly. At its highest moments, Fargo was myth-making in its finest form. That’s what this show was; a myth, a legend, a tall-tale in the Minnesota cold. Every great myth needs a greater villain, and Fargo had one of the best of the year. The pairing of Hawley’s twisted antagonist, Lorne Malvo, and the always enigmatic Billy Bob Thornton (giving his finest performance in years) was perhaps the greatest achievement of the FX drama. It was clear that Malvo was only human, and yet we were fully prepared for Hawley to reveal that he was something more. In the final moments, when Malvo’s outcome was all but certain, I couldn’t help but expect for him to rise again, as he always seemed to. In a mere ten episodes, this character went from unknown to larger-than-life. For all those new shows that struggle to build worlds and characters, please, watch Fargo and take note.—Eric Walters

1. True Detective

Creator: Nic Pizzolatto
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Monaghan
Network: HBO
Now, almost a year after the show premiered, it’s much easier to look at what True Detective actually is, as opposed to what its hype would lead you to believe it is. True Detective was never about its central mystery, the mcguffin of the Yellow King’s identity, rather it was a meditation on masculinity, obsession, and—perhaps above all else—craft. Because of this, the show’s content was a perfect match for some of the finest acting, production, cinematography, and editing on display, not just on television screens but in fact anywhere in 2014. True Detective excels both as a tone poem, creating an almost primordial world out of southern Louisiana, and as a character piece, casting a dark mirror against the buddy cop genre that Hollywood hasn’t let go of since the late 1980s. While it was all but impossible to ignore the fact that many of True Detective’s ideas were cribbed from elsewhere, that does nothing to detract from the show’s strong voice and overall originality. This Southern Gothic noir set primarily in the past, nonetheless felt more universal and timely than almost anything else made this year.—Sean Gandert