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Two Tivos To Paradise 12.19.14: The 50 Best TV Shows of 2014

December 19, 2014 | Posted by Al Norton

Hello friends. What’s good? A very happy Hanukkah to all of those who are celebrating as well as early Merry Christmas wishes. This is easily my favorite time of year and the twins, who are now six, are all in on the concept of Santa, elves, and the naughty and nice lists, which comes in handy when trying to keep them in line. Oh, who am I kidding; nothing keeps six year old twins in line.

My early Christmas present to myself was getting a four pack of Red Sox tickets last weekend including Opening Day, which I missed the last two years but before that had attended 10 in a row. Speaking of Fenway and holiday gifts, I know Mrs. Tivo already got me tickets to see James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt when they play there in August.

For those of you who will be up early on Sunday morning and either live in Boston or don’t mind listening to the radio on the internet, I will be doing two 20 minute segments on the Boston Sunday Review on 98.5 The Sports Hub to talk about this very column as well as the recent Golden Globe nominations. This is my first foray into radio and I am hoping it opens a door or two.

Before we get to the business at hand, let’s look at a few videos, starting with the trailer for History’s upcoming Sons of Liberty mini-series…

And here’s a Best of Conan 2014 Supercut…

And finally we give you a look at MTV’s upcoming action/thriller series Eye Candy

This is the start of our two week look back at the best that TV had to offer in 2014, with today being the Best Shows of the Year and next week being our 2014 TV Entertainers of the Year. As always I welcome and encourage your comments below about what shows you think should have made it but please keep in mind that just because we disagree doesn’t make either of our opinions less valid. I love and respect everyone’s passion for TV but my goal is for the level of discourse to rise about “epic fail” and “you lost all credibility when…” types of posts. One of the reasons I am so happy and proud of the TTTP Facebook page is that I think it’s one of the best places on the web for folks to come and chat about TV in an intelligent and constructive manner. I am not saying you shouldn’t feel free to tear me a new one if you think it’s deserved but at least be creative about it!

And here we go…

TOP 10 SHEER ENTERTAINMENT VALUE PROGRAMS OF 2014
(This category highlights shows that aren’t necessarily at a quality level to be considered the Best-of-the-Best but still bring the entertainment week in, week out.)

Honorable Mention: Banshee, House of Lies, Fake Off, The Voice, The Fosters, Elementary, Marvel’s Agents of Shield

10) Undateable (NBC)
I am fully away that Undateable is not a particularly good show but it made me laugh out loud all summer, enough so that it leads off this list. This talented cast had a ton of fun working together and it came across on screen in a big way. And yes, at least 25% of the reason the series is on the list is the large scale showcase it provides Ron Funches.

9) Girl Meets World (Disney)
Uneven at the start and forever to be unfairly compared to the show it’s a sequel to (GMW is on a different network with a different target audience), Girl Meets World still had moments of sheer entertainment greatness, ones that evoked nostalgia as well as made genuine points about the way kids treat each other.

8) The Affair (Showtime)
The conceit is genius – two versions of the same events, shown back-to-back, with the audience left to draw their own conclusions – and the rest of the part (writing, acting) strong as well, with The Affair being one of the few shows on TV to raise issues of class/privilege. The second half of the season wasn’t as good as the first but it’s still highly entertaining TV, and even more impressive, it is a unique viewing experience, something that is quite rare in this day and age.

7) Community (NBC)
If could have eliminated some of the episodes and made Community’s last NBC run 6 – 8 episodes long, it would have ended up on the best comedies list, since when the show is at the top of its game, as it was with the episode after Pierce died and then Troy’s goodbye, it’s still as good as anything on TV. The weaker episodes weren’t bad, they just weren’t as good, and that’s how Greendale ends up on this list.

6) Scorpion (CBS)
A throw back show if there ever was one, where a rag tag team solves mysteries each week and the audience comes along for the ride because the characters are well written and the cast strong. Particular praise goes to Robert Patrick, who has been given a role that allow him to show as much heart as he does (clenched) jaw.

5) Arrow (The CW)
The darker of The CW’s two superhero shows, Arrow takes itself very seriously, which works when it comes to the audience buying into the stakes and also when it comes to providing levity; the show’s writers know its characters and its audience very well, leading to plenty of humor without costing an ounce of tension. And the fight scenes continue to kick ass.

4) Jane the Virgin (The CW)
It’s been a strong fall for The CW, as this list attests, and Jane the Virgin is a big reason, a show that pulls you in to its story and characters while at the same time aping the telenovela genre. Gina Rodriguez is the real deal and the show has the best narration since Pushing Daisies.

3) The Last Ship (TNT)
The Last Ship came out of the gate strong, with Eric Dane providing instant credibility as the man in charge, allowing the audience to understand why his officers and crew would follow his orders in a world gone mad. From there the stories fleshed out the rest of the characters and viewers realized this was going to be a fun ride (or should I say, sail).

2) Faking It (MTV)
Don’t be put off because it’s a scripted teen series on MTV because you’d be missing out on the best teens TV has to offer these days, ones that may be a wee bit wise beyond their years but make up for it with authentic fits of immaturity that spur the stories forward.

1) The Flash (The CW)
Perhaps the single most fun hour on TV right now and the closest a show has ever come to recreating the exhilaration I used to feel when I got a new issue of a comic book as a kid. Grant Gustin as Barry Allen is the best casting of a relative unknown in recent memory. The show is fun but can still pull at your heartstrings without seeming cloying. Pure joy to watch.

TOP 10 REALITY PROGRAMS OF 2014

Honorable Mention: The Voice, Top Chef, MasterChef, MasterChef: Junior

10) Wizard Wars (Syfy)
One of the most surprising shows of 2014, this competition series on Syfy pitted teams of magicians/illusionists against each other and then a duo of top flight pros. What these people came up with in such a small amount of time was AMAZING, and the show gave the audience just the right amount of peaking behind the curtain. Penn and Teller led the judges’ panel to great effect.

9) Catfish (MTV)
Not that you’d know it from watching most TV but America is a huge place with LOTS of different kinds of people, many of whom deal with issues of insecurity and self-doubt to the extreme that they escape reality by pretending to be other people, even if those other people are simply extensions of who they wish they could be. Catfish brings those people in to your home on a weekly basis and does so without judgment. It’s can’t-look-away TV.

8) So You Think You Can Dance (Fox)
People working their asses off in pursuit of a dream with the guts to get up in front of an audience of millions to demonstrate their skills. This is one of my favorite formulas for TV success and when you add in judges who offer concrete feedback while still being entertaining, you’ve got a real winner.

7) Deadliest Catch (Discovery)
The “old reliable” of the reality world, Deadliest Catch continues to tell compelling stories about interesting people doing a very dangerous job. What I love about Catch is that it puts people on TV that really wouldn’t be on otherwise, and in this instance I mean that as a good thing.

6) Restaurant Impossible (Food)
Restaurant Impossible changed things up a bit in 2014, really diving in to the people behind these restaurants as much as they did the physical space but what made it stand out was that the focus on the dysfunctioning personalities wasn’t done to exploit them in promos but rather to fix the whole package. Robert Irvine showed an unbelievable ability to get to the heart of the matter, with a surprising knack for knocking down emotional walls getting folks to focus on what matters.

5) Dancing with the Stars (ABC)
The highest praise I can give DWTS is that each season there’s at least one star who I didn’t care for much coming in but who over the course of their time with the show works their asses off and wins me over. And there’s at least one time that a performance makes me cry. No, it’s not rocket science and yes, the show frequently stretches the definition of the word “star” but it’s fun and everyone takes it just seriously enough for the audience to buy in.

4) Shark Tank (ABC)
Shark Tank may only rank fourth on this list (which is not too shabby) but if I were to do a list of the most important reality shows and/or of shows that have contributed the most to society, it would be number one with a bullet. No show on TV has given as many business people a legit shot at a level of success they would have never been able to come close to otherwise, nor has any show inspired anywhere near the same number of small business people. I know it’s a TV show that does frequently end up making rich people richer but the show does actual good, and that’s cause for celebration.

3) Chopped (Food)
The simplest of concepts – chefs create dishes using mystery ingredients – has become a cottage industry for Food Network, with all sorts of special episodes and tournaments that only add to the appeal. I’ve never not been entertained by an episode of Chopped, and I can’t think of many shows I can say the same about.

2) American Ninja Warrior (NBC)
I can’t say for sure if this season of American Ninja Warrior was significantly better than previous or if I was just paying more attention this summer but the show managed to get me invested in the competitors on a level I would never have imagined and turned it into weekly family viewing at our house.

1) Top Chef Duels (Bravo)
Top Chef: Duels gets the top spot on this list in its first season because it featured the single best collection of cooking talent ever accumulated for a single season involved in challenges that were all about their skills. Also awesome was the friendly boasting that went on between the chefs, who prepared their foods on opposite sides of the same room, although the very best part of the show was the end, where the two chefs sat down over a bottle of wine and ate the food the other had cooked.

TOP 10 NON-FICTION PROGRAMS OF 2014

Honorable Mentions: The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, The Colbert Report

10) American Masters (PBS)
When it comes to in-depth biographies of interesting and important figures from all corners of history, nothing comes close to the consistent quality of American Masters.

9) The Soup (E!)
The Soup has always been highly entertaining but the switch to live broadcasts added an energy to the show that has made it even more fun as of late, as has the increase in guest stars. One of my favorite half hours of TV every week and now it’s back on Fridays (yea)!!!

8) The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon
They didn’t mess with the formula that led to Jimmy Fallon’s success on Late Night as much as they did turn things up to 11, with the new timeslot and name of the show allowing greater access to top flight stars who would agree to participate in general silliness. I mean, there’s no reason celebrity lip synch battles should be anywhere near as much fun as they are, which is a testament to the general kid-in-a-candy-shop energy Fallon brings to the gig. And let’s not forget to mention his two (not so) secret weapons, Steve Higgins and The Roots, both the best in the business at what they do.

7) The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
In many ways this has been a rough year for the U.S. and frankly that’s when Jon Stewart and The Daily Show are at their best, finding absurd humor in the most painful of situations and acting as a voice of reason (not THE voice of reason but even if you disagree with Stewart’s take on the world, there is no denying how well thought out and genuine he is, and how much he cares about country). The Daily Show should not be how one gets their news but no show on TV is better at skewering those entities who we should be getting it from.

6) POV (PBS)
I’d say that PBS has it easy with POV, selecting from a huge pool of documentaries to present the best and most interesting non-fiction filmmaking the world has to offer, but that wouldn’t really be fair because any network could do that, it’s just PBS that chooses to do so and understands its viewers want to learn as much as they can about as many different things as they can. Season Pass POV and you’ll end up a more informed, more well-rounded person.

5) 30 for 30 (ESPN)
To call 30 for 30 a sports documentary series is almost to do it a bit of a disservice as it tells its stories at such a level that even the most non of non-sports fans can enjoy. What makes it such a consistent stand out is the way they frequently avoid the obvious angle and subject matter, going where the good story is instead of following the big name or the audience hook. I can put up with a thousand silly SportsCenter catchphrases if it means we get more 30 for 30.

4) Inside Comedy with David Steinberg (Showtime)
One of the few shows on TV I watch that I wish was longer; watching David Steinberg sit down with fellow comedy legends (and some legends to-be) to discuss their craft is always an amazing half hour, one I always find myself wanting to supersize. Anyone with even a passing interest in history of comedy in the US should be tuning in.

3) Outside the Lines (ESPN)
In a year where it might have been easy to pull back the reigns a little so as not to potentially offend the league they are doing business with, ESPN’s Outside the Lines went in the other direction, leading the charge on the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson stories and confirming their well-earned reputation as the best sports news reporting program on all of TV. If you wanted to follow the world of sports and could only season pass one show, Outside the Lines would be it.

2) Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)
This was the toughest call of the this entire column, with @midnight’s sheer volume of entertainment winning out but make no mistake, after an episode or two to find its footing, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver produced at a quality level second to none. Not only was the show laugh out loud funny, the point of view it presented was not so much one of a particular political philosophy but one of intelligence, and that’s something that’s sorely lacking on TV these days.

1) @Midnight (Comedy Central)
No show on TV has more of an impact on my life on a daily basis; @midnight is what I watch every morning while getting ready for work, putting me in a happy and upbeat frame of mind to face the day. I can’t count the amount of bad mornings avoided or state of mind changed thanks to a panel of talented comedians making my laugh so loud my kids come running to see what is going on. Obviously some episodes are better than others but it’s the highest praise I can muster to say I’ve never regretted watching a single episode.

TOP 10 COMEDIES OF 2014

Honorable Mentions: Modern Family, Married, About a Boy, Orange is the New Black, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Selfie, Silicon Valley, Archer, Veep, Surviving Jack

10) The Middle (ABC)
The single most underrated show on TV for several years running, The Middle is one of the few shows that portrays the economic class so much of the country lives in – lower middle class – and no show is better at demonstrating the happy resignation that so many families approach day-to-day life with. I laugh all the time watching The Middle, I’ve cried a few times watching The Middle, and I never feel like I’ve wasted my time watching The Middle.

9) Getting On (HBO)
Likely the least watched show on this list of 50 and that’s a shame because it is so good, with rich characterizations leading to much laughter, both the out loud and the kind where you nod out of familiarity. Also, the more Laurie Metcalf on my TV screen, the better!

8) blackish (ABC)
Rarely has a comedy come on the scene that gets things this right this quickly; from disciplining your kids to dealing with their burgeoning sexuality to being careful not to confuse your own hopes and dreams with theirs, blackish has nailed so many parts of parenting and done so in a truthful but exaggeratedly funny way that has led me to both laugh and clap while watching. Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross are perfect together.

7) Parks and Recreation (ABC)
Parks and Recreation is so good that sometimes one might take it for granted but no show uses its ensemble cast as well, combining some absurd characters and situations with genuine emotion. I can’t think of a show that has made better cast additions and also survived major departures as well, nor can I think of a show on this list I will miss more when it signs off this spring.

6) Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central)
I would marry Amy Schumer. Wait, did I say that out loud? She’s as funny and smart as any person with their own show on TV right now, proving her ability to go from perfectly satirizing Aaron Sorkin’s writing style to perfectly mocking female insecurities to perfectly capturing the frustration we all feel when on the phone with cable customer service.

5) Key & Peele (Comedy Central)
The highest praise I can give Key & Peele, which operates at a higher level of consistent quality than any sketch comedy show I’ve ever seen, is that when I tune in each week, I have no idea what subject matter they will be covering, what topics will be hit upon, just that I am going to love it.

4) Louie ((FX)
Louie doesn’t always hit a homerun but when it’s at its best, there’s no better, or more honest comedy on TV. I love knowing that every second of film, every utterance of dialogue, every little twist and detour in the story, is 100% what Louis C.K. wanted me to see and hear.

3) You’re the Worst (FX)
The biggest scripted surprise of 2014 was easily You’re the Worst, the best relationship comedy TV has seen in ages, one that provides legitimate insight into the way (some) people think as well as the roadblocks we create for ourselves on the road to happiness. It was also laugh out loud funny, with great tangents on Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, celebrity books, and L.A. hipsters. Aya Cash gave my favorite female performance by someone not named Claire Danes. Can’t wait for season two!

2) Enlisted (Fox)
Oh, my poor dear Enlisted; so funny, so endearing, and so few viewers. Fox did it no favors by putting it on Friday nights – Fox should have a bi-law that says every new winter/spring show gets to air after American Idol at least once – but those of us who did watch know just how strong the writing and acting was and how rare – and important – the subject matter was. Gone too soon.

1) Transparent (Amazon)
Hands down the best new show of 2014 and if I were to make a non-genre specific list of the best television programs of 2014, Transparent would top that, too. It’s so rare for a show to seem fresh and also very familiar but these 10 half hours are just that, surprising, funny, heartwarming/breaking, and overall providing the best viewing experience I had this year, thanks in no small part to a career best performance from Jeffrey Tambour. Between Transparent and the free two day shipping, Amazon Prime is the bargain of the year!

TOP 10 DRAMAS OF 2014

Honorable Mentions: Mad Men, The Good Wife, Justified, Longmire, House of Cards

10) Game of Thrones (HBO)
Game of Thrones is always a huge dilemma for me because on the one hand I can acknowledge it as incredibly well made series – the best of its kind, ever – that generates huge amounts of passion from its fans but on the other hand, it leaves me kind of cold, not really caring that much (or at all) about the characters. In the end, its technical excellence is impossible to deny and I admire at how well they are executing their vision of the show so I am left with no other option but to include it on this list.

9) Halt and Catch Fire (AMC)
The little drama series that could; no renewal made me as happy as AMC picking up season two of Halt and Catch Fire because no show did as good a job catching me off guard with their characters and stories, always taking things in a different (and less obvious) direction but making sure those choices were authentic. HACF quickly became a show I watched the night (Sunday) it was on, not because I feared it being spoiled but because I was just looking forward to it so much I couldn’t wait!

8) Homeland (Showtime)
I am not fully ready to declare the current season of Homeland to be better than the first one but the fact that it even comes close says a ton about how good the show has been this fall. I can’t think of another show that has so dramatically shifted gears three seasons in, let alone been this good and maintained the overall tone established from the outset. Claire Danes work ranks up there with the best performances of the TTTP era.

7) The Walking Dead (AMC)
I know that in a column like this I use different forms of a lot of the same phrases, like “best blank of the TTTP era” or “unmatched blank on TV right now” but it’s because the shows on these lists are they best TV has to offer so that’s my frame of reference and its why I feel comfortable saying no show in TV history has ever had the sustained level of tension of The Walking Dead, where every second is life-and-death and every episode an emotionally and sometimes physically exhausting viewing experience.

6) Parenthood (NBC)
The only broadcast network show to make this list is also coincidently the only network drama that doesn’t involve the apprehension of criminals, weekly life-or-death medical situations, or legal/political intrigue, as in it’s the only drama on network TV about real people! One of the best ensemble casts in recent memory bring laughter, tears, and pure joy to the audience as we watch the daily life of the Braverman family and wish we could be as wise in our own lives.

5) Sons of Anarchy (FX)
The final season of Sons of Anarchy may have taken a little too much time getting to where they were going but those final steps were as emotionally powerful as anything on TV in 2014, with award worthy performances from Charlie Hunnam, Jimmy Smits, Katey Sagal, and Walton Goggins. The conversations between Jax and Nero as well as the absolutely perfect scene with Tig and Venus are among the best moments of this – or really any – year.

4) Rectify (Sundance)
Rectify does indeed have a main story and multiple story threads that play off of it but in reality the show is much more interested in exploring the human condition than it is getting the plot from point A to point B, and thankfully it’s on a network willing to give them the room to do so. The cast is so natural and so real, with an overall pace as close to actual life as any on TV.

3) Suits (USA)
Other shows get more publicity, more awards love, more magazine covers, but Suits just keeps chugging along, with the sharpest dialogue on all of TV and series-long story arcs coming together in unexpected ways at the worst of times (worst for the characters, great for the audience). I couldn’t write about Suits without specifically mentioning Rick Hoffman, who has created in Louis Litt a Hall of Fame worthy character who is sometimes loved, sometimes hated, and frequently underestimated to disastrous results.

2) True Detective (HBO)
I don’t care that the end wasn’t as good as the set up because the overall quality was so good as to almost have it taking the top spot on this list. The duel timelines, the interrogations, that incredible one shot tracking scene, and two of the best actors in the business given seriously meaty scripts to sink their teeth into equaled one of the best one season viewing experiences ever and in many ways successfully reinvented the wheel (while American Horror Story beat True Detective to the “one season story” punch, many look at it a genre show whereas after the success of TD, there will be a LOT more of these).

1) Fargo (FX)
I went back and forth about this top spot for pretty much all of November until I finally decided that the drama series I enjoyed watching the most in 2014 was also the one that was the best acted, with fantastic writing, and therefore Fargo deserved this top spot. What made it so good wasn’t just the performances from the leads – Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, and Allison Tolman – but that EVERYONE in the cast, from Bob Odenkirk to Key & Peele to Keith Carradine to Adam Goldberg – all knocked it out of the park, making strong impressions no matter how much screen time they got but never at the expense of the story. Fargo was funny, dark, and I never really knew where it was going, and all in all was THE best drama series of 2014.

And there you have it, 50 shows on 24 networks; you might not agree with all of my choices but no one can question the breadth of programming we sampled to come up with this list! Hop on down to the comments section below and share your picks for the best of 2014!

We’ll be back next week with our last column of 2014, our picks for the TTTP TV Entertainers of the Year. A wonderful Christmas to all those who celebrate and a great day of movies and Chinese food to everyone else!

Two Tivos To Paradise
@Midnight, A to Z, About A Boy, American Idol, America’s Best Cook, Antiques Roadshow, Beat Bobby Flay, Archer, Arrow, Auction Hunters, Baby Daddy, Bakery Boss, Benched, Bitten, Black-ish, The Blacklist, Bones, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Buddy’s Bakery Rescue, Cake Boss, Chasing Life, Chicago Fire, Chicago PD, Chopped, Comic Book Men, Community, Cougar Town, Counting Cars, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Cutthroat Kitchen, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Dancing with the Stars, The Deadliest Catch, Face Off, Faking It, Falling Skies, Family Guy, Fargo, Flipping Out, Food Court Wars, Food Network Challenge, Food Network Star, Forever, The Fosters, Frankenfood, Ghost Hunters, Ghost Mine, Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce, Glee, Gotham, Graceland, Great Food Truck Race, Grey’s Anatomy, Haunted Collector, Haunted Highway, Haunted Treasure, Hawaii Five-0, House of Lies, Inside Comedy with David Steinberg, Inside Amy Schumer, Iron Chef America, Justified, Key and Peele, Kitchen Inferno. The Last Ship, The Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Late Night with Seth Myers, Law And Order: Special Victims Unit, The League, Lost Girl, Louie, Mad Men, Madam Secretary, Major Crimes, Married, Marry Me, MasterChef, MasterChef Canada, MasterChef: Junior, Masters of Sex, The Middle, Mike and Molly, The Mindy Project, Modern Family, Monster Man, Murder in the First, Nashville, New Girl, Next Great Baker, Next Iron Chef, NY Med, On the Menu, The Originals, Outside the Lines, Parenthood, Parks & Recreation, Penny Dreadful, Project Runway, Project Runway All-Stars, Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook Off, Rachael vs. Guy: Kids Cook Off, Ray Donovan, Real Time With Bill Maher, Rectify, Restaurant Impossible, Revenge, Royal Pains, Satisfaction, Saturday Night Live, Scorpion, Selfie, Shark Wranglers, So You Think You Can Dance?, The Soup, Suits, Supernatural, The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon, Top Chef, Top Chef: Duels, Top Chef: Masters, Tosh.0, True Detective, Undateable, Under the Gunn, The Vampire Diaries, The Voice, The Walking Dead, Wizard Wars, Worst Cooks In America, You’re The Worst,

People Love You When They Know You’re Leaving Soon
Here ends another Two Tivos To Paradise.

We’ll be back next week with our 2014 TTTP TV Entertainers of the Year! Enjoy the week with your friends and family!

Sources for this week’s column include Daily Variety, Entertainment Weekly, TV Guide, and Hollywood Reporter (plus the web sites for those publications) as well as Aintit.cool.com, TVline.com & Deadline.com.