One thing we’ve made a point to write about this year was how the landscape of television is changing. Cable networks are now the front runners when awards season swings around, Netflix was sent from the Gods to lead the way toward freeing us of our cable bills and we keep wondering how the major broadcast networks, the kings just a few short years ago, fell so easily off their throne.
Despite these changes, the industry is thriving and there’s so much great television out there that it’s almost impossible to encompass the entire landscape within a single list. Regardless, we asked six of our writers and editors what episodes of television stood out to them in 2014.
Here’s what we came up with…
Game of Thrones: “The Lion and the Rose”
Never in the history of television has the death of a single character been treated as a triumph of the human spirit. Yet, just such a communal moment was shared around the world when Joffrey Baratheon, First of His Name, became a personification of wickedness for the TV ages and no other. The boy king is dead, dead, dead, and there is much rejoicing.
The build up to that final breath was all the richer since it was prefaced by a 20-minute long wedding sequence (an extravagant indulgence by Game of Thrones standards) that played like a compilation of Joffrey’s Greatest Hits. There was humiliation at the expense of Tyrion Lannister, more suffering for poor Sansa, and even a foul mockery of Robb Stark and Renly Baratheon (the previous husband of his new wife). It was all so wonderfully grotesque that when this fair-haired mini-Caligula choked his last blood-dribble, no amount of gore on the showrunners’ insistence could make us sympathize with this demon spawn. It was perfect.
– David Crow
Game of Thrones: “The Watchers on the Wall”
Continuing in the footsteps of the previous three seasons, Game of Thrones saved its most explosive hour for the penultimate episode, as opposed to the finale. While there were many more deaths, and less obvious ones at that in “The Children,” “The Watchers on the Wall” is a shining example as to why people love this HBO blockbuster in the first place. The scope with which film director Neil Marshall paints the Battle of the Wall exceeds television expectations and much like his sole other contribution, season two’s equally breathtaking “Blackwater,” it becomes a small film unto itself.
“The Watchers on the Wall” begins with a pensive exterior shot that chooses to stay on Jon Snow and Sam Tarly in a wind-whipped stunner before charting the geography of the Wall with the dizziness of a horror movie geared on both grandeur and claustrophobia. And by again giving a full hour to the proceedings, creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (as well as Marshall) single-handedly make Jon Snow’s storyline fascinating after a season of complacency in the biggest battle ever filmed for a television series. It all culminated in the death of dear Ygritte, the girl kissed by fire who’s now kissed by death. The whole cast will likely share her embrace before the series is over, but her passing, much like the whole episode, was unflinching.
Game of Thrones: “The Mountain and The Viper”
Oh, Prince Oberyn Martell, how do I eulogize you without repeating what everyone else has surely said? You were the pansexual, smooth-talking, badass prince who was our great hope at knocking off the insufferably comfortable Lannisters. You fought with honor, swiftly and with a taste for the dramatics, and just when you had the Mountain reduced to a pile of dirt, you let your pride, your hubris, cloud your fighter’s instincts. Your head was squashed like Shaq squeezing the air out of a basketball, your teeth scattered across the stone like candy thrown to the pavement for children at a parade. Rest in peace, Viper.
– Nick Harley
Rick and Morty: “Rixty Minutes”
We could pick any episode of Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon’s critically-acclaimed, cult-beloved animated series as one of the best standalone entries of 2014. Odds are, Rick and Morty fans, you’ve quoted “Rixty Minutes” ad nauseam. Rick’s multidimensional TV was all that we needed to have us quoting the show for centuries. Pick your poison with some of my favorite characters, including Ants in My Eyes Johnson, The Fake Doors Salesman, Two Brothers, Old Ladies, and Gazorpazorp fucking field, bitch.
– Chris Longo
Arrow: “The Climb”
Putting Batman villain Ra’s al Ghul on a show about Green Arrow is one way to raise some eyebrows. But to do it in such a way that nobody watching even thinks about Gotham City once is another thing entirely. For a midseason finale, “The Climb” focused more on the connections between the characters than full-on action… until a climactic swordfight that ranks among the best pure action sequences we’ve seen on the screen in a long time came along to set things straight. The surprise ending didn’t hurt, either. Arrow season three has had a slow start, but “The Climb” is a reminder of everything the show can be.– Mike Cecchini
Penny Dreadful: “Possession”
Showtime’s Victorian monster mash series had a notably slow start during its first four episodes, but when it finally found its macabre footing with “Closer than Sisters,” it became as hypnotic as the Master’s Undead gaze. And never was that spell ever more alluring than when focused on the bedeviled Vanessa Ives, played with such mystique by Eva Green that she engrosses by merely sipping tea. But in this penultimate episode, she sips something considerably warmer in its hellfire.
Like “Closer Than Sisters,” “Possession” is all about Vanessa’s struggle with demonic forces so horrifically realized that even William Peter Blatty might be impressed. The sorrowful agony, however, comes not from special effects, but the cast and writing. John Logan’s scripts have spent six hours up to this point developing his motley band of anti-heroes, including a vainglorious Timothy Dalton, a callow genius in Victor Frankenstein, and Josh Hartnett’s mystery box cowboy, Ethan Chandler. For a whole season these seemingly disparate personalities have chased their own agendas, thus seeing their interests converge in aiding Vanessa makes the hopelessness all the more soul-crushing—and Green is perfect at crushing souls in her schizophrenic performance of malicious piety. The final showdown between Ethan and Vanessa, and his inexplicable divinity was a more heart-pounding climax last summer than anything you saw at a multiplex.
The Flash: “Going Rogue”It’s hard to believe that only four episodes in, The Flash delivered a piece of television that so perfectly captures the essence of a character who has been running around for about sixty years now. “Going Rogue” has the distinction of being able to not only please superhero fans weaned on Marvel’s particular brand of lighthearted big screen heroics, it also could please even the most serious Flash comic book scholar. A genuine supervillain (Wentworth Miller as Captain Cold), terrific special effects, and an ensemble cast that finally clicked on every level made “Going Rogue” the high water mark for the new breed of superhero TV shows. – Mike
Community: “GI Jeff”
While many touted “Cooperative Polygraphy” as Community’s tour de force and justification for “returning,” the show’s animated episode and GI Joe send-up, “GI Jeff” manages to have even more resonance. Not only is this thing a seamless GI Joe episode, it doubles as a very deep, depressing story for Jeff in the bigger scheme of things, and a brilliant piece of storytelling connecting levels of consciousness and reality in a totally un-Inception way that deserves more credit than its simpler exterior gives it. – Daniel
South Park: “The Cissy”
“I am Lorde, ya, ya, ya.” Do I really need to go on? Just in case, the episode brilliantly deconstructs gender stereotypes by having its most crass character, sweet little Erica Cartman, abuse politically correct terminology, with its quick and ever-changing rules, to get his/her own bathroom. Of course, Matt and Trey have a deeper motive in preaching acceptance (or indifference) to everyone. Because like Lorde pushes against the Cissies, and—ya.
…Feeling good on a Wednesday… – David
The Leftovers: “Guest”
Now that I think about it, The Leftovers might be the most important show of 2014. It wasn’t my favorite or the most entertaining, and if you read my reviews of it during its initial run, I really wasn’t quite sure what to make of it most of the time. After some reflection though, I realize that The Leftovers was ambitious, thought provoking, and featured some of the most devastatingly powerful performances that we’ve seen on TV this year.
A show centering on the fallout after two percent of the world’s population is ambiguously lost sounds like a weighty premise that leads to some nasty emotions, and boy does it, but The Leftovers remains captivating even when it’s depressing, intriguing even when it’s purposely vague and withholding. The show was best when it singled in on a lone character, and no better when it highlighted Nora Durst, (played by my runner-up for breakout TV star of the year, Carrie Coon; sorry, first place goes to Fargo’s Allison Tolman) a woman who lost her husband and two children in the disappearance. When Nora attends a conference for a Departure Related Occupation Panel in New York City, she finds that someone in her hotel is pretending to be her. Some wonderfully bizarre, one-act-like encounters with panel guests and hotel employees follow until Nora has a complete breakdown. This episode perfectly encapsulates the show’s gloomy vibe with mysterious, surreal undertones and an inexplicable sense of dread. – Nick
Scandal: “The Price of a Free and Fair Election”
I’d feel horrible if I wrote about this episode and spoiled it for anyone planning to binge on Scandal. So I’ll say this: Just when you think showrunner Shonda Rhimes has brought D.C. to its knees, she rattles the ground holding up our nation’s capital. Scandal’s season three finale left me wondering how they’d ever be able to raise the stakes anywhere near where they left off in 2014. So far in season four, Olivia Pope and Co. are still recovering from the bombshell finale, one of the year’s most gripping, over-the-top episodes of television. – Chris
Doctor Who: “Flatline”
For all of season eight of Doctor Who, Clara Oswald underwent a massive rewrite from the fairy tale like “Impossible Girl” to becoming the first companion that I’d genuinely rank as the Doctor’s equal. That is not to say she’s my favorite sidekick, but she’s the only one who could pass as the Doctor herself.
And we got exactly that in “Flatline.” As written by newcomer Jamie Mathieson, who scripted the also excellent “Mummy on the Orient Express,” this episode found Clara once again the protagonist of the episode, but this time, the Doctor still took center stage after she became his doppelganger. Expressed initially as a joke when she introduces herself as “the Doctor,” since Peter Capaldi’s hero has been handicapped for the hour, Clara goes on to be every bit as manipulative, dishonest, and dangerous as the Doctor. Season eight delivered on its promise of a darker and meaner iteration of the character with Capaldi’s casting, and he never seemed grimmer than when Clara held up a mirror to him, showing that his best (or worst) habits have been dutifully carried over by his unofficial apprentice. – David
Nurse Jackie Season Finale: “Flight”
The season finale of Nurse Jackie was one of the most intense half hours on television this year and this was the year of Fargo and True Detective. This is supposed to be a dramatic comedy? I don’t remember many comedies that take their drama this far. This episode grabbed me by the nuts in the first minute and never stopped squeezing, consistently tightening the grip. The growing desperation that Edie Falco’s Nurse Jackie was going through became absolutely infectious. It radiated out of her eyes, telegraphed through her body language and finally oozed out of her pores. This is supposed to be funny? But it was, with all that suspense in the middle of it, it was, punctuating the suspense while getting pummeled by it.
But it wasn’t just Edie Falco. Merritt Wever’s performance was wrenching and never for one second was it weak. She was distraught, torn, she twisted herself up in a ball that was so absolutely believable it made the audience twitch and jerk in her place. Watching Edie Falco and Merritt Weer together was like watching a boxing upset. Even when they weren’t on screen together their tension boiled over into everything going on around them.
Every character on Nurse Jackie is now in jeopardy because of Jackie Peyton, junkie in the full freefall of relapse. Oh and just as you think it can’t get any worse for the now-former-nurse, it does at the very last second. “Flight” was directed by Jesse Peretz. The story was written by Abe Sylvia. The teleplay was written by Clyde Phillips and Tom Straw. – Tony Sokol
How I Met Your Mother: “The Last Forever,” Parts 1 and 2
It’s so inspiring to see a show go out on its own terms, doing it how it wants to, maintaining the vision it has, all while presenting an unconventional, “realistic” Hollywood happy ending. While many saw it as a betrayal to the show, it was actually a love letter to everything the series stood for, even though many more people viewed the Mother-centric “How Your Mother Met Me” as such. – Daniel
Sonic Highways: “Washington D.C.”
Say what you want about the Foo Fighters or the album of the same name, but HBO’s Sonic Highways was one of the most interesting television shows of the year. Detailing the often diverse, complex musical histories of eight American cities and some the unique studios that rest within them, Sonic Highways does for music what ESPN’s 30 for 30 series has been doing for sports. With Dave Grohl at the helm like an impassioned, devout disciple of the Church of American Music, Grohl slips into Ken Burns mode almost as effortlessly as he played those drum fills on “In Bloom,” interviewing each cities’ key players who deliver candid and spirited recollections about the sounds and scenes of their past. I could have gone with any of the eight episodes, but there’s something about the way Dave taps into his own hometown that gives the D.C. episode a little extra fire. – NickAgents of SHIELD: “Shadows”To say that Agents of SHIELD had an uneven first season would be generous. Hobbled by the constraints of the Marvel Cinematic Universe rather than embracing them, the show had the unenviable task of trying to appease an audience who were perhaps expecting something a little more colorful than a series about young agents finding their way in the world. “Shadows” was less of a season premiere than a soft reboot of the entire series concept, finally delivering the crazy technology and gadgets, high stakes, and intrigue we all thought we were getting. They even threw in a bona fide supervillain. Most importantly, though, it gave these characters a purpose…something they had been sorely lacking before. – Mike
Broad City: “Fattest Asses”
This episode is such a love letter to Abbi and Ilana, which arguably every episode is, but this one is just so hyperbolic as they pretty much commandeer this party and become living Gods (ie. the fattest asses) by reprehensible behavior that by no means should work. Broad City is never afraid to get big, but this episode keeps doubling down on Abbi and Ilana’s insanity and how on board and in love with it everyone is. Throw in Jason Mantzoukas for good measure and how can you lose? – Daniel
True Detective: “The Long Bright Dark”
Never has nihilism ever sounded so appealing as when Det. Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) showcased he was not alright, alright, alright with the inadequacy of man. The antithesis of his humanist hero from a Christopher Nolan movie later that year, McCoanughey hijacks a TV series ostensibly about a serial killer murder and turns it into an existential soap box about meaninglessness of all big questions. Viewers are left as dumbfounded as Woody Harrelson’s Marty Hart, but we’re also equally as riveted by Cohle’s misanthropy. But with writing as rich as these following lines penned by Nic Pizzolatto, we can’t be all bad, right?
“I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution. We became too self-aware; nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself; we are creatures that should not exist by natural law. We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self; an accretion of sensory, experience and feeling, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody is nobody. I think the honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction, one last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal.” – David
Review: “Pancakes; Divorce; Pancakes”
There’s such a powerful, unassuming blow to this episode, that when Forrest gets pancakes the second time, it’s truly perfect writing, acting, and television in general. This show usually not only gets the individual segments right, but the episode as a whole and how it’s all connected too, but this episode is really the perfect synthesis of it all and one of the best examples of how beaten Forrest can get. – Daniel
Nathan For You: “Souvenir Shop/E.L.A.I.F.F.” and “Dumb Starbucks”
There’s no comedian on TV that can match the deadpan delivery or meticulous work ethic of Nathan Fielder. The sophomore season of Fielder’s controlled reality program, Nathan for You, topped the shock value of season one in a big way, particularly in two episodes with a singular focus. ““Souvenir Shop/E.L.A.I.F.F.” introduced us to Fake Johnny Depp, a makeshift East L.A. film festival and Nathan’s award-winning short film, while we saw the buzz surrounding his “Dumb Starbucks” experiment draw in the series’ biggest live ratings. With “Dumb Lattes” in hand, Nathan For You became one of those shows I’d wait all week for. Tuesdays went a little faster knowing that the Wizard of Loneliness was going to do something out-of-the-box to make a business a little bit better. – Chris
Nathan For You: “Toy Company/ Movie Theater”
I think 2014 was a great year for TV comedy. Silicon Valley arrived as a fully-formed hilarious satire of the tech start-up culture, New Girl rebounded and found it’s footing once again, Rick and Morty debuted as the weirdest, funniest animated show on TV, Review was the surprise hit that Comedy Central needed, Louie C.K. remerged for a fourth season of his expertly crafted Louie, and we got incredible seasons out of Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Key & Peele, Bob’s Burgers, and Community. That’s all fine and dandy, but let me say that all of those show’s pale in comparison to 2014’s best comedy, Nathan For You. Comedian Nathan Felder has perfected cringe comedy with his faux-reality show where he pretends to be a business expert who helps real struggling businesses by offering them completely outlandish and bizarre strategies. For instance, in the episode I’ve chosen, Nathan helps a toy company by telling the manufacturer to advertise the toys as “not for babies,” so any kid that doesn’t have the toy is automatically a baby, and everyone knows how kids hate being called babies. The best part about the show is Nathan’s deadpan, monotone delivery. These people don’t know they’re being played with because Nathan plays it so straight. Throughout the season, they even create a narrative about how Nathan is looking for friendship or romance from the people that he helps but they’re so off-put by his dull, awkward nature. Nathan is like The Office’s Michael Scott if he was more of a Toby. Nothing on TV made me laugh harder this year. – Nick
That’s all for the best of 2014. We’ll be right here covering the best of TV in 2015. Thanks for reading!