Best of 2014: Television

There literally aren’t enough hours in the day for any human to work, sleep, eat, bathe and watch all of the great television we are #blessed to have available pretty much 24/7, but damn it, I have to try. When I made this list last year, I opted for the Nussbaumiam honour roll, listing 17 series that captivated me in 2013. This year, I’m going Top 10. Here it is:

10. Veep (HBO)

Armando Ianucci and his team’s sharp scripts are the perfect fit for an ensemble cast – led by the incomparable Julia Louis-Dreyfus – whose takedowns are legendary.

My favourite 2014 episode of Veep: “Clovis”

9. BOB’S BURGERS (FOX)

Bob’s Burgers final two episodes of 2014 alone – the Christmas instalment “Father of the Bob” introduced us to the elder Belcher patriarch, and “Tina Tailor Soldier Spy” was the perfect vehicle for the eldest Belcher daughter – made it the best animated series on television for me. The show has the ability to put its characters through familiar stories while still making them seem fresh and funny.

My favourite 2014 episode of Bob’s Burgers: “Father of the Bob”

8. Vicious (PBS)

On paper, Vicious could sound like a quaint, sweet little series: it’s about an aging gay couple who live in a fabulous apartment and have friends over. In fact, Freddie and Stuart hurl insults at each other any chance they get. Created and written by Gary Janetti, who has a most funny, ferocious Twitter feed (he has also worked on Will and Grace and Family Guy). Vicious stars Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi.

My favourite 2014 episode of Vicious: “Episode 1.2” in which Freddie suspects Stuart of cheating, but he’s in fact got himself a job in a clothing store. The Christmas Special was top-notch, too.

7. Key & Peele (Comedy Central)

Key & Peele ditched its Chapelle-like live-to-tape format for a darker fourth season that saw Key and Peele pushing the envelope and creating new characters, on top of tackling racial and social issues the way they have always done – in a funny, snarky, important and often scathing way.

My favourite 2014 sketch from Key & Peele: “Georgina and Esther and Satan” and “Aerobics Meltdown”

6. The Leftovers (HBO)

Some found it unsatisfying, I found HBO’s The Leftovers completely engrossing. Two per cent of the world’s population disappears one day, and as long as you’re not expecting answers, or to find them in some other dimension, The Leftovers will not disappoint. Hooray for the great cast, especially Carrie Coon, who was also in David Fincher’s Gone Girl. Great year for her.

My favourite 2014 episode of The Leftovers: “Two Boats and a Helicopter,” a great showcase for Rev. Jamison (Christopher Eccleston)

5. THE COMEBACK (HBO)

I knew I had to watch The Comeback before compiling this list. I’d been slowly making my way through Season One of the resuscitated HBO series starring Lisa Kudrow and was loving every cringe-worthy second. Almost 10 years later, Kudrow is back as Valerie Cherish, a faded sitcom and reality star. The Comeback is as biting and sharp as ever. See it! I watched all of Season Two in two sittings. And that finale … 

My favourite 2014 episode of The Comeback: “Valerie Gets What She Really Wants”

4. Parks and Recreation (NBC)

With just the second half of the show’s sixth season airing in 2014, Parks and Recreation is gearing up for its February finale. I’ll need more time to prepare, but I trust the best comedic ensemble on TV to stick the landing.

My favourite 2014 episode of Parks and Recreation: “Farmers Market” and “Ann and Chris,” ’cause awww …

3. Hannibal (NBC)

If Hannibal was on any of the cable networks, it might be even grittier and creepier than it already is on NBC. Whether it’d be more popular is up for debate (I think it wouldn’t be), but I do believe it would be more acclaimed and possibly even get some awards love. Mads Mikkelsen is pitch-perfect as the titular cannibalistic therapist, as are Hugh Dancy and Caroline Dhavernas. Rivals The Silence of the Lambs for most chillingly terrifying Hannibal adaptation.

My favourite 2014 episode of Hannibal: “Mizumono”

2. Jane the Virgin (CW)

The best new show of the season is also the happiest, sweetest, most fun I’ve had the pleasure of following in years. A remake of a telenovela (hold on) about a devout Latina (hang on!) who gets accidentally artificially inseminated (please, wait!) and decides to go through with the pregnancy is the most charming show on television. I grin every Monday, 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., because of CW’s perfect Jane the Virgin.

My favourite 2014 episode of Jane the Virgin: All of them, but let’s go with “Chapter One” – love at first watch.

1. The Good Wife (CBS)

What can I say about The Good Wife I haven’t already embarrassingly and gushingly tweeted? I was in the middle of catching up on the series on Netflix when that Season 5 episode happened in the spring. I was worried that the show had gotten desperate and killed off a major character in an attempt to shake things up creatively (I was, at the time, watching the tabloidy Season 4 of the series, and was worried The Good Wife was headed in the wrong direction). How wrong I was. Not only was the character’s death very important and well handled, it became the catalyst for important emotional development in Alicia Florrick, the great-as-ever Julianna Margulies.

My favourite 2014 episode of The Good Wife: “Dramatics, Your Honor”

Honourable mentions (in alphabetical order): Black-ish, for Tracee Ellis Ross; Fargo, because the fact that it was ever considered in the same league as that HBO series (you know the one) still boggles my mind; How to Get Away with Murder, for craziness and Viola Davis killing it week in and week out; Inside Amy Schumerfor this, but mostly this poignant, scathing indictment of the militaryMad Men, because it’s still gorgeous when it’s not going anywhere, and can Elisabeth Moss please win an Emmy already?; The Mindy Project, because Mindys Kaling and Lahiri are aces; Scandal, because it’s still appointment viewing even though it’s lost its way this season; You’re the Worst, because terrible people need love, too.

Blind spotsThe Knick, which is polarizing, but about which I have been told it’s sickeningly wicked; the second season of The Americans, which has been on my PVR since FX aired a marathon of it in May; the new season of Homeland, on which I’d given up because of its infuriating previous season but which Twitter tells me has got its groove back and then some; The Walking Dead, for the same reason as HomelandTransparent, because Canada.

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28 TV shows and movies to watch on Netflix Canada this summer

It’s summer, so you’re wondering what to watch on Netflix, right?

We weren’t all made to withstand high heat and humidity, so if your idea of a Not-Bummer-Summer is spending it indoors, here are nine TV shows (six of which are returning soon!) and 19 movies you should add to your Netflix List this summer.

Hannibal – 26 episodes, approx. 44 min. each (full series so far)

Hannibal

Another Hannibal adaptation? Yeah. Another one, and quite possibly the best one ever. The NBC series is two seasons in, and gets more creepy and spooky every week. Bryan Fuller’s reboot is totally enthralling and engaging, with unforgettable performances by Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy, who portray the eponymous character and Will Graham, respectively. Laurence Fishburne also does his best work in years. The show’s also shined a light on two incredible Canadian actresses, Montrealer Caroline Dhavernas, as Dr. Alana Bloom, and Brampton’s Lara Jean Chorostecki, as the ruthless and conniving blogger Freddie Lounds. Hannibal returns to NBC/CityTV for Season Three in 2015. (Related: Hannibal, one of the best shows of 2013, is “sinister yet cheeky.”)

The Good Wife – 90 episodes, approx. 44 min. each (four seasons; Season 5 ended on CBS in May 2014)

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“That show’s for suburban white ladies.” – Me, before devouring the first season of CBS’s The Good Wife. Julianna Margulies’ performance anchors and elevates the show to much more than courtroom/law-firm drama. Though it goes the Boston Legal route around Seasons Three and Four (outrageous, ripped-from-the-headlines cases), the drama never falters. The rest of the cast is superb too, especially Christine Baranski and Archie Panjabi (it also attracts some top-notch guest stars, like Michael J. Fox, Martha Plimpton, Nathan Lane, Carrie Preston, Dylan Baker, Anika Noni Rose, Anna Camp, Denis O’Hare and Scandal‘s Joe Morton, to name a few). I started watching The Good Wife shortly before Twitter erupted in shock over the surprising and shocking death of a main character. I quickly watched four-and-a-half seasons of TGW and finally got to the episode in question and my worst fears were quashed. This was not a show grasping for relevance or desperate to jolt its narrative; The Good Wife is a confident series, and an addictive one.

The Good Wife returns to CBS/Global for Season Six in September 2014.

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Best of 2013: Top TV shows

I like year-end lists. I like reading them to discover movies, music, books and TV shows I missed. I like reading them to validate my own taste. I like reading them to disagree with them. And I like making them to reflect on the year that was. But they’re particularly challenging to do for TV, I think.

Do you evaluate a show against all other shows on television? What about a show that had a particularly great, improved or poor season compared to other seasons in its series? And what about new shows that have only been on the air for a handful of episodes? Shows with seasons that span two calendar years? Shows with part of two seasons in one calendar year?

Here’s a list of TV shows, in no particular order, that had at least one episode air between Jan. 1, 2013 and today, that made me neglect my health and social life.

Orphan Black

Orphan Black

Orphan Black is one of the most exciting new sci-fi show in years. Compelling and highly addictive, it tells the story of Sarah Manning, a down-on-her-luck woman with a loser boyfriend and a daughter she wants to protect. Her life gets irreversibly more complicated after she witnesses another woman’s suicide – a woman who looks exactly like her. She runs off with the dead woman’s purse and learns they are just two of a set of women cloned. How many of them are there? Who did this? The show’s greatest asset is Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany who plays all of the clones, from the stay-at-home mom to the Ukrainian religious fanatic. Orphan Black is produced, set and filmed in Toronto. It airs on BBC America in the U.S. and Space in Canada.

Hannibal

Hannibal

One of the best photographed shows on television, that NBC’s Hannibal is on this list surprises me, too. Developed for television by Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies, Dead Like Me), Hannibal pushes the boundaries of network television while also exercising surprising restraint.  You don’t see Hannibal … do what he’s known to do until four or five episodes into the series, which makes the first time all the more special. The show stars Laurence Fishburne, Montreal actress Caroline Dhavernas, Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen as the cannibalistic Hannibal Lecter. I thought the poor cinematic follow-ups to Silence of the Lambs – Red DragonHannibalHannibal Rising – had left too bad a taste in my mouth, but NBC’s Hannibal is more than satiating. It’s chilling yet titillating; sinister yet cheeky. The episode names are food-themed, like the pilot’s “Apéritif” and later episodes’ “Amuse-Bouche” and “Buffet Froid.”

Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad

The show that continually topped itself week after week, season after season. After five seasons and 62 episodes, we bid adieu to Walter White, the meth-cooking former chemistry teacher who made an icon out of actor Bryan CranstonBreaking Bad is one show that’s tough to say goodbye to because it did so many things right – cinematography, score, script, supporting cast – and elevated the playing field for the medium. It was a satisfying finale that tied up everything for the characters and gave them and the audience what they deserved.

Scandal

Scandal

Appointment viewing. No show has as many twists-per-episode as Scandal does; no show is ever as close to the edge of the cliff as Scandal is; no show has ever been this serious in its craziness, and this crazy in its seriousness. At the end of the last episode alone (“YOLO”, Dec. 5), the vice-president (of the United States!) kills her husband after the president’s chief of staff sends her photos of her husband in a compromising position with another man – the chief of staff’s own husband, a journalist who the chief of staff arranged to interview the VP’s husband in hopes of outing him. Meanwhile, fixer Olivia Pope (the great Kerry Washington) is trying to get her mother – who she thought has been dead for 20 years after her plane was shot down by the now-president (yes, of the United States!) – out of the country before her father, who runs a super-secret off-the-books black-ops program, finds her. She calls in a favour to the man with whom she’s having an affair – the President of the United States of America. It’s a wonder it doesn’t self-destruct in its own ridiculousness, but it’s no wonder Scandal keeps me coming back week after week.

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