Was it a great year in TV? A bad one? Somewhere in the middle? Ignore all that “golden age of TV” nonsense because when you have so many shows being offered up on an ever-expanding number of content providers, you’re always going to have all of the above.
And that just means we can offer even more lists, which is what the end of any TV year is all about, right?
Best new shows of 2014
1. “Transparent”: A brilliant comedy drama from Amazon studios featuring Jeffrey Tambor as a middle-aged man finally coming out as a transgender person. But it’s really his adult children who have trouble with the transition. Jill Soloway’s writing is sharp, funny, so great it moved me to tears.
2. “Olive Kitteridge”: HBO’s miniseries based on the book by Elizabeth Strout is about a woman no one really likes, including herself. Frances McDormand, Richard Jenkins and others bring this story magically to life.
3. “You’re the Worst”: Stephen Falk created the best new sitcom of 2014 for FX about two people who don’t like each other so much that they can’t stay out of bed together. I didn’t want the season to end.
4. “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver”: HBO’s weekly comedy news show is better, smarter and, yes, funnier than the sainted “Daily Show” itself. Oliver is blowing the doors off comedy news. Make that, so-called “real” news as well.
5. “Black-ish”: ABC’s sitcom about an African-American family fretting that they are losing their ethnic identity is funny, beautifully written, superbly acted and managing the impossible high wire act of delivering smart, gently provocative commentary between the love and laughter.
6. “True Detective”: HBO’s moody detective drama featured at least two of the greatest TV performances of the year, from Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. It’s hard to imagine how the second season with a new story and characters can come close to the brilliance of the first.
7. “Silicon Valley”: Everyone in TV wants to capture techie eyes and the zeitgeist of the tech world, but no one has come close to doing it with as much side-splitting genius as Mike Judge in this HBO winner. He has nailed it with the second funniest new sitcom of 2014.
8. “The Normal Heart”: Many wondered if Larry Kramer’s dramatic howl from the first decade of the AIDS crisis could work in the 21st century. Ryan Murphy’s direction, plus superb, out of the stratosphere performances by Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons and others answered that question resoundingly on HBO.
9. “Fargo”: The FX series was like the Coen brothers’ film, but different. Noah Hawley’s adaptation is its own genius, and the performances by Martin Freeman and newcomer Allison Tolman made this gold-standard television.
10. “Manhattan”: WGN America became a new player in the original content game and came up a winner with this absorbing, character-driven drama about the development of the atomic bomb.
Worst new shows of 2014
1. “Mulaney” (Fox): Was it supposed to be un-funny?
2. “Marry Me” (NBC): No thank you.
3. “Gracepoint“ (Fox): Been there, done that.
4. “State of Affairs” (NBC): A sorry state of affairs.
5. “The Leftovers” (HBO): Unintentionally hilarious, self-important bushwa.
6. “Manhattan Love Story” (ABC): Meeting cute never felt less so.
7. “Taxi Brooklyn” (NBC): So out of date. Why couldn’t the cop take Uber?
8. “Salem” (WGN America): Every witch way but watchable.
9. “Rush” (USA): Better title: “Flee.”
10. “Night Shift” (NBC): DNR.