Best TV shows of 2014

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2014 was one of the best years for television in recent memory. Returning shows like FX’s “Louie” and NBC’s “Hannibal,” and impressive debuts, including FX’s “You’re the Worst” and the CW’s “Jane the Virgin,” exemplified the sprawling and ambitious storytelling that defined TV this year.

10.“Olive Kitteridge” (HBO)

HBO’s four-hour miniseries, based on Elizabeth Strout’s novel, depicts 25 years in the life of Olive Kitteridge, played by Frances McDormand, a middle-school teacher living in a small town in Maine. Director Lisa Cholodenko revels in the story’s intimacy, focusing on the smallest and most commonplace moments in Olive’s life, and how it shapes her and the person she eventually presents to the world. At the same time, it’s impressively soaring, with an insightful depiction of mental illness, of the complexities of relationship, and of the importance of the mundane.

9. “You’re the Worst” (FX)

Standing out amongst the glut of romantic comedies that came on television this year is FX’s “You’re the Worst,” a funny and refreshingly dark take on the genre. The show follows the relationship between Jimmy (Chris Geere) and Gretchen (Aya Cash), two incredibly narcissistic and selfish people, who find themselves inexplicably drawn to each other. While shows that feature characters as terrible as this can become exhausting and uninteresting, as is the case with Lena Dunham’s “Girls,” but “You’re the Worst” feels endlessly inventive, fresh and real.

8. “Louie” (FX)

Following an extended hiatus after its third season, Louis C.K.’s sitcom “Louie” returned with its most daring batch of episodes yet, which included a story arc revolving around a broken elevator in Louie’s building that lasted the span of six episodes. Despite this ambitious structure, the show maintained a blend of pervasive and deeply depressing cynicism and probing, insightful humor that allowed it to remain unlike any other comedy on television.

7. “Jane the Virgin” (CW)

Based on its incredibly outlandish premise alone, a young Latina woman (Gina Rodriguez) gets accidentally inseminated when her doctor confuses her with another woman, “Jane the Virgin” seems like the type of television show that would only be fun to watch for all the ways it can be outrageously bad and offensive in one hour. However, the show quickly introduced a cast full of believable and empathetic characters, a charmingly self-aware tone, and a breakout performance from star Gina Rodriguez, easily transcending its premise to become one the year’s most consistently entertaining, innovative and surprising shows.

6. “Orange is the New Black” (Netflix)

In its second season, “Orange is the New Black” widened its scope significantly. Shifting its focus from the story of Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) as she begins her stay at Litchfield Correctional Facility, to that of her fellow prisoners, fleshing out its massive ensemble cast. While its second season didn’t feel as breathtakingly unexpected as its first, “Orange is the New Black” still skillfully straddled the line between comedy and drama and provided a showcase for one of television’s most diverse casts.

5. “Broad City” (Comedy Central)

In a year where most television comedies were often as bleak as their drama counterparts, “Broad City” was easily the funniest show on television. Created by and starring comedians Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, the show follows the daily lives of its two leads, also named Abbi and Ilana. As is the case with any great comedy, “Broad City” is weird, brash and bold, featuring a sense of humor that’s clear and distinct, and impossible to find anywhere else but the minds of its creators.

4. “Hannibal” (NBC)

“Hannibal” is the most visually ambitious show on television. Every episode features at least one brutally mutilated court mounted as if a work of art. While this overwhelming violence (it is easily the bloodiest show on television) likely turned off many viewers, the show proved to be much more than these visuals. The show examined power dynamics, mortality, religion with an intelligence and class unseen anywhere else on network television.

3. “The Good Wife” (CBS)

Coming off its universally praised fifth season, it would have been easy for “The Good Wife” to slow down, to fall back on the case-of-the-week format that defined the show’s earlier years. Instead, the show threw its characters immediately into a tailspin by throwing one of its main characters in jail within the first ten minutes of its premiere. It’s this sort of unpredictable energy and writing, as well as one of the year’s best ensemble casts, that makes “The Good Wife,” even after six years on the air, as strong and creatively ambitious as it has ever been.

2. “Transparent” (Amazon)

Before its premiere, Jill Soloway, the creator of “Transparent,” said she believed her show would be the beginning of a civil rights movement for transgender people. While this is a bit of a grandiose statement, it would feel ignorant and irresponsible to ignore how unprecedented the show feels. At its center is Maura, played by Jeffrey Tambor, a middle-aged transgender woman who decides to reveal her transition to her kids. Under Tambor and Soloway, Maura is immediately realized, a sensitive and smart depiction of an experience that is often trivialized and misunderstood. It may not kickstart a civil rights movement, but the influence and importance of “Transparent” is undeniable.

1. “The Americans” (FX)

While the action and espionage sequences were as thrilling and well-executed as they have always been, “The Americans,” FX’s drama about Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell), undercover KGB agents living as an American family in Washington D.C. during the Cold War, made a surprising creative decision in its second season: it increased focus on the Jennings life at home, including teenage daughter Paige coming increasingly close to figuring out exactly who her parents truly are. As a result, the show’s writing became tighter and smarter, the acting was as impressive as it’s ever been, both aspects of the show blended effortlessly together, adding a complexity and urgency to each storyline, broadening its scope while still maintaining a breathless pace and intricate storytelling. In its second season, “The Americans” became the show that every other drama on television should aspire to be.

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