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 411mania » Movies » Columns

The 10 Best TV Shows of 2014 (So Far)
Posted by Spenser Milo on 08.06.2014

It shouldn't come as a surprise whenever someone suggests that the best stories are being told on television now. For the past decade plus, that's been absolutely true and it's only getting richer and richer. On nearly every channel is a series getting some sort of buzz, becoming a must-watch, or challenging watchers for seasons on end. 2014 is a little more than half way over and already so many shows have made their mainstay into the television conversation. Below are the ten best shows of 2014 so far.

Game of Thrones
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For four seasons Game of Thrones has been keeping viewers on their feet with what to expect versus what not to expect. However, with this season, Game of Thrones' showrunners threw away what book readers know about the series and took their own liberties into the story of Westeros. Whether or not the writers are making these decisions simply to deviate from fan expectation or creating a safety net for themselves just in case author George R.R. Martin doesn't get around to finishing the last two books in time for the series to wrap up remains to be seen. Either way, season four of Game of Thrones ended up being the best ten episodes the show has produced yet, providing plenty of discussion for casual and hardcore fans along with enough Internet buzz to keep itself relevant in an ever-changing environment. The best part is Game of Thrones is set to return bigger, better, and more challenging than ever next year.

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Keeping up with the notion of fan expectation versus taking a complete left turn, Hannibal left its fans enchanted on the floor after its second season wrapped up. The slow moving, absolutely beautiful series is like nothing else on television and it knows this by demonstrating just how far it can push the envelope with its stellar cast and incredible visuals. Mads Mikkelson and Hugh Dancy lead so many scenes by just sitting down in chairs opposite each other, vaguely discussing the murders Hannibal Lector and Will Graham have committed, trying to trump each other. Hannibal's second season feels like a well articulated chess match that has its table flipped numerous times during the game. With each progression, there's a new trap for character to tragically fall into, and it definitely makes for riveting television.

True Detective
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Back in January, it felt like everybody was watching HBO's new anthology series. Starring both Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson certainly helped grab a huge amount of attention, but it was the mystery of The Yellow King and Rust Cohle's (McConaughey) philosophic monologues that really kept audiences engaged for eight episodes. True Detective became a phenomenon in the pop culture zeitgeist, quickly stirring up theories about the show's central mystery, Emmy talk, and reminding people that TV is something that doesn't stop once the episode is over. Whether or not the climatic finale held up for some fans isn't important because True Detective already cemented itself as a high point for any series in 2014. Not much is known about season two of the show -- which won't feature any of the first season's characters or stories -- and yet it's been talked about ad nauseam about who will star which only makes True Detective the powerful vehicle for actors, HBO, and audiences that it really is.

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Speaking of anthology series that star big-name actors, FX's Fargo paved the way for letting people know that True Detective isn't an anomaly; TV can be the best thing all summer. Based on the Coen brothers Oscar winning film of the same name, Fargo went an entire season of exploring the quirky and terrifying town of Fargo, Minnesota. Martin Freeman's take on Lyster Nygaard continually walks the line of sympathetic underdog and walking time bomb, and Billy Bob Thornton's turn of Lorne Malvo is a villain to be remembered for decades. However, the real standout in Fargo is Allison Tolman as the great Deputy Molly Solverson, doing her best to work the cases that are flooding the small town. FX has done some incredible stuff in its short time as a prestigious network, and finally Fargo can be its flagship for more series down the road.

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Already a hit with critics and fans, Girls' third season didn't need to prove itself again that it's a show to watch. And yet, it did. Lena Dunham's objective to throw most of the cast into a spin of loneliness gave the season its backbone that was admittedly, at times, frustrating to watch week-to-week. Although, all together, Girls' third season made for great storytelling, particularly that in Adam, Ray, Shoshanna, and even Marnie's arcs. The series is still talked about like it's young but really it's about to enter its fourth season at the top of next year, making the series a lot closer to its end than its beginning. Girls made sure to remind its audience that it's maturing to get out of this world Hannah and the gang seemed to be trapped in, which made the finale that much more satisfying in and outside of the show.

The Americans
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Out of all the shows on this list, The Americans is the lesser-known series. Earlier this year, The Americans finished up its second season with one of the best storylines to come out of the medium. Set during the Cold War, the FX series constantly one-ups itself in all departments it exceeds in; acting, directing, writing, and plotting. Keri Russel and Matthew Rhys have tremendous chemistry that makes their arranged soviet spy marriage that much better and complex, especially when their two children get involved. Hopefully one day soon audiences will pick up on the greatness that is The Americans and give it the attention that it deserves.

Broad City
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Over on Comedy Central, Broad City made quite the stir as it instantly became one of the best comedies to premiere in years.Starring Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, two comedians who started the series online from 2009 to 2011, Broad City follows the lives and crazy hi-jinks between best friends Abbi and Ilana. Eager to distinguish itself as nothing like Girls, Sex and the City, or any other female-driven comedy, episodes center around a missing cellphone, purchasing marijuana while also doing taxes, and a hurricane locking all the characters in an apartment that erupts in genuine hilarity that hasn't been seen on TV in too long. Broad City made plenty of best-of lists right after it debuted back in January, making the network renew it for a second season immediately. Word is that the second season will premiere sometime in the late fall, so it's possible that Broad City will both start and end 2014 with laughs.

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Rarely does a comedy ever try to really attempt to hit an emotional core, however Review does it in its debut season and succeeds miraculously. Based on the Australian series Review with Myles Barlow, Review is hosted by Forrest MacNeil, who is played by the hilarious Andy Daly. Forrest begins every episode by asking the question, "Life. It's literally all we have, but is it any good?" then attempts to "review" specific aspects of life that fictional viewers request like being a racist, getting revenge, and drug addiction. The format itself calls for attention on a sketch comedy level but it's Forrest MacNeil's ambition to stick to his word that bring the series its apex that runs throughout. Review's third episode, "Pancakes; Divorce; Pancakes," is one of the year's best episodes alone and is a must-watch for any comedy fan.

Orange is the New Black
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Last year, Orange is the New Black made deserving headlines as the best show Netflix had to offer. So when it came to season two of the young comedy-that's-actually-a-drama, it was a tough bar to clear for itself. Netflix's format begs for subscribers to watch all the episodes in a weekend, sometimes mushing together any sloppy plotting or characterization by just having the excuse "Well the next episode is right there!" However, Orange is the New Black functions entirely on its own, traditional-like format and in binge-watching habit. The groundbreaking series opened up its sophomore season with an ambitious hour only focusing on Piper and eliminating a season regular, setting the tone for the season overall.

Mad Men
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Working on only seven episodes this year, Mad Men deconstructed itself in a prevailing and entertaining way. AMC's decision to split its seventh and final season worried many fans, but Mad Men didn't sweat the smaller time it had on TV. The story of Don Draper, Peggy Olson, Pete Campbell, and the rest at Sterling Cooper & Partners picked right up a month after season six had ended -- the shortest amount of time the show has separated itself from previous seasons. That decision alone made for excellent television featuring some of the most iconic characters of the last decade. Not only did this half-season function brilliantly on its own, it also set up what is to come and end the series early next year -- not following the recent rules set by Breaking Bad or Hollywood that anything that has a second part should just be a big advertisement for that second part. Mad Men will go down at one of the best TV shows to ever grace the screen, and the first half of its final season only reinforced that fact.


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