Some TV Highlights of 2014

Extra long post! My personal TV Highlights of 2014, which isn’t really a best/worst list (or maybe it should be) and, as noted last year, it doesn’t help that I’ve really cut back on tv viewing (shocking, I know), I don’t have Showtime, HBO, or even Cinemax (so, no “Homeland,” “Game of Thrones,” “Veep,” “True Detective,” or “The Knick”), and I have not pursued the streaming trend (so, still no “House of Cards,” “Orange is the New Black,” or “Alpha House,” which I’d still really like to check out, since it’s the Garry Trudeau project inspired by the trivia that a bunch of real US Senators and Congressmen were roommates). And I’m not still on the Downton Abbey bandwagon (still shocking), and I didn’t get to try FX’s “Fargo” either (I kind of wanted to do so, just to see Martin Freeman in a non-British role).

In no particular order:

1. “How I Met Your Mother” (CBS) – series finale. A bittersweet farewell. Guess the journey was far more fun than the outcome (speaking as someone who got off the bandwagon a long time ago, only because of lack of time and my tendency to step away from a show when it reaches mass popularity).

2. “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” (NBC) – nice job, Jimmy! I can forgive Jay Leno (some might say he doesn’t need forgiveness, but the way things did not work out with Conan O’Brien was still surreal to me), but Jimmy Fallon and the Roots make the show fun again for me to watch once in awhile, rather than to avoid.

3. Winter Olympics 2014 (NBC). Probably the ultimate strange reality show (except that there were some far worse stuff, so oh well). Between the pre-Olympic games controversies (not all of which were on display on tv, rather than the print media and Internet), the error with the snowflake during the Opening Ceremonies, Bob Costas’ terrible infection of the eyes, and of course the thrills of victory and agonies of defeat (apologies to Jim McKay and ABC’s old Wide World of Sports for borrowing the phrase) – still amazing tv (and notwithstanding time zones and tape delays). Oh, and international political intrigue and violence (yeah, can’t really forget that).

4. “Dancing With the Stars” (ABC). Hmm, I will hand it to ABC for making things strangely fun (in that “Well, I get some eye candy and entertainment; whatever” way). 2014 was very watchable for Dancing With the Stars with ringers such as Charlie White and Meryl Davis (the Olympic ice dancing champions) and at the end of this year, Alfonso Ribeiro (never give up the Carlton!). Some people were the kind who I didn’t think of as “stars” (not when the pro dancer is more famous than the “star”). Oh, and so inspiring to see Paralympic snowboarder Amy Purdy go as far as she did. Derek Hough, the pro dancer, was ridiculously talented in choreography and dancing, I have to say, and Val Chmerkovskiy, the third place pro dancer this most recent fall season – so hot.

5. “Masterpiece Theatre” (PBS) – no, I’m still not on the “Downton Abbey” bandwagon (gasp!). 2014 had a lot of great stuff – the return of “Sherlock” (from BBC, with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Sherlock Holmes and John Watson); the return of Detective Constable Morse in “Endeavour” (complete with an odd cliffhanger); “Inspector Lewis” (with Lewis’ partner Hathaway practically becoming the 21st century Morse, in the brooding and honorable way); the final run of actor David Suchet as Hercule Poirot (with the final episode on streaming online tv, which pissed me off because I wasn’t paying for that, as cheap as I am, and I didn’t get to see it because PBS didn’t air it); and “Death Comes to Pemberley” (actor Matthew Rhys got pretty intense as Darcy and the two-parter was mostly entertaining).

6. Comic adaptations to tv – I ultimately have mixed feelings on “Gotham” (FOX) (other than Jada Pinkett Smith’s Fish Mooney, I’m not sure what to make of the women on this show, and I’m behind on episodes as it is). “The Flash” (CW) had the most fun series premiere, I have to say. I didn’t catch “Constantine” (NBC). “Arrow” (CW) looks as strong as ever (although I’m not much of a viewer and I’m not even on the Arrow bandwagon).

7. Following up on “Sherlock” above, I will say that I’m still a viewer of “Elementary” (CBS) (Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu as Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson). I wish that show does a better job being an ensemble show (I like the moments of Detective Bell (Jon Michael Hill), and for God’s sake, CBS, you have Aidan Quinn as Captain Gregson!). Still: it’s a watchable show.

8. “Gracepoint” (FOX). I will credit FOX for trying to redo BBC America’s “Broadchurch” (back in the UK, “Broadchurch” was from ITV). It was weird to see actor David Tennant as Detective Emmett Carver (who seemed to still be Inspector Alec Hardy but with a bland American accent), in California (but filmed in the area of Vancouver; I thought the show wanted to be northern California). And, Anna Gunn wasn’t quite Olivia Coleman was as the woman cop, Ellie Miller. The changes from the “Broadchuch” could have been a little more and the writing seemed a little weak, but otherwise strong acting. If you hadn’t seen “Broadchuch,” you’d think that “Gracepoint” was better than average tv (and I’d say that it was), but if you saw “Broadchurch,” you know this could have been better (which itself wasn’t great as a British mystery series (I have seen better), but was so intense at the end).

9. Colbert Report / The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Comedy Central) – farewell to Stephen Colbert! What a weird and sweet way to end! (well, the end of “Stephen Colbert,” the conservative blowhard character; I look forward to see how Colbert the real person takes over for David Letterman). Jon Stewart was great this year, in piercing the silliness of everyone out there (sometimes even himself).

10. Cartoons! I really got into watching “Adventure Time” (Cartoon Network), with the weird and poignant adventures of Finn the Human and Jake the (magic) Dog and their land of Ooo. “The Legend of Korra” (Nickelodeon) – such beautiful artistry and world building, continuing the world of The Avatar, even if I didn’t feel that the writing was paced quite right and I was inconsistent about watching it this fall. I also wasn’t sure what to make of “The Legend of Korra” made available only streaming online, but I’m not the one in power…

11. “Cosmos” (FOX/National Geographic) – Neil de Grasse Tyson and Seth McFarland joined forces to bring science to network tv! On FOX, of all networks! (I’m still not sure how FOX News, as a bizarre force of bizarreness – not that my politics should be that obvious – would be somehow related to the entertainment side of FOX (where FX and regular FOX keep making entertainment that might not fit “family values” and, oh, wow – science!).

12. Ken Burns’ “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History” (PBS) – fascinating review of the lives of Theodore, Eleanor, and Franklin. I thought that I couldn’t learn more about them, having read or studied a lot about the Roosevelts, but Burns’ storytelling was engrossing.

13. “Doctor Who” (BBC/BBC America) – Series 8 – with Peter Capaldi as the Doctor (the 12th one, putting aside any quibbles about the numbering of the Doctors) and Jenna Coleman as Clara, the companion. What a great season, despite the plot holes (and sometimes due to them). The Christmas special of 2014 kind of made up for the sadness of the final two episodes – dreams within dreams, and in the end, all you want is to make things up with your friends (or at least, the Doctor and Clara were owed a better Christmas than last year’s, putting aside that the Doctor got a whole bunch of more lives to live; they had a rough time with their crazy adventures this year). The Christmas special of 2014 was memorable for the appearance of Santa Claus, a.k.a. Father Christmas, being played by Nick Frost (whose appearance was a lot more heartwarming than Simon Pegg‘s appearance back during the era of the 9th Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) (Pegg was villain-like for that episode; but, hey, if you want to watch Frost and Pegg together again, feel free to watch Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz).

14. “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” (CBS) – I’ve been terribly inconsistent about watching Craig, but I made sure to watch his last episode, which had a nice opening song with all his past guests (so he and Stephen Colbert had similar ideas on that for their shows) and closing with a dream sequence, which brought back Drew Carey and Craig’s character Mr. Wick (from Carey’s old sitcom). I wasn’t sure what to make of Craig’s having Jay Leno as the final guest, but I suppose Craig wanted to end with a forgiving note (well, not from Craig, anyway, but again, from me and an audience who weren’t sure about that O’Brien and Tonight Show mess) and an homage to the traditional late night tv format (which Craig had long made fun of, with the robot sidekick and puppets).

15. “Community” (NBC) – season 5 was funny and odd, but bittersweet too (farewell to the character of Troy (Donald Glover); and what on earth will Greendale Community College do the next season on Yahoo?).

Honorable mentions:

Vicious” (PBS) – this British sitcom import, with Derek Jacobi and Ian McKellen, was biting.

Selfie” (ABC) – well, it was not successful, but it tried to do well with John Cho as a romantic comedy lead; that title never did the show any favors. Nonetheless, I think ABC’s diversity experiment should continue.

Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” (CNN); “The Walking Dead” (AMC); Key & Peele (Comedy Central); Chris Hardwick’s “@midnight” (Comedy Central); “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” (HBO) (well, it was terrific from what I was able to watch on YouTube).

I fell behind on “The Americans” (FX); “Suits” (USA); “Justified” (FX); and so much more stuff, so that I can’t speak about them. I’m almost embarrassed about how I’m so behind (ok, make that very embarrassed, but it can’t be helped).

I didn’t get to watch NBC’s “Peter Pan,”the live musical special, but from the anecdotal evidence that I saw on Facebook (not the most accurate source of information, of course), people had a campy good time (having flamboyant pirates and Christopher Walken as Capt. Hook would cause that reaction). NBC had lower ratings than the previous year’s musical experiment (it’s hard to beat the nation’s love for “Sound of Music”), but they should still keep trying, since at least this is a unique thing that gets us thinking about NBC (in ways that, say, the Olympics and “The Blacklist” do not do, even though they’ve done a lot of good for NBC).

I’m probably forgetting other notable stuff of 2014, but I never promise to be comprehensive!

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