Television is a year-round affair, but May marks the official end of the 2013-14 season. It was a great TV season, one of the most exciting that I can remember, and it brought us the debuts of instant-classic series, as well as especially strong seasons of returning favorites. There was an overwhelming amount of good television during these past 12 few months. Although it’s tough to narrow it down, here are my 15 favorite shows of the year.
The Comedy Central Trifecta: Broad City, Inside Amy Schumer, and Review
Each of these comedies deserves a million individual tributes, so lumping them together might feel a bit cheap — yet they’re the three shows that brought Comedy Central’s programming to a whole new level. There was no debut series stronger, funnier, or more brazen than Broad City, a show that celebrated all the wonderful fucked-up things about being young, broke, and high — all while creating the best friendship I’ve ever seen on TV.
Inside Amy Schumer had a great first season, but its second, which airs its finale next week, has blown minds. The sketch show is equally hilarious and feminist, tackling topics that range from rape in the military to a brilliant parody of Aaron Sorkin’s terrible approach to women characters. Amy Schumer attacks bullshit sexism without forgetting to make you laugh.
Then there’s Review, Andy Daly’s strange and dark comedy, in which he reviews, well, anything and everything. By the end of the nine-episode season, the death toll was high, the main character was utterly defeated, and a family was broken apart. Yet, somehow, “Pancakes; Divorce; Pancakes” is the single episode of TV that’s made me laugh the most this year.
Out of all the shows that aired this season, Fargo was the most surprising. I had no idea what to expect going into it — at best, a mediocre crime drama with a familiar name, but at worst, a total fuck-up of a Coen Bros. adaptation — but so far the results have been spectacular. It’s visually stunning, chilling to the bone, and bleakly comic. It’s a show that I can’t shut up about, begging everyone around me to watch it just so I can talk about it more. Currently, it’s still airing its first season, but I have no doubt that it will stick the landing.
Bob’s Burgers (Fox)
As long as Bob’s Burgers is on television, Bob’s Burgers will make my yearly best-of list. It remains one of the greatest comedies on television, and it’s definitely the one with the most heart, even amidst the bathroom humor and zombie obsession. This season, the Belchers hosted a slumber party, spent Christmas in the car while on the run from a possible murderer, made a Super Bowl commercial, and invaded a Bat Mitzvah — and every bit of it was wonderful. Tina remained flawless, the parents finally got their due, and the show’s take on Brony culture was everything you could hope for.
The Canceled Shows: Trophy Wife (ABC), Enlisted (Fox), and The Carrie Diaries (The CW)
I get so unhealthily attached to television programs that it absolutely wrecks me when ones that I love are canceled. This was a big year for my favorites ending — Suburgatory (ABC), The Pete Holmes Show (TBS), Community (NBC), The Neighbors (ABC) — but these were the three that stuck out the most. Trophy Wife was beautiful and inventive, with a cast to match, and deserved better. Enlisted (which will burn off the remainder of its episodes starting this Sunday at 7 PM) had a special place in my military-brat heart, and it was clear that it was only going to keep getting better if Fox gave it a chance. My biggest guilty pleasure was The Carrie Diaries, the Sex and the City prequel that was sweet and adorable and hooked me immediately (despite not being a fan of SATC). I just hope all those great outfits go to a good home.
True Detective (HBO)
Was there any show that had more words spilled over it than True Detective? I think it even has the latest season of Mad Men beat. It taught us how to spell Matthew McConaughey’s name, was gorgeous to look at — it made violence look beautiful and then scolded you for seeing it that way — and crafted a great, self-contained narrative within just eight episodes. True Detective was very much a show for the Internet: We became obsessed with theorizing, made countless parodies, over-analyzed until our brains hurt, and the controversial finale meant we kept talking about it long after it was over. There’s no telling if the second season will reach similar highs, but I can’t wait to watch.
Rick and Morty (Adult Swim)
Created by Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland, Rick and Morty is an animated sci-fi comedy on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. Rick is an alcoholic scientist and Morty is his grandson, who joins him on crazy, dangerous adventures. I’m hesitant to talk about the show because it’s something that you really should go into with fresh eyes, but suffice to say it’s the most creative new show of the year — and you can really see the Harmon influence, though the pathos is even darker than usual — and it’s worth your time. I highly recommend the episode “Rixty Minutes,” the clear highlight of the season, that gets pretty bleak. It’s hard to explain how a show that calmly explains, “Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV” is so funny but trust me, and watch it.
Shameless has been a great show since its pilot (and technically, since its original British version began airing), but it’s rarely talked about due to the crowded Sunday-night TV schedule. It didn’t exactly take off in the ratings this year, but it did have its best season yet. It went to some dark, dark places but retained its sense of humor, even when there was nothing else you could do but cry and crack a joke. Shameless did an impressive job balancing its massive cast, did great work with Ian’s character, and allowed Emmy Rossum and William H. Macy to show every other actor how it’s done. If Rossum doesn’t get an Emmy nomination, we riot.
USA Network’s Successful Introduction to Comedy: Playing House and Sirens
In the past, USA has found most of its success with dramas (cop dramas, legal dramas, medical dramas), but this season it experimented with sitcoms and had successful results. Sirens, created by Denis Leary, is much funnier than anyone expected it to be. The real gem is Playing House which stars real life best friends Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair. The interesting premise, fun humor, and multiple comedian guest stars are all there, but the best part is the chemistry between the two leads. The women are two friends who sometimes bicker like a married couple but refuse to put anything else above each other and will never let anyone harm their bond.
The Real World: Ex-Plosion (MTV)
I know, but just hear me out, OK? The Real World hasn’t felt new or interesting for years now, instead just relying on tired reality show tropes and stereotypical characters who are guaranteed to fight and fuck each other. The Real World: Ex-Plosion was that, too, with a twist (the exes move in) that heightened everything. It was desperate, but you know what? It was so fun. It was so trashy and ridiculous and featured everything you’d expect (the roommates got drunk and threw punches!). It was also embarrassingly addictive, much more so than any recent season of The Real World, and for a while it was the most anticipated show in my living room. Also, sometimes the two meathead bros would have semi-philosophical conversations in the shower, and it was hilarious.
If Community had to end (and maybe it didn’t; Hulu may pick it up), at least it ended on a high note. The fifth season was a return to form for the show, after the Dan Harmon-free “gas leak” season, a collection of episodes that really proved how much the show loved its characters. It dealt with the changes — the departure of two main characters and introduction of others — gracefully and with humor. It’s a show that I will miss dearly if this is, truly, the end but one that I’m glad was around for as long as it was.
Spike’s Jon Taffer double bill: Hungry Investors and Bar Rescue — Far from the most intellectual shows on TV, both are strangely engaging. Taffer gets emotionally invested in the lives of the people he’s helping (and often gets very, very angry) that you can’t help but get engaged, too.
The Americans (FX) — I may never love The Americans as much as my fellow critics do, but I can still argue that it’s one of the best dramas on television, and does a bang-up job balancing espionage with heart-wrenching family drama. Season 2 didn’t have a dull moment.
Silicon Valley (HBO) — This freshman comedy from Mike Judge impressed everyone from the start. The dry tech-bro humor managed to be universal, not just for those who understand the computer mumbo-jumbo.
Total Divas (E!) — I’m a huge wrestling nerd (if I had my way, Raw would be at the top of everyone’s best-of list, in both comedy and drama), so I’m a sucker for anything related, especially if it involves the underrepresented divas and their contrived drama. (Another honorable mention: WWE Network’s Slam City is perfect cheese, with every episode under five minutes.)
About a Boy (NBC) — A surprisingly enjoyable way to spend a half-hour every week. If nothing else, I’m just glad someone finally gave David Walton a second season.
Ground Floor (TBS) — I didn’t have high hopes for this office-centric rom-com but it had a solid first season, mostly due to great turns by Skylar Astin and John C. McGinley.
Dog With a Blog (Disney) — I’m serious! Sometimes this show gives us a shockingly smart take on female friendship or family dynamics… but mostly, the dog blogs!