Flavorwire Staffers Weigh in on What Was Criminally Underrated in 2014

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It’s tough adoring something that nobody else seems to want to get behind; it leads you to feel isolated in the golden fortress of your own misunderstood tastes — worse, it can lead you to question, even turn against, your own flawless judgment. Of course, once you’ve done enough pontificating about a good show (or what have you) that nobody watches but must — once, finally, other people show interest in entering your shining castle of excellence — you’ll begin to feel crowded. “I knew it before it really became a thing,” you’ll think. “It’s kind of lost its edge.” But let’s not get ahead of ourselves; this post is but the first, pontificating step. Here’s everything you’re not watching or listening to or liking, but maybe should — everything Flavorwire thought was criminally underrated in 2014. Just know that if and when these things become popular, “we knew it before it really became a thing.”

Manhattan, WGN America

The first season of Manhattan was strong and assured, where geniuses colonize the American desert in order to create a machine that could blow up the world. The ensemble cast was uniformly excellent, the pleasure of watching smart characters was downright unmatched, and the skies of New Mexico and the creepy, unsettling turns that the show could take kept you off kilter. The funny thing about “streaming” services turning to television is that plenty of ink is spilled on the Orange Is the New Black and Transparent, but really wonderful shows on minor cable stations — Rectify and Manhattan come to mind — suffer a bit from nobody really knowing that they exist. Everyone I’ve told to watch Manhattan loves it and I bet that you will too. — Elisabeth Donnelly, Nonfiction Editor

Shia Labeouf

I’m not going to make an argument in favor of the merit of Shia LaBeouf’s recent foray into the art world, and I’m not going to pretend that his plagiarism wasn’t flagrant. What I will offer up is this: When we finally have a world-famous, talented (he was ace in Fury) celebrity publicly struggling with his existential and artistic ideals, and doing it in a way that is self-deprecating (if not contradictory), we should applaud and observe that celebrity, not shame him into seclusion as we train our vision on the run-of-the-mill. — Shane Barnes, Editorial Apprentice

The Knick, Cinemax

Steven Soderbergh asked HBO to place The Knick on little brother network Cinemax rather than the Home Box Office itself, because, he said, “I kind of wanted to be the big kid at a small school.” The question is whether that strategy worked; it was certainly the most important show on the network, but this fan can’t help but feel it might’ve made a bigger impact on the television conversation if it aired on a network that, y’know, people watched. It was, quietly, one of the best shows on television, starting strong and building, over its ten hours, into a more complex, haunting, and difficult narrative. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor

Rectify, SundanceTV

This Sundance TV Southern Gothic drama about a convicted murderer assimilating back into society after being released from death row was indeed criminally underrated (pun intended), and has been since its 2013 premiere. In its second season this year, protagonist Daniel Holden grew more morally complicated and harder to root for, but that only made Rectify more unpredictable in its slow-moving progression. Aden Young plays the tortured but childlike Holden with a plain-spoken mystery, but it’s Abigail Spencer (an actress you’ll recognize from a number of small film roles) as Holden’s headstrong sister Amantha that brings life to a new kind of multifaceted female character. Rectify has gotten strong reviews, but it’s still not widely known to the general viewing public. That needs to change. We need more stories about the criminal justice system that strive to tell us something about humanity and love, like Rectify and Top of the Lake. — Jillian Mapes, Music Editor

A Life in Dirty Movies (dir. Wiktor Ericsson)

You simply can’t write Joe Sarno off as a smut peddler. Having written and directed nearly 100 films in the sexploitation genre, Sarno’s work portrayed feminist ideas about female sexual agency and pleasure, focused on the interior lives of his subjects. Before David Lynch portrayed a soul-shattering scene of cry-masturbation in Mulholland Drive, Sarno was doing the same in front of audiences accustomed to donning raincoats over their laps inside darkened theaters. Sarno’s compulsion to make movies and the struggles of the aging artist are the subject of Wiktor Ericsson’s documentary, A Life in Dirty Movies. Wife and longtime collaborator Peggy Steffans acts as the film’s chain-smoking troubadour, bright-eyed and sharp-tongued, taking us behind the scenes of their Swedish apartment where the phallic rocking horse from 1972’s Young Playthings proudly rears its head from the shadows of their prop storage locker. The couple’s romantic and creative life is mirrored in clever edits that in one scene takes us from 70-something Steffans’ skinny-dip to clips from Sarno’s Swedish porn. “I made a film first,” Sarno tells us with quiet command. “And then I put the sex in it.” It’s a life in dirty movies. It’s a life in movies. It’s a life. — Alison Nastasi, Weekend Editor

Rick and Morty, Adult Swim

Rick and Morty was a show that I watched on a whim when it premiered but it quickly blew me away. It’s near impossible to describe — an alcoholic mad scientist genius and his poor grandson getting into strange mischief — but you really just have to watch it. — Pilot Viruet, TV Editor

How I Met Your Mother‘s Finale

I am probably one of the only people who was satisfied with the ending of How I Met Your Mother. I always ‘shipped Ted and Robin while also wanting Robin to have the independent life she deserved. So what if they had to whack “the mother” to make it work out for both of them? I’m cool with this choice. Mostly, I appreciated that the show got a tiny bit of its humorous groove back in its final run and stopped being a sappy soap opera imitator, so I was willing to forgive a lot. — Sarah Seltzer, Editor-at-Large

The Longevity of the Awesomeness of Game of Thrones and Community

I wouldn’t say this qualifies as “criminal,” but often TV shows that stay consistently excellent past the three-season mark get taken for granted. Just because there weren’t any Red Wedding-level shocks doesn’t mean Game of Thrones isn’t continuing to raise the bar for fantasy, and just because we know Dan Harmon’s a genius doesn’t mean he shouldn’t get credit for bringing Community back from the creative brink. — Alison Herman, Editorial Assistant

Getting On, HBO

Getting On, the dramedy you still haven’t seen about the nurses (and head doctor) in a hospital’s geriatric ward, is no Mad Men, no Boardwalk Empire or The Knick — it is not visually striking, nor is it noticeably stylized, and it’s certainly not glamorous. It’s also a relatively sexless show, but for the rare moments of illicit geriatric nookie the patients manage to sneak in. Because of this unsexiness and its focus on, well, death, it doesn’t get the same attention as more titillating shows. People apprehend it, because it sounds, simply, depressing. And it is depressing. But it’s also sweet and uproariously funny, and brilliantly pairs the hilarity of professional pressure with its slow-death-surrounded setting. While the show gently, and sometimes upsettingly, ponders life’s end, its main characters flail around trying to figure out the provenance of rogue feces, how to get the best photograph of vaginal atrophy, and how to not rip each others’ heads off. It also features some of the best performances on television this year from Laurie Metcalf, Niecy Nash and Alex Borstein. — Moze Halperin, Associate Editor

Maps to the Stars (dir. David Cronenberg)

I’m not going to arrest anyone for not liking a piece of art, but Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars is a major film that few people seem to care about. (At least John Waters gets it!) In fact, the last three Cronenberg movies are excellent, and most people hate them. — Jonathon Sturgeon, Literary Editor