Great TV of 2014

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SPOILER WARNING: I haven’t purposefully given away any plot points in this post, but you might want avoid certain sections if you’re not up to date with The Walking Dead, Homeland, Girls, Game of Thrones or Utopia.

If there’s one thing I managed to do consistently in 2014, it’s watch TV. In the past couple of years, TV has had something of a renaissance, to the point where some TV shows have been heralded as the finest form of entertainment available, beyond cinema and even literature.

A few drops of greatness is a beautiful thing, and I love the fact that TV has become much more than something to face your furniture towards. There are, undoubtedly, oceans of sheer dross to have been produced and broadcast over the tellywaves this year, but it’s a relief to know that great TV didn’t die with Breaking Bad.

It’s a little late to be writing about my favourite TV shows of 2014 now that we’re fully into January, but I’m going to do it anyway. Some of my choices might be predictable, but I am the average consumer, so that’s to be expected.

The Walking Dead

As anyone who follows me on Instagram will know (hit me up @gmkershaw91), I have a super lady boner for all things Walking Dead. The Telltale Game series has been my favourite video game this past year, and The Walking Dead: Compendium One was a joy to receive on Christmas Day. Of course, like most people, I discovered the franchise through the TV show and I’ve been an avid viewer from the start.

Oft criticised for being too slow, I’ve always enjoyed the character development on the show (yeah, even on the farm) and never really got bored. It was undeniable though that the writers were able to set up a really intriguing plot point and then just kind of…dragged it out. Whether this was due to a loss in translation from the writers room to film, or simple budget restrictions, it’s an unavoidable truth that some episodes have always stagnated.

The first half of series five broke this unwritten rule, and absolutely blew expectations out of the water. The opening episode was a cinematic marvel and the first in a long while that made me feel genuinely scared. The episodes that followed were a masterpiece in tension and character development, but unlike previous series’, this development could never be accused of being boring.

Andrew Lincoln’s portrayal of Rick, in particular, has never been stronger. As the show no longer depends on his character (to the same extent, at least), it’s been amazing and horrifying to see the extents to which the character will go. Unrecognisable from series one, physically and emotionally, this is the aspect of the comic books which has translated most perfectly to screen.

Carol has seen a similar, perhaps even more extreme, transformation, and has become the show’s most compelling character. Daryl, obviously, continues to break my heart on a weekly basis, and I love what the show is doing with Tyreese. Even Carl has become less annoying, which is nothing short of a miracle.

The most-criticised treatment on the show this season has been of Beth. I love what they did with the character, and believe that the writers have shown that they have learnt from their mistakes with her character. We all remember how awful the treatment of Angela was in the show, and no amount of screen time and sad faces was going to change the audience’s opinion of her. While no one really hated Beth, no one really cared about her either, and the writers did an awesome job of transforming her into a central character in only a few hours.

For the first time in a while, I’m excited to see what the second half of the season holds this year. Hopefully we’ll see some further development of Maggie beyond Glenn’s wifey, and I suspect that Daryl will have the spotlight focussed on him for the first few episodes of season 5.2.

Homeland

Forever late to the party, I started watching Homeland from the beginning this year, and adored season one. It’s too easy to forget what an astounding actress Claire Danes is, and she was truly in her element in season one.

Season’s two and three faced widespread criticism, and I can kind of see why. I enjoyed both, but not the same extent as season one, as it felt that the questions asked when the show launched were pretty much brushed away for convoluted plot points and unnecessary shock tactics. Season four, shown this year, acknowledged the previous seasons’ weak spots and took a turn for the better.

For the first time in a long time, Carrie felt like the anti-hero she’s supposed to be, and the character is a perfect example of flawed strength. Seeing a woman cast in this role is still new (which is pretty sad), and Claire Danes is by far the best actor to play this complex and important role. We’re bombarded with male bastards on the big screen and small, and it’s so refreshing to watch a show that focusses on such an intelligent and challenging female character. Homeland in 2014 gave me hope, not only for the shows successful future, but for TV shows in general, and the portrayal and importance of women in these roles.

Girls

What’s this, another white, middle-class woman talking about Girls? How original. Too much space has been given to the show and its creator over the past few years, so I’ll try not to bang on. I won’t deny that I love Girls’ though, and I that I think season three was the strongest yet.

In 2014, the characters felt more real than ever before. Extreme caricatures in season one, and slightly more human in season two, the relationships and actions of season three were finally those I could believe existed, more so than the simple representation of ideas that the characters were in the shows earlier days.

Hannah and Adam’s relationship in particular was joyous and painful, particularly towards the end of the season. Her smile before the season’s closing credits has stuck clearly in my mind even months after broadcast, and I really can’t wait to see the direction the show takes in 2015.

If there’s one thing about Lena Dunham and her work that I do truly love, it’s that she creates a safe space for women to acknowledge, accept and move on from their less-favourable attributes. In each of the characters I recognise a part of myself either currently or from the past, and the show is a kind of minor therapy. Seeing actions played out on screen that are extremes of my own, it’s created closure and acceptance that’s been truly helpful.

Game of Thrones, Utopia, Life Story

Game of Thrones in 2014 was incredible. The show has rarely had a weak moment, and where most series’ would have shown weaknesses by this point, it continues to shock, appal and enchant with each episode. I loved seeing the storyline with fresh eyes for the first time in forever, and I can’t wait to see what happens this year. I’ve written about this series in the past (hence the short mention here), so check it out if you want to see what I really thought of GoT in 2014.

One of my biggest disappointments in 2014 was the announcement that Channel 4’s Utopia was being cancelled. The strongest and most underrated British show of recent years, it’s a TV tragedy that it’s been cancelled just when the story was becoming so captivating. I beg you to check out the two series on 4OD, and, if you need more persuading, take a look at my in-depth post in praise of the show.

I’m a sucker for a good nature documentary, and Life Story was the non-fiction highlight of the year. David Attenborough is the voice of nature, and few moments on TV moved me more this year than the mourning of the elephants in the final episode. Something that constantly surprised me in Life Story was how much I laughed, and I think that’s probably what set the documentary apart from the rest. Life Story was a journey in emotion, and for non-fiction storytelling to make an impact, it requires a narrative. This was provided in abundance in the series, and it never failed to hit me straight in the emotions.

What do you make of my TV highlights from 2014? How do you think these shows will do in the coming months? Let me know what you think by leaving a comment, or hitting me up on Twitter @gmkershaw91!

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