Tag Archives: Orange is the New Black

The 10 Best Shows of 2014

I’m kicking off my week-long look at the best (and worst) TV of 2014 with my rundown of the year’s top 10 shows. Even more than usual, 2014 was overstuffed with TV goodies, and winnowing the list of worthy series down to 10 was a near-impossible task. There were easily 20 additional shows that also could have made the cut, but the 10 below represent the most exceptional programs I watched over the past year. These cable, broadcast and digital series resonated with me more than any other in 2014, and have continued to awe, challenge and inspire me, weeks and months later.

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(KC Bailey/FX)

10.  Louie (FX)

Returning after a near 20-month hiatus, Louie remained the most surprising show on TV. Each episode offers something completely unexpected, from Sarah Baker’s knockout monologue in “So Did the Fat Lady” to the six-part “Elevator” arc. And while Louis CK’s batting average may not have been quite as astronomical as in previous seasons, it was still worthy of a spot on the list. Netflix and its ilk might be changing the notion of what TV is, but no one is redefining the medium on a weekly basis more than CK.

truedetective11

(Lacey Terrell/HBO)

9. True Detective (HBO)

I was among the many that was disappointed by the season’s conventional ending, but as the months have passed, that feeling has been dwarfed by the appreciation of all that came before it. Over eight riveting episodes, creator Nic Pizzolatto, director Cary Fukunaga and stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson tackled the most tired of genres – the buddy detective drama – and completely reinvented it. And the fourth episode’s uninterrupted, six-minute tracking shot was TV’s most euphoric experience of the year.

rectify1

(Tina Rowden)

8. Rectify (SundanceTV)

Almost every show on this list could be described as “unlike anything else on television.” But that goes double for Rectify, which ventured even further into uncharted territory in Season 2 as Aden Young’s Daniel continued his assimilation into society after spending 19 years on Death Row for the rape and murder of his teenage girlfriend. It dares you to put the outside world on pause and immerse yourself in its staggering emotion.

I wrote about the season here.

youretheworst

(Byron Cohen/FX)

7. You’re the Worst (FX)

This is the only comedy that cracked the list, though several shows — including The Mindy Project, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Black-ish and Archer — consistently made me laugh this year. You’re the Worst seemed like the kind of show I’d watch once, and then never glance at again. But I ended up falling for the abrasive Jimmy Shive-Overly (Chris Geere) and obnoxious Gretchen Cutler (Aya Cash) even harder than they fell for each other. Comedies aren’t supposed to be this assured out of the gate, but You’re the Worst had my number from the raucous, raunchy pilot. In a year when too many fantastic, low-rated comedies were canceled, You’re the Worst’s renewal was a glorious blessing.

I wrote about the show here.

Hannibal - Season 2

(Brooke Palmer/NBC)

6. Hannibal (NBC)

How can this show exist on broadcast TV? Is NBC even aware that they air it, or does someone else hack their airwaves every Friday at 10? Anyone who claims that broadcast TV has become mediocre and colorless has obviously never seen Bryan Fuller’s vibrant work of art, which puts most cable fare to shame. Fuller has taken a once-noble franchise that was driven into the ground by increasingly awful novels and even worse films, and restored its luster via a lush tapestry of visual and aural verve. It is a feast for the eyes, stomach and mind. Even if we know how the story will end (hell, Fuller revealed how the season would conclude three minutes into the premiere), Fuller has crafted a captivating journey, as we witness the psychological chess match between Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) and Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen).

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(JoJo Whilden/Netflix)

5. Orange is the New Black (Netflix)

The biggest surprise of 2013 wasn’t content to coast in Season 2; instead, it upped its game by deepening its depictions of all the Litchfield inmates we got to know in Season 1 — along with some we didn’t even realize we cared about (Rosa!). Even Taylor Schilling’s Piper — who last year seemed dwarfed by the likes of Kate Mulgrew’s Red and Uzo Aduba’s Suzanne — finally grew into her own this year. Lorraine Toussaint’s Vee proved a perfect wolf in sheep’s clothing, but almost everyone was given their share of unforgettable moments in the spotlight.

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(Amazon Studios)

4. Transparent (Amazon)

Amazon, I didn’t think you had it in you! Sure, the pilot for Jill Soloway’s examination of a patriarch (Jeffrey Tambor) who decides to finally live his life as the woman who has always been inside him, was impressive. But the series managed to be even more moving, as it was able to be groundbreaking without putting Maura on a pedestal (instead, she’s just as flawed as everyone else). Every character and moment seemed vivid and real, a feat that was every bit as innovative as its subject matter.

I wrote about Transparent here.

Fargo

(Chris Large/FX)

3. Fargo (FX)

I watched the Fargo pilot almost a year ago and was bowled over. Speaking with FX Networks CEO John Landgraf soon after, I asked if the subsequent episodes could possibly measure up. He assured me they were even better — and boy was he was right. Noah Hawley took sacred ground — the Coen Brothers’ 1996 masterpiece — and crafted a sprawling story that felt both new and very much of a piece with that film. It was packed with superb performances, particularly Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman and find-of-the-year Allison Tolman. And unlike True Detective, it stuck the ending, which honored the spirit of the show. You betcha!

The Last Call

(CBS)

2. The Good Wife (CBS)

This isn’t supposed to happen. A series A) in its sixth year B) on a broadcast network C) which loses a major cast member (RIP, Will Gardner) shouldn’t be reaching new creative heights. But nobody told The Good Wife that, because the show is as enthralling as it has ever been. Astoundingly, Will Gardner’s shocking death has turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to the show, and star Julianna Margulies, as it pushes its story and cast in wondrous new directions. I don’t know how long it can keep this up; but I’ll never bet against showrunners Robert and Michelle King, who are somehow pulling this off 22 times a year.

I reviewed The Good Wife here, and also profiled Christine Baranski and showrunners Robert and Michelle King.

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(Patrick Harbron/FX)

1. The Americans (FX)

I enjoyed the 2013 debut season of this series much more than some of my colleagues, but even I was astounded at the gargantuan creative leap it made in Season 2. Suddenly, the Russian spies working undercover as a married couple in ’80s America (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) were grappling with the gradual realization that their nuclear family was worth fighting for even more than Mother Russia.

It remains mindboggling so many viewers (and awards show voters) continue to overlook this show, which is a triumph on every level: from casting to scripts to production to costumes and wigs. It’s a spy thriller, a relationship drama, a family drama and a political drama rolled into one. And, oh yeah, it has several of the best music cues on television. In one series, The Americans packs in everything that television aspires to be. And the crazy thing is, I think it’s primed to get even better in Season 3, especially given the gutpunch of a twist in the season finale.

Check back on Tuesday for my look at the year’s 10 best performances.

The Future of TV is Here: Netflix and Amazon Will Face Off for a Golden Globe

The marquee of United Artists theater is seen during Amazon's premiere screening of "Transparent" at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles

It was a very good morning for Amazon, which received 2 Golden Globe nominations for Transparent, its first great series. As I wrote at Quartz, it’s the first major award nominations ever for Amazon, and something that the company — and Amazon Studios director Roy Price — have been pursuing for a long while:

It represents an important step forward for the upstart content provider, in its quest to join the ranks of television’s most respected outlets.

While insisting that he wasn’t solely competing with Netflix, Amazon Studios director Roy Price told me last summer that receiving recognition from a major awards body (as Netflix had been doing since last year’s Emmys) was very important to the company. “It could be great for us, and it gives the part of the audience that hasn’t tried the shows yet an idea that people are responding well to these shows,” Price said. “So, we’d love to see some love from the Emmys or the [Golden] Globes.”

Even better, the streaming outlet will be facing off directly against Netflix, as both are nominated in the best musical/comedy series category, for Transparent and Orange is the New Black. In the story, I also explain why Transparent and/or Tambor have a very good chance to go home with a Golden Globe on Jan. 11.

The future of TV is here: Netflix and Amazon will face off for a Golden Globe

Forget beating HBO: Netflix just revealed it has much bigger goals in mind

forget-beating-hbo

I was very surprised by the announcement late Friday night that Netflix had acquired NBC’s midseason comedy Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, one of the NBC shows I was most looking forward to this season. Two days earlier, it had picked up the high-rated but old-skewing Longmire, which A&E had canceled after three seasons. In my Quartz analysis, I noted,

Gone are the days where Netflix tried to make a splash with programming you couldn’t find anywhere else on TV, most notably Orange is the New Black. While cable networks like USA and AMC are trying to save themselves by retrenching and focusing on what they do best, Netflix is taking the opposite approach: it wants to be everything to everyone.

For years, Netflix had said its goal was “to become HBO faster than HBO can become us.” But now, it has even loftier ambitions: it wants to be all things to all people.

Forget beating HBO: Netflix just revealed it has much bigger goals in mind

Emmy Voters Just Did Something the Networks Couldn’t—Stop Netflix

Emmy voters just did something

Last night, the networks found an unexpected savior in their efforts to keep Netflix at bay: Emmy voters. Despite entering this year’s race with an impressive 31 nominations, the network came up empty during the 66th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards. As I wrote at Quartz,

Netflix seemed primed for a big night, after last week’s Creative Arts wins seemed to indicate that Orange is the New Black would be lauded. Host Seth Meyers acknowledged Netflix’s expected big night in his opening monologue when he joked, “Not very nice when someone younger comes along, is it, cable?” And Netflix was at the center of one of the evening’s early highlights: a hilarious commercial that ran during the telecast in which Gervais crossed paths with characters from House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. It was supposed to be the first of many memorable Netflix moments on Emmy night. But it turned out to be the only one.

I also touch upon a little-known fact about Emmy voters: sometimes as few as 50 of them make the decisions for each category.

Emmy voters just did something the networks couldn’t—stop Netflix 

‘Squawk Alley’: Next Act for Netflix

I returned to CNBC today (the video of my first appearance, several months earlier, was not posted online) to make an appearance on Squawk Alley, where I discussed Netflix’s upcoming shows, its Emmy nominations and what’s next. Here’s a clip from my segment:

I made this appearance just a few hours after taking a redeye back from L.A. (where I left press tour), and was going on about 90 minutes sleep. Thankfully I made it through the segment without nodding off!

Next Act for Netflix

Netflix Has Gone From Emmys Crasher to Guest of Honor

netflix emmys crasher

I arrived in Los Angeles yesterday for TCA summer press tour, and one of my first assignments was this Quartz reaction to today’s Emmy nominations. As the streaming network more than doubled its 2013 nomination tally, from 14 to 31, it’s shifted from interloper to frontrunner.

But today’s impressive tally also increases the pressure on Emmy night. After last year’s Emmys, I wrote that Netflix was one of the night’s biggest winners, even though it didn’t win any major awards. Last year, just earning those nominations and smaller wins (like the directing Emmy for House of Cards) legitimized Netflix in the same way that early Emmy victories had once done for HBO, AMC, and FX.

This year, however, House of Cards and Orange is the New Black have catapulted from “just happy to be here” to frontrunner status. That means on August 25, Netflix needs to win one of the big trophies—outstanding comedy series for Orange, or outstanding actor in a drama for Kevin Spacey of House of Cards—to truly be considered one of television’s elite networks.

Plus, charts!

Netflix has gone from Emmys crasher to guest of honor

Finally, Instead of Re-Runs Over the Summer, New TV Shows Will Premiere All Year

finally instead of reruns

As upfronts wrap today, I wrote this Quartz piece about one big change to this year’s proceedings: the networks are finally serious about programming year-round, and they’re actually putting their money where their mouths are.

But as broadcast ratings continue to erode, those networks can no longer assume that their viewers will stay loyal and return in the fall. So when CBS took a chance on adapting Stephen King’s Under the Dome as a “limited series” last summer, and it became the highest-rated scripted summer series in 21 years, the network kept it in the same spot this year (it returns June 30). With the addition of Extant and other summer shows, CBS will have 90 hours of original programming this summer.

It’s a big change from the broadcasters’ traditional hands-off approach to summer, allowing the cable networks (and more recently, Netflix) to swoop in and take all the audiences for themselves.

Finally, instead of re-runs over the summer, new TV shows will premiere all year

Not Even Those Who Run Netflix Shows Know How Popular They Really Are

not even those who run Netflix

This is crazy to me. We’ve all known for years that Netflix has stubbornly refused to release any ratings information on its shows. Now, I wrote at Quartz, it turns out that not even the people who make Netflix’s most popular (we think) shows have any idea how many viewers actually watch their programming.

“It’s like, ‘I’m a hit —I think,’” Orange is the New Black creator Jenji Kohan told The Hollywood Reporter. The lack of viewership metrics from Netflix “makes it hard to negotiate later,” she says, referring to the standing industry practice in which the stars and producers of hits shows leverage ratings success for significant raises in a show’s third or fourth season.

I also wrote about Netflix’s excuses for withholding that data — and why they don’t hold water.

Not even those who run Netflix shows know how popular they really are 

Sophomore TV Shows: Which Will Surge and Which Will Slump?

sophomore shows

With the new TV season about to kick off, I looked at 16 returning second-year series, and predicted which ones will surge in Season 2, and which will slump. As I wrote at The Daily Beast,

A show’s second season is often its make-or-break year. After a season’s worth of growing pains and tweaking under its belt, will the series make the leap and fully realize its potential, as Scandal and New Girl gloriously did last year, or will it hit the dreaded sophomore slump and watch that initial promise implode, as was the case with Revenge, Up All Night, and Smash?

Maybe I’ll check back at the end of the season and how my predictions held up.

Sophomore TV Shows: Which Will Surge and Which Will Slump?