Christmas is nigh and 2014 is drawing to a close making it the perfect time to look back with fondness and wonder at the TV highlights of the year.
So here, for your delectation, are my top ten TV shows of the year – starting with 10-6.
Check back here tomorrow for my top 5, and please don’t get angry, okay?
10) Game of Thrones
One of the biggest TV shows around, season four of Game of Thrones felt like the moment the HBO fantasy series truly took its place atop the cultural zeitgeist. Aside from Bake Off’s Bin-Gate disaster, the social media storm whipped up by the gruesome, harrowing and shocking deaths of King Joffrey in the Purple Wedding and the Red Viper is hard to replicate and the sheer ubiquity of its presence makes it essential viewing for any TV-buff.
That Thrones manages to be so consistently shocking whilst providing a platform for great actors like Peter Dinklage – whose rousing and emotional speech during Tyrion’s trail was the season’s most subtly powerful moment – is a remarkable feat of modern television. Yes, it had its missteps, in particular a crudely misjudged scene in episode three that appeared to show Jaime Lannister raping his sister Cersei at the alter of their dead son, but even with its flaws Thrones is the greatest television, leaving its audience in a perpetual state of bewildered tension with its fearless attitude and impeachable ambition.
9) Almost Human
The most underrated new show of 2014, that this JJ Abrams-produced futuristic buddy cop-drama was ignominiously cancelled after just one season is the biggest television travesty of the year. Set in the glossy-neon futurescape of 2048, each episode of Almost Human featured a higher than high-concept storyline that could have been ripped from the pages of a comic book – a terrorist group uses facial projection masks to pull off a million dollar bank heist, for example – and it was thrilling to watch.
But what made it great viewing was the central pairing of Karl Urban’s misanthropic detective and his relentlessly upbeat android Dorian (Michael Ealy). The best scenes saw these two miss-matched cops trading bitter wisecracks and debating the complexities of human nature in their suped-up patrol car, revealing an intelligent show that was more about the importance of friendship and what it means to be human than shimmering sci-fi spectacle.
Another excellent show that has flown under the radar this year is Bryan Fuller’s gastro-gore adaptation of Thomas Harris’s Hannibal novels. Truly a show FOR its fans, season two took the homoerotic musings of the series’ fan fiction to another level with a storyline that saw Hannibal seduce Will Graham into the dark world of murder and fine-dining, culminating in a virtuoso bloodbath that left the fates of Will, Jack and Abigail hanging by a thread.
While Fuller has elevated gore to the level of fine art, it’s the performances that really stand out, not least Mads Mikkelsen’s more refined and surprisingly human take on Hannibal Lecter, which helps the show break free of Anthony Hopkins’s indelible legacy.
7) Line of Duty
The first of five BBC dramas on this list, Line of Duty proves that 2014 wasn’t all about American imports. While the first series was pretty good, with its Shakespearian tragedy of a story that followed Lennie James’s successful detective as he slowly succumbed to the corruption of greed and powerful women, series two acted as a watershed moment of Jed Mercurio’s crime drama.
Built around a superb performance from Keeley Hawes, who seamlessly oscillated between empathetic hero and calculating villain as DI Lindsay Denton, the series kept viewers in a constant grip of suspense as the story twisted down new murkier paths each week. If it hadn’t buckled under the pressure of intense speculation during its finale, where the tension was allowed to dissipate due to too much focus being placed on wrapping up the story, the show would almost certainly be higher up this list.
6) True Detective
A meaty two-hander spanning 17 years and unfolding at a languorous yet absorbing pace, the first of HBO’s crime anthology series was one of the most dizzying spectacles of 2014. While its divisive finale has taken away some of its shine, for the early part of 2014 it seemed like the whole world was preoccupied with a spooky case of murder and child abuse in America’s Deep South.
The absorbing performances from Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey may have hogged the limelight, playing two polar-opposite detectives crumbling beneath their isolating world views and enduring fraught arguments in a suffocating car, but the powerful hold it possessed was the work of Nic Pizzolatto and Cary Fukunaga. The writer and director had complete control over the story, allowing them to cultivate that unsettling southern gothic tone, crawling through Louisiana’s ethereal bayous before kicking up a gear in episode four when Rust Cohle’s escape from a biker gang was shown in one dazzling take. Displaying a level of artistic vision rarely scene on television, True Detective was a towering achievement that season two will surely struggle to surpass.