Even though television tops the list of our favorite things in the world — television’s first; everyone is second, because we’re practically Kenneth the Page — we’re the first to admit the whole medium can be a little bit overwhelming. After all there is just so.friggen.much.television. And with more and more networks and media platforms getting in on the game, the bounty of its riches grows with a ferocious and ever-increasing manner. So we don’t blame you for maybe having missed a show or two here and there. 2014 had some good stuff — but a lot of it wasn’t as easily available as, say, a network show.
In fact a lot of the best stuff happening was nowhere near network TV (Hannibal notwithstanding, natch). Networks like Starz and FX really came to the table this year, joining forces of seemingly always-good nature, Showtime and HBO — you know, rich people (and/or your parents) TV. (What?! Cable subscriptions are not cheap — we know because we have to pay for one for work.)
So we decided to pick out a few of our favorites — the smaller series, the ones that maybe didn’t have the publicity they deserved or were just too niche for a mass audience — from this year to showcase for your potential consumption consideration. After all — it’s wintertime, which means your binge-watching time has quadrupled (who likes to go outside, right?). So why not consider one of these seriously fantastic series on for size, eh?
Up there on the list of our personal favorites is the Starz adaptation of Diane Gabaldon’s novels, Outlander. Be it the combination of two of our favorite things — historical drama and time travel — the sweeping vistas, Sam Heughan’s luscious locks, those sexy if at-times undecipherable Scottish accents, or the highly feminist point of view our lead character, Claire, has, Outlander was an utterly refreshing and exciting new take on television this year. Outlander not only gave us the gift of its sweeping and epic narrative, the series has been — dare I say it — downright revolutionary when it comes to the sexual power dynamics regularly portrayed on TV. We see you there, empowered female gaze — and we like you!
You’re The Worst
Modern relationships are so awful. Like seriously: isn’t dating the worst? Isn’t having to play that volley game back and forth exhausting? Even for shitty, terrible people it’s hard — just like on You’re The Worst. FX’s comedy from Stephen Falk was one of if not THE BEST new comedy to come out in 2014. Gretchen and Jimmy are the sort of people we all can be after life’s exhausting tilt-a-whirl of bullsittery catches up to us — only that’s how they are all the time. Relying on their baser wants and needs rather than fulfilling something deeper inside of them, these two end up in a relationship by accident — and seeing how it unfolds is an awkward, hilarious, and surprisingly relatable dream. And that’s to say nothing of the supremely special (and fully fleshed-out) supporting characters Edgar and Lindsay, who bring just as many (if not more!) laughs to the table than the series’ stars. If you’re a twenty-or-thirty-something trying to date and it’s shitty but hilarious — if you like the idea that love conquers all, even the assholes — then this is the show for you.
There’s something particularly special about Cinemax’s The Knick. No, it’s not Clive Owen’s Dr. John Thackery — it’s actually Andre Holland, the scene-stealing black doctor who’s often maligned and pushed aside in this early 1900s medical drama. Despite the utter brilliance and knowledge he brings to the table, well beyond that of the Knickerbocker Hospital’s luminary (and drug-addled) lead surgeon, Dr. Algernon Edwards has to fight and scheme in order to simply help people — and he does it better than his cocaine-fueled compatriot upstairs on the main floors. His struggle is the shining light of the series, which already does fascinating work regarding the Wild West-esque nature of surgery at the time. Couple it together with Steven Soderbergh’s dark direction and some unexpected (but seriously delightful) music cues? You’ve got yourself a damn good show, there, folks — and one you would do well to watch. And also Andre Holland for all of the things, please.
Getting On started in 2013, but it was such a quiet little thing we’re sure the majority of folks missed it. Now in its second season, the HBO series is one of the better comedic nuggets of small screen goodness we’ve seen in awhile. The laughs sometimes feel small but they’re always wholly rooted in the absurd lengths humans go to avoid the realities of being us. And the acting is spectacular. Between Niecey Nash, Laurie Metcalf, Alex Borstein, and Mel Rodriguez, there is no funnier little dysfunctional group of colleagues on TV. Dawn and Patsy are so broken, so obsessed with control over their own delusions — it’s heartbreaking and hilarious, and I love it. Borstein manages to nail the frenetic struggle of being so optimistic and almost desperate for life in spite of herself that it’s often uncomfortable to watch. But as long as second-hand embarrassment is not a first-hand killer for you, Getting On will blow you away with its general goodness and screwball ineptitude. Besides, if we can’t laugh at getting old and the face of death, we’re screwed!
My roommate called this one the “thinking person’s soap opera” and I sorta think she’s right. The Affair is at once a dramatic retelling of torrid love affairs and murder in a sleepy summer beach town, but it’s also so much more. (We’d tell you what that “more” is but frankly there’s still SO much we don’t know! Ahhh!) This is thanks almost wholly in part to the fascinating narrative devices used to slowly tease the story out into the light, leaving you mad for details and speculation. The story of The Affair is told from two points of view: Noah and Allison. Cut in half, each episode shows the crazy differences of people’s recollection of things after years have passed. From how they act, react, dress, and more — everything is upended leaving the audience wondering who they can truly trust. To say nothing of the thought process that goes on when you decide to side with one or another (if you can even manage to do that). It’s unreliable narration used to its most dramatic effect — because never once do you really know who’s telling the truth. If not knowing things doesn’t drive you bonkers — and your love for Pacey Whitter knows no bounds — you’re sure to appreciate The Affair‘s sneaking drama. Plus the cast is unmatchable: Ruth Wilson, Dominic West, Maura Tierney? The Aforementioned Joshua Jackson? I mean, hello: you want to watch this show. Nay — you need to watch tout de suite!
You might want to call this reality television, but it’s so much more than that, so don’t. Truly, The Chair embodies documentary-style filmmaking on TV in a way most other “docu-dramas” do not. In the years since that term’s inception, a divide has revealed itself between the more camprageous fluff of Bravo and their ilk, and the more cinema verite-styled series that rely less on table-flipping and more on the fascinating inherent stuff. A truly wonderful, enthralling, and fascinating look at what it takes to make a movie, The Chair‘s first season gave two first-time directors (Anna Martemucci and Shane Dawson) the same script and carte blanche to make an independent film. The resulting bit of television shows just how different those roads can be based on the directors involved. At times maddening, frustrating, exhausting, and annoying — all in the best way, because drama — The Chair gives you a behind-the-scnees look at what it takes to make a movie, warts and all. And the best thing about The Chair is they don’t hold anything back: even the at-times meta complaints and issues involved in making a television series about making two movies. (Spoiler alert: the two productions don’t always get along.) There’s nary a manufactured moment when it comes to this drama — and that’s what makes it great.
We’ve already said a million and one good things about WGN America’s Manhattan. Science, human stories, historical fiction, pitch-perfect direction, beautiful acting, and stunning visuals are all wrapped up into this particularly primo package — and you’d do well not to miss it. It’s Mad Men meets science meets a hyper-unique petrie dish of human seclusion. War! Secrets! Affairs! To say nothing of its haunting music (thank to Jonsi & Alex). Get familiar with Manhattan now so you can say you knew it before people pick it up during its second season.
What were some of your favorite underappreciated shows? Leave ’em in the comments.