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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Grading The Best TV Shows of the Year (So Far)

2014 is only halfway over, yet there have been a litany of great television shows that have aired. Many of them I've seen, a good a majority I have not. We live in an era of television that is classified by quantity over anything else, and seeing as I am just one man, I can only watch so much. But I have watched a buttload of shows, and here are my thoughts on every television show I've seen this year.

Community (NBC)
Season: 5
Created By: Dan Harmon
Original Start Date: January 2, 2014
Grade: A

Brief Description: While I was in the minority feeling that Dan Harmon deserved to get kicked off of his own show after the atrocious Season 3, I'm glad he was brought back for Season 5. Season 4 show runners Moses Port & David Guarascio did their best Dan Harmon impression, but easily came up short creating a soulless monster. Harmon dialed back the insane extremes he took his characters to in Season 3 (mainly Abed) in this new season, and in turn created one of the smartest and funniest sitcoms around. #RIPCommunity.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (FOX)
Season: 1b
Created By: Dan Goor & Michael Schur
Original Start Date: January 7, 2014
Grade: A

Brief Description: Brooklyn Nine-Nine was one of the smartest and funniest sitcoms of 2014 and is competing against Community for the best comedy of the year. Like most sitcoms, it took a little bit to get its bearings and its voice straightened out, but those stumbling blocks came in 2013. What the FOX sitcom aired in 2014 was a well-defined and hilarious work of art filled with three-dimensional characters. Based upon how strong Season 1 was, I have no qualms with the rookie comedy wining the Golden Globe last year for Best Comedy Show, and I hope it gets a handful of Emmy nominations in a few weeks.

New Girl (FOX)
Season: 3b
Created By: Elizabeth Meriwether
Original Start Date: January 7, 2014
Grade: B

Brief Description: Season 1 of New Girl was pretty solid and by the end of the season the show found its groove. That in turn led to an excellent second season of the show, and one of the single best sitcom seasons of recent memory. Then the show aired the first part of Season 3 in the fall of 2013 and it was dreadful. The show clearly took a ginormous step backwards and made it almost unwatchable. It wasn't that Nick and Jess were dating that was the problem, we as the audience wanted to see that, but it's the fact the writers didn't know what to do with those characters as well as making Schmidt completely unlikable while ignoring everything they had built up for Cece that was the problem. The show started to right the ship in 2014, but it was still subpar compared to how great the show had shown us it could be. The addition of Daman Wayans Jr.'s Coach didn't help either, because it was yet another Black character the show didn't know how to write for.

The Mindy Project (FOX)
Season: 2b
Created By: Mindy Kaling
Original Start Date: January 7, 2014
Grade: B-

Brief Description: While I think Mindy Kaling is extremely talented, I just don't think her show has hit its stride yet. It's enjoyable, but nothing spectacular. Unfortunately, if it hasn't hit its stride yet, I don't think it ever will. It's a nice show to keep on after Brooklyn Nine-Nine and New Girl, but not a show to go out of your way to watch either. I think its biggest problem is that it doesn't know what show it is- is it a workplace comedy or relationship comedy? From the getgo, this show has told us it's about Mindy trying to find that fairy tale One, and the best parts of this show has been her relationship with Danny (well, that and Adam Pally), yet we spend way too much time with Mindy at work to believe that's what the show is about. I almost think Kaling's time on The Office hurt what she really wanted to do with The Mindy Project.

Justified (FX)
Season: 5
Created By: Graham Yost
Original Start Date: January 7, 2014
Grade: B-

Brief Description: I don't know what it is about Justified, but apparently when it airs an odd numbered season, it just can't be all that good. Season 1 was "eh" but the show was still a "crime of the week" type show, so I get it. Season 3 had too many cooks in the kitchen (aka one too many bad guys) to create a cohesive story line. Season 5 capitalized upon Season 4's success by focusing the show on the core group on characters, but unfortunately nothing happened this past season and the extremely low stakes made for a staggering and drawn season season of Justified. Ava was in jail, Boyd spends all season trying to bring in 1 shipment of heroin, and Raylon, well I have no idea what Raylon did this past season. This show can do better. As great as the last 3 episodes of the season were, it doesn't make up for the misfirings that came before it. All it really does is build goodwill for the show for its sixth and final season.

Modern Family (ABC)
Season: 5b
Created By: Steve Levitan & Christopher Lloyd
Original Start Date: January 8, 2014

Brief Description: I don't watch Modern Family consistently or as religiously as I watch every other comedy on this list, but every episode I've seen from the show from both this past season and in 2014 has been great and hilarious. The show was running of fumes for a bit the past two seasons as every character beat seemed to be the exact same every episode, but Cam and Mitchell's wedding along with Luke, Manny, and Alex being in high school and Gloria and Jay's new baby (as well as their new nanny played by the hilarious Workaholic's alum Adam DeVine) helped breathe a fresh new voice into the show.

Parks and Recreation (NBC)
Season: 6b
Created By: Michael Schur & Greg Daniels
Original Start Date: January 9, 2014
Grade: A-

Brief Description: While Parks and Rec is clearly not as good as it was when it first started, I really don't care. Most sitcoms don't even last 6 seasons, nevertheless be as funny for 6 seasons as this show has been. Parks and Rec is easily one of the best sitcoms around. In fact, Season 6 was so good, and its season finale was so spectacular, that I almost wished we had seen the last of the Parks and Recreation department of Pawnee. On one hand, we still get to see the best comedy of this decade one last time, but on the other hand, the show's legacy has been so good up to this point, I don't want anything to taint that.

True Detective (HBO)
Season: 1
Created By: Nick Pizzolatto
Original Start Date: January 12, 2014
Grade: C+

Brief Description: This show feels like a case of The Emperor's New Clothes more than anything. A serial killer drama airing on Sunday nights on HBO just *has* to be good, right? All 8 episodes were directed by Cary Joji Fukanaga, and are splendid and gorgeous, and Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson do amazing acting. Unfortunately, the directing and acting don't make up for poor storytelling; I couldn't wait for each episode to end because of just how boring this series was. I understand this show was a story about two detectives and their personal philosophies and time and stuff rather than trying to solve a murder, but I just didn't care. McConaughey and Harrelson can only do so much with so little, and if this show didn't have the pedigree or the hype that it did, I would have stopped watching halfway through the season.

How I Met Your Mother (CBS)
Season: 9b
Created By: Carter Bays & Craig Thomas
Original Start Date: January 13, 2014
Grade: D

Brief Description: The only reason this show doesn't get an "F" was because of their fabulous 200th episode "How Your Mother Met Me" and because the show FINALLY ended. Spending the entire season during the weekend of Robin and Barney's wedding was a terrible creative decision and led to the show's worst season yet- which is a hard feat to accomplish.What made everything worse was the atrocious season finale where The Mother immediately dies and Ted ends up with Robin. This finale might have worked if the show only lasted 3 or 4 seasons, but after 9 freaking seasons of spending time with these characters and having Ted mope around for all nine of them, we deserved a better ending than this.

Sherlock (BBC)
Season: 3
Created By: Mark Gatiss & Steven Moffat
Original Start Date: January 19, 2014
Grade: B-

Brief Description: While we had to wait 2 years for Sherlock to return because Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch were busy filming 62 movies between Season 2 and Season 3, the wait was hardly worth it. Season 3 is easily Sherlock's worst season. While you can never expect a Sherlock plot line to be completely grounded in reality, Season 3 spiraled into absurdity. The show lacked the same playfulness this year as it had it past years and it affected its quality.

House of Cards (Netflix)
Season: 2
Created By: Beau Willimon
Original Start Date: February 14, 2014
Grade: C

Brief Description: I loved Season 1 of House of Cards. I thought it was brilliant. But I thought Season 2 fell WAY off the rails and didn't have many of the elements that made Season 1 so great- mainly a legitimate threat to Frank Underwood either politically or otherwise. The Raymond Tusk feud, which was the main story throughout Season 2, fell flat on its face, and almost all of the other sub-plots (Claire Underwood's abortions, Stamper's obsession with Rachel, everything related to the media group from season 1) were just as bad. Plus, the fact that President Walker was portrayed as the stupidest fucking president ever was just infuriating. Frank Underwood was a bad man in Season 1, but at least he seemed like a real person. In Season 2, he was just a cartoon super villain twirling his mustache for 13 episodes. That being said, how House of Cards ended made me excited for Season 3.

Game of Thrones (HBO)
Season: 4
Created By: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Original Start Date: April 6, 2014
Grade: A/A+

Brief Description: Season 4 has been, far and away, the best season of Game of Thrones. The main reason for this is because the HBO epic stopped using the first 8 episodes of the season as a build up to the explosion that inevitably occurs in the penultimate episode and started having little explosions sprinkled throughout the season. That made for a much more rich and enjoyable experience. The middle episodes tended to lag and drag as the season went along throughout Game of Thrones' first three seasons. That wasn't the case at all in Season 4 as we got moments like The Purple Wedding and The Trial of Tyrion Lannister. If 2014 ended right now, Game of Thrones would be my #1 show of the year. That's over True Detective, Mad Men, House of Cards, Justified, Sherlock, and Fargo.

Silicon Valley (HBO)
Season: 1
Created By: Mike Judge
Original Start Date: April 6, 2014
Grade: C+

Brief Description: As much as I love Mike Judge (scratch that, as much as I love King of the Hill and Office Space), I was never able to get on board with Silicon Valley. My biggest problem with the show is that the protagonist, Richard, was so meek and borderline autistic (I wouldn't personally joke about something like that if the show didn't make reference to it first) that it was difficult to ever become engaged with the HBO comedy to begin with. I don't inherently dislike a comedy where you dislike the show's main character (Scrubs and How I Met Your Mother both come to mind of shows I do thoroughly enjoy despite its main character) but there needs to be enough humor and strong enough supporting characters to overcome the lead. That wasn't the case with Silicon Valley and as such I do not think I'll be watching the show when Season 2 comes around.

Mad Men (AMC)
Season: 7.1
Created By: Matthew Weiner
Original Start Date: April 13, 2014
Grade: B+

Brief Description: Out of the show's first five episodes, there was only one and a half redeeming episodes in there. I was all ready to call Mad Men a disappointment like so many other dramas of 2014. But then the show ended with "The Strategy" and "Waterloo" that I was right back on board. Normally, I wouldn't take an ending so strongly into consideration, but those two episodes were still part of the season as a whole, and as such can not be discounted. Don't get me wrong, there were a lot (and I mean A LOT) of problems with the "first half" of Season 7, but there were still come incredible moments like Don coming back to work for SC&P and Peggy presenting to Burger Chef that it was able to overcome a lot of those problems. Plus, in an extremely weak year for television dramas, Mad Men still stands like a giant.

Fargo (FX)
Season: 1
Created By: Noah Hawley
Original Start Date: April 15, 2014
Grade: A-

Brief Description: The fact that Fargo was clearly and unequivocally a mini-series helped it to become one of the best television shows of the year so far. There was a clear start, middle, and end to this show giving almost every character, no matter how minor, an excellent and enjoyable arc. It didn't matter if you were the lead like Billy Bob Thorton's Malvo or Martin Freeman's Lester or whether you just had a few episode cameo like Glenn Howerton or Key and Peele, the acting was phenomenal while also telling and enjoyable and compelling story. The TV show had the feel and tone of the original Coen Brothers movie ranging from wildly violent to wildly funny without even remotely being a carbon copy of the film as it told it's own story. There's no reason a "Fargo" television series should have worked, yet it did and exceeded the wildest of expectations.

Orange Is The New Black (Netflix)
Season: 2
Created By: Jenji Kohan
Original Start Date: June 4, 2014

Brief Description: Part of what made Orange Is The New Black so successful during its first season was its huge and diverse cast. Following privileged upper-class New Yorker Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) allowed us entry into this world of the Litchfield prison, and the show expanded this world even further during its second season. As annoying of a character as Piper might be be, she's still the main character, but she took a back seat to the litany of other prisoners as well as the war between last season's Mama Hen Red (Kate Mulgrew) and this year's upper and comer Vee (Lorraine Toussaint). The war between Vee and Red became the focal point of this season, but the problem is that OITNB is that it expanded its huge cast while also being extremely plot heavy. The show stumbled heavily during its second half, but overall, it was still easily one of the best shows of the year.