10   +   6   =  

If you thought that 2013 was a good year for television, it didn’t have anything on what 2014 had to offer. In fact, it’s a wonder anyone ever left the sofa this year, when there were so many stellar TV shows gracing our screens. We’ve taken a look back at the last 12 months in television both here in the UK and across the pond, and have whittled our list of favourites down to 15. Keep reading to see which shows the Culturefly writers chose as their stand-out TV for 2014.

Game Of Thrones
game-of-thrones-the-children-01When it comes to Game of Thrones I have three words for you: Bloody good television. Its popularity is unrivalled, with every subsequent season bettering the last with even more drama, devilish characters and draw-dropping death scenes. We were still reeling from season 3’s Red Wedding when the writers hit us with the Purple Wedding, but it was the moment we’ve all been patiently waiting for. It was exceptionally grizzly viewing, but who didn’t enjoy Joffrey’s demise? On the other end of the scale was charming Oberyn Martell, who was the overriding scene-stealer of the season. His passing was a much bigger loss for fans, but it’ll also act as the catalyst for things to come. From Tyrion’s long over-due explosion of rage, to the Battle of Castle Black, Game of Thrones is a consistently epic and captivating series. Season 5 promises an awful lot but history tells us that it will 100% deliver on it. NX

Fargo
fargo-tv-series-01Was it supposed to be a remake, a reboot or a re-imagining? No one really knew but one thing seemed certain: messing around with the Coens’ 1996 classic would only result in dismal failure. And then this marvel emerged, a black-hearted thriller mixing wry comedy with a noir plot, vivid violence and outsized characters. It started with a bang and rarely backed off until everything unravelled for Martin Freeman’s increasingly unscrupulous Lester Nygaard. Throw in Billy Bob Thornton going full Anton Chigurh and Allison Tolman’s Deputy Solverson, every bit a match for Frances McDormand’s Marge Gunderson, and you have the TV shock of the year. Who knows where future seasons might go. And that’s part of the fun. SM

Homeland
In the short space of its first season, Homeland effortlessly established itself as one to watch. A reputation that slowly but surely fell into disrepair by the end of its plodding third run. Thankfully, this was the year that Homeland got its mojo back. Freed from the restraints of the Nicholas Brody narrative, the writers were able to send the show in a new direction by relocating Carrie to Islamabad and pitting her against local insurgents. A pumped atmosphere compounded with consistently palpable tension has allowed Homeland to once more define itself as one of the most exciting things on television. And for any who are wondering, Claire Danes’ wobbly chin is still present and correct. JM

Peaky Blinders
peaky-blinders-season-2It can be the hardest thing for a writer to follow up a successful first series. Steven Knight’s Peaky Blinders was a huge highlight of last year with its engaging anti-hero, a Ripper Street-style gritty period setting and a frankly awesome soundtrack. I was nervous about the second series but I wasn’t disappointed. The Peaky Blinders expanded their criminal business into London where we met more ruthless antagonists (including the criminally under used Tom Hardy) and witnessed the ramifications of ambition. The action was tense and kept you on the edge right until the last scene of the last episode. Roll on series three. SB

Orange Is The New Black
orange-is-the-new-blackI’ve seen plenty of my friends’ social media pages promoting Orange Is The New Black. I just thought it was another Prison Break but with female characters. Then I saw Greg James (my love) instagramming his obsession with it and I was like hey, let’s give it a chance, if Greg likes it, I’ll like it. With a Netflix subscription and a weekend free of plans I decided to delve right in. It was completely unexpected; the humour, the entertaining characters, the intertwining storylines between characters and the love lives of the inmates. Even though these women had committed crimes, their backgrounds and the lives they were living were too interesting to ignore. I was obsessed. One episode after the other I made my way through the seasons, enjoying how you’re introduced to the pasts of the characters over a lengthened time period rather than all at once. It was a yummy mixing pot of comedy, action and drama – this is definitely a box set to invest in over the cold winter nights, just in time for the third season next year. NW

Sherlock
sherlock-series-3-pictureBack in summer 2010, the BBC had no idea that Sherlock, the mini-series update of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, would become the international sensation it is today.  On 1 January 2014 Sherlock made a grand return for three feature length episodes. These episodes saw Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock return from the dead to the surprise of John Watson (Martin Freeman). Season 3 of Sherlock had the same unique blend of exciting detective story, fast-paced dialogue, humour and pathos that made the series such a success in the first place. The season also ended on yet another cliff-hanger and so, as the cast and crew prepare to reunite for filming in the New Year, viewers will no doubt be wondering just how co-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss plan to explain the season’s intriguing final twist… FS

Parks and Recreation
Parks and RecreationParks and Recreation first hit television screens in the US back in 2009, billed as a small-town politics version of hit sitcom The Office and a star vehicle for former Saturday Night Live comedian Amy Poehler. Seven seasons later and Parks and Recreation is one of the most beloved shows on television, praised across the board for its lovable characters, hilarious writing, on-point satire of small town American politics. Many viewers discovered Parks and Recreation in 2014 thanks to the growing popularity of Chris Pratt, who plays lovable goofball Andy Dwyer and was the star of one of 2014’s most successful movies, Guardians of the Galaxy. As Parks and Recreation prepares to showcase its final season in the US next year (it is broadcast on BBC4 in the UK) what better time than to discover (or rediscover) the charms of Pawnee and its inhabitants. FS

Orphan Black
orphan-black-series-2-02A television series with an ardent following, innovatively plotted premise and crazily talented lead – the awesome Tatiana Maslany – Orphan Black is great entertainment. This year brought us the second series of the Canadian-based BBC America show, which follows protagonist Sarah as she becomes tangled up in the mad world of clones, scientific experiments, Eastern European psychopaths and religious cults. Orphan Black was a hit as soon as it aired, and series two continued to build on this success with expanded world-building, stranger conspiracies and twists galore. The lead actress could have made or broken this show, and thankfully the TV gods found their Sarah (and Cosima, Beth, Alison and more) in the wonderful Maslany. The trailer for series three has recently aired online, and it looks awesome.  AS

Broad City
broad-cityA standout U.S. comedy about two twenty-something best friends navigating New York traffic, obsessed former lovers, tax payments, stoned Dentist visits and shellfish allergies. If you want to watch just one episode (If! You really should watch all of them) the final episode perfectly blends the show’s wry, crazy plots with the beating emotional heart of the series – the relationship between Ilana and Abbi, two slackers trying (but not really) to become a little more responsible and mature. Produced by Amy Poehler, this show was always destined to be special, but no one could have predicted the acclaim it ended up garnering and the following it gained in its short run (only 10 episodes). Wonderfully quotable, endlessly GIFable and full of slightly absurd, observational comedy, you can’t help but love this show, and wish you were best friends with the co-dependent twosome. AS

True Detective
true-detective-stillTrue Detective was a stunning show, even if the hype surrounding it did seem to reach Messianic levels by the end. On a technical level, the camerawork was fantastic – a case in point being the six-minute long riot scene at the end of ‘Who Goes There’, weaving in and out of houses, before panning away to reveal the full extent of the police’s intervention as the credits roll. The use of the Louisiana landscape also added to the show. But really what made it so great were the leading performances. McConaughey and Harrelson portrayed massively flawed characters, each in wildly contrasting ways, yet they still managed to find a way to make them relatable. While its slightly anti-climactic end was a lone blip, the build up of the case – from the eerie locations to the hints of the Yellow King – were to a very high standard. It’ll be tough for the second season to match such brilliance, but hopefully that same quality and style will remain. JCS

The Leftovers
the-leftoversHas there ever been a show as successfully bleak as The Leftovers? The show never wavered from the brooding tone as it went on, and was all the better for it. Here was a world devastated by inexplicable loss when 2% of the population just disappeared. Where is there cause for humour or happiness? By exposing such darkness and sadness as it unfolded, we were shown an ensemble of brilliantly written characters, each one with such strong and compelling motivations. It was all set to the music of Max Richter, taking some of his most-acclaimed earlier compositions and giving them new life to incredible effect on the show. It’ll be intriguing to see where season 2 goes, given the first covered the entirety of the source material, but I for one can’t wait. JCS

Hannibal
hannibalBryan Fuller’s Hannibal is an absolute gem of television and possibly the most visually stunning programme on air. Equal parts beautiful and horrific, it will make you hungry and then never want to eat again thanks to the titular character’s delight in fine dining (I know it’s people, but it looks delicious). The show’s second season ditched the serial killer of the week format and became one long game of cat and mouse, culminating in a cliffhanger of Red Wedding proportions. It was a bold move, but proved that the fascinating relationship between Hugh Dancy’s criminal profiler and Mads Mikkelsen’s cannibal psychiatrist was more than enough to entice viewers back every week. Season three cannot come soon enough. RD

Penny Dreadful
penny-dreadful-premiereDracula, Dorian Gray and Frankenstein’s Monster hanging out together in Victorian London – it sounds like a set-up to a joke, or at least a terrible premise for a TV show, and yet somehow it works. Eva Green steals the show as the demonically possessed Vanessa, battling for her soul, but she is just one in an impressive ensemble that also features Josh Hartnett and Timothy Dalton (who should always be moustachioed and angry). What’s most refreshing about Penny Dreadful though, is that it bucks the trend of monsters brooding over their bloodthirsty nature, rather than acting on it (I’m looking at you, The CW), but not so here. These monsters bite. The show was one of the biggest surprises on TV this year, zapping life back into a genre that has become rather formulaic of late. RD

Arrow
arrow-season-3-the-calm-01After a somewhat slow start, with its first season playing out like a discount Batman Begins, Arrow finally came into it’s own during its second season. Oliver Queen’s sophomore year in Starling City was a riveting and binge worthy thrill ride of twists and turns, startling revelations and character deaths that fast tracked Arrow into becoming the best comic book show on TV. NS

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver
last-week-tonight-with-john-oliverWhen John Oliver filled in for Jon Stewart on The Daily Show during the summer of 2013, we all knew it wouldn’t be long before Oliver would be fronting his own show. We weren’t the only ones, as the wise folks over at HBO awarded Oliver with his own topical weekly slot and the result was one of the finest satirical news shows of the last two decades. As well a being downright funny, Oliver and his team proved themselves worthy of any traditional news network, and their commitment to investigative journalism coupled with Oliver’s scathing takedowns of organizations – ranging from FIFA to Beauty Pageants – proved to be one of the television highlights of the year. NS

What TV show stood out for you in 2014?

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