My top TV shows of 2014

Golden age indeed. These days, TV is up there with film in terms of quality of story, well written and believable characters and – in some cases – almost cinematic production values. And this year was a mightily good year when it came to a night on the sofa with the latest ‘must watch’ show.

From crime and fantasy dramas and zombies everywhere, to Victorian witches and oversexed vampires, here are the shows that rocked my world and floated my boat this year.

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Penny Dreadful: season 1
With a cast including Timothy Dalton, Eva Green, Harry Treadaway and Josh Hartnett, this show surpassed expectations with a host of intriguing characters and powerhouse performances, particularly from Green. Every time she went into possessed demonic mode the show went up a few notches.

Fargo: season 1
Martin Freeman as a timid insurance salesman from Minnesota up against Billy Bob Thornton’s enigmatic mobster hitman. As an idea for a TV show this was perhaps an odd gamble, yet one that paid off. No doubt down to the superb writing and outstanding performances. Freeman again proving to people just how good he really is.

The Leftovers: season 1
There’s so much beauty in grief and suffering, yet it’s rarely shown in such a captivating manner. Here it was brought to life by Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta – with a fine lead performance from Justin Theroux – in a story that charted the lives of a group of people, following the disappearance of 2 per cent of the world’s population.

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Game of Thrones: season 4
As the Starks, Lannisters and all other families grow further apart, each on quests of their own, the story and world of Westeros and beyond expands. This makes it tougher and tougher for the show’s writers and creators, still they deliver, with possibly the most visually stunning and emotionally engaging season so far.

Walking Dead: season 5
As it stands, we’ve only had the first half before the show hit its mid season break. It’s been good though, watching Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes slowly but surely lose his humanity, as he’s faced first with cannibals then just the general dregs of mankind that seem to now inhabit the earth and plague him at every turn.

The Strain: season 1
File this under ‘guilty pleasure’ TV. From the creepy and fantastical minds of Chuck Hogan and Guillermo del Toro, this show (which started life as a novel, then a graphic novel) has vampires portrayed as parasites, causing chaos in New York as a small band of average heroes try to stop them, with varying degrees of success.

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Homeland: season 4
With Brody (Damien Lewis) out of the picture Carrie Mathison (Clare Danes) took centre stage this season as Chief of Station in an increasingly volatile Pakistan, on the hunt for terrorists. With drones, torture, kidnap and diplomatic backstabbing, this latest outing proved to be a marked return to form.

Forever: season 1
More guilty pleasure TV, this time in the form of a sort of mashup of Highlander meets CSI with Ioan Gruffudd’s immortal medical examiner solving murder cases in New York. Given the morbid subject, it’s an upbeat and easy watch. Thanks in part to the breezy chemistry between Gruffudd and his detective partner, played by Alana de la Garza.

True Blood: season 7
The final hurrah for this show was something of an anticlimax – or a least more of a sombre tone than its predecessors. However you have to give it credit for the seasons that went before, yet it just didn’t have the same verve and bite (ha!) after the show’s creator, Alan Ball, left after the fifth season.

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True Detective: season 1
McConaughey at the height of his powers turned his attention to TV for this deeply intense, brooding miniseries. One where he played the maverick detective to Woody Harrelson’s more straight arrow (albeit, with problems of his own) cop, both tracking down a serial killer over a period of many years.

24: Live Another Day
Despite a concern knawing away at you that this show probably should have ended some time ago, it’s risen from the ashes… so we’ll have to live with it. For the latest season it halved the number of episodes for a leaner, tighter story, with Jack Bauer legging it around London looking for people to beat up.

Has 24 always been a guilty pleasure?

redWith the recent airing of the first two episodes of 24 (this season entitled Live Another Day) we have the return of CTU and Keifer Sutherland’s most iconic character, Jack Bauer.

For some this means excitement. For others trepidation, or even a sense of weariness. ‘We’ve seen all this before.’ ’24 is so dated.’ ‘TV has moved on, it’s all about Breaking Bad these days.’ And so on, you might imagine audiences would exclaim before running for the safety of Game of Thrones or something.

The thing is, love it or hate it, you know what you’re getting with 24. Bauer, his face locked in a permanent scowl, on a one-man mission to threaten as many people as possible in a single day; moles inside CTU; a truculent head of station who refuses to listen to reason until the last possible moment, a chief of staff at the Whitehouse with an axe to grind. I could go on, but you get the idea.

It’s all part and parcel of what made the show so appealing. It was hardly mentally taxing, it reassuringly ticked the boxes each season yet… somehow it was captivating. And you found yourself caring about the characters, particularly Bauer. A man who puts himself through the mill time and again. The quintessential TV action antihero.

For this season they’ve shifted the action to the UK – specifically London – with the focus on the American’s use of drones in the Middle East (at least initially). Chloe is back looking a lot like Lisbeth Salander (she’s a European hacker now, what do you expect?). 24lad-enemyofstatetrailerWe’ve also got some new faces, including a new standard resident CTU hottie – previously we’ve had Nina Myers and Michelle Dessler, this time we get Kate Morgan played by Yvonne Strahovski – as seemingly the only person who is smart enough to figure out what Bauer is up to.

Oh, and of course Bauer is doing his usual, trying to save the President, a job – in the world of 24 – with possibly the shortest life expectancy of any you care to name, Bauer’s included. Yet, with all the organisations protecting this exalted position, you know it’s going to come down to one man to save the day and take the fall for all the people he’s killed along the way.

But that’s the point. It’s in much the same way Batman gets hunted at the end of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. We hunt him because he can take it. In fact this is probably why they brought the show back, there’s still life in Bauer yet.

The problem with resurrecting a show like this after a few years in the doldrums is twofold: you gave it new life because audiences missed it, they wanted more of that world and those characters. But they also want something new. And so the show’s producers have opted, in some ways, for the safest of risky approaches – set it in ‘edgy’ East London and make the baddies British.

Hats off to them for the first part, they largely avoided red buses and shots of Big Ben (they couldn’t resist a few), yet they couldn’t help themselves with the odd bit of casting with ‘cor blimey’ cockney accents. yvonne-strahovski-24-live-another-dayAnd also posh and mysterious uber-baddie shrouded in shadow (bit of a Sherlock nod there) is literally the safest bet when it comes to bad guys, at least Americans think so.

But this is nit picking. Like many others, when I first heard they were bringing Bauer and his gang back I sighed. Do we really need this show on the small screen again? Then you start to watch it, the little orange clock slams those seconds onto the screen – tick, tick – and I’m pleased to say I felt excited. And a little guilty, but still… excited.

Bauer, go do your thing. Just don’t expect us to praise you for it in public.