Year-In-Review: Top 10 TV shows of 2014

Jesse Tigges, Columbus Alive

There was soooo much TV this year available in any number of formats. I wasn't able to get through it all - still watching and loving "Broad City" and "Transparent" - but I saw a lot. Here are my choices for the 10 best.

10. "Orange is the New Black"

The second season of Netflix's best original series was actually better than its stellar first season. It's only because of the sheer volume of excellent TV this year that Jenji Kohan's "Orange is the New Black" only squeaked in the Top 10. While the season premiere focused solely on our heroine Piper (Taylor Schilling) - and was a great episode - the rest of the season was more about the supporting characters who make "Orange" so great. By going deeper on who these women are and how they wound up in prison, the series proved there's an ample amount of heartfelt/heartbreaking/hilarious stories to tell in this world.

9. "Mad Men"

I absolutely loathe splitting-up the final season of "Mad Men" into two seven-episode chunks - I feel similarly about AMC's decision with "Breaking Bad" - but, despite the smaller number of episodes, "Mad Men" didn't lessen in quality. This was a quickly paced set of episodes - a narrative approach "Mad Men" isn't known for and it was captivating. There were a number of fantastic, tragic and even feel-good moments for Don (Jon Hamm), Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) and Roger (John Slattery). If this had been the last episodes, I would have been satisfied. But there's seven more coming this spring, and I have a good feeling "Mad Men" goes out strongly.

8. "Game of Thrones"

The epic fantasy drama had its best season, yet still couldn't crack the top five. (Again, that's how many great new shows there were in 2014.) Season 4 of "Game of Thrones" had some shocking deaths and graphic violence, but it was the smaller moments that made those all the more powerful.

We had another crazy, shocking episode, but the best moments in it weren't two characters battling, but two characters simply talking. This was also the best season finale "Games of Thrones" has produced since Season 1, setting up some very interesting things for the future. As viewers have gotten to know these characters - and dare I say care for some of them!? - showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have constructed a huge ensemble where viewers understand dozens of characters and their motivations.

7. "The Leftovers"

Damon Lindelof's ("Lost") return to television had many viewers hesitant about investing in HBO's new drama "The Leftovers," a tale about the people left behind in a small New York town after a rapture-type event mysteriously takes millions worldwide. Given Lindelof's track record with big metaphysical mysteries, it's not surprising many felt they'd eventually just get the rug pulled out from under them (which could still happen). But their skepticism meant missing out on one of TV's best new dramas.

"The Leftovers" isn't about why millions of people disappeared. It's a look at how these characters deal with this traumatic event. Simply put, this is an intimate look at how a community reacts - running the whole gamut of guilt, division, blame, anger, hurt, sadness, emptiness and more - to a tragedy. It's all immensely intriguing because even though this story is powerfully heartbreaking and often bleak, it can have moments of levity and even a scrap of hope.

6. "Hannibal"

I would've never guessed a television version of the Hannibal Lecter mythology could actually work. I never, ever would've guessed it could be this good. In its second season, NBC's "Hannibal" was balanced by two distinct narratives and themes that came to a horrifying conclusion in the finale - and set up what should be an excellent Season 3 in early 2015.

The evolution of Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) in Season 2 was as gripping as it was frightening, as he became more like Hannibal (a revelatory performance by Mads Mikkelsen) in trying to expose the monster. (Not enough can be said for Mikkelsen's amazing take on the Hannibal persona, but Dancy was fantastic too.) And "Hannibal" is one of the most visually arresting shows on television right now.

5. "Fargo"

If you wanted to make the argument that "Fargo" was the best miniseries on television in 2014, I'd be more than willing to listen. I feel differently, but not that much so. Adapting the Coen Brothers' seminal 1996 film for television didn't inspire much excitement from me. Then I watched the first four episodes, and was completely hooked.

"Fargo" isn't simply a retelling of the movie over the course of 10 episodes. It's a whole new and inventive crime story, but conveys the exact same atmosphere and bravura as the film. Showrunner Noah Hawley did a masterful job in building a rich world for "Fargo," bolstered by incredible performances from Allison Tolman, Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman.

4. "Review"

The first season of Andy Daly's ("Eastbound & Down") adaptation of Phil Lloyd's Australian series of the same name was truly incredible. Daly's Forrest MacNeil - a TV personality tasked with reviewing various life experiences, from eating pancakes and "being" Batman to orgies, stealing, addiction and even divorce - was possibly the best character arch on television in 2014. As Forrest becomes more entrenched in his job of reviewing, well, anything, it takes an immense toll on his real life. "Review" is one of the most satisfying single seasons of comedy - all-time. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Forrest's sardonically peppy co-host A.J. Gibbs, a fantastic performance by Megan Stevenson.

3. "You're the Worst"

It's not often the best comedy of the year is also a first-year show, but the under-watched - and frankly underrated - "You're the Worst" is the best new comedy since "Louie." ("Review" is a very close second.)

The strange love story of Jimmy (Chris Geere) and Gretchen (Aya Cash), two narcissists who find relationships either frightening or loathsome, became a surprisingly sweet affair as the first season went on. And the laughs never suffered, only getting stronger as Jimmy and Gretchen progress from f--- buddies, to dating, to being in a relationship with emotional stakes.

While Geere and Cash were great as leads, "You're the Worst's" best moments often came from Jimmy's PSTD-suffering roommate Edgar (Desmin Borges) - "I'm from L.A. Fun hipster shit is just poor Latino shit from 10 years ago" - and Gretchen's best friend Lindsay (Kether Donohue), whose Kate Bush cover in the finale was perfect.

2. "The Americans"

I could have easily put FX's "The Americans" at No. 1 this year and been completely satisfied - and validated - by the choice. In its second season, "The Americans" took the best aspects of its similarly strong first season, and improved on it. As the Jennings' familial dynamic became more unstable, so did Phillip and Elizabeth's role as Russian spies.

The haunting premiere brought about the worst fears for Phillip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) - that even their children are never safe in this Cold War spy game - and then twisted those fears in to a living nightmare in the finale. Throughout Season 2, "The Americans" was expertly written, directed and acted - providing some of the most multilayered television of the year.

1. "True Detective"

HBO's crime drama brought together top-notch talent in front of and behind the camera to work with writer Nic Pizzolatto. Matthew McConaughey's stellar performance as Rust Cohle, a grizzled cop with a tragic past and bleak existential outlook, caught most of the buzz for "True Detective." But Woody Harrelson's turn as Rust's put-upon partner who can't figure out his partner, or worse, his own shortcomings, was also terrific. And how can anyone forget the visual masterpiece created by director - of all eight episodes - Cary Fukunaga?

While some viewers were ultimately disappointed by the resolution of the case, "True Detective" was more a character study - with some philosophical and literary references that were more touch points, not actual foreshadowing - than a taut mystery. Regardless of how you felt about "True Detective's" flaws - it had a couple - the heights it reached at its best resulted in the most compelling television in 2014.