Dec 15, 2014

2014 in Review: My Year in TV

2014 in Review: My Year in TV

It makes me feel very accomplished to sit down to write this post and realise that, for the first time since I started blogging about TV semi-regularly, I can mostly post links just like I do for my favourite books of the year posts. This year I actually succeeded in writing about the majority of my favourite TV series, and had a ton of fun doing so to boot.

Before I move on to my list I would like to, as per tradition, beg you for recommendations of series I could try out in 2015. You see, I have this irrational fear of running out of TV to watch, in a way I don’t with other media. It’s not that I think there’s a shortage of good TV out there; it’s just that I don’t have the same go-to places and people I do for books, and so I often find myself not knowing where to turn. This post will give you a good idea of my taste — if you can think of anything I might enjoy, please let me know in the comments. It would absolutely make my day. Also, you should absolutely do it even if it’s something you’ve recommended before, because my memory is not that great.

Here they go — the most memorable TV series I watched in 2014:

  • Friday Night Lights

  • My favourites lists tend to come in no particular order, but Friday Night Lights is the unequivocal number one here. As I said back when I talked about it (at great length), “I could try to convince you by emphasising the excellent characterisation in Friday Night Lights, or by saying that, like all the best stories, it’s really about life. But while this is true, I don’t want to tell you, “it’s not really about sports”, because that would be selling the show and my experience of it short. Friday Night Lights IS about sports (and yes, also about life), and I grew to care passionately about the team at its centre because that’s what the best stories do. They illuminate corners of human experience that you were a stranger to up until then, and suddenly they make perfect emotional sense.”

    Also, Tyra Collette: all these months down the line thinking of her college application essay still makes me tear up. There are no words for how much I loved her and her story arc. This show is full of amazing ladies you’ll want to get to know, so if you’re still on the fence, I hope that will sway you.

  • My Mad Fat Diary

  • A wonderful series that “is every bit as hilarious as it is moving. My Mad Fat Diary has excellent characterisation, warmth and real heart, and lots of feminist concerns that are dear to me at its centre. If you’re a fan of heartfelt teen shows like My So-Called Life or Joan of Arcadia, this is something you absolutely need to watch.”

  • Orange is The New Black

  • As I was saying just the other day, “there are a lot of women in Orange is the New Black, and there’s power in numbers. There are middle-class women and poor women; Latina women, black women, and Asian-American women; a trans woman played by the amazing Laverne Cox; older women; immigrant women; lesbian, straight and bisexual women; women coping with illnesses; and so on. The large cast helps ease the pressure to be all things to all people that inevitably befalls characters from underrepresented groups. The fact that there is, for the most part, more than one of them allows the focus to shift to these women’s individuality. This was wonderful and refreshing, and it’s something I always want to see more of in my media.”

  • Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

  • I fell hard for this 1920’s set feminist mysteries series, and that description alone should tell you why. From my post: “Watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries feels like a respite because, to a viewer like me, this is a series devoid of constant reminders that women aren’t allowed to do or be certain things. It’s an effortlessly feminist series whose core assumptions are a source of immense comfort to me, and that’s certainly worthy of note.”

  • The Legend of Korra: Book Three — Change

  • Oh, The Legend of Korra. I continue to love you and you continue to let me down, except for the glorious moments in which you don’t. Book Three gave me something straight out of my list of dreams for this series: a wonderful, open conversation between Korra and Asami about not letting Mako come between them, and also lots of hangout time between these two ladies. For the first time since the series started, it truly felt like Korra and Asami had an important connection that was independent from the men in their lives. I loved that so much.

    On the not so bright side, I felt, much like in Book One, that the series’ politics were a hot mess. Long gone are the Avatar days of sophistication, subtlety and insight (this is, however, still very much present in Gene Luen Yang’s comics — clearly he should have written this series). The Legend of Korra’s handling of the Red Lotus’ motives made me cringe, much like its handling of the Equalists did. In “Long Live the Queen”, we see political grievances and discontent about inequality be aligned with senseless looting in the most facile way imaginable. Perfectly legitimate concerns are never really delved and are instead reduced to a caricature of violence. And because we only ever get a cursory look at what happens in Ba Sing Se, this is pretty much it. There’s no nuanced treatment of the space violence can occupy in popular revolutions fuelled by injustice, and I really don’t think this would have been too much to ask from the creators of a series like Avatar.

    To end with a few more positives, Book Three also gave us wonderful new female characters like Suyin and Opal Beifong, and we got to learn more about Lin’s backstory (though I have mixed feelings about how the two sisters’ choices were portrayed). Plus, old Zuko. I had a lot of feelings about that because of course. I’m about to start the fourth and final season (sniff), and hopefully I’ll do a better job of writing about it in more detail next year.

  • Orphan Black S2

  • This is another series I wish I had written about — although I did write about season one, and much of what I loved about it was present here too. Season two left me with some doubts about where Orphan Black might be going plot-wise (I desperately want the writers to have it all under control, but I’m not so sure at this point), but I love the characters too much to really care.

    I was also less than thrilled with the repeated toying with my emotions re: my beloved Cosima, as well as with some aspects of Rachel’s storyline; but on the other hand I’m now a complete Helena convert, Felix continues to be marvellous, and Tony was a wonderful inclusion. In short, I adore this series and I can’t wait for season three.

  • Bunheads

  • A series that made an unlikely recovery from a truly godawful beginning to become a humorous and warm look at the lives of four teenage girls and two women in a small Californian town.

    As I said back in April, “with Hubbell out of the way, Bunheads becomes a story about women — one where their ambitions, their struggles, their work and their relationships with one another are taken seriously and take centre stage. Michelle inherits Hubbell’s house in Paradise, California, his land, and the dance academy her mother-in-law Fanny runs. The story is very much about Michelle finding her place in this small, tight-knit community and learning to navigate her relationship with Fanny. Fanny is as complicated and strong-willed as Michelle herself, and watching the two banter, grow to respect each other, and eventually become friends was an absolute delight. But it’s the four ballet students at Madame Fanny’s academy we get to know well — Boo, Sasha, Ginny and Mel — who were, for me, the heart of the series.”

  • Dollhouse

  • A bad ending, it turns out, is harder to forgive than a bad beginning. I’ll never get over the absolute train wreck that was the Dollhouse finale, but overall I still feel as I did when I wrote about it in August: “I admired its premise and ambition; I found it, at its best, remarkably smart; I wished these moments came more often; I thought that when it failed, it mostly did so in interesting ways; I felt, all the same, that it often bit more than it could chew; I’m glad to have watched it; and I’m never, ever, ever going to stop being furious about the ending.”

  • Call the Midwife S3

  • Perhaps one day I’ll be able to motivate myself to write a full-length post about Call the Midwife. I do love it, after all. I’ll acknowledge it veers close to sentimentality sometimes, but at the end of the day it’s still a story that puts women’s experiences front and centre, and which sheds light on the staggering difference access to public health care makes in people’s lives — particularly if they’re powerless or disenfranchised due to factors like gender, disability, class or ethnicity. I keep returning to Emily Kenway’s perfect phrasing at The F Word:
    One of the subtler and most politically apposite stars of the show is the welfare state, which was established in 1948. When a delivery gets complicated and the mother thanks God, the doctor tells her that "credit should go to the National Health — ten years ago we’d have had none of this; no obstetric flying squad, no ambulance — no chance." The programme serves as a sobering reminder of how far our healthcare provision has come, and particularly of the difference it has made to women’s lives.
    I’m very interested in the shift we’ll see in Call the Midwife’s next season, with Jenny moving away and the supporting cast being given a chance to shine in terms of character development — perhaps the series will become a real ensemble show, much like Orange is the New Black in its second season. Likewise, I’m excited about the introduction of a lesbian character, who I hope we’ll see much more of next year. Roll on, Christmas special and season four.

  • The Bletchley Circle S2

  • Awww, just look at these ladies. I’ll never stop missing them. I agree with much of this post about why this series was so special. The Bletchley Circle is, again (I sense a common theme in this post), a series about the experiences of women who tend to be sidelined, and one where their relationships with each other are a key focus point. I was disappointed that this season’s second story arc defaulted to the thoughtless demonization and othering of immigrants we see in so much of our media, but all in all I still loved it and I really wish the show hadn’t been cancelled.

  • Parks and Recreation S6

  • Another favourite series I didn’t write about — though I did write about the first five seasons, and, as before, much of what I said also applies here. In season six we lost beloved characters (sob), but there were exciting guest appearances like Kristen Bell and Tatiana Maslany, plus a Friday Night Lights shout-out that filled me with glee (I love TV allusions so much. That and actor overlap). The season finale was surprising and made for an interesting set-up for the seventh and final season. I’m already sad about it ending and it hasn’t even started.

  • Veronica Mars movie

  • I know this is not actually a TV series, but it was too big an event in my media life this year for me to be able to leave it out. It’s not often that a brilliant series with a less than satisfying ending gets new life, so it’s no wonder that everything about this movie’s existence makes me happy. Even if it didn’t lead to the new Netflix series we all hoped for, it was wonderful to return to Neptune and to spend more time in these characters’ company. I need to read the books so I can visit them again.


    What about you? What did you enjoy this year? As I said in my introduction, TV recommendations are an easy way for you to earn my eternal gratitude.


    1. 2014 was my year of Friday Night Lights, too. I had tried watching it a few times prior to this, but had never been able to get past the first few episodes. This time, I stuck with it and I'm so glad I did. It's not a perfect show, but I loved it all the same, despite its flaws. I was actually so sad when I got to the final episode, that I started watching it all over again! I guess Dillon, Texas really is hard to leave once you get sucked in!

    2. I will watch FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS in 2015. Promise.

      I had a weird TV year. I rewatched VERONICA MARS in February and discovered BORGEN shortly after that, then... kind of gave up on TV. I normally watch quite a bit of TV-on-DVD over the summer, when I don't have to worry about first run shows, but this year I all but ignored it until late August/early September, when I saw the first two seasons KORRA, the first two seasons of NEW GIRL and finally started in on PARKS AND RECREATION.

      Maybe 2013 was just so saturated with good TV that I needed a break. Much as I loved both BORGEN and PARKS AND REC, I'm not sure I'd rush out and buy either one. They were great, but they didn't become important to me in the way that, say, VERONICA MARS is.

    3. The Good Wife! Watch that one in 2015! The Good Wife is an absolutely marvelous show that walks the tightrope between serialized storytelling and really excellent episodic storytelling in a superb manner. And it's got loads of women in it, who are brilliant and strong and flawed and weird and awesome.

      Also, my beloved Switched at Birth, which explores deaf culture in America in a sustained way, which is something I've never seen in any other show on television. I read one review of it where the reviewer said that the first sign she learned from this show was the sign for "I'm sorry," which (she said) said a lot about the dynamics of the show and the good intentions of all its characters. And that is super true. Also, Wonderfalls, because it is a delight.

    4. Personally, I'm still nuts about Supernatural. I've just started watching Elementary and love it.
      Have you seen the 6-minute videos they've made especially for VMars kickstarter supporters called Play It Again, Dick? They're funny, at least the few I've had time to watch so far (Eleanor has seen them all). It's on something called CW Seed and supposed to be on itunes too.

    5. I have to get to Orphan Black soon ... Our TV viewing has been all over the place lately.

    6. I'm shocked that I haven't watched any of the TV shows you've named. Instead I've been enjoying Game of Thrones S4, Hannibal S2, Grimm S2, Penny Dreadful new series, Doctor Who S8, Downton Abbey S5, and I am just finishing the BBC's new drama The Missing. I've watched even more but these are the ones that came to mind. Happy viewing.

    7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    8. So I tried to leave a comment but wasn't logged in or something, argh.

      ANYWAY, Switched at Birth, The Fosters, Chasing Life, The Walking Dead (heh I try). My first comment was much longer, but c'est la vie.

    9. I haven't seen any of these except Orange is the New Black and Dollhouse. I totally agree about the ending of Dollhouse -- what were the writers thinking? :-( There was a lot of good stuff in that series though. It doesn't hold a candle to my intense and enduring love for Firefly, but most of the series was pretty good.

    10. I've had to cut back on my television diet lately, but I've been enjoying Gotham, which is both hilaribad and kind of sweet (baby Bruce and Alfred are solid gold). Largely, though, my main commitments are Sailor Moon (SO GOOD OH MY GOSH) and Saturday Night Live, which I'm watching both currently and classically—I've revived my project to watch the whole thing from the beginning.

    11. You watched some wonderful TV this year! I always think I'm going to make a bigger effort to watch shows, but then I end up finding other things to do...

      On that note, my rec is for an oldie but a SERIOUS goodie. If you've never seen Six Feet Under, please check it out! It's about a dysfunctional family that runs (and lives in) a funeral home. I don't know of anyone who's watched it and regretted it.

      Here's to another great year of viewing for you! :)

    12. I adore all of the shows on your list! I just started Friday Night Lights last week and I'm already hooked. I haven't heard of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, but I will definitely check it out immediately.


    Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.