We’re a bunch of culture geeks here at Loser City, which means we love nothing so much as conformity, lists, and faux definitive rankings of things. With that in mind, we’re bringing you our 2014 Loser City Best Ofs, lists on lists on lists of our picks for top video games, comics, and everything else, along with personal lists from our authors on the things that kept us from crying now and then during this terrible, terrible year.
This week is all about TV.
It’s well-known at this point that we’re in a golden age for the silver screen, and 2014 made that more than clear. Even taking into account the sea of reality-TV sludge, you could find innovative, stereotype-busting programming everywhere: from major networks and basic cable big-timers to premium cable networks and online-only streaming sites. The definition of a TV show is changing, and so far that has meant an incredible increase in the depth and breadth of television-making possibilities. This year at Loser City, we watched incisive, true-to-life dramas, animated series loaded with heart and humanity, genuinely relatable comedies that reached far beyond young-white-dude humor, and a whole lot more. Here at the ten shows we loved the most.
At two seasons of 13 episodes each, both broadcast between January and September of 2014, Space Dandy is probably the shortest lived series on the list. But it’s also the weirdest.
The latest series from Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo director Shinichiro Watanabe, Space Dandy told the episodic adventures of the titular Dandy and his crew—Meow, a cat-like Betelgeusian, and QT, a domestic robot helper—as they traversed known space in the search for bounty. It featured design work from Akira’s Katsuhiro Otomo, Monkey King’s Katsuya Terada, and Oban Star-Racers’s Thomas Romain, and it was animated by Bones—it looked damn, damn good is what I’m trying to say—and every episode was self-contained.
In fact, almost every episode ended with the death of the main characters. This recurring collapse and reboot of the series culminates in Dandy finding out he’s a being of omnipresence, a fact he learns only after being told by the show’s narrator. Didn’t I say this was weird?
Inhale deeply: There’s a zombie episode, a Groundhog Day episode, a courtroom drama, an episode told from the perspective of some flea-sized aliens, an episode in 2 dimensional space, an episode with a boobie monster (their name for it), a Fast & The Furious episode, a road movie episode, a Grease/Glee/Can’t Buy Me Love episode, a romantic comedy episode, a Riverworld episode, a Saturday Night Fever episode (with another Grease joke in it), and that’s just a few.
It’s relentlessly funny, incredibly bizarre, and unapologetically absurd. It looks fantastic and is engaging on every single level. If Bebop is Blade Runner, Dandy is Sleeper—excellent sci-fi that also succeeds as comedy. – Shea Hennum
The world has already started to forget Mad Men. For a few years, the show was everywhere, informing all elements of culture from fashion to cocktails to a number of short-lived television shows such as The Playboy Club, Pan Am, and The Pitch. With its impeccable sixties style, risque subject matters, and high production values, it was, after all, a revolutionary basic cable television show in 2007. But as seasons passed, HBO and Showtime continued upping the ante, and even other, flashier basic cable programs like The Walking Dead started to overshadow this always crisp, always self-aware behemoth of a period drama. As the public’s (and many critics’) attention died down, though, Matt Weiner and his cast and crew just grew more artful, inventive, and daring with their work.
2014 marked the beginning of the end for Mad Men; the two-part 7th season began with seven stellar episodes that made ingenious use of the character development and time progression that the show has worked hard over the years to accomplish. This season did a fantastic job balancing inspired, tightly-contained single-episode stories–like Peggy’s revealing and inexcusable Valentine’s Day tantrum in “A Day’s Work”– with grander, series-spanning thematic explorations of personal and cultural identity. The character dynamics, storytelling, and directorial acumen on Mad Men are consistently more satisfying to me than anything else on TV, and this year was no exception. The cherry on top of the frozen Sara Lee cake? Watching the ghost of Burt Cooper tap dance his way out of the agency and into the afterlife–that was truly sublime. – Kayleigh Hughes
I get it. You’re sick of adaptations. Anthony Hopkins already gave the defining portrayal of Hannibal Lecter and you don’t need another show about him. Especially on NBC. I can’t tell you how to live your life, but that attitude will keep you from diving into the most riveting and arguably, finest show on television– Hannibal. The show began in 2013 as a brilliantly unique origin story about Hannibal Lecter, and evolved into something so much more in season two. The season opened with a clever shift of the dynamic fans of The Silence of the Lambs are familiar with. Dr. Lecter was aiding the FBI in tracking down serial killers while our protagonist Will Graham was wrongfully held in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. The season was a twisty, dark and thrilling tale of two men playing a psychological battle, fighting over Will’s soul.
Led by Bryan Fuller’s hauntingly gorgeous visuals, the show told a horrific tale without delving into the horror genre, or trying for cheap shocks. Rather than be limited by what they can show on network television, Fuller works within its boundaries to show the beauty in violent imagery, creating some of the most memorable scenes of the year (especially in its presentation of meals). The acting is vital, from Hugh Dancy’s portrayal of a tortured, borderline psychopathic genius struggling to do good, to Laurence Fishburne’s fatherly yet skeptical turn as FBI agent Jack Crawford. The best however, is Mads Mikkelsen’s take on Hannibal himself, playing him less as a deranged serial killer and more as a personification of the devil, an alluring and seductive force with a desire to play God and decide who lives and dies. Hannibal proves that just because you know the ending doesn’t mean the journey there can’t be even more exciting to watch. – David Sackllah
Legend of Korra
Quick: Name a show with progressive theming, characters of diverse gender, race, and sexuality, with consistently good to great writing. That’s a short list. Now, name one that’s also a successful children’s cartoon. That’s an even shorter list. In fact, you might be left with just two: Avatar: the Last Airbender and its followup, The Legend of Korra, which in 2014 had one of the best single years of any television show in recent memory. Despite being basically abandoned by Nickelodeon, thrown off the air and tucked away into digital distribution with no forewarning, Korra was consistently excellent, putting out 26 of the best half hours of television I’ve ever seen as Nick burned through its third and fourth seasons. The story, the coming of age of the headstrong warrior hero Korra, is engaging and compassionate, taking on complex and challenging themes that even most primetime shows wouldn’t touch. And it did so while managing to be consistently fun and funny. The series ended in December with one last beautiful, groundbreaking moment that I don’t want to spoil here. I’m going to miss it dearly. – Jake Muncy
Jane the Virgin
The CW’s Jane the Virgin seems to almost exists in a parallel universe. A comedy with central murder mystery shouldn’t work on its own, but throw a narrator that exists as almost a co-lead, an evil wheelchair-bound matriarch, and a noticeable chunk of weekly dialogue in Spanish and this show should have been cancelled 12 minutes into the pilot. But riding high off of critical love and a Golden Globe win for star Gina Rodriguez (the only network show to win a Globe this year, by the way) Jane the Virgin is close to becoming the cultural touchstone it deserves to be.
I am afraid though that this show isn’t going to be taken as seriously as the great television it should be amongst. Just because a show is light doesn’t make it unsubstantial. Like Buffy the Vampire Slayer before it– a series I feel Jane the Virgin is a modern equivalent to– proved that just because a high school student fighting vampires and demons isn’t as “serious” as a mobster with ennui doesn’t mean it can’t be important. And besides being silly, heartwarming, and hilarious, Jane the Virgin is tackling issues like adoption, generational matriarchy, and race with such an ease and elegance that makes it irrefutably important. – Dylan Garsee
Full disclosure: I will watch anything with H Jon Benjamin’s voice in it. It helps, however, that he tends to be in things that are so good. Bob’s Burgers is on its fifth season, and it remains one of the most consistently pleasurable shows on the air. By its fourth and fifth seasons, the creative time behind the Belcher clan has nailed it down to a science: Bob’s Burgers is regularly an orchestra of familiar absurdity, with all the heart of classic The Simpsons combined with an edgy surreality that sets it apart as its own beast. The characters fill familiar archetypes while also defying them and creating some of their own, and the Belcher children especially are some of the most well-crafted characters on television today. Only the greatest television shows are this consistently hilarious and inventive so far into their run. May Bob’s Burgers keep cooking for years. – JM
Yeah, Looking explores everyday struggles with being gay in the 21st century and relationships and blah blah blah. The number one reason this show is on my list is a sex scene early on in the series between mustache daddy Dom and a random Grindr hookup, which I will proceed to describe in detail.
Dom is a tall, brown haired hunk with broader shoulders than Greek statues. His thick, full mustache– a facial hair style I’m usually opposed to– perfectly complements his face to give it a more distinguished look but also a fun edge. During the fucking, Dom positions the faceless twink, who might as well be an upturned broom, to stand up so that he can see himself fuck in his bedroom mirror. This could be read as a “what is happening with my life” contemplation and is probably the moment that sets off the actions of Dom in the rest of the season, but being the perv I am, I like to think (and oh, do I think about this scene a lot) that he can only get turned on by himself, because he is so hot. Dom must avoid reflective surfaces is in public or else his probably gigantic boner is just unhideable. Which is a series I would watch at night in my bed. Alone. Probably when I can’t sleep or recently cancelled my plans. – DG
My mom always had a weakness for cop shows. Law & Order: SVU in particular was a favorite of hers and on the nights where we were both dealing with insomnia together, it was a welcome tranquilizer. I don’t think my mom necessarily took SVU seriously, but I think I got a different enjoyment out of it than she did because it’s just such a fucking bizarre, unintentionally hilarious experience. Or at least that was my take on it while watching it in several hour chunks on USA before the infomercials took over. My enjoyment of Brooklyn Nine-Nine is in part because of those memories, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s status as a bizarro flip of SVU, where the humor is sharing space with just as inexplicably serene seriousness.
The first season of the show already proved it was on its way towards becoming one of the most consistently excellent comedies on television, but season two succeeded because it left that element of the show alone and built on the very real human element that was such a surprising trait of the first season. In particular, Andre Braugher (an SVU expat) continued to develop Captain Holt into one of the most complex and unique queer characters on television, sharing a paternal role on the force with Terry Crews’ Terry, keeping the zaniness of Andy Samberg’s Peralta in check and emphasizing the weird but lovable version of the family unit the Nine-Nine represented. Hilarious, heartfelt and always surprising, Brooklyn Nine-Nine went above and beyond the traditional demands of the sitcom and subtly morphed into one of the most emotionally rich programs on tv in 2014. – Morgan Davis
2014 was the year science figured out how to make people who declare things like “I don’t own a tv” get really, really interested in murder– deliver it through podcasts and HBO (it’s not teevee). The latter gave us True Detective, a supremely compelling piece of entertainment about spooky killings in rural Louisiana, haunting piles of sticks, and deep metaphysical monologues. Boasting some surprising star power (the guy from the bartender sitcom and the dude who fucks teens) as well as having influences ranging from Twin Peaks to Alan Moore comics, True Detective asserts itself as distinct from more straightforward, modular fare like Law & Order while still delivering the goods when it comes to the basic mystery element.
Much of a story’s greatness is in the telling, and True Detective succeeds through both creator Nic Pizzolato’s witty, years-spanning script and Cary Fukunaga’s grounded yet cinematic direction (THAT TRACKING SHOT) rendering the verdant, scary, often wet terrains of Louisiana. It’s a show that’s learned the lessons of previous botched TV mysteries by getting the story done in eight episodes, leaving room for a brand new story for people who listen to This American Life to obsess over next season. – Danny Djeljosevic
In 2014, I force-fed Broad City to six of my friends, and they each in turn named their first child after me (I mean, essentially. In spirit). Despite coming out of the gate with one of the most fully-formed, self-assured pilots in recent memory, this show, the product of the well-oiled machine that is Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer’s unparalleled friendship and comedic partnership, took a while to garner notice. I posted on Facebook about its genius in mid-January, and the only reply I got was from my brother, who had seen the ads and thought it looked as though “a coked up TV executive saw [that] Workaholics and Girls were both successful and decided to jam them together into some unholy faux-hipster commercialized mess.” This was, too often, the way the uninitiated perceived the show.
In plain fact, however, Jacobson and Glazer had been making the Broad City webseries since 2009, and, after picking up Amy Poehler as a cheerleader and producer, they brought the concept to cable while retaining much of the unique structure and chemistry that made the web version so successful. Broad City effortlessly balances absurdly relatable with straight-up surreal absurdity. Hannibal Burress delights in his supporting role, Jacobson is a physical comedian’s idol and has the most earnest “disgusted” face on television, and Glazer has a fearlessness with line delivery that means she can land the most filthy or outrageous sentences using utter straight-faced sincerity. Above all, from the sex to the weed to the hugs–there’s a lot of all three–this show is real as shit, and its humor is so well-crafted that it feels as effortless as, say, the jokes you might toss off to make your very best friend spit out her coffee while she’s trying to impress a hot dude on the subway. Toke up and bow down, bitches. – KH
And don’t forget to check out our other best of lists in the coming weeks, as well as those we’ve already published: 10 Favorite Video Games, The Year in Panels, 10 Favorite Comics, 10 Favorite Movies, 25 Favorite Songs and more to come.