The Best TV Shows in 2014

I realize I have been AWOL from blogging for the past two weeks, thanks to a busier work schedule, a cold, and getting ready to go on a mini-vacation tomorrow. That said, I’d like to thank everyone who’s taken the time to read the posts I’ve published, as well as who have left comments and feedback. My goal is to get back to my now 200+ feed first thing next week . . . so expect a flurry of likes/comments from me in the upcoming weeks, folks.


Now let’s get back to this post . . . last week I wrote about my favorite books I read in 2014. Now I’m going to mention the best TV shows – some old and some new – that I watched last year.

Best Returning Show

24- Live Another Day

Despite it’s sad and open-ended finale, I totally dug 24‘s (2001-2010) return to the small screen. I think everyone was hoping for some more Jack Bauer, so it was nice to see Keifer Sutherland give in and share some of his alter-ego with us. The idea of the show returning in a mini-series format worked well, offering the same cliff-hanging episodes that kept us on the edge of our seats. Switching the location added to the freshness of the show’s return, and a cast filled with vetted actors and actresses (which included three familiar faces from previous seasons) made longtime fans of the show like myself that much more excited to tune in. And if there’s every a takeaway from 24, it’s that you shouldn’t get close to Jack . . . because you’ll probably end up captured, tortured, dead, or all three.

Best Comedy

While the final season of Arrested Development (2003-2013) arrived on Netflix in 2013, I had never seen a single episode until last year. It’s probably the most off-beat show I’ve ever watched, and yet the writing keeps me coming back for more. Even for a show where multiple characters are unlikable, Arrested Development still knows how to make people laugh. The show runs on a continuous gag reel, forcing new viewers to start from the beginning of the show if they want to appreciate the ongoing jokes. What makes the show work so well is its ability to subtly hint at being funny without announcing the punch line. The fourth season surely received its fair share of criticism for its format, but for me, I felt like the storyline suffered more by not returning to what made everyone laugh about it in the first place. Regardless, I think the first three seasons are worth multiple viewings.

Best Drama

The Killing‘s (2011-2014) final season hit Netflix in 2014, after the streaming service picked up the original AMC show. Perhaps it was all just luck that I discovered the show one day while I was looking through Netflix titles, and I’m so thankful I did. Rarely do crime dramas feel as rough, believable, and original as The Killing. Although it’s based off a Danish show with the same name, this American re-make works as if it was wholly original, at least for American audiences. While I enjoy The Walking Dead (2010-) more than most shows, it was The Killing that had me binge-watching (to my shame) until I completed it. The two leads – played by Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman – is what makes The Killing, particularly the latter. It’s certainly some of the most compelling TV I have seen in a long time. If you want to watch a great crime show, check out The Killing. It’s that good.

Best British Show

So there’s a good chance I created this category just to throw a little of Sherlock into the mix. The third series arrived on Americans’ TV screens in January of 2014, a long two-year wait since the previous series. Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat fail to disappoint, attempting to top the series two finale that left everybody’s mouths gaping. There are always shocks and thrills in Sherlock, but never the cheap kind. We find out what’s happened since Sherlock’s fall, and we get to witness Sherlock and Watson’s bromance grow deeper, while yet another one of their major nemeses reveals himself in the third episode. Most everyone is familiar with the show’s lead, Benedict Cumberbatch, who has recreated a modern-day Sherlock whom everyone loves, despite his sociopathic tendencies.

In regards to British shows, I also thoroughly enjoyed the first season of Broadchurch (2013), which appears to have a second season in the works for later this year. I was not the biggest fan of Doctor Who‘s (2005-) latest outing, despite the actors’ best efforts. I am also a newbie to Orphan Black (2013-) this year, so I’ll get to see what all the fuss is about.

Best New-to-Me Show

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what category Gilmore Girls (2000-2007) ought to go in, given its balanced mix of drama and comedy. So I created a category for this show, because it’s absolutely one of my favorites from 2014. (Note – I’m not finished with the show yet [middle of season 5], so please don’t include any spoilers in the comments.) Where to start? The pop culture references, the offbeat townspeople of Stars Hollow, Kirk?!, Lane’s hilarious bandmates . . . Gilmore Girls seems to have that perfect balance of intertwining multiple storylines while still keeping its focus on the two main girls: Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Rory (Alexis Bledel). Netflix has given the show a brand new generation of fans just discovering it. I highly recommend Gilmore Girls, especially if you want to see a show that has Alexis Bledel’s, Lauren Graham’s, and Melissa McCarthy’s best roles-to-date.

What were your favorite shows you saw in 2014?

A Dystopian Film Comparison: The Hunger Games (2012) vs. Divergent (2014)

Last week was a full week for TV/movies . . . I got to watch three different movies, while having just finished the book Gone Girl over the weekend before, and watching season 1 of The Killing (2011), one of AMC’s shows that has me currently obsessing over it. Originally I was going to post a review for all three films, but I got caught up in my review of Divergent (2014), so I decided it deserved its own post. As I was writing the post, I discovered it was becoming more and more of a comparison/contrast with The Hunger Games (2012) than an actual review of Divergent. So here are my thoughts and theories on the two films. (Keep in mind I’m comparing only the first Hunger Games film, not the entire franchise.)

Fans and adoring critics (adjective addition purposeful) have dubbed this past March’s dystopian offering, Divergent: a less popular version of The Hunger Games.

Here is a little chart I made up to compare the two films:

HG vs. Divergent

Now I realize this isn’t a perfect list. But comparing the two, there’s obviously a lot of similarities in the basis of how the movies’ origins came to be and the universes in which they take place. There are some distinct differences, however, that I think have been overlooked. According to the list, I noted four primary differences: setting, options for the characters’ choices, inclusion/exclusion of a love triangle, and the differences in gender roles for each movie’s primary set of characters.

Divergent takes places in a run-down Chicago, highlighting a lot of its famous architecture and sites, including the ferris wheel at Navy Pier. The setting of The Hunger Games includes futuristic locations created by the author, Suzanne Collins. There are twelve districts in which the world is divided, and there is arena where the games take place. This difference alone gives each movie a different feel. You’re taken with the world created for The Hunger Games, but for those who know Chicago or are from the area, might really appreciate moments, such as when Tris (Shailene Woodley) and the rest of the Dauntless recruits climb one of the major bridges downtown Chicago to run onto the moving L-train.

One other major difference is crucial, because it affects how the protagonist deals with issues. In The Hunger Games, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), who is under the age of 18, is forced to participate in the annual Reaping, where two unlucky souls are forced to fight to the death in the hunger games, which the book and film franchise is so aptly named from. Katniss’s sister’s name is drawn, forcing Katniss into the position of either watching her sister die, or take her place. Tris, on the other hand, is given a choice to select exactly which group she wants to become a part of. It’s almost like joining a college society . . . you get a choice, but once you choose, you’re in for life (or for the rest of your college experience, in that case).

My favorite difference between the two franchises, and one thing I enjoyed in Divergent more than The Hunger Games is that the former opted not to have the ever annoying cliche love triangle. It’s a personal preference on my end, but I think it places more of the viewers’ focus on the protagonist and his/her mission versus taking the attention away from the A-plot to focus on another character’s feelings. I’m not saying I don’t like love triangles, but for me, I felt like Divergent‘s storyline worked well without one.

Perhaps one of the most obvious and interesting differences between the two films is the way gender roles were handled among the main cast. Let’s start with the game changer: THG‘s Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) do not fulfill the typical male/female hero and damsel roles.Katniss is ultimately the hero, but not just because she’s the protagonist of the story. She’s the leading lady, yes, but she’s also the epitome of the physical strength in the film. She’s brash and unlikeable at times, but she’s smart, physically fit, and she knows how to fight. She could win in The Hunger Games, because after all, it is survival of the fittest. Peeta, on the other hand, isn’t the strongest guy. Sure, he can throw a rock, but his background as a baker’s son has made him the coolest icing artist in District 12. But that doesn’t exactly scream for allies in the games or send the message that he’s intimidating and tough to mess with. Instead, he shows emotional strength that Katniss lacks, the character trait one would usually associate with a female. Peeta makes poor decisions when it comes to hunting and fighting, but he’s in touch with his feelings and he cares. Divergent‘s characters do, however, take more of the straight and narrow route. Tris isn’t physically strong, but with the help of Four (Theo James), she’s able to improve her fighting skills. Four rescues Tris from others trying to kill her. Yet Tris remains the star of Divergent, even if at times, she leans on Four for help, who gladly aids her in the end. I like how each franchise handles these roles, but I appreciate the differences as well. Personally, I feel like Tris and Four’s relationship is handled with less force than Katniss and Peeta’s, thus making it come across more natural on screen.

In summary, I think The Hunger Games‘s plot proved more intense to watch for me, which kept me on the edge of my seat, whereas I feel like Divergent may have had an even better idea, but it didn’t have the money, charisma, or right timing to win over critics.  It’s really the fans of the book that most likely led the way into the premiere (I didn’t read the book yet), and I think the franchise definitely has a place in Hollywood, even though it will probably never attract the kind of attention and adoration The Hunger Games has already acclaimed. That said, I think Shailene Woodley has proven herself a worthy leading lady, and no doubt she will be a huge plug for the sequels after her success with The Fault in Our Stars (2014).

Now it’s your turn. What did you think of Divergent? How do you think the movie lines up next to The Hunger Games? Which one did you enjoy more? Please join the discussion below, because I would love to know your thoughts!