The Top 15 Episodes of TV in 2014 — Part Three!
I hope you’ve all been enjoying my journey back through the great TV of 2014! Click here for part one of my list, numbers fifteen through eleven. Click here for part two of my list, numbers ten through six.
And now, the conclusion. Here are my five favorite episodes of TV of 2014:
5. Sherlock: “The Sign of Three” (season 3, episode 2, aired on 1/5/14) — Each hour-and-a-half-long installment of the BBC’s brilliant Sherlock series is an event in and of itself, as each episode is really it’s own movie. All three episodes of the show’s third season (or series, as those in the U.K. prefer) were strong, but it was the middle one, “The Sign of Three,” with which I was particularly taken. The set-up is pure gold: it’s John (Martin Freeman) and Mary’s wedding, and Sherlock Holmes is the best man. Combine Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch)’s usual discomfort in normal polite society with a mystery regarding an attempted murder and you have a classic episode. I love the structure of the episode. Almost the entire run-time is structured around Sherlock’s bizarre, weird, funny, awkward, rambling Best Man toast to Watson. In addition to the main mystery, we get tantalizing glimpses into a number of Sherlock & Watson’s other cases; we get an oh-so-brief return of the wonderful Irene Adler; we get suspense and comedy (I adore the flashback reveal of Sherlock’s intimidation of Mary’s friends and family) and so much more. I was pleased by the balance between mystery/suspense and the show’s joy in exploring its characters and watching them play. This episode leans more strongly towards the latter, and it works because of how sharply written the show is, and the incredible talent of all the performers, most particularly, of course, the incredibly talented duo of Mr. Freeman & Mr. Cumberbatch. Gold. (Click here for my review of Sherlock series three.)
4. Game of Thrones: “The Lion and the Rose” (season 4, episode 2, aired on 4/13/14) — Game of Thrones episodes usually jump all over the fantasy world of the Seven Kingdoms and beyond, usually only spending a few minutes at a time in one location, and with a certain set of characters, before leaping elsewhere. As the show has gone on and its cast of characters has grown ever more sprawling, this narrative structure has begun to chafe with some fans. I’m not one of them, but I do nevertheless cherish the show’s habit of using the penultimate episode of the season to tell an important story in just a single location. (This was most notably done in season two’s “Blackwater,” though this season’s “The Watchers on the Wall” was also spectacular.) I wasn’t expecting such a device to be used so early in the season, and so, though the episode’s first half features the usual narrative hop-scotch, I was delighted that the second half stayed put in King’s Landing to tell the story of King Joffrey’s wedding to Sansa Stark. This allowed the show to dig deeply into its extraordinarily rich cast of characters to give us one magnificent scene after another in which the characters collided and spun off of one another. Many long-awaited interactions occurred while other characters who I never expected to share a scene did so to deliriously wonderful effect. Where to even begin? There’s Cersei confronting Brienne of Tarth and accusing her of being in love with Jamie. There’s Jamie threatening Sir Loras Tyrell, trying to intimidate him into not marrying Cersei, though Sir Loras throws rumors of Jamie and Cersei’s incestuous romance back in Jamie’s face. There’s Tywin and Lady Olenna (a magnificent Diana Rigg) bantering about who owes whom money, and there’s the great, tense interaction between Tywin & Cersei and Oberyn Martell & Ellaria Sand. And then the wedding actually begins, and the screws tighten and tighten and I moved more and more to the edge of my seat, as Joffrey heaps humiliation upon humiliation atop Tyrion and Sansa. But I did not see that shocking ending coming. I had remained thankfully spoiler-free, and I was absolutely bowled over by the sharp left-turn the episode took in its closing moments. A magnificent twist and a wonderful beginning to a season’s worth of story-lines. But the main reason that this episode ranks so high on this list is all of those great character moments that happened before that wild cliffhanger. It was an invigorating demonstration of the depth of Game of Thrones’ world and its characters, four seasons into the story. Every character has a specific back-story and a specific motivation, every character has their plans and their schemes and their desires, and watching them all collide at the wedding was extraordinary. (Click here for my review of Game of Thrones season four.)
3. The Simpsons: “Simpsorama” (season 26, episode 6, aired on 11/9/14) — As much as I love The Simpsons, I love Futurama even more. Perhaps that’s because the sci-fi humor of the show is right up my alley. Perhaps it’s because of Futurama’s underdog status. The show has never achieved anywhere near the popularity of its big brother The Simpsons, and it has been repeatedly canceled, miraculously resurrected, and then cancelled again. After the show’s third (and, for now, seemingly final) recent cancellation (I wrote about the series finale here, in last year’s Best of TV list), it looked like that was really it for Futurama. But lo and behold, the characters from the show were brought back from the dead yet again, albeit briefly, for this terrific crossover episode with The Simpsons. (As the show’s opening credits gag reads: “A show out of ideas teams up with a show out of episodes.”) A time-capsule buried in Springfield in the present day is opened in the future of Futurama, only to unleash havoc: Life is Hell-looking rabbit gremlins made from Simpson DNA. So the Planet Express crew sends Bender into the past to kill Homer Simpson, hoping to change the future and eliminate the scourge. When Bender and Homer bond over their shared love of beer (somehow, the sight of Homer and Bender drinking together at Moe’s made me even happier than the sight of Homer & Peter Griffin there), and proves unable to complete his mission, the whole Futurama gang travels back in time, before the Simpson family winds up zapped forward into the Futurama future. It’s just as much fun seeing the Futurama gang hanging out in the Simpsons’ house as it is seeing the Simpson family sitting around the Planet Express table. We get to see the Professor together with Professor Frink, we get to see lots of Futurama supporting characters including Morbo, Nibbler, the Hypnotoad, and even Hedonism Bot (who appears in a spectacular couch gag with Homer), we get a great inside-baseball joke about Bart’s birthday, we get lots of sci-fi jokes and references — to Aliens, Blade Runner, Isaac Asimov (Bender: “I killed Isaac Asimov on the way over here! Well, Isaac somebody.”) — and lots more. This was an extraordinary twenty-two minutes. I wish it had been longer!!! But I loved every frame of what I got. If this is the last we ever see of the Futurama gang, it’s a fine farewell.
2. Parks and Recreation: “Moving Up” (season 6, episodes 21/22, aired on 4/24/14) — Because Parks and Rec has always been on the verge of cancellation, showrunner Mike Schur and his team have famously had to write quite a number of different episodes of the show as if they were the series finale. The phenomenal, double-length season six finale is only the most recent example. I am of course thrilled that the show was brought back for a seventh and final season, but had “Moving Up” been the series finale, it would have been intensely satisfying. Every member of the ensemble gets a great story-line and lots of terrific things to do. The episode begins with silliness in San Francisco (the Andy and the skateboard gag is terrific), in which Leslie meets Michelle Obama (and freaks out) and Ben and Andy pitch the internet company Gryzzl the idea of bringing free internet to Pawnee (where citizens love ordering pizza on-line so much that they will go to the library in order to do so). They’re rejected until it turns out that the company’s members are obsessed with the crazy Dungeons & Dragons/Settlers of Catan-like game that Ben invented, the Cones of Dunshire, leading to a Cones show-down. Meanwhile, Leslie gets offered a position working for the National Parks, causing her intense anguish as she considers the prospect of leaving Pawnee. While all this is happening, the gang is in the final throes of planning and running their Unity Concert to help unite the towns of Pawnee and Eagleton, and the “soft opening” of Tom’s new restaurant turns catastrophic. It’s all so great, and hits the perfect balance of funny and sweet that Parks walks so well. Great moments include Jerry’s toppling over of all the shelves of glasses in Tom’s restaurant (which made me laugh even harder than the dog anus menus), Ron smashing a hand-made chair he just completed because “it’s too perfect,” that “Lester Knopf” joke, Ben once again tragically disappointing his accountant groupies, the public revelation of Duke Silver, Tammy & Councilman Jamm, the return of the entire Saperstein family, and, of course, Andy’s triumphant performance of “Bye Bye, Li’l Sebastian,” complete with holographic Li’l Sebastian. And that’s before we even get to the closing minutes and the time-jump to 2017, complete with bumbling Jon Hamm, Garry/Jerry/Larry who is now Terry, and so much other fun stuff. A wonderful, hugely funny hour of television, and a terrific set-up for the show’s final season. Ah, Parks and Rec. I am already missing you.
1. The Daily Show — Every year I cheat here with the number one spot, awarding it to The Daily Show — not for one single episode, but for the magnificence of the entertainment provided four nights a week, every week, all year long. This year will be no different. Every day, in which it seems that there is more and more chaos in the world and that our government here in the U.S. is more and more dysfunctional, The Daily Show grows in importance. That Jon Stewart and his marvelously talented team of writers can bring such a clear point of view, such a sharp eye for hypocrisy and idiocy, each and every night while always managing to be ferociously entertaining, is an achievement that I cannot praise enough. Some day Jon Stewart is going to stop doing this, and I don’t know what I am going to do then! But let’s not dwell on that. For now, let’s just look back at some great Daily Show moments from 2o14: