Monday Morning Critic: The Best of 2014, Honorable Mentions
Welcome back to another installment of the Monday Morning Critic. In this space each week, I’ll be looking at the week that was in addition to the week ahead in television. The format will shift each week, as the world of TV will dictate the form and content of each piece.
In this week’s installment: Not every show can make my year-end best of list, but certain actors, episodes, and other achievements still need to be recognized.
We’re all gearing up for the endless supply of “Best Of” year-end lists. I’ll be posting mine over the next few installments of the “Monday Morning Critic,” but today, I wanted to give some quick shout-outs to actors, episodes, and other individual achievements of shows that didn’t make my year-end list. This was a boffo year for television in general, and as I noted a few weeks ago, we have never seen the diverse series of shows in individual lists as we will this month. There’s too much good TV, and there’s an amazing array of the types of television currently beaming into our eyeballs. These are all excellent problems to have.
With that in mind, onto some of the highlights of 2014…
Christopher Meloni in ‘Surviving Jack’
Meloni has always had comedic chops, but he put them all full display in this underrated single-cam comedy. What could have been a one-note performance turned into a multi-layered performance. Meloni’s Jack Dunlevy was a stern taskmaster who enjoyed a healthy sex life with his wife while managing to be there for his children at precisely the right time. This show had unrealized promise, but Meloni’s character was fully-formed from minute one.
The kids of ‘Black-ish’
Casting a show is often as important as crafting it, and the four child actors in ‘Black-ish” demonstrate this nicely. Not only can you buy these four as siblings, but all have their own unique energies and outlooks that define them as three-dimensional characters and not simply “types” designed to provide conflict for the parents.
Jenny Slate on ‘Married’
This program never truly achieved liftoff, but Slate brought a combination of sexiness, weirdness, and grit that elevated middle-of-the-road material and turned into something unique. She had chemistry with everyone, whether trying to reclaim her youth with Judy Greer or navigating a May/December marriage with Paul Reiser.
Ron Funches in ‘Undateable’
‘Undateable’ has been renewed for a second season, and Funches is one of the best reasons to tune in if you haven’t already. His soft, high-pitched voice and laid-back vibe elicits laughter each and every time he opens his mouth. Funches wrings more laughs from a simple eyebrow raise than most sitcom actors elicit in an entire season. There’s just no one else like him right now in prime-time comedy.
Peter Capaldi in ‘Doctor Who’
This was an up-and-down season of the show, but Capaldi was fantastic from moment one. Everyone has “their” doctor. Me? I’m a Tom Baker guy, and will be until the day I die. But no one has put Baker’s seat in jeopardy more than Capaldi. As good as the three other Doctors in the modern era have been, Capaldi put more of what I love about The Doctor into his performance than anyone in the past decade.
Allison Tolman in ‘Fargo’
Know what’s amazingly fun? Watching someone turn into a straight-up star right before your eyes. That’s what it felt like watching Tolman in ‘Fargo,’ a strong but ultimately maddening series that was mostly frustrating for sidelining its best character in the waning moments of the narrative. Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thorton were both fantastic, but this was ultimately Tolman’s show, and she owned every minute the show would allow.
The ‘Inside Amy Schumer’ sketch “A Very Realistic Military Game”
In an overall standout season, this might have been the boldest sketch. The show’s feminist perspective was constantly on display all year, and this may have been the most devastating deployment. An attack on military cover-ups of sexual assault while simultaneously a deconstruction of the “bro” culture that suffuses videogames, fewer sketches on any show this calendar year dug so deep.
The ‘Outlander’ episode “The Wedding”
I’ve already written about this episode extensively here at ScreenCrush, but it’s worth mentioning again. If there’s a “required” episode of television to view in 2014, this might be it. No other episode so succinctly demonstrated how limited the current perspective of most television shows truly is.
The ‘Louie’ episode “So Did The Fat Lady”
The ambitious but ultimately severely flawed fourth season of ‘Louie’ divided a once united critical front. But even if the season didn’t live up to the standards of the previous three, “So Did The Fat Lady” was a devastating critique of the double standards of health and beauty in society, and a demonstration of how empathetic Louis C.K. can be as both writer and performer.
The fourth episode of ‘Happy Valley’
Saying much about this, the fourth episode of the show’s first season of six total episode, would be to utterly ruin its impact. I can say that this show inverts the normal narrative progression of programs like this in devastating fashion, and this episode is the unexpected fulcrum around which the entire endeavor operates.
The ‘Girls’ episode “Beach House”
The distance between what Lena Dunham sets out to accomplish and what she actually achieves can often be vast. But here, in an episode written by Dunham, co-showrunner Jenni Konner, and producer Judd Apataow, ‘Girls’ rips off the barely-there veneer of friendship between the four main characters, only to lightly cover them in a blanket in the aftermath. It’s a painful yet ultimately rewarding example of how only those we love can truly hurt us.
The ‘Community’ episode “Cooperative Polygraphy”
Look, confession time: Most often, I don’t even like ‘Community.’ But I’ve watched every episode, and it’s because every once in a while they throw a perfect game like this episode. A simple concept and a single set makes this the network television equivalent of “Beach House,” as the Greendale study group is dismantled from the grave by Pierce Hawthorne’s proxy only to be built back up by episode’s end. Brilliant writing and brilliant performances show the heart often hidden by the show’s antics.
The bathroom scene in the ‘Veep’ episode “The Crate”
I enjoy ‘Veep’ on a weekly basis, but this is the scene that everyone will remember about this past season, and maybe the entire series. Tony Hale and Julia Louis-Dryfus both used this episode as their Emmy submission, and this scene is the reason both did it. The sheer escalation that happens in under two minutes is nothing short of breathtaking, mostly because you’re laughing too hard to breathe.
The soundtrack of ‘The Knick’
This show came close to making my Year-End list, but ultimately fell just a little short. Still, as much as Steven Soderbergh’s direction has been rightly praised, I need to single out Cliff Martinez’s anachronistic score, which pulsed in time with the finicky electric system of the hospital itself. It was a surprising choice that added extra energy to any scene it was laid upon, uniting the actions of its characters with our present-day equivalents in subtle, satisfying ways. More than anything else in ‘The Knick,’ its score linked present to past.
The fight choreography in in ‘Arrow’
Every show needs to do at least one thing very well in order to earn my attention. While ‘Arrow’ has lot more going for it than its fights, this was the first thing that hooked me into the show. On a smaller budget than ‘Game Of Thrones,’ it manages to pack more inventiveness and more brutality into its fights than the HBO behemoth. Even if its third season has been somewhat of a letdown to date, the show’s action has never lagged.
The narrative restlessness of ‘The 100’
It would have been so easy to keep everyone in Mount Weather all season, with the newly-landed adults spending every episode painstaking gathering clues as to their whereabouts. Instead, in true ‘The 100’ fashion, the program ejected Clarke almost instantly, setting off a myriad of complications in the process. Eventually, this show might run out of ideas, given how quickly they burn through those they establish. But it’s still bracing to see a show constantly push its characters (and by proxy, its audience) into new territories, alliances, and rifts. This is Drama 101, but ‘The 100’ is one of only a few current shows to embrace that mantra.
The visual design of ‘Hannibal’
I appreciated ‘Hannibal’ more than I enjoyed it, which is to say it was so intense that it was often overwhelming. That says more about me than the show, but even if the operatic nature of this program clashed with my own sensibilities, I could still appreciate that this was one of the most beautifully staged and shot shows on any network on television. Indeed, without the design, the show simply wouldn’t have had the same impact. So it looks like I’m praising the very thing that terrified me. Looks like ‘Hannibal’ got in my head in the way Hannibal got in the heads of his patients.