He would drown the stage with tears, And cleave the general ear with horrid speech, Make mad the guilty, and appall the free, Confound the ignorant, and amaze indeed The very faculties of eyes and ears. — Hamlet Act 2, Scene 2 Science Fiction, Horror, and Fantasy are great and all, but Drama is where the money is. You can make the most literate, intelligent, and groundbreaking genre film or television show, and there will still be people out there who dismiss it as escapist rot. But Drama, when done right, can make the dullest of the dull sit up, cry, scream, laugh, and maybe even grow a little, without the viewer even realizing what is happening. Is that snobbish? Not really. Dramatic weight is, of course, found in Sci-fi, Horror, and Fantasy, and I love all genres of film making and television. But when you want to be taken seriously by everybody — not just your fanbase — Drama the place to be. Here are our Top Ten Favorite TV Dramas of 2014. 24: Live another Day What made 24: Live Another Day one of the best shows of 2014? A wonderful alignment of factors, involving performers, setting, history and politics. I only have space to mention the ones that mattered to me the most: 1) Kiefer Sutherland, as committed as ever to Jack Bauer as he grows darker and darker. He’s lost everything, but he still feels driven to do what’s right. For the right President, that is. 2) Mary Lynn Rajskub; like Jack, Chloe’s lost everything, but she was already an almost autistic badass. Her losses (accidental death of husband and child) pushed her logically if tragically to a more radical course even as Jack became more and more conservative and shut down (on some levels). The differences between men and women coping with anger and depression, or just two personalities on diverging paths? We almost get to see them decide for themselves, as their friendship somehow persists despite all. 3) Very wise choices of supporting cast and villains. William Devane, Kim Raver, both parts of unfinished tales from earlier seasons, were ably aided by Tate Donovan, Yvonne Strahovski and Benjamin Bratt in showy new roles that complicated the plot in multiple directions from hour one. 4) On the villainy front, you wouldn’t imagine it could get scarier than the crazy-eyed Michelle Fairley. Bringing some Game of Thrones intensity to her righteous mission of vengeance on the American military system (and their English allies), you might blink for a second at her demise well before the finale; but that’s just until you realize Tzi Ma is the mastermind behind the other half of the story, playing Cheng Zhi as one of Jack’s worst, angriest, most grudge-holding former nemeses. Switching focus from Michelle to Tzi didn’t just continue an already frenetic pace, it amped it up to rug-pulling new levels of “oh shit!” 5) Serious consequences. 24 has always been a series where mistakes and past indiscretions inevitably come back to haunt you. The losses and betrayals that have made Jack basically a walking hurt locker are given freshly rough parallels by the lies that killed Agent Kate’s husband and derailed her career; by the fearful mistakes that Mark Boudreau made in order to protect his wife Audrey and his President Heller; by the ultimate fates of Fairley and Ma in their illegal and catastrophically overblown schemes of revenge that poisoned everyone around them. 6) Intense action and excitement! The advertisements made much of London as the setting for this chapter of Bauer’s endless war on terror, but the shattered call boxes, flaming double-deckers and pitted Tube signs looked more like a Dr. Who apocalypse than the actual more generic and nondescript yet nerve-biting set pieces that characterized the series. 7) And those were just the biggest ones I remember, somehow in these 12 episodes they fit in plenty of more subtle solo missions, standoffs, psychological fake-outs, assassins and torture scenes, all of them evolving into or out of the main threats, several of them with less than happy outcomes for the players in way over their heads. I think Kiefer and company have proved a 24 wouldn’t be a joke; but then again, maybe they should stay true to the original concept and not try compressing the story down to two hours, however amplified. This season only had 12 episodes rather than 24, but they still covered a day, wisely saving the only non-real time span for the end, the appropriate place to mourn for Audrey, murdered despite all reasonable precautions and guardians while fighting to serve her country. The stoic Devane broke down at this loss, Jack lost even more of his humanity, and Agent Kate ended her career out of guilt. However they take up the story again, the producers and writers have shown that they can deal compellingly with big decisions and tragically high costs. — Shawn Hill Fargo Watching Fargo was an obvious choice for me. Of course, around April of last year, I was unaware that the miniseries I was going to devour was about to rival, or even surpass, the grandeur of the Coen Brothers 1996 movie by that same name. I can attest, after having so gladly reviewed each of the ten episodes that comprised this masterpiece for Psycho Drive-In, that the involvement of the Coen Brothers was key, as it helped to imbue Fargo with that bloody, noir, and eerie fun so characteristic of their movies. Every character played its role at perfection, and inside all this crazy world of mobsters, killings, cheatings, stupid policemen, and above all of them, the ominous, terrifying, almost all-encompassing figure of Lorne Malvo – played by an immensely talented Billy Bob Thornton, who might easily have performed the best role of his career – there was an strange logic, where characters managed to live their lives – a survival of the fittest of sorts. I have to say, Fargo shined in every aspect. The sobriety and impact of each episode’s developments, the ability it had to grasp you by the neck, force you to watch it every week, and make you love the whole thing, the superb casting choices, with many secondary Hollywood actors playing challenging and brutal roles – cheating wife, Fargo mobster, Sales guru – and obviously having a blast while doing so, and well… Malvo. One character alone. Around plenty great developed ones, like Molly or Lester, the two other main characters of this drama, Lorne Malvo shined. Special, different, genuine, dark, weird…perfect. Malvo the drifter, who seemed a human host for some demon running rampant, living to create chaos and death everywhere, and provoking those around him to bring out their worst aspects, was one of the most genuinely creepy – words and actions creepy – and most original bad guys I have ever seen on TV. Thornton, of course, added all the layers he has to this unique character. I read that these actors might not be coming back but there might be a second Fargo season. Believe me, that’s something none of us should miss. Now go. Watch. Fargo. ‘Cause you know what happens to those who don’t. — Samuel Salama Cohén Hannibal I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: Hannibal is the best broadcast network television series of the past decade. A lot of people have avoided the series because they assume it will be heavy on the blood-and-gore, and they are right. Which is unfortunate because not all gore is created equal. Bryan Fuller’s NBC series deals with its gore much as one might imagine Scorsese might, but not the Scorsese of Mean Streets (1973). Instead, Fuller lays both butchered bodies and carefully carved (and equally suspicious) culinary delights before us as if he were re-making the master’s The Age of Innocence (1993), where each image is so rich and gorgeously filmed that you almost forget what it is you’re actually looking at. Not that the story ever truly lets you do so. But that said, it is not the serial murders nor the twisted tableaus that hold us spellbound. Rather, Fuller focuses on the psychological contest between Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the cannibal psychiatrist, and Will Graham, the FBI profiler, first brought to us in novelist Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon (1981). In Hannibal, FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit director Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) needs help in his pursuit of the serial killer called the Chesapeak Ripper and enlists the help of the emotional fragile and remarkably empathetic Graham (Hugh Dancy). A mutual colleague is hesitant to allow the semi-retired profiler to return to the field without support and recommends that Crawford engage the services of psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) to watch over Graham as the search for the killer. What makes the show work so well is both its strong aesthetic vision and its carefully balanced battle (especially in this second season) between Lecter and Graham. This is no game of cat-and-mouse. The central conflict more closely resembles that between cobra and mongoose—each moment taut and focused, with the potential for death and destruction in every movement and on either side. The writing is excellent, but the directors and actors are the ones who really sell the series by investing those moments with such meaning (sometimes real, sometimes carefully contrived) in the execution that, to look away, even for a second, is to risk losing the thread that ties everything together. And in an age where television is all too often little more than background noise, a show that demands such attention is an almost indescribable pleasure. — Laura Akers House of Cards Well, what a crazy year. A lot of sweet movies and tv came out last year, but one of the major highlights was the continuation of Netflix’s original political drama, House of Cards. In season two of this dramatic powerhouse we saw the real Frank Underwood finally reveal just how far he was willing to go to achieve his goals. We saw the culmination of a man’s long-sought revenge despite many obstacles, all of them political and social, none of them moral. I could watch Kevin Spacey in anything all the time, but he brings a particular intensity to the character of Frank Underwood that made it enthralling to behold. Now, with his ambitions achieved I look forward to 2015, when we will see his triumphant return. Now on top, how will Frank hold on to his newly acquired power? Will his wife stay by his side, or will her emerging conscience make her throw it all away. These are the kinds of questions that House of Cards inspires, and they are the reasons that it was a huge highlight of 2014. Onward year! Let’s get to it! — Jeffrey Roth The Knick For some reason, maybe because it was on Cinemax, nobody I know talked about The Knick at all during its ten-episode premiere season. Which is bloody strange because it starred Clive Own as the fictional Dr. John Thackery (although he was based on William Stewart Halsted), and every single episode was a lesson in virtuoso directing by Steven Soderbergh. The series is set in New York City in 1900 at the Knickerbocker Hospital, where Thackery is the lead surgeon (after the suicide of his friend, mentor, and fellow cocaine-enthusiast Dr. J. M. Christiansen, played to perfection by Matt Frewer). Over the course of the series we are treated to truly nightmarish surgery procedures from the dawn of real medicine, race riots, drug addiction, withdrawal, criminal behavior, whores, pimps, crooked cops, crooked hospital staff, madness, abortions, and death. Lots of death. Each actor plays the hell out of their roles, truly relishing the opportunity to explore a world that compares favorably on every creative level with HBO’s classic Deadwood. The music by longtime Soderbergh collaborator Cliff Martinez (who also worked with Nicolas Winding Refn on Drive and Only God Forgives) crafted a disconcerting tonal soundscape that can be as unnerving as some of the scenes of experimental doctoring. But the real joy of this series is watching Soderbergh create what is essentially a ten hour film that is visual perfection. There’s not a bad shot in the lot. My personal favorite stylistic flourish is when Soderbergh allows the camera to float through the scene, not following characters who are speaking, but focusing on the silent reactions of those listening. We see the psychological and physical performances as the actors inhabit the moment as completely as any actors I’ve ever watched on-screen. It lacked the fire and overt flair of Deadwood, but it captured an intensity and complexity that makes The Knick easily one of the best shows of the year. There’s a second season on the way, which is astounding, given where this first season ends up. I really have no idea what’s in store, and that’s an amazing feeling. — Paul Brian McCoy The Newsroom The six-episode final season of The Newsroom concluded on December 14, and it was the best of the three seasons that this series had. The first two seasons had 10 episodes each, so I was surprised that the final season was limited to six, but everything was plotted and paced perfectly throughout the six episodes. To add four more episodes would have brought in filler that would have lessened the emotional and intellectual affect that the season had on me–and that it hopefully had on anyone who watched it. I particularly liked the scene in the penultimate episode (“Oh Shenandoah”) where Don Keefer interviewed a female college student in her dorm room. She had created a rape-reporting Website after she was raped at a party in which she had gotten drunk and had passed out. Don had been ordered by his network to produce a segment where the young woman and the man she cited as her rapist would confront each other on the 10:00 PM news broadcast that Don executive produces. There are no easy black or white answers to the socio-ethical issues that are raised during the conversation between Don and the young woman—and knowing female friends who have been raped caused me to think of them as I watched and listened to the student Don was interviewing. It was a very powerful and thoughtful scene that epitomized this season as a whole–a very powerful and thoughtful final season to a series that was often thoughtful but that had lacked emotional power throughout its first two seasons. As I watched the sixth episode of the season (and the final episode of the series), I was wishing The Newsroom wasn’t coming to an end. However, it’s still available in various digital formats, and I urge you to check it out. — Thom Young Orange is the New Black Netflix continues to challenge traditional cable shows with its hit Orange is the New Black! The second season of the fan favorite it considerable darker than the first season of this dramedy, but it is about a prison after all! Piper has become darker, harder, and much more cynical and the tone of the all of the writing has followed suit. One of the best parts of the writing behind this show is the depth and attention that is given to each character. Different episodes reveal the supporting characters’ backstories and we see why they ended up in Litchfield. No character in this show is 100% good or 100% evil. Each of them have demons, desires, and heart that fuel their motives and actions. Even though Piper is the main character, this season pays more attention to the supporting cast. The show would have gotten old if every episode revolved around poor little advantaged Piper being brought down another peg when she is stripped of her humanity in prison. The introduction of a prisoner from Litchfield’s past, Vee, is a total game changer for the entire prison. We are introduced to a humbled, softer side of Red and our hearts break along with Taystee’s as we see society and every person she trusts let her down. The main theme of season two is mothers, mothers, mothers! Nearly every aspect of the mother-child relationship is explored ranging from mothers who project their wants on their children, to absentee mothers, surrogate mother figures, and even women who exploit the craving of a motherly bond and pervert it to further their own agendas. In this melting pot of cultures, backgrounds, races, and economic backgrounds we see that anyone could end up in prison after a series of bad decisions, unfortunate events, and greed. — Jessica Sowards Sherlock Sherlock has consistently been a smart show for smart people written by clever folk. It excels at twisting and turning while building their audience’s calf muscles by keeping them on their toes. In the past, each moment of each episode added up to a larger piece of a bigger puzzle, nothing wasted, not even the bits you missed the first time. 2014’s season continued this trend, consisting of three episodes, one of which was called “The Sign of Three” (nothing wasted, after all). Here character relationships, always an important part of the series, began to take a larger chunk of the writer’s time and luckily, for the most part, the cast of actors was up to it. Cumberbatch and Freeman were able to expertly bro it up, or bloke it up, or just plain chappy about. Freeman was unleashed and was finally able to show his range as an actor, while Cumberbatch displayed his chops and smoldered as a man who has distanced himself from his own emotions, emoting. While this year’s episodes ran thick with character building and was splatter painted with plot points that, at times, teetered on the melodramatic, there were still plenty of the requisite tight little locked boxes in search of crackerjack keys that fans of the show have come to expect. While still remaining one of the best shows on television, this season the series began to show some of the crinkles inherent in its own success, seemingly playing to the desires of its fanbase more so than staying true to itself. Considering how damn good it is, though, even a little bend in its knees still makes it stand head and shoulders above most others. — Daniel Elkin True Detective “Do you wonder ever, if you’re a bad man?” “No. I don’t wonder, Marty. The world needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door.” True Detective was a thing of beauty. A dark, pessimistic beauty that wasn’t afraid to experiment, to tease, and to finally allow its bleakest, most hopeless character to find a little bit of hope — much to the chagrin of many viewers. It was also a mostly straight-up detective story that masqueraded as possible weird fiction, dropping references to Lovecraft and Robert W. Chambers’ 1895 story “The King in Yellow,” Alan Moore, and Thomas Ligotti. Writer/Creator Nic Pizzolatto and series director Cary Joji Fukunaga found a way to contrast Matthew McConaughey’s tortured Detective Rust Cohle and Woody Harrelson’s self-destructive Detective Marty Hart that not only made for fascinating television, but allowed for a scathing exploration of the bleakest philosophical points possible. Rust was able to say things like “I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution.” Or “I think the honorable thing for our species to do is to deny our programming. Stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction.” Or “Certain linguistic anthropologists think that religion is a language virus that rewrites pathways in the brain. Dulls critical thinking.” And maybe my favorite, “If the only thing keeping a person decent is the expectation of divine reward, then brother that person is a piece of shit and I’d like to get as many of them out in the open as possible.” Ultimately the mystery wasn’t as important as the spiritual journey that Rust goes on to move from the darkness to the light, and every single episode was crafted with such precision and grace that when it hit the halfway point and gave us a 6-minute long tracking shot in episode four “Who Goes There” it was like mainlining pure cinema. From that point on, the show’s structure began to settle down into something more traditional, as if that long shot signaled the transition from eldritch existential dread to something more manageable and understandable. But that didn’t lessen the impact of the series. If anything, it drove home what was occurring under the skin from the beginning. The bones of the show were about finding redemption and a little peace in a hostile, indifferent universe. It was about how what we believe colors how we perceive everything around us. How we see patterns and find meaning in meaninglessness. Season two will return this year with Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, and Vince Vaughn exploring another dark mystery from Pizzolatto, and I can’t freaking wait. — Paul Brian McCoy Vikings History, or at least a version of it, has actually reappeared on the History Channel: Vikings, a series focusing on the 9th century legendary figure of Ragnar Lothbrok, returned this last year for a second season and the next begins in a matter of weeks (February 19). The series is written by Michael Hirst, also responsible for Showtime’s The Tudors. In that series, Hirst failed purists (like myself) by using historical fact as a framework for his story, rather than his strict guide. And yet, in the end, the show was successful even for students of the period because, while it did not always accurately portray the exact events, what it did do—extremely effectively—is paint an honest picture of English court life in the sixteenth century, complete with its complicated intrigue and the pressures that took one of the most successful kings of England to the edge of a sort of monomaniacal madness that split the Church and his kingdom. Since Vikings focuses on Lothbrok (played by Travis Fimmel), a figure for whom such historical evidence is scant to begin with, there is even less temptation to stick to the facts. Norse “history” of the Vikings period is oral and heavily mythologized. Most of the more traditional history we have for the raiding Norsemen of the history comes from the victims of their empire-building, and while the series spends a good deal of time focusing on the internal strife of the Viking tribes, season two also heavily focuses on this early contact between the raiding Scandinavians and King Ecbert (Linus Roache) of the British kingdom of Wessex. And both storylines do an excellent job of entertaining us while also representing a period about which most of us know little. Hirst’s narrative includes gorgeous cinematography and good pacing, especially the balance between depicting the often brutal Norse way of waging war (internally as well as externally) and the quieter, more personal moments of everyday life. But it is the writing and acting which make the series such a pleasure. The ongoing conflict between Ragnar and his allies, especially that with his brother Rollo (Clive Standen) and his ex-wife Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), is really involving and challenge our assumptions about the Viking culture. Winnick particularly is a pleasure to watch. Standing almost a foot shorter than her male actors, she still effectively dominates on the battlefield in her shield-maiden role. But it is her depiction of Lagertha’s hurt and pride in dealing with her husband’s infidelity (even as she acts as a strategic ally and ruler in her own right) that turns the character into one of the most compelling characters on television last year. — Laura Akers Surprise! There was Horror, some Dark Fantasy, and even a touch of Sci-fi here and there in these entries! Not to mention Comedy, Crime, and War! Hope you like getting some genre on you, viewers! Tune in next week as we take a look at our Favorite Movies of 2014. There were so freaking many, it’s not funny. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related One Response Justified 6.11 “Fugitive Number One” - Psycho Drive-In April 6, 2015 […] A few months ago, I wrote the following about the HBO series The Newsroom for Psycho Drive-In’s “Top Ten Favorite 2014 TV Dramas”: […] Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.