Only half of 2013’s Top Ten Television Shows made it back for the 2014 lists, but that’s mainly because most of them didn’t release a season this past year. Plus, there was an explosion in quality television in 2014 that is, quite frankly, unheard of. There are so many great shows this year that we’ve had to break them up into three lists that are essentially a Top Twenty-Five Shows.
But as Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, I hate those click-bait articles that force you to dig through page after page of slop to find out which shows made the cut. So at Psycho Drive-In you’ll get three TV columns this year. Last week’s Top Five Animated Shows of 2014, this Top Ten Favorite Genre Shows, and on Friday we’ll have our Top Ten Favorite Television Dramas.
Be sure to tune back in for that.
But before we get there, here’s our alphabetical list of the best ten sci-fi, horror, and fantasy shows of 2014. There are probably a few we missed, so please leave comments below telling us where we screwed up!
Until then, here we go!!
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
When Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returned from its winter hiatus in January 2014, there was something different about it. The initial 13-episode allotment was coming to a conclusion and the creative team had started diving into the big mysteries and knew they had at least another half season to play with. Feeding on the feedback, mostly negative, from the first half of the season, the back half got off to a great start and then leapt into overdrive with the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier in April.
One of the drawbacks of the first half of the season was that they had to wait for Cap to be released and change the whole dynamic of the Marvel Cinematic Universe before the TV show could really go for broke. And that they did.
That last run of episodes from Season One, episodes 17 through 22, never let up, ripping S.H.I.E.L.D. apart, reveling in betrayals and vendettas, and finally bringing Nick Fury back to the show for the finale. It was excellent.
Season Two has been just as good, not missing a beat as they’ve introduced new cast members, expanded the conflict to include the U.S. Military, finally introduced Skye’s dad (Kyle McLachlan as Mister Hyde) along with the concept of the Inhumans, and revealed Skye’s true identity as a character right from the S.H.I.E.L.D. comics of the past few years.
With Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. tearing it up, Arrow maintaining its cool, Flash, Gotham, and Constantine all making such impressive debuts, while The Walking Dead continued to be the most popular show on television, 2014 was truly the year that comic books conquered the small screen more consistently than they’ve ever done the big one.
It’s a great time to be a comics fan — and a TV fan.
— Paul Brian McCoy
There is really nothing about Arrow that should work. Many folks have rightly pointed out that the first season is basically just a serialized retelling of Batman Begins. The idea of a deadly archer fighting other deadly archers, not too mention international drug cartels, mafioso and the Russian mob, is almost laughable. Surely a character like Robin Hood worked best at a time when we all traveled on horseback through dense wooded area. However, putting Robin Hood in a modern day New York or Chicago is absurd.
Yet, somehow, Arrow does work. And, with its third season well underway, it’s beginning to work very well. In fact, it’s been working so well that I think much of the success of The Flash is due in large part to the lessons that Andrew Kreisberg and Greg Berlanti learned from the first two season of Arrow. I would also be remiss if I didn’t point out the level of commitment and sincerity that Stephen Amell brings to his portrayal of Oliver Queen. Plenty of scenes are saved from mediocrity simply because Amell is so dedicated to delivering a great performance.
Arrow, perhaps even more than Smallville, seems to have kickstarted a renaissance in live-action superhero television. The crossover episode with The Flash was everything that a fan could want and more. There are quite a few times that the show makes me believe that superheroes can be real, even in spite of the fact that I know they’re just as animated as their cartoon counterparts.
However, I think the best way to describe Arrow in 2014 is with three words: Boxing Glove Arrow.
— Sean Reid
I’ve never been one to mince words, and I’m not gonna start now — Constantine is so good it’s almost unfair. Despite the paltry few episodes we’ve been graced with, and the unfortunately tenuous nature of its lifespan, this series has been showing all the signs of a classic in the making.
With an intensely loveable cast, a protagonist with enough personality and charm to nearly hold up the entire show on his own, and a episodic style that keeps each installment absolutely thrilling, there’s a lot to adore about this Hellblazer-based newcomer. Brilliantly shot scenes, well-placed special effects, and dazzling dialogue help it balance drama, comedy, and horror on a razor’s edge so sharp it’ll leave you bleeding for more.
Seriously, don’t let this one slide past you. All of you cried tears of pure bile when Firefly got canceled, so don’t let it happen with this gem.
— Alex Wolfe
Based on online media reports, it’s my impression that when Jenna Coleman signed on to Doctor Who to play Clara Oswald she believed she was going to be working with Matt Smith for more than one season, so it must have come as a surprise when Smith announced he would be leaving the series. This situation probably factored into executive producer Steven Moffat having the Doctor and Clara coming so close to having an actual romantic liaison rather than the usual unreciprocated “schoolgirl crushes” that have so often occurred between the Doctor and various female companions over the years. Thus, when Matt Smith’s Doctor “died,” there was a real sense of loss over the romance that might have been–not only for Clara but for the viewers as well.
After 56-year-old Peter Capaldi signed on to play the Doctor, Coleman was asked by a reporter if the budding romance between her character and the Doctor would continue. Based on the description the reporter gave in the short article, it seemed as if the 28-year-old Coleman was a bit disgusted with the notion that such a romantic relationship might still happen. Of course, there’s no way of telling if Coleman was truly disgusted with the notion or if that is merely the way the reporter wrote about it.
Instead of the notion of a May-December romance between Clara and the new Doctor, the character of Danny Pink was introduced as Clara’s paramour–and the season concluded (spoiler alert!) with the supposedly permanent death of Danny. Then, in the Christmas episode, the Doctor visits an octogenarian Clara near the end of her life, and upon learning that she never married, the Doctor asks (paraphrasing here), “Never met another man you’d consider as a husband other than Danny, eh?”
Clara coyly answered, “Oh, there was one other”–and we all knew she meant the Doctor. However, it didn’t seem as if she just meant Matt Smith’s Doctor. With the twinkle in her eye and the wry smile upon her lips as she spoke the line, it seemed as if she might also be referring to Peter Capaldi’s Doctor–and I liked that little exchange.
As she aged and approached the age in her own body that the Doctor’s body appeared to be (because, of course, the Doctor is well over a thousand years old), Clara seems to have realized that she didn’t lose her possible paramour when he regenerated into an older-looking body.
— Thom Young
I’d like to call The Flash “the surprise hit of 2014” but, if you are a fan of the character, then it was no surprise at all. The Flash has always embodied the best qualities of being a superhero; heroism, selflessness, a great supporting cast and fun! The CW made a brilliant move by not trying to reinvent the wheel. Instead, they tweaked decades old characters just enough to be believable to a television audience and the result was a kinetic, entertaining and engaging series filled with plot twists, mystery and some of the best high speed special effects ever.
The Flash isn’t ashamed of its source material. It’s a show about superheroes and supervillains and it doesn’t shy away from that to make it more palatable to a wide audience. They embrace the idea. Wisely, the CW began introducing Flash’s Rogues Gallery in the early episodes (the only villains greater that The Flash’s are Batman’s and Spider-man’s) but also began pulling villains from DC Comics “C” and “D” list. Most notably, Multiplex and Plastique, both of whom are villains associated with the hero Firestorm, whose comic book popularity faded in the 1980’s. Firestorm himself has been introduced in the show, growing the scope of the televised DC Universe.
The shared universe of Flash and Arrow made for an excellent two-part event this season as the cast from each series appeared on both shows in a classic team-up. Again, they embraced the fun of the situation and fans were treated to something special. It was just announced that there will be an animated spin off from this shared universe featuring Vixen, a heroine who derives her powers from the animal kingdom. This expansion into different TV genres as well as the accompanying tie-in comic book series makes for some excellent cross-platform entertainment.
The Flash is only in mid-season, returning on January 20th. The series has been picked up for a second season and, if they can maintain the level of quality, we might be in for a fantastic run.
“Run!” Cause he’s The Flash. He runs. See what I did there?
— Dave Hearn
Game of Thrones
Unless you’ve read the books, Game of Thrones continues to be one of the most unpredictable shows on television. If you’ve read the books then the series is an amazing adaptation of the characters, settings and adventure. Anything can, and does, happen and always leaves the audience wanting more.
Season 4 brought so many changes that no character was left without scars, whether physical or emotional. It was a tall order to top The Red Wedding from the end of season three but that was absolutely overshadowed by the shocking death of a main character proving, once again, that no one is safe in this series. It was just one “Holy Shit” moment after another as the season came to a close, with the murder of a major character and an intense battle on The Wall that has been teased from the beginning of the series. Again, if you’ve read the books you were expecting another big surprise but I won’t spoil that for you here.
The new season begins April 12 and I’ll be anxious to see how the season is presented. In George RR Martin’s novels, this next chapter was split into two books with each featuring a different set of characters. Frankly, I don’t want to wait an entire season to see how they present Tyrion’s situation, so let’s hope they do things differently for the show.
No matter the format, expect giant shake-ups, death and lots of twists. And dragons. Yes, there will be some dragon goodness this season.
— Dave Hearn
Just like the city in any Woody Allen movie, Gotham manages to make Gotham’s scenery, this creepy town full of monsters, killers, crooks and mobsters, a place to love and to fear, but above all, an integral player of the overall story.
Where Gotham shines is not in giving a Batman origin story, but in forgetting about that front and letting loose interesting plot threads and great characterizations. The latter is obvious with any scene involving the Penguin or Alfred, which are no doubt the best – and most unexpected gifts this show has delivered so far, along with a powerful Jim Gordon, really well played by Ben McKenzie, whose story is far from over.
We are just getting started, as they say, but I believe we might already have a big hit on our hands. Jump on the Gotham bandwagon, folks!
— Samuel Salama Cohén
I’m not even sure where you begin when trying to describe a show like Orphan Black. On one hand, you can’t say much more than “It’s a show about cloning” for fear of spoilers. It’s also not purely science fiction, nor mystery. It’s some hybrid between CSI, The X-Files, Lost, and, well, I’m not sure what else. If you threw a dart at a list of genres, chances are you’ll hit something that is reflected in at least one episode of Orphan Black. Yet, somehow, it manages to transcend those labels and become something unique. It’s like a mash-up that somehow spawned its own genre.
Which, perhaps ironically, makes the show a meta-narrative about itself. At its core, Orphan Black is a show about identity, so it’s only fitting that trying to define the show by its parts falls short and the whole stands on its own.
Perhaps, the best way to describe Orphan Black is as a modern twist on Frankenstein. Screenwriter Graeme Manson and director John Fawcett, like Mary Shelley before them, challenge what it means to be human in an age of rapidly evolving technology.
Are we simply the product of random chance?
Do genetics dictate our direction?
How do we determine things like independence and identity in an age where a gene sequence becomes a patentable product?
I don’t know that it’s possible that Orphan Black can ever answer all of the questions that it raises. But, to be honest, I think that’s one of the best aspects of the show. Maybe that’s the best way it can be described. Orphan Black is not a show about finding answers, it’s a show about asking questions.
— Sean Reid
Most people don’t know what Utopia is at this point, but I think that’ll change pretty soon, with David Fincher’s HBO adaptation on the way. Until then, though, everybody who loves conspiracy stories should seek out the original Utopia.
Season Two kicked off with a flashback episode set in the 70s which told the secret origin of The Network, the Janus virus, the relationship between Milner and Carvel, as well as introducing viewers to pint-sized versions of Jessica Hyde and Arby. After that we quickly caught up to our heroes as they tried to navigate a world where they could be killed at any moment, Jessica had disappeared once again, and it turns out the threat of genocide was not exactly as defeated as we may have thought.
This was a season filled with fantastic writing from series creator Dennis Kelly, breathtaking direction from Marc Munden, and amazing performances by everybody involved — but by Fiona O’Shaughnessy and Neil Maskell in particular.
The stakes were high, the plot moved quickly, and in the end we were left with a cliffhanger ending that sadly looks like will never get a proper wrap-up. But even though, Utopia is a brilliant example of what a creative team can do when left alone to their own devises without the pressures of having to appeal to marketing or to ratings.
Of course, if more people had watched it, we might be getting a Series Three.
Instead, we just have to wait to see what David Fincher does with the concept. If we have to have an Americanized remake, I can’t think of a better director to have at the helm. Fincher’s visual style is perfectly suited to capturing the look and feel of what may be the most gorgeous show on television in 2014.
Really, Hannibal may be the only show to rival Utopia‘s visual splendor.
— Paul Brian McCoy
The Walking Dead
In December of 2013, the prison fell and along with it both Hershel and the Governor were taken from us. But we were only halfway through the season, and when The Walking Dead returned in February 2014 it had a lot to live up to. Luckily, there is a strong hand on the tiller in Scott Gimple.
The aftermath of the destruction of the prison and the scattering of our heroes faltered once or twice, but was pretty consistently amazing as the creative team put everyone through the wringer — and gave us what was probably the most powerful, disturbing, and heartbreaking episode of any television show last year: Episode 4.14 “The Grove.”
That Melissa McBride didn’t get an Emmy for that performance is a fucking crime.
Then we got the first real cliffhanger season finale in the show’s history as our heroes converged on Terminus, only to be herded into train cars to await potential murder, butchering, and consumption by a town filled with cannibals.
And only on The Walking Dead would you get to watch the systematic executions of people, bashed in the head with a hammer and then having their throats slit into a bleeding trough, and then feel an odd mix of sympathy and repulsion for the killers. They were doing what this new world made seem necessary to survive.
That’s good TV right there.
Then, rather than spend the season dealing with Terminus, the town was destroyed in the magnificent return of Carol, who single-handedly (along with a herd of walkers, that is), tore down the walls and rescued everyone. And suddenly everybody was on-board with me and Team Carol.
The rest of the season faltered here and there, mainly in the finale and any episode that dealt only with the crew heading for Washington, but was still nerve-wracking and filled with amazing moments of individual bravery, hard-won solidarity, and ultimately with the loss of a surprisingly beloved character.
Really. Until she was gone, we didn’t really know how much we wanted her to stick around.
And while some haters still complained about “nothing happening” from week to week, we went through at least three major storylines quickly and efficiently in just the first eight episodes of this season. There’s still half a season to go!
— Paul Brian McCoy
Be sure to let us know down below what we botched and what we nailed!
Also, be back on Friday for our Top Ten Television Dramas of 2014! Then, next week we move on to movies!!