It’s that time of year again people, a time meant for gathering with family and loved ones, wearing terrifyingly ugly sweaters, and a time to look back on the year that was. Most people tend to look at personal achievements or milestones, the big moments of their lives that will stick with them forever. I, however, am not most people. I like to reflect on the time I wasted watching TV, rather than the time I spent actually doing things. Then, I waste even more time by coming up with a list of the ten best episodes I watched. Then, I put that list up on the internet and hope I don’t get screamed at by commenters. So, let’s get started!
GROUND RULES: The episode must have originally aired in the US during 2014, 1 episode is allowed per show, two-part episodes (EX: Finale pt. 1/Finale pt. 2) are counted as one episode.
DISCLAIMER: I am human, there’s no way for me to watch every episode produced this year. This isn’t a list of the definitive best episodes of TV released this year, or even the best shows, this is just one man’s opinion on what he liked most from the year in TV. As this is a top 10 list, there obviously had to be some cuts, so some of episodes that I loved this year that missed out are listed at the end of this post.
Now that we got that all cleared up, without further ado, I present my 10 favorite episodes of TV from 2014.
Episodes are listed in no particular order.
COMMUNITY: “Cooperative Polygraphy”
Community is one of my favorite shows of all time, and while I’ve already written about the show’s difficult road to Season 5. That wasn’t the only obstacle the show had to overcome this season. With original cast members Chevy Chase and Donald Glover departing, and a narrative overhaul taking place after the return of showrunner Dan Harmon, Community faced an uphill battle from the get go. Community took it all in stride though, as Season 5 marked the return of the show we had all fallen for years before.
The season’s biggest accomplishment was undoubtedly “Cooperative Polygraphy”. The episode not only gave Pierce (Chevy Chase) the proper send off he deserved, but it also initiated Troy’s (Donald Glover) farewell to Greendale. The episode examined the dynamics of the group and got to the core of each character, including Pierce who wasn’t even in the episode at all. On top of all of that, they never left the study room. “Polygraphy” wasn’t a typical Community homage, it didn’t throw the fact it was a bottle episode in the audience’s face, instead the episode was a bottle episode because that was the format that best suited the plot.
“Polygraphy” is the type episode that only Community could get right, and that could only be produced under the leadership of crazy-genius Dan Harmon. It successfully juggled two major character exits, had some of the biggest laughs of the show’s fifth season, and managed to tug right at the heart strings of both the show’s characters and the audience.
SILICON VALLEY: “Optimal Tip-To-Tip Efficiency”
Silicon Valley, for my money, is the best new show of 2014. The show’s spot on satire of the tech industry coupled with one of the funniest casts on TV catapulted Silicon Valley into becoming one of TV’s best comedies. I could go on for paragraphs about my favorite moments from the show’s first season, whether it be TJ Miller’s drug-assisted inspiration quest inside of a gas station bathroom, or Zach Woods’ terrifying experience in a self driving car, or even billionaire investor Peter Gregory making millions off of sesame seeds from Burger King buns. But, I don’t have that kind of time, so I’ll just say the show bursted out of the starting gate confident and hilarious.
It wasn’t until the season finale though, that Silicon Valley cemented its status as one of TV’s best. “Optimal Tip-To-Tip Efficiency” was one of the funniest, if not the funniest, episode of television released this year, and featured probably the best dick joke in the history of mankind. The rest of the episode could’ve been a blank screen and this scene still would have earned the show a spot on this list.
If you didn’t laugh during that scene, you should probably go to a doctor and get your sense of humor checked.
THE NEWSROOM: “Run”
Anyone who knows me, or follows me on any social media, knows that I love The Newsroom. Admittedly, the show is not for everyone, and can, at times, come across more of a lecture on journalism ethics than an actual TV show, but I love it despite all of its flaws. It could be my soft spot for the awe-inspiring dialogue of Aaron Sorkin, or the fact that the subject of journalism fascinates me, but The Newsroom is a show that I love, and I am very sad to see it go.
Before bowing out though, Sorkin premiered the best string of episodes the show has ever produced. Season 3, right from the start, set itself apart from the previous two. The season’s premiere took place during the Boston Marathon, the episode was as calm, cool, and confident as the show had been since it’s premiere. It felt like a completely different show. The Newsroom capitalized on the narrative momentum and aired it’s best episode since the series premiere in the third season’s second episode, “Run”.
In “Run” every storyline worked. Maggie’s train ride was the best thing the show’s ever done with her character, it was interesting, funny, and surprisingly self-aware. Don and Sloan’s lunch date proved definitively that they are the show’s two best characters. Anytime Jane Fonda and Chris Messina get to perform Sorkin dialogue is always a good thing for the world. The show didn’t waste these solid performances and dialogue as it did in previous seasons. The show’s overall plotline went forward narrative purpose and force, accelerating the story quickly and confidently, slowly but surely raising the stakes. Until the episode’s main storyline, involving Neal and his whistleblower, pushed those stakes to 11 as the FBI raided ACN in an ending with an amount of plot-driven suspense that was unheard of in the show’s first two seasons. After it ended, you couldn’t wait to see what happened next. That’s good TV.
Parks and Recreation is a show that thrives on it’s characters. The plot is secondary, because by this point we would watch Ron Swanson and Leslie Knope do pretty much anything. These characters, and the performers that bring them to life, are the reason all of us secretly want to live in Pawnee.
From a critical perspective, there’s nothing particularly outstanding about “Ann and Chris”, it’s not the funniest episode Parks made this year, and it wasn’t nearly as heartfelt as The Office’s farewell to Michael or even Ben and Leslie’s wedding. But in a weird way though, thats what makes it special. Ann and Chris were not the show’s lead characters, they weren’t it’s funniest characters either. Chris was a quirky supporting character while Ann became the closest thing to a “Straight Man” the show had after Mark Brandana-Quits (Still one of my favorite Parks jokes ever) left during season 2. But because Parks took such care and effort into developing Ann and Chris throughout the previous 6 seasons, the goodbye meant more to the people in the show, and the people watching it, than it probably should’ve. This episode exemplifies what makes Parks the amazing show that it is. The episode highlights the show’s amazing cast, says goodbye to two members of the gang in a heartfelt but also funny way, and then proves the show is going to be fine without them (“There’s no sadness in the world Breakfast Food Can’t Fix”). At a time when some were questioning if Parks is past it’s prime, episodes like “Ann And Chris” show that it’s still one of the best comedies on TV.
When I tell people that I love Arrow I’m met with one of two reactions:
A) “DUDE! ME TOO!! THAT’S SHOW IS AWESOME!” or something along those lines.
B) That CW show with the guy with the nice abs? Really?
The more people that check out the show though, more and more people respond with A.
Arrow started off decently, but there were no signs that it would ever turn into something special. The show’s first season improved as it went on, but it was solid popcorn TV at best and an above average CW soap-opera at it’s low points. It wasn’t a show that belonged on any Top 10 lists. That all changed in Season 2. Suddenly, Arrow became one of the most entertaining, shocking, and intense shows on TV. Season 2 went all in on serialized, comic book storytelling. The first season seemed to be written by a comic book nerd who was trying to make the characters he loved more relatable to the average viewer. The first season never strayed too far from reality, fearing that the typical viewer would be scared away by the strangeness of the comic book world. The second season did the opposite, diving head first into the nerdy, heightened-reality of the comics, and was better for it.
The serialized story arc of Season 2 was masterfully told. The show patiently raised the stakes with each episode, consistently building on the mythology of the world and quietly moving the pieces into place for the big finish, with surprising twists and turns along the way. Then when it was time to capitalize on a years worth of amazing build up, Arrow did not disappoint.
The Season 2 finale, “Unthinkable”, not only did justice to the build up, the episode surpassed expectations in many ways and gave fans an amazing conclusion to a fantastic season of television, all the while teasing an even bigger season 3. Arrow proved during it’s second season that it isn’t just the best superhero show on TV, but is one of the most entertaining shows on TV right now. If you’re not watching it, I highly recommend a winter break Netflix binge, you won’t regret it.
NATHAN FOR YOU: “Dumb Starbucks”
Before this year, Nathan For You was nowhere on my radar, I knew it was some sort of sketch show on comedy central, but other than that I didn’t know anything about it. That all changed after “Dumb Starbucks”. The stunt, in which comedian Nathan Fielder opened a parody Starbucks in LA that was a carbon copy of an actual Starbucks location, only with the word dumb before everything. All of this was made for the show, in an attempt to drum up business for a local independent coffee shop. The whole thing went viral in Los Angeles, and around the nation. Everyone was talking about it. So when the episode aired I had to check it out.
To my delight, “Dumb Starbucks” was an amazing half hour of TV. The episode was really funny and creative, and most importantly helped me discover that Nathan For You is one of the most ingenious shows on TV. The show is simultaneously almost impossibly clever and horrifyingly obvious. You watch it and think “Why hasn’t anyone done anything like this before?” and then later realize no one besides Nathan Fielder could have pulled it off. I cannot recommend this episode, or show enough, it’s some of the best TV almost nobody is watching.
It’s been almost a year since Sherlock aired it’s third season and when it came time to make this list, it was obvious that “The Sign Of Three” was a cut above the other two episodes of the season. The show is excelling on every level here. From Benedict Cumberbatch’s awe-inspiring performance (The last third of the episode is basically him giving one big monologue), the innovative visual flare, this episode is plain awesome.
There are so many memorable sequences from this episode, The Elephant in the room, Sherlock and Watson drunk, The courtroom/chatroom sequence, Sherlock interrogating wedding guests. This episode showcases everything that makes Sherlock an amazing show, and makes the year long wait between seasons so aggravating. I could go on, but really all you need to know about this episode is that this happened and it was amazing:
Sorry about the video quality, it’s the best one I could find!
HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER: “How Your Mother Met Me”
I’ll be the first to say that How I Met Your Mother’s final season was a massive disappointment. (I did so HERE). The show was a shell of itself in it’s final moments, and almost ruined it’s entire 9 season run with a finale that alienated fans, to put it lightly. (For more of my thoughts on the ending go HERE). But I’m not here to talk about the many shortcomings of the final season, I’m here to talk about the good parts. The biggest bright spot of the season was undoubtedly Cristen Milioti’s brilliant portrayal of the titular Mother.
Milioti’s charming performance won over fans almost immediately. She managed to do the impossible, she created a character that was everything you imagined Ted’s perfect match would be. Nothing encapsulated this more than “How Your Mother Met Me”, which filled in her character’s backstory, in both hilarious and heartbreaking fashion. She handled the ridiculousness of being in the HIMYM universe well, encountering The Naked Man, singing as an English muffin, laughed at Ted’s terrible joke (“For instance, if Someone were to bring lobster to class, they would have to share, because otherwise that would be shellfish” Oh Ted, never change). But also pulled at the heartstrings of the audience with an amazing rendition of “La Vie En Rose”.
This is something that HIMYM lacked in most of it’s final season, the jokes never landed like they used to, and the emotional beats fell flat when they used to work wonders. But not here, this episode was everything we all wanted the final season to be: Narratively Innovative, Funny, Emotional, and just plain awesome. If you still have hard feelings toward HIMYM because of the finale watch this episode and you’ll remember why you loved the show so much.
BROOKLYN NINE NINE: “The Bet”
Brooklyn Nine Nine is one of my favorite shows right now, since the new year, the show has be firing on all cylinders. The cast is top notch, it’s hard to find a better group of performers than the group featured on this show. In no episode is this better on display than “The Bet”.
Andy Samberg excels on his “Worst Date In History” with Santiago, deftly handling the big slapstick moments as well as the quiet, more low-key emotional moments that plagued Samberg in other acting ventures. Samberg does work on Nine Nine that no one ever dreamed he could do during his time on SNL. The balance of slapstick and smart is something that Brooklyn Nine Nine has been excellent at in it’s first two seasons. It’s stupid at times, but never in a way that feels inorganic or forced, it’s stupid at times because that’s what would happen if you put that character in that situation, as evidenced by the B-Story in “The Bet”.
That storyline features Andre Braugher, who is giving one of the best performances on TV right now. The storyline centers on a candy crush-like app called “Kwazy-Kupcakes”, which easily could’ve been terrible, but Braugher not only pulls it off, he gets some huge laughs along the way.
Every part of “The Bet” works. It’s a hilarious half hour of TV, from the opening credits to the final scene. It also cemented Brooklyn Nine Nine as the heir apparent to become the next great workplace comedies like Parks And Recreation and The Office.
GAME OF THRONES: “The Watchers Of The Wall”
You could really choose any number of episodes from Game Of Thrones fourth season and put them on this list. From just the pure joy of King Joffrey’s wedding, to Tyrian’s demand for a trial by combat, to the carrying out of that trial, Game Of Thrones was not lacking on incredible episodes this year.
I decided to highlight “The Watchers Of The Wall” because it is simultaneously a massive spectacle that only a show like Game Of Thrones is capable of making, and a small emotional character piece that never forgets the emotional stakes of the battle as well. “Watchers Of The Wall” had the feel of a huge action blockbuster, with incredible special effects showcases, and probably the most straight up action of any Thrones episode thus far. But with all those elements present, the show never forgets whats at stake emotionally for it’s characters. Director Neil Marshall puts the tragic end of Jon Snow’s romance front and center, and depicts it with as much care and effort as he does the battle.
Game Of Thrones spends the entire hour at the wall, giving the climax of the storyline the space it needed to succeed from both an action standpoint and a storytelling standpoint. A very risky choice for a show that is known, and loved for being able to delicately balance numerous storylines at once. That decision payed off enormously and gave the show one of it’s best hours this year in “The Watchers Of The Wall”.
OTHER GREAT EPISODES FROM 2014:
LAST WEEK TONIGHT: “Episode 18”
LOUIE: “So Did The Fat Lady”
PSYCH: “Lock, Stock, Some Smoking Barrels and Burton Guster’s Goblet Of Fire”
SUITS: “This Is Rome”
TRUE DETECTIVE: “Who Goes There”
THE FLASH: “The Man In The Yellow Suit”
ARCHER: “White Elephant”
THE MINDY PROJECT: “French Me, You Idiot”
PEAKY BLINDERS: “Chapter 6”
THE HALF HOUR: “Ron Funches”
BLACK MIRROR: “White Christmas”
If you don’t agree with my list, that’s fine. Let me know what you thought I was wrong about in the comments. Again, I can’t watch everything, but I’m interested in hearing everyone else’s opinions.
I’m going to try and get at least one more post up before the end of the year, but if I don’t, thanks for a great year everybody! This silly little TV blog has grown past what I ever imagined it could be, thanks for reading and sharing everybody. Here’s to 2015!