SciFi Weekend Part 2: The Best of 2014

Part 1 of SciFi Weekend looked at shows from the past week, including Last Christmas, this year’s Doctor Who Christmas special. Part II lists some of the top and most improved shows of the year. The point is not really to rank them so much as to highlight shows worth watching. Really, how do you compare Cosmos to Penny Dreadful? I am at a disadvantage compared to professional television critics as I have neither the professional obligation nor time to watch nearly everything. Therefore this is limited to the shows I have actually watched, and I will address this after the first list.

Rather than list the overall best shows, as most sites are doing, my first list will be limited to shows which premiered in 2014. Lists of all the best shows drive out most of the new shows, and I’m sure you are aware of Game of Thrones by now. I have limited this to shows available in the United States, including a couple which were primarily British shows but available here on cable or streaming. This list is not limited to genre but is biased by my preferences.Therefore Jane the Virgin (CW), listed by many television critics among the best of the year, did not make the list as, regardless of its quality, I still stopped watching after a few weeks due to the large number of quality shows which I’m more interested in.

Top 15 New Shows Of 2014

About A Boy

15.  About A Boy (NBC)

Family friendly sitcoms (or actually sitcoms of any nature) have not done very well on the networks recently. For that matter, relatively few network shows made this list at all. About A Boy, the second attempt to adapt the Nick Hornby novel, finally gets it right, also being a rare case of the television version being better than the movie version. The shows combines saccharin and snark, and can be highly entertaining in episodes where it gets the right percentage of each. Besides an excellent regular cast, Adrianne Palicki of Friday Night Lights and Agents of SHIELD has had a recurring role.

14. The Knick (Cinemax)
Think of this Steven Soderbergh show as being like ER, except set early in the 20th century. I don’t know if they got all the facts right, but it is an authentic look at medicine of the era.

13. Black-ish (ABC)
Another of the rare successful sitcoms premiering recently. It came along at just the right time, when Bill Cosby is no longer on his pedestal

12. Penny Dreadful (Showtime)
Imagine if the main characters of classic horror novels all lived in the same city and interacted with each other. I am  hopeful of an even better second season now that the main characters and situations were introduced.

11. Silicon Valley (HBO)
Comedy is doing much better on cable than network television these days. Silicon Valley does a great job of mocking the tech industry.

The Honorable Woman

10. The Honorable Woman (BBC Two/Sundance)
The original story has the feeling of what it might be like if John le Carré were to write a spy novel on the middle east directly for television.

9. Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (Fox)
Neil deGrasse Tyson was inspired by Carl Sagan as a student. Now he tries to cure some of the scientific-illiteracy which has become a serious problem in this country.

8. True Detective (HBO)
The story had moments of brilliance, and moments when it dragged, but the performance by Matthew McConaughey earned it a spot on most top ten lists.


7. Transparent (Amazon Prime)
Jeffrey Tambor leads an excellent cast in a story about an already dysfunctional Jewish family which now must deal with the father coming out as trans-gender. This is the story which Jill Soloway has been wanting to do since Six Feet Under, and she does an excellent job.

6 .Last Week Tonight (HBO)
This new comedy take on the news came along at the right time, with Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update being awful with the loss of Seth Meyers and Stephen Colbert ending his show. John Oliver has done a better job than many others who have attempted to satirize the news with in-depth segments which are likely influence opinions.

5. The Flash (CW)
The best of this year’s attempts to enter the superhero genre. Lighter than Arrow but so far this season more compelling with its ongoing story line.

4. Happy Valley (BBC One/Netflix)
This British crime mystery does a far better job than most of the American counterparts, being far more successful than most other attempts at combining  the personal story of the main character with the mystery.

3. The Affair (Showtime)
Showing the events before the murder from the perspective of two people involved in an affair is a gimmick which works well for the story. When their stories differ are we seeing failings in memory, one or both characters lying, or even the plot of one of the protagonist’s novels?


2. You’re The Worst (FX)
The best new comedy in ages, with an often hilarious look at a couple of flawed individuals, frequently skewering millennials. The show is especially impressive in both gradually developing the supporting characters and telling a story over the course of the season. The season can easily be watched in one or two sittings as one of the best romantic comedies to come along in years, even by those who normally don’t like romantic comedies. It might also be worth rewatching this time of the year as a reminder of how good television can also be educational, showing why it is not a good idea to plug a vibrator into a string of Christmas lights. The more you know.

Billy Bob Thornton stars as Lorne Malvo in the Emmy award-winning series Fargo

1. Fargo (FX)
A dark comedy and crime drama which does justice to the movie which inspired it, and easily stands on its own. There is both outstanding writing and an excellent cast led by Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton, Allison Tolman, and Colin Hanks.

Honorable Mention:
Among shows which did not make this list, and which aren’t mentioned elsewhere in this post, there are a some other good shows with a genre element: Gotham (Fox), Outlander (Starz),  How To Get Away With Murder (ABC), The Last Ship (TNT), Leftovers (HBO) (which has made many lists of both best and worst of the year), and Resurrection (ABC).

Some of the new genre shows which were left off this list were intentionally omitted.  Extant (CBS) might have made at least honorable mention if they stuck to the story of the AI child and stayed away from the ludicrous alien plot. Some shows couldn’t be ranked as I have not seen them, but reliable sources have recommended others to me which very well deserve to be highly ranked, and which I will hopefully catch up on later. These include The 100 (CW) and Manhattan (WGN). There are also two limited run shows which I have recorded and have heard excellent things about but have not seen yet: Olive Kitteridge (HBO)  and The Roosevelts: An Intimate History (PBS).

Most Improved Shows Of 2014

Some shows do better in their first year, often due to first raising a situation, but are not able to sustain the quality for a second season. Sleepy Hollow (Fox) has not been able to maintain the quality of the first season, but perhaps it will improve now that they appear ready to move on to a  new storyline. Orphan Black (BBC America) also couldn’t maintain the quality of the first season, when everything was still a mystery, but still remains better than most shows on television. House of Cards (Netflix) also did not have as great a second season as first but remains worth watching.

There are six shows which many consider better in their second season, or at very least did not deteriorate a bit going into their second season, listed in alphabetical order:

Agents of SHIELD (ABC)
The show was mediocre until Captain America: The Winter Soldier was released. It became much better late in the first season as it mirrored the movie developments, and has become even better this season as it is now ahead of planned Marvel releases.


The Americans (FX)
This was one of the best television shows of 2013 when it premiered, and was even better in its second season. The season was successful for both its season-long mystery and for how it combined the personal and professional lives of the main characters. It did one thing far better than other shows such as Homeland: making good use of a teen-aged daughter.

Arrow (CW)
The second season of Arrow started in 2013 but extended into 2014, allowing the show onto this list.  The second season surpassed the second season. The third season, starting in fall 2014, isn’t as good, but I’m still hoping it will return to the level of the second season.

Hannibal (NBC)
It is just amazing that a show of this quality can be shown on network television.

Masters of Sex (Showtime)
Actually a close call between the first and second season, with both worth watching.

Orange Is The New Black (Netflix)
Another example of a great show becoming even better in its second year, as the show successfully went beyond Piper to tell major stories with other characters.

Once again this list is limited to shows I have actually watched. Based upon recommendations from others, I hear that Rectify (Sundance) was another show with an excellent first season and an even better second season in 2014.

There are a couple shows which might not make a list of the best of the year, but these two shows which improved tremendously from their pilots in 2014:

Selfie Karen Gillan John Cho

Selfie (ABC)
The pilot was awful and the show never recovered, but it has gotten much better over the course of the season. Unfortunately this wasn’t soon enough as the show was canceled. The remaining episodes are being shown on Hulu and, with one left to go, have been worth watching.

Married (FX)
This show initially received more hype than You’re The Worst which followed it, but it was soon apparent that this was by far the weaker of the two. Still Married did manage to improve after a weak pilot and, being on cable during the summer when low ratings were expected, was able to survive to get renewed for a second season.

While I concentrated on second season shows in order to provide more coverage to relatively new shows in the list above, there are a few longer-running shows which have improved this season which are worth noting, also in alphabetical order:

Homeland (Showtime)
The show was at its best with the Brody storyline of the first season and they managed to stretch it out through a second season. The third season was just too much, and they finally let it go. The fourth season was mixed as they tried to reestablish the show with only a cameo from Damian Lewis in a hallucination. Some episodes dragged, including the season finale, but there were also some excellent moments during the season. Homeland not only must contend with the loss of Brody. Now it being criticized by Pakistani officials who are furious about how their country was portrayed.

New Girl (Fox)
I had stopped watching around the time that Nick and Jess were getting together, but heard it is much better with the two broken up but saying dumb things to each other, and I have resumed watching.

Person of Interest (CBS)
This was a good show from the start but every season gets better as the show has successfully transitioned from a procedural mystery of the week with a genre gimmick to a true genre show, which is also topical with current controversies over surveillance.

I added the networks to the show listings after I compiled these lists and find it notable that FX has the top two new shows along with one of the best shows of 2013. As expected, HBO and Showtime are well represented, with CW also doing quite well. Amazon has joined Netflix as a valuable streaming service with original shows. The broadcast networks are represented, partially due to having some successes among the larger quantity of original programing than any other source, but are frequently being beaten in quality by cable and streaming sources, which in some cases are owned by the broadcast networks. Showtime and CW now have better shows than CBS as FX has better shows than Fox.

SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who; Sleepy Hollow; Outlander; Star Trek TOS In Wide Screen; You’re The Worst; Married; An Honourable Woman; Gilmore Girls; SHIELD; Agent Carter; The Hulk; Supergirl; Teen Titans; The Leftovers

Doctor Who Listen

Listen was an ambitious episode of Doctor Who, even if it does fall short of Blink, which it has been compared to. The episode deals with the character and origin of the Doctor, the further importance of the impossible girl in the development of the Doctor, along with Danny Pink’s (and presumably Clara’s) family tree. The episode begins with the Doctor writing on his chalk board (chalk boards are cool) and seeming to be talking directly to the audience about an idea he has come up with:

Listen! Question, why do we talk out loud when we know we’re alone? Conjecture: because we know we’re not. Evolution perfects survival skills. There are perfect hunters There is perfect defense. Question,  why is there no such thing as perfect hiding? Answer: how would you know? Logically, if evolution were to perfect a creature whose primary skill were to hide from view, how would you know it existed? It could be with us every second and we would never know. How would you detect it? Even sense it? Except in those moments when for no clear reason, you choose to speak aloud. What would such a creature want? What would it do? Well? What would you do?

In many ways this is a repeat of previous Moffat ideas. The Weeping Angels, introduced in Blink, are a terror which can be hidden in plain site, only moving when you aren’t looking at them. The Silence took this further, with people losing all memory of seeing them. Now the Doctor postulates a creature which cannot be detected at all. However, while we learned about the nature of the Weeping Angels and the Silence, at the end of the episode it is not clear whether these beings even exist.

If the exist, they could mean that a common nightmare is really about something which has actually occurred:

I think everybody at some point in their lives has the exact same nightmare. You wake up, or you think you do, and there’s someone in the dark, someone close. Or you think there might be. So you sit up, turn on the light, and the room looks different at night. It ticks, creaks, and breathes. And you tell yourself there’s nobody there. Nobody watching, nobody listening, nobody there, naturally. And you very nearly believe it. You really, really try.


For the Doctor it was real, but instead of being a creature whose existence was unknown, it turned out to be Clara, back in time to the Doctor’s childhood on Gallifrey.  Seeing the Doctor’s childhood in the barn does provide a connection to The Day of the Doctor, providing a reason as to why the War Doctor chose this place to decide whether to detonate the Moment. The scene also provides background to the Doctor’s antipathy towards soldiers (at this season, ignoring his past work with UNIT) and reused a line from 1963: “Fear makes companions of us all.”

It is questionable whether Clara could really control the TARDIS at all (even putting aside Sexy’s dislike of Clara, as revealed in The Doctor’s Wife), and even more questionable whether she it could have gone to Gallifrey, which was time locked, but whose status is no longer clear after the events of The Time of The Doctor. However these minor questions of continuity are outweighed by the manner in which Moffat ties in the entire history of the Doctor and the show.

Besides Gallifrey, the TARDIS traveled along Danny Pink’s timeline, presumably due to the importance to Clara’s. This included a visit to him as a young child, then called Rupert, to literally the end of the universe where a time-traveling descendant was stranded. If the implications are correct that Orson Pink is a descendant of both Danny and Clara, it looks like time travel is the Pink/Oswald family business on Doctor Who just as it is for Alec’s family on Continuum. Clara also has both influenced Danny’s decision to be a soldier and has made Dan the Soldier Man not only an important part of Danny’s life, but a family heirloom. Clearly, “A soldier so brave, he doesn’t need a gun” also refers to the Doctor.

Listen isn’t limited to other times ranging from the Doctor’s childhood on Gallifrey to the end of the universe. Moffat also took advantage of his experience from Coupling to present Clara and Danny’s first date. Things did not work out very well, but Clara ultimately figured out that she had to make it right.

One of the scenes of the date included an astronaut walking through the restaurant to get Clara. Using the astronaut suit made no sense, but this, along with the minor questions of continuity, can easily be overlooked. A more serious problem with the episode is that the initial question as to whether the creature which the Doctor speculated about does exist is never answered. Learning that Clara was the creature under the Doctor’s bed suggested that there was no need for such a complicated explanation for the nightmare. The noises in Orson’s ship could have been these creatures, or perhaps just noises from the ship. It is harder to explain what wrote on the Doctor’s chalkboard, and what was under Rupert’s sheets.

Above is the Doctor Who Extra for Listen.

Last week I posted the synopsis for the first episode of season two of Sleepy Hollow. Fox has released the synopsis for the second:


Ichabod Crane and Lt. Abbie Mills concoct a daring plan to try to rescue Ichabod’s wife, Katrina, from the Headless Horseman by resurrecting a Frankenstein-like monster created by Benjamin Franklin. Meanwhile, Frank Irving faces new trouble after revealing the true details of his encounter with a demon, and Jenny Mills finds herself at odds with the new sheriff in town in the all-new “The Kindred” episode of SLEEPY HOLLOW airing Monday, Sept. 29 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (SLH-202) (TV-14 L, V)

OUTLANDER Garisson Commander

While sometimes Outlander seems to move too slowly, The Garrison Commander does advance the plot considerably. It seems to be a safe prediction that Jack Randall does not just forget about Claire following her marriage. The Hollywood Reporter interviewed Tobias Menzies, who plays both Jack Randall and, back in the 20th century, Clarie’s husband Frank. The interview does have some major spoilers as to future events from the novels:

Because Outlander is primarily Claire’s story, we don’t get to see Frank’s internal monologue while she’s in 1743 Scotland. Have you filled in the blanks in terms of Frank’s state of mind and what he’s dealing with back in England?

We see Frank still struggling to come to terms with what happened, and be at loggerheads with the authorities and the police. Basically, they tell him to go home and that his wife has eloped with someone else. He won’t believe it. Through the episodes, we see him coming to accept the version of events that people are saying to him. I suppose he does know Claire better than the others, and in a way, he’s right. She isn’t a woman who would run off with someone else, and he’s forced to give up. I think it’s a good episode.

At the end of the episode, Dougal proposes that Claire marry Jamie. How do you think Frank would react to that?

I think he would be pretty understanding. My understanding is that Claire, later on in the novels, reappears and is taken back by Frank, even though she’s pregnant and she tells this story of time travel. And for whatever reason, he chooses to accept it and raise a child together, which I think is a pretty big gesture on his part. What’s interesting about Frank is that he’s thoughtful. It’s not the great, most ostentatious of loves. In that respect, he’s overshadowed by Jamie and Claire. But I think [Frank and Claire’s relationship is] deep and meaningful and speaks volumes.

This was a big episode for Black Jack and Claire. Let’s talk about the interrogation scene.

It’s only a page and half in the book. It was a great decision on the part of the writers to explode that moment. In the book, there’s a lot of Jack being referred to and not a lot of him being there. You need him onscreen. I’m really happy with where it ended up. It gave us the time to go back and understand where the backstory with Jamie and Jack began and also to understand the emotions that are driving Jack, so he isn’t just a two-dimensional thug. Compared to the rest of the season, it’s a change of gear. It’d be interesting to see how people find it.

Star Trek Wide Screen.

Star Trek Wide Screen 2

Here are some great examples of what Star Trek, the original show, could have looked if filmed in wide screen. Here is creator Nick Acosta’s description of this project:

Forty eight years ago this week Star Trek debuted its first episode on NBC. The show, like all other shows at the time, was broadcast in the old style 4×3 aspect ratio. Using HD screen caps from my friends at, I created this project of what the show would have looked like in Cinerama widescreen. As a kid the show always felt bigger and more epic than it appears to me as an adult. I was able to create these shots by waiting for the camera to pan and then I stitched the separate shots together. The result is pretty epic. It reminds me of the classic science fiction movies of the 50’s and 60’s. Suddenly the show has a “Forbidden Planet” vibe. Other shots remind me of how director Robert Wise would use a camera technique to keep the foreground and background elements in focus.

Youre The Worst

Major television events of the upcoming week include the season finale of the best new sit-com to come around in a long time, You’re The Worst. Gretchen and Jimmy might be “the worst” but that is what makes them so fun to watch. If the season is a ten episode version of a warped romantic comedy movie, the eighth episode was the required portion in which the couple temporarily break up based upon a misunderstanding. Last week was somewhat of an origin episode with flash backs to before they met, as shown in the pilot. Hopefully this Thursday will end the season with the two back together, and ready for many seasons to come. The other summer sit-com from FX, Married, also ends this week. If it returns I will probably watch it, but it is You’re The Worst which I will really miss if it does not return.

You’re the Worst would also be a great show to binge watch if you haven’t seen it, with only ten episodes for the season and all highly entertaining. Another show to binge watch if  you missed it (as I did until binging over the past week) is An Hounorable Woman. Certainly there are unrealistic aspects, but watching it for eight hours was like reading a highly entertaining novel, and the portions which might not be realistic in the real world can easily be ignored while following the events surrounding Nessa Stein and her family.

Binge watchers are also getting excited to hear that the full seven seasons of The Gilmore Girls will be available on Netflix starting October 1. In 2006 I posted some of the political lines from the show. USA Today has listed five top episodes to watch once they are available.

If you want to stick with science fiction, Vulture has listed the best science fiction movies on Netflix.

Nurse Jackie is to end after the upcoming seventh season. It is probably the right decision. We can’t keep going through cycles of Jackie getting off drugs and then relapsing year after year.

Community, on the other hand, deserves at least one more year and a movie–preferably far more. I am glad to hear that Dan Harmon is denying the rumors that Alison Brie is not returning.

Hayley Atwell, star of the upcoming series Agent Carter, will appear on the second season premiere of Agents of SHIELD. I don’t know if this will be a flash-back or Agent Carter at an older age. In other Marvel news, there is talk that the Hulk might return both for a television series and movie. New DC projects being considered include Supergirl and Teen Titans.

While the show has had its ups and downs, The Leftovers did end with a satisfying season finale (far more than I can say for True Blood). While the show will probably never really explain what happened, at least we have the view of some characters as for the reason only some disappeared, along with finally learning what The Guilty Remnant was up to. The show has now caught up with the end of the novel, making next season even more of an unknown.