The Best TV of 2014
TV superfan Duncan Greive picks his top five. Plus some honourable mentions from New Zealand and abroad – and few of the year’s biggest TV bummers.
1. Nathan for You
Early in 2014, there was a great fuss about an LA cafe named Dumb Starbucks. It was just like a regular Starbucks in every respect but one — it had “Dumb” attached to the name. The stunt was later revealed to be one of Nathan Fielder’s insane “business makeover” plans, misusing satire law to make a weird joke. Other episodes used tragic Bill Gates impersonators, terrifying exorcists and credulous carwashers, always real people, always to skin-crawling comic effect, and always with Fielder’s unnervingly blank persona at their comic heart. (Sky/Comedy Central)
2. The Late Night Big Breakfast
A trio of New Zealand’s greatest TV talents of the 00s — Leigh Hart, Jason Hoyte and Jeremy Wells — gave us the best local comedy in years. Filmed in a furniture store, the Late Night Big Breakfast was chaotic, profane and frequently incredibly crass. But always, always as funny as hell.
(One & YouTube)
Nominally a comedy, and nominally about a 70-year-old patriarch (an extraordinary Jeffrey Tambor) coming out to her children as trans, Transparent was really the year’s most searing family drama, with three kids screwed up in thoroughly contemporary ways. Transparent felt as bold and brave as Girls did on debut a few years back, only more so. (Lightbox)
4. Broad City
The past few years have seen the best TV comedy get more shocking and mostly less funny (Girls, Louie, Orange Is the New Black). Broad City, about a pair of underemployed female best friends who smoke pot, eat bad food and have worse sex, went the other way. They were as gross as any dude, but way smarter and infinitely cooler. (Sky, Comedy Central)
5. True Detective
When it aired, it was a sensation; since then, there has been a multi-pronged backlash against issues ranging from Matthew McConaughey’s indecipherable diction (justified) to the series’ alleged misogyny (mostly justified). But no show this year was as bold, beautiful, thrilling and terrifying. (Sky, SoHo)
Five More Honourable Mentions
Groundbreaking women-in-prison dramedy Orange Is the New Black (TV3, Lightbox). The decay of Don Draper in Mad Men (Sky SoHo, Lightbox). Beautifully rendered Cold War intrigue in The Americans (Sky SoHo). Groundbreaking woman-in-ancient- Scotland drama Outlander (Lightbox). It came late, but I can’t leave off the beauty and the horror of Broadchurch (One).
And Five More Evergreen Locals
Shortland Street needs more credit for the things it’s always been good at: creativity, provocative approaches to social issues and semi-unintentional dorky NZ comedy… With astute producer Tim Watkin at the helm, combustible politics show The Nation became appointment viewing pre-election… Is it possible that Neighbours at War is New Zealand’s greatest work of contemporary anthropology?… Working presenters to a multi-platform bone is the new normal, but The Crowd Goes Wild remains wonderful… Some Jono and Ben at Ten sketches are good enough to demand their own shows. Case in point: Speed Dating with Rose Matafeo.
Actually, I’ll miss the 10.30pm Paul Henry Show, because unpleasantness and energy will always beat dull professionalism… Love our reality TV scene, but both The Block and MKR were exhaustingly time-intensive. Edit a weekly one-hour best-of, for chrissakes… Rhys Darby is still dynamite on stage, but his performances in Short Poppies were mostly self-indulgent tedium… Hope and Wire cost a lot, tried hard and ultimately fell to cliché and sprawl… Nigel Latta is too polemical to be called a documentary maker… I still watch avidly, but Game of Thrones is getting excruciatingly longwinded.
Duncan Greive is editor of TV website thespinoff.co.nz