There are many top 10 lists and recaps of the various shows that we watched in 2014. Here are three shows that stood out to me and that are all at various parts of their series run:
This show caught me off guard more than any other on the list. I wasn't expecting to see something so beautifully shot. Perhaps the script is weak and the characters sometimes hollow and generic, but they are compensated for when you look at this turn of the 20th century medical drama and the way that mastermind Stephen Soderbergh produces it.
The famed director looks at the show as art in every which way, and he is the camera operator, cinematographer, director and editor, which leaves his footprints all over it. His choices, to light everything as naturally as possible or to focus on parts of the action that are silent but still crucial, prove how critical each decision made is. Instead of corroborating with a dozen different people who all do separate jobs, Soderbergh is able to execute the way he sees the show effortlessly.
For example, one scene revolves around dialogue about funding the hospital, but the whole time we are focused on Clive Owen's character physical withdrawal from cocaine. In another, a woman is walked home by the man she cares for, and as he stands in the hallway she lights a small wick lamp over her bed. Those intimidate glows are the only lighting used in the shot and while small things, definitely a strength a lot of other shows may neglect or not be able to take advantage of.
The Knick's premise is also great within itself. Not to be confused with the current roster of Grey's Anatomy-type soap opera story lines or bizarre House plots, the setting is 1900 New York City, both a time and place that open up endless plotlines. The show is oft-cited as both terrifying and horror-like though not far off from how it was back then. For that reason alone, we get a glimpse into how things were back then when you needed an ambulance or had something easily curable now. The show is an absolutely frightening look into the past which makes us relish what we have today.
Key and Peele
Key and Peele, the long-time Mad TV comics and close friends continued to explore the boundaries of comedy, and especially urban comedy, over 2014. With guest appearances in everything from Horrible Bosses 2, Let's Be Cops, Modern Family, Bob's Burgers and Fargo, their Comedy Central show also had its fourth season.
Presenting every kind of imaginable skit possible, the True Detective-like opening and driving scenes put forth what would be the tone of their latest run -- dark and sometimes creepy ("Make a Wish Boy"). The chances they took and the places they went in putting their hands in different styles of comedy and art show that these two can read the industry and what we want as much as anyone. They're not afraid to take risks and take chances because they've earned viewers trust in following them to where they bring us. You can predict that they will continue to push those boundaries of high-brow comedy in season five, and they seem to have enough of a loyal enough following and talent around them to pull it off.
The Braverman family has filled the homes of NBC viewers for six seasons now, and it has been one dramatic ride. Fans of Friday Night Lights, where a lot of the production crew came from after that show ended, could have anticipated the same level of emotional attachment to the characters, but the show transcended the attachment to the Peter Berg football drama. Instead, they created a subculture family of sorts, where every season viewers tuned in modest, but steady and fiercely loyal numbers to catch up with their television counterparts.
The huge cast offered something for every viewer, whether you related most with the siblings, as a parent, a spouse, a teenager, or how as adults you are trying to find your place still in the world and that life and family bonds aren't always cut and dry. Parenthood has ended nearly every season on the edge of cancellation, and this summer finally announced this would be their last. They're going out on their own terms, and the outpouring of emotion from fans around the country who feel like they are losing their own relatives has been staggering.
The show finishes up in 2015 with four episodes and it will be sure to be an emotional roller-coaster as things tie up. I used to see this show as a carry over of Friday Night Lights, which I had put in a category by itself. From the get-go, Parenthood didn't have legs of its own, in my eyes because everything was done beforehand by FNL. But over time, I've recognized it accomplished far more than I could have imagined. It stripped away the distraction of a sports-themed show that Friday Night Lights was based around, something that surely stunted its audience from finding it, and instead just made a really great show about family. Parenthood figured it out and thus stands alone as one of the best shows about family bonds in TV history.
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Oliver has taken all that Jon Stewart perfected and taught him at the Daily Show and turned the genre on its head by offering longer-form, thought-provoking, hard-hitting journalism. Sure there were still the one-off jokes and attempts for laughs, but the show inspired so many calls for action that it needs to be acknowledged. There were no gimmicks, no staged interviews or stories that were more silly than serious.
You looked forward to the topics he would cover and he didn't hold back -- ever. He not only got you informed and laughing, but emotional, and he had the time to lay out a story like you would see profiled on a show like 60 Minutes. The difference? No one below 50 is watching 60 minutes and everyone under 40 is watching Last Week Tonight.
ALSO ON HUFFPOST: