WATCH: ‘Sherlock,’ ‘Walking Dead’ in the Top 10 TV moments of 2014
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Before I get to my Top 10 television moments of 2014, let’s look back on just a few of the things that transpired on the small screen this year.
Jimmy Fallon took over the “The Tonight Show,” reinvigorating the late-night landscape.
“Modern Family” threw a gay wedding in California with a marriage that wouldn’t have been legal a year earlier.
“Saturday Night Live” finally realized that black people — even black women! — are funny, too.
We bid a fond farewell to Stephen Colbert’s jingoistic pundit persona with a star-studded sing-along.
The “Eaten Alive” guy on Discovery who was supposed to be an anaconda’s dinner didn’t even rank as an amuse-bouche.
And we witnessed the spread of a highly infectious virus: The earworm that is the theme song for “Too Many Cooks.”
I could go on and on because, as you’ve surely noticed, there’s a lot of TV out there. Thankfully, much of it is really good. Even great. That’s why it was especially tough to narrow down a list of Top 10 moments.
To be clear, I’m talking about TV moments, not top TV shows. (My Top 10 TV shows list, along with my picks for best new TV series and television performances of 2014, can be found here on HitFix’s annual year-end TV critics’ poll.)
These are simply the TV moments that — for a variety of reasons — stuck with me the most. They’re the ones that stood out in a crowded field and made me cry, laugh, think or feel more than the rest.
Warning: Spoilers ahead, so if you see a show’s name and you’re not caught up, fast-forward to the next one:
First off, let’s hear a round of applause for the most recent season of Showtime’s rebooted spy games suspenser. It’s been a riveting ride, thanks in no small part to the intense role Saul (Mandy Patinkin) played as a pawn in Haqqani’s (Numan Acar) game. The complicated dynamic between Carrie (Claire Danes) and Saul is one of the show’s strengths, never more so than in the episode “Halfway to a Donut.” Saul would rather die than be used as a bargaining chip in the prisoner release of terrorists, but Carrie disobeys her former boss and leads him straight into the arms of the Taliban in a desperate effort to save his life.
“Do you know what the meanest thing is you can say to a fat girl? ‘You’re not fat,’” Vanessa (Sarah Baker) says to the titular stand-up comic (Louis C.K.) in FX’s impossible-to-pigeonhole series. In an articulate, heartfelt speech, Vanessa takes Louie to task — all men, for that matter — for the double standards surrounding weight and gender in the superb “So Did the Fat Lady.”
8. LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN
As television moments go, this one was pretty straightforward: Veteran host David Letterman matter-of-factly announced on his April 3 show that he would retire at some point in 2015. (We now have a firm expiration date: May 20.) Those words signaled a watershed in the history of late-night TV. The man who influenced countless comedians with his droll wit and ironic detachment. The man who spent more time helming late-night shows — 32 years — than anyone in the history of television. That man was calling it quits, and we became aware that we had just heard the first words in the final chapter of what will be remembered as an American classic.
7. THE GOOD WIFE
True surprises on TV — I’m talking spit-take-worthy shockers — are increasingly rare in today’s social media-saturated, spoiler-laden environment. Maybe that’s why the out-of-the-blue death of main character Will Gardner (Josh Charles) midway through last season landed with such an impact. It was a punch we didn’t see coming, another reminder that this CBS procedural is anything but predictable. Will might be dead, but the show’s creative renaissance is alive and well.
6. MAD MEN
Like a little kid who doesn’t want to see their parents fight, I don’t like it when Don (Jon Hamm) and Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) are adversaries. They both have the power to bring out the best in each other — a point made beautifully clear in “The Strategy,” the penultimate episode of this year’s half season. Don helps Peggy have a eureka moment on the Burger Chef account. Peggy helps bring out the humanity in Don. For these precious few moments in Peggy’s office, they could both open up, be vulnerable and be comfortable in their own skin. And they celebrated that achievement with a touching — and I really hope platonic — slow dance to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”
5. THE WALKING DEAD
In this post-apocalyptic world full of zombies, precious little separates the living from the dead. Poor little Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino) had an especially tough time telling the difference between the two. It ended up getting the young girl shot by her adoptive mother, Carol (Melissa McBride), in the emotion-shredding episode “The Grove.” “Just look at the flowers, Lizzie,” a tearful Carol urges the sobbing child before pulling the trigger. The only person crying harder than Lizzie and Carol: me.
4. SONS OF ANARCHY
Gemma Teller (Katey Sagal) is another character who got an eyeful of flowers before taking a bullet to the back of the head (see above). All season we’d been waiting for Jax (Charlie Hunnam) to find out the truth: His beloved but ruthless mother brutally murdered his wife. The moment of reckoning came in the series’ penultimate installment when Gemma — calling the shots up until the very end — gives a trembling Jax her blessing to commit matricide in the rose garden.
It took nearly two years — 609 days to be exact, not that I was counting — for the return of Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch), the Baker Street sleuth presumed dead by his partner in crime-solving, Dr. Watson (Martin Freeman). The ridiculously entertaining season three premiere, “The Empty Hearse,” made it worth the wait. Sherlock and Watson’s restaurant reunion, where the detective poses as a French waiter to great humorous effect, was equal parts comedy gold and poignant drama as Watson’s infuriated reaction betrayed the deep wounds he suffered from the absence of his BFF.
2. TRUE DETECTIVE
Matthew McConaughey’s “Time Is a Flat Circle” speech and other philosophical musings in this buzzy HBO hit were mesmerizing. But I’ve got to hand it to director Cary Fukunaga, who had everyone from film students to casual observers captivated with his six-minute tracking shot in episode four. An undercover Rust Cohle (McConaughey) tags along with a motorcycle gang to rob a stash house in the projects in a nail-biter of a scene in which the camera never cuts away, essentially holding viewers hostage through this nightmare of a gauntlet that’s also a logistical nightmare for a director. McConaughey didn’t get an Emmy, but Fukunaga did.
1. GAME OF THRONES
Behaving like the bullying brat that he is, King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) goes all Groomzilla at his wedding in “The Lion and the Rose” and then gulps down a goblet of poison wine. (Or a slice of poison pie?) Viewers had time for a little schadenfreude dance while the tyrant’s face twisted with anguish. He uses his final drops of energy to finger Uncle Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) as his murderer before dying in the arms of his cruel mother, Cersei (Lena Headey), whose grief is only eclipsed by her revenge-seeking rage. It was an excellent death scene in a show that, well, knows how to do death scenes. (R.I.P. Oberyn Martell)