1. Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (FX)
In the age when the Discovery Channel and the History Channel have gone down the proverbial rabbit hole with the promise of never returning, FX’s Cosmos, headed by an amazing Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, was a revelation. Dr. Tyson never makes the science seem easy, but he renders the material in a fashion in a way that is understandable and inspiring.
Best Episode: Standing Up in the Milky Way
2. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)
John Oliver’s HBO comedy show, modeled in some fashion after The Colbert Report and The Daily Show, broke out of the mold in tremendous fashion. There are no limitations, no one he won’t make fun of, and as sad as this is to say, Oliver covers some of the most relevant events cable news networks are too afraid to.
Best Segment: Translators’ Visas
3. Homeland (Showtime)
After a Season 3 that saw the show struggle with its plotlines and finally kill off a character that should have died at the end of the previous season, there were many questions as to how the show could even survive. Season 4 of this CIA espionage thriller was utterly thrilling and once it hit episode six, there was no moment that didn’t leave you utterly breathless with tension as the show continued to convey how doomed the entire War on Terror truly is.
Best Episode: There’s Something Else Going On
4. Game of Thrones (HBO)
The HBO fantasy juggernaut saw its highest-rated year in a season that was brimming with moments of absolute shock and unrequited despair. If you thought the show was bloody before, the body count at the end of the season should solve any doubts about the show going soft after the Red Wedding. Westeros is now more fragile than ever before.
Best Episode: The Lion and the Rose
5. Fargo (FX)
While seeming at initial glance to be a terrible idea, the Fargo miniseries was basically perfection, boasting some of the sharpest writing this year. Add to it the winning performances from Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, and breakout star Allison Tolman, you have a winner.
Best Episode: A Fox, A Rabbit, And A Cabbage
6. Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
The final season of the Prohibition drama was unfortunately cut to 8 episodes, which had the ironic effect of producing some of the best writing this series has ever seen. The final shots were divisive, but there is something to be said for a series that refuses to give happy endings to anyone, instead at the most leaving them with vestiges of hope or bullets for some.
Best Episode: Devil You Know
7. The Americans (FX)
The Soviet era spy drama was on full blast this year, mixing espionage and personal drama throughout with aplomb. The final revelations that the Jennings’s children are now targeted to become spies for the Kremlin sets the stage for a magnificent Season 3.
Best Episode: Behind the Red Door
8. The Honourable Woman (Sundance/BBC)
The most intricately plotted series of the year, the BBC drama centered on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict contains some of the most nuanced perspectives on quandary mixed in with some truly thrilling espionage. And the line of the year may very well go to Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Nessa Stein: “Terror breeds in poverty. It dies in wealth.”
Best Episode: The Ribbon Cutter
9. The Knick (Cinemax)
Steven Soderbergh retired from film and if the result of that is this groundbreaking medical series on Cinemax, I’ll take it. Full of mesmerizing performances, appropriate gore, and some of the most uncomfortable realizations of 1920s racism that we still haven’t truly gotten past.
Best Episode: Get the Rope
10. The Legend of Korra (Nickelodeon)
The final season of the Avatar universe on screen may not have been as great as Season 3, but The Legend of Korra over its run has provided some of the most acclaimed storytelling through beautiful animation that never ceases to amaze. Time and time again the show proved that it was far more than simply a “kids’ show”, proving to be more daring and transcendent than most programming on television. We’ll miss you, Korra.
Best Episode: Korra Alone
If this list were to be expanded to 25, these are numbers 11-25 in order: True Detective (HBO), The Good Wife (CBS), Penny Dreadful (Showtime), The Affair (Showtime), Outlander (Starz), Transparent (Amazon), Veep (HBO), Olive Kitteridge (HBO), Mad Men (AMC), Masters of Sex (Showtime), Parks and Recreation (NBC), Louie (FX), The Mindy Project (FX), Doctor Who (BBC), Black Mirror (BBC)
Image Courtesy: Hitfix