Best Television Shows
True Detective is, hands down, the best TV show I watched this year. The pilot episode seemed promising, but I dropped it, because: life—until I read the online hullaballoo about an astonishing six-minute tracking shot in the fourth episode. Cue the vacuum-y sound of me being sucked into a phenomenal murder-mystery that charts the emotional development (or lack thereof) of the two detectives, played to pitch-perfection by Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey.
Crator Nic Pizzolatto’s engagement with the tradition of horror stories (including the now-infamous story of The King in Yellow) might be the allusion most people think of when discussing this show, but what drew me in was his exploration of inner darkness and tentative heroism in a fallen world. Pizzolatto’s scripts—and Cary Fukunaga’s direction—skirt the silly, as McConaughey’s Rust Cohle discusses our fate as nothing more than “sentient meat” and watches crows fly into symbolic spirals, but True Detective always felt, to me, like a deeply true portrayal of men struggling to make sense of a postlapsarian world through a detection-quest colored by religious and philosophical musings.
The Flash, on the other hand, is pure cotton candy. As much as I enjoy Arrow’s broody darkness, I look forward to its youthful spinoff more every week. Why? Mostly because of star Grant Gustin’s charisma and enthusiasm: as the Flash, he’s a young man exploring exciting powers, and he makes that excitement infectious. This show makes me smile.
The Good Wife falls into the “new to me” category: although I’d watched the first few episode years ago, I wasn’t attracted to the story of a woman who sticks by her politician husband after an embarrassing amount of infidelity. On a whim, I checked out a few episodes starting in the third season to see what all the fuss was about Carrie Preston’s guest-starring character...and suddenly found myself in the middle of an unintentional, and inconvenient, binge-watch. Now I’m hooked.
By the mid-third season, Juliana Marguiles’s Alicia Florrick is a woman in full control of her powers, and the law-firm procedural aspect of (most) episodes provides a strong skeleton to explorations of power, scheming, adult romance, and—eventually—politics. If you, like me, were unenthusiastic about this show’s initial premise, I recommend starting anew with Season Three.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier was really damn good. I never thought I’d put a Marvel movie on my best-of list, but, like one of my old standby favorites, Person of Interest, this second installment of the Captain America franchise focuses on the surveillance state and the power of remote warfare. Topical considerations aside, it’s also a fun action-thriller with some super-cool fight scenes and a rather enchanting baddie, the Winter Soldier himself. The big MCU reset—Hail Hydra!—sets up some exciting developments for the apparently-unending stream of films and TV shows that will grace our screens for the next millennium.
Blackfish, though, might be the film that stuck with me most. This documentary, which came out in late 2013, will completely change how you see Shamu and his orca friends: they are, we now know, highly intelligent mammals kept in miserable conditions, torn from their families, and abused for the sake of petty human amusement. The film’s effect on Sea World are still being felt, which speaks to the straightforward power of filmmaking. Having said that, Blackfish is not a film that I would wholeheartedly recommend: it might simply be too sad for many people, especially children, to watch.
The Hollow Crown (also in the “new to me” category) has been a delightful discovery that I probably wouldn’t have made were it not for Doux Reviews. This four-part adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard II, Henry IV, and Henry V is not flawless, but it is fascinating. From Henry V’s (Tom Hiddleston) rise to power and responsibility (luckily, the dimples don’t disappear when he takes the crown) to Rory Kinnear’s stoic Bolingbroke, these moody films are striking adaptations of some of Shakespeare’s (occasionally unappreciated) history plays.
I don’t have much to add to my Summer Reading post: after discovering Christopher Priest and Megan Abbott in the first half of the year, I got stuck with a string of mediocre novels, many of which I didn’t even finish. Although that trend seems destined to change—I’m currently in the middle of S.E. Grove’s fun The Glass Sentence, a YA novel about magical maps—I think my best find in 2014 was Kij Johnson’s short story “Ponies.” I don’t want to spoil anything about it, so I’ll just say this: it’s free, it’s short, it’s awesome, everyone who has read it loves it, and you should read it right now.
Happy New Year!
Josie Kafka reviews The Vampire Diaries, True Detective, Game of Thrones, and various other things that take her fancy. She is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)