Staff favorites of 2014: Television

Justin Theroux in
Justin Theroux in "The Leftovers" on HBO.

“Staff Favorites of 2014" lists The Day's features staff's favorite releases, programs, events and other moments in the arts and entertainment world. As we can't possibly listen to/see/read/experience everything, we can only call these selections "favorites." Here, we share our favorite television programs that aired in 2014.

JUSTIFIED
FX

While it would be difficult to top season 2, with the crazy Bennett clan and Margo Martindale's Emmy-winning performance as family matriarch Mags Bennett, season five came close with another scary brood. The dealings between U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and Darryl Crowe Jr. (Michael Rapaport) provided some of the best TV moments of the year. The sixth and final season will kick off next month by returning to the beginning and an expected showdown between anti-heroes Givens and Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins). I'm betting on the marshal.

- Tim Cotter

THE KNICK
CINEMAX

I had a love-hate relationship with this show, set during the early part of the 20th century in New York City's Knickerbocker Hospital. But in the end, I just couldn't stop watching the train wreck of Dr. John W. Thackery, or Thack, the innovative but self-destructive, drug-addicted doctor. I had no problem looking away during some of the graphic operations, however. While the dialogue can be a bit much, Clive Owen's acting and Steven Soderbergh's directing are too good to leave "The Knick" off this list.

- Tim Cotter

THE VOICE
NBC

Dare I say that Blake Shelton, Adam Levine, Pharrell Williams and Gwen Stefani are the best group of judges ever in a TV talent competition? Knowledgeable, nice, funny. And since the contestants change every year, and it's a stretch to even remember past winners, these shows are all about how the judges interact with the contestants and each other. I kept turning my chair.

- Tim Cotter

OLIVE KITTERIDGE
HBO

This mini-series was probably the most depressing thing I watched all year. I really didn't like Olive (Frances McDormand). And what the heck was wrong with Henry (Richard Jenkins), who not only didn't leave his miserable, abusive wife but went through life with a smile on his face? Until he dropped dead in the driveway, which led Olive to put a gun to her head. Yep, just downright depressing. But brilliant.

- Tim Cotter

TRUE DETECTIVE
HBO

Forget that the ending disappointed some in that it didn't answer all of our questions. Remember instead the superior acting of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as two homicide detectives in Louisiana whose solving of a murder in 1995 is being questioned in 2012. McConaughey deserves all the trophies he will earn because Rust Cohle is a character who will stay with you forever. TV doesn't put two accomplished actors together with an up-and-coming writer and then drop it all and start over with new actors and a new story. But that's what they're doing and that just adds to the greatness.

- Tim Cotter

THE LEFTOVERS
HBO

Everyone loves to make jokes about The Rapture. "Ha! I'd sure be left behind if THAT ever happened," we chortle to seat-saving-in-Hell pals. Well, HBO's imagining of a Rapture-like event (based on Tom Perrotta's book) is the complete opposite of a laughing matter. From the moment a small percentage of the population up and disappears one day, the earth-bound folks remaining - The Leftovers, if you will - commence internalizing, then externalizing, what it all means about the human race and their own immortal souls. Where did their loved ones go? How does a woman cope when her two young kids and adulterous husband stop clogging up her kitchen? The psychological struggles of the non-disappeared are nearly as gut-wrenching as the terrible physical stunts some people pull as part of their grieving process. Justin Theroux is mesmerizing in his lead role as police chief Kevin Garvey, and Amy Brenneman, as his ex-wife Laurie, reliably conveys heart-breaking levels of raw emotion without uttering a word (her character has taken a vow of silence). Depressing? Yes. Riveting. Oh yes.

- Marisa Nadolny

MAD MEN
AMC

As AMC wisely milks every last second of "Mad Men's" greatness by splitting up its seventh and final season, I'm still happy to lap it up. The saga of ad man Don Draper in a changing world continues to deliver magical moments and shocking turns. Remember Don ceding creative control to Peggy for the Burger Chef campaign so she wouldn't be left with "nothing" if he got canned? Remember them dancing like proud papa and daughter to Frank Sinatra's crooning? Only to be upstaged by Bert Cooper's universe-shifting demise and dream-exit? And let's not forget some of this season's other big shockers: Megan leaves Don; Ginsberg flips out in a big way; Roger makes a deal with McCann and rightfully sends all the CGC rats scurrying. Classic Sterling-Cooper creativity wins to fight another day over corporate fluff, and I'm certain that's what's going to happen in the latter half of season 7.

- Marisa Nadolny

SHERLOCK
PBS/NETFLIX

Yes, NOW everyone in the world loves Benedict Cumberbatch, who stars in this insanely clever, witty and brilliantly acted series based on Arthur Conan Doyle's immortal detective - and set intriguingly in contemporary times. The spectacular Cumberbatch's titular sleuth is socially flawed but charming in his own maddening way, and Martin "Bilbo Baggins" Freeman is just as impressive as the long-suffering but not-to-be-underestimated sidekick, Dr. Watson. Yes, over the years, there have been far too many adaptations of Sherlock - in books as well as on television and film - and it's also true this British series debuted four whole years ago. A lot of folks, though, are just figuring out how special this version is and are arriving late to the party. It's worth noting that a new season has officially been confirmed and will commence filming in 2015. In the meantime, that gives you plenty of time go catch up on the greatness.
- Rick Koster

NCIS NEW ORLEANS
CBS

Given the number of different shows and locales of the "CSI" series, and the number of episodes for each, there's been a whole lot of dead Naval personnel over the years whose murders need to be solved. The network figured it might as well set up shop in the exotic port of New Orleans. Starring the e'er likable Scott Bakula as Special Agent Duane "King" Pride, each week's new show throws in just enough Crescent City cliches to make the NOLA atmosphere fondly resonate. Bakula and his similarly pleasant team manage to solve all sorts of odd homicides, too, and, with the dead-guy-in-a-Mardi-Gras-float plot out of the way, I'm counting the days until the writers get around to a grisly, voodoo-themed slaughter.

- Rick Koster

HILLSBOROUGH
ESPN

On April 15, 1989, 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England, at the FA Cup semifinals. Director Daniel Gordon's film, part of ESPN's mostly excellent "30 For 30" series, relays the horrifying events of the day - but that really is only part of the story. The majority of the film captures not only the dolor of the families of those who died, but their anguish and anger in the aftermath, as the police covered up their culpability and right-wing media such as Rupert Murdoch's The Sun vilified the victims. The families then started on a dogged 25-year fight to clear their loved ones' names. "Hillsborough" is surely one of the best sports documentaries ever made, but it's more broadly a film about what ordinary people are up against when they are battling for justice.

- Stephen Chupaska

MEN IN BLAZERS
ESPN AND NBCSN

The most unlikely stars of this past summer's World Cup in Brazil were two English soccer commentators, Roger Bennett and Michael Davies, who broadcasted each night from a closet on the ESPN set in Rio. Bennett, a filmmaker and writer, and Davies, a highly successful TV producer, already run a popular podcast that focuses on the Premier League, along with occasional asides about the late Dana Plato, "Game of Thrones" death scenes and the poetry of Philip Larkin. The duo's foray into television was, as they say, "suboptimal" and hilariously so. After Brazil, NBCSN snapped up the duo who now have a weekly show on Monday nights. Here's hoping they never get too good.

- Stephen Chupaska

TAYLOR SWIFT AT THE 56TH ANNUAL GRAMMY AWARDS
CBS

Taylor Swift spent the latter part of the year dominating the pop-o-sphere with her latest collection of assured and catchy songs, "1989." But before there was a whole lotta shaking it off going on, Swift turned in a driving, headbanging performance of one of her best songs, the literate kiss-off "All Too Well," nailing both the romance of "dancing in the refrigerator light" and the Elvis Costello venom in "casually cruel in the name of being honest." Swift's performance was lauded the night of the show and in the wrap-ups the next day, but perhaps it would have made more of an impact in a media age before we weren't always on to the next thing.

- Stephen Chupaska

LAST WEEK TONIGHT WITH JOHN OLIVER
HBO

Audiences got the hint that former "Daily Show" cast member John Oliver's new show was going to be different when it spent the balance of its first episode on India's 2014 general election. The segment operated on the premise that most Americans had no idea that it was happening and that Stateside media chose to ignore it. After all, it's only the planet's largest democracy staging an election.

That night set the tone, as each Sunday night (and the next day in clips on the web) Oliver got huge laughs out of heavy and esoteric topics such as the death penalty, payday loans and drones. But lest you think "Last Week Tonight" is a premium cable poli-sci seminar, Oliver also gave us the all-dog Supreme Court and a salmon cannon.

The second season premieres Feb. 8, so you have until then to convince a friend to give you their HBO GO password.

- Stephen Chupaska

Craig Wayne Boyd, left, winner of
Craig Wayne Boyd, left, winner of "The Voice," with Blake Shelton Dec. 16.
Woody Harrelson, left, as Martin Hart and Matthew McConaughey as Rustin Cohle, in HBO's TV series
Woody Harrelson, left, as Martin Hart and Matthew McConaughey as Rustin Cohle, in HBO's TV series "True Detective." HBO says that Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn will star in the second season of "True Detective."

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