2013 was an absolutely amazing year for television, with shows like Breaking Bad and Spartacus going out with some of their best episodes yet and new series like Hannibal and Orphan Black bursting onto the scene. While the jury’s still out on how this year will compare to last, at the halfway point, 2014 is shaping up to be pretty darn great year as well. Continuing favorites have come back stronger than ever and just like last year, a few new series have quickly made strong names for themselves as well; the variety of truly great television, from comedy to drama to the many series that don’t so easily fit either description, has never been so pronounced. However, with so much TV out there, some of the best episodes (and series in general) of the year have flown under the radar, so a handful of Sound on Sight’s podcasters and critics have put their heads together and come up with a list of the best television episodes of 2014 (so far). A panel of SoS’s Editor-in-Chief Ricky D, Televerse Podcast cohosts Kate Kulzick and Sean Colletti, Managing Editor for TV Deepayan Sengupta, and SoS TV critic Randy Dankevitch have put together this list through an exhaustive nominations and voting process–to make the cut, each episode needed to have been seen by at least half the panel and agreed upon by a majority. Of course, not everyone can watch everything, and so along with the agreed-upon list, each panelist also gives an individual pick for one of the best episodes of the year. If the second half of 2014 is as strong as the first half, this year has the potential to be another tremendous one for television. Here are the SoS TV panel’s picks as the best episodes of television of the year (so far):
Emmy nominations were announced this morning, and as usual, there were a number of snubs and surprises, which the Internet collectively whined about this morning. Rather than continue to mourn the lack of a nomination for Tatiana Maslany (which I admittedly complained about as well), actual solutions need to be pitched. Sadly, “chain Emmy voters to a chair and make them actually watch Orphan Black” seems somewhat implausible and definitely criminal, so here are five reasonable and seemingly easy solutions the Emmys should consider next year.
“The Monolith” is one of many Mad Men episodes that shows how certain characters react to change. Rather than limit those ideas to the new IBM computer being installed at the offices, the episode focuses more on how Don Draper and Roger Sterling deal with changes in status quo. They’d be very content to live their lives as they always have, but both characters have made certain decisions in their respective pasts that have come back to bite them in their asses. It’s strange and wonderful to see a Mad Men episode do this in such a classic way in its seventh season, since the Don-Roger parallel episodes were mostly the things of the show’s early days. And while it’s great to get that here, I wonder if the script didn’t have enough room to fit in more of Pete Campbell, because those early episodes also did a fine job of showing how Roger’s kind was being displaced by Don’s and how Don’s kind was being displaced by Pete’s. Regardless, “The Monolith” gives Don and Roger similar but different journeys that force them to confront the worst of themselves.
Earlier tonight, when I went back to re-watch Don’s Hershey’s speech from last season of Mad Men and looked at it alongside everything going on in “Field Trip,” it took only a moment or two until I started thinking about the first time I saw Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. Earl’s speech to Phil about regret is something that’s stuck with me since then and is very unlikely to be forgotten about anytime soon. After Don delivers that pitch, when he gives a bogus story about tying his father’s love to receiving a Hershey’s bar, he looks over at Ted and down at his own shaking hands, realizing how fake the whole scenario is. And for the first time in that kind of setting, we see him be honest with a group of people. I get embarrassed when I think about certain events in my past (the most embarrassing of which always surprise me when they evoke this involuntary verbal reaction–like, I’ll either laugh or scoff or mutter something aloud in response to a memory as if I had the opportunity right there and then to alter what had already happened). I can only imagine what Don thinks when he re-lives that scene.
In a recent podcast, the TV editor here at Sound On Sight, Kate Kulzick, made a great point about how many people are prone to having limited conceptions of what love is. It’s a big topic to begin with–one that could certainly warrant an entire season’s worth of podcasts to discuss–but it’s important to think about when taking in and considering works of fiction and how they address love. Love, after all, does not have to refer only to the romantic kind that most people would associate it with at first. “A Day’s Work,” a Valentine’s Day episode of Mad Men, shows several of the different kinds of love that can be shared between people. Most notable in this case, though, is the love Sally Draper has for her father, Don. And it’s no wonder that Don is taken aback with surprise when he hears Sally utter that word at the episode’s end. Even if Don weren’t stuck in a rut, waiting for SC&P to call him back, the minor shock of love here comes from how easily we can take it for granted. Don can play the role of father, and he does. He asks Sally if she wants to “go” before they “go,” still thinking of her as a little girl. He wants to protect her from the realities of mortality, wishing that she didn’t have to see her friend’s mother’s corpse at a funeral. But these are almost involuntary reactions. They don’t show the love of the father operating on the conscious level; or if they do, then they do nothing to suggest that Don is saying and doing these things out of anything other than what he perceives as necessity. Don wanting to spend time with Sally is absolutely another instance of Don being bored and wanting to connect with someone, even though I would cede to the fact that that want comes from a better place than wanting to meet up with other ad men for drinks. This is not to say that Don doesn’t love Sally or that he is, in fact, a bad father. It’s merely meant to reiterate that certain loving relationships have a way of feeling so familiar that they can sometimes become difficult to distinguish as the important connections they are. That they can, again, be taken for granted more often than they can be appreciated, which seems like it should be contradictory.
The dramas came out swinging this weekend, giving us plenty of great TV to discuss on this week’s podcast. First we take a look at the comedies, including theFilthy Sexy Teen$ pilot and Always Sunny’s 100th episode, before talking through a rather sparse week in reality. Next up are the genre series, includingOnce Upon a Time in Wonderland’s pilot,Supernatural’s premiere, and the premiere ofAmerican Horror Story: Coven, and then we wrap up our week in TV with the dramas, starting withGlee’s tribute to Cory Monteith, “The Quarterback”. Then it’s time for a return to the DVD Shelf, with Chris Piers of Television Zombies coming back on to help us take a look at the fantastic, seminal anime, Cowboy Bebop.
Our Week in Comedy (11:06-29:16): South Park, Filthy Sexy Teen$ pilot,Childrens Hospital, It’s Always Sunny…, Eastbound & Down, Network Comedy Roundup
Our Week in Reality (30:14-35:03): Top Chef New Orleans, The Amazing Race
Our Week in Genre (36:00-52:20): Once Upon a Time in Wonderland pilot,Supernatural premiere, American Horror Story: Coven premiere, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Sleepy Hollow, Strike Back: Shadow Warfare
Our Week in Drama (53:12-1:21:03): Glee, Scandal, Elementary, Homeland,Parenthood, Boardwalk Empire, Masters of Sex, The Good Wife
DVD Shelf (1:23:21-end): Cowboy Bebop with Chris Piers
BEST TV OF 2013 SO FAR: Status at the Half (TV), Part 2: Best of the Rest
As my Televerse cohost Simon Howell and I discussed in our Top 10 TV Series of 2013 (So Far), this has been a spectacular year for television, with many shows delivering remarkably consistent seasons (or half-seasons) of memorable, moving television. A number of series were in contention for our Top 10 but didn’t quite make the cut, often because they lacked the week-in, week-out consistency of our final picks. Here is our list of the Best of the Rest, the standout episodes of 2013 from shows that didn’t make our Top 10. With so many choices, and because we’ve seen and are drawing from different series, Simon and I are offering more personalized picks here. As with our Top 10, the list is alphabetical.
The best TV shows of 2013 … so far
Greatest TV Pilots: Mad Men’s “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” a smooth, deceptively dark blend of style and substance
With a stunning title sequence that features a man’s silhouette plummeting past skyscrapers adorned with advertisements, the pilot episode of Mad Men opens with an exacting acknowledgement of the commercialized happiness that America bought into after World War II. Creator Matthew Weiner delivers a spellbindingly stylish microcosm inhabited by driven people who are unwittingly entrenched in layers of systematic oppression. Putting all of its aesthetic charms aside, Mad Men breaks ground by examining how we resist or embrace change through uncertain and often ugly choices.
The third track on one of my favorite rock records of the last decade, Okkervil River’s The Stage Names, is called “A Hand to Take Hold of the Scene.” Without context, its lyric is a bit of a tough nut to crack. Will Sheff sings about events unfolding on a TV screen in the first verse, recaps a dream in the second, and seems to outline the narrator’s innermost wishes in the third. What’s not immediately apparent is that the first verse outlines scenes from two completely different TV shows – scenes that happened to be scored by Okkervil River songs. The first half of the verse refers to “It Ends With a Fall” (from Down the River of Golden Dreams) and its use on the reality series Breaking Bonaduce. (I don’t have that clip handy.) The second half, and probably the more illustrative of the two in any case, refers to “Black Sheep Boy IV” (from the Black Sheep Boy Appendix EP) and its prominent placement in an episode of Cold Case entitled “One Night”. Here’s the description of the scene from the song, followed by the actual scene in question:
I’m the band in a show ’bout a boy being buried alive
From his head to his toes by a criminal but with a sensitive soul, with a set of raccoon eyes
And there’s this scene in the show when a hustler knows he’s gonna die
The ground opens and he climbs inside.