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Sunday, December 28, 2014

YEAR IN REVIEW: The Top 20 Episodes of 2014

Here is my annual year end countdown of my favorite episodes of the year. I have to give clarification as always that I am behind on shows like Parenthood so no episodes from that show are on the list, but they certainly would be.

Past Years: 2013   2012   2011

20. The Night Shift #8 "Save Me" (July 15, 2014)
I happen to be quite excited that NBC is giving The Night Shift a chance in the regular season (and after The Voice) this coming spring because I was surprised with how much I enjoyed season one, which seemed to be a burn-off. It took a little while but it found its stride and the action-packed season finale was quite memorable with a very tense night in the hospital involving life or death surgeries and serious judgment calls that had to be made. It also had well-integrated flashbacks to Callahan's (Eoin Macken) time Afghanistan, It's early still, but I think The Night Shift could be the same type of show as St. Elsewhere or ER.. a strong, ensemble-driven show that deals with harrowing circumstances. I hope season two takes off creatively and in the ratings.

19. Parks and Recreation #103 "Ann and Chris" (January 30, 2014)
Longtime regulars Ann Perkins and Chris Traeger (Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe) said goodbye in this episode as they married and left Pawnee. While I felt like the Chris character had run its course and the Ann character never quite made the same impression as others, it was still a bittersweet goodbye. The biggest reason is not how much I cared about Ann as a viewer but how much Leslie (Amy Poehler) cared because Ann was her best friend. It was Poehler's magnificent performance that made this episode and everyone was sad that she was losing her closest confidante. Of course, the show came full circle to as it broke ground on the project that was the premise for the entire series during its rocky start back in 2009. It was a reminder of how far this show has come.

18. Scandal #46 "Flesh and Blood" (April 10, 2014)
This is actually the highest charting Scandal episode in 2014. While I still love the thrills and twists of this show, I worry that its best days are behind it. Maybe they really did do too much too fast. I'm still watching though because I've grown to love and/or loathe the characters and I still want to see what happens. This episode was the most reminiscent of season two of Scandal, when it was at its jaw-dropping stage. The best moment comes when Cyrus (Jeff Perry) gleefully believes that a bomb is going to go off at the church and kill Sally Langston (Kate Burton). Those are the kind of moments that Scandal needs to get back to... there's been too much Rowan this season and too much B613 in general. Scandal is at its best when terribly flawed individuals try to get the upper hand on each other. And that's what this episode was about.

17. Modern Family #125 "Won't You Be Our Neighbor?" (October 22, 2014)
Modern Family doesn't have as many gems as it used to, but it is still capable of being sharply written and very clever on any given week. The best example in 2014 was a rather routine episode but it had all the elements that make a strong episode. Primarily, all three storylines were strong - something that the show has had trouble with. The standout storyline in this episode was Cam and Mitch's (Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson) frustration with Lily's new teacher (a great turn by guest star Tyne Daly), but the story with the Dunphys trying to be the perfect neighbors and prevent a trashy couple from moving in was equally funny.

16. Chicago Fire #49 "Just Drive the Truck" (October 7, 2014)
Chicago Fire is one of the most underrated shows on TV in my opinion. It seems to get dismissed pretty quickly when it actually has great characters and tells great stories. "Just Drive the Truck" was a perfect example as it centered around controversy when two fire trucks collided with each other. The episode gave a nice showcase to an underused member of the ensemble, Joe Cruz (Joe Minoso). The episode was the epitome of Chicago Fire because it had the firefighters having each other's back and supporting each other when trouble came. This show wouldn't set itself apart with its stories or acting alone but it's the way the ensemble interacts with each other that makes it one of my favorite dramas on TV right now.

15. Brooklyn Nine-Nine #22 "Charges and Specs" (March 25, 2014)
Brooklyn Nine-Nine's brilliant first season ended on a strong note with this episode. This episode featured the three best characters in a very strong ensemble: Jake, Amy, and Captain Holt (Andy Samberg, Melissa Fumero, and Andre Braugher) as it centered on them going rogue to catch a corrupt civic leader. On top of that, it had the added element of Jake going undercover and best of all, it featured a sweet and awkward moment when Jake told Amy he had feelings for her. The slow burn possible romance between those two characters in reminiscent of the early days of Jim and Pam on The Office and the show is wisely taking its time. Few shows come out of the gate with as strong a first season as Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

14. Mom #25 "Chicken Nuggets and a Triple Homicide" (November 13, 2014)
After an uneven first season, Mom was on my list of possible shows to drop from my weekly viewing list. However, it has escaped that list with a major quality improvement in season two. The show is quickly becoming a modern day Roseanne as it tackles serious issues for a cash-starved, flawed family. This episode was so darkly comic, it was unique for a broadcast show. Christy and Bonnie (Anna Faris and Allison Janney) rent a beautiful house for a shockingly low price, only to discover that three people and a dog had been murdered there. Their subsequent reactions and nerves provided comedy for much of the episode. Mom has gone from being a show I sort of just watched to one I look forward to every week.

13. Black-ish #5 "Crime and Punishment" (October 22, 2014)
Black-ish is easily the best new comedy of the season so far, but it's been a bit uneven. It's strongest episode to date showed what a great family comedy this can become. Youngest son Jack (Miles Brown) is continually hiding from his parents. After an hilarious freak-out from Bow (Tracee Ellis Ross), Dre (Anthony Anderson) decides that Jack needs to be spanked. The show deals head-on with a hot button issue in a very funny way. The worry and fear coming from both parent and child was brilliantly mixed together in a very funny extended scene leading up to the possible spanking. This show needs to give Miles Brown more stories because he is a star in the making!

12. The Goldbergs #24 "Love is a Mixtape" (September 24, 2014)
After an uneven start, The Goldbergs found its stride midway through its first season. ABC wisely upgraded it to Wednesday nights and it started off season two with a bang. In a true 80s storyline, Adam (Sean Giambrone) makes a mix tape for his new girlfriend, but smothering mother Beverly (Wendi McLendon-Covey) gets her hands on it and mistakenly thinks it's for her, leading to a hilarious sequence of events. The fact that the song heard over and over again on the tape was the super cheesy 80s song "You're the Inspiration" by Chicago made it that much funnier. Yet, as always, The Goldbergs managed to be sentimental at the same time with a sweet ending. I'm so glad this show has found an audience on Wednesdays because it's a truly sweet family comedy.

11. Gotham #1 "Pilot" (September 22, 2014)
My favorite pilot of the year belonged to FOX's new Batman origin show, Gotham. No other show, drama or comedy, managed to define its tone and setting in episode one this year as well as Gotham did. From the noir look to the show with shady villains and a decaying city to the instantly dynamic performances from Robin Lord Taylor as the Penguin and Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney. The show set itself up well and left plenty of "Easter eggs" for Batman fans to find. Some reviews said they tried to do too much in the pilot but I disagree. I think a show like this needed to start with a bang and we all know that Gotham is a huge universe from comics, movies, etc. Gotham the show needed to portray that and it set the tone with its strong pilot.

10. Mom #30 "Free Therapy and a Dead Lady's Yardsale" (December 18, 2014)
In a year where the Ray Rice story dominated headlines for weeks, Mom dared to go where few sitcoms do: domestic abuse. The show has not been afraid of controversial storylines and it is tackling them within the confines of a traditional network sitcom. That is even more impressive to me than a niche cable show tackling the same issues. When Bonnie (Allison Janney) revealed to rebellious Violet (Sadie Calvano) that Christy (Anna Faris) was a victim of domestic abuse from Violet's father, the characters had to deal with some harsh realities and it brought them closer together. Of course, it wrapped the episode in comedy, but it also wasn't afraid to get serious and not in a sentimental way. I said in #14 that this show is a contemporary Roseanne and episodes like this just further that point.

9. How to Get Away with Murder #9 "Kill Me, Kill Me, Kill Me" (November 20, 2014)
What a thrill ride How to Get Away with Murder has been in its first nine episodes. While I have to suspend disbelief that they could tackle the number of court cases they did in one semester or resort to such shady tactics to get their way, it's a twisty show that has basically become Scandal in a college. That's not a slam though. For every serious drama, a fun and dark one like Murder is needed and star Viola Davis is elevating the whole show. The fall finale finally caught up to the flash forward we saw in the pilot. For a lot of the episode, I felt like it was a bit underwhelming because we had already seen so much of the flash forward in other episodes. All that changed in the final seconds of the episode when an insane twist involving Wes (Alfred Enoch) and Annalise (Davis) made me dying to find out what will happen next when it returns at the end of January.

8. The Middle #128 "The College Tour" (December 3, 2014)
Despite an uneven season so far, The Middle continues to be one of the most heartwarming sitcoms TV has seen in a long time. Two under-utilized relationships were the highlights of "The College Tour" - Frankie and Axl (Patricia Heaton and Charlie McDermott) and Mike and Sue (Neil Flynn and Eden Sher). Frankie goes to see Axl play in a college football game for the first time and ends up giving him some tips when things don't go well with the game or a potential girlfriend. Mike accompanies Sue on college tours and realizes just how much he'll miss her when she leaves. On top of the two sentimental and sweet stories, there was a very funny third story involving Brick (Atticus Shaffer) and multiple babysitters helping him with a school project. In short, this episode showed everything that's great about this underrated show.

7. New Girl #83 "LAXmas" (December 9, 2014)
No TV revelation this fall has been more enjoyable for me than the renaissance of New Girl. I was thisclose to to giving up on a show that was my favorite of the 2012-13 season because last season was such a disaster. But then this fall, the show ended the dreadful Nick/Jess relationship and got back to basics. I've been pleasantly surprised week after week and the best episode in more than a year came with the Christmas one. As the friends spent hours at the crowded LAX airport, we got hilarious bits that make New Girl so good: Nick (Jake Johnson) posing as an airport worker, Jess (Zooey Deschanel) being neurotic, Winston (Lamorne Morris) being weird, Schmidt and Cece (Max Greenfield and Hannah Simone) trying to be friends, and ultimately, friends coming together to help each other. I only hope that New Girl renaissance continues in 2015.

6. Gotham #7 "Penguin's Umbrella" (November 3, 2014)
After its brilliant pilot (see #11), Gotham went through a little bit of growing pains as it tried to reconcile a case of the week with the larger storylines going on at the same time. The most complete episode it has put together so far showed the promise of everything this show can be. It's no surprise that it's best episode primarily focused on Robin Lord Taylor as the Penguin. Taylor is giving as good a singular performance as any actor on any show as he has the mannerisms and evilness of the Penguin down perfectly. In this episode, we learn so much more about that character and then there's a delightful twist at the end of the episode that set this show up for many more stories.

5. The Goldbergs #23 "Livin' on a Prayer" (May 13, 2014)
The Goldbergs ended its first season on a very high note punctuated by the youth anthem of the 80s (and the title of the episode). Episodes dealing with Barry (Troy Gentile) are not always my favorite, but he was so easy to root for in this episode as he tried to have a massive party while the parents were out of town. Things didn't start well for perpetual loser Barry but his chance to have five minutes of heaven as Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" was blasting was directly tied to the other storyline: a sweet and slightly sad one that had Murray (Jeff Garlin) going back to his alma mater as a once celebrated basketball player. While Murray had to deal with the fact that he's not the high school basketball star he once was, he also empathized with Barry and his struggles to ever come close to that level. So after a very funny scene where the parents came home to the party, Barry got the night of his life (for five minutes) and the show's season ended with new levels of relationships explored between some of the main characters.

4. Chicago Fire #47 "Always" (September 23, 2014)
Chicago Fire's season premiere earns a spot on this list for not being afraid to take a chance by killing off one of the main characters. It would have seemed disingenuous for that to never happen in a show about firefighters but then again, most network shows don't take such chances (look at the Law & Order franchise). By killing off the beloved Leslie Shay (Lauren German), the show was able to move on to a new level. It allowed characters like Dawson and Severide (Monica Raymund and Taylor Kinney) to deal with the loss of their friend, and it allowed the show to move forward with new stories including promising new character Sylvie Brett (Kara Killmer). Chicago Fire deals with life and death issues every week. Most of the time, it deals with life as the firefighters make harrowing rescues, However, that is not always the reality of fires and the show decided not to take its audience for granted or treat them with kid gloves. I respect and admire that.

3. Blue Bloods #91 "Forgive and Forget" (October 3, 2014)
Blue Bloods is one of my favorite shows week in and week out but it often flies under the radar for me. It's probably the most consistent show on TV yet I have a hard time picking out favorite episodes (or maybe that's why). The best in a year of good episodes was "Forgive and Forget" - which dealt with issues all connected to the theme of the title. This was a great episode for my favorite duo on the show: Jamie and Eddie (Will Estes and Vanessa Ray) as they dealt with a cop in their precinct who had blown the whistle on another cop and was getting shunned. It also with a case for Danny (Donnie Wahlberg) and an old case that has resurfaced. Finally, Frank (Tom Selleck) continues to be the NYPD commissioner everyone wishes we had (much like we wish Jed Bartlett was the US President) as he respected a fellow cop and friend, while holding him responsible for his failings. In a year where the police force has been in the news constantly with high profile incidents in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City itself, this show has time and time again shown the value of good cops. That should be a sign to the many protestors that most in the police force should be respected and honored, and it should also show the police out there that they all must live up to a high standard.

2. Brooklyn Nine-Nine #13 "The Bet" (January 14, 2014)
I've already sung the praises of Brooklyn Nine-Nine (see #15) but my favorite episode of the year for this show was actually one of the first ones because it was all about the rivalry/secret affection between Jake and Amy. They make a bet over number of collars and Jake's win makes for a hilarious punishment for Amy: she must go on a date with him, which he proceeds to turn into the "worst date ever." However, their date is cut short when they have to go to a stakeout and we see the first signs of real feelings between them. Part of me wants this relationship to not ever become official because for each Leslie and Ben (Parks and Recreation), which elevate the show, there's a Nick/Jess (New Girl), which hurts the show. I'm more than fine with a slow burn... a couple episodes a year. Especially if they're as good as this one.

1. Parks and Recreation #111/112 "Moving Up" (April 24, 2014)
For the second time in three years, Parks and Recreation owns the top spot in my countdown. The sixth season finale felt like a series finale for most of the episode. As Pawnee held a unity concert with arch-rival Eagleton, Leslie debated taking a job with the National Parks Department (at the request of Michelle Obama in a cameo). Everything we love about Pawnee showed up in this episode including classic characters Jean-Ralphio, Mona Lisa, Joan Callamezzo, Councilman Jamm, Perd Hapley, and Tammy Two. The show ended with the whole gang getting ready to say goodbye to Leslie before she had an idea to bring her new job to Pawnee. Just when the episode felt like it was ending, it make a shocking three year time jump to 2017 and showed Leslie's new life, still in Pawnee, and featuring changes aplenty before its final season (as well as a cameo by Jon Hamm). Now, we head into the final season of this brilliant show (the show will double pump episodes starting January 13 and end its run in February) and it's still as fresh and funny as its ever been, I'm a bit nervous about the time jump but I'm also excited. The show told everything it could tell in its current format, which is why "Moving Up" felt like a series finale. It's quite possible the new season will make me wish it had another seven years. At the very least, an episode like "Moving Up" that features everything I love about a show, is a pretty perfect episode to put at the top of my list. Who knows, maybe it'll get three out of four years at #1 when my 2015 episode list comes out.

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