Monday, December 22, 2014

The Besties: The Best New TV Shows Of 2014

The Best New TV Shows of 2014

This is no longer the Golden Age of TV - those strained years when TV producers and TV networks tried to one up each other with mixed results by bettering shows like The Sopranos, Mad Men and Breaking Bad with wonderfully complex storylines and unusual and often tragic characters.

No, in 2014, TV viewers witnessed something better, the Golden Age of Content where programs have been elevated to a new level of compelling and beautifully produced shows that can be found any time of day, on any devise and in any genre. Take your pick. Find your platform. There's outstanding content right then and there.

Which is why this year's The Besties - our 4th annual choices for best new shows - has been expanded with our staff and contributing editors Shari Anne Brill and David Williams choosing the best comedies, dramas and miniseries (see additional articles below). Plus, here, for the first time, TVFirstLook has chosen the 12 new TV shows that had the greatest impact on TV in 2014 and will continue to influence what we watch for years to come.

12. The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

Jimmy Fallon
Whether or not you like Jimmy Fallon's brand of humor, like parodying musicians such as Bruce Springsteen, he has achieved what was unthinkable just one year ago. Jimmy has made NBC's Tonight Show his own show, since taking the mantle from Jay Leno in February, and improbably improved the ratings for what was already late night's No. 1 show.

Tonight, now taped in New York City, has a markedly younger vibe than Jay's Tonight Show, notably with house band The Roots.

More remarkable, in the increasingly competitive late night landscape with hit shows on ABC, CBS and several cable networks, Jimmy's Tonight Show's adult 18-49 rating is up 29% from this time last year. And that rating is about equal to the combined rating for ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live and CBS's Late Show with David Letterman.

The Besties 2014: Drama

Showtime's Just-Concluded The Affair is 2014's Best New Drama
Shari Anne Brill and Staff, TVFirstLook

There are so many reasons to love Showtime's The Affair, but at least some of its appeal is watching British actors Dominic West and Ruth Wilson wonderfully and improbably portray two New Yorkers who meet each other on Long Island.

Dominic, whose American accent gets wobbly at times, is Noah, a married dad who's on the verge of a new chapter in his life when his first novel is published. Yet, or perhaps because of that he risks losing that opportunity and much more when he meets Ruth's Alison, a waitress. Ruth is perfect in the role.

The Besties 2014: Miniseries

True Detective is the Best of TV's Bumper Crop of Masterful Miniseries
David Williams, TVFirstLook

It has been a phenomenal year for TV miniseries, and no title exemplifies this more than HBO's True Detective, its heavily atmospheric journey through the bayou into the heart of darkness.

Putting aside the show’s tremendous overall quality, True Detective’s place in the popular American consciousness alone makes it the most significant miniseries of 2014. It borrowed from renowned literature (Robert Chambers’ "The King in Yellow"). Internet forums were filled with viewers heatedly debating the identity of the “Yellow King.” It’s even had the distinction of being lampooned on Comedy Central’s South Park and Key and Peele.

The Besties 2014: Comedy

John Oliver Stands Out in a Strong Group of New Comedies in 2014
Shari Anne Brill, TVFirstLook

HBO's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver is my choice for the best new comedy on TV in 2014. When the show launched earlier this year, many pundits figured it would be just be an edgier version of the show that inspired it, Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, where John had been a contributor and guest host. What it has turned out to be, I am so happy to say, is a great show in a class by itself.

The half-hour show takes the previous days’ news and makes it new again. John's political commentary is razor sharp and often laugh-out-loud funny. But there also are moments when John's commentary incites anger and sometimes tears.

Many of these segments are quite long, as much as 15 minutes in length. Yet, he keeps us engaged through humor and in many instances he ends the segment with an inspiring “call to action.”

But what elevates Last Week above the ordinary is its focus on under-reported issues.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Preview: The Affair

The Best New Drama of 2014 Wraps Its First Thrilling Season

Ruth Wilson
From the very first moments of Showtime's The Affair with the incredible Dominic West playing a New York City school teacher and husband who's on the brink of a massive change in his life - the riches of becoming a first-time novelist or, as we learned as the season progressed, a jailed killer - it was clear that this is a show that could very well be the best new drama of 2014. As it turns out, The Affair is the best new drama, as you'll see on Monday on TVFirstLook's annual The Besties - the best new shows of the year.

There's a lot to love about The Affair. Dominic absolutely nails his performance as a man deeply in love with his wife and children but also with the Hamptons waitress he has a fling with.

That's Alison, portrayed by Ruth Wilson in a role that could've been a one-note depiction of an unhappy wife. But, Ruth has emerged over the season as the break-out star of The Affair. Her Alison is a wounded would-be mother whose relationship with her husband has become a consensual two-way punishment, more than the innocent love it had once been. Although, you can still see glimmers of that in Ruth's eyes.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Late Night: Late Show With David Letterman

Letterman's Big Christmas Show is His Last One

Each year for about three decades, including 20 years on CBS's Late Show, David Letterman has put on a big, flashy Christmas show with dozens of performers singing Christmas songs and just rocking out. Last night was no exception, except that it was Dave's last Christmas show (although, musical sidekick and annual guest Darlene Love say they'll put on a live show next Christmas). Check out a clip from last night's show.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Late Night: Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson

Craig Ferguson's Final Show Tonight is Sadder Than Colbert's Finale

photo: CBS
Last night, after nine years hosting late night show The Colbert Report on Comedy Central, Stephen Colbert bid that show a fond farewell with an amazingly diverse group of singers (from Big Bird to newsman Charlie Rose) gathering as they might for "We Are the World" to say goodbye. It was great. And it marked an incredible transition for Colbert who'll take over David Letterman's Late Show on CBS in a few months.

But, tonight, when Craig Ferguson ends his run as Letterman's follow up on CBS's Late Late Show (12:35am) it'll be quite a bit sadder. We know we'll still have Stephen. But Craig, who's smart, witty and delivers a one-of-a-kind standup, has a less clear future.

Oh, sure, there's his game show Celebrity Name Game, which will likely return for a second season next fall. But a talked-about half-hour talk show in the evening - probably to air in 2015 on Tribune Media-owned stations - isn't a sure bet to move forward.

We'll miss you, Craig. Hope to see you sitting beside a gay robot in the near future.

Preview: A Home For The Holidays

Celebrating Christmas with Families Who've Adopted Kids Out of Foster Care

Each year at Christmastime, CBS celebrates families who have adopted a few of the 400,000 kids in the foster care system, with musical performances and stories told by some of these families and the kids they adopted.

It's a moving and touching special, which CBS puts on in association with the late Wendy's founder Dave Thomas' Foundation for Adoption and the Children's Action Network.

A Home for the Holidays (9pm) this year includes performances by Jennifer Hudson, Train and Katharine McPhee.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Preview: Red Planet Rover

If NASA Finds Evidence of Life on Mars Discovery Channel Will Be There

Space agency NASA appears to be on the brink of discovering the most concrete evidence yet that life once existed on Mars, with its Curiosity rover this week detecting organic material on the red planet. Discovery Channel cameras are with the rover as the network will highlight tonight on Red Planet Rover (10pm).

Preview: Conan To Go

Conan O'Brien's Best-Of Bits Hit Primetime TV

The current late-night TV shake up that includes NBC icing Jay Leno as Tonight Show host, and replacement Jimmy Fallon improbably pumping up that No. 1 show's ratings, and CBS kicking David Letterman and Craig Ferguson to the curb was triggered almost five years ago by NBC's earthquakian debacle of replacing Jay Leno with Conan O'Brien. Then, worse, canning Conan.

(Clip from Conan.)

It wasn't pretty. But it did end up well, as it turns out, with a revitalized late-night TV scene and Conan in 2010 signing a deal with TBS, where way down the dial he and sidekick Andy Richter are churning out some of late night's funniest bits and celebrity interviews.

Tonight at 10pm on Conan To Go, Conan takes on primetime with some of his funniest late-night skits.