Bullz-Eye’s 2014 TV Power Rankings


With “Breaking Bad” wrapping up after five brilliant seasons, the top spot in our annual TV power rankings has finally opened up for the rest of the field. But AMC gets the nod for the best television show again this year as “The Walking Dead” edges out HBO’s “True Detective” on our list.

The list is dominated again by cable TV dramas, which seem to have surpassed movies in popularity. Streaming and binge watching have contributed to this trend, but it all starts with the quality of the programming. You’ll find some of the best writing, directing and acting talent on television these days, and often the quality of the storytelling surpasses the best that a film industry obsessed with blockbusters, superheroes and sequels can muster.

We’ve kept the spoilers to a minimum, but you might want to skip over some of the write-ups if you’re behind on a particular series, as we naturally refer to recent events.

1. “The Walking Dead”

Some fans have complained about the deliberate pace of this show when the gang sought temporary refuge at the farm and prison, but the tension built during these lulls always led to a bigger payoff when all hell inevitably broke loose. In the current fifth season, that payoff came quickly with jarring episodes that kicked off with the battle at Terminus and the confrontation with the hunters. The end of the world offers countless opportunities to explore how survivors might deal with a zombie apocalypse, and the writers have done a great job telling this story over the first five seasons. It’s currently the best and most consistent show on television.


2. “True Detective”

This was by far the most intriguing and talked about show of 2014, featuring epic performances by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. It also didn’t hurt to have sexy and provocative turns by beautiful actresses such as Alexandra Daddario, Lili Simmons and Michelle Monaghan. The dark tone was set in part through the use of flashbacks to a 1995 serial killer investigation framed in the context of interviews with the two primary detectives, with McConaughey’s intense Rust Cohle looking and acting like a burned out alcoholic as he told his part of the story. Yet after so much tension and anticipation was built up through the season, the ending was surprisingly predictable in some ways and incomprehensible in others. Still, the letdown at the end didn’t diminish the creepy and fascinating ride along the way.


3. “Game of Thrones”

This show pretty much has everything, including great action, intrigue, sex and dragons. Our only quibble is the sheer number of characters and storylines, leaving less screen time for favorite characters like Tyrion and Arya. Bran’s character, for example, went from fascinating to boring pretty quickly. All the supernatural stuff surrounding his character will no doubt be important in the long run, but the road to wherever he’s going has been a snoozer of late. Fortunately, there are reports we won’t be seeing him in the upcoming Season Five, though we’ll get a heavy dose of Cersei instead.


4. “Masters of Sex”

Sex sells, particularly on cable TV, and period shows have also become very popular, so everyone at Showtime who contributed to getting this show on the schedule deserves a pat on the back. How can a drama about the most significant sex study of all time set in the stylish 1950s not succeed? It helps that the show has been executed beautifully, from the performances of the cast led by Lizzy Caplan and Michael Sheen, to the costume design and the writing. Season Two wasn’t quite as good as the first, and the jumps in time seemed very forced, but it’s still one of the better shows out there.


5. “House of Cards”

Just how dark can this show get? After a fabulous first season, Frank Underwood ratchets things up immediately at the beginning of Season Two. Losing Zoe Barnes so early took away one of the more interesting characters, though we were happy to see more screen time for lovely Rachel Brosnahan as troubled Rachel. Also, the Raymond Tusk storyline became boring at times. Still, Kevin Spacey is brilliant in the lead role, and you can’t help but binge-watch this show as soon as it hits Netflix.


6. “The Americans”

The tensions between Phillip and Elizabeth that dominated Season One were put on pause for the most part in Season Two, as they were confronted with the death of another KGB couple and began to grapple with the reality of protecting their own family. Meanwhile, FBI agent Beeman gets in way too deep with Nina. With only two seasons in the books, it isn’t too late to get caught up on this excellent spy drama before the third season kicks off in early 2015.


7. “Homeland”

The explosive Brody/Carrie story was must-see TV for the first two seasons, but something that burned that hot proved to be hard to sustain over the long haul. Season Three was a mess as they tried to wrap up that relationship in a way that made sense, and this fall, they pretty much started over in Season Four. Now it’s just an intense show about the CIA fighting the war against global terrorism, but with Carrie, Quinn and Saul leading the charge, it’s still one of the best shows out there.


8. “Mad Men”

The novelty has worn off with “Mad Men,” but it’s still one of the top dramas on television. Things got pretty tough for Don in the first half of the final season, but at least we can all move on now from Megan (that was getting old), and Jim Cutler’s power play blew up in his face. The final seven episodes should be worth the wait.


9. “Fargo”

The bar was set very high with the 1996 classic from the Coen brothers, but this reimagined version starring Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman and Allison Tolman was worthy of the title. Here’s Ross Ruediger’s take from his DVD review: “On paper, ‘Fargo’ sounds dreadfully pedestrian: A 10-episode reimagining of the iconography and ideas laid down by the Coen brothers nearly 20 years ago in their Academy Award-winning film of the same name. This is the sort of thing that just shouldn’t be tampered with, right? Apparently not, as in practice this TV version is so smart, so tight and so engaging that it all but makes one forget the movie entirely, and to be sure, that’s not a statement that was typed lightly.”


10. “Episodes”

This show doesn’t get a ton of buzz, but it’s one of the few shows that will make you laugh out loud on a regular basis. Matt LeBlanc is hilarious playing a cartoonish version of himself as a selfish prick, and that alone makes this a show worth watching. It’s set in Hollywood with two relatively sane British writers dealing with the insanity of the television business. The rest of the wacky cast offers up some laughs, but none of this would work without LeBlanc’s smartass character carrying the show.


There are plenty of great shows that didn’t crack the top ten, and we can enthusiastically recommend shows like “Shameless,” “Justified,” “Derek,” “Downton Abbey” and “Vikings.”

Meanwhile, some old favorites dropped off our list…

“Sons of Anarchy”

How much melodrama can you cram into one show about outlaw bikers? Quite a bit, it turns out. The frenetic twists and turns and countless “shocking” developments grabbed our attention in the early seasons, but now we’re just numb to it all. The Sons can still be very entertaining at times, and we still care about most of the characters, but we stuck around through the last season just to see how it all ends. Unfortunately, the ending was a mess with all the tortured symbolism around Jax’s bizarre farewell.


“The Newsroom”

We loved this show when it first came out. It had everything (good and bad) you would expect from an Aaron Sorkin drama, while offering an idealistic take on what we should expect from a cable news channel. He gave us some great characters, starting with Will McAvoy and MacKenzie McHale, who Sorkin used to explain everything that was wrong with cable news today using his signature fast-paced dialogue. But the show slipped quite a bit in its second season as Sorkin let go of his entire writing team and then constructed an entire season around a botched, fictional news story. The contrived “Genoa” fiasco was a poor substitute for using real news stories as a backdrop. Sorkin then wrapped up the show this fall in a brief third season, as he tried to take on clickbait journalism in a clumsy attempt to turn the traditional cable news gang into heroes. In interviews, Sorkin said he was just learning how to write this show and wishes he could go back and redo the whole series. Unfortunately, he’d probably screw up season Season One, so we’re happy to have him leave it alone. At least the last episode wrapped things up nicely.