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.
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