1. “Mad Men”

“Are you ready? Because I want you to pay attention. This is the beginning of something.” -Freddy Rumsen

And a superb beginning it was. The first half of “Mad Men” ’s final season took unprecedented risks, exposing the fear and uncertainty of the late 1960s and using it to color seven episodes of character study. The ad execs we came to love over the past seven seasons began to lose their sway; the voices of old, rich white dudes faded to obsolescence in the wake of changing racial and technological tides. With all the cultural turmoil, it’s no wonder the men of SC&P started to go a little mad. Some took LSD, some got a California tan; some cut off their nipples, put them in a box and gave them to a friend.

“Mad Men” is never predictable, but surely these seven episodes indicated the “beginning of something” – a gorgeous and compelling fall to the finale.

-Chloe Gilke

2. “The Good Wife”

“The Good Wife” continued to blow away audiences in 2014, from the tail end of season five to its season six mid-season finale. With razor-sharp writing and a newly-trained focus on character, Michele and Robert King’s legal and political drama proved that Will’s death was a springboard into new narrative heights. Its brilliance showed, sweeping up a bevy of awards at the Emmys and Golden Globes.

Season six saw Alicia move out of her grieving funk and make the decision to run for State Attorney (plus a Gloria Steinem cameo!). Cary’s long criminal trial heartbreakingly unfolded; and after the January premiere, viewers will have only a handful of episodes to savor Kalinda before she departs. Indeed, the writers’ treatment of Kalinda has been the weakest part of the show as of late, but if Will’s departure has shown anything, “The Good Wife” is a constantly evolving and flexible show.

-Catherine Sulpizio

3. “Orange is the New Black”

Netflix once again succeeds in dominating our lives. For 13 straight hours of our summer, we became introverts, never peeling our eyes from the screen, captivated by “Orange is the New Black”’s sophomore season.

The series brings a stigmatized, condemned community of convicts to the forefront – illuminating a complexity and humanity behind their crimes. The show teaches us to be empathetic, and gives insight into characters behind the superficial. It forces us to be introspective, and demands that we analyze the human condition as well as the despicable, yet neglected, failures of institutionalization. In the second season, creator Jenji Kohan shifts the show’s narrative attention to individuality, an aspect that makes the show relatable despite its unconventional characters. The character development is fluid, and the season focuses on portraying the multi-dimensionality in not only Piper, but in the secondary and tertiary characters, too.

“Orange is the New Black” is progressive, emotional, enlightening – and certainly one of the best television programs of the past year.

-Karen Hua

4. “Game of Thrones”

Consistent oversight by the Emmys isn’t hurting the ascension of “Game of Thrones” into a pop-culture phenomenon. This past season included some of the series’ strongest moments and maintained an average viewership of 18.6 million across all platforms.

The show continues to chart new territory in the realm of genre and television. Despite living in a world populated by dragons, “Game of Thrones” ’s characters ditch clichés in favor of astute psychological realism. The visuals, from the effects to the cinematography, rival the vast majority of big-budget blockbusters. In every frame, an inescapable feeling of unease and dread plays the nerves of the audience like a fiddle.

The multi-cultural, multi-talented cast and crew have rendered one of the finest screen adaptations of a source material in recent memory.

-Drew Maron

5. “True Detective”

In an industry flooded with crime shows and bound by yellow caution tape, it takes a certain ingenuity to make a whodunit series stand out. First, it needs a brilliant storyteller to weave in the twisting plots that we crave, someone like novelist-turned-screenwriter Nic Pizzolatto. Then add two Hollywood big-shots with a penchant for darker projects, like Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. The result is “True Detective,” HBO’s groundbreaking series that follows detectives Rust (McConaughey) and Marty (Harrelson) in their search for a serial killer with a fetish for sacrificing women in the willowy plains of Louisiana.

What differentiates “True Detective” from other crime shows is not its frontrunners’ edgy chemistry. It’s because it has an expiration date. Each season brings a different cast and story. Season two, airing this summer, will feature Colin Farrell, Vince Vaughn and Rachel McAdams, and will be set in California.

-Hailey Middlebrook

6. “Fargo”

Taking the name and broad story arc of an Academy Award-winning film demands high expectations. Somehow, “Fargo” exceeded even its highest prospects. The show followed the friendship of Lorne Malvo (brought to life magnificently by Billy Bob Thornton) after he meets Lester Nygaard (played brilliantly by Martin Freeman) in a hospital waiting room. Noah Hawley built the story slowly, using tension and release gloriously. He made beautiful use of the setting, using the idea of “Minnesota nice” to create quirky tones, and using the snowy backdrop to construct nail-biting sequences like shootouts in blinding snowstorms. “Fargo” also spotlighted newcomer Allison Tolman, who gives the breakout performance of the year as Molly, the cop who investigates Malvo and Nygaard. In 2014, “Fargo” ’s distinct sensibility and fantastic storytelling propelled it to the top of the pack.

-Alex Intner

7. “Broad City”

In a year of great new TV shows, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer’s freshman comedy was the most honest and refreshing of the lot. Based off their hit web series of the same name, the series followed fictionalized versions of Abbi and Ilana – 20-something slackers with shitty jobs and endless bags of weed. Jacobson and Glazer’s endless chemistry gave an emotional backbone to even the most ridiculous of plotlines. Everything Abbi and Ilana did was overblown and hysterical, and their friendship was no exception. They loved each other with fierceness and passion that felt perfectly authentic for those of us who’ve had the privilege of blazing through downtown with a hoodie and a cloudy consciousness. A show with heart and dick jokes? Season two can’t come fast enough.

-Chloe Gilke

8. “How to Get Away with Murder”

“How to Get Away with Murder,” headed by executive producer and “Grey’s Anatomy” queen Shonda Rhimes, became one of this year’s hottest new series after a fast-paced premiere and subsequent hair-raising episodes. The show’s secret to success lies not so much in the “whodunit” aspect of the murder mystery, but rather in the psychologically thrilling mind games and tantalizing clue reveals. All culminated in a finale with one of the most electrifying plot twists on television this year.

“How to Get Away with Murder” merits a spot on this list for its contributions to conversations about diverse representation on television. It features a female African American protagonist – a brilliant, tough and terrifying law professor and defense attorney Annalise Keating – who subverts and shatters the “angry black woman” stereotype. Davis is the main draw of the show, producing stunning performances and nuanced acting skills throughout the season. The show also includes several sex scenes that involve homosexual characters, and when this drew conservative criticism on social media, Rhimes replied, “There are no gay scenes. There are scenes with people in them.”

-Sophia Kaufman

9. “Hannibal”

Few series capture the true nature of horror as effectively as “Hannibal.” In this past year’s season, terror went beyond the physical, as terrifying beauty seeped into the characters’ mental state. Troubled protagonist Will Graham engaged in a disturbing game of cat and mouse with the title killer, played to chilling perfection by co-lead Mads Mikkelsen. The pair’s twisted relationship blurred the borders between friends and enemies, as the two grew closer while their conflict paradoxically escalated.

All this led to the brilliantly executed finale “Mizumono,” where Hannibal asserted full control. Will and his few allies, Jack Crawford and Alana Bloom, exuded a desperation as the three entered Lecter’s house in a desperate bid to stop a monster. As each one fell and Hannibal walked away free – the show again exemplified its dark nature, where the villain doesn’t just get away, he triumphs.

-Matthew Barnauskas

10. “Louie”

There’s no other show on television like “Louie.” Thanks to Louis C.K.’s ability to make the series with a small budget, FX has given him complete creative freedom. It’s hard to imagine any other comedy working a six-part episode about the relationship between Louie, a fictionalized version of C.K. and his Hungarian neighbor – otherwise known as a one-hour recollection of Louie’s experience stealing scales for a drug dealer. This season also delivered one of this year’s best episodes of television in “So Did the Fat Lady.” The episode follows Louie’s date with an overweight woman played by Sarah Baker, whose monologue closed the episode tackled the subject of obesity with true intelligence and wit. C.K.’s unique perspective and willingness to try different types of storytelling lead to a gem of a show that’s one of the most important on television.

-Alex Intner

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