It’s once again time for me to share my unsolicited opinions on the pop culture that brought a smile to my face over the past year. I’ll start with television, which is fast becoming my preferred medium for complex storytelling.
The sheer quantity of TV worth watching this year left me and my TiVo feeling a little overwhelmed. Personal favorites like Game of Thrones and The Americans continued to be compelling (that GoT episode depicting a particularly cinematic battle on the Wall is better than anything Peter Jackson has done with the entirety of the ill-conceived Hobbit trilogy) while Fargo completely surprised me with a series that outshines the original Coen brothers’ movie in terms of character and plot.
In any other year, True Detective would have been my favorite show of the year. It generously borrows from the literary traditions of noir and Southern Gothic, but the combined talents of Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey give heft to the pulpy material. The show establishes a foreboding sense of dread that never lifts (despite the rather pat ending). I’m rewatching the series now and I’m still struck by the quality of the writing and the assured direction.
But this was also the year of The Knick, a show that revitalized the medical drama by sending it into the past. And I loved every blood-soaked minute of it. This show has it all: an impressively mustachioed Clive Owen playing an arrogant surgeon with a cocaine habit, Andre Holland as an African-American surgeon who can barely tolerate the casual and vicious racism surrounding him, gory surgical procedures, shocking violence, forbidden sex, nuanced supporting characters, and a Cliff Martinez electronic score that captures the chaotic dawn of the 20th century in New York City. It wasn’t like anything else on television, an impressive feat given the embarrassment of riches in 2014.