A&E

[Year-End Issue: Critics' Picks]

Best of 2014: TV

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Cold war hotness: The Americans topped Josh Bell’s TV list for the second straight year.

1. The Americans (FX) The second season of the drama about Cold War Soviet spies in the American suburbs was even better than the first, with slow-burning suspense and dread sustained over the course of all 13 episodes, and culminating in a devastating finale.

2. Mad Men (AMC) Heading into its home stretch, Matthew Weiner’s exploration of the ennui of ad executives remains inventive and uncompromising, delving even further into the existential despair of main character Don Draper (the always excellent Jon Hamm).

3. Orange Is the New Black (Netflix) It’s the most diverse show on TV (online), not only in terms of race, gender and sexuality, but also in terms of storytelling, revealing the world of a minimum-security women’s prison as one of the most fruitful grounds for exploring the spectrum of humanity.

4. Fargo (FX) Who would have thought that a TV-series version of the beloved, near-perfect 1996 Coen brothers movie would succeed, let alone turn out to be almost as darkly funny and heartbreakingly sweet as its cinematic inspiration?

5. You’re the Worst (FX) In a year full of half-hearted romantic comedies, the caustic, daring You’re the Worst easily stood out as the best, managing to be simultaneously cynical and hopeful about romance, embodied in its two misanthropic protagonists, pompous British writer Jimmy (Chris Geere) and self-destructive music publicist Gretchen (Aya Cash).

You're the Worst

6. Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox) The most consistently funny show on TV is also often one of the most heartwarming, delivering laughs and camaraderie among the endearingly goofy cops in Brooklyn’s quirkiest precinct.

7. Jane the Virgin (The CW) This telenovela adaptation started from a ridiculous premise (a virginal 23-year-old is accidentally knocked up via artificial insemination) to become a mix of clever self-awareness and earnest emotion, with one of the most likably flawed (and just plain likable) heroines on TV.

Jane the Virgin

8. The Knick (Cinemax) Filmmaker Steven Soderbergh left movies behind to direct the entire first season of this gripping (and not for the squeamish) medical drama set in New York City in 1900, which explores frontiers of both science and morality.

9. Faking It (MTV) Like Jane the Virgin, this comedy started with a ridiculous premise (two teenage best friends pretend to be a lesbian couple in order to boost their popularity), only to turn into one of the most honest, inclusive and exuberant shows on TV, with surprising insight into what it means to discover your true identity—sexual and otherwise.

10. Masters of Sex (Showtime) The symbolism on this historical drama can be frustratingly blunt, but its characters are well-drawn, and its chronicle of the groundbreaking sex research by William Masters and Virginia Johnson is detailed and fascinating.

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Josh Bell

Josh Bell is the film editor for Las Vegas Weekly, where he's been writing movie and TV reviews since 2002. ...

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