Top 10 TV Episodes of 2014, Part 2

13 Jan

7. South Park- “The Cissy”

Who woulda thunk South Park would still be relevant in its 18th season? But it is, though as always it’s an uneven animal. I think I liked this season more than most, due in large part to the mild serialization and the extra bit of heart. This episode was one that had some heart, with the message basically being “you’re a dick if having a transgender person share a bathroom with you is really such a big deal.” South Park is generally gross and silly and dumb, but it is progressive, and this was an ep that presented its progressive theme more elegantly than most.

But what I really loved about the episode was the Randy subplot, and the clever way the show responded to some of the more bizarre criticism it’s ever received. By now everyone who follows pop culture knows about “Lorde ya ya ya,” so I won’t go into too much detail, I just want to point out how shrewd it was. Spin Magazine made unfounded critique and rather than let them get away with it, Parker and Stone decided to rub it in by turning their weird interpretation of the previous episode—that Randy is actually Lorde—into an actual plotline. This culminates in an amazing montage set to a Lorde-esque jam performed by Sia, using Randy’s actual dumb “feeling good on a Wednesday lyrics.” Topical, serialized and absurdist? I approve.

6. Sherlock- “The Sign of Three”

Credit- whichever teen girl drew this dashing portrait. Those cheekbones… so dreamy…

I think I might be a Cumberbitch. Though I’m not a Sherlock Holmes expert, every time I watch this show I wonder if there is a truer representation of the character than his. Sure, this is a modernized Sherlock, a “borderline sociopath” and not just, you know, a really smart asshole, but still, Cumberbatch’s performance just feels so authentic.

I came in late to the Sherlock game and by the time I got around to watching the most recent season, I had already heard all the complaints. They didn’t satisfyingly explain how Sherlock survived Reichenbach Falls. Sure, but did you really expect them to? They devoted a whole episode to a wedding. Yeah, but the “case of the week” was actually really interesting, the episode was emotional and mad me a bit misty, and it was well-written. Sherlock murdered a guy. I think the series has been pretty clear from the get-go that Sherlock operates with a moral compass smudged by soot. Plus, in the pilot John more or less murders a guy and Sherlock says in so many words, “that’s cool, I have no problem with that and I’ll cover for you,” so I think it’s well-established that this is a character who is okay with killing in the appropriate scenario.

Look, it wasn’t a perfect season and I doubt the show will ever retain the highs of its first two iterations, but this was well-written, effective drama. Sherlock’s Best Man speech was genuinely touching and the case was fascinating, featuring a killer with a particularly creepy modus operandi. I imagine what turned a lot of people off from Sherlock in Season 3 was how over-the-top it had become, but I’m more willing than most to forgive excess in my entertainment. The montage of past cases, most notably “The Elephant in the Room,” pitched me into fits of laughter, but I could totally see a more serious-minded person groaning and wondering why the show’s balance between drama and comedy had shifted so far to the right.

Whether you loved it or loathed it, I think every fan can agree this show is delectably entertaining, as rich as clotted cream.

God, I love that shit.

Even when I have criticisms—a lot of twists, i.e. how Sherlock survived Moriarty’s endgame, Mary’s true identity, undermine past scenes—I find myself longing for another episode. If anything, Moffatt and Gatiss always convince us to come back for more. And that theme song! My wife will tell you that since watching Season 3, I’ve been humming it incessantly. Do-doo, do-doo-doo-doo, do-DOO-DOO. So catchy. So Sherlock.

5. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.- “What They Become”

Ah, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., a glorified marketing tool for the next Avengers movie that somehow becameone of my favorite shows. Many still do not believe me when I say S.H.I.E.L.D. has finally gotten good and I don’t blame them. For the better half of its first season, it was an uneven, lazy procedural that had very little to do with the Marvel Cinematic Universe or superheroes in general. There was an ensemble cast but it was unclear if anyone outside of The Avengers’ Phil Coulson would prove to be compelling, and Coulson spent most of the season trying to figure out why he wasn’t dead, with no success.

The show got good when the titular spy agency collapsed due to the Hyrda conspiracy depicted in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Finally the show had purpose, and it continued its winning streak in season 2, when it essentially became a S.H.I.E.L.D. vs Hydra series. Daniel Whitehall, while trite, proved a formidable villain, and the mystery of Skye’s true origins finally transformed her into a useful addition to the cast. The first season tried to pull a FarScape, by having Skye act as an audience cipher to the world of S.H.I.E.L.D. Whoa, what are all these crazy gadgets?! she’d say, and we’d roll our eyes. She was supposed to be the best hacker this side of Angelina Jolie, but never seemed to contribute to missions.

In Season 2, Skye is no longer the protagonist, in fact she is less a character than a plot device. Who is Skye is the question of the day, not Why Do I Care About Skye. I care about Skye because I want to know who she is. Meanwhile, Coulson transitioned from Elder Mentor Archetype to the main character, and the show was the better for it. The truth behind his resurrection was finally revealed and quickly wrapped up in satisfying fashion.

The winter finale brought many plot threads to a head and opened up a world of possibilities for 2015. While Skye shooting Ward was a highlight (character development!), the real star of “What They Become” was her deranged father, played by Kyle MachLachlan. MachLachlan, a terrific actor, knows when and where to chew the scenery, and just how much he needs to bite off. Bill Paxton’s Agent Garrett was fun in Season 1, but he took it too far in some scenes.

Bill Pullman and Bill Paxton are the same person. OPEN YOUR EYES, SHEEPLE.

MachLachlan can balance an over-the-top performance with real emotional nuance, making the long-awaited meeting with his daughter the series’ best scene to date. He steals the show wherever he goes (love him as the Mayor on Portlandia) and no more so than on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. My only request for Season 2.5 is Moar Kyle MachLachlan.

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