I've never liked doing year-end best-of lists for a number of reasons. I don't feel qualified, for one. As a part-time critic I don't see or even sample every show. I also find that I enjoy shows that definitely aren't "the best" technically, but are so fun and entertaining, like Fox's silly "Sleepy Hollow," that they have me coming back week after week. If a show brings so much joy to one making a list, doesn't it deserve to be on said list?
Anyway, the powers that be at RedEye tell me people love lists, and shut up and make yours. So here goes.
I'll start with the also-rans that on any given day might had made the top 10, but today land right here in my list of shows to thank for a good time this year: "Game of Thrones" on HBO, "Foyle's War" and "Downton Abbey" on PBS, "Strike Back" on Cinemax, "A Young Doctor's Notebook" on Ovation, "The Fall" and "Derek" on Netflix, "The Walking Dead" on AMC, "The Americans" on FX, "Scandal" on ABC, "Broadchurch" and "Doctor Who" on BBC America, "Raising Hope," "Fringe" and "Sleepy Hollow" on Fox, "Veep" on HBO, "Wilfred" and "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia" on FXX, "The Wrong Mans" on Hulu, "Vikings" on History and "Top of the Lake" on Sundance.
I'm probably forgetting something, so all apologies. Here's my top 10, in no particular order. Worth noting is how many shows from Netflix and smaller cable channels made the list. You can find quality all over the place these days.
Orange Is the New Black
Wacth now: Netflix
I have to admit that when I first heard about this "women's prison story," I thought of those tacky 1970s movies set in women's prisons—or the infamous "Charlie's Angels" episode. So it took me awhile to get to Jenji Kohan's scathing comedy, but I'm glad I did. With humor, heart and great drama, Kohan captures the fascinating stories of black, Hispanic and LGBT inmates. Oh, and white, upper-middle-class Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), who is in the joint with them. Kohan and her actors of various ages and races pulled off a real surprise: They proved viewers want stories that cut across racial, class, gender, sexuality and national lines.
House of Cards
Watch now: Netflix
I didn't expect David Fincher's riveting redo of the British miniseries to be anything other than great, but it still surprised me. Kevin Spacey's silver-tongued, slippery Rep. Frank Underwood broke the fourth wall and spoke directly to viewers, forcing them to be co-conspirators in his psychopathic schemes. It's a cynical depiction of Washington politics that suggests Americans allow such shenanigans to happen by blissfully ignoring them. Spacey was chilling as a man who has sold his soul for power, but Robin Wright's stirring performance as Frank's conniving partner-wife was downright icy. That's a power couple I wouldn't want to cross, but can't wait to see more.
Watch now: Netflix
After seven years of hopes, hype and high anticipation, "Arrested Development" returned with a fourth season to Netflix. And then the bitching began. Where's the funny? Its there, just spread out over several seemingly disconnected episodes that focused on individual characters. Big events are replayed from different viewpoints to reveal parallel, overlapping stories involving the crazy Bluth family members, the University of Phoenix, an ostrich farm, Fakeblock and many clever Easter eggs. Sure, Mitch Hurwitz and company altered the cult classic to fit the binge-watching medium, but viewers should take another look at what remains a deliriously unique show.
Where to watch it: Final season on iTunes, Amazon; earlier seasons on Netflix.
What is there to say that hasn't already been said? Walter White, and "Breaking Bad" fans, got the ending they longed for and deserved. Vince Gilligan finished his deservedly praised series with a set of searing episodes that people still are talking about. Bryan Cranston also delivered, making us care about Walt even more when he admitted the truth about his reasons for building a meth empire to his wife and himself. "I did it for me," he said. "I liked it. I was good at it, and I was, really—I was alive." Everything about this show was as great as your friends say.