The Best Broadcast Network Shows of 2014

Jane the Virgin Still S01E09 - H 2014
Courtesy of The CW

Jane the Virgin Still S01E09 - H 2014

When awards season rolls around for the television industry, most of those in the broadcast network world know what's coming.


Cable — and now digital with Netflix and Amazon and sometimes Hulu — dominates the awards culture and Big Tent practitioners get ignored for the most part. But what network series do very differently from what cable series do — both in intent and execution — needs to be noticed. And celebrated. By dint of trying to appeal to the widest audience, "broad" content dominates, and broad content is often shallow. But the networks do a lot that's worthy of raves, not the least of which is entertaining people satisfactorily for 22 or 24 episodes every season. There's merit in that. And, historically, broadcast television has churned out better sitcoms (though recently, a shift toward cable sensibilities in comedy is reshaping that reputation). It's even hard these days to claim ratings dominance over cable. But broadcast shows play by the rules they're given — and often break through the restrictions. Here then, is a list of series working to stand out and making the most of it. My Best Network Series of 2014.

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1. Jane the Virgin. The CW. Impressively original, able to juggle the most complicated and shifting tone out there and fronted by the shockingly talented Gina Rodriguez and a large, immensely gifted cast, this was not only the feel-good story of the season, not only the best freshman show of the season, but also the best show on broadcast television and one of only three that made my overall best-of-2014 list. Hell, even the voiceover announcer is great on this show. It's time to watch.

2. Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Fox. So funny, so imaginative. Peopled with characters you want to spend time with every week, who also happen to be hilarious, every week.

3. The Roosevelts. PBS. Ken Burns probably deserves his own category. There is literally no one else doing this kind of consistently brilliant work with documentaries. He (and PBS, and those who work on these projects) is often taken for granted or overlooked. An American original.

4. Parks and Recreation. NBC. So much weird love here. So many great jokes, fully realized characters (Ron Swanson!) who could expand those call-back jokes through the years (Jerry!) and, bottom line, a heroine for the ages (Leslie Knope). Like other eventually great sitcoms, this one had a rough start (scratch the first five episodes of a six-episode first season). But after that? Brilliant. It will be missed.

5. The Good Wife. CBS. Enormously entertaining, solid every week and shot through with impressive performances, extra mention (and merit) should be given to the fact there are so many episodes each season.

6. The Flash. The CW. The kind of fun, quirkily different and surprisingly ambitious series that defines what a network show should be, while also fitting perfectly on the network that created it (an underappreciated feat).

7. The Goldbergs. ABC. Still vastly underrated for its consistent hilarity and grudging sweetness, this show nevertheless is busting out and making its mark — on the ‘80s and right now.

8. Bob's Burgers. Fox. Original and unexpected voice talent coupled with very strong, very funny writing has continued to elevate this wonderful little gem. This is broadcast network's new go-to leader in the animation world.

9. Elementary. CBS. It may not get the acclaim of Sherlock, but Jonny Lee Miller is magnetic and fascinating as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu has proved essential to making the chemistry work (introducing a third party this year only illustrates that further).

10. Hannibal. NBC. Beautifully shot, dark and daring (and, yes, bloody), this is a series I admire more than I actually like to watch, which is strange. But good, difficult and, for a network, shocking things are at play here, which merits attention.

11. Person of Interest. CBS. Like Elementary, another of CBS's better dramas that is a procedural but don't feel overtly so, Person of Interest is beloved because it's riveting and entertaining almost without fail, so having all of those episodes to look forward to is a joy.

12. The Blacklist. NBC. Though some of the stories were not as tight as in the first season, this is still a pulse-pounding, extremely well done and psychologically manipulating series. But it's star James Spader that brings us back every week — and makes the weaker episodes tolerable. You can't take your eyes off of him.

13. Black-ish. ABC. This freshman comedy gets lots of points for being at the forefront of a strong push for diversity in TV — but more importantly, it's funny, different and has an actual point of view. Plus it's getting better and more confident as it goes.

14. Modern Family. ABC. This poor show gets some backlash (yes, from me included) for winning (or being rubber-stamped) at the Emmys every year when others should be getting singled out. But here's the thing — even though it's a bit long in the tooth now, Mod Fam is never not funny. That's its charm.

15. Mindy Project. Fox. Still getting it done. Mindy still being Mindy, which is precisely the reason to watch.

16. The New Girl. Fox. She's not as new anymore, and the original conceit is long past its prime, but this show can still be ridiculously, irreverently hilarious — proving again, with its brethren, that broadcast comedy can kick it with anybody.

17. Sleepy Hollow. Fox. I fear that if this second season continues apace, the series won't be here again next year (but the issue could just be a sophomore slump for a show that is trying to figure out what works or how to use what it has). Sleepy Hollow is best when it's crazy — or crazier. But what is always good about it and never fails to work is this: Nicole Beharie and Tom Mison. When you have magnetic stars, keep them close to each other. (Oh, and to reiterate that 2014 was a better year for diversity on television, it should be noted that Sleepy Hollow has, with Orlando Jones and Lyndie Greenwood joining Beharie, three African-American actors at its forefront).

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