It’s the final part of my countdown of my TV favourites of 2014, and here are the three shows which thrilled me the most during this past year. It was a tough job compiling my top ten – and an even tougher one ranking them – and I’m sure some people will think I’m crazy not to have included their personal favourites. But TV viewing is a subjective affair: I like what I like and I’ve only ranked shows that I’ve watched in their entirety, even though that means omitting a number of critical or fan favourites. Anyhow, here’s my top three – feel free to tell me how much you agree or disagree in the comments.
3. Sherlock: Did we miss him?
After a two-year absence, the return of Sherlock and the revelation of how he survived the fall from the roof of Barts Hospital was the most talked about TV event of 2014 on Twitter, with Mark Gatiss cheekily offering up three alternative solutions but not necessarily a definitive answer. A reunion, a wedding and a murder later, Sherlock was sent into exile only to be recalled minutes later after the apparent return from the dead of Jim Moriarty. And so began another two-year wait to resolve this latest cliffhanger.
No other scripted programme on UK television came close to matching the 11.4-12.7 million viewers who watched Sherlock‘s three episodes – the best ratings of the show’s three runs so far and comfortably seeing off even Call the Midwife and Downton Abbey. It’s helped turn both Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman into global superstars, and in an era of falling audiences it has become that rarest of rare animals – genuine appointment-to-view event TV. The 2015 Christmas special cannot come soon enough.
2. Orphan Black: Send in the clones
It’s quietly buried away on BBC3, but sci fi-based thriller Orphan Black is one of the hidden gems on our TV schedules and is well worth seeking out, featuring a tour de force set of performances from the previously unknown Tatiana Maslany, who to date has played nine different clones, five of whom are series regulars. In addition to imbuing each character with distinct personalities, mannerisms and accents, Maslany and Orphan Black‘s two party tricks are to find new and ingenious ways of putting two or more clones in the same scene simultaneously and to portray one clone imitating one of the others.
To play two characters is tough enough, but to switch between five on a regular basis on a TV shooting schedule and to carry it off convincingly is mind-boggling, but Maslany achieves this week in, week out and makes it look routine. It’s incredible – and ridiculous – that she has yet to win at either the Golden Globes or the Emmys, with just a single nomination for the former to her name.
The second season finale’s Clone Dance Party achieved something even Orphan Black had never managed before by featuring four of the clones sharing the screen simultaneously. The scene was so complex it took two days to film. It’s over the top and on the self-indulgent side but it’s still wonderful fun – much like the series as a whole.
1. Game of Thrones: Gore blimey
The first three seasons of HBO’s adaptation of George R R Martin’s novels have been undeniably impressive but season four took this to a whole new level. Virtually every episode contained that all-important water-cooler moment, and even though viewers familiar with the books knew in advance about the Purple Wedding, the fight between Oberyn Martell and the Mountain, the Battle of Castle Black and Tyrion killing his own father, the way they were brought to life on our screens was nonetheless breathtaking.
In particular, the Battle of Castle Black outdid even season two’s Battle of Blackwater Bay for the sheer ambition of its visual spectacle, bringing a huge, sprawling battle to life with a combination of movie-quality CGI and creative cinematography. In the video below, note the continuous 40-second, 360-degree panning shot that spins around the courtyard of the castle showing us the heat of battle. (It starts at 5:10.)
It’s easy to forget that we are watching a TV series here, albeit one with a budget beyond the wildest dreams of other shows, but each season HBO brings us ten hours of the finest television you will see anywhere, and it keeps improving every year. Simply put, Game of Thrones raises the bar for everyone else to pursue – and that’s why it’s my top show of 2014.