5 Best TV Shows of 2014

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As 2014 draws to a close, I look back on the best shows from this year.

5. How to Get Away With Murder

Although this show often chooses entertainment and melodrama over quality, it kept me interested in a way that many other shows failed to this year. Although there were some american shows from 2013 which seemed promising, the second seasons were disappointing and I lost interest in many of the pilot shows very quickly. Therefore, whilst I do like this show, I did not enjoy it in the same way as I have the others on this list. Interestingly, it is the only American show in this post, which is surprising as my favourite programmes are usually outputs from the US.

4. Grantchester

As a huge fan of Miss Marple and Poirot, it is not surprising that I loved this murder mystery set in a small village in the 1950s, and indeed it did have that particular quaint vibe which makes Agatha Christies so appealing. The detective and main character is (an extremely attractive) vicar with serious issues, played by James Norton. The combination of the weekly murders with a series long romance made Grantchester a very enjoyable programme which I hope will be renewed for the new year.

3. Utopia Season 2

I actually only watched the first season of this in June, before the second season came out in July. The quality of this series lies in the amazing acting  and the beautiful cinematography which often contrasts with the graphic horror that is portrayed. The incredible acting and well rounded characters – even when they make terrible mistakes, they still seem genuine, and even likable -made this more engaging than a typical thriller. One of the most imaginative and gripping television programmes of the moment, it is disappointing – if not entirely surprising –  that this has been cancelled. (You can sign the petition to save the show here; https://www.change.org/p/channel-4-bring-back-utopia)

2. Nothing Much To Do

Honestly, I don’t really know if this counts as a TV show or not seeing as it is actually a web series, but I will include it on this list anyway. Modernised web series adaptations of classic novels – often taking the form of “vlogs” – have become very popular in the last two years due to the success of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries. However, amongst this wealth of material, and even compared to the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Nothing Much To Do is by far the best scripted, well acted, most believable, and entertaining of them all. A modern adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing set in a New Zealand High School, the show manages to create characters which seem as if they could be real people vlogging. The story develops in a very interesting way, allowing the viewers to follow the story through three different youtube accounts – and many different points of views, as well as the twitter and tumblr accounts of different characters. If you only watch one webseries, watch this one. The full series can be seen here;

(although some of the Verges and Dogberry near the beginning can be skipped as, just like in the original play, I find them slightly tedious.)

1. In The Flesh Season 2

I’ve already discussed “In The Flesh” on my blog before; https://nellymair.wordpress.com/2014/07/05/in-the-flesh-a-series-review/ and this new take on the zombie tale is one that really should not be missed. After a zombie apocalypse, the zombies – here called PDS sufferers – are medicated and reintegrated into society where they are treated with contempt and violence by those who had fought them in the zombie-human war. The second season allowed the world to be further explored and how society has changed and developed since the first season.  The introduction of new characters allowed viewers to see the experiences of more PDS sufferers and, with a lighter tone to the first season, allowed viewers to see the complications of different aspects of life for a PDS sufferer. If you only check out one show from 2014, check out In The Flesh.

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Downton Abbey Christmas Special

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(I live in Britain, where the Christmas Special airs earlier than in America, and so if you don’t live in England and wish to remain oblivious to what happens, I would not recommend reading on; it is spoiler galore.)

The past few seasons of Downton Abbey have been a severe departure from the quality of the first couple of series, and so whilst sitting down to the Christmas Special, I expected nothing more than a mediocre episode with fantastic one liners from Maggie Smith. In some ways, that is exactly what I got, but a certain scene elevated it above the dullness which has been Series 5.

The biggest plotline was that of Anna’s imprisonment, a plot line I have never found intriguing. It seems like a simple recycling of the false arrest of Bates in Series 2, and I wonder how Julian Fellowes thought the viewers wouldn’t notice this repetition. There was a dull addition to the plot, that Anna was attacked before – which simply seems like poor writing to me and an unnecessary attempt to add drama. Honestly, the only way that I could imagine becoming engaged in this story was if Anna had actually killed Green, and was shown to have a back bone after all.

There was also lots of boring shenanigans up in Scotland, with a snooty butler, and an avoided scandal involving Lord Syndeby, and a new love interest for Mary – the gorgeous Matthew Goode. All in all, the majority of this was rather dull.

Isobel and Violet both had their romantic hopes dashed in this episode, and I was especially saddened by the end of the engagement between Isobel and Lord Merton, as I found him a sweet character.

If so far it seems I have a wholly negative opinion of this episode, I probably would have, if not for a scene in the last twenty minutes of the episode. In a wonderfully acted and best scripted scene for a long time, Mr Carson finally proposed to Mrs Hughes. As someone who has waited years for this, I was not disappointed, and that scene alone was one of my Christmas highlights.

Overall, the special was bland and overly long, but the heart warming and touching proposal from Carson elevated it past it’s usual mediocrity to something beautiful.

Reign

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I was recently persuaded by my sister to start watching Reign, a highly fictionalised programme about Mary Queen of Scots’ arrival at French Court and her engagement to Francis II. I began incredibly sceptical, and it is, by all accounts, a soapy drama with little real life accuracy. And yet I love it. Reign never promises historical accuracy, and it is very aware of it’s own ridiculousness. But as well as the soap drama-esque antics, which pop up in so many popular teenage shows, there is more to Reign. It’s about a young girl’s struggle for power, and how dangerous power can be. Of course, as well as the political struggles of French Court, it also details the relationships of both Mary and her ladies in waiting. There are moments where the show is overly dramatic and the script lacking, but it is compelling stuff.
One of the most interesting part of the series is the characters, who are fully developed and intriguing.
Firstly, of course, there is Mary. Despite starting off in the show as a naïve character, to the point of being embarrassing to watch, she soon toughens up. She struggles between what she wants and what is best for her country. She is also forced to make tough and morally ambiguous decisions for the good of her country and one of the most intriguing plots of the series is how this battle for power threatens her moral integrity.
Francis starts the show as a playboy who has no intention of loving or being faithful to Mary, due to his knowledge that his country must be his first priority. However as the series continues, Francis, despite his questionable choices, becomes likable through his passion and the kindness and vulnerability which becomes more clear.
Bash is, basically, a huge sweetheart. He’s the bastard of the King, and as such enjoys all of the freedom which Francis is denied. He’s chivalric, kind and follows his heart in a way that Mary and Francis can’t. However, he has secrets and is ruthless in his protection of them, as well as in his defence of the people he loves.
Kenna is the sexually liberated lady in waiting of Mary. She is disliked by many fans, probably due to the aspects of her personality which are selfish, determined and cunning but she is also independent, loyal and kind.
Greer is the only one of Mary’s ladies in waiting without a title, and due to this, has to hurry to find a good husband, regardless of her affections for him. Greer’s plotline (which I won’t go into due to spoilers) is my favourite, and I think her situation is a hugely sympathetic one, which makes her actions, though frustrating and heart breaking, understandable.
Lola is my least favourite of the main ladies in waiting, as she seems to have the least personality, despite one of the key plot points of the series revolving around her. The actress playing her is also unconvincing.
Henry is the King, a misogynistic, power hungry, ruthless player, who shows brief glimpses of humanity. He is a fascinating character, and is compelling to watch. Alan Van Sprang plays the character to perfection.
Lastly but certainly not least is Catherine de Medici, one of the most interesting characters in the series. She is ruthless in getting what she wants, which is normally power, for both herself and her family, as despite her numerous negative traits, she is loyal. She has great lines and is humorous as well as wonderfully wicked.
The relationships in this show are also done perfectly, as although most programmes thrive off the will they-wont they dynamic, the social context means Reign cannot do this to the same extent and most of the characters are either engaged or married pretty quickly. This means that the relationships, which most tv shows fail in making compelling to watch, have to be interesting, and Reign does this successfully, showing the interesting struggles within the relationships, especially in Francis’ and Mary’s.
Reign succeeds from a feminist viewpoint as well. It centres around a character who is powerful in her own right, and the number of female characters outweighs that of the men – which is rare for most media. Although an important plot in most of the ladies in waiting is about their marriages, this is due to the social context, and they are developed to an extent which many female characters are not. There are also certain instances when the women point out the double standards of sexuality, and whilst they are in the 1500s, this is still relevant in today’s culture. Overall I would say that with so much of media depicting women in an unhealthy light, teenage girls watching Reign is in no way a bad thing.
In conclusion, if you are a stickler for historical accuracy, do not watch this show. However if you’re looking for a fun show to watch, give Reign a go, and you might find more than you first expected. Personally, I adore it.

Kids, This is the story of how a great sitcom ruined itself in the finale

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Although I have been planning to start a blog for a while, there is a reason that I have started it right now, and that is my desperate desire to discuss the travesty that was the How I Met Your Mother Finale. It has been almost a week and my anger has not subsided, and it is the same for many of the other fans. The episode had so many issues, and I’m going to try and summarise them here; (I should warn that this is absolutely not spoiler free)

The Finale Completely Changed the Concept of the Show
The reveal that the story was not about how Ted met the mother at all (despite the title of the show suggesting otherwise) but him trying to show his children that he was still in love with Robin and guilt-trip them into encouraging him to go after her, completely changes the premise of the show. It shows once and for all that Ted is an unreliable narrator, and brings into question the extent to which he manipulated the events. It makes seemingly innocent moments seem more sinister now we know he had an ulterior motive, which means fans disappointed by the finale cannot just ignore it, as it has affected the entire series.

The Death of the Mother

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Way back in 2005, thousands of people started watching an endearing show about how Ted Mos by met the love of his life, and mother of his children. Of course the show turned out to be about so much more than that; about friendship, about loss, and about moving on. Despite the show no longer revolving around the initial concept, it was still an important aspect of the series, and for 8 years, the fans dutifully waited for Ted to meet his wife. We watched his sometimes-disastrous love life, his inability to let go of Robin, and were soothed by the fact that this struggle was not in vain; eventually he would meet the mother. Then in the final episode of series 8, we finally got to see her, and the whole of series 9 was devoted to each character meeting her, as a way for the fans to come to love the woman the whole series was based upon. And then, she died. In about 5 minutes, a huge moment in Teds life was swept under the carpet, and quite rightly the fans felt cheated.

Ted and Robin 

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Of course Ted and Robin shippers would have loved the series finale, but my anger towards this couple and the ending that endorsed it, was not just because I loved Barney and Robin (although I did), it’s because they fundamentally did not work as a couple. If the finale had come after the first two or three series it would have made perfect sense. I would not have liked it, but it wouldn’t have caused the anger that it has now. However, since then, a key plot of the series has been Ted and Robin’s incompatibility and Ted finally letting Robin go. Throughout the series Robin has repeatedly shown that she does not feel the same about Ted as he does for her, and has rejected him repeatedly. This followed by him trying again about thirty years later when she is at her lowest after losing all her friends, is not romantic, but worrying. The whole idea that if you wear a girl down enough, you will eventually win, is a concerning message for such an influential show to give out.

Robin And Barney’s Divorce

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Okay, okay, I said my hatred for this episode wasn’t purely fuelled by Robin and Barney’s divorce, but this, combined with Robin ending up with Ted, was the worst part of the finale for me. Ever since series 3, Robin and Barney’s relationship has been built up, with the entire of series 9 being dedicated to their wedding. Their relationship was shown to be much healthier than Ted and Robin’s as, compared to Ted’s one-sided infatuation for Robin, the attraction between Barney and Robin was completely mutual. They were very similar, in that they both had commitment issues and family problems, and they managed to overcome both their own flaws and the flaws in their relationship due to a dedication to making it work. And yet, their divorce was brushed over in the first twenty minutes of the finale, leaving me and many other fans feeling cheated.

The Complete Reversal of all the Character Development Made in the 9 Series
The characters in How I Met Your Mother evolved throughout the nine series, as people do. And yet, one forty minute episode managed to completely unravel this character development. The most notable example of this, of course, is Barney, who changed more than anyone. For much of the series he was a misogynistic womaniser, and whilst this was funny, it was acceptable for the viewers as they were soothed by the certainty that he would change – as he had already started to. Through his relationship with Robin, his problems with his father and his brother, as well as a general maturity, he realized that women were not just numbers and to even take a vow to be honest with Robin, which contrasted strongly with his constant lies in the early series. This change was touching for the viewers, and it was swept away in the finale, with Barney returning to his womanising ways after his divorce. He then gets a woman pregnant, and refers to her purely as no 31, demonstrating how his respect for women was simply a temporary plot device. There is one touching scene where he holds his baby and vows to dedicate his life to her. But of course the writers could not leave Barney’s story here, instead having him go up to the exact girls he would previously have been attracted to, and demand them to go home and put on more clothes. His hypocrisy and misogyny, which has actually worsened over the series, ruins his once great character.

Robin’s Career (and Lily’s)
If the sexism of this episode wasn’t enough already, Robins career, one of the biggest plot points and her biggest dream, leads to her divorce and her isolation from her friends. Whereas Marshall is allowed to have his dream job without any of these consequences (despite not only being married but also having three children), Robin’s social life is destroyed because of it. On a smaller scale, Lily’s dream job, which was also up in the air after the one year in Rome, is completely unmentioned. The only further detail we have about Lily, one of the main characters, is that she has a third child. In fact most of the female characters seemed to be limited to their baby-making skills in this episode; after all, the titular mother had no role other than to give Ted the children Robin couldn’t have.

The Lack of Marshall and Lily

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Watching this episode, it would be easy to think that Marshall and Lily were only supporting characters, as they were so minor in this episode. I am slightly relieved by this however, as it meant their characters at least, could not be destroyed.

The General Lack of Quality 
This episode did not feel like a finale, but instead like a fan made episode. It felt completely disjointed from the rest of the series, and the quality was terrible.

That’s it. I’m sorry for the overly long blog post, but as you can tell, I feel very strongly about this finale. And now, I am washing my hands of what was once my favourite tv show, and you may find me one day in the future in a pub grumbling about the travesty of the HIMYM finale. For now I’ll just be repeating this mantra to myself; tumblr_inline_mi7zsnM5pb1qz4rgp

And what about you? After such a rambling post, it’s only right that I hear your thoughts on the finale! Were you one of the few supporters, or did you also dislike it? Please add your thoughts in the comment section!