In no particular order, these were the five best TV shows I watched this year (no vampires, no costume epics):
"Fargo." In just 10 episodes, showrunner Noah Hawley created a world in parallel -- but separate from -- that in the Coen Brothers' classic movie. With a cast including breakout star Allison Tolman, Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton, Oliver Platt, and Colin Hanks, "Fargo" was a worthy successor to "Breaking Bad" as the most captivating drama on television. It will return next year, but with a whole new cast and plotline.
"Last Week Tonight." When John Oliver filled in for Jon Stewart during the summer of 2013, it was clear he was talented enough to have his own show. Fortunately, HBO not only recognized that, but gave him and his colleagues all the room they needed to create an entirely new topical comedy show that not only makes you laugh, but informs you about stuff you'd never thought about, from international issues (the Indian election) to domestic ones (civil forfeiture). "LWT" even managed to make the boring topic of net neutrality both interesting and funny -- and caused the FCC to be bombarded with viewer demands that it keep the internet free and fast. Oliver and his crew also get the viral video thing, as they're proving while the show is on winter hiatus by continuing to release web-only content like this:
"You're The Worst." Showrunner Stephen Falk took two characters who despise dating, romance, the conventions of everyday life, and most other humans, and had them fall in love (and lust). Brilliant, funny, and biting, with breakout performances by Chris Geere and (especially) Aya Cash. Glad to see it's been picked up for another season.
"Silicon Valley." HBO's half-hour clever satire about high-tech geniuses trying to get their startup off the ground without knowing what they're actually doing. The final episode of its first season may have been the funniest of any TV show all year.
"Louie." Okay, not the entire season (which was hit-and-miss), but one episode in particular, "So Did The Fat Lady," with a terrific performance by Sarah Baker. Remember that Louis CK not only stars in the show, but also writes, directs, and edits it, too...
If you're the kind of person who isn't comfortable with a Top 5 list and insists on being all decimal about it, you can add these, again in no particular order: "True Detective," "Key and Peele," "Masters of Sex," "Mad Men," and "The Colbert Report."
I talked all of this over with St. Louis Post-Dispatch TV critic Gail Pennington, who has her own Best-Of-2014 list. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!