Jordan's Television Awards Ballot
Jordan's Television Awards Ballot
We did a top ten list at Next Projection, but after being allowed to nominate 15 series in the first round of voting. So here is my personal top ten, with five honorable mentions:
Consistently compelling pulp television with some phenomenal performances and enough philosophical trappings and delusions of grandeur to make it easily the best of the new crop of shows over the last few years that have tried to mimic prestige television without ever really getting to that level themselves. (I reviewed most of the season over here).
Game of Thrones
Portions of this season bothered me greatly (perhaps most those that revealed show runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss may have some issues with women to work out), yet when it worked, it stood alongside the best the series had to offer. (I reviewed the season over here)
Orange is the New Black
Season two of the show had a larger scope and more varied storytelling, but doubled down on the show’s innate sense of compassion and message about the essential humanity of its various characters. You don’t always like any given person on Orange is the New Black, but you always feel for them, a message that we needed to hear again and again in 2014, and one that made this series vital television for our times.
The scathing satire of Washington’s most irrelevant office had its best season yet as Selina (Julia Louis Dreyfuss, excellent as ever) decided to take a run at The White House, with all the foibles that implies. Brilliant, hysterical television.
If you had told me two years ago that Doctor Who would make my top ten TV series list, I would have laughed at you, but this year, it very nearly did. The first series featuring Peter Capaldi’s weary, curmudgeonly Twelfth Doctor offered up the best run of episodes since the show returned (and maybe ever), including several stone-cold classics (“Listen,” “Kill the Moon,” and “Mummy on the Orient Express”), a few instantly iconic set-pieces (The Doctor Addams Family-ing his way off train tracks while trapped in the TARDIS should be in compilations of this era for eternity), and more thematic and moral complexity than I ever would have thought possible from this show. Series Eight took seriously the moral failings of The Doctor and the problematic implications of travelling with him, and turned Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) into a great companion by delving into the way her adventures warped her humanity and sense of self. Question: When will series nine get here? Answer: Not soon enough. (I reviewed the series over here
10. The Good Wife
(See the Next Projection Awards post for my blurb on the show. I also reviewed season five over hereand am reviewing season six over here)
9. The Affair
This show had such clarity of purpose and such courage of its convictions from the first that it was hard not to fall for it. The split-perspective storytelling kept gaining new dimensions and never ran out of ways to surprise me, but it’s the detailed character work that made this one of my favorite TV shows of 2014. That the show takes the wounded spouses (Joshua Jackson and Maura Tierney, both doing great work) as seriously as the star-crossed lovers (Dominic West and Ruth Wilson) makes it something really special.
8. The Americans
A very good show that got great in its second season, The Americans expanded its “Cold War as American marriage” metaphor to include meditations on duty, loyalty, family, fidelity, and the encroaching changes in technology that would completely alter this world and the spies who populate it. Season two isn’t just a crackling good espionage story, weaving real world elements into a fabricated story about the murder of two assets. It is also a deeply resonant work on the challenges of watching your children become people independent of your influence, the difficulties of maintaining a marriage, and the real meaning of a concept as abstract and ever-shifting as loyalty to a nation or a cause. (I reviewed the season over here)
7. Broad City
Probably the funniest show I watched this year, Broad City is the rare sitcom to come out of the gate fully formed (likely helped by the fact that it existed as a web series previously). There really isn’t a bad episode in the show’s first season, which follows Abbi (Abbi Jacobson) and Ilana (Ilana Glazer) as they just try to have fun and get by as under-employed twenty-somethings in New York City.
6. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
(See the Next Projection Awards post for my blurb on the show.)
In its fourth season, Louie was as boldly experimental and formally daring as ever, delivering a six-part episode that was basically a film doled out in serialized parts, and taking on some material that was as uncomfortable as it was important. The season had a lot to say about romance, gender roles, and white male privilege, and if it didn’t always make its points well, it always made them passionately and with a strong commitment to uncovering some uncomfortable truths about the love we feel entitled to and the way we try to get it for ourselves.
4. You’re the Worst
(See the Next Projection Awards post for my blurb on the show.)
3. Mad Men
(See the Next Projection Awards post for my blurb on the show. I also reviewed season seven over here)
I’ve never seen anything quite like Transparent, the delicately tragic, brutally funny story of a Maura (Jeffrey Tambor), a trans-woman who begins transitioning late in life, on television. This show’s careful tonal balance between comedy and drama, intricate character work across not just Maura but her entire family, and wistful mood were all completely captivating. I couldn’t stop watching Transparent when Amazon released it in bulk, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. This is lovely, breathtaking, totally unique television that everyone should give a shot.
(See the Next Projection Awards post for my blurb on the show. I also reviewed season two over here)
I similarly got to nominate fifteen episodes for the Next Projection Awards, but only got to vote on ten for the final list. So here are my picks, alongside some honorable mentions:
Silicon Valley, “Third Party Insourcing”
Community, “Cooperative Polygraphy”
(I reviewed “Cooperative Polygraphy” over here)
Veep, “The Choice”
The show’s satire is always solid, but it has rarely been as dead-on as it was here, when Selina was forced to take a position on abortion and tried to figure out the best possible non-answer to keep all parties happy.
(I reviewed “Flo” over here)
The Americans, “Martial Eagle”
(I reviewed “Martial Eagle” over here)
10. Game of Thrones, “The Children”
(I reviewed “The Children” over here)
9. Masters of Sex, “Fight”
(I reviewed “Fight” over here)
8. Transparent, “The Wilderness”
Honestly, this episode made my list for Maura’s “whirpool” speech alone. It’s a moment where Maura manages to convey all of her complex feelings of guilt and hope, gender and family in one moment, both refusing to be rejected for who she is and begging for forgiveness for any harm she has caused. It’s worth reproducing in full, so here it is: “This is my family. Leonard, I am so sorry. This is my fault. I should have called you. Honey, I should have taken you out to lunch and we should have talked. But I didn’t do that. And I’m sorry about the ‘Mort’ and the ‘Maura,’ and the ‘he’ and the ‘she.’ I’m just a person. And you’re just a person. And here we are. And baby, you need to get in the whirpool, or you need to get out of it.”
7. You’re the Worst, “What Normal People Do”
Picking my favorite episode of You’re the Worst’s fantastic first season was tough, but I ended up landing on “What Normal People Do,” in which Gretchen (Aya Cash) decides to take a stand and make Jimmy (Chris Geere) come over to her apartment. It’s a funny, banter-filled episode that also uncovers some core truths about relationships and is canny about just where Gretchen and Jimmy are selfish, and just where they might be willing to put each other first.
6. The Good Wife, “A Few Words”
This episode didn’t make the Next Projection list only because the staff split our votes between two episodes, and “The Last Call” ended up on top (consider the fact that “A Few Words,” “Dramatics, Your Honor,” and “The Last Call” are consecutive episodes, and you’ll have some idea how great The Good Wife has been this year). (I reviewed “A Few Words” over here)
5. True Detective, “The Secret Fate of All Life”
(I reviewed “The Secret Fate of All Life” over here)
4. Broad City, “Fattest Asses”
I went back and forth on which episode of Broad City’s near perfect first season to choose about a thousand times, and ended up landing on “Fattest Asses,” where Abbi and Ilana go to a party and leave with two DJs who have designs on a four-way. It’s a weird, funny episode full of great moments between the show’s stars, but it’s only one of the ten phenomenal episodes the show turned out this year.
3. Hannibal, “Mizumono”
(I reviewed “Mizumono” over here)
2. Doctor Who, “Listen”
(I reviewed “Listen” over here)
1. Mad Men, “Waterloo”
(See the Next Projection Awards post for my blurb on the episode, which I also reviewed over here).
Best New Series:
5. The Affair
4. Broad City
3. Last Week Tonight
2. You’re The Worst
Best Actor in a Drama Series:
5. Jon Hamm, Mad Men
One of the most unfairly unheralded performances on television, as evidenced by the fact that I am saying that and still put him at number five.
4. Matthew McConaughey, True Detective
He was every bit as good as everybody said.
3. Hugh Dancy, Hannibal
Hugh Dancy turned Will Graham from a hero deprived of his agency and sanity into an anti-hero willing to lose his humanity to catch the uncatchable fish that is Hannibal Lecter. It was a sight to see.
2. Matthew Rhys, The Americans
And the Jon Hamm Award for Most Underrated Dramatic Performance goes to…Matthew Rhys! (See? Jon Hamm can’t even win the Jon Hamm award in 2014. Poor Jon Hamm. At least he looks like Jon Hamm). Seriously, though, Rhys gave one of the best performances on television this year, as Philip Jennings became increasingly haunted by the actions he was forced to take, and lashed out in some unexpected ways.
1. Mads Mikkelsen, Hannibal
If you come at the King… (See the Next Projection Awards post for my blurb on Mikkelsen’s phenomenal work).
Best Actor in a Comedy Series:
5. Joel McHale, Community
It’s easy to overlook McHale for how smoothly he stands at the center of all of Community’s chaos, but as several cast members jumped ship, and Jeff Winger transitioned from student to teacher, McHale did some truly excellent work this year.
4. H. Jon Benjamin, Archer
Benjamin’s voice is a versatile instrument, and it says something impressive that many of Archer’s best moments are when Archer is just left alone, talking to himself (or whatever animal he is having adventures with). Benjamin is an inspired soloist who fits in well with the rest of the show’s very talented ensemble.
3. Chris Geere, You’re the Worst
It would be easy to play Jimmy’s glib detachment and just let the audience hate him for how awful he can be. But Geere always keeps Jimmy’s humanity buried just beneath the surface, wearing his pain and fear close enough to his sleeve that we understand when he lashes out, even if it drives us crazy to watch him hurt himself and others.
2. Louis C.K., Louie
Louis C.K.’s performance isn’t just an anchor for Louie, it’s the whole god damn ship. Whether he is playing his character’s haplessness in romance, his dedication as a father, or his confusion as he works out his own feelings, Louis keeps Louie centered on his complex, multifaceted performance, and keeps audiences riveted whether they are laughing, cringing, crying, or trying to figure out just exactly what it is they are feeling.
1. Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent
Jeffrey Tambor has a long and illustrious career behind him, so it’s saying something to call his performance as Maura his best work yet. Tambor is funny here when he needs to be, but more often he’s sad, or confused, or lost, or wistful. Maura’s emotional journey infects the whole show, so that what she feels is often what we feel, and in less capable hands, her emotional complexity might get muddled. Yet Tambor constantly plays her with grace and strength, the better to ward off the sadness of the years she spent trying to live in a body that didn’t match her mind, and to find hope in what tomorrow might bring.
Best Actress in a Drama Series:
5. Alison Tolman, Fargo
Tolman had big shoes to fill stepping into the basic role played by Frances McDormand in the film, yet she made her character feel so completely unique from McDormand’s that the comparison seems like an insult to either. Tolman’s Molly Solverson was everything she needed to be, but most of all, she was a voice of reason in a world of utter chaos.
4. Lizzie Caplan, Masters of Sex
Masters of Sex season two was a mess, but Lizzie Caplan was never less than stellar.
3. Elizabeth Moss, Mad Men
Peggy Olsen is an increasingly complicated role to play, as she grows increasingly bitter about the ways her society’s sexism has limited and wronged her. Yet Moss makes Peggy’s anger register as realistic, and reminds us that beneath that gruff exterior, she is a kind, passionate, brilliant woman just fighting to be given the chance that is blithely handed to all of her male colleagues.
2. Kerri Russell, The Americans
Elizabeth Jennings was a bit of a cipher at times during season two, but Kerri Russell made all of that character confusion register with her fantastic grasp on a character that often seemed to slip out of the writers’ hands a bit.
1. Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Alicia Florrick is one of the best characters in television history, a fact that might not be true if she wasn’t played by the note-perfect Julianna Margulies. Much of Alicia’s struggles go on just below the surface, while she struggles to keep her perfect composure in place. Margulies plays these moments where the mask threatens to slip so well they ooze with as much tension as anything Hannibal came up with this year. But it isn’t just how well she holds the silence that makes this performance the marvel it continues to be. It’s the way she chooses to fill that void, when she does. Margulies is, if possible, even more perfectly controlled than her character, exercising power over her face, body language, diction and speech that is absolutely incredible to behold. Great performers are often said to inhabit their characters, and Margulies is so far inside Alicia Florrick, it’s almost impossible to see the difference. It’s brilliant acting made to appear effortless, the sort of unforced mastery that can only come from someone working at the top of her field.
Best Actress in a Comedy Series:
5. Lena Dunham, Girls
As the divisions between the actress and her character grow starker, the skill and daring of Dunham’s performance becomes increasingly apparent.
4. Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation
Even as Parks continues past its prime, Poehler is never less than stellar at its center.
3. Casey Wilson, Marry Me
It’s a bit early for Marry Me to really be competing in the other categories, but Casey Wilson is so perfect from the first, she deserves the recognition here. That she can deliver Annie’s series-opening monologue (in which she excoriates the entire cast) into a moment that never comes close to making us turn on the character alone warrants her spot on this list.
2. Aya Cash, You’re the Worst
The dirty little secret of You’re the Worst is that the characters are less blatantly unlikable than uncomfortably relatable, due in large part to the layered performances that bring them to life. Gretchen hates her feelings, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have them, and Aya Cash brings that duality to thrilling life, as Gretchen struggles to reconcile her distaste for relationships with her growing feelings for the guy she is increasingly engaged in a relationship with. That Cash can juggle all of that while being as hilarious as she is makes her performance quite a feat.
1. Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Veep
Julia Louis-Dreyfuss is one of the funniest women alive, and she is able to stretch her legs as Selina Myers, the vain, vapid, viciously funny Vice-President. That alone makes Veep worth watching. Anything else is just gravy.
Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series:
5. Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
Anyone who feels inclined to yawn at Dinklage’s consistency should go watch the speech he gives while standing trial for a murder no one cares he didn’t commit. In a few minutes, he vents all of the fury, envy, pain, and bitterness that he has repressed for most of his life, condemning his family, his country, and the uncaring observers with equal vitriol. It’s a beautiful, wrenching, invigorating moment and further evidence Dinklage is giving one of the best performances on TV.
4. Keith Carradine, Fargo
That Carradine isn’t getting more love just speaks to the deep bench Fargo had to offer. He’s wonderful in a small role, adding just the right amount of color.
3. John Slattery, Mad Men
Roger Sterling walking mud-soaked and empty handed down a dirt road is some sort of perfect metaphor for the arc Mad Men has been traveling these last seven years, but without Slattery’s wounded look, the moment wouldn’t land nearly as well as it does.
2. Laurence Fishburne, Hannibal
Jack Crawford’s unshakable confidence in himself got shaken this season, as he dealt with the imprisonment of one of his underlings and the death of another, his growing uncertainty about the man with whom he shares many meals, and the impending death of his wife. Through it all, Fishburne kept Jack grounded in his righteous convictions and his commitment to doing good, even if it means getting his hands dirty.
1. Billy Bob Thornton, Fargo
Few performers on television this year were having as much fun as Billy Bob Thornton, who played hitman Lorne Malvo as an unflappable imp, a chaos demon of sorts let loose in a world that has no idea how porous it has left itself to people like him. Thornton is magnetic in the role, always just as funny, scary, or fascinating as he needs to be. He steals scenes from some of the best performers on TV this year like it was an easy feat, playing the ghost in the machine as part prankster and part poltergeist.
Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series:
5. Nick Offerman, Parks and Recreation
Never forget the brilliant hilarity of Offerman’s work as Ron Swanson, the man who has launched a generation of wood-working libertarians demanding all of the bacon and eggs in any given establishment. Offerman never misses a step, overperforming by underplaying at every turn.
4. Christopher Evan Welch, Silicon Valley
It is one of the great shames of the last year that Christopher Evan Welch was taken from us so young, and just as he had found the role of a lifetime as the willfully eccentric billionaire Peter Gregory. Usually the best part of a very funny show, Welch’s awkward fascination with the world and difficult-to-read deadpan will be truly missed.
3. Desmin Borgias, You’re the Worst
That You’re the Worst’s heart and conscience are embodied in the heroin-addicted, PTSD-afflicted, frequently homeless former veteran Edgar Quintero says a lot about the show’s band of skewed humor. But Borgias is great as Edgar, who has boundless faith in his friends and in humanity even as he is constantly shown only cruelty and misery. The show makes you root for all of the characters in the end, but Borgias got me on his side right from the beginning.
2. Hannibal Burress, Broad City
Trying to explain what is great about Burress’ performance as Lincoln, Ilana’s casul hook-up who wants something more, would likely just reduce what is one of the most energetic, joyful, confident and hysterical performances of the year. Just go watch it instead.
1. Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
(See the Next Projection Awards post for my blurb on Braugher’s brilliant performance).
Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series:
5. Annet Mahendru, The Americans
On a show where everyone is hiding something, Nina Sergeevna is forced to hide everything. What she wants becomes a secondary consideration for her, so focused is she on just surviving for a little while longer. Mahendru is great in two languages here, showing how Nina’s desperation colors every aspect of her life.
4. Alison Wright, The Americans
You don’t hear enough about Alison Wright’s work on this show, but she is absolutely breathtaking as Martha, an informant who believes she is married to one of Philip’s cover identities. Martha has no idea her entire life is a lie, and every minor step she takes towards discovering that reveals just how fragile she is, and why she is so willing to believe this difficult to swallow deception.
3. Maura Tierney, The Affair
We never see things from Helen’s perspective (at least not yet), so it is impressive how much Maura Tierney still manages to register Helen as a real woman with fears and hopes that are too often being ignored by her husband.
2. Christine Baranski, The Good Wife
(See the Next Projection Awards post for my blurb on Baranski’s excellent performance).
1. Gillian Anderson, Hannibal
Gillian Anderson plays Bedelia DuMaurier as a woman brilliant enough to hide the depths of the horror she has witnessed, lest it return to darken her doorstep. Her fascination with Hannibal Lecter is palpable, but Anderson makes sure we always know that Bedelia is aware she is a moth dancing too close to a flame. I can’t wait to see Anderson elevated to a regular in season three.
Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series:
5. Natasha Lyonne, Orange is the New Black
This is the Orange is the New Black category for a reason: that show is filled to the brim with brilliance, and Lyonne’s gritty charm would be enough to win her this category if she weren’t surrounded by so much awesome.
4. Samira Wiley, Orange is the New Black
Ditto Samira Wiley, whose work as Poussey was absolutely heartbreaking and hilarious this year. Her character stepped closer to the center this year, and she commanded every moment she had in the spotlight.
3. Kether Donohue, You’re the Worst
On the surface, Lindsay is the easiest character on You’re the Worst to hate. She cheats on her affable but boring husband, tries constantly to one-up her sister, and wants to drag everyone into a downward spiral along with her. Yet Kether Donohue plays Lindsay with such irrepressible charm and indefatigable wit that she wins you over to her caustic cause even before her gut-wrenching rendition of “This Woman’s Work,” a moment that has stuck with me in the months since it aired as one of the finest scenes on television in 2014.
2. Uzo Aduba, Orange is the New Black
It would be easy to go too broad as Crazy Eyes, but Uzo Aduba constantly walks that line with perfect poise. As we learned more about Suzanne this season, Aduba’s work took on greater resonance, and she handled herself perfectly throughout.
1. Kate Mulgrew, Orange is the New Black
Putting Mulgrew on top here was one of the tougher choices I had to make, but ultimately, her Red made me laugh, made me cringe, and broke my heart more than anyone else. There’s a way that Mulgrew seems close to losing it throughout the second season that is absolutely incredible. She could dissolve into a puddle of tears or stab someone in the throat at any moment, and both seem equally plausible. It’s great, great work surrounded by the same.
5. New Girl
New Girl has the funniest ensemble on TV right now, and the deeper the show gets into its run, the more it has learned to just rely on the easy chemistry and wackiness of these people instead of trying to craft larger arcs to service it.
4. You’re the Worst
Every member of You’re the Worst’s main cast was nominated by me above, so yeah, this was a pretty easy decision. This group makes something hard look easy, and seems to be having fun doing it.
Now we get to the part where I just list the actors and let you be in awe: Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton, Allison Tolman, Colin Hanks, Keith Carradine, Bob Odenkirk, Adam Goldberg, Oliver Platt, Glenn Howerton, Jordan Peele, Keegan Michael Key, Kate Walsh, Steven Root…just, wow.
Hannibal’s individual performances work together like instruments in an orchestra, creating a dark and beautiful symphony. Standing alone, the work done by Mads Mikkelsen, Hugh Dancy, Laurence Fishburne, Gillian Anderson, Caroline Dhavernas, Hetienne Park, Kacey Rohl, Anna Chlumsky, Gina Torres, Raul Esparza, Eddie Izzard, Cynthia Nixon, Michael Pitt, Katherine Isabelle, and a cadre of one-off and recurring killers is phenomenal. But when combined, it makes for one of the most relentlessly well-acted shows on television.
1. Orange is the New Black
Everyone, from the central performers to the smallest bit player is fantastic on this show, so much so that I nearly filled up one of my categories with OITNB performances and didn’t even touch the tip of the iceberg. This show has the deepest bench on television, to the point that if they introduced a talking bench next season, I bet it would be the best performance of Helen Mirren’s life, and also still only my six or seventh favorite performance on the show.
Best Youth Performance:
5. Yara Shahidi, Black-ish
Precocious kids are a dime a dozen on TV, but Yara Shahidi manages to make the conceit feel fresh, somehow.
4. Holly Taylor, The Americans
I often joked this year that a time-displaced Elizabeth Jennings and Alicia Florrick should get together for a glass of wine and a talk about their atheism and their daughter’s Christianity. But while Grace Florrick’s storyline on The Good Wife often falls flat for me, Holly Taylor made Paige Jennings’ faith feel like an integral part of the character, an outgrowth of a rebellion against her parents that took on weight as the season went on, and darker dimensions as we learned just how threatened her parents were by her conversion, and just how far they might go to get their daughter back under their thumb.
3. Ursula Parker, Louie
Throughout Louie’s fourth season, Jane is in a bit of a crisis, running off the subway, fighting at school, and generally unsure of how to deal with her feelings. It’s complicated material for someone of any age, but Parker makes Jane’s crisis, and her own fears about her feelings, register at every turn.
2. Maisie Williams, Game of Thrones
(See the Next Projection Awards post for my blurb on Williams’ performance).
1. Kiernan Shipka, Mad Men
This category was made to be populated by Kiernan Shipka. It should be called the Kiernan Shipka Award. Maybe next year after Mad Men ends, it will be. Shipka has been giving the best child performance I have ever seen for years now as Sally Draper, a little girl who over the course of the sixties has grown into a young woman forced to learn too many lessons about the flaws of her parents and the pettiness and disappointment that likely awaits her in the adult world. Shipka plays Sally’s increased disillusionment as she becomes a teenager well, but her best moments are often those where Sally still feels a bit like a kid whose childhood has slipped away from her right in front of our eyes.