It was a memorable year for nerds on TV, from celebrity astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson making a splash with the Cosmos reboot to Chris Hardwick’s Comedy Central panel/game show @Midnight gaining big traction in its second season, including a Daytime Emmy nomination. We felt the super-sized geek love as high-profile nerds Stephen “I Interviewed Smaug” Colbert and Craig “I Was in a Band with the 12th Doctor” Ferguson stepped down from their longtime gigs. And nerd power was proven yet again when, according to no less an authority than Adweek, FXX’s summertime mega-marathon of every Simpsons episode ever made (plus the movie) seriously boosted the fledgling cable network’s ratings and “saved” it from failure.
(And now I will pause to say that, if you’re not caught up on your nerdy TV and don’t want to be spoiled, stop reading right now. NOW, OK? SPOILERS AHEAD!! WARNING! STOP!)
Likewise, memorable moments abounded on nerdy TV dramas, although there were plenty of things that made me go “meh,” as well. I’m still annoyed that Once Upon a Time in Wonderland is gone, while its apparently unstoppable and less enjoyable parent rolls on like some giant fairy-tale Ouroboros. I wasn’t excited by the revelation of the male clones in Orphan Black, or the long, long, loooong (and at times completely absurd) farewell to Jax Teller in the Sons of Anarchy series finale. And the much-praised best man’s speech delivered by the World’s Greatest Detective on Sherlock? Interminably over the top.
I was bored by some shows I loved last year (Sleepy Hollow, what the hell happened?), and unexpectedly enamored of things I had no expectation of watching, let alone enjoying (Constantine, I never figured you for a keeper, but you’re getting really good and making me want to dig out my old Hellblazer comics. Which might not be a good idea….) And of course, for all the hours I spent watching TV in 2014, I still haven’t gotten around to some of the big ones, including The Walking Dead and American Horror Story. Don’t get mad at me for leaving them out here – but do enlighten me with your fave moments in the comments.
I would never say this goes without saying, so I’m gonna say it again: THERE ARE SPOILERS in this list, so don’t look if you’re not caught up. Otherwise, read on for the 10 most monumental TV moments of 2014.
1. The Master Is a GIRL.
I’ve grown quite conflicted about Doctor Who, and Season 8 of the venerable British import hasn’t changed that. I love Peter Capaldi as the 12th Doctor, and I reveled in moments both hilarious (the Doctor using a spoon in a duel with Robin Hood) and wrenching (Jenna Coleman’s grieving companion Clara in a desperate showdown with the Doctor involving TARDIS keys and molten lava). But way too much time was spent on boring relationship junk between Clara and boyfriend Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), and then on the Doctor and Clara bickering about both said relationship and Danny himself. Plus, show runner Steven Moffat had a hand in writing more episodes than usual this season, and a lot of the stories felt like retreads of stuff he’s already done, often with only the most perfunctory of twists.
Whatever. I’m used to feeling irritated by Moffat. Which must be why he made me really mad by doing something clever, like back in the days when he was just a writer for Who: He turned the Master into a woman. And whatta woman! After different episodes showed brief, teasing scenes with the mysterious “Missy” (Michelle Gomez, above), the Doctor (and we) finally learned her identity in the Cyberman-centric episode “Dark Water.” And, boy, did it all make sense. Styled like a maniacal Mary Poppins, Gomez plays the Doctor’s childhood pal turned greatest nemesis with the kind of terrifically unhinged zeal that John Simm brought to the role during the 10th Doctor’s days, but she ratchets up the crazee even more. Plus, she has fruit on her hat. That’s nuts.
Anyway, the Master has come a long way, baby, since his Derek Jacobi incarnation contemptuously uttered, “Killed by an insect … a girl” before commandeering the Doctor’s TARDIS and regenerating into Simm. We don’t know exactly how he then became the Mistress, but we do know that s/he went right back to obsessing over the Doctor, just like always. Amid all the talk of when/if we will get a female Doctor, Moffat gave us a female Master instead – which cynics might see as testing the waters for a future lady Doctor, but which is also the kind of simple yet brilliant twist that made me fall in love with Moffat’s writing in the first place. Stupid jerk.
2. A Canary Falls on Arrow.
So I’m sitting there watching the Season 3 premiere of Arrow, where Laurel (Katie Cassidy) and Sara (Caity Lotz) are having a nice little sisterly chat. A second track in my brain starts thinking about how, in the DC comics, Black Canary is Laurel Lance, not Sara, and I begin speculating that perhaps at some future time, like in Season 5 or something, Sara will die and Laurel will become the Canary. On screen, the sisters go their separate ways, and then: THUNK! THUNK! THUNK! Someone shoots three arrows into Sara, who falls dead off the roof, her mask skittering away as she hits the ground. And I think, “Nooooo! Too soon!”
Sara was a character invented for the TV show, but she was hardly an afterthought. She was firmly entwined with the other, more familiar principals from the comics. So, along with being a major shock, her murder sets the events of this season in motion … right through to the winter finale’s truly mind-blowing cliffhanger. Sara’s death sends a devastated Laurel down her no doubt inevitable path to becoming a costumed crusader, shakes Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) and his Arrow crew to the core, and brings down the wrath of Sara’s former employer, the League of Assassins. It also drives a wedge of secrecy between Laurel and her detective father, Quentin (Paul Blackthorne), because Laurel can’t bear to tell him the truth.
And in Sara’s wake come oodles of delicious angst and drama, the stuff of which great superhero tales are so often made. Too bad the trade-off was the loss of the fabulous Caity Lotz, an actress with a solid physical presence that made her character more believably kick-ass. (I’m still having a hard time picturing the stick-like Katie Cassidy ever filling her shoes, but we shall see.) At least there’s still a chance of seeing her around in the inevitable flashbacks to come.
3. The Man Tears Flow on The Flash.
There’s no crying in baseball, but there is in The Flash – especially if you’re a dude. Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) is not just the Fastest Man Alive, he’s also the fastest man with the waterworks on this show, whether tearing up a little as his dad, Henry (’90s Flash star John Wesley Shipp), tells a nostalgic story, or positively weeping while promising to reverse Henry’s wrongful conviction for murdering Barry’s mom. But Barry’s not the only crying guy: His former guardian, police officer Joe West (Jesse L. Martin), tearily apologizes to Henry for not believing in his innocence, and Barry’s secretive boss at S.T.A.R. Labs also wrings out a few here and there, though these may be crocodile tears.
I have nothing against men crying on TV; in fact, I’m all for it. After all, The Flash is the sensitive little brother of Arrow, and it’s not like dudes never cry on Arrow. These teary moments underscored that the two shows, while connected closely enough to warrant a pretty awesome crossover this year, have very different personalities: Arrow is as dark and brooding as moody ol’ Oliver Queen, while The Flash is as bright and cheery as its lead and has become my latest essential feel-good antidote to all the bleaker shows I love. Not that Barry’s life is so hunky-dory, of course: He has a bad case of unrequited love for childhood pal Iris West (Candice Patton), and, as he reminds the self-righteous Ollie during that crossover, he will forever carry the emotional scars of witnessing his mother’s murder when he was 11. Hmmm. Maybe if Ollie cried as much as Barry, he’d lighten up a little more.
4. Supernatural Marks 200 Episodes … With a Musical.
I don’t watch Supernatural. I actually can’t believe this silly drama that revolves around the demon-hunting Winchester brothers has lasted for 10 frickin’ seasons. Nevertheless, mostly because some of my best friends are fans, I am forced to marvel at its longevity … along with the wackiness of celebrating the 200th episode of what is essentially a horror show by making it a musical. (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this must be your fault.) So I recruited my friend Jules Wilkinson, who is no ordinary Supernatural fan but is the Editor in Chief of the Supernatural Wiki, to explain the momentousness of this episode, “Fan Fiction,” in which Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) stumble upon a girls’ school putting on a musical based upon their lives. Take it away, Jules:
Having demolished the fourth wall seasons ago, fan favorite writer Robbie Thompson held a party in the text and invited fandom along. The episode celebrated and gently mocked fandom and writers alike. It has references to shipping (“you can’t spell subtext without s-e-x”), a fangirl describes the actual plot of the last three seasons as “bad fanfiction” and we get digs at many Supernatural tropes. It was fun, nostalgic and the songs got stuck in your head for days. And at the end, God put in an appearance and judged it “not bad.”
5. Skye Becoming … What, Exactly?
Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and his team are used to dealing with superhumans and the supernatural, but for the most part the operatives on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are just regular humans (notwithstanding Coulson’s trip to “Tahiti”). The winter finale changed all that, as the mysteries of the Obelisk, the alien and fledgling agent Skye’s (Chloe Bennet) specialness began to be revealed. She was already having a pretty bad day, but things took a turn for the seriously weird after Skye accompanied fellow “worthy one” Raina (Ruth Negga) into the underground temple built by some alien race called the Kree. (Yes, I know next to nothing about Marvel Comics canon.) After a crazy light show, the two women were encased in cocoons, lovely Agent Trip (B.J. Britt) died trying to save Skye (boo!), and suddenly Skye burst out of the cocoon with a new earthquake-causing power.
And now S.H.I.E.L.D. has a metahuman on the payroll … whose existence is immediately detected by a mysterious mutant seemingly of her ilk. What does it all mean for the organization’s future? I’m guessing spin-off, but that’s just me.
6. Bruce Wayne Gets a Surrogate Father.
I’m still not totally sold on Gotham as a whole, because police officer Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) is the focus, and he’s not anywhere near as interesting as the characters revolving around him, from the Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) to Bullock (Donal Logue) to baby Catwoman (Camren Bicondova). Even tiny Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz), with his preternaturally serious face and freshly shattered world, is more compelling than our earnest detective (I guess some things don’t change, no matter how you tell the story).
But what keeps me tuning in is the relationship between Bruce and his ass-kicking butler, Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee). From that moment when Alfred comes to collect Bruce at the
police station crime scene after the Waynes are murdered, and the two hug with a grief-stricken ferocity, I found myself wishing Gotham were the Bruce-and-Alfred show.
Pertwee’s butler vaguely recalls Daniel Craig’s James Bond, a craggy man with a faintly thuggish demeanor and impeccable reserve. At first he’s distressed by the Boy Who Will Be Batman’s compulsion to test his physical limits, like by burning his hand over a candle flame or balancing precariously on a railing high above Wayne Manor’s polished floors. But after Bruce gets bullied at school, Alfred decides to teach him, not just how to fight, but how to beat the other mofo down. I realize it’s not the healthiest way to go about being a surrogate father, but, as we all know, it’s exactly what Bruce Wayne needs.
7. More Dead Lannisters!
Ever since I got my main man into Game of Thrones, “More dead Lannisters!” has been his combination battle cry and fondest wish. And Season 4 complied, giving us a big one in just the second episode, as King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) dies a horrible death-by-poison at his wedding feast, and his Uncle Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) gets the blame. Tyrion spends most of the season in the dungeon, awaiting trial, after which he very nearly becomes a dead Lannister himself. But thanks to the intervention of the handless Lannister, his big brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), Tyrion instead becomes the death of his own father, Tywin (Charles Dance), shooting the old man with a crossbow while he’s taking a dump. Job done!
There’s nothing better than watching horrible people get their comeuppance, and precious little of that happens in GoT. Most of the time it’s the good or at least likable characters who get slaughtered, leaving dicks like Walder Frey and Roose Bolton to cackle over their ill-gotten gains. The psychopathic bully Joffrey was perhaps the show’s most viciously evil character … at least until Ramsay Snow (Iwan Rheon) showed up. Did anyone mourn when the little bastard choked out his last? (Maybe only for their lost meals, ’cause that scene was pretty gross.) On the other hand, while I can’t exactly say I will miss Tywin, he was a great villain. The architect of so much misery for both his enemies and his family, he was fascinatingly unshakeable in his convictions and actions, which was exactly what led to his downfall.
8. Warehouse 13 Got a Happy Ending.
That wasn’t exactly in doubt, I guess, since Artie Nielsen (Saul Rubinek) and his fellow hunters of dangerous mystical artifacts managed to reverse some pretty hopeless situations over their five-season run, despite sustaining some devastating losses. Warehouse 13‘s short final series ratcheted into overdrive the show’s tendency to mix the wacky and the serious, as though the makers were trying to cram in every silly situation they hadn’t gotten around to exploiting, like sending Pete (Eddie McClintock) and Jinksy (Aaron Ashmore) to a Renaissance fair or putting several of the principals inside a telenovela broadcast. But we also had the intensity of the gang yanking the Warehouse out of the clutches of yet another power-mad megalomaniac, Claudia (Allison Scagliotti) learning that her presumed-dead sister has actually spent 15 years in an artifact-induced coma, and work partners Pete and Myka (Joanne Kelly) struggling with deeper feelings for each other. Then they all find out the Warehouse will be moving to a new host country, meaning their artifact-hunting days are numbered. Quel dommage!
Yet in the end, everything turned out fine. Heartbroken Artie got his sign that his beloved Warehouse cared about him too, Pete and Myka got together (and I didn’t even puke), and Claudia embraced her destiny to succeed Mrs. Frederic (the fabulous C.C.H. Pounder) as the Caretaker of the Warehouse … someday, but not too soon.
9. A Rat Catcher Quotes Marcus Aurelius.
Do some people really not like The Strain? I totally dig Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s TV version of their novels, revolving around a supernatural virus that turns people into vampires. The star is New York City-based CDC epidemiologist Dr. Ephraim “Eph” Goodweather (Corey Stoll), the usual boring career guy with an estranged wife, a young son, and an office romance with his team member, Dr. Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro). But I prefer the creaky old vampire hunter Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley), with his personal vendetta against vamp leader the Master and his habit of talking to his long-dead wife’s still-infected heart, safely preserved in a jar.
Setrakian finds a kindred spirit in Vasiliy Fet (Kevin Durand), a city rat catcher whose Ukrainian heritage helps him accept the supernatural aspects of the situation a lot faster than the supposedly smarter Eph … and whose sharp survival instinct has been honed at least partly by his affinity for an ancient Roman philosopher-king.
As New York descends into chaos, Eph and Fet find the Master’s coffin in a theater, then split to regroup with their friends before a horde of undead minions awaken. Outside, Fet walks away as Eph starts issuing orders, heading to a nearby manhole and pulling up the cover. He explains to the baffled Eph: “‘The secret to all victory lies in the organization of the non-obvious.’ Marcus Aurelius.” Taking off the cover floods the sewer tunnels with sunlight, so no more monsters can gather in the theater, helping to even the odds for the final confrontation.
It works, but, unfortunately, the Master might have also read Marcus Aurelius, because just when the gang think they’ve got him, he organizes a non-obvious solution for himself and escapes. Bring on Season 2!
10. Floki Shows His True Colors.
I just started watching Vikings a couple of weeks ago, bingeing the entire series on Hulu despite the risk of permanent psychological scarring from absorbing all that violent action so quickly. In addition to being a serious adrenaline boost and gorgeous to behold, the History Channel series is packed with interesting characters based on legendary figures, including Travis Fimmel’s rising ruler Ragnar Lothbrok (the Jax Teller of the Viking Age), the hapless Christian monk Athelstan (George Blagden) and Ragnar’s fiercely awesome shieldmaiden ex-wife, Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick).
But my favorite is Floki (Gustaf Skarsg?rd), the strange, wild-eyed shipbuilder whose innovations help Ragnar reach the fabled England – and raid the hell out of it. Floki is the classic fool with his loose-limbed gait, eccentric-but-wise pronouncements and affinity for the trickster god Loki. But this year, in Season 2, he seemed to slowly become the most terrible of knaves, withdrawing from Ragnar to hang out with their uneasy ally King Horik (Donal Logue), whom he claimed understood the all-important gods better than Ragnar, and even acting like he was ready to help Horik kill Ragnar and his family. I was totally convinced that Floki was a traitor … after all, alliances can shift quickly in the Vikings world, and we’d already seen some pretty drastic turns.
But one interesting thing about the show’s storytelling are the developments we don’t see, behind-the-scenes transactions that are revealed in the due course of events and fill in gaps we didn’t know needed filling. So the Floki situation yielded a tricky twist worthy of Loki himself, and the brutal joke was on Horik. In other words, when Floki indignantly tells an apparently suspicious Ragnar, “I am a trustworthy person,” he is totally telling the truth. Thank the gods!
More from Natalie Nichols:
7 Ways Once Upon a Time in Wonderland Was Significantly Better Than Its Parent Show
8 Reasons “The Day of the Doctor” Made Me (Almost) Completely Forgive Steven Moffat
Ten Reasons Peter Capaldi Is – and Isn’t – a Good Choice for Doctor Who
11 Cult TV Shows Besides Veronica Mars that Deserve Kickstarter-Funded Movies