TV.com's Best of 2014: The Best Dramas

Don't be so dramatic, TV! Just kidding, we love our dramas, and 2014 was a veritable Whitman's Sampler of them, so we squeezed each one to figure out what they were made of and then kept gobbling them up until we'd gained 10 pounds each. Who needs Breaking Bad when you've got flat circles, sympathetic Russian spies, and lonely serial killers who really just want a friend, you know? Below, we've listed our 11 favoritest favorites of the year—let's hear yours in the comments!


The Americans  | FX

What sophomore slump? Not only did The Americans maintain a super-high level of quality in its transition from Season 1 to Season 2, but it took the drama to new heights with an expanded story that was both tighter and more engaging. The tension skyrocketed as the series evolved, shifting from a show about KGB spies who happen to be married to a show about the dangers of being a married KGB spy with two children. As Philip and Elizabeth's chosen profession threatened to cleave a path through their carefully controlled lives, The Americans became more personal, highlighting the importance of family with a special focus on their teenage daughter Paige. Add in stellar performances from supporting cast members Annet Mahendru, Noah Emmerich, and Margo Martindale, and you've got one of the best shows not just of 2014, but of the last several years.

TV.COM REVIEW: The Americans Season 2 Finale Review: Mother (Russia) May I?


Fargo  | FX

Our expectations were low when Fargo was announced. "FOR SHAME!" we thought. "The classic Coen Brothers movie is perfect in every way, and any homage to it would be offensive at best!" Well, shame on us, because Fargo went on to become one of the best TV series of 2014, period. Showrunner Noah Hawley's sharp writing and FX's loose creative leash attracted an unbelievable roster of talent—Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton, newcomer of the year Allison Holman, a host of incredible directors—resulting in one of TV's most amazing triumphs since, well, Breaking Bad. Season 1 was extremely violent and darkly comic, and if you haven't watched it yet, you should drop everything and get started right away.

TV.COM REVIEW: Fargo Series Premiere Review: Breaking Bad


The Good Wife  | CBS


There are only two network dramas on this list, and the other one should arguably be on cable, which means The Good Wife is the best network drama by default. But of course that doesn't mean it's not worthy of the title. The show's fifth season easily dealt with the fallout of not one, but two series-altering decisions: the law firm defection and of course, Will's death (which we still might not be ready to accept as a thing that actually happened). At a point in its lifespan when most veteran network shows would be content to just phone it in, The Good Wife reminds us that Alicia Florrick won't be done until she decides she's done, and who are we to to complain with that logic?

TV.COM REVIEW: The Good Wife "Dramatics, Your Honor" Review: Bad Calls


Hannibal  | NBC

The fact that a drama of this magnitude exists on network TV in 2014 is reason enough to celebrate, but then Hannibal went and topped off its beautifully stylized horror aesthetic with magnetic and manipulative performances from both Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy, too. Charged with tension from start to finish thanks to the intense fight scene between Hannibal and Laurence Fishburne's Jack Crawford that bookended Season 2, the second chapter of Bryan Fuller's psychological thriller ensnared us with its intimacy and gutted us emotionally the same way it gutted its victims physically. Plus, who can forget the scene where Michael Pitt's Mason Verger ate his own nose?

TV.COM REVIEW: Hannibal Season 2 Finale Review: Would You Stand Up and Walk Out On Me?


Mad Men  | AMC

We're still waiting to see how AMC's decision to air Mad Men's final season over two years plays out, but judging by the end of Season 7A, we're willing to bet it'll go out on top, just like Peggy in her pitch to Burger Chef. Despite stumbling a bit early on, the show quickly found its footing with a string of exceptionally well-done episodes that mimicked Don Draper in his prime, swooping in to save a pitch. Anchored, as always, by the complicated relationship between Don and Peggy, the series proved that even after Bert Cooper's death—and a season in which Ginsberg cut off his own nipple and gifted it to Peggy—Mad Men still has some magic left.

TV.COM REVIEW: Mad Men Season 7A Finale Review: "Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, Life Goes On"


Manhattan  | WGN AMERICA

WGN America's second original scripted program (after the witchy Salem) immediately earned the fledgling network serious cred as a source for outstanding drama. Set in the 1940s in Los Alamos, New Mexico—a town built in the middle of desert to serve as a top-secret headquarters for the nation's best scientists to invent the atomic bomb—Manhattan is a gorgeous, layered series that lit a fuse in its pilot and kept on burning until its explosive Season 1 finale. The show is ostensibly about secrets (military, corporate, and personal) being kept under immense pressure in a confined environment, and every element of the story, from the military's mission to what's happening in the lives of the scientists' wives, is equally fascinating. Plus, fantastic performances abound; John Benjamin Hickey's turn as the mysterious Dr. Frank Winter is one of the standouts of the television year.

TV.COM INTERVIEW: Manhattan Series Creator Sam Shaw on Strong Female Characters, the Show's Surprisingly Modern Roots, and Why It Isn't a Story About WWII


Orange Is the New Black  | NETFLIX

The second season of Netflix's breakout (but locked-up) hit proved to be just as good as its first, and it's easy to see why. Litchfield Penitentiary has an endless supply of stories to tell, and Season 2 explored new territory by spending some time with characters we didn't know so well while also keeping us up-to-date on the folks we came to love in Season 1. It also introduced us to one of 2014's best villains in Vee, who was the icing on the storytelling cake.

TV.COM REVIEW: Orange Is the New Black Season 2 Review Part 1 (Episodes 1–6): Conflict Over Community


Rectify  | SUNDANCE TV

Another sophomore sensation, Rectify spent its second season digging into what made its first season so good: the quiet moments with its characters. Whether it was Amantha taking a job as a cashier at a budget market or Daniel ripping apart the kitchen cabinets, Rectify saw the value in taking its time in order to squeeze out every last drop of emotion. Don't call this show "slow," call it "effectively deliberate."

TV.COM REVIEW: Rectify Season 2 Premiere Review: Wake Up, Partner


Shameless  | SHOWTIME

Four seasons in with a fifth on the horizon, Showtime still has no idea how to market this complex, emotionally rich, and underrated gem that deftly pivots between moments of black comedy and heartbreaking drama. But much like its deeply flawed protagonists, Shameless always overcomes its hardships to remind us that its layered imperfections are what make it so perfect. The series takes pleasure in kicking the wild Gallaghers when they're down, but it also cleverly knows when to let poignant silence do the heavy lifting. While the specific challenges facing the show's characters might not always translate to water-cooler fodder, the performances accompanying them are some of the best on TV. In 2014, the unparalleled Emmy Rossum anchored a season that featured equally memorable turns from co-stars Jeremy Allen White and Cameron Monaghan, among others. And despite the suffocating darkness that clung to its Season 4 storylines, Shameless continued to be a bright spot.

TV.COM REVIEW: Shameless "Iron City" Review: She's Family


True Detective  | HBO

Remember when everyone was in tears because Breaking Bad was ending, and how we all thought television would suck forever? And then remember when True Detective came along and blew our minds out of our heads with its philosophizing and hidden symbols and big words paired with imagery of dead girls? We're not saying True Detective replaced Breaking Bad, but it sure reminded us that good character crime dramas still exist. Just when we think the darkness will win, the light shines through.

TV.COM REVIEW: True Detective Series Premiere Review: A Puzzle That Reinvents the Crime Drama


Vikings  | HISTORY

Come for the psychedelic mushrooms and disgusting torture, stay for star Travis Fimmel's steely blue eyes! A lot of you have been wondering why Vikings is absent from our list of 2014's best genre shows, but guess what!? It's a historical drama, so we decided to put it on this list instead (meanwhile, Game of Thrones remains in the genre category). Yes, the show has taken some liberties with the "historical" part, but History's action-packed period piece is one of television's best under-the-radar epics. Mini-arcs kept things interesting in Season 2's 10-episode run, while season-long stories paid off in the end. And are Vikings' battle scenes some of the best on television, or are they some of the best on television?

TV.COM REVIEW: Vikings Season 2 Finale Review: You Come at the Earl, You Best Not Miss



What are your favorite dramas of 2014?



Comments (162)
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Dec 24, 2014
Pretty Little Liars as always. I'll be damned if there's ever a year when PLL ISN'T the #1 drama of the year.
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Dec 22, 2014
No love for Masters of Sex? It's better than any of the shows on this list.
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Dec 19, 2014
I don't think Vikings should be on this list, though season 2 was pretty good.

True Detective Pwned 2014, but Fargo was definitely fantastic.
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Dec 18, 2014
Parenthood!!!!!
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Dec 17, 2014
are you guys doing this instead of that voting stuff everyone complains about and top 10 lists from the staff?
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Dec 17, 2014
What about The Honorable Woman? The Missing? The Knick?
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Dec 17, 2014

Also, Boardwalk Empire is once again underrated and under appreciated here.
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Dec 17, 2014
I voted for Shameless because nearly every member of the family had something interesting going on and it's rare to find a drama or dramedy that has so many interesting elements and storylines working at once.

Fargo and Orange is the New Black were also up there for me as Fargo had me on the edge of my seat all season long while OITNB continued it's strong stories and character development.

I enjoyed True Detectives, but I also feel like it was vastly overrated by a lot of people. It was good and had a great cast, but overall I wasn't as drawn in as most people.
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Dec 17, 2014
Person of Interest and The Blacklist should have been in the top 3 of the list.
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Dec 17, 2014
My Best TV Dramas of 2014:
- Fargo (The Unexpected Grand TV Show)
- The Americans (Spy Family VS The World)
- The Good Wife (Network TV Shows Can Be Great)
- Downton Abbey (The Crown Jewels)
- Scandal (Manipulation, Sex, Murder and Wine)
- How To Get Away With Murder (Manipulation, Sex, Murder and Wig)
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Dec 17, 2014
Where is The Knick, The Leftovers, Ray Donovan or even Person of Interest...
Bringing Manhattan, Rectify to the list and letting those out...
My nº1 of 2014 was True Detective, no one was expecting a show like that.
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Dec 17, 2014
My Top 11 Non-Genre Dramas of 2014:

1. 24 Live Another Day
2. The Americans
3. True Detective
4. Rectify
5. Hannibal
6. Homeland
7. Legends
8. Dallas
9. Sherlock
10. The Blacklist
11. Boardwalk Empire
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Dec 17, 2014
My top 3:

1. The Americans
2. OITNB
3. Vikings

Honorable mentions: The Leftovers, Fargo.
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Dec 17, 2014
The Leftovers
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Dec 17, 2014
My favorites: Vikings, Hannibal, The Americans, Rectify, The Good Wife.

Looking forward to watch: Manhattan, Shameless.

Respect, but no thank you: Fargo, Mad Men, Orange is the New Black.

True Detective: Watched it, enjoyed it but still can't decide if it deserves the hype.

Could (should?) be here: House of Cards, Leftovers (if not considered genre TV), The Knick, Bate's Motel, Halt and Catch Fire, The Fall and Justified (though not at its prime).

Honorable Mention: to The Good Wife for being on a broadcast channel, with full 22 eps seasons and not the tighter 10 or 12 eps seasons, being on its sixth season and still delivering! Way to go!
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Dec 17, 2014
No Person of Interest or Orphan Black? For shame. Both are far away better than anything Fargo and True Detective did.
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Staff
Dec 17, 2014
Both are on our Best Genre Shows list!
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Dec 17, 2014
Person of Interest is #1 in my book. It is original, and there will nothing like it when it finishes. I LOVE this show!
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Dec 17, 2014
You forgot Orphan Black
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Staff
Dec 17, 2014
Actually, you'll find Orphan Black on our list of the best genre shows of 2014.
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Dec 17, 2014
the leftovers and the affair....
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Dec 16, 2014
Iam going to try Fargo. I liked the movie a lot, so after all the good reviews, it must be worth watching. So, yes to Fargo.
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Dec 16, 2014
Shameless and Hannibal were so good this year.
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Dec 16, 2014
Where's The Missing?
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Dec 16, 2014
Marco Polo!
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Dec 17, 2014
um, yeah, no
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Dec 16, 2014
ON THE LIST: True Detective BARELY squeeking by Hannibal.
OFF THE LIST: Sons Of Anarchy, the best of them all. How this wasn't mentioned is a major oversight!!


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Dec 16, 2014
The Good Wife? Orange is the New Black? Really? Shameless, which hasn't even been mildly entertaining since the second season?

Where's Game of Thrones? The Walking Dead? The Fall? House of Cards?
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Staff
Dec 16, 2014
Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead are on our Best Genre Shows list. The Fall's second season hasn't yet aired in the U.S. so it wasn't in consideration for this list.
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Dec 16, 2014
Fargo. Aw jeez!
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Dec 16, 2014
From the list, definitely Hannibal. And Vikings.
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Dec 16, 2014
The Leftovers ignored again.

Someone here has something against this show. When Recify and True Detective are in a list, The Leftovers is usually there too. But not on this site. I'm not saying it should be top, just there. It's such a well-written show.

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Dec 16, 2014
This complaint should go to the Best Genre Shows list - Besh Genres Shows

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Dec 17, 2014
I think I complained there too haha
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Dec 17, 2014
This comment has been removed.
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Dec 16, 2014
No GOT? No House of Cards? This yearly thing is confusing me. Following the TV calendar year and doing this at the end of a season would be better.

I am lucky enough to watch all the shows listed above except OITNB which I gave up on season one. My vote goes to The Good Wife, Shameless and Fargo.

Power should be in the list.
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Dec 16, 2014
Game of Thrones was included in the Best Genre Show list instead.
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Dec 16, 2014
Jeeez... I just can't understand how those lists are composed... you have True Detective and Hannibal in the same list with The Good Wife, Orange is The New Black and the Vikings?

Where's Bate's Motel? Why doesn't that qualify as a psychological drama?

Honestly, I'm really confused... almost everything gets the tag Drama! Female-driven Drama, Supernatural Drama, Vampire Drama, Police Drama, SciFi Drama, Sitcom Drama and the list just doesn't end!

Just telling a "serious story" doesn't always qualify as drama. Not every story involving contrast or conflict of characters is necessarily a drama! Drama (at least in classic literature) has a specific structure, progress, characteristics and characters - traits that I don't always see in the script of every TV-show tagged as drama!

From Sophocles to Shakespeare and from Shakespeare to Eugene O'Neil, drama is something specific! Even opera is conformant to the "universal rules" of what drama is and thus we have the opera genres; not to mention the Japanese Nō (Noh)! Now almost everything is something plus Drama...

I don't know... I'm either too old-school - influenced by literature where boundaries are more clear or there's the language barrier in the sense of the word having a meaning in English that I don't comprehend (I'm Greek and "drama" is a Greek word) or I don't know... I really can't understand how those lists are contacted - how almost everything is something plus drama!

I'm expressing an honest question and I'm not reproaching anybody!
If anyone is willing to help me understand, please DO!
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Dec 16, 2014
You're applying niche academic logic to a broader entertainment platform, and I think that's what's causing your confusion/concern. In television, such a narrow/specific definition isn't used. There are essentially four kinds of scripted programming: variety shows (like The Daily Show or Late Night), comedies, dramas, and genre shows. Drama, for most of television, is any serious series (versus a comedy) that is, essentially, realism (versus a genre show).
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Dec 17, 2014
hmmm... so you are telling me that Drama as a genre doesn't exist on its own on TV?

Drama (as a literary genre) includes realism, but how realistic or serious is GoT? I love GoT, but how would you classify it? Ok... for the books I know - it's epic fantasy novel. How would you ( or anyone else) classify the TV series?

Since scripts can be considered as a form of literature (most of them are inspired by or based on literature) why literary genres don't apply to shows as well?
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Dec 17, 2014
That's why there's the sub-category: GoT would be considered a "genre" show (and it was included on the "best genre shows" list on this site, as a matter of fact), whereas, say, "The Good Wife" would be a drama.

Now, this is a distinction being made only on this site. When you look at how awards shows work, GoT gets nominated as "best drama" because there isn't a separate category for genre shows versus straight realism.

I think it's a valid question: you would think that, when it comes to classification, we would make more distinctions, because a show like Breaking Bad is doing very different things from, say, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Awards shows, though, do not make such distinctions (mostly because they're stodgy and stuffy and refuse to acknowledge the merit of supernatural or fantasy shows).
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Dec 16, 2014
Only notable omissions I can see is The Leftovers (which doesn't get much love around here) and Orphan Black.

I'm going to have to get around to putting Shameless near the top of the binge watch list since I keep hearing such good things about it.
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Dec 16, 2014
We included Orphan Black in the genre category!
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Dec 17, 2014
In that case, just The Leftovers got snubbed, which sounds about right. The Rodney Dangerfield of HBO :)
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Dec 16, 2014
Hannibal. True Detective. The Good Wife. I'm from Norway and I tried to watch Vikings. Not impressed.
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Dec 16, 2014
Didn't make it through season 1 of Hannibal, The Americans and Vikings.
The Leftovers should be in there, started out a bit weak but grew stronger every episode.
Fargo started great but went downhill, overrated imo.
Haven't finished season 2 of OITNB yet, but great so far.
True Detective was a very good show, and is the best drama I've watched this year.
The Knick a close 2nd.

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Dec 16, 2014
Hannibal all the way, nothing came close to it this season

And that includes the incredible first season of Fargo, and the good but oh so overrated True Detective.

Also i don't watch Vikings but anyone else thinks Travis Fimmel looks like Charlie Humman in that show?
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Dec 17, 2014
I agree - Hannibal was just astonishingly excellent in every way this season. Soooo good!
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Dec 16, 2014
Hannibal and Rectify &3
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Dec 16, 2014
I'm glad to see 'Rectify' get some love, it's one of my favorites as well: http://higherprogress.com/2014/12/16/higher-progress-best-tv-of-2014/
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Dec 16, 2014
I prefer Season one much more.
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Dec 16, 2014
"Best" is so passive. The most engaging dramas this year, the ones that stayed with me between episodes and beyond, and which I actively sought out other fans to discuss, were:
1) Halt and Catch Fire, 2) The 100, 3) Orphan Black, 4) Hannibal, 5) Fargo, 6) Manhattan, 7) The Americans.

HACF succeeded despite being too cryptic on a single viewing even for reviewers that liked it, and for forging its own tale (like Manhattan, it was inspired by history rather than based on it). (I assume the show runners will make season 2 a little easier to follow so more folks can keep up. They literally have a blockbuster movie cast and mustn't hoard that, plus Nielsen ranked the series up with Mad Men and The Good Wife in numerous categories.)

The 100, I believe, has largely broken out of its "genre (TV)" into full-on drama with its examination of the atrocities of war, and non-stop story with a large/ensemble cast.
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Dec 16, 2014
Genre shows do not need to be silly - some of the best drama series are genre ones. So your last sentence does not make much sense - being a good show does not make it a non-genre one.
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Dec 16, 2014
Person of Interest and Parenthood, and Suits should definitely make this list. Madam Secretary is a personal fave but probably not good enough for this list, and Blue Bloods has slowed down a bit so I'll leave it off just.

On the guilty pleasure side of things, where was Last Ship huh? ;p

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Dec 16, 2014
OH, and I remember what critics were initially saying about The Americans: that FX wanted their own Homeland and so had to come up with something similar. Now, The Americans has its own identity (Or would it be secret identity? - I know a wig helps), which is completely different from that of Homeland, and is even doing better. Congratulations to those who believed in it from the beginning.

And Fargo, may I dare say I liked it better than the movie?

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Dec 16, 2014
Wow, many of my favorite shows here, and none I'd have any problems with. But you guys goofed. Orange is New Black and Shameless are comedies. (And that, ladies and gentleman, is a bad joke, but not on my part.)
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Dec 16, 2014
I never understand why people put True Detective on lists. I found it to be pretensious....extremely and truly boring. The good Wife just rocks.
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Dec 16, 2014
What about Da Vinci Demons ???
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Dec 16, 2014
Seconded, even though the first season was better. But perhaps that show would fit better in the "genre shows" category.
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Dec 16, 2014
The Americans and The Good Wife all the way, even my husband likes them and he's way more critical than me.
I also still like Nashville, but I guess it can't exactly be called "the best" drama.
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Dec 16, 2014
I could never get into The Americans but Hannibal and True Detective were spectacular. Fargo before the time skip was really something else. Rectify's second season wasn't as strong as the first but still quite good.
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Dec 16, 2014
Fargo after the time skip was also something else.
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Dec 17, 2014
It was still good after the time skip but it did go downhill a bit. The ending in particular was probbaly the weakest part of the show.
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Dec 16, 2014
Homeland. Pox on your house for not including it here just because the previous season sucked.
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Dec 17, 2014
this season of Homeland has not only saved the show after last year's bad season - but it's been really really good! not the best but wayyyyy better than i thought it would be!
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Dec 16, 2014
none of the above, but since Person of Interest is on another list, Ive nothing to add
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Dec 16, 2014
by the way, looking at this list (and at the missing names that could have been here) how we are blessed these years, if we can choose between these names! We are so spoiled that we can afford giving so few votes to Mad Men!

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Dec 16, 2014
SO pissed off that The Americans doesn't get its due recognition in the award season!

By the way, I think you (and awards-guys) should really consider creating the new "dramedy" category, there are so many shows that do not fit into the classic drama/comedy duality right now.
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Dec 16, 2014
The Leftovers!

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Dec 16, 2014
I think Homeland deserves an honourable mention, particularly after Sunday's episode. The fact that the series' quality has remained - and many would argue, even improved - since the departure of Damien Lewis and technically a complete reboot of the series is a testament to how good it is.
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