Best of 2014: 30 – 21
30. You’re The Worst – Stephen Falk [Television]
You’re The Worst is a new romantic comedy on FX that debuted in the summer of 2014. For a long time, summer shows have been the red headed stepchildren of television, but in recent years, networks have begun to have more confidence in their mid-year lineups. You’re The Worst is a great example of high quality television in the summer months. The show is a romantic comedy in the same way that It’s Always Sunny is a sitcom, both take their general genre and mess it up. The two lead characters are a wreck both in their personal lives and relationships. They are stuck on their own hangups, and the behavior spills over into romantic relationships as well as with friends and family. The cast of the show should not be likeable, but the series presents everyone in a way that shows all people are worthwhile. Chris Geere and Aya Cash are excellent in the lead roles, while their closest friends, played by Desmin Borges and Kether Donohue, often outshine the two in their comedic presence. You’re The Worst is a funny, chaotic show that continues to surprise in the level of depth that it manages amid all the mess. I am happy the network has picked up the show for a second season.
29. A to Z – Ben Queen [Television]
This year, television had several romantic comedies with their own spin on the genre. While a few have survived, many did not make it. A to Z is one show that fell victim to not finding an audience fast enough, which is unfortunate. The show focuses on the relationship of Andrew (Ben Feldman), a hopeless romantic working for an internet dating site, and Zelda (Cristin Milioti), a no-nonsense lawyer. The show stands out from other romantic comedies by telling the audience exactly how long the couple will date for, but not saying whether their dating life will end in a breakup or with a marriage. It is a cool concept, and the audience must follow along to see how things unfold. The premise immediately hooked me. The chemistry between the leads is excellent, and their two close friends add the right touch of humor and affection to the mix. On top of that, the larger cast of co-workers helps to add more tension and comedic moments to the show. It sucks that NBC canceled the show. As it progressed in its thirteen aired episodes, A to Z continued to get stronger. I wish I could see how things ended up. Even so, I think the available episodes are quality television and still worth watching.
28. Fargo – Noah Hawley [Television]
There are few television shows like Fargo. Its characters, locations and plot feel like a perfect combination of elements. Based on the popular movie of the same name, the television series takes the dark world of the Coen brothers and expands upon it, keeping true to the source’s humor, quirk and grit. Prior knowledge of the original movie is not required to enjoy the season. Each piece of the show feels cohesive with the others, believable and necessary despite much of its over the top direction. The cast is incredible, made even better by the excellent wardrobes and sets. The story is funny, shocking and heart wrenching all at once. Created as a mini-series, the ten episode first season tells the story from start to end. Due to its success, FX renewed the series for a second season, but it will contain a separate story set in the same universe (similar to the way American Horror Story structures itself). For those looking for smaller stories with a concise beginning, middle and end, Fargo stands near the top of the playing field. Do not miss it.
27. Red7 – Asmadi Games [Tabletop Game]
Tabletop gaming can be overwhelming. Publishers release hundreds of games every year, and many can be so expensive or complex that it is hard to dive in. That is why games like Red7 are important. You can purchase the game for around ten dollars. The rules are simple and allow for anyone to play, though the game is complex enough to keep skilled players returning. In Red7, there are seven cards (one through seven) for seven colors (the colors of the rainbow) for a total of forty nine total cards. The dealer gives each player seven cards and an eighth card is then placed face up in front of them. This is the start of each player’s palette (are you catching the game’s art motif?). The player with the highest card is winning at the start of the game. Taking turns, each player must play a card on their palette or to the canvas (a pile in the center of the game that dictates the rules of the game) in order to be winning at the end of their turn. Each card color can change the rules of the game if placed in the canvas (i.e. red cards make a highest card win rule while orange changes it to most cards of one number). Once the current player is winning based on the cards they have played, the game goes to the next player. If a player cannot play a card or change the rules so that they are winning by the end of their turn, they are out for the round. When two cards tie, such as in the case of the highest card rule, then the highest color dictates which is the winner. It is a simple concept that allows for a lot of skill and complexity when planning how to play your hand in future rounds. Players can also choose to use optional rules in order to make the game more advanced. I have played the game with family and friends at various skill levels and it was fun every time. In fact, I lose a lot, but I still love playing. For the cost and ease of use, Red7 is a must have for those who enjoy tabletop gaming.
26. P.T. – 7780s Studio (Kojima Productions) [Video Game]
P.T. is one of the coolest promotions for a video game ever. During Gamescom 2014, the unknown 7780s Studio announced a new horror game for the PS4. A demo was available to download immediately. The game took place in a hallway where players looped through the same area over and over solving puzzles along the way. The visuals were stunning, the sound design was creepy and scary elements filled the game throughout. In less than a day, a player had solved the demo, revealing that it was a playable teaser for the upcoming Silent Hills game by Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro. Even with the ending revealed, it took another week before users found a definitive way to solve the teaser. As a concept for revealing an upcoming game, P.T. was successful. The community and word of mouth around it was incredible during the first week. Apart from that, P.T. is also a great game to play. If players know what to do, they can solve the game in twenty minutes, but many, like myself, spent hours roaming and searching the hallway, trying to figure out clues and unlock the final mystery. It was terrifying and a massive amount of fun. Anyone with a PS4 should check it out.
25. The LEGO Movie – Chris Miller & Phil Lord [Movie]
When I first saw the announcement for a movie based on the LEGO property, I scoffed and figured it would not interest me. Shortly after, I saw the trailer featuring Batman. The visuals looked great and the humor hit the right balance for kids and adults. It hooked me. I had to see it. After catching the movie in the theater, I was even more impressed. The LEGO Movie had all the right elements. The voice acting was excellent, the visuals were eye-catching, the jokes stayed funny and the movie managed to contain a powerful message about society and conformity. The film surpassed all my expectations and proved that the right talent can turn even the most basic of properties into must see entertainment. It is easy to overlook a film like The LEGO Movie, but to do so would be a huge mistake. It offers far more than many other films released in the same year, and does so on a level that the whole family can enjoy.
24. Constantine – Daniel Cerone & David S. Goyer [Television]
In recent times, television is getting saturated with series based on comic properties. As a fan of comics, it is both cool and disheartening. It is great to see characters that I love in all pop culture mediums, but I worry that it will come crashing down under its own weight. Some series, like Gotham, are miserable piles of dreck, while others have been a pleasant surprise. It is a mixed bag that adds to my inner turmoil. Constantine, a new series on NBC, is one of the pleasant surprises. The first trailer for the television series showed a lot of promise, but I was worried that the series would not be able to portray magic in an interesting way. Often times, even in comics, magic based characters can feel flat and cheap in the way they fall in and out of situations. The magic can be used to further plot devices in ways that do not feel authentic to the world. Constantine manages to avoid these pitfalls. The series is dark and foreboding while maintaining a sense of humor. Matt Ryan is perfectly cast for the main character. He is equal parts asshole and compassionate helper. It works great, and the complexity of the character shines through. The supporting cast is also solid and used to make the overarching world and threats believable. Constantine is a great show with a darker focus than the other comic properties on television. It stands out from the crowd without getting too obsessed with its own gloom. Unfortunately, NBC is on the edge of canceling the show. If it does get canned, it would be a shame. The show is consistently good and deserves to tell its tale for years to come.
23. DLC – Jeff Cannata & Christian Spicer [Podcast]
I was unfamiliar with Jeff Cannata’s work before 2014, though he has been in the podcasting world for years. I will talk more about my introduction to Jeff’s work in an entry further down this list. That story aside, it led me to DLC, a weekly podcast about gaming started in January of 2014. The podcast, hosted by Jeff Cannata and Christian Spicer, brings guests on to talk about gaming of all kinds (i.e. video games and tabletop games). The format splits each episode up into several sections. First, the panel picks important gaming news stories to discuss and determine a “Story of the Week.” Next, the group talks about the current games they are playing. The last topic focuses on tabletop gaming. It is a consistent setup that works well for the style and topic of the show. The hosts have a great rapport with one another as Jeff’s upbeat, cheery outlook on life counterbalances Christian’s snark and less rosy-eyed view of the world. It is a fun dynamic that is further pushed by the incredible passion both show for the topics they are covering. On top of that, the show allows for listeners to tune in live each week if they desire and chat along with or call into the show. Though I came to the show for the video game talk, Jeff’s love of tabletop games became infectious. It inspired me to start a gaming night with friends and check out some of the amazing tabletop games that are available. Jeff does a great job of recommending games for specific situations or types of people. I purchased my first set of games based on his opinions and not a single one was bad. Jeff knows his stuff. With a year under their belt, DLC is still going strong. The guests are varied and interesting, and the content continues to remain fresh and fun. I urge people to check it out. And look for more of Jeff Cannata further down on my list.
22. Oh, Common Life – Fireworks [Music]
Fireworks is the kind of band that listeners can miss if they are not paying close enough attention. On first listen, their albums can seem generic or too much of the same thing everyone else is doing. But to write the band off would be a huge mistake. Fireworks’ first full length, All I Have to Offer is My Own Confusion, contains catchy pop punk hooks and insightful lyrics. Watch any of the songs live and it is easy to get drawn into the magic of their song writing. On their second album, Gospel, the band honed their style, keeping the pop punk sensibility but adding a bit more polish and a darker edge. It felt different, but had a lot of the same hooks and quality writing from the first. On Oh, Common Life, the band stretches their sound even more. Stepping away from the pop punk elements and turning to a more indie rock sound, the album can feel like a departure for long time fans. And yet, with subsequent listens, it is easy to see the same band within these songs. Maturing even more in their writing style, the recent life lessons of the band can be heard throughout the tracks. It is moving, compelling and shows the same quality of song craft that the band has been displaying for years.
21. Kumail Nanjiani [Comedian, Television, Podcast]
I first noticed Kumail Nanjiani in HBO’s comedy, Silicon Valley. His back and forth with the other characters on the show was phenomenal, and his stoic, deadpan style of humor hit all the right notes for me. I soon realized that Kumail also had great parts in Portlandia and was the voice of Prismo in Adventure Time. He was suddenly everywhere, including on tour with a stop in Milwaukee. My girlfriend and I bought tickets and awaited Kumail’s live stand up. It was great. Without exaggeration, we laughed the entire set. I was beyond impressed. At the end of the show, Kumail and his wife, Emily V Gordon, took questions from the audience. Many of them centered on their podcast, The Indoor Kids. Curious, I began listening to the podcast and have been a loyal listener since. The two discuss video games, movies and television each week. It is funny, informative and easy to jump in without knowledge of the significant episode backlog. Kumail Nanjiani gets credit for being my first live stand up comedy show, as well as sucking me back into podcasts and inspiring me to start my own. He is personable, upbeat and hilarious; deserving all his recent success and more.