Welcome to the 2014 Year-End TV Power Rankings, our second-annual installment of this now-beloved and venerable institution.
While last year’s rules were thoroughly clear and nearly perfect, we realize that 12 months have passed since the first installment, and some refinement of our operating principles may be in order. Also, there’s an excellent chance you have forgotten the rules, because you have a lot on your mind these days, or you’ve never read the rules1 in the first place, because we get it, you’re busy. Those disappointing Christmas gifts are not going to put themselves under the tree, where they will sit until your partner pretends that Gore-Tex-insulated slippers from Restoration Hardware were the only thing needed to make you both whole. So we’ll gently hold your hand and walk you through the rules again. Here we go.
- As previously stated, these Year-End Power Rankings operate like the Mad Men Power Rankings, but with its chest cavity cut open and stuffed with all the television of 2014. Call it a savvy brand extension, call it an unimaginative rip-off, call it a “now-beloved and venerable institution” as we did above — just do not call it a “year-end list.” This is not a list. It is the Power Rankings.
- We would sooner die than reveal any of the secret guiding principles of the Power Rankings. Believe it, Chachi.
- For our purposes, “all the television of 2014” is defined as “all the television we were able to watch.” These Power Rankings will not indulge in the deceptive shenanigans of attempting to Rank things we did not see. We tried to see everything, we really did, but we failed. Sometimes the toothpicks propping open one’s eyelids snap. Sometimes one’s body metabolizes the amphetamines a little more quickly than one would like. Sometimes one falls asleep in front of Netflix and dreams of even better shows that exist only in one’s mind, but one cannot Rank them, because pitting Captain Jaronicus J. “Jay Jay” Gearheart — the alcoholic cyborg leader of Space Colony: America 12 — against the field of television reality is not a fair fight. Even First Officer Raven Eaglestone can see that.
- There is also the possibility that things you like are not Ranked, but were Seen and still somehow excluded from the Power Rankings. You’re going to have to come to terms with that on your own. We can’t help you. But we can tell you that any omissions were a deliberate attempt to provoke you. Do you feel that sharp stick jabbing at your kidneys? That’s the Power Rankings. That discomfort is how we all know we’re alive.
- Do not look the Power Rankings directly in the eye.
- The Power Rankings request that its dressing room be lit by the gentle flames of 100 white candles. There should also be a sterling silver platter with a generous selection of the freshest deli meats. Let’s also have some doves. The Power Rankings have always liked doves, they are by far the classiest of unreasonable-demand fowl.
- Time to start. Should we start?
- Spoilers. Right. If you see an entry for a character on a show you’re not caught up on, you can safely assume it will contain a spoiler of some kind. The Power Rankings are tired of waiting around to talk about 2014. It’s almost 2015, which is the future. You inevitably will ignore this warning, find us on Twitter, and curse our very souls for this perceived transgression. We may or may not have dragged out the Rules just to see if you’d read all the way down to the eighth one. Spoilers. Watch out for them.
- Let’s start.
1. Tyrion Lannister, Game of Thrones
Which, in fact, we referred to as “guidelines” last time, to ease you into the thing. The gloves are off in 2014. These are rules.
Let’s set the scene: A wrongfully accused but tragically defiant imp, endungeoned by his vindictive, wine-swilling sister for the fatal poisoning of her incest-born son at his joyless wedding, is freed in the middle of the night by the steadfast, if conflicted, brother who sired the murdered bastard-king. The brothers wind their way through the cold stone bowels of the castle, embrace, and then separate, possibly forever. “I suppose this is good-bye,” offers the imp. “Thank you for my life.” But rather than disappear into the freedom of the night, the imp turns back. He returns to the castle, retraces his steps through his escape route. He opens a trapdoor and finds himself inside the sleeping chambers of his father, the same all-powerful patriarch who had presided over his kangaroo trial, watched his champion’s head get crushed like a melon, and sentenced him to death anyway. Does the imp think better of it and turn back? No. He advances.
And this is what he finds there: The love of the imp’s life, who betrayed him at trial, lolling in satisfaction, his father’s hand-of-the-king brooch mockingly notching the bedpost beside her. He strangles her in a fit of jealous rage. Cries, apologizes, cries some more. Pulls a familiar crossbow from the wall, the favorite toy of his cartoonishly cruel nephew — the nephew he didn’t kill, but whose death was the grisly, purple-faced manifestation of a thousand answered death-wishes — and advances further still through the chambers.
Where he comes upon his father.
Squatting atop the royal shitter. Go ahead. Make your “A Game of Thrones, indeed” jokes. We’ll wait.
The imp levels the crossbow. The father does the only thing he can: Try to talk his way out of it, as his only available weapons are his tongue, 30-plus years of quickly dissipating psychological leverage, and the rolled-up scroll of Entertainment Weekly’s “Winter Is Coming” preview issue he’d been hoping to plow through during this refractory respite on the toilet. The father talks and talks, bemoaning the indignity of being confronted knickers down, dudgeon up, knobby knees exposed. Can’t they move this heart-to-heart to his chambers and work out their issues like a civilized family? They cannot. The imp’s love is in there, and she is dead. The father miscalculates; this is not the time to dismiss her as a “whore.” Especially twice.
The imp fires his weapon. Say hello to his little friend. This is awful, but we all are thinking it. It feels good to be free of it.
“You shot me,” gasps the father, with a full command of the obvious. “You’re no son of mine,” gasps the father, with a full command of how to say the exact wrong thing with his life on the line.
The imp fires his weapon again. The father gets got. The most powerful man in Westeros crossbolted in the commode, without a parchment upon which to scribble his final words, without a crow to send it back to Casterly Rock. Al Capone and taxes. Omar in the convenience store. Elvis … also sprawled on the floor of the bathroom. Maybe Elvis should have gone first here.
“I am your son. I have always been your son.”
Welcome to the top, Tyrion. Now run.
2. Rustin Cohle and Martin Hart, True Detective (tie)
Rust got all the shine. The haunted stares out onto the endless, empty expanse of Louisiana highway. The monologues from the passenger’s seat of an unmarked Caprice Classic about this giant septic tank in outer space we’re all floating in, about the good-bad men who keep the bad-bad men away, about the tragic missteps in evolution that is human consciousness, about walking hand in hand into extinction after the recognition that we think we’re somebody, but we’re nobody. And that was just in the first hour.
Rust also got the leather jacket. The torso-flattering tank top. The Big Hug Mug and the tin Lone Star totem riding shotgun through his interrogations. The backstory of the man obsessed, the man who went too deep undercover, the man who dreams but doesn’t sleep.
Rust got the six-minute tracking shot.
Rust got to be America’s True Detective.
But Marty, man. What did Marty get?
Marty got to sit there, behind the wheel of that car, gritting his teeth. He got to listen to all of Rust’s jabbering nihilist bullshit, because that motherfucker likes to talk. He got his partner giving his already fragile relationship with his wife — a relationship he had no trouble ruining himself with his own infidelities — a final shove over the marital cliff.
Marty got to let himself go. Got to move into a crappy apartment, open his own crappy business. Got to emerge from the shadows at just the right time, guns blazing, only to take an ax to the chest from a mouth-breathing yellow king in dirty coveralls.
Marty got to be Our Detective.
So let’s call it even. Let’s split a pack of Camels from a Tiffanys box, sit on the curb for a few languid drags of finally shutting-the-fuck-up, and take in the night sky. Sometimes it’s a churning hell-funnel sucking all of our gutter-dwelling souls into its infinite darkness, but sometimes it’s a flickering reminder that the light’s winning.
Enjoy these final moments of 2014 with Rust and Marty. Next year our detectives are John Carter from Mars PD and a conflicted hit man from Dublin.
3. Selina Meyer, Veep
[Note: Some bonus House of Cards spoilers ahead. Also Veep spoilers, but this is the Veep section, you knew what you were getting into, Veep-wise.]
This year, you had your choice of vice-presidents who improbably ascended to the highest office in the land. You could go with the guy who shoved his pesky reporter-mistress in front of an oncoming Metro train because his evil-machinations-boner was beginning to soften up in the fading afterglow of murdering the gubernatorial hopeful he drove back to the bottle. He’s also the guy who played the most oblivious commander in chief in history like the world’s dumbest fiddle. (Love u, President Walker!) Puppet master’s gonna pull strings; hate the player, not the marionette game. But there’s not much fun in Frank Underwood, unless you’re into scenery chewing and fourth-wall breaking and choking out the occasional dog.
There is, however, a lot of fun in campaigning for the candidate who got to the Oval Office the more entertaining way: by tripping over a succession of fortuitously discarded banana peels and tumbling ass-backward behind the desk in the Oval Office. President Meyer’s battle-tested now, hardened in the mean hallways of the Old Executive Office Building, having weathered wave after wave of undermining attacks by her overmatched staff, the price tag on her folksy $1,200 standing crate, and the occasional rancid, bowel-loosening cup of frozen yogurt.
Vote Selina Meyer to a second term. No, that’s not even enough: Obliterate term limits and vote her president-for-life. Otherwise Frank Underwood’s going to figure out how to do it and we’ll have to sit through infinity more years of his oppressive binge-administration.
4. Don Draper, Mad Men
Last year, bursting with desperate hope that Mad Men’s split final season wouldn’t too adversely affect these Power Rankings as the show embarked upon its needlessly hobbled, two-year parade into history, we wrote:
We have dedicated a perhaps-unhealthy chunk of our professional lives to Don Draper. It’s not his fault there was no briefcase in 2013, no carousel. It will have to be enough that he didn’t wind up a tragic inkblot on the Madison Avenue sidewalk. We may still get there. And that will probably be enough to top these crossover Power Rankings in late 2014. But not this year.
Wow, that one hurts. It really hurts. Not only must we refrain from elevating the patron saint of these Power Rankings to the vaunted Number One slot, but we are compelled by our utterly inflexible and secret code of ethics to do the nigh unthinkable: drop Don Draper an entire spot from last year’s Ranking. We’ll lay blame, like an asthmatic kitten squeezed nearly to death by a spoiled owner hoping to extract every last adorable breath from its wheezing body, at the feet of AMC. Cleaving Walter White in twain and watching him regenerate into a hazmat-suited, meth-slinging ratings Colossus standing bestride the basic cable landscape was a risk that paid off. Doing the same to our disaffected ad-man, whose slow unraveling (or re-raveling, who knows? Not us, they gave us only half a fucking final season so far, see you in April 2015) was pointlessly interrupted by the hiatus, did nothing but kill his momentum. Who’s shouting? YOU’RE shouting. THE WHOLE SYSTEM IS SHOUTING.
This is not say that the first batch of stories weren’t good. Maybe we’re the greedy kitten stranglers, blinded by our own desire to rush toward whatever ending awaits us. Maybe we should have been more OK with cliffhanging on Bert Cooper’s death, the moon landing, the long-overdue fork jammed into Don and Megan’s marriage. Soon, the halted finale clock will start ticking again, and our hero will have a mere seven more episodes to make his peace with a rapidly unrecognizable world and prep himself for the disco desolation of the 1970s.2
Picture Don Draper in a spread collar and bell-bottoms. Now picture him again with an even wider collar. And a fedora. How about a turtleneck? Now picture Pete Campbell wearing that outfit and Don kicking his ass. We feel better now too.
Maybe it will all work out for the best. But we’re still left rolling the same words around in our mouth we were tasting so bitterly in June: The split final season is a dick. We’re still waiting for Michael Ginsberg to hand over the other nipple. We’re still waiting for Bob Benson to show up with two emotionally satisfying resolutions to decades-spanning personal journeys, just in case you forgot to bring yours.
We’re ultimately at peace with seeming greedy, with accidentally smothering the kitten. Sometimes cuddly things need to die. Look at how many Bobby Drapers we’ve gone through already.
5. Abbi and Ilana, Broad City
Not all television superheroes live in the sheltered neighborhoods of The CW, in your Smallvilles and Arrowtowns and Flashford Falls. Some make their way to the booming metropolis, with just a few dollars in their pockets, in search of adventure, of crimes to fight, of affordable weed.
Some live in Broad City.
Ali Goldstein/Comedy Central
Some have incredible superpowers like the ability to smuggle controlled substances in their naughty places, or to very, very slowly advance from gymnasium sweat wiper to certified personal trainer, or to ingest dangerous quantities of shellfish to which they are allergic but stop right at death’s door rather than cross its mollusk-strewn threshold, because hey, this lobster’s on someone else’s tab.
They are the heroes we deserve. And the heroes we need. Please pass the EpiPen, Ilana’s about to drop dead, and they have a really important FaceTime three-way scheduled for the weekend.
6. Dr. John Thackery, The Knick
John Thackery is, perhaps, a more immediately recognizable kind of superhero, the kind with which we’re well acquainted these days. He’s the Batman of the surgical theater, delivering vigilante justice to whatever unlucky maladies darken his operating table, established procedures and acceptable levels of risk be damned. If the patient dies, he dies. They’ll mourn him, briefly. But one day they’ll figure out how blood transfusions are supposed to work, or electricity, or the best way to sew an armpit to a syphilitic nose-hole, and the still-lawless streets of medicine will be safer for it.
And oh, yes, Thackery’s doing it while an ocean of cuhcaine is surging through this bloodstream. Sweet, sweet cuhcaine, politely whispering in his ear — OK, sometimes it screams, depending on how long they’ve been apart — asking him to doff a stylish white ankle-boot and spread his wriggling toes, so they can be together again, for a little while at least, let’s just see what happens when we try to extract the rusty bullet from that man’s shredded gut with these mechanized salad tongs we sketched out in the opium den, we feel really good about them, we’ll stay up all night and write the journal article, you and me, my love.
7. The Pfefferman Clan, Transparent
Last year, we had a sub–Power Rankings of the Orphan Black clones, which, in retrospect, contains a single mistake, but we’ll go to our graves before we admit what it was. We’ve already said too much. Who can even remember 2013, anyway?
This year, we have the Pfeffermans. Arguments welcome, but not really. There are no errors in this one.
- Shelly Pfefferman
- Maura Pfefferman
- Ali Pfefferman
- Sarah Pfefferman
- Josh Pfefferman
That’s it. No significant others, no exes, no pals. Just Pfeffermans, Power Ranked, correctly.
8. Hannibal Lecter, Hannibal
Sometimes we want to take the edge off ol’ Hannibal a little. He’s pretty intense, what with the oppressively lit dinner parties with exquisitely plated meals adapted from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of Cooking French People, the reflexive, probing questions, the interminable games of cat-and-mouse with Will Graham’s irreparably damaged psyche. It’s like, lighten up, dude. Turn on some lamps. Let’s get takeout this one time. If we have to stare at another serving platter of a perfectly glazed filet of coroner’s kidney, we’re gonna Seamless up some mediocre pad thai and call it a night.
And then there’s the artistic pretensions. It’s all too much. So sometimes we’ll close our eyes and recast him as the Bob Ross of serial killing, a happy-go-lucky predator who brings a far less complicated joy to his craft. Hair finally unlaquered and jauntily askance, shirt unbuttoned to the navel — perhaps there’s a smock — standing before his easel, bone-brushes in hand, palette dappled with swatches of pigmented blood at the ready. Look, there’s a happy little tree, swaddled in the harvested flesh of a rude psychologist. And what’s that nestled in its merry limbs, a buzzy beehive fashioned from that nasty shrink’s gray matter? Lovely. Just lovely. We’re digging this Hannibal. Here’s to cotton-candy despair-clouds and meadows full of grinning buck-toothed squirrels with oversize human heads and Mr. Sun in the sky above, warming all of his creatures with his squiggly-wiggly rays, don’t think too hard about why he seems to be a giant jaundiced eyeball if you look too closely. Will Graham’s already going over every painting with a magnifying glass, looking for clues like that. He doesn’t really “get” Hannibal’s new work.
9. Carrie Mathison, Homeland
We were worried for a minute. A tense, narrowly averted baby-drowning minute. How was Carrie going to follow that up? Would she find any new and exciting and disturbing places to take her skills, or would she stagnate after that horrific showstopper, unsure of how to instigate further chaos? But as she always does, she found a way. She turned a vulnerable medical student into an asset, bedded him to keep him on the hook, and then watched as his terrorist uncle put a bullet in his head. She tried to call for a retaliatory drone strike that would have killed her mentor. She oversaw a CIA station that lost its embassy in a bloodbath and surrendered its list of undercover agents, which was contained in a briefcase very clearly labeled LIST OF UNDERCOVER AGENTS — DO NOT SURRENDER!!!
How silly of us to be concerned. Carrie’s still got it.
10. The Wigs of Key and Peele and The Americans (tie)
We are living in the Golden Age of TV wig work. Wig visionaries style among us, draping magic across their head canvases, Aqua Netting miracles into place. Consider yourself fortunate that you get to turn on the television and see the dizzying pinnacle of the wig arts, week after week.
The following are not necessarily the best wigs. We have time and space today for just a smattering of wig, a taste, an amuse-bouche de cheveux. These wigs, though!
11. Nora Durst, The Leftovers
It must be hard to have your loved ones mysteriously vanish right before your eyes. Really hard. Like, emotionally-paralyze-a-small-town-trying-to-cope-with-massive-loss hard. Burn-down-the-Marlboro-huffing-nihilist-cult-subdivision-with-RealDoll-kindling hard. Hunt-for-meaning-in-snarling-packs-of-dogs-and-random-house-wrecking-encounters-with-rampaging-deer hard.
It’s also put-on-a-bulletproof-vest-and-hire-a-hooker-to-shoot-you-in-the-heart hard. Nora Durst knows it. She bought the gun and the bullets and the body armor, called up the local escort service. It’s not an easy thing to explain to a bewildered sex worker that she’s been roped into some kind of murder-for-hire plot, some broken-mirror Fletch conspiracy without the laughs. (Well, without the same kind of laughs.) Still, if you’re sad enough, if you’re numb enough, you go through with it, because what’s the worst thing that could happen? You disappear, just like everyone else you loved did. Just not into thin air.
12. The Dick Joke, Silicon Valley
The near-lossless compression algorithm that is Pied Piper’s core product — you don’t sneeze at a 5.2 Weissman score, especially from the stage of TechCrunch Disrupt — was an impressive feat. Mean Jerk Time solves a far more important problem. All of those dicks aren’t going to stroke themselves in the most mathematically efficient fashion possible, even if you line them all up tip to tip.
13. Everyone, Fargo
In the eyes of the Power Rankings, every character on Fargo is considered equal. Is this a cop-out? The Power Rankings do not cop out. They make the difficult choices, especially when the most difficult thing is not to choose. And so the Power Rankings refuse to separate Lorne Malvo from Lester Nygaard, Molly Solverson from Gus Grimly, Mr. Numbers from Mr. Wrench, Agent Pepper from Agent Budge. The Power Rankings maintain the integrity of their incredible Bemidji tapestry, refusing to pull a thread and unwind the whole thing. The Power Rankings stand strong, united. They are a beloved and venerable institution, you betcha.
14. Armondo Del Cook (as portrayed by Gwydion Lashlee-Walton), Too Many Cooks
There are two kinds of people in the world: Smarf people and Armondo Del Cook people. Go for Smarf, sure, if you’re genuinely all that interested in a nightmare creature cloned from an Alf dropping preserved in amber, a mangy felt abomination who farts rainbows out of his paws. Be that guy. Look the other way when Armondo kicks in the door, helmet-haired cock-of-the-walk, and mows down two couch-monkeys with his finger-guns. You won’t see him when he turns the smoking barrels on you.
Too many cooks? No. Perfect amount of Armondos.
15. This Spot Left Intentionally Blank for Your Outrage.
The Power Rankings hear your cries. And they turn away, unmoved.
They’re still waiting for their doves to arrive.
They were very clear about the doves.
The deli meats, however, were delicious.
Not ranked: Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson, again; Nessa Stein; Isis the dog; Sterling Archer; ISIS the agency; Rick Grimes; Carl Grimes; Gareth the Cannibal; Bob’s leg; Eugene’s mullet; the clones; Jonah Ryan; Gary Walsh; Mike McClintock; Amy Brookheimer; Arya Stark; Brienne of Tarth; the Hound; Cersei Lannister; Joffrey Baratheon; Daenerys Targaryen; the three-eyed raven; Roger Sterling; Peggy Olsen; Kenny Cosgrove; Sally Draper; Richard, Erlich, Big Head, Gilfoyle, and Peter Gregory; Maggie Hart; Gilbough and Papania; the banh mi shack; Carcosa; Stan Beeman; Lincoln Rice, DDS; Forrest MacNeil; the Cookie; anybody fooling around in the Hamptons; Pacey’s horse; Peter Pan; Captain Hook; Tick-Tock the Blue Crocodile; Chumana the anaconda; the Great Pumpkin; Daniel and Amantha Holden, again; the Scorpions; Olive Kitteridge; the ginger ghost of Nicholas Brody; Will Dove; Raylan Givens; the late Charlie Skinner; Will McAvoy’s Funeral Garage News-Folk All-Stars.