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MIND MELD: Our Favorite Genre TV Shows of 2014

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2014 has been a great year for television. On a daily basis I had friends and co-workers telling me about science fiction, fantasy, and urban fantasy TV shows they were DVR’ing, or needed to be home at a certain time to watch live. With that in mind, here’s what I asked our panelists:

Q: What was your favorite live action or animated genre television show of 2014? What made it so enjoyable?

Jason Sanford
Jason Sanford’s short stories have been published in the British SF magazine Interzone, Year’s Best SF, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Analog, InterGalactic Medicine Show, and many other places. He is a Nebula Award finalist and has won the Interzone Readers’ Poll three times. His website is www.jasonsanford.com.

I’m going to go all weaselly here and pick two television shows as my favorites. The first is Constantine, which is not only the best comic-book adaptation airing right now but also one of the year’s best live-action shows. The choice of Matt Ryan as the lead was inspired, with Ryan perfectly hitting all of the reasons why John Constantine remains one of the comic book medium’s most compelling and controversial characters. John Constantine’s central fate is that he’s truly alive and continually bouncing between extremes — one moment an anti-hero, in another a hero, then in the next being revealed as selfish and irritable and angry and above all simply human. Matt Ryan and the producers of Constantine kept this vital aspect to the character and are showing TV audiences something new. My hope is that Constantine doesn’t go the way of another all-too-human genre show, Firefly, and find itself cancelled before it can build an audience.

My other favorite TV show is the new season of Mushishi, sometimes called Mushishi Next Passage. This Japanese anime series is a continuation of the original Mushishi, which originally aired in 2006. Based on the manga of the same name, the anime follows the adventures of Ginko, a mushi master traveling across an alternate 19th century Japan. In this world there exist mushi, a strangely primitive form of life unseen by most people, hovering ghost-like in the background even as they interact with many aspects of the physical world. As one of the few people able to see mushi, Ginko helps people when they are afflicted with mushi in much the same was as a doctor helps people infected with viruses.

As with viruses, mushi are neither good nor evil, merely a different way of life than our own. The series is told in an episodic manner similar to a series of related short stories, with Ginko sometimes forming the core of the story and sometimes merely making an appearance. This is one of the best anime series I’ve ever seen, with the episodes moving at an almost meditative pace until you find yourself overcome by the story itself, or the characters, or an emotion. Episode 12 “Fragrant Darkness” is an absolute masterpiece and the most emotional time-travel story I’ve ever watched on television. When I want people to comprehend the understated power of anime, this is the series I point them to.

The new season of Mushishi can be found outside of Japan on Hulu and Crunchyroll. Both streaming services also carry the original series, which is also among my favorites and a must-see.

Lisa Taylor
Lisa Taylor likes to read. Mainly fantasy. Sometimes horror or science fiction. You can find her talking about books online. She has been a bit of an online book club addict in the past, and she still organizes the book clubs on the Fantasy Faction forum. You can now also find her sharing her thoughts on books at her blog Tenacious Reader.

I admit to feeling slightly less “cool” by putting such a commercially successful show down as the best of 2014. Unfortunately there can be (and often is) a bit of bias against a thing once the general masses appreciate it. I’ve seen it with books, movies, music – anything that has a set of fans that identify themselves as part of a group associated with it. So, even though there was no contest for my first instinct, I did think through the other shows I have watched this year just to make sure I wasn’t just blindly hopping on the bandwagon and also to help determine what sets Game of Thrones apart from all the other shows. It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of the books, but I think that could just as easily work against the show if it wasn’t so well done.

Ultimately, this is the one and only show that all else in my life gets put on hold for and ignored while it is on. No phone calls, no emails, not texts or tweets, nothing. This is the only show where there is a mental countdown until the episode starts (1PM? That’s really 8 hours ’til GoT time).

What make this show such a standout for me?

For starters, the characters and casting are incredibly well done. I love the characters in the book. They are varied and complex with nuances and motivations of their own. This carried over very well: All of the major and most of the minor characters in the show are spot on.

The story can be quite dark, but it’s laced with humor creating a wonderful balance. Pretty much all the Lannisters are great for a bit of comic relief, sarcastic and dark as it may be. And the interplay between characters adds a wonderful dynamic. Arya and Hound for example: Those two could just sit for a meal and find a way to make it incredibly entertaining. And possibly deadly.

Episode 2 and Episode 8 both contain pivotal moments in the series. I knew these events were coming, but by the Seven, as much as I reacted to the book, my imagination came nowhere close to what I saw in the show. They were still unbelievably suspenseful and shocking scenes. This season contained other similar moments as well. To take a known event and still illicit such a strong reaction from the viewer speaks highly for the production. There are some things that can’t be unseen, memorable things that make you cringe but you still love to shudder over, and I have HBO to thank for a few this season.

The characters and political intrigue make this show, but I also I have to mention the sets (filming is on location in some of the most picturesque parts of the world) and costumes are stunning.

The latest is an intense season of an intense show. The quest for power and survival continues to play out in multiple storylines across the land. Season 4 brought more departures from the book, but I actually enjoyed this. It’s nice to watch an episode and realize you don’t know how it will play out. Game of Thrones absolutely deserves all the attention it gets, and for me, I think it is wonderful that it has viewers outside of the genre’s typical audience.

T. Eric Bakutis
T. Eric Bakutis is an author and game designer living in Maryland. His first fantasy novel, Glyphbinder, was a finalist for the Compton Crook Award presented at Balticon 2014, and its sequel, Demonkin, is due out in early 2015. His short fiction has appeared in a number of markets and will next appear in two anthologies, Fairly Wicked Tales and Demon Rum and Other Evil Spirits, due out in 2015 from Ragnarok Press. You can learn more about his novels, short stories, games, and other hobbies at www.tebakutis.com.

I’ve been a fan of the Avatar universe since a friend introduced me to Avatar: The Last Airbender (AtLA), and so I was thrilled when Nickelodeon announced its sequel, Avatar: The Legend of Korra (TLoK). Like its predecessor, The Legend of Korra has consistently remained my favorite show (animated or live action) throughout its four seasons. Its series finale aired online on Nick.com on December 18 and if you haven’t watched all four seasons yet, you should go get started.

There are so many elements that make this show great – epic martial arts fights, gorgeous animation, haunting music, laugh out loud comedy, fascinating lore, understandable villains and great voice acting – but it also includes a racially diverse cast and characters with believable flaws that balance out their strengths. It would be a disservice to the show to say it features “strong female characters” – instead, it simply features strong characters, female and male, with Korra and her close friends leading the way.

While AtLA will always stand as an amazing series, The Legend of Korra has actually improved on its predecessor by increasing both the size of the cast and the range of its storytelling. Not satisfied with merely producing an addicting show, each season has included progressively more mature issues other “young adult” series would never touch, including PTSD and same-sex relationships. The showrunners have consistently told the story that fits their world and its characters even when it might court controversy, and always done so in ways that are inclusive and mature.

While each season stands alone, over all four we see Korra grow into the role she was born to fill and experience her victories, missteps, and traumas along with her. The other cast members grow as well, both as people and in their relationships with each other, and I challenge you not to love every last one of them by the end. There’s something in this show for everyone and I believe it will join Avatar: The Last Airbender as one of the best animated television shows of all time.

Now that The Legend of Korra has concluded its run, I’m going to miss the characters and universe I’ve grown to love over the last few years, but as with any great story, I’m so glad I got to be along for the ride. I look forward to watching it with my daughter when she’s a bit older and expect viewers to be falling in love with this show for years to come.

Paul Cornell
Paul Cornell is the author of the Shadow Police series of procedural urban fantasies, from Tor books.

This season of Doctor Who was, I think, the best since the show came back or perhaps ever, adding, in its new later time slot, layers of character, conflict and nuance. The writing feels freed, exciting, risk-taking, with “Listen” among many other contenders being a classic for the ages. I’ve never been more excited by and for this series.

Yolanda Sfetsos
Wife. Mother. Writer. Bibliophile. Dreamer. Animal lover. Intrigued by the supernatural. Horror freak. Zombie enthusiast. Movie & music fan. Slave to her muse. Yolanda Sfetsos lives in Sydney, Australia with her awesome husband, lovely daughter, and cheeky cat.

There are a lot of TV shows I enjoy–Castle, Grimm, Supernatural, The Walking Dead–but this year a new show arrived that really took my fancy. This show happens to feature an intriguing and not-so nice character, very interesting secondary characters, a large array of occult items, supernatural situations, demons, angels, and a plethora of other things that trigger my interest.

I’m talking about Constantine. I’ve read and enjoyed several of John Constantine’s comic books so to see him come alive SO well made me really happy. I watched the movie several years back, and while I enjoyed it, it didn’t feel like Constantine. It really could’ve been called something else. But the show, yeah, it definitely feels like John Constantine. A lot of that has to do with who they cast to play this character. Matt Ryan is a perfect John Constantine–the look, the accent, the cheeky grins, the ease in which he can charm/curse someone–he captures all of that and more.

Plus the writing is clever and constantly references back to the comic books. The scripts are loyal to the source material while adding its own flair to the story. Not to mention that each episode has just the right amount of creepiness, wit, and fun!

After watching the mid-season finale, I can’t wait to see what else the Constantine crew has in store for us.

I love when it feels like a character walked right out of the page and onto the screen. And in IMO, that’s exactly what’s happened here.

Genki Jason
Genki Jason is a cinephile and anime fan. As a child he spent a lot of time watching anime, live-action Japanese and Hong Kong films and now as an adult he is learning Japanese and writes reviews and previews of films (mostly) from Japan on his blog, Genkinahito. He lives in the UK which is handy since there are lots of film festivals he can attend in that country. He can be found on Twitter as @filmnohito.

There are many TV anime released every year and every genre is represented. I do experiment and this year I tried everything from yaoi to comedy. Quality does vary a lot between shows but there have been a lot of must-watch anime like Parasyte: The Maxim, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders, Gugure!! Kokkuri-san, and Ping Pong: The Animation. Despite these great titles none are as special as the one I have selected as my favourite of 2014…

Space Dandy

At the tail end of 2013 the director Shinichiro Watanabe announced he was reuniting with some of the directors, screenwriters and musicians from Cowboy Bebop and making a new sci-fi show about bounty hunters named Space Dandy. Anime fans took to anime forums with excitement as they anticipated something like Cowboy Bebop but that was not what fans got. What they got was a wacky, wild, and weird episodic comedy show that was a deluge of absurdist comedy, pop-culture references, cool music, and great animation.

Space Dandy has a set-up somewhat similar to the classic BBC sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf. It is an episodic comedy series of tales focused on a team of bumbling but occasionally brilliant alien bounty hunters zooming around space on random adventures with seemingly no thought to series continuity. Each episode featured a different adventure that wrapped up neatly at the end, sometimes with Dandy and the gang dying, other times with them bagging a rare alien and getting paid. It all felt random and fun but there was something going on in the background and it was easy to figure out what was: the show is built on the adventurous concept of exploring a multiverse!

This set-up was a golden opportunity for the creators because continuity could be ignored and they had the freedom to be infinitely imaginative! Each episode had a different combination of directors, writers, musicians, art directors, and character designers, with women, the most daring animators, and trusted industry veterans (some so old as to be pushing on into their 70s) given prominent roles in the production process. The presence of such a multitude of talent resulted in every episode having wildly different narratives and varying visual styles and the series became the source of some of the most spectacularly imaginative animation and stories I have seen this year. For me it took on some of the sparkle of event television as I made sure to watch it each week to see where the show would go next as familiar sci-fi stories, concepts, and tropes were turned on their head and thoroughly explored and made fresh through the cracked comedic lens of Space Dandy.

It will be easier for me to give a few highlights just to get across the breadth of creativity:

One episode was a parody of a zombie apocalypse which is taken to its full conclusion. Nobody ever dies and we discover peace because we’re all the same, we’re all zombies and we get a glimpse of zombie society with zombie marathons and everybody watching George A. Romero films while zombies living off life insurance policies break the financial system.

In another, rather surreal episode, Dandy and the gang are looking for food but wind up trying to help an astronaut named Carpaccio, who just happens to be a talking carp, get back to his home world to warn his fellow sentient fish about the threat a sun poses as it threatens to scorch their planet only for betrayals and double-crosses to get in the way.

In one of the most memorable episodes, Dandy and the gang get sucked into one universe after another and always meet a trio of bounty hunters, all of whom are different from them. Some versions are a different gender like Fem Dandy, some are parodies of characters from different sci-fi shows and some are even species of creature – and soon they are all stuck in the same dimension, all trying to get home and it builds up to a hilarious climax involving Emo Dandy with a terrifying pair of side-kicks.

In one of the most artistically and profoundly beautiful episodes, Dandy finds himself on a desolate planet and takes a tour of a haunted and ruined civilisation and falls in love with a mysterious girl. It’s all ambiance and great artwork and melancholy music.

There is so much more on offer. Dandy and the gang go from hunting shapeshifting alien that mimics each of the characters in one episode to being captured by sentient plants on a psychedelic planet made up of multi-coloured landscapes where Dandy makes a friend. Dandy forms a one-hit wonder rock band with the head of an intergalactic empire and their final gig averts a galactic war and saved the universe from total chaos and every cliché from forming a rock band is played out and made fresh again. There is just too much!

Despite being full of pop-culture references, nearly every episode felt experimental at times and overall the show felt like a breath of fresh air. Anchored by a core set of hilariously silly yet loveable characters with a brilliant set of voice actors (especially the English-language ones who put in a fabulous set of performances that fit the characters perfectly), Space Dandy is the best television show I have seen this year! In the course of writing this down I been side-tracked by spending hours watching Space Dandy episodes and clips all over again. You just need to watch this to truly understand what is going on here!

I’m done. I’ve babbled on long enough. I’m going to watch more Space Dandy.

Gillian Philip
Gillian Philip is the author of the Rebel Angels series – Firebrand, Bloodstone, Wolfsbane and Icefall – but she has torn herself away from fairyland long enough to write Crossing the Line, Bad Faith and The Opposite of Amber. She ghostwrites for many popular fiction series including Beast Quest and Erin Hunter’s Survivors. Her nominations and shortlistings include the Carnegie Medal, the Scottish Children’s Book Award and the David Gemmell Legend Award. She lives in the north-east Highlands of Scotland with her husband, twins, three dogs, two cats, a fluctuating population of chickens and many nervous fish. She spends too much time on Twitter, and so do some of her characters.

I know it’s hardly original, but my number one for 2014 has to be The Walking Dead. I only caught up with the show in the last year (I know, I know), and I still haven’t read the graphic novels (I know, I know), but this was one of the box sets that regularly kept me up till 2am and beyond.

It’s now a show that always features in my high school presentations. When I bring up the subject I always preface it with “Of course you’re all too young to have watched The Walking Dead“, because I know fine that at least half the class will raise their hands to say “That’s what you think.” This may not say a lot for Parental Control, but it also means they’re learning an awful lot about skilful storytelling and character building (whether they realise it or not).

What I love about this series is that the gruesome violence is the least of it. After all, once you’ve seen one walker stabbed in the eye with a samurai sword, you’ve kind of seen them all. What keeps us watching is the huge cast of beautifully developed characters, their complex relationships, and our mortal terror that our favourites will die horribly. And, of course, our equal desperation for the bad guys to get what’s coming to them. And speaking of character deaths: let’s talk about Daryl. Just don’t even, showrunners. Don’t you dare.

TrueBlood met the True Death this year after seven seasons. I loved its take on vampires, its satire on modern life, and its hot, steamy, lurid atmosphere. Most of all, I loved Eric (I’m sensing a theme here). My interest haemorrhaged over Seasons 5 and 6, but having invested that far, I wanted to finish, and I’m glad I did. Sookie and the vamps got back their mojo and their spark, and while all your favourites are never going to make it through to the end, I was happy with the winners, the losers, and their varying fates.

I introduced my thirteen-year-old son to Game of Thrones this year. (And again: I know, I know.) Nothing in the latest season had quite the shock value of the Red Wedding, but rewatching the whole thing with him, I got to experience one of those YouTube-able moments for real with his reaction. For a kid who almost always predicts plot developments ahead of time, this proved it was still a jaw-dropping twist. What more (combined, of course, with those fabulous characters) can you ask for in a story?

And I know it’s cheating, but I have to give an honourable mention to Sons Of Anarchy. It’s not sci-fi, horror or fantasy, but it had a small recurring element that went beyond the gritty realism of the story. This character was in the great tradition of the Black Dogs, fetches and banshees of Celtic legend, and she played her part right up to the finale. She chilled my spine and she made me cry. I’ll miss her as much as I’ll miss the show.

Steven M. Long
Steven M. Long is a writer and blogger who lives in Chicago (again! Finally!). He can be found either at home, unpacking boxes, or wandering the streets, looking for discounted Christmas candy. Follow him on Twitter at @StevenMLong.

These are the best of times and the worst of times for genre television shows, animated and live. On one hand, there are more out there than ever before, and a lot of them are really, really good. On the other, for those of us with limited time (or cable channels), it means picking and choosing, and sometimes missing out. It’s interesting to think that as we stream programs more and more (by seasons or by entire series), asking someone what their favorite show of a given year was starts to take on a different meaning.

That said, my favorite show of 2014 was without question Marvel’s Agents of Shield. Here’s the thing: I love superheroes, and though usually I don’t experience fannish excitement in general, I deeply, deeply dig the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They’re actually doing it right, and it makes me want to see everything. Though yeah, I sometimes get tired of the “ass-kicking young woman” trope, I love the vast majority of what Joss Whedon does (and I’ll widen that net to include Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen), from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog to Much Ado About Nothing.

I was looking forward to MAoS for months before it came out, but like a lot of people, I was initially disappointed by the annoying character of Skye, by the boringness of Ward, and by the general blahness that clung to the series. I kept watching, though, and some of the pleasure I take in the show is probably based on being one of the people who stuck with Coulson’s team during those tough, first months until the show took off with the introduction of Hydra. Overall, I find it to be a fascinating exercise in long-form storytelling under pressure, constrained by its need to be reactive to an overarching series of movies. Marvel’s Agents of Shield pulled off a pretty amazing hat trick in 2014, by going from a boring and anticlimactic show that a viewer had to “stick with” to one with reliably fun, fast-paced episodes featuring interesting, sometimes hard to figure out characters.

Even Skye redeemed herself (take that, people who couldn’t differentiate between the actress and the character!). The show isn’t like anything else on the air right now, and though I can’t easily predict where it’s going (unlike most shows), I have faith in the writers. On top of everything else, watching MAoS allows me to feel like I’m staying on top of the MCU (is bringing in the Inhumans a way of avoiding mutants? Will Quicksilver be an Inhuman in the MCU?). They’ve set themselves a real challenge in the coming year – to remain an ensemble show – but I think they’ll pull it off. There are some shows I really dug in 2014 (Attack on Titan, The Flash), and some that disappointed me (Gotham, Hemlock Grove), but Marvel’s Agents of Shield is a show that I enjoy every week. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens when it comes back in spring, and how the writers will integrate Avengers: Age of Ultron a few months after that.

Lauren Faits
Lauren Faits is the voice behind Geek Girl Chicago, the Midwest’s premiere geek culture blog. Her mission is to empower young geek girls to be who and whatever they want to be. When she isn’t writing, Lauren enjoys cosplay, photography, producing audio books, and working at a science museum. She currently lives on the North side of Chicago with her husband, Clayton.

Though the departure of Rebecca Sugar has changed the tone of the show, Adventure Time still tops my 2014 list. The program combines the colorful, frenetic energy of children’s TV with a darker underbelly for grown-ups. One moment, a bass-playing vampire is rocking out with a scientist princess. The next, the camera casually drifts by bombed-out skyscrapers. Suddenly, a song about candy! I’m constantly amazed by the amount of love and humor that can exist on this post-apocalyptic version of Earth.

Finn and Jake are Adventure Time‘s main heroes. That said, 2014 was a banner year for Ooo’s more obscure inhabitants. Adventure Time highlighted many fan favorites with episodes like “Apple Wedding” (featuring Tree Trunks) and “Little Brother” (all about Shelby.) Even Tiffany returned this year- a character nobody expected to see again.

My favorite episode belonged to a new star: Betty Groff. Betty is the loving fiance of Simon Petrikov. Simon, for the uninitiated, is the former Adventure Time hero whose run-in with a cursed crown made him the Ice King. Viewers have longed for Simon’s salvation for many seasons. In the episode “Betty”, Groff jumps from the past to save her fiance from the crown. …and she hasn’t yet. Augh!! Adventure Time still has not resolved this plot arc- a delightfully torturous choice that will keep me watching.

Season 6 isn’t quite over. I’m looking forward to episodes like Evergreen, which promises to flesh out Adventure Time‘s pre-history. I don’t know how long this show will stay on TV. I do know that it keeps pulling me back in. Adventure Time is whimsical, heartfelt, often sad, always hilarious. It remains so relevant that a coding class I just went to used a Jake the Dog quote for inspiration. Now that’s mathematical.

Stephen W. Gee
Stephen W. Gee is a fantasy author, anime blogger, craft beer lover, and exceedingly tall man. He writes sword & sorcery adventures with a modern twist. His first book, Wage Slave Rebellion, was released in December of 2014. There will be more where it came from.

There were plenty of great sci-fi and fantasy shows on TV this year, but I’m not going to talk about them. Not the live action ones, at any rate. When I’m not writing books, I moonlight as an anime blogger at Random Curiosity, and that makes me uniquely qualified to guide you through the wild world of Japanese animation. I’m going to tell you about three anime series I loved: the popular one, the smart one, and my favorite of the year.

The popular one: Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works. This is one of the most stunning action shows I’ve ever seen, movies included. It’s the story of seven magicians and the heroes they’ve summoned from antiquity and mythology, and their battle to the death over the miracle-granting Holy Grail. As is befitting of a show where history’s greatest heroes duke it out in super-charged magical battles, the combat is utterly breathtaking. They move with grace, speed, and power that only animation can do justice, all while slinging spells that range from insidious curses to assaults which put nuclear warheads to shame. All that inside a plot that leaves you constantly wondering how our ill-equipped hero will survive. This series is popular for a reason.

The smart one: Log Horizon. This is the story of thousands of gamers who are sucked into a fantasy MMORPG called Elder Tale. What makes it interesting is that it takes a simple premise, and innovates. It’s not a sword & sorcery dungeon crawl like most RPGs, but a socio-political drama about these gamers adapting to their new world, and adapting the world to themselves. It’s a true exploration of what might happen if you were sucked into an MMORPG, but on a societal scale. It’s one of those rare shows that’s just as enthralling when everybody is talking, and where I cheer for cunning political moves. If you’ve ever been a fan of MMORPGs, I recommend Log Horizon.

My favorite: No Game No Life. This is the story of a brilliant brother-and-sister pair of gamers, who never lose as long as they’re together, and how they’re plucked from Earth by a god and taken to a world where everything is decided by games—even national borders. The premise is as ludicrous as the art is colorful and surreal, which I love. This is an advanced anime, the kind that makes beginners balk, but it contains brilliance. It might seem like there would be no tension when the main characters supposedly never lose, but that was Earth—here, humanity is the weakest of sixteen races, and as good as the main characters are, their enemies are always holding more (and better) cards. The gambits they pull off are insane, and the siblings are utterly dysfunctional without each other, which is equal parts hilarious and exhilarating. It’s like watching titans clash, only they fight with intelligence, corkscrew cleverness, and skills so over-the-top it’s unbelievable. This show constantly blew me away.

All of these can be streamed with English subtitles at Crunchyroll.com. That’s not an affiliate link or anything. I just want you to know how to join in on the fun.

Jennifer Williams
Jen Williams is a fantasy writer and Lego obsessive who spends much of her time frowning at notebooks in cafes and fiddling with maps of imaginary places. She also has an unhealthy obsession with Bioware videogames and has spent at least sixty hours of the last month collecting Elfroot in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Her debut novel, The Copper Promise was published by Headline in February 2014, and the sequel, The Iron Ghost, follows in February 2015.

By far and away my favourite genre TV show of 2014 has been Legend of Korra, which recently broadcast its last ever episode. Following on from its predecessor Avatar: The Last Airbender (pretty much my favourite cartoon of all time) it charts the progress of the newest Avatar, a reincarnated spirit who can bend the four elements of fire, air, earth and water. Whereas the original series followed Aang, a boy who had to master his bending before defeating the war-hungry Fire Lord, Legend of Korra has a female teen protagonist who is actually quite good at bending already, but has yet to get a handle on the spiritual side. Over the course of the series she defeats various foes, makes friends, learns a great deal, and comes to terms with who and what she is.

Summing it up like that, it doesn’t sound all that tremendous, but truly, LoK has to be one of the most ground-breaking and exciting shows on television, animated or otherwise – so ground-breaking in fact, that Nickelodeon removed it from their channel and put it online (there were likely many reasons for this, but the fact that LoK was depicting complex political situations and on-screen death probably suggests it might have sat uncomfortably with the rest of Nickelodeon’s programming). LoK does so many things that I wish mainstream television did more often, and does them so well: there’s the complex female protagonist, who not only battles her own inner demons as well as various bad guys, but also manages to be one of the most spectacular action heroes in a cartoon ever – the fight sequences are easily on a level with big budget Hollywood movies. The world-building too is first-rate, and as it’s heavily influenced by eastern art and philosophies it’s a world that we see too little of in Western animation. And there’s the fact that it’s just really, really funny, both in its dialogue and its dedication to good old-fashioned slapstick.

When I was a kid, I would be lucky if my Saturday morning cartoons contained a token woman, let alone more than one, and if there was a woman present, she was almost always the sidekick, the love interest, or the one that got kidnapped. I loved those cartoons all the same, but I think that deep down I was wondering, “So when do I get to kick ass?” LoK doesn’t just have an excellent female protagonist, it has female characters of all ages and roles, and they have their own stories, their own lives. When Lin and Su Beifong argued, I was as invested in their reconciliation as any part of the series; when Jinora became an Airbending master, I cried my eyes out. And of course there’s the final shot of the series, a hugely brave and significant moment in children’s animation – we might not see another cartoon like LoK and A:TLA, but I sincerely hope we do.

Gosh, I waffled on about that a lot, didn’t I? Just quickly I will say that this year I have also enjoyed Gotham, which seems to have taken a lot of critical stick either for having too much Batman stuff in it, or not enough – I can never figure it out – but aside from some slightly cheesy bits it’s well worth watching for a) Fish Mooney’s incredible outfits in every scene, b) Sean Pertwee, the greatest Alfred ever, and c) Jim Gordon’s near continual expression of “Ain’t no one got time for this nonsense.”

Honourable mention to Z Nation… no wait, come back! Yes, I know, brought to you by the people who inflicted Sharknado on the world, but if you can accept that it’s definitely not The Walking Dead, it’s actually a huge amount of fun. In fact, I imagine the makers sat down and made a list of “Top Twenty Ridiculous Things You Can Do With Zombies” and that’s essentially the basis of the series. And I like that. I think there’s room for something that doesn’t take zombies relentlessly seriously, and in a very sneaky way you find yourself gradually caring for the characters, despite the cheese and the zombie tornadoes and so on. Let Rick Grimes take on the existential crisis of a world without meaning, and watch Z Nation squash Z’s with the Liberty Bell.

Monica Valentinelli
Monica Valentinelli writes stories, games, essays, and comics for media/tie-in properties and her original works from her studio in the Midwest. She’s a former musician of 20+ years and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Creative Writing program who now writes full-time. Recently, Monica has filled the shoes of lead developer and writer for the line of Firefly RPG books based on the Firefly TV show by Joss Whedon. Her sanity is kept by her two cats, water frog, bettafish, and her long-time partner. When she’s not obsessing about deadlines, she designs jewelry and dabbles in other artistic endeavors. For more about Monica, visit www.mlvwrites.com.

2014 was a fantastic year for genre television. Gotham. Penny Dreadful. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Doctor Who. Once Upon a Time. The list goes on and on. While many new shows were added this past year, I feel there’s one premiere that stood out from the rest— and that show is Constantine.

If you don’t know much about Constantine, it’s a series about a freelance exorcist who’s damned to hell based on the Hellblazer comic by DC Comics. While it’s been a while since I’ve read Hellblazer, I think it’s worth pointing out that this show isn’t the first screen adaptation of the comic. In 2005, the movie Constantine was released starring Keanu Reeves and Rachel Weisz but, to me, that film was more “inspired by” Hellblazer than anything else.

But what about Constantine the TV series? I felt the premiere was decent, given the writers’ monumental task of worldbuilding and introducing all of the characters in the short time allotted, but it didn’t blow me away despite the visuals. I kept watching, though, assuming that it’d get better with each episode as the exposition faded away…and I wasn’t disappointed.

There are a million ways this adaptation could have gone, and the fact that Constantine is faithful to the comic means that this presentation takes risks. A show like this could have easily turned into a Supernatural clone—but it’s not. Here, the good vs. evil fight isn’t something that’s running in the background and the monster-of-the-week isn’t necessarily operating all by its lonesome. This battle, in the form of meta-plot, is omnipresent regardless of where the story takes place or who’s present in a scene. While each episode stands on its own, I feel Constantine is the type of show that’s best viewed and judged as a whole.

There are, however, certain episodes that are more powerful than others. Take “Danse
Vaudou” for example, which is set in iconic New Orleans. The character conflicts, especially between Papa Midnite and Constantine, aren’t subtle, and the solution to dealing with the ghosts that Midnite summoned doesn’t boil down to another round of “chant this prayer” and “throw salt”. To win the day, John Constantine ignores the status quo and bends the rules—with the help of Manny, Zed, and Chas—to save the innocent at any cost. While occult aspects may be part of the story, Constantine explore more than tricks, diverse casting, and interesting set design, for it also addresses love, grief, faith, rage, pride, and fear.

To sum up, I’m a fan of TV shows that aren’t shy and Constantine certainly isn’t one of them. Though I’ve seen end-of-the-world scenarios and supernaturally-themed TV shows many times over, there’s something uniquely satisfying about watching a smartass like John Constantine fight the battles he does despite the fact he’s got every card in the proverbial deck stacked against him. I’m crossing my fingers we’ll get to see a Season 2, for this is one story that, like so many others, can’t be contained in just a few episodes.

Sarah Pfeffer
Sarah Pfeffer is a Communications Coordinator at a prep school, contributing journalist for Geeks of Doom (author name Pfeff-Bot), and editor for The Sci-Fi Christian. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Communication (with a minor in Visual Arts) from SUNY New Paltz and a Master’s in Corporate Communications and Public Relations from Sacred Heart University. Sarah’s heroes are Yoda, Buffy, Angel, and Scott Pilgrim. When she discovers any moments of free time, Sarah enjoys singing and songwriting on her guitar and ukulele.

Without question, the standout genre show this year for me is Orphan Black. I have no idea how I somehow let this one slip through my fingers until this year, but regardless, I binge-watched the entire series in an unhealthily short period of time. Orphan Black is a captivating, non-stop, twisty-turny action thriller on BBC about clones, conspiracies, and so much more. Series star Tatiana Maslany is effortless in her portrayal of several completely unique characters who are unrecognizable from one another. With the same face, Maslany somehow totally tricks your brain, as the viewer, to really believe the story. Supporting characters such as the sassy Felix and enigmatic Paul are equally convincing, evoking love, kinship, anger, and confusion in fans.

Orphan Black is a show to watch alone, or even better, with others. It is so much more fun to join the “clone club” and discuss this ever-changing drama with friends. The writers so deeply weave the ongoing story into each episode, that even a profoundly loved character can turn to a betrayer in seemingly an instant…and it is actually conceivable. I cannot believe it took me this long to find Orphan Black, but now that I have, I must recommend it to…well, everyone.

Orphan Black returns April 18, 2015 for its third season.

About Andrea Johnson (99 Articles)
Andrea Johnson also blogs over at https://littleredreviewer.wordpress.com/ where she reviews science fiction and fantasy novels and talks about other nerdy stuff. She's also an interviewer at Apex Magazine. Her apartment looks like a library exploded, and that is how it should be.

6 Comments on MIND MELD: Our Favorite Genre TV Shows of 2014

  1. I love that Space Dandy and Adventure Time got mentions. they’re two of my faves!

  2. Thank you for asking me to be a part of this look back at the genre shows! 🙂

  3. Damn, I feel bad that I’m not as well watched as well read, but I blame that on a wife who doesn’t really care for genre shows and a toddler who monopolizes the TV while I live off of DVR.

    Grimm & Gotham are two of the few shows my wife and I can agree on, and I work in an episode or two of Doctor Who and The Librarians when she’s not around. 🙂

  4. I’m surprised no one mentioned Person of Interest, which I feel is the best SF show on TV at the moment. It started out as Just Another Vigilante/Cop Procedural variant a few years back, but the show grew and developed over time until it became a fascinating near-future thriller that examines issues of artificial intelligence more in-depth than most books, and that level of complexity is rare indeed on network television.

    • I think that (???) maybe some people don’t think of Person of Interest as genre. When Andrea asked me to chime in, I googled “genre shows of 2014” and when this show came up on the list, I was like “oh, yeah… I guess it is a genre show.” I thought of it as more procedural, without enough genre elements to really lure me in.

  5. Steve Oerkfitz // December 24, 2014 at 5:25 pm //

    Love Game of Thrones. Orphan Black started going downhill halfway thru the season. Gotham was disappointing(altho I like the Penguin storyline). The Librarians was terrible. Constantine mediocre. Gave up on The Walking Dead a year ago-just too many characters I didn’t like. Japanese animation bores me. It tends to be geared towards teens.

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