2013 is in the rear-view, and while we can look back on it as the year that introduced us to bold cable dramas like Masters of Sex, strong network fare like The Blacklist, international offerings like Broadchurch, and the birth of Netflix as a powerhouse with House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, 2014 offers up a new batch of potential hits and game-changers.
Will this be the year where the barriers between TV and film become irrelevant? It’s foolhardy to say that there isn’t enough bad TV out there to keep the stigma of television as a second-class citizen alive and comfortable, but if those shows feel like a flooding ocean, one must remember that there exists several high points where creativity and ambition can grow and live.
Talented actors and creators are drawn those high space of TV now more than ever. Worlds are more detailed and wide of scope, cleverness is rewarded and big stories are allowed to develop unmolested. Look at Mad Men and Game of Thrones – there is a gold rush to get that kind of glory and this list seeks to highlight the next wave of shows that may succeed in that endeavor.
The Spoils of Babylon (IFC, January 9th)
Produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, IFC’s mini-series, The Spoils of Babylon, promises to be a ridiculous and sweeping spoof of big hair and big drama mini-series’ from the 1980s, starring an army of familiar faces that includes Kristen Wiig, Tobey Maguire, Val Kilmer, Ferrell, Haley Joel Osment, Jessica Alba, Tim Robbins, and Carey Mulligan as the voice of a mannequin.
Will people clamor to see that collection of actors embrace high camp and a breed of made-for-TV fare that most people rarely remember? Clamor might not be the right word, but if the execution matches the potential, it might wind up pleasing a lot of comedy nerds while en-route to becoming a cult hit.
Helix (SyFy, January 10th)
The nature of the terror at the center of Helix seems to be a bit hush hush, but everything we’ve seen about the show seems to indicate that it could be a claustrophobic hard sci-fi thriller based in the middle of a frozen nowhere with a cerebral take on bio-ethics that plays with our darkest fears about scientific experimentation, but Syfy needs it to be more than good, they need a hit.
Here’s hoping both boxes get checked off, but while the network has experienced hands steering the show – Ronald D. Moore, Lynda Obst, and Steven Maeda beside newcomer and concept creator Cameron Porsandeh – they might also need to have a bit of patience, allowing word of mouth to do the job that publicity and teaser trailers cannot when a show this mysterious comes along.
True Detective (HBO, January 12th)
Following missteps like The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and Fool’s Gold, Matthew McConaughey has re-carved out a niche for himself as a trusted dramatic lead and character actor with performances in Magic Mike, Killer Joe, Dallas Buyer’s Club, and The Wolf of Wall Street. A turn toward TV didn’t seem likely in light of that, but here we are breathlessly awaiting McConaughey’s True Detective.
McConaughey looks positively haunted opposite Woody Harrelson as the two play Louisiana detectives who are pulled back into a nearly two decades old murder case. With them and the words of acclaimed novelist Nic Pizzolatto, True Detective has the talent to spur interest and the potential to shake things up in the popular murder police sub-genre that often feels beset by sameness.
Looking (HBO, January 19th)
The Girls comparisons are inevitable since, at first blush, both shows traffic in stories about finding love and acceptance (self and otherwise), but there appears to be a less cynical and more grown up and mature feel to Looking, a new show from HBO about a group of gay friends in San Francisco that will air after Girls on January 17th.
Starring former Glee co-star Jonathan Groff, Frankie J. Alvarez, Murray Bartlett, and Russell Tovey in a recurring role, Looking seems game to explore the complexities of navigating a relationship, career aspirations, aging, vanity, and a slew of other issues in an authentic and refreshing way.
Rake (FOX, January 23rd)
Rake tells the story of a rakishly attractive, dishonest, rule breaking train wreck who just happens to be a genius at his job. Sound familiar? The last time FOX put up a show with a protagonist as messed up as Greg Kinnear’s character in Rake, they got 8 seasons of House and a slew of Emmy award nominations.
While Rake might not scale those mountains, it’s interesting to ponder the growth of Kinnear’s character over the course of a season, and the ability of network television to translate another foreign series for American audiences.
Is the character merely quirky or is he deeply messed up, and if so, will the producers really get into the muck from time to time?Rescue Me co-creator Peter Tolan’s presence makes it seem as though this may get darkly comedic and hard of edge at times, but only time will tell.
The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon (NBC, February 17th)
The sight of Jay Leno passing the torch feels all too familiar, but it seems like this time it’ll be for keeps, with Jimmy Fallon getting the chance to put his stamp on one of television’s most vaunted institutions.
As the new Tonight Show gets ready to set sail, though, two big questions exist: how will The Tonight Show change Fallon and how will Fallon change The Tonight Show?
When Conan ascended from Late Night, his brand of comedy seemed to experience a change for the 11:30 slot. Fallon’s comedy has always felt a bit more mainstream than O’Brien’s, but will bits like “Beer Pong” make the jump and appeal to the “Jaywalking” crowd, or will Fallon find a middle ground that appeals to both Leno’s audience and his own? We’ll find out on February 17th.
Late Night with Seth Meyers (NBC, February 24th)
A lot of the hullabaloo surrounding NBC’s late night transition has centered around Fallon’s switch to 11:30, but the Late Night franchise has its own history to live up to and longtime SNL head-writer and Weekend Update host Seth Meyers is facing his own set of challenges as he takes over the show.
Known as the Tonight Show‘s less staid sister series, Late Night has often been a hotbed for a more alternative type of comedy that pushed the boundaries of what a late night show could be. As a consequence of those innovations and the cable talk show boom, it’s harder to stand out now, but despite that, Fallon still found ways to make the show unique with his unsappable energy.
It would be fair to say that Meyers has a more cerebral and less animated style than Fallon does, so as they execute this changeover, it’ll be interesting to see both the way that the show transitions to fit that style and how Meyers’ Late Show embraces its historical responsibility to be just a little bit weird and bold.