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.
Battle Creek (CBS, Fall 2014)
Vince Gilligan has been quite busy following Breaking Bad's triumphant final season, but while Better Call Saul represents a somewhat safe tether to Bad's proven world, Battle Creek feels like something a bit more risky, and possibly bland.
Born from a script that Gilligan wrote 10 years ago, Battle Creek sounds like a straight procedural about a trio of FBI agents. Seeing Gilligan's name - as well as the name of former House showrunner David Shore - gives hope that there will be something more under the surface, but there is also the added challenge of operating within the confines of the broadcast realm.
It's worth remembering, though, that Breaking Bad didn't jump off the page and scream "I'm going to be a classic" at the outset, so there is that whole "don't judge a book by its cover" metaphorical phrase to keep in mind, and besides that, if Gilligan can shake things up once, there is no reason to think that he can't do it again.
Better Call Saul (AMC, 2014)
We don't yet explicitly know what Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul will be, but it is undeniable that the show is starting off with a head start.
It's not just that Saul Goodman is a beloved character, it's that despite the dimension that Bob Odenkirk added to the role and despite his vital place on Breaking Bad, there is still a lot to learn, like, and likely loathe about the character and a lot of interest in seeing how they flesh out or extend his story.
Add to that Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould's continued involvement and the possibility that Better Call Saul will occasionally feature guest spots from other Breaking Bad alumni and its easy to see why many are looking for this to fill up the hole in their hearts where Breaking Bad used to be.
Extant (CBS, Summer 2014)
Extant will have the benefit of Halle Berry as a star with Steven Spielberg attached as a producer, but while that talent will surely do wonders to shake off any stigma placed on the show because of its summer placement, the concept - Berry's astronaut character works to re-establish a relationship with her family following a year in space - figures to do the rest.
Add to that the cryptic teaser about Berry's characters actions (at home and in space) and how they may "change the course of human history", and Extant may be a hit that can pair with Under the Dome to nudge networks to really focus on scheduling more high quality scripted programming in the summer months rather than ceding June, July, and August to cable every year.
Girl Meets World (Disney Channel, 2014)
The nostalgia magic is strong with this one, but while the children of the 90s have been jumping up and down with excitement over the possibility of re-visiting the lives of TGIF power couple Cory and Topanga, Girl Meets World also marks the return of a light-hearted family-friendly sitcom to the mainstream.
Disney and Nickelodeon have done a good job of churning out shows in that vein for the younglings, but the Boy Meets World connection might indicate that this show will go a little bit further toward offering something for the entire family in the way that shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and the aforementioned Boy Meets World used to - and that's worth getting excited over!
Gotham Central (FOX, Fall 2014)
The birth of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the success of Arrow has spawned a bit of a superhero TV series boom with Marvel's four-pronged Netflix deal, CW's Flash series, and also a developing series based in Gotham City.
Created by Bruno Heller (The Mentalist), Gotham Central will focus on a young James Gordon. That means that there is the potential for the series to gently raid the Dark Knight's bountiful Rogue's Gallery while also telling the mostly untold story about a ten year old Bruce Wayne's formative childhood following the death of his parents and Gordon's ascension.
Some will say that those stories alone won't propel a show and that Gotham Central is little more than an attempt to do a Batman show on the cheap without impacting DC's cinematic universe, but if the tone is right and if Heller wisely chooses an actor to play Jim Gordon that excites fans before the first take, then Gotham Central could do quite well for FOX.
Gracepoint (FOX, 2014)
US adaptations of UK shows are usually a mixed bag with hits (The Office, House of Cards) and misses (Prime Suspect, Viva Laughlin), but with Gracepoint, FOX's adaptation of Broadchurch, the network may be stacking the deck with former Doctor Who star David Tennant (who also lead the way on Broadchurch) as well as Breaking Bad star Anna Gunn and Nick Nolte.
But while that cast promises to spur interest in the show, though, it is Broadchurch creator Chris Chibnall's presence that is most interesting and important. Will Chibnall - who crafted such a singular and crushing story with his first attempt - be able to both duplicate the depth of Broadchurch while modifying the tone to suit US audiences? That's the biggest question facing Gracepoint.
The Flash (The CW, Fall 2014 (pending pick-up))
Grant Gustin's appearances as Barry Allen on Arrow have gone about as well as can be expected, but in 2014, the young actor may be tasked with the challenge of leading The Flash if The CW picks up the pilot.
Crafted by Arrow co-creators Andrew Kreisberg and Greg Berlanti, The Flash will build on the origin story advanced in Arrow's mid-season finale while also allowing more "fantastical" characters to enter into DC's TV universe, a sharp change from the more reality based heroes and villains put forth on Arrow.
Will a crack spread out and let in a flood of such characters with an even larger exploration of the DC vaults? In many ways, The Flash is a trial balloon whose success or failure may influence the direction of superhero television in the near future. So... no pressure.
The Leftovers (HBO, 2014)
To some, The Walking Dead is a story about the aftermath of the apocalypse, but while those characters find themselves in a perpetual state of adaptation following the rise of the un-dead, they have proven to be incapable of re-building. They fend off, they survive, but essentially they're just waiting for the still developing apocalypse to catch up to them.
With The Leftovers, Damon Lindelof and novelist Tom Perrotta seem to be drafting a show that directly deals with the aftermath of a cataclysmic event - but in this case, it's the rapture, which seems like it will be treated more like a catalyst that allows Perrotta to shine an inquisitive lens on the effects that it has on a family and on the other people left behind, and not a constant threat.
While that may not be as visually compelling as seeing people turn to dust or float up to the great beyond every week, questions about faith, the value of morality, and the loss of hope after being rejected by a God whose existence is suddenly confirmed figure to drive the drama in a way that should more than make up the difference.
The Strain (FX, July 2014)
Born from Chuck Hogan and Guillermo del Toro's literary trilogy, The Strain tells the tale of a parasitic vampire plague that envelops New York while a CDC Doctor and his team fights back.
Cory Stall is playing Dr. Dr. Ephraim Goodweather with Sean Astin, David Bradley, Kevin Durand, and Regina King rounding out the cast, but the big draw is del Toro and his involvement.
Thanks to the bevy of beasties dreamed up by del Toro for the Hellboy films and Pans Labyrinth, expectations are high with regard to what these mutated vampires look like. Right now, we've only seen a viral teaser that gave nothing away, but while that's frustrating, it might be better for the show if the big reveal is held off for as long as possible just to build anticipation.
As this list more than illustrates, there is a lot of potential on the way, but there is also the possibility that something else will emerge during the upcoming year that will blow all of these other shows away.
For now though, as we watchfully wait to see TV continue to change with a new collection of heroes and monsters and faces that are both familiar and new, it's important to forget about keeping score and put aside the questions about hits and misses and remember that at the most molecular level, TV shows are about escapism and entertainment.
These shows may stoke interests and excitement now, and they may break our hearts later, but if they make us laugh, cry or feel something, then it'll be a pretty good year for television.