As fun and compelling as Homeland was at first, the show’s inherently limited premise left viewers wondering where the series could possibly go in future seasons. However, the central concept of a possible undercover terrorist on the loose in the United States was so compelling that it seemed worthwhile to see where showrunners Alex Gordon and Howard Gansa would take it. Unfortunately, the latter half of the second season confirmed viewers’ anxieties with a number of wild plot twists that neither made sense, nor made much of an emotional impact. The third season continued the downward spiral as the story went in even more outlandish directions. Even worse, the characters simply didn’t seem to matter anymore—Carrie’s feelings for Brody felt pathetic rather than moving; and Dana’s soapy arc felt plucked from daytime TV. Star Damian Lewis acknowledged the limitations of the story when he admitted in an interview that Brody was supposed to die in the first season, and was only kept alive because of Showtime’s desire to retain the high viewership numbers the show was attracting. At this point, 2014’s upcoming fourth season seems unlikely to be anything more than a further tarnishing of the legacy Homeland secured in Season 1.
Community (Season 4)
After months of wavering by NBC, Community’s fervent fan base rejoiced when “October 19”—its original premiere date as well as the hashtag that hardcore fans tweeted to mock the delay—arrived on February 7, and Season 4 was underway. Unfortunately, the excitement was short lived as the show sputtered to fill the void left by departed writer Dan Harmon. Greendale’s quirky characters and meta-narratives were still there, but the on-screen product felt undeniably awkward —think Jeff’s father-son reunion, Britta and Troy, and the ridiculous ‘Changnesia’ storyline.
Despite continued Internet-wide outrage, Lena Dunham’s story of twenty-somethings struggling to find themselves continues as Girls airs its third season. While the continuous woes of the characters began to feel tiresome towards the end of the second season, the upcoming episodes should still be notable thanks to Dunham’s witty writing and quirky acting. Of particular excitement is the return of Dunham’s co-star Adam Driver as a love interest for protagonist Hannah—though the loss of Christopher Abbot (Charlie) yields some concern.
Halfway through its third season, New Girl continues to provoke laughter through its relatably imperfect characters. Just like its leading lady, Zooey Deschanel, New Girl is all about quirky charm. Although it remains true to life and funny, some of the show’s pull has diminished this season now that the “Will they? Won’t they?” tension between Nick and Jess—so prominent in previous seasons—has been taken care of. Winston’s character has also become a little too pathetic to the point where at times it stops being funny and just gets a little bit creepy. Despite these minor setbacks, the essence of the show has not been lost; New Girl should still be an entertaining way to spend 30 minutes in 2014 as it continues its third season.
After a seven-year hiatus, Arrested Development made a much anticipated return in 2013, re-launching with a fourth season on Netflix. Attempting to pick up the pieces of the Season 3 finale, we see how the Bluth family fell apart after the showdown aboard the Queen Mary, leading to an even darker dark humor than the show previously possessed. This season also takes a new approach in that every episode focuses on single characters rather than the whole family at once, which sometimes leads to uncomfortable pacing. Although certain aspects could use some fine-tuning for the rumoured feature film, the Bluth family remains as hilariously dysfunctional as ever.
Orange is the New Black
Orange is the New Black proved the ability of Netflix to create content which equals, and in many cases, surpasses that of its premium cable brethren. Though star Taylor Schilling anchored this tale of a New York yuppie forced to serve in a women’s federal prison, her co-stars provided the show with a vibrancy and authenticity rarely found elsewhere on TV. Although many of the male characters were too blandly acted or simplistically written (or both) to be engaging, the female cast members more than picked up their slack. More importantly, in the often staid-feeling TV world of grimacing male anti-heroes, Orange is the New Black felt genuinely new and different. The upcoming season in 2014 should continue the show’s success. Piper’s quest to survive life in jail while she maintains her real-world relationships presents showrunner Jenji Kohan with enough options to keep the series unpredictable while maintaining the bubbly tone that was a hallmark of its first season.
TV’s most well-regarded and talked-about soap opera marched on in 2013 as Mad Men showrunner Anthony Weiner brought Don Draper through a whirlwind of historical events (most notably Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination). The sixth season worked best—as the show always has—in episodes such as “The Crash,” which displayed a self-contained aesthetic approach. However, Megan’s fights with Don began to cross the line between impactful and exasperating, and the office drama in general gave off a whiff of predictability and staleness. That being said, Mad Men still had some of the best acting on TV, and the show was always fun to watch even when it didn’t feel dramatically satisfying.
Community (Season 5)
Early results are in, and it looks like Dan Harmon has brought the magic back to his idiosyncratic brainchild. “The Greendale Seven” (minus Pierce) eagerly return to campus after following their graduation with mostly unsuccessful stints in the real world. Notable changes include Jeff joining the unimpressive ranks of Greendale’s faculty and Breaking Bad’s Jonathan Banks signing on as a criminology professor and token old man in the group. Community thankfully feels like itself again, and if storylines like “The Ass-Crack Bandit” are any indication, we’re in for a great semester. The highlight so far? Abed going full-frontal Nicolas Cage.
If Homeland seemed like 24 for grownups in the promising days of its opening season, The Americans feels like Homeland for those grownups who became disillusioned with the latter’s later shenanigans. Anchored by outstanding performances from Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, the show tells a Cold War era tale of two Soviet KGB officers undercover as an American couple. Their machinations are interrupted early on in their new lives when they discover that their neighbour is an FBI agent. Even if the initial premise is a bit contrived, the marital crises and battles of espionage are anything but. Season 2 kicks off Feb. 26.
House of Cards
The blessing and curse of Netflix is that it can keep you in front of a TV screen for 13 hours straight, and House of Cards is one of those shows that can easily make you forget about the other priorities in your life that would stop you from watching the whole season at once. Season 1 is an exploration of what happens when a frighteningly ambitious democrat gets passed over for secretary of state and proceeds to put his vengeful mind to work. As Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) taught us, the results are occasionally disturbing, but highly entertaining. By season’s end, Frank had secured the vice-presidency; but as the final shot of him jogging into the night suggests, he doesn’t plan on sitting around in that role as other cards fall into place—he still wants to be the one dealing them. All the while, the shadow of Congressman Peter Russo’s apparent suicide looms large and threatens to unhinge all of Frank’s progress if journalists on his trail discover the truth and make it public. Season 2 will be released on Valentine’s Day, and if you’re riding solo at that time, a fresh batch of House of Cards episodes isn’t a terrible consolation.
Say what you will about The Office A.M. (After Michael), but its Season 9 and series finale arguably made up for any drop off in the show’s quality since the iconic boss’s Season 7 departure. Although Michael Scott returned for an appearance as Dwight’s best man, the episode was rightfully a celebration of the entire Dunder Mifflin family. The endings were mostly happy for the characters (sorry Andy and Creed), and the show—whose documentary camera style drastically altered the last decade of television—got the ending it deserved.