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Fab Five: The Best Freshman Seasons from the Past Year

We watch a lot of TV. When I say that, I don’t think you fully grasp it. We watch A LOT of TV! I myself watched over 50 shows this year, and of those, 34 were new. It was easily the largest number for me yet. And today, we feel a bit bittersweet. Sure, the new TV season will be upon us in a month’s time. And that is super exciting because several of our favorite shows will be coming back and TONS of new shows will be starting up. But today, we are all about reflection as we take a look back at the year that was the 2013-14 TV season.

I will be honest. I don’t think this past year of TV quite lived up to what the year before had brought us. There is no shame in that because this year was still great. It just had the unfortunate task of following up what I consider the best year ever for TV. We are here today to pay tribute to the real standouts though. Specifically, the first year show standouts. You only get to make a first impression once, and we are here today to give you our five best shows that had their debut season this year. One thing that we will not be including, even though there are many first year shows, is summer shows that haven’t finished yet. I just don’t believe you can properly rate a show that you haven’t yet seen the ending to. And that means we will be excluding some truly great shows that might have been contenders. Shows like Tyrant (FX), The Leftovers (HBO), The Strain (FX), Manhattan (WGN), and The Last Ship (TNT) are all ineligible. All of those are truly great shows that deserve mention. But luckily, we have PLENTY others to choose from! So here they are. Our individual top five freshman seasons from the 2013-14 TV year.

  • Evan Swafford
  • Trey Elliott
  • Josh Barnett
  • Chuck Nalley


5. Penny Dreadful (Showtime)

I looked forward to this show for a VERY long time. I am a big fan of reading and Gothic horror literature has always particularly interested me. So when I saw that Showtime was making a show that would bring in all the classic Gothic horror characters I know and love and put them in the same world and tie it all into one storyline, I was immediately in.

Admittedly, the show never was quite what I thought it would be. But that didn’t make it any less great. I thought it would be a lightning paced adventure with a bunch of cheap scares along the way. And wow, I was really wrong. Penny Dreadful often moves at a snail’s pace and is completely character driven. But it works. All of the characters are explored deeply and instead of cheap thrills, a dark tone and setting and creepy environments are used. You can’t turn away for a second as there is always something going on to further the plot and they took the story much farther than I ever thought they would in a short first season. Tons of characters have been introduced and we were left with many compelling cliff hangers to end the season. I can’t wait to go back to this dark world again next year.


crisis4. Crisis (NBC) 

It happens every year. A really great show will come along that has its marketing mishandled by the network and it just never catches on with the public and it ends up cancelled. Every. Year. Me and Josh are still pissed off that Alcatraz got cancelled two years ago. This year? It was Crisis. I can’t say that I was overly excited for Crisis coming in. Again, NBC really dropped the ball with advertising and scheduling for this one and that had a lot to do with it. The premise was interesting, but there had already been a somewhat similar one on CBS earlier in the year that I thought would be better in CBS’s Hostages. And that show burned me. It burned me bad. Hostages was terrible. But luckily, I watch almost everything and gave Crisis a chance. And I’m so glad I did. It was a great show.

The show was centered around the premise that an evil genius mastermind has kidnapped the kids of all the important people in Washington and is holding them ransom to make their parents perform tasks for him. It constantly reminded me of the first season of Prison Break, which is one of the best TV seasons of all time. The main antagonist had a notebook with his master plan where he had factored in every possible contingency, which was very similar to Michael’s elaborate tattoos that helped him plan his prison break. The pace was extremely fast and plot twists were constantly being thrown at us to keep us on our toes. I never knew what was coming next and it was thrilling to watch the conspiracy slowly be uncovered. The finale was amazing and left us with a cliffhanger that will always leave me wondering what might have been. You will be missed Crisis.


agents of shield

3. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC)

This was easily my most anticipated show going into last season. I am an unapologetic Marvel fanboy. And they were giving me a Marvel TV show that existed in the same world as the Marvel Cinematic Universe?!? Then I watched the pilot. I did not love the pilot. I was stunned. In fact, I didn’t love the first few episodes of the show. But I stuck with it like the loyal fan I am. And I am SO glad I did.

Movies and TV are two vastly different mediums and transitioning from one to the other isn’t easy. But it was clear that Marvel was finding their way and each and every week A.o.S just got better and better. Then, at about the mid-season mark, the show started to get great. Then, by the time Captain America 2 had come out, the show got amazing. There was no other show I looked forward to more each week than A.o.S during its last seven or eight episodes. It really feels like Marvel has its bearings now and knows how to balance the MCU with a TV show and I can’t wait for next year as we are left with TONS of great cliffhangers and unanswered questions from last season. A.o.S. is right up there with the top echelon of comic book shows.


2. Helix (SyFy)

What?!? A SyFy show in the top 2?? You bet your ass!  It was VERY close to being my number one! Every year or two, a network that I never watch will start putting out great original content. FX, AMC, A&E, CW, and now SyFy (Bitten was also pretty good and Dominion damn near made the list, a sneaky six for you podcast listeners). I thought the show sounded really intriguing when I first heard about it but because it was SyFy, I didn’t get too excited. Then I saw a trailer. I started to get very interested. Then the pilot hit, and I was blown away.

Helix hits for me on so many levels. Zombie type creatures, conspiracies, trapped in a remote location, I LOVE all those types of stories. And Helix rolled all of those into one AMAZING show. Each and every week, Helix was appointment TV for me. The acting for SyFy was really good. The practical effects were terrific. But the story! The only thing I’m looking forward to more in 2015 at this point is The Avengers 2. That’s saying something.


True Detective

1. True Detective (HBO)

So when I heard that a crime drama was coming to HBO (my favorite network) and would star Woody Harrelson and Matthew McCaughey (two of my favorite actors) I was already in 100% on True Detective. There was literally no way this show could be bad. And I was right. What I wasn’t prepared for was just how INSANELY good it was. It was quite possibly the best show on TV this year.

There might never be a show that has better performances from it’s two leads then what Harrelson and McConaughey did on True Detective. I fully expect McConaughey to win the Emmy this year, and if he loses, it better go to Harrelson. In only eight episodes, I saw more character development than I’m used to seeing in several seasons of other shows. The show moved insanely slow for the first few episodes and nobody really had any clue what it was all about. But the acting and setting was so good that you didn’t care. But then the story started to catch up and the pace quickened and we started to realize the true genius of the show. Everything about it was absolutely perfect. This show is what TV is supposed to be. I’m sad that I won’t be seeing more of McConaughey and Harrelson on this show, as it will be a brand new story with an all new cast every season, but at the same time, it couldn’t have ended more perfectly for me. I have complete faith in this show now and I know that even with a new cast and story, True Detective season 2 will absolutely be must watch TV.

Honorable Mentions:

Dominion (SyFy)
The Blacklist (NBC)
Sleepy Hollow (FOX)
Trophy Wife (ABC)
Silicone Valley (HBO)

Chicago_PD_Promotional_Logo5. Chicago P.D. (NBC) 

Hey guys, guess what?! More procedurals! Chicago P.D. is a spin off series for NBC’s ratings juggernaut Chicago Fire (A show I intended to catch up on this year at some point) and follows Chicago’s Intelligence Unit as they solve cases in basically what ever fashion they see fit. Laced with crosses and double crosses and a hell of a lot of attitude, the show just makes me happy to watch every week. It’s also renewed for s second season this winter!


Night Shift FI4. The Night Shift (NBC)

There is an irrational part of my brain that desperately wants to put my fourth and fifth picks at the top of the list. I could live in a world where only wonderful, glorious procedurals are on out televisions lineups if we’re being completely honest here. The Night Shift in particular is high on my list because it reminds me so much of a modern-day E.R. This is another show that had a bit of a rough opening, but by the end of it’s sadly short eight episode season, I was completely enthralled with its cast of characters, despite their somewhat cookie cutter-ness. The show also has an  occasional bravery in taking risks, which I enjoy.

NBC has already renewed The Night Shift for a second season, which will contain thirteen episodes, and is expected to air in the winter of 2015.


True-Detective-HBO-Series3. True Detective (HBO)

Ah, the talk of the town! True Detective is easily the freshman series with the biggest amount of buzz this year, both in the general public and at the Emmys, and the show, on a purely technical level, is the best there is. Both Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson deceiver what basically amounts to performances of a lifetime. And the story is told in a clever and interesting way, using multiple time lines to tell a fascinating story. Add to all of this some incredible cinematography, and you have a show worthy of any award you can imagine. For me it only falls to third because of my intense love for Marvel and the specific tale that Halt and Catch Fire told.


agents of shield2. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC)

What can I say, I am what most would call a Marvel fanboy. I loved the universe long before Iron Man cam along and changed everything, and now that the MCU has brought television into the fold, it just means I have one more thing to look forward to in the ever-growing on-screen universe. The show started off a bit slow, but if we had an award for “Most Improved” show, this would certainly take the prize. As Captain America: Winter Soldier landed in theaters, so to did a big turn occur on the small screen. From that point on you could;t keep me away from the television on Tuesday nights!

With a new, earlier time slot this coming fall, I can’t wait to see what both Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the new Agent Carter!


HCF FI1. Halt and Catch Fire (AMC)

Halt and Catch Fire is the AMC show that every person in every home should be watching on AMC. Not The Walking Dead. The later is perfectly serviceable, but Halt and Catch Fire is a borderline masterpiece, and should be talked about with the likes of Mad Men, True Detective, or Homeland. The show is incredible smart, and even better, assumes that it’s viewers are just as smart. Add to this incredible performances from Lee Pace, Kerry Bishé, Mackenzie Davis, and Scoot McNairy, all of whom delivered week in and week out, and you have the best new show on television. The show focuses on a duo set on making the computer that will take down IBM in the PC race of the early 80’s, and they trail of distraction that’s left in the wake of their ambition.

Sadly, a second season if still in the wind, so we’ll have to wait and see if we’re treated to another helping of this amazing show. I know I’ll be crossing my fingers.

Honorable Mentions:

Crisis (NBC)

Mixology (ABC)

Almost Human (FOX)

The Goldbergs (ABC)

About a Boy (NBC)

almost human5. Almost Human (FOX)

It’s with a heavy heart that I start my list with a J.H. Wyman show that has since been cancelled after it’s first season.  Almost Human, however, had a very solid start for a sci-fi show on Fox, and had all of the makings of another classic in the vein of Wyman’s last show, Fringe.  With good performances from Karl Urban and Michael Ealy, the two of which had some of the best on-screen chemistry of any show this year, not just freshmen efforts, this futuristic look at the world of cop procedurals was a standout for me.  Bogged down by the classic Fox blunder of airing episodes out of order, and a lack of direction with the story’s over-arching plot line, Almost Human represented a bit more promise than execution, but I was very eager to see what a second season would have brought us.  Sadly, this is one that will be lost to the ages, never to be heard from again.


brooklyn-nine-nine-SN4. Brooklyn Nine Nine (FOX)

Of all of the new sitcoms to debut this year, the one I was most shocked to have thoroughly enjoyed as much as I did was Brooklyn Nine Nine, on Fox.  Andy Samberg’s schtick can get tiring at times, outside of his Lonely Island affair, but he was truly the heart of this show’s surprising first season.  With a solid cast all around, including hilarious turns from Terry Crews and Andre Braugher, the Nine Nine turned into the best dysfunctional family, and ends up on my list despite all of my pre-conceived notions.  Plenty of laughs to be had, but also some very touching moments, and a decent bit of character development to go along with it.  It definitely stands as the best new sitcom to debut this year, and that is backed up by the fact that it received two Golden Globes and is one of the few shows in its genre to actually receive a coveted renewal.


agents of shield3. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC)

Ask me to talk about this show just 6 short months ago and you were likely to get a very different response.  Marvel’s foray into the small screen was met with much confusion and a bit of a dragging tail when it debuted, however the release of April’s smash hit Captain America: The Winter Soldier revealed that the studio that can do no wrong in the box office had bigger plans all along.  Never before have we seen this level of movie and television integration before, and the events of that movie forever changed not just the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but also Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. forever.  When all is revealed by the end of the season, A.O.S. ended up being one of the best shows on TV, and certainly worthy of the Marvel name.  They have to hit the ground running with season 2, however, as I feel they can ill afford another slow start, while waiting for the big boys to deliver plot points for them in IMAX.


sleepy-hollow-banner2. Sleepy Hollow (FOX)

Turns out Fox just hit it out the park with their new slate of shows this year.  I am flabbergasted at how much I enjoyed Sleepy Hollow.  The conceit was easy enough for me to swallow, and it’s debut trailer had me eagerly anticipating this new twist on the classic tale of Ichabod Crane.  What I wasn’t ready for, though, was the shows developing storyline and dedication to it, rather than it ending up in the freak of the week category, with each episode seeming disconnected.  The dark tone helped it appeal to the tortured soul in me, and a brilliant performance from one of my very favorite actors, John Noble, didn’t hurt it’s placement on my list either.  I raved for weeks about the season finale, and just thinking about it’s implications now has me dying with anticipation for it’s return this fall, hopefully with around 100% more John Noble, of course.


True-Detective-HBO-Series1. True Detective (HBO)

I almost forgot about this one!  That’s a lie, no one could possibly forget about True Detective.  HBO is the home for nearly perfect entertainment as far as hour long drama’s go.  They currently rule the airwaves during Game of Thrones seasons, and Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom is everything I had hoped it would be and then some.  But True Detective might just outdo the rest of their programming combined.  A very slow, yet incredibly intriguing start had me slightly worried about the direction of this 8-episdoe season, but just about halfway in, everything got kicked into high gear and the show locked it’s talons in me and never let go.  Woody Harrelson may have turned in the performance of his career, but I feel it’s pretty safe to say that Matthew McConnaughey gave us the best performance in television history as Rust Coehl.  The deliberate pacing, the disturbing nature of its story and the dichotomy of handling two time periods at once allowed True Detective to become a runaway hit, and one of the best single seasons of television I’ve ever watched.  If the rumors of season 2’s casting are true, and the quality of directorial efforts remains constant, this year could somehow manage to be even better than the first, which is kind of like asking for a miracle and actually having it delivered.

Honorable Mentions:

The Tomorrow People (The CW)

Trophy Wife (ABC)

The Blacklist (ABC)

The Crazy Ones (CBS)

The 100 (The CW)

Silicon Valley FI5. Silicon Valley (HBO)

I was very excited to see Silicon Valley‘s debut on HBO. The idea of a parody about an internet/app startup in the fast paced world of Silcon Valley seemed fresh and with the potential to be hilarious. Being created by Mike Judge (Beavis and Butthead, King of the Hill) and featuring T.J. Miller couldn’t hurt either. I was pretty disappointed through the half way point of the show, but the final few episodes were fantastic. The …ummm… “handy” equation was one of the funniest things I’ve seen on TV and should be watched for just that.
trophy wife4. Trophy Wife (ABC)

A show getting cancelled can be tragic. A good show getting cancelled is a damn shame. Trophy Wife was that show this year. Both critically acclaimed and adored by those who watched it, Trophy Wife followed a tried and true sitcom formula with a multi-familial twist. The comedy was very good and the acting was decent for a show of this ilk. It also doesn’t hurt that Bradley Whitford was the male lead…I’ll watch anything he’s in. It’s life was cut short, however, and will live in infamy as a Whitford vehicle cut short by it’s network.
Helix3. Helix (SyFy)

One of the more eclectic shows on my list, Helix brings some camp to a genre that doesn’t often have it: the contagion/plague storyline. Sure, some of the dialogue was painfully cheesy (You…have…your father’s eyes) and the acting was spotty at best, but there was something about the overall feel and vibe of the show. Having an unstoppable virus in a massive, albeit secure, facility in the arctic brought a claustrophobic feel and the sense of loosing time was palpable. If only there was more of a focus on the vectors…

Mixology surprised the hell out of me. At first glance, Mixology is all about a group of people trying their best to “smash it out” in probably the biggest bar in all of New York. On further inspection, however, there is a lot more to this show than at first glance. Friendship, camaraderie and even some potential for actual romance can be found amid a cluster of truly hilarious moments. Bruce, played perfectly by Andrew Satino (PLEASE get this guy some more roles!), is the star of this show and is comedic gold in every scene he’s in. Mixology lures you in with promises of frat boy humor and penis jokes but delivers on the one thing I didn’t expect from this show: heart.
True-Detective-HBO-Series1. True Detective (HBO)

To me, this was a no brainer. True Detective is the pinnacle of great TV and has the winning formula down pat: mix together great writing in a base of a solid setting and story. Add some sprinkles of humor and sex for flavoring. Wrap in a bacon-flavored mystery and serve with heaping helpings of amazing acting for garnish. SO much be said, and has already been said, about the amazing performance of Matthew McConaughey; his portrayal of the past and present Rust Cohle is one for the ages and will garnish the former RomCom star with a plethora of accolades…and each is well deserved. His performance outshines that of Woody Harrelson, which is very unfortunate. Harrelson’s performance as the oft maligned Marty Hart is his best to date in my opinion and shouldn’t go unnoticed…but will. There is no bad acting or line of dialogue here; True Detective television nirvana.

Honorable Mentions:

Resurrection (ABC)

The Goldbergs (ABC)

The Last Ship (TNT)

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (FOX)

Avengers Assemble (DisXD)

About Evan Swafford

Evan Swafford

Evan is a semi reluctant insomniac, who has used his extra time to watch way more TV than is healthy for a normal human being. All his other time is devoted to movies, gaming, and being a sports fanatic and stat geek. Evan has a degree from MTSU in Electronic Media Journalism which he now uses to grow some of the best trees and shrubs money can buy. You can hear his useless knowledge every week on the Free For All podcast.