The goggle-box has had a particularly blood-soaked 2014, as evidenced by the large number of murder-death-kills included on this list. But there have also been plenty of big laughs and warm vibes among the shocks. Here’s our run-down of the year’s best TV moments, including malfunctioning tech, a satsuma-coloured coat, a fish-firing cannon and a Steadicam that just won’t quit…
CAUTION: we have considered anything up to the most recent episode of each show fair game, even if it’s yet to air in the UK. If you’re not fully up to date, click at your peril.
THE TV MOMENT OF THE YEAR
THE LONG SHOT
Episode: Season 1, Episode 4: Who Goes There
Positioned at the midway point of the HBO show’s eight-episode run, this bravura sequence follows biker gang the Iron Crusaders, plus undercover detective Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey), as they attempt to rob a drug den. The raid goes wrong, all hell breaks loose, and soon Rust is just trying to get out alive. It’s technically brilliant, captured in one six-minute-long unbroken shot. It’s impeccably acted, with McConaughey hitting tricky beat after tricky beat without once tripping or looking at the camera. And it’s superbly conceived by showrunner Nic Pizzolatto. “We follow Cohle in a one-take gauntlet through the projects, dodging cops, dodging armed clockers, dodging gunfire,” summarises Pizzolatto on the Blu-ray commentary. Let’s look at how the best TV moment of 2014 goes down…
Rust and ‘pals’ turn up at number 212 with guns to the heads of their two hostages. The mood is already ripe with tension. “I plotted the sequence based on projects I knew in Lake Charles (in Louisiana),” says Pizzolatto. “We were lucky to find a location just like that. There are these places, walled off with an iron fence, segregated, bungalows with laundry lines strewn through them. It looks exactly like it was described in the script.”
The door is opened and the camera rushes in behind Rust, swirling around the room as he and the Iron Crusaders subdue the drug gang. Director Cary Fukunaga, who has used long shots before in his films Jane Eyre and Sin Nombre, knew as soon as he read the script that employing a Steadicam would pump up the tension. “The stash-house sequence was a moment of real-time action taking place over ten to 15 pages,” he says. “It was the perfect opportunity to just run one long take where a lot of things are happening.”
Clad in leather jacket and black gloves, Rust is in character, helping the Crusaders round up everyone in the house. As he sweeps the house, his eyes are wild. “His only way out is to keep playing along,” Pizzolatto explains. “All he can do is mitigate damage. If he tries to get away, he’s done. They’ll put a bullet in his head.”
So far it’s all gone as planned. But Rust peeks out of a window and sees several shady characters converging outside the house. Sensing danger ahead, he leads a small boy to the bathroom and tells him to stay in the tub. It’s a quick glimpse of the real, decent Cohle.
The song you hear blasting out of the stash-house stereo is Clan In Da Front by Wu-Tang Clan. “I love Wu Tang,” laughs Pizzolatto, “but if we had put in Body Count’s Cop Killer playing in there…”
The stash is handed over and the hostages are subdued. But Rust is starting to sweat, and with good cause. “Thirty seconds in and out,” is the mantra he keeps muttering. But they’ve been in the house for almost two minutes, and a brick comes smashing through one of the windows. “My wife’s seen this 20 times and she still jumped the last time when that brick came through the window,” says executive producer Scott Stephens. In case you’re wondering, the projectile was made of foam.
The scene erupts into violence. One of the Crusaders shoots a mewling hostage, the shotguns come out and Rust finally breaks cover, taking down two of the bikers and putting a gun to the head of gang boss Ginger (Joseph Sikora). As he springs into action, so does the camera, whirling around the characters like a ballet dancer. “Our Steadicam operator is owed a new spine for this — man did nine takes,” chuckles Pizzolatto. “The oner was all Cary’s plotting. I rewrote it so you can actually track Cohle through by staying with him.”
As Rust marches Ginger across the yard, the camera tilts up to mark the arrival of a police helicopter. By this point, the sequence is getting really complicated. “The process of walking through it was actually pretty wild and hard to manage,” says Stephens. “We had maps drawn of the path, so everyone could understand how this choreography was going to play out. To get that many people together at once, re-enacting, essentially, a riot, anything could go wrong.” What you don’t see on-screen is a small army of assistant directors, releasing extras, cuing up vehicles and (we’re guessing) stopping rogue raccoons from running across set.
- Phone call
Rust heads back into the house and calls partner Marty (Woody Harrelson) on the landline, telling him to get to the house in 90 seconds. Ginger makes a run for it and Rust heads after him. “Look how alive Cohle looks, compared to everything else [that happens in the show in the year] ’95,” notes Pizzolatto. “Our men come fully alive as effective individuals when they’re breaking the law.”
The pursuit is interrupted by two baddies, who Rust subdues on the lawn. A stunt team led by Mark Norby worked with McConaughey to develop Cohle’s combat style. A replica of the set was constructed so they could practice the moves beforehand.
After detouring around an armoury filled with drug dealers tooling up, Rust and Ginger arrive at a chain-link fence. In perhaps the most impressive moment of the entire sequence, they and the camera go over it. Since the crew weren’t allowed to remove any part of the fence, Fukunaga first considered using a ramp, before deciding to put the Steadicam operator on a crane-operated platform, lifting him and then dropping him on the other side. We’re guessing this is the part of the shot that caused the most chewed fingertips.
Finally, they arrive at the road, where Marty pulls up right on time. And… wrap. “The euphoria from the hundreds of people who were around the blocks were pretty amazing,” Fukunaga told The Guardian soon after the episode aired. “But it was exhausting, at least for everyone but Woody. He was just stuck in his car most of the night, waiting to pull up and screech.”
Episode: Season 4, Episode 8: The Mountain And The Viper
“I shit you not, I can’t get rid of this headache,” tweeted Pedro Pascal on June 2. Thousands of Game Of Thrones fans, who had just seen the actor’s cranium being crushed into tomato paste on TV, replied with countless utterings of “Too soon!” and weeping emoticons. The demise of Pascal’s swaggering Oberyn Martell (aka The Red Viper) at the hands of man-beast The Mountain (Hafþór Júlíus "Thor" Björnsson) was so well-executed that it managed to reduce even George R.R. Martin fans, who had seen it coming for years, to blubbering wrecks. Rarely has so beloved a character (Pascal had thoroughly charmed everyone, both in Westeros and the real world, since his arrival at the start of Season 4) been so monstrously dispatched: The Mountain hooks his massive thumbs into The Viper’s eye sockets and squeezes, causing his enemy’s head to explode like a spiked basketball. Anyone got Nurofen?
Episode: Season 1, Episode 2: Séance
In 2014, Eva Green went all the way up to 11. There was the extraordinary sex scene in 300: Rise Of An Empire, in which she tussled angrily with a scared-looking Sullivan Stapleton. There was her femme fatale turn in Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, so deliciously devious that it makes Barbara Stanwyck look like Barbra Streisand. And in between, Green delivered her most gonzo turn of all, as haunted beauty Vanessa Ives in John Logan’s Penny Dreadful. In a happily batty show stuffed with vampires, wolfmen and mad scientists, her character is the most memorable — and it only takes a watch of this weird, scary séance sequence to see why. Vanessa becomes a conduit for various supernatural forces, shocking a table of refined Victorian folk as dark secrets spill out of her mouth in horribly croaking tones. Plus, there’s the whole body-bending-backwards thing at the end, which is just plain freaky. We doubt there are many actresses who could pull off a five-minute tour de force like this, but Green probably did it straight after breakfast.
Episode: Season 2, Episode 1: Chapter 14
Kevin Spacey completists will be aware of his cameo in Mike Nichols’ Heartburn, as a no-gooder who winks at Meryl Streep on the New York Subway. Almost 30 years later, he’s back menacing the underground (this time the Washington Metro), but has transitioned from sleazy flirt to cold-blooded killer. His lizardy politician Frank Underwood, on the verge of becoming Vice President, summons his journalist contact Zoe (Kate Mara) to a meet at Cathedral Heights station. Frank has chosen the people-sparse, subterranean location carefully, and is able to shove Zoe into the path of an oncoming train and slither away before he’s spotted. Given that Mara was at this point House Of Cards’ second lead, and had given the audience a character to more or less root for, the moment was a gargantuan shock. At least Cashew the guinea pig is still safe. For now.
Episode: The Whole Damn Thing
The most surreal 11 minutes and 12 seconds you will have spent this year, unless you regularly get trapped in lifts with Cirque de Soleil, Casper Kelly’s meticulously crafted Adult Swim sketch spiralled out from its inauspicious 4am debut on the channel to become a true phenomenon. Its biggest joy, arguably, came from introducing other people to it, without telling them a) what it was and b) how long it was, then sitting back and watching their faces as Kelly’s spot-on spoof of ‘80s US sitcom credit sequences gradually gave way to a gonzo and pitch-black horror movie tribute, featuring the creepiest psycho this side of Twin Peaks’ Killer Bob. Constantly inventive, existentially unsettling (aren’t we all, really, just part of one big credits sequence?), it also had the year’s most insidious earworm. Dear God, how do you stop this thing?
Episode: Season 5, Episode 16: The Last Call
The genius of The Good Wife resides not in what it simply does astonishingly well: courtroom intrigue, grown-up romance, and the intricate interweaving of plot and character. No, what elevates this legal drama to greatness is in its humanity, where with every turn of the plot we peer within these people. And when lead lawyer Will Gardner (Josh Charles) is randomly shot dead, it is not the sudden, numbing jolt of the moment that is so memorable (and it is thrown at us without any build up, à la Ned Stark — this is just a senseless, irrevocable death). It is the very next episode, The Last Call, that is television drama working at a sublime level. Led by the towering Julianna Margulies as Alicia Florrick, it is an intimate, heart-rending study in grief as the episode gently makes its way between his lovers, friends, and colleagues to capture their unbidden and often uncontrolled shock, ending on the haunting note of Alicia deciding whether she can listen to the message Will has left on her phone. This is now the voice of a ghost.
Episode: Season 2, Episode 13: We Have Manners. We’re Polite
The were so many twists and turns in the second season of Orange Is The New Black, but the best of both was left to the very, very end, as a near-death Miss Rosa (Barbara Rosenblat) hurtles down the highway in the prison transport van. Spying the newly-escaped (and utterly evil) Vee (Yvonne Parker) by the side of the road, Rosa does what any other right-thinking cancer-ridden prisoner would do, and mows her down. You don’t see it coming, and yet once it’s happened, you’re astonished as to how you didn’t.
Episode: Season 4, Episode 14: The Grove
The fourth season of The Walking Dead began with a lethal flu virus and ended with cannibals. In between, we got a self-contained episode that looked at first like it might offer a reprieve from all the brutality, with five characters (two adults, two little girls and a baby) bunking down in a house in a pecan grove. Of course, given that this is The Walking Dead, the rustic R&R doesn’t last long. Troubled young teen Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino) kills her sister and threatens to do the same to the infant. Seeing no other option, Carol (Melissa McBride) leads her into the forest, tells her to “Look at the flowers” and then shoots her in the head. It’s a gut-punch of a moment, in one of the show’s most horribly brilliant episodes.
Episode: Series 3, Episode 3: His Last Vow
If there’s one concept you must accept as a Sherlock fan, it’s the “Mind Palace” – a corner of one’s noggin stuffed with knowledge. At first, it seems Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes is the only human in existence to have such a department in his brain – aside from Mycroft, whose is much larger and boasts better fittings and fixtures. But then Series 3’s big bastardly bad, Charles Augustus Magnussen (Lars Mikkelsen), reveals himself to have a whopper of a Palace, where he keeps all the blackmail information he needs to, um, blackmail people. Stealing government secrets to swap with the evil press baron, Sherlock and Watson suddenly realise that as he has no actual incriminating files, they’re screwed. Then, BANG! – Sherlock pops a cap in Magnussen’s cranium and we're all left hand-over-mouth, tea-on-floor gobsmacked. Finally, the man who would never commit a violent act where being a clever-clever sod would do is in a position where the only option is that violent act. It’s a radical departure from Conan Doyle and one hell of a series-closer.
Episode: Season 1, Episode 24
Before this year, John Oliver was best known for his hilarious contributions to The Daily Show and his considerably less hilarious appearance in The Love Guru. But 2014 established him as a major comedy talent and one of the funniest men on TV. Over its 24 episodes, his solo show Last Week Tonight (which saw him sitting in front of a desk, talking about various hot-button topics and cueing up video clips) grew from cult curio to cultural phenomenon, thanks to its combo of pin-sharp wit and righteous anger. If you haven’t already, head to YouTube to watch his savage tirades on FIFA, net neutrality and the sugar industry. But first, enjoy the star-packed series finale, in which he gleefully fires fish into the sets of TV shows and films, including The Simpsons and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Episode: Season 6, Episode 22: Moving Up
The sixth season of Parks & Rec, as everybody but the show’s official title refers to it, was fine overall. It was still warm, sweet, often very funny, but there was a sense that it was treading water a bit, creatively readjusting itself as it coped with the mid-season departures of Rob Lowe and Rashida Jones, and the regular absence of Chris Pratt’s Andy, what with him off guarding the galaxy. And then came the very last scene of the season finale, an audacious fast-forward three years into the future that revealed that Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope - who’d recently become pregnant, been voted out of office and offered a kick-ass new job - was running her own government department out of Pawnee. She was suddenly the mother of triplets, and she oversaw an incompetent Jon Hamm. It was audacious, both a reset for the show’s upcoming final season, and a deliberate move away from the usual problems that can beset a sitcom when its lead character becomes pregnant. Also, it was so nice to see the inspirational, indefatigable Leslie come out on top.
Episode: Season 1, Episode 17: Turn Turn Turn
For the majority of its first season, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. was more like Episodes Of Y.A.W.N., with its easy-on-the-eye but bland heroes shuttling around the globe doing things we forgot about five minutes after transmission. Then, suddenly, things got good. It turns out the show had been holding an ace up its sleeve: the big twist unveiled during Captain America: The Winter Soldier, revealing that S.H.I.E.L.D. is actually being puppeteered by the agency’s evil Nazi nemesis HYDRA. As the shockwave hit Marvel’s TV show, a multitude of presumed good guys revealed themselves as HYDRA sleeper agents, including Garrett (Bill Paxton) and – most startlingly – Ward (Brett Dalton), who’d been positioned as a love interest for heroine Skye (Chloe Bennet). In a heartbeat, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. made a swing from disposable procedural to gripping serial, forcing its characters on the run and setting up the so far excellent, Inhumans-introducing second season.
Episode: Season 7, Episode 12: Red Rose
The show’s penultimate episode, Red Rose saw not one, not two but three series regulars put down. None were more harrowing, or indeed inevitable, than the last, though. After seven years of manipulating, scheming and getting her gads dirty in club business, Sons of Anarchy brood mother Gemma Teller (Katey Sagal) is put down by the one person she did it all for. Having discovered that Gemma and not the Triads were responsible for the death of his wife, Jax (Charlie Hunnam) tracks his mother to her father’s cabin, where she’s reminiscing over old photographs. Jax quietly, slowly accompanies Gemma out into the rose garden where she played as a child. Her back to him, his mother tells him that she’s ready. And after a pause that seems endless, he puts a round in the back of her head – blood splattering the white petals. A tragic end for a deluded woman who did the wrong things for (mainly) the right reasons, and the beginning of the end for Jax. And yes, this is the second entry on the list in which someone shoots a person in the head in front of some flowers. It’s been that kind of year.
Episode: Season 1, Episode 9: A Fox, A Rabbit, And A Cabbage
It seems wrong to choose a moment from Fargo that doesn’t feature diabolically bearded hitman Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton on best-in-years form). This scene from the end of the penultimate episode, though, is unforgettable, marking the final step in the descent into darkness of Minnesota schlub Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman). Knowing that Malvo is hot on his trail, Lester quickly arranges a trip to Acapulco with his new wife Linda (Susan Park). But first they need to pick up their passports and cash from his office, and Lester suspects the killer could be hiding inside. So he tells the unsuspecting Linda to put on his distinctive orange winter coat (“It’s coooold out there”) and run in for him. She does. A shape emerges from the shadows. A shot rings out. Lester claps his hand over his mouth. And his fate is sealed. It’s the most upsetting of all the show’s considerable collateral damage (the likeable Park had made a big impression in very little screen-time) and a masterclass in no-don’t-do-it! suspense.
Episode: Season 1, Episode 5: Signaling Risk
Mike Judge’s savvy / silly tech-com, which curiously counts Jessica Alba among its fans, had many high-points in its first season, not least the final episode’s sublime “dick jerk algorithm”. But the bit that made us laugh the most was the quick, almost throwaway scene in which loser programmer Bighead (Josh Brener) is summoned to the office of big cheese Gavin Belson (Matt Ross). Belson’s lackeys excitedly inform Bighead that Gavin will be talking to him via brand-new “holographic 3D teleconferencing technology” called the TeleHuman. And sure enough, the CEO arrives in the room in the form of a glimmering hologram, looking like Yoda from the end of Return Of The Jedi and eerily eyeing Bighead from within a glass capsule. Unfortunately, he soon begins glitching like Max Headroom. The conversation is continued on Skype, which also goes wrong, and then cell-phone, which does too. In a show stuffed with cutting-edge gizmos, it’s a hilarious comment on the fragility of our technological trappings. Note: the TeleHuman is a real thing currently being developed by the Human Media Lab in Canada. It’ll apparently be on sale within five years, hopefully glitch-free.
Episode: Series 1, Episode 6: The Harrowing
That rarest of things, a British horror-comedy anthology series, Inside No. 9 (named after the house number of the location in each episode) proved a diabolical treat. The final of the first season’s six episodes, The Harrowing is about a babysitter (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) who arrives for a new assignment to discover that there’s weirdness ahoy (the house is kept at -3 °C; there are paintings of hell everywhere; the stuffed cat moves). The climax reveals the horrifying truth: she has been brought here to become a new vessel for Castiel, the demon of mischief. Though there are dark laughs in the episode, the ending is pure nightmare fodder, the babysitter helpless as a Castiel-possessed man advances, hissing, “Mischief!” Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith, we both salute you and request you contribute to our therapy bills.
Episode: Series 2, Episode 1: Match Fit
Matt Berry and Arthur Mathews’ wonderfully surreal, sardonic sitcom, about the roguish adventures of idiot actor Steven Toast, returned for a second series this year. You’d imagine that the most indelible moment would feature either Clem Fandango or the magnificent Harry Peacock as Toast’s ever-scowling nemesis, Ray bloody Purchase, but the image we just can’t get out of our heads is Toast’s vigorous lovemaking with Mrs. Purchase (Tracy-Ann Oberman) in the middle of a bed store. Berry’s sex face will haunt your dreams forever, and the least said about the line “My balls are about to fizz!” the better. The best British sitcom of the year?
Episode: Season 3, Episode 6: Run
The Newsroom has taken a lot of flack for being superficial and preachy, but with Run Aaron Sorkin put together the show’s finest episode to date and a finale that made you wonder if you were even watching the right show. Neal (Dev Patel) finds himself in possession of thousands of classified government documents, leaked from a government contractor. Unfortunately for him, he unwittingly committed espionage in helping them smuggle the files out. With law enforcement on their way, Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) tells his assistant to put a menu in his office and to come and get it three minutes after “they” arrive. “Who?” she asks. “You’ll know.” After several dozen FBI agents storm the studio and begin stripping hard drives, McAvoy is told that Neal will be arrested and detained for his part in the leak. He nonchalantly picks up the menu and writes down his order, before asking his assistant to get dinner. She takes it and leaves. We see Neal in an alley, running away from the building. He smashes his phone and throws it into a dumpster, setting fire to the menu that's now in his hands. As it goes up in flames we see the two words hastily scrawled by Will: ’Neal Run’.
Episode: Season 2, Episode 5: Mukozuke
Hannibal is a grisly miracle: despite showrunner Bryan Fuller’s plan to deliver seven seasons, which will incorporate Thomas Harris novels including Silence Of The Lambs, the series remains low on viewers and perpetually on the brink of being cancelled. Yet Fuller shows no sign at all of compromising his bleak, beautiful vision, with the second season delivering even more artfully macabre crime-scene tableaux than before. In Mukozuke, the victim is CSI investigator Beverly Katz (Hettienne Park), who has rubbed Hannibal’s (Mad Mikkelsen) rhubarb and met an untimely end. Her body ends up on display at an observatory, with the twist being that she’s cut into sashimi-thin slices and then re-assembled in glass cases. It’s a bananas concept (how did Hannibal fit in all this work with his day job and copious grocery-shopping?) but no less breathtaking for it.
To make sure you don't click on a page which reveals something you're not already aware of, here are links to the 20 shows and scenes discussed in the feature, in the order they appear.
TV MOMENT OF THE YEAR
Season 1, Episode 4: Who Goes There
Game Of Thrones
Season 4, Episode 8: The Mountain And The Viper
Season 1, Episode 2: Séance
House Of Cards
Season 2, Episode 1: Chapter 14
Too Many Cooks
The Whole Damn Thing
The Good Wife
Season 5, Episode 16: The Last Call
Orange Is The New Black
Season 2, Episode 13: We Have Manners. We're Polite
The Walking Dead
Season 4, Episode 14: The Grove
Series 3, Episode 3: His Last Vow
Last Week Tonight
Season 1, Episode 24: The Salmon Cannon
Parks And Recreation
Season 6, Episode 22: Moving Up
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Season 1, Episode 17: Turn Turn Turn
Sons Of Anarchy
Season 7, Episode 12: Red Rose
Season 1, Episode 9: A Fox, A Rabbit, And A Cabbage
Season 1, Episode 5: Signaling Risk
Series 1, Episode 6: The Harrowing
Toast Of London
Series 2, Episode 1: Match Fit
Season 3, Episode 6: Run
Season 2, Episode 5: Mukozuke
24: Live Another Day
Episode 9: 7:00pm – 8:00pm
Episode: Episode 9: 7:00pm – 8:00pm
After four years off air, the Jack Bauer Power Hour returned hell-bent on proving it could come up with new ways for its hero to demonstrate his badassery. The first episode kept him silent for almost the entire run-time, before he finally turned the tables on his CIA captors and unleashed a feverishly awaited “Dammit!” But for our money, the most memorable moment came in the penultimate instalment, as he finally tracked his drone-happy terrorist quarry, Margot Al-Harazi (Michelle Fairley), to her London lair. He outdoes John McClane by rappelling down the side of the building on crackling electrical cables, taking out Margot’s son by yanking him out of a window and down to the pavement below. He then subdues Margot, and the case is shut. Except it’s not: Margot gives him some backchat, so he chucks her out of the window too. It’s so exceptionally harsh, even by 24 standards, that it’s also weirdly hilarious.