From Game of Thrones To a Pony Show: Newsweek Picks Best TV of 2014

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Newsweek's staff pics for best TV of the year include (Top from left) "True Detective," "Newsroom," "VEEP," (Bottom from left) "Silicon Valley," "Game of Thrones" and "Mad Men." HBO, AMC

In an interview with Newsweek last winter, True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto noted that for a few years now, television has been kicking cinema's ass. The author of the most poetically written series to appear on TV since Tony Soprano was spewing turnpike truisms, Pizzolatto said it with more eloquence… and the word "ass" probably never passed his lips. But that is what he meant. Networks (read: cable networks) have figured out how to tell stories that evolve slowly, involving three-dimensional characters that demand the audience's attention. Streaming technology is only part of the reason "binge-watch" has entered the lexicon.

Here then are our staff's 10 favorite television shows, episodes or moments of 2014:

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Kumail Nanjiani and Martin Starr star in HBO's "Silicon Valley" Jaimie Trueblood

Silicon Valley, "Signaling Risk" (HBO)
The fifth episode of this rookie series by Mike Judge plays out like a vintage Seinfeld episode, as story arcs and character traits are weaved together beautifully. The look on Bighead's face as he strolls the grounds of Hooli and spots the obscene mural depicting one of his former Pied Piper colleagues mounting the Statue of Liberty was classic. This was also the final episode for Christopher Evan Welch as the delightfully awkward Peter Gregory before Welch succumbed to cancer. The show struggled to find its footing without him in the final three episodes.

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Jeff Daniels and Olivia Munn star in HBO's "The Newsroom" Melissa Moseley

The Newsroom, "Run" (HBO)
For those of us who make no apologies for loving this wordy Aaron Sorkin creation, this episode was its zenith. While Atlantis Cable News faces threats from without (FBI) and within (a hostile takeover engineered by Reese Lansing's twin step-siblings), Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski) and Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn) parry about the status of their relationship. And Maggie confronts a stranger on a train. Even the hate-watchers had to admit that during this hour, Don Quixote was triumphant.

Homeland, "The Drone Queen" (Showtime)
Having jumped the proverbial shark several times in its last season, what was formerly known as the thinking-person's 24 brought back the right kind of crazy, starting with the very first episode. Carrie Mathis (Clare Danes) contended for worst mother of the year award, almost watching her baby drown, and Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) showed big girls some love -- and the men who torment them a special spook brand of assaut. Semi-retired CIA head Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) remained the show's best character, as enigmatic as Alice's caterpillar, even as terrorists conspired to give him a dose of the agency's own medicine.

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Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Sam Richardson star in HBO's "VEEP" Paul Schiraldi

Veep (HBO)
This cast is the most venal and self-interested stench of humanity inside the Beltway you are likely to find outside the 113th United States Congress. Selina Meyer (Julia Louis Dreyfus) on the campaign trail for the POTUS gig allowed the series to lampoon everything from Silicon Valley to political memoirs to presidential debates. Timothy Simons as wannabe insider Jonah Ryan is the funniest character on TV.

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Peter Dinklage stars in HBO's "Game of Thrones" Helen Sloan/HBO

Game of Thrones (HBO)
No show, not even The Walking Dead, hemorrhaged major characters with less concern and more savagery than GoT did this season: Buh-bye, Robb and Talisa Stark, Catelyn Stark, King Joffrey, Tywin Lannister, Sandor Clegane (a.k.a., the Hound) and Oberyn Martell (while Theon Greyjoy only wishes death would find him). An epic worthy of a Cecil B. DeMille production sprinkled with healthy servings of dark humor... and alliance-forming worthy of Matthew Weiner.

Maggie Gyllenhaal
Maggie Gyllenhaal in 'The Honourable Woman.' Robert Viglasky/Drama Republic

The Honourable Woman, "The Killing Call" (Sundance Channel/Netflix)
Maggie Gyllenhaal channeled Vanessa Redgrave by way of John Le Carre's Little Drummer Girl in this British spy drama, bringing both volatility and vulnerability to Nessa Stein, a Member of Parliament rather blindly promoting peace in the Mideast while ignoring the chorus of demons within her. Suffice to say she sleeps in a panic room, alone, every night. With Stephen Rea as a George Smiley-like spook, trying to solve one last mystery before shuffling like Columbo off into the sunset. "Is your secret safe?" becomes the question of the show and of course the answer is ultimately no.

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Trevor Einhorn stars as John Mathis and Elisabeth Moss stars as Peggy Olson in AMC's "Mad Men" Justina Mintz/AMC

Mad Men, "Waterloo" (AMC)
The penultimate season ends with both the Apollo 13 moon landing and something even more miraculous: Don Draper's redemption. Bert Cooper (Robert Morse) dies shortly after seeing Neil Armstrong touch down on the lunar surface, but graces Draper (Jon Hamm) with a dream sequence soft-shoe performance of "The Best Things in Life are Free." Magical.

The Missing, "Gone Fishing" (Starz)
Many parents couldn't bring themselves to watch this BBC One import, which begins when a British couple (James Nesbitt and Frances O'Connor) have their six-year-old son snatched from them in a French village but once you start, you cannot stop. Propelled by the hope the boy is still alive (the story navigates two plotlines, one from the time of the kidnapping and the other eight years later); the fear that much of the town, the police helping them and possibly even the parents are complicit in the kidnapping; and the largely egoless acting of an international cast, you will find yourself jonesing for more. In "Gone Fishing" a convicted pedophile (played by the great Belgian actor Titus De Voogdt) casts hope upon the waters while sealing his fate and that of at least one other suspect. Deep water; bring waders.

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Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson star in HBO's "True Detective" Michele K. Short

True Detective (HBO)
Many will cite that six-minute tracking shot as the series' highlight, but we prefer the gospel according to Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey). From his first car chat with partner Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson), in which he allows that "I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution," to a later observation that would prove portentous for current events in America ("Of course I'm dangerous. I'm police. I can do terrible things with impunity"), Cohle traced a flat circle around viewers' psychospheres.

Key and Peele, "Alien Impostors" (Comedy Central)
The growing popularity of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele's sketch comedy series (now in its fourth season) proves that humor needn't be stupid but it can sure get strange. They never really topped their first episode this year but they set the bar mighty high: the skit "Gay Wedding Advice", in which a homophobic black family asks a gay guest (Key) what to expect at their cousin's gay wedding ("When in the ceremony do we sing 'Over the Rainbow'?") will be cherished by families for as long as men do the pony show and others can watch them from the straight section.

From Game of Thrones To a Pony Show: Newsweek Picks Best TV of 2014 | Culture