To make our lists of best and worst TV shows for 2014, a program had to be scripted and have a Jewish star, writer or producer, or be about a Jewish related subject. Reality TV is not really television and all of it is bad so we left that out.
5) Penny Dreadful
This original Showtime horror drama set in late 18th Century England stars Eva Green. Need we say more? Its debut season also featured Josh Hartnett, Timothy Dalton and Dr. Who’s Billie Piper.
The first season was a who’s who of 19th Century gothic fiction characters from werewolves, to vampires and Dr. Frankenstein bringing back the dead. It even had Dorian Gray.
With a main character played by Mandy Patinkin and the show based on the original Israeli series Hatufim (kidnapped ones) about two Israeli soldiers release after years being held hostage by terrorists, you can certainly see why it made the list. But after last year’s disappointing third season you might have expected it to make the worst TV shows list rather than the best ones and you would have been right to do so.
However, this year marked a major comeback for the show whose writing just got better and better. It actually improved after killing off its Emmy winning star Damian Lewis last year. And Mandy Patinkin was stupendous as his character, former CIA man Saul Berenson, was given a much better storyline this year.
3) Falling Skies
This made our list because it is from executive producer Steve Spielberg.
For a TV show about a small group of survivors who are fighting off an invasion by aliens whith much superior technology and who have already wiped out most of humanity, it somehow found a way to make it through four seasons without losing any of its quality. The basic cable show will air its fifth and final season next year.
Yes it is silly and sometimes nonsensical, but hey it’s just a TV show. And it’s about an alien invasion so people should stop nitpicking.
2) Getting on
This little known gem from HBO is an American remake of an original BBC series. It is about a nutty doctor played by Laurie Metcalf (Roseanne) and her team of nurses who have to navigate the insanities of working in a hospital’s geriatric ward while dealing with the Bureaucracy.
It also stars Alex Borstein as one of the two main nurses. She is best known for playing the voice of Lois, the wife on the cartoon show Family Guy. Borstein proves here that she should be doing much more work in front of the camera.
The show just finished its second season, but unfortunately HBO has limited it to six episodes a year so far. Let’s hope that it will correct that mistake next year.
1) Mad Men
From creator Matthew Weiner who has at least co-written all of the show’s 92 episodes so far, this basic cable program from AMC has just one Jewish cat member, Elizabeth Moss. It aired the first 8 episodes of its final season last spring and will air its final 8 episodes ever next year. But in spite of the network calling it a split season, when you air the two parts a year apart then it is really two seasons.
Last year we saw a now fully alcoholic Don Draper make his comeback after having had a mini-breakdown the previous year which led to his fellow partners putting him on an indefinite forced leave of absence. The world now waits with bated breath to see exactly how the Don Draper saga will end. Hopefully we will start to find out next month.
Honorable mention – The Walking Dead
We just had to find a way to sneak this one in seeing as how it is the most popular scripted television show in America today. We did so because it has always had at least one Jewish cast member. That honor currently goes to the British actress Lauren Cohan who was originally born in Philadelphia.
While the 32 year old actress was not born Jewish – her mother’s second husband is Jewish and named Cohan – she converted after her mother remarried, took her stepfather’s last name and had a bat Mitzvah.
If you need us to describe the plotline of this zombie apocalypse show set in Georgia then you have probably never been on the Internet anyway and would not be reading this now.
Also from executive producer Steven Spielberg and also about some sort of attempt by aliens to invade the Earth – sort of — this show which starred Halley Berry, was a mini-series that aired over the summer, but could become a full series. Let’s hope not.
The main story was convoluted and really hard to understand and the second story, which centered on Berry’s and her husband’s relationship with their android son, was just plain boring. You never felt any real emotional connection to the characters.
Perhaps Berry should stick to making bad movies.
4) Two Broke Girls
This one stars Kat Dennings, one of the newest breakout Jewish celebrities in recent years.
The novelty wore off on this one a long time ago. It seems to fit in with the CBS Networks much older average viewership in that only people over 60, or Quakers, would actually be shocked by its supposed sexual innuendos.
The jokes are lame, predictable and repetitive. All that is left worth watching are Dennings and her two biggest talents.
This show was created and made by Israelis, specifically the highly successful Gideon Raff, and was mostly filmed in Israel until last summer’s fighting in Gaza forced the production to relocate. Its cast members are mostly Israelis, Arabs and Jews alike, the most notable of which is the model Moran Atias. She is giving Bar Refaeli a run for her money.
The show is based loosely on the story of how Syrian dictator Bashir Assad, a doctor by training, became his country’s leader. This was after his older brother, Syria’s heir apparent, was killed.
It got bogged down in convoluted plots that were supposed to deal with palace intrigue, but were just plain dumb. The stories went around in circles.
The summer show was renewed for a second season for some reason.
2) The Mysteries of Laura
This new show stars Debra messing as an NYPD detective, a divorced mother of twin boys who somehow manages to take care of her family all on her own while solving crimes.
Not funny. Not intriguing. No Columboesque mysteries. It just plain sucks. Yet somehow it got a full season pick up from NBC.
1) The Honorable Woman
This was a British mini-series which also aired in the U.S. about an Israeli born British businesswoman, Nessa Stein, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal who tries to bring peace to the Middle East while unknowingly being the target of a nefarious plot by American intelligence agents.
The show has a very naïve view of the conflict and to say that it shows Israel in a poor light would be an understatement. Gyllenhaal wants to build new telecommunications infrastructure in the Palestinian areas but discovers that Israel has hacked into her company’s main network to spy on the Palestinians.
She is also at one point held hostage by the Hamas in Gaza after she somehow snuck into that place while trying to conduct her own secret investigation.
For some reason many critics described this mess as somehow being realistic. They clearly were as clueless as to the truth about what is actually going on in Israel as the people who wrote this miniseries.
It also stars some Israeli actors like Igal Naor.
Dishonorable Mention: Houdini
This two part miniseries starred Adrien Brody as the legendary magician Harry Houdini (born Erik Weisz in Hungary). It felt like one of those documentaries on the history channel where bad actors play out short scenes from time to time in between the narration.
The acting was wooden, but the overall production value was all right. The one redeeming part of the series was all of the information that it offered on Houdini’s life.
This included the little known fact that he was recruited by the U.S. government to serve as a spy when he traveled to both Austria-Hungary and Russia in the years leading up to World War I.