‘Fargo’ wins HitFix’s 3rd Annual Television Critics’ Poll

We have a surprise winner in this year’s HitFix Television Critics’ Poll. But then, pretty much any winner would have been surprising this year.

The first two years of the poll had with the same obvious champion both times, with the two halves of the “Breaking Bad” final season finishing first in both 2012 and 2013. When we introduced a second poll for best new shows last year, Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black” (which finished second in the overall poll) was almost certainly the winner even before voting began.

When we began planning for the 2014 version of the Critics’ Poll, though, Fienberg and I had no idea what was going to win either poll – nor, for that matter, who would top this year’s new Top 10 performances list. With “Breaking Bad” no longer eligible, and with so many great shows in so many places – including a staggering number of new shows worthy of consideration for the overall list – there was no obvious winner. (I felt confident, for instance, that the #1 overall show from my own list, “The Leftovers,” wouldn’t be voted such here, and it wound up finishing just outside of the top 20.)

Might it be “The Good Wife,” which is adored by so many critics? Had “True Detective” outlasted the backlash to get the top honor? Would Piper, Taystee and the other “Orange Is the New Black” inmates simply move up one spot without Walt and Jesse to stand in their way? Or might we honor “The Americans” for having such a fantastic second season?

Instead, both polls had the same winner, from elsewhere in the FX stable, as “Fargo” earned top honors for both overall series and new series, comfortably beating “The Good Wife” in the former category, narrowly edging Amazon’s “Transparent” in the latter. (Welcome to the quirks of voting for multiple lists with different criteria, which you can also see on those occasions when the Television Critics Association gives one drama the best drama award, and another the Program of the Year award.)

“Fargo” and “Transparent” also did very well in the performance poll, with all three “Fargo” leads making the top 10, and “Transparent” star Jeffrey Tambor finishing a very close second to Matthew McConaughey from “True Detective.”

These are three really interesting lists covering a wide swath of what’s exciting about television right now, so go take a look at http://www.hitfix.com/tvcriticspoll and tell us what you think of the results.

(As always, I would caution you to not get too hung up on how shows are ranked outside of the top 10. All voters submitted lists of 10 for each category, so if there was a show a lot of people had as their 11th or 12th favorite – hypothetically, let’s say “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” – it would get no benefit from that, whereas a show that many didn’t like but that got a few decent votes would rank higher. We include all the shows just to acknowledge every one that got a vote. Similarly, you will notice some differences in rankings between the overall shows list and the new shows list, but that’s simply a thing that happens when the lists are voted on separately.)

UPDATE: The poll results have been up for a few hours now, and since they were being tabulated through the weekend (in part to make the voting deadline as late as possible), this has been my first chance to really thoroughly study the results. Some thoughts:

* As I said above, the methodology (ever critic votes for 10 shows/performances per category) renders the rankings past, say, 20 pretty meaningless. Still, it’s interesting – if not statistically important – that three shows that at different times have gotten some very passionate critical acclaim didn’t get a single vote: “Girls,” “Bob’s Burgers” and “Rick and Morty.” One the one hand, I could see any of those winding up somewhere in the teens for a number of critics (all are in contention for one of my Best of the Rest lists, to be published later this month), but we had 102 different shows get at least one vote in the overall poll, including several foreign shows available only on Hulu, and none of those three did. Like I said, not really relevant, but it’s odd.

* The separate voting for each poll leads to some oddities of its own, with “Broad City” somehow finishing in the same position on both the overall and new shows lists – and therefore ranking behind several new shows it beat on the overall list. At one point very late in the voting, in fact, “Transparent” was a point or two ahead of “Fargo” on the new shows list, even though “Fargo” was comfortably in first on the overall list.

* Speaking of “Fargo,” it actually tied with “Good Wife” and “Transparent” for most first-place votes, with nine apiece. “Game of Thrones” only had five first-place votes, but finished three points (and one spot) ahead of “Transparent” due to slightly broader overall support.

* Other shows that got first place votes: “The Americans” (4), “True Detective” (4), “Hannibal” (2), “Broad City” (1), “Gotham” (1), “Happy Valley” (1), “The Leftovers” (1), “Louie” (1), “Mad Men” (1), “The Mindy Project” (1), “Orange Is the New Black” (1), “Outlander” (1), “Sherlock” (1)

* Expanding on the notion that any show that won would have been a surprise after last year, “Fargo” is still more of a surprise than some others would have been. “Good Wife” seemingly has the broadest critical consensus, “Transparent” is the recent Hot New Thing, “True Detective” was the Hot New Thing at the start of the year, “Game of Thrones” is deeply loved, “Orange Is the New Black” finished second last year, etc. When “Fargo” was airing, there was some talk about whether it had passed “True Detective” in terms of critical love, but “TD” still beat it in the miniseries category at the TCA Awards. It wasn’t until the ballots started being counted that I realized “Fargo” had stuck with so many people (including Fienberg, who had it as his #1) for so long.