The ongoing refrain of every TV critic, especially come end-of-year time: There’s too much TV. This year is no exception, with networks and streaming services alike competing for our attention with one big-budget, well-crafted set of eight-to-ten-hour stories after another. It’s the kind of model that doesn’t seem built to last, and 2022 might see the beginning of the end for it: the neverending money spout streaming services dump into their content libraries is starting to dry up. Netflix reported record subscriber losses this year, and Discovery’s acquisition of Warner Bros. and HBO has led to a spate of disturbing cancellations of popular shows — and even their removal from streaming platforms.
It’s too early to tell whether these changes are a sign of restrictions to come, or whether it’s a temporary hiccup as the global TV market adjusts its expectations for audience and output. Until then, we only have the art, and what an exciting year it was. New favorites from last year came back with a vengeance; big franchises finally found their footing and told complex, adult stories within their worlds; a glut of true-crime miniseries yielded a handful of interesting interrogations of their enigmatic subjects. And a few exciting new shows dug into everything from America’s rocky formation to the stories we tell ourselves just to get through the day.
With that in mind, this is our take on the couple dozen shows that really caught our interest this year, from one-off miniseries to new and ongoing series we hope to see more of in the future. [Clint Worthington, Founder, Editor-in-Chief]
Honorable Mentions: Interview With the Vampire (AMC), The Girl from Plainville (Hulu), House of the Dragon (HBO), Angelyne (Hulu), Only Murders in the Building (Hulu), Better Call Saul (AMC), The Bear (FX/Hulu), The Vow II (HBO), The Way Down (HBO Max), Phoenix Rising (HBO), Minx (HBO Max), The Afterparty (Apple TV+), Chloe (Prime Video), The Wild (Prime Video), Ms. Marvel (Disney+), The Dropout (Hulu), Welcome to Wrexham (FX/Hulu), She-Hulk: Attorney at Law (Disney+), Painting with John (HBO), Servant (Apple TV+), A League of Their Own (Prime Video), Bad Sisters (Apple TV+), Mythic Quest (Apple TV+), Five Days at Memorial (Apple TV+), Last Days of Ptolemy Grey (Apple TV+), Pachinko (Apple TV+), Black Bird (Apple TV+), The Mosquito Coast (Apple TV+), The Essex Serpent (Apple TV+), The Staircase (HBO), Yellowjackets (Showtime), 1899 (Netflix), Under the Banner of Heaven (Hulu), RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars (VH1), Our Flag Means Death (HBO Max), The Boys (Prime Video), WeCrashed (Apple TV+), Archive 81 (Netflix), The Peripheral (Prime Video), FROM (EPIX)
The Best TV of 2022
Abbott Elementary (ABC)
Just when the age of the network sitcom seemed on the verge of collapse, along came Quinta Brunson with her smart, funny, incisive Abbott Elementary, which flung the well-worn mockumentary format into the crowded hallways of an underfunded public school in Philadelphia. What followed was something not dissimilar to Superstore, a heart-warming yet honest look at the everyday struggles of working-class people; this time, the engine for the show’s comedy and pathos was the ongoing quest to shape kids’ futures with nothing but some glue sticks and optimism (both supplied capably by Brunson’s optimistic-to-the-point-of-naive Janine). Season 2 doubled down on what worked, making that much more room for the show’s killer ensemble, from Tyler James Williams’ droll Gregory to Janelle James’ ever-hustling Principal Ava. Of course, the flowers go (deservedly so) to Sheryl Lee Ralph’s warm, world-weary educator Barbara, brimming with Emmy-winning wisdom in every frame. [CW]
It’s strange how politics and bureaucracy are, in part, what made the Star Wars prequels such a stultifying affair while they give Andor a jolt that’s a large part of its charm. Nonetheless, thanks to excellent performances from the likes of Denise Gough as Imperial officer Dedra Meero and Kyle Soller as disgraced space cop Syril Karn, that was the reality of 2022.
Much of the credit should be laid at the feet of Tony Gilroy, who highlighted the human factor of this long ago and far away universe. Of course, there’s still plenty of room for droids, lasers, and spaceships, but he keeps Andor a character-based look at the universe throughout. The best example is Stellan Skarsgård’s monologue about what being part of the Rebellion has cost him. It’s intelligent and showy in all the right ways. An absolute can’t-miss moment of 2022. [Tim Stevens, TV Editor]
The true crime train kept chugging along in 2022, resulting in such grotesqueries as Ryan Murphy’s bafflingly titled Dahmer: Monster: the Jeffrey Dahmer Story. But we also got Hulu’s understated, empathetic Candy, based on the real-life murder of housewife Betty Gore by her alleged friend Candy Montgomery, who was having an affair with Betty’s husband. Anchored by excellent performances by Jessica Biel as Candy and the always note-perfect Melanie Lynskey as Betty, Candy is careful not to paint anyone as just a monstrous villain or a virtuous victim. Here, they’re just flawed individuals who end up clashing for reasons we’ll never likely know. It’s a compelling watch without the luridness that brings down so many other features in the genre. [Gena Radcliffe, Managing Editor]
Documentary Now! (IFC)
Bill Hader, Fred Armisen, and Seth Meyers‘ Documentary Now! is that most esoteric of comedies: Not just a mockumentary, but specific riffs on specific documentaries often known only to dweeby film buffs (well, like us). But four seasons in, they still manage to hit their targets right on the mark, as this year saw a slew of new favorite episodes for Dame Helen Mirren to usher us into. Highlights include Cate Blanchett as a dowdy English hairstylist in “Two Hairdressers in Bagglyport,” and the quirky Agnes Varda sendup “Trouver Frisson.” But the real winner has got to be the two-part opener, “Soldier of Illusion,” John Mulaney reenvisioning Les Blank’s Empire of Dreams with a Werner Herzog-like obsessive (Alexander Skarsgård) attempting to film a CBS sitcom pilot out in the remote Russian mountains. It remains a show designed to appeal to, like, five people, but those five people have never had more fun. [CW]
The English (Prime Video)
“I cherish you.” These are the words shared by the leads of Hugo Blick‘s sprawling, idiosyncratic Western epic The English — an English aristocrat (Emily Blunt) and ex-Army Pawnee scout (Chaske Spencer) who find themselves on the same trail of revenge out in the Old West, whose path can only end in romantic tragedy. Like so many deconstructionist Westerns of its stripe, it’s deeply concerned with the corroded values and ideals of America’s infancy, shown here as a woman and a Native American defying the animalism of white men to carve out new destinies for themselves. But it’s all depicted with such slow-moving poetry, punctuated with bursts of Leone-caliber action. Federico Jusid’s galloping title theme is one of the best minute-and-a-half stretches of music you’ll hear this year. [CW}
Michelle and Robert King’s scrappy little horror-comedy series continues to put the Cult in Cultural. With David Acosta (Mike Colter) now a full-fledged priest, the unkempt fire between himself and colleague Kristen Bouchard (Katja Hebers) was given space and time to cool in the third season. That, along with keen-eyed cynic Ben’s (Aasif Mandvi) sudden identity crisis makes room for an entirely new crop of weird and disparate storylines. Somehow all of these seemingly unrelated dropped plot points came together in one glorious conclusion in the finale “The Demon of the End.” The Kings proved week after week that they had their fingers firmly on the pop culture pulse with episodes tackling memes and social media apps like one called “TipTop” that sucks the user in, draining their energy and their time. Nothing relatable there! [Beau North]
For All Mankind (Apple TV+)
From Earth to the Moon, now to Mars — Ronald D. Moore‘s For All Mankind has spent its underseen lifetime constantly reinventing itself, and Season 3 saw some of its biggest, most melodramatic swings yet. Skipping ahead in time ten more years, the show imagines a space race to the Red Planet between NASA, Russia, and private enterprise (led by Edi Gathegi’s tech mogul) that tests humanity’s resolve both in space and back at home. No transporters here, nor aliens; just mankind journeying out to the stars and bringing their jealousies, rivalries, and hopes right along with them. The results are exhilarating television, starting with a nail-biting season opener and only cranking up the tension from there. [CW]
Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities (Netflix)
Guillermo del Toro steps into Hitchcock’s shoes with his anthology series, Cabinet of Curiosities. Like in Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Del Toro introduces each segment, each directed by a different horror creator, giving viewers a chocolate box’s worth of variety. Each director brings a different vibe to their respective entries, but each story fits snugly within the larger whole. While some entries fare better than others, it’s the final two entries that really linger after the credits roll. Panos Cosmatos’s “The Viewing” drips with style and buzzy, soft-focused humor that crescendos into a scene so tense, so weird, and so strangle funny that it can best be described as “What if the THX sound was 48 minutes long?” The finale entry, Jennifer Kent’s “The Murmuring” is a devastating and terrifying essay on grief with Essie Davis and Andrew Lincoln starring as two bereaved parents living—or rather, existing—in a haunted house. Maternal horror is nothing new to Kent, who directed The Babadook, but here the novelty of being haunted is almost a release from the horrors of reality. [BN]
Irma Vep (HBO)
Olivier Assayas‘ magnum opus is an eight-part series about hanging out on the set of one of his own movies, a properly Debordian hall of mirrors spectacle of ennui and frustration. Vincent Macaigne’s Assayas stand-in, René Vidal, is paralyzed by everything: his legacy, his leading man, his financiers, his own abstract creative impulses, and the death of cinema. Every day, he walks under a ladder and over a black cat on his way towards hopefully painting his masterpiece, starring a perpetually bemused starlet (Alicia Vikander, never better) who can’t decide if she’s using him or being used. The greatest work about the modern film economy and the gauche realities of trying to shoot a foot of film in 2022, a skeleton key into Assayas’ broken heart and racing mind. [Scout Tafoya]
The Kids in the Hall (Prime Video)
“Am I still the cute one?” asks Dave Foley after his grey-haired corpse is dug up next to the rest of the Kids in the Hall, who shrug, trying momentarily to assuage his ego. The Kids’ vanity is the show’s most important sacred cow and Foley, Mark McKinney, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, and Scott Thompson have been sharpening their knives for the task ever since their last TV special, 2008’s Death Comes to Town. Within minutes McKinney and McCulloch are nude, Foley’s in a bald cap and fat suit overseeing the death of the fax machine, and everyone’s in drag, happily showing how much changed since their heyday. If the cast of SCTV were The Beatles of Canadian comedy, the Kids were The Replacements, and this new season is ceaselessly funny, digging sharply into the aches and annoyances that come with being alive, and proof they lost none of their punk attitude or courage in the intervening years. “My, how time flies…” [ST]
The Last Movie Stars (HBO)
Ethan Hawke was handed the keys to the romance between Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, as well as their legendary movie careers and told to go nuts. He phoned every actor he knew and recreated the staggering lows and orgastic highs of the pair’s flirtations with each other and with timelessness. Hawke, who has aged as gracefully as Newman did, knows their struggles as intimately as any actor, having willfully evolved from heartthrob to character actor, and he finds the soul of their struggle and the fire of their love with ease and poetry. As Newman conquers the world and tries and fails to bring Woodward with him every step of the way, Hawke and his cast chronicle every misplaced footfall and moment of betrayal with grace and compassion, to say nothing of a besotted fascination. Who wouldn’t want to wear their heroes’ shoes, even if only for a few minutes? [ST]
Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (Prime Video)
Though you might need a spreadsheet to keep all the characters straight initially, Amazon’s lavish prequel to J.R.R. Tolkien’s sprawling fantasy series is engrossing and makes up for occasional pacing issues with high drama and fascinating mystery, such as the identity of the Stranger, who seemingly falls to earth and is befriended by a rebellious young female Hobbit. Another series that, like The Sandman, faced online criticism for its “woke” casting (whatever that means), it rose above such nonsense and succeeded in both respecting the original property, and on its own merits. [GR]
Explain the concept of Murderville to someone, and they’ll probably cut you off with a polite but firm “No, thanks.” Surprisingly, Krister Johnson‘s combination of improv comedy and murder mystery turned out to be one of the funniest TV shows of the year, thanks to Will Arnett as a hapless detective and a roster of celebrity co-stars called in to help him solve crimes, including Sharon Stone, Conan O’Brien, and Kumail Nanjiani. A real standout is Marshawn Lynch, who plays off of Arnett like they’ve known each other their whole lives, working together to solve the murder of a toy designer by one of her triplet sons. It’s a silly, joyful watch, where everyone looks like they’re having the time of their lives. [GR]
Peacemaker (HBO Max)
What the hell gives show creator James Gunn and actor John Cena the right to make a show out of a character as seemingly dumb and loathsome at first blush as Peacemaker into a funny and tragic take on someone without a moral code who nonetheless is desperate to do good?
Well, regardless of who allowed what, they somehow managed to pull it off. Joining with a murderer’s row (pun only half-intended) of actors, including Freddie Stroma’s delightfully sociopathic Vigilante and Danielle Brooks’ deeply conflict Leota Adebayo, Gunn and Cena took Peacemaker from a goofy and undeniably jingoistic joke in The Suicide Squad to a lost boy bred to be the best white supremacist generational trauma can buy finally developing his own conscience. All without asking us to excuse his past. And that opening credits dance? Come on now. You gotta smile at that. [TS]
The Rehearsal (HBO)
It’s almost impossible to define The Rehearsal within the confines of a single end-of-year blurb. In some ways, it’s a continuation of Nathan Fielder‘s grand cringe experiment Nathan For You, in which he uses his considerable resources and deadpan sense of humor to both help and poke fun at his unaware subjects. But as The Rehearsal progresses, its remit of helping everyday people “rehearse” for difficult situations by recreating the potential conditions they’ll face turns right back around on Fielder, as he falls down a figurative rabbit hole of his own making. Cringe comedy fractures into heartfelt drama, cracks in the show’s narrative firmament spreading further, until the finale, where you’re no longer sure whether even Fielder’s late-season crises aren’t just another rehearsal for our enjoyment. [CW]
Reservation Dogs (FX/Hulu)
What made Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi‘s Reservation Dogs Season 1 such a delight was, in part, how it drilled down deep into the lives and internal experiences of its small cast of teenagers. In Season 2, the show risks touching the money by broadening that scope significantly. The risk pays off as the understanding and appreciation of the supporting cast grows without erasing that initial appeal. Like the teens—Bear (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai), Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis), and Cheese (Lane Factor)—at its center, the series is growing and maturing right before our eyes.
This season mines the massive—string theory—and the relatively small—the lyrics of “Free Fallin’” by Tom Petty—for moments thoughtful, joyous, and funny, often in equal measure. Its big swings never feel false. Its quiet, small moments can absolutely devastate. At the risk of sounding cliché, Dogs is a lot like adolescence in that way. [TS]
The Sandman (Netflix)
They said it couldn’t be adapted into a film or TV show, but finally, we got to see Neil Gaiman’s epic fantasy-horror series brought to the screen, and it was better than anyone expected (well, unless you were among the tiresome “real” fans who didn’t like its diverse casting, but who cares what you think). Though a bit condensed due to time constraints, Netflix’s adaptation (with Allan Heinberg as showrunner) was largely faithful, occasionally confounding, and surprisingly moving, notably episode 6, devoted to Death doing her hard but necessary work. Netflix waited nearly three full months after The Sandman’s premiere to decide whether or not there would be a season two; thankfully, good judgment prevailed. [GR]
Severance (Apple TV+)
A series both timeless and so smartly collaborated to this moment in history, Severance was the smartest, weirdest television this year. First-time showrunner—indeed, first time anything television-related—Dan Erickson pulled a remarkable feat. He gives the show a simple enough premise—what if you could go to work and not worry about your outside life and vice versa—and then explores every facet of that thought. Before long, what seemed simple becomes a metaphysical ponderance of the nature of existence.
It never gets lost in its own belly button, thanks largely to the stable of talented actors. Adam Scott is as good as he’s ever been. However, months later, the sad, sweet, halting romance of Christopher Walken and John Turturro’s characters looms largest. Not for nothing, Severance also boasts the best art design of any show this year. [TS]
Shining Girls (Apple TV+)
Based on Lauren Beukes’s novel of the same name, Silka Luisa’s series for Apple+ rewrites history in an effort to overcome past trauma. Kirby (Elisabeth Moss), a young archivist at the Chicago Sun-Times, enlists the help of disgraced reporter Dan (Wagner Moura) to solve her own attempted murder before the killer takes another victim. A straightforward enough concept, but when trophies of present-day victims are found in unsolved cases decades old, Kirby has to not only find where the killer is, but when. Wagner Moura, Chris Chalk, and Jamie Bell all put in solid performances, but this series is entirely Moss’s vehicle. From the confident badass she was before her attack to the quietly nervous (and unnerving) post-trauma Kirby, Moss puts everything into the role. The taut scenes between her and Bell are especially mesmerizing, and the finale brings everything full circle with Kirby reclaiming her self in a triumphant conclusion. [BN]
Slow Horses (Apple TV+)
Will Smith‘s (not that Will Smith) adaptation of Mick Heron’s beloved Slow Horses novels has become one of the great guilty pleasures of the TV landscape (there’s no such thing as a guilty pleasure, except when it’s on Apple TV+ and stars Gary Oldman). Oldman’s been handed a life preserver in the form of Jackson Lamb, the whiskey-stained ace of spies, aging and dying in a damp office filled with every washout from MI-5. Jack Lowden (so beautiful in Terence Davies’ Benediction, the best film of the year) is his star recruit, an agent who could have been the next James Bond except he keeps stepping on his own toes. Together they’re keeping the British Intelligence Service honest as they unearth one conspiracy after another with the help of their gun-toting misfit co-workers (including Welsh bruiser Aimee-Ffion Edwards and the ever-captivating Saskia Reeves). This season saw Lowden going undercover to help Oldman prove an old friend’s death was no accident. [ST]
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (Paramount+)
Star Trek has come a long way since the 1960s. From the spare Original Series to the elaborate, modern Discovery, It’s a true living document of pop culture, constantly changing and evolving. With the Discovery spinoff Strange New Worlds, audiences got something new and fresh that also serves as a return to form. The USS Enterprise is back, now helmed by Christopher Pike (Anson Mount). We see some familiar faces in OG Trek characters like Spock (Ethan Peck) and Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding). But, as always, the best Trek shows feature a robust cast of characters, and Strange New Worlds is no exception. The strong ensemble includes refreshing new characters and storylines while keeping that old-school Trek vibe. Episodes like “Memento Mori” and “All Those Who Wander” bring tension and thrills, whereas entries like “Spock Amok” manage to remind us all that Star Trek can be—when it wants to be—incredibly goofy. [BN]
Station Eleven (HBO Max)
If you need an example of how weird the world has gotten in the past couple of years, Station Eleven is a TV series about a pandemic interrupted by a real-life pandemic. It was eventually finished and unfortunately mostly overlooked due to its end-of-2021 premiere date. Led by Patrick Somerville and based on Emily St. John Mandel’s heartbreaking novel of the same name, Station Eleven wisely focuses less on its fictitious pandemic and almost entirely on the aftermath, both months and years after much of the world’s human population has been decimated. In addition to the usual post-apocalyptic dangers, the survivors struggle to hold onto fading reminders of the world Before, while trying to make new lives in the After. Haunting, beautiful, and all too timely. [GR]
Stranger Things (Netflix)
Making shows with a young cast is tricky as seasons go on and growth spurts are hit, but somehow the Duffer Brothers’ Stranger Things has managed to retain its original magic even as the cast ages. The fourth installment is also the penultimate season, laying the groundwork for what looks like a big battle between the Hawkins gang and new big bad Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower). Season four brought real stakes and some genuinely frightening moments, but it also brought us a Kate Bush renaissance and Eddie Munsen (Joseph Quinn), the D&D-loving burnout that stole viewers’ hearts. With the core of the Hawkins kids still living in Indiana, Hopper (David Harbour) imprisoned in a USSR Gulag, and the Byers’ plus Eleven (Millie Bobbie Brown) now living in California, the bulk of season four is spent willing the three separate factions to come together. Because we the audience know that not only are they stronger together, but they’re also happier together. The comfort of Stranger Things doesn’t just lie in its eerie nostalgia, but in the once-in-a-lifetime bond the Hawkins gang shares. It’s a bit of childhood magic, distilled for adults who remember—and long for—that kind of connection. [BN]
We Own This City (HBO)
A feel-bad series, based on actual events, courtesy of The Wire’s David Simon and George Pelecanos. We Own This City takes a long, steady gaze at police corruption in Baltimore and arrives at some less-than-encouraging conclusions.
Impressively, Simon, Pelecanos, and their stable of writers do it without coming across as nihilistic or reductive. The cops’ portrayal is three-dimensional, neither shying away from their moments of humanity nor ignoring their bone-deep cruelties. Jon Bernthal’s performance as Sgt. Wayne Jenkins takes what easily could’ve been portrayed as a monster of corruption and instead reveals a more honest truth: Jenkins was just another dime-a-dozen thug with a badge. This is nobody’s idea of a good time, but it’s still one of the most potent limited series of 2022. [TS]
What We Do in the Shadows (FX)
Under the supervision of Paul Simms, the decaying domesticity of What We Do In the Shadows brings comfort like few other sitcoms these days. The continuing adventures of Kayvan Novak’s gormless hunk Nandor, Matt Berry’s silken rake Laszlo Cravensworth, Natasia Demetriou’s voluptuous and vituperative Nadja, Mark Proksch’s grotesque and grandiloquent Colin Robinson, Kristen Schaal’s batty pushover Guide, Harvey Guillén’s perennially put upon familiar Guillermo de la Cruz are the stuff of which couch-bound dreams are made. This dysfunctional unit’s ever-present sexual confusion and discomfort with the status quo (which they, needless to say, create every day through inaction and slovenly stubbornness) makes for week after week of fireworks.
This season saw them raising a ghastly abomination through adolescence and stardom, stealing each other’s dreams and dream boats, experimenting with girls’ nights, male bonding, night clubs, and private schools, with their magic-endowed boorishness making everything worse at every turn. Even if the writing weren’t excellent, few things are as funny on television as the sound of Matt Berry’s voice. [ST]