Worldbuilding: The Best TV of 2022

Somebody Somewhere

I dutifully post top ten lists of favorite albums, books and movies every year; you’d think I’d do the same for TV, but I’ve only tried it once, back in 2013, roughly when the term “Peak TV” entered the parlance (although streaming was relatively new with Orange Is The New Black in its first season.) My tendency to not formally keep track of shows I watched is likely what prevented it from becoming a tradition; an endless number of platforms, limited series, and erratic scheduling (I haven’t been excited about “The New Fall Season” in well over a decade) didn’t help, either.

This year, I started a spreadsheet listing every new series and every new season of returning series that I watched, along with a second tab of new shows/seasons I hoped to watch (I made decent progress on the latter, even if I never got around to a dozen new-ish shows ranging from For All Mankind to Fleishman Is In Trouble.) Rather than roll out a top ten accompanied by capsules for each title, here’s a simple list (with the platform each show aired on), followed by a longer essay.

Severance

Top Ten TV Series of 2022:

  1. Severance (Apple TV)
  2. Reservation Dogs (FX)
  3. Better Call Saul (AMC)
  4. Somebody Somewhere (HBO Max)
  5. Barry (HBO Max)
  6. The Rehearsal (HBO Max)
  7. The White Lotus (HBO Max)
  8. The Sandman (Netflix)
  9. Minx (HBO Max)
  10. Heartstopper (Netflix)

This year, I bit the bullet and subscribed to HBO Max indefinitely (as opposed to my usual month or two at a time)—a wise investment, since its shows make up half the list (even if they foolishly got rid of Minx in Dec.) Neither The White Lotus’ highly anticipated second season nor Barry’s even longer-awaited third season disappointed—in the latter’s case, it was the show’s best yet, further blurring what genre it was (Sitcom? Harrowing Crime Drama? Absurdist Tone Poem?) while giving Sarah Goldberg a slow-burn of a trajectory the elevated her performance to the same level of excellence as Bill Hader, Anthony Carrigan and a never-better Henry Winkler. I’m still on the fence whether The White Lotus’ Sicilian jaunt was better than the original Maui season, but one can’t accuse creator Mike White of cashing in or resting on his laurels (or Aubrey Plaza or Jennifer Coolidge, for that matter.) Hacks’ second season retained everything great about the first (plus Laurie Metcalf and Susie Essman) and just narrowly missed the top ten.

Getting back to Minx—what a well-cast and conceived period piece about feminism, journalism and sex (props to Starz for saving the show, which had nearly finished production on a second season when HBO Max’s parent Warner Discovery pulled the plug.) The Rehearsal was also a triumph, both exactly what one would expect from a follow-up to Nathan For You and so much more, almost like Synecdoche, New York transformed into an ongoing quest that never fully lays down all its cards. My favorite new show on the streamer, however, was Somebody Somewhere, a somewhat unlikely vehicle for the usually bawdy comic performer Bridget Everett—it valued community and the importance of cultivating dreams like no other show since my beloved, gone-too-soon Lodge 49.

Although Netflix still often stresses quantity over quality, it premiered two new series (both adapted from graphic novels) that made my list. Heartstopper I instantly fell for with its well-cast leads, gentle demeanor and its comprehension (along with the streamer’s) that the world was more than ready for a nuanced gay teen romance. Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, on the other hand, took a few episodes to connect with—understandable, given that nearly each one could be the seedling for a different branch of a show. Headier and riskier than say, Stranger Things, it’s a compelling vortex if you happily give yourself over to getting lost in it.

Breaking Bad’s final season topped my 2013 list; this year, its spinoff/prequel’s final season comes close. Overall, Better Call Saul is the better show in that I’d much rather watch it again in its entirely than its predecessor (also, Kim Wexler is more fascinating a parallel protagonist than Jesse Pinkman.) While the final run of episodes might’ve been tighter (Carol Burnett or not), that it ends up a show about redemption puts the entire series in a class with The Americans and Mad Men.

Reservation Dogs has potential to end up a show of such distinction. I began watching the first season (which aired in 2021) in late summer and after a typically embryonic pilot, the show’s rhythms clicked into place but continued to evolve. By the first season’s end, it revealed itself as a show about grief as experienced by four Native American teenagers and their extended community, which gradually expanded in the second season, building worlds upon worlds for a people whose story the medium had previously at best, ignored (and at worst, misrepresented); that it does so by forgoing sanctimony for a more complex mix of emotions and tones makes it nearly the best series currently airing.

Severance, however, is something else. Nearly Netflix’s opposite, Apple TV seems to value quality over quantity: DickinsonMythic QuestLootBad Sisters, even Ted Lasso (we’ll just ignore The Morning Show) are all personal projects that reward the time put into them but Severance defies categorization. Tempted to compared it to Twin Peaks, I knew better, remembering when I likened the unclassifiable Lodge 49 to Northern Exposure—it hints at an overarching sensibility but is still entirely its own thing. The Office meets The Twilight Zone doesn’t do it justice, either. Talk about building one’s own universe—the production design is as distinct (and as radically different from) a Wes Anderson film, yet it doesn’t overshadow the emotional beats of its slippery narrative or fiercely dedicated performances from Adam Scott, Patricia Arquette, John Turturro, et al. Each episode both a gift and a puzzle, it is the one show from 2022 I want to re-watch right now because perception of it shifts continually, like if The Good Place was sci-fi/thriller instead of a sitcom. Hoping the second season, to air later this year sustains and further enhances what the first one assembled without faltering and/or withering.

Our Flag Means Death

Honorable Mentions:

Abbott Elementary*, Documentary Now!, Ghosts, Hacks, A League of Their Own, The Marvelous Ms. Maisel, Only Murders In The Building, The Orville: New Horizons, Our Flag Means Death, The Righteous Gemstones, Russian Doll, Search Party, Wednesday, What We Do In The Shadows

(*watched the first season (early 2022) but not the second yet)

Haven’t Finished the Current Season, But Am Invested:

Bad Sisters, Derry Girls, Loot, Physical, Welcome to Chippendales

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