Best TV Shows of 2022
Best Shows of 2022 | Best International | Best Shows That Ended
Best Shows of 2022
“You might like” is the mantra of the algorithm era. You watched this thing before; here’s an OK-enough new version of it.
There was a lot of “You might like” TV this year. A deluge of ripped-from-true-life limited series made sure you had another story about a murder/mogul/scam as soon as you finished the last one. We got sequels, prequels and expansions of reliable intellectual property, including “House of the Dragon,” “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” and “Andor.”
The best of the best shows, though, have a passion to give you what you haven’t seen before. They grab you by the shirt-front and declare, “I need to show you this.” Here are some of the shows that did that for me in 2022. You might love them.
‘Reservation Dogs’ (FX on Hulu)
Every year I do my best-TV list in alphabetical order because numbering a bunch of shows that I love for very different reasons feels arbitrary and dishonest. It still does. But it would also be dishonest not to recognize that this was by far the best thing on TV in 2022, so here it goes. In its second season, this series from Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi became a weirder, funnier and more heartbreaking, as its Indigenous teens tried to grapple with loss and hang on to hope — or, if necessary, steal it. (Streaming on Hulu.)
‘Abbott Elementary’ (ABC)
Back to alphabetical order, with an ABC comedy about the ABCs and those who teach them. Quinta Brunson’s “Abbott” is in many ways a familiar thing — a workplace sitcom on a broadcast network — but one that showed us a side of public school we haven’t seen the same way before. With a superb cast and a sharp eye for detail, it paid attention to the people who make schools our multipurpose service providers, while providing the public service of straight-up belly laughs. (Streaming on Hulu.)
‘Atlanta’ (FX), ‘Better Call Saul’ (AMC), ‘Better Things’ (FX), ‘The Good Fight’ (Paramount+)
It was a good year for goodbyes. (See also my colleague Margaret Lyons’s list of the best series that ended this year.) And this quartet of just-concluded classics is a good microcosm of what was best in the most recent generation of TV: a dream odyssey through hip-hop celebrity and modern Black life; a motor-mouthed antihero’s journey to get his life right; a single mom’s idiosyncratic observations of family and the universe; and a razor-sharp legal fantasia of life in the Trump era and after. (Streaming on Hulu, AMC+, Hulu, Paramount+.)
‘Los Espookys’ (HBO) and ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ (FX)
This might be the greatest boom time for supernatural comedies since the “Bewitched” era. Season 2 of “Espookys” leveled up its winsome magic realism with a serial story that combined presidential politics and beauty-pageant intrigue, and Ana Fabrega continues to give one of TV’s great screwball performances. Meanwhile, the latest outing for Staten Island’s favorite vampires showed a big, bloody heart as Laszlo (Matt Berry) explored the highs and heartbreaks of quasi-parenting, raising the reborn Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) through an accelerated childhood. (Streaming on HBO Max, Hulu.)
‘High School’ (Freevee)
In a year full of based-on-true-life TV series, the undersung standout was this coming-of-age series adapted from the memoir of the singer-songwriter sisters Tegan and Sara (Railey and Seazynn Gilliland). Set in Calgary in the mid-90s, it combined an eternal teen-show premise — adolescents finding their personal and sexual identity — with an artistic origin story (and standout supporting-adult roles for Cobie Smulders and Kyle Bornheimer). This breath of fresh Canadian air wasn’t a larger-than-life bio-series, just delightfully life-size. (Streaming on Freevee.)
The Jan. 6 Committee Hearings (various networks)
It’s no insult to call this investigation into the attack on democracy a TV show; that was its power and its accomplishment. Deploying deft editing, story structure, graphics, suspense, social-media virality and, yes, a touch of showmanship, the hearings made a public service into the show of the summer and the most important TV of the year.
‘Killing It’ (Peacock) and ‘P-Valley’ (Starz)
Where is the American dream? These series found it in a snake-infested Florida swamp and in a Mississippi strip club. “Killing It,” with Craig Robinson as a would-be entrepreneur trying to win a python-killing contest, set a fevered satire of gig-economy hustle and desperation against the backdrop of the 2016 election. And Season 2 of Katori Hall’s sex-work soap continued its tribute to the hustle with one of TV’s best portrayals of working at the height of the pandemic. (Streaming on Peacock, Starz.)
‘My Brilliant Friend’ (HBO)
TV has become the world’s flashiest library, with adaptations of novels from “Pachinko” to “Fleishman Is in Trouble.” But the class of the field remains this gorgeous and emotionally incisive rendering of the Elena Ferrante series. Season 3, “Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay,” continues its febrile story of friendship as Elena (Margherita Mazzucco) matures into an author and intellectual in violence-torn 1970s Italy. (Streaming on HBO Max.)
‘The Rehearsal’ (HBO)
A shell game performed inside a hall of mirrors, Nathan Fielder’s reality-TV experiment in perfecting one’s life by simulating it was both the comedian’s most elaborate stunt yet and a philosophical, sometimes disturbing exploration of fate, regret and the impulse toward control. (Streaming on HBO Max.)
‘Severance’ (Apple TV+)
“Bring your whole self to work” may be a mantra of the modern office, but not at Lumon Industries. In this inventively loopy sci-fi thriller, employees at that shadowy firm undergo a brain procedure that splits their work and home selves into two separate consciousnesses. The white-knuckle finale left me wholeheartedly — and whole-brainedly — wanting more. (Streaming on Apple TV+.)
Wait, you forgot: “Station Eleven”? Nope — it was on my 2021 list. Something else? Probably. There’s too much TV out there, even for a professional watcher.
Honorable mentions: “As We See It” (Amazon Prime Video), “Barry” (HBO), “The Bear” (FX on Hulu), “The Dropout” (Hulu), “The Kids in the Hall” (Amazon Prime Video), “Ramy” (Hulu), “Rothaniel” (HBO), “Somebody Somewhere” (HBO), “Undone” (Amazon Prime Video), “We Need to Talk About Cosby” (Showtime).
Flawed but fascinating: “For All Mankind” (Apple TV+), “Irma Vep” (HBO), “Minx” (HBO Max), “Raised by Wolves” (HBO Max).
Best International Shows
Half of the shows on this list of my favorite international series of 2022 are British — just over half, actually, when you include the coproduction “War of the Worlds.” Maybe there’s some personal cultural bias at work there, or maybe the British just consistently make good television at a higher rate than anyone else, the United States included.
Prominent on the (alphabetical) list are shows about the peculiar condition of being English — stories that join a long tradition of satirical dramas, or wistful comedies, about eccentricity and forbearance and muddling through. “The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe” and “This Is Going to Hurt” fit into that category, and so does the protean “Landscapers,” the last year’s most inventive TV show and one that lingers in the memory.
‘Bad Sisters’ (Apple TV+)
An appealing quintet of British actresses — Eva Birthistle, Anne-Marie Duff, Sarah Greene, Eve Hewson and Sharon Horgan — play the quarrelsome but devoted sisters of the title in this (very) darkly comic murder mystery created by Horgan, Brett Baer and Dave Finkel. The ghastly husband of one of the sisters is dead when the series begins, and across eight episodes we learn how he got that way, in a story whose domestic horror and slapstick antics are tied together by Claes Bang’s note-perfect performance as the so-called victim. (Streaming on Apple TV+.)
‘Borgen: Power and Glory’ (Netflix)
The smart and stylish Danish political drama, which ran for three seasons from 2010-13, picked up nearly a decade later and didn’t miss a beat. Sidse Babett Knudsen returned as Birgitte Nyborg, the one-time prime minister who, through the complex machinations of the coalition-minded Danish political process that the show so painstakingly recreates, is now the foreign minister. With her party tied to an environmental platform, the discovery of oil in Greenland at the beginning of Season 4 put her, as always, in fast and dangerous waters. (Streaming on Netflix.)
‘The Dark Heart’ (Topic)
This icy, absorbing Swedish mini-series directed by Gustav Moller (“The Guilty”) portrays a showdown between two powerfully frustrated women: the ambitious heir to a family logging business (Clara Christiansson Drake) whose father has disappeared and the director of a civilian missing-persons search team (Aliette Opheim) who is desperate to be taken seriously. (Streaming on Topic.)
‘Gentleman Jack’ (HBO)
Sally Wainwright’s drama based on the diaries of the 19th-century Yorkshire landowner Anne Lister continued, in its second season, to be as intelligent and lively as its powerhouse heroine. Suranne Jones, as Anne, and Sophie Rundle, as her wife, Ann Walker, were excellent in Wainwright’s radiant take on the social, financial and emotional complexities of a Regency love story that happens to be between two women. (Streaming at HBO Max.)
Working from the bizarre-but-true story of a middle-aged British couple convicted, long after the fact, of murdering the wife’s parents, the brilliant young British director Will Sharpe (“The Electrical Life of Louis Wain”) turned out a show quite unlike anything else made for TV in this purportedly innovative era. (It was released in America in December 2021, too late for last year’s best-of list, so I’m including it here.) The four-episode series was fantastical and expressionist, harking back to “Pennies From Heaven” and “Twin Peaks,” but also straightforward in its account of the case and the complex emotions behind it; Sharpe and the show’s creator and writer, Ed Sinclair, sought a way to reflect the story’s strangeness and unknowability, and they found it. And almost as a bonus, “Landscapers” offered towering performances from Olivia Colman and David Thewlis as the couple, desperately maintaining appearances as their lives imploded. (Streaming on HBO Max.)
‘On the Job’ (HBO Max)
The Filipino filmmaker Erik Matti, working with the Filipina screenwriter Michiko Yamamoto, re-edited his festival-favorite “On the Job” films into a six-part mini-series for HBO Asia. The resulting noirish crime thriller, about a scheme to use prison inmates as hired killers, is more or less coherent but always dynamic, and it wisely exploits its vivid Manila locations. (Streaming on HBO Max.)
‘Paris Police 1900’ (MHz Choice)
A juicy and handsomely dressed addition to the history-as-police-thriller genre (“Babylon Berlin,” “The Alienist”), this new series from the French network Canal+ combines the sordid (the in flagrante death of the French president), the horrific (body parts in floating suitcases, part of a butchery motif) and the historically objectionable (violent public antisemitism stoked by the Dreyfus affair). Jérémie Laheurte plays a diffident but dogged young cop based on an actual turn-of-the-last-century Paris policeman. (Streaming on MHz Choice.)
‘The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe’ (BritBox)
Chris Lang, creator of the great cold-case series “Unforgotten,” switched things up in this fact-based mini-series for the British network ITV: Eddie Marsan plays a man who fakes his own death for insurance purposes, hoping his case will go cold. Marsan is good as the scammer, but the undersung British actress Monica Dolan is great as his wife, who has to play the grieving widow to the police, the insurance company and their own sons while still dealing with her narcissistic husband, who moves into the empty flat next door. (Streaming on BritBox.)
‘This Is Going to Hurt’ (AMC+)
Ben Whishaw is, no surprise, quietly compelling as a beleaguered young doctor in this hospital drama created by Adam Kay, who trained in the British National Health Service before becoming a writer. Whishaw embodies catastrophic weariness and stress while also delineating the petulance and impatience that can make the character a burden to the other doctors and nurses in the maternity ward where he’s doing his latest rotation. (Streaming on AMC+.)
‘War of the Worlds’ (Epix)
Through three seasons, Howard Overman’s adaptation of the alien-invasion classic by H.G. Wells struck a more unnerving than usual balance between physical dread and the contentious, melancholy grind of survival. Maintaining a moody, artfully dingy atmosphere as it jumped among time lines and dimensions, the French-British production was gripping genre entertainment in which the science-fiction elements were at the service of the emotional arcs. There’s been no official word, but in Season 3 the British and French scientists played by Gabriel Byrne and Lea Drucker brought the story to what felt like a satisfying conclusion. (Streaming on Amazon Prime Video with an Epix subscription.)
Not on the list: Netflix’s Korean dramedy “Extraordinary Attorney Woo.” It touched many viewers (and spent weeks on the service’s Top-10 lists), but I found its portrayal of a young lawyer with autism spectrum disorder too self-consciously cute for comfort.
Best Shows That Ended
Every year this list gets tougher and stranger as the volume of shows continues to grow and “endings” become less and less specific. Sometimes shows take yearslong breaks, and sometimes a show’s vanishing from a streaming library can be a bigger blow and more striking change than its finale years earlier.
To qualify for my list this year, shows had to air a new episode in 2022 and officially end. I excluded limited and mini-series, though there were plenty of good ones, and I picked shows based on their entire runs, not just their final seasons. Here, in alphabetical order, are 10 — well, technically 11 — of this year’s toughest farewells.
Everyone’s favorite aardvark and his goofy pals made the leap from books to television in 1996 and for 25 seasons maintained an earnest, admirable quest for compassion and learning. Beyond giving us some of the most ubiquitous meme formats of all time, “Arthur” also modeled how to approach the messy imperfections of the world — annoying siblings, friends who hurt your feelings by accident, sad changes that are beyond your control. Live-action segments about kids across the country helped drive home the show’s expansive worldview, its happy insistence that curiosity and forgiveness can take you just about anywhere. (Streaming on Amazon Prime Video with a PBS Kids subscription.)
Donald Glover’s dreamy dramedy made a huge splash when it debuted in 2016 — eight or nine TV lifetimes ago. Few shows are as experimental with their tone and even fewer are as successful with that experimentation; a great episode of “Atlanta” could be a hilarious and pointed style parody, or it could be a sensitive family-portrait bottle episode. The show’s magical realism sometimes lent a buoyant and surprising silliness, and at other times created a sense of unease. Characters on “Atlanta” spent a lot of time in lines, in waiting rooms, on various thresholds, in a melancholy limbo where they and the audience never quite knew what to expect. (Streaming on Hulu.)
‘Better Call Saul’ (AMC)
I put off watching the series finale for almost a month because I couldn’t bear to say goodbye yet (and because I was so afraid of what might happen to the characters I was so invested in). But of course “Better Call Saul” tied things up in ways that felt both inevitable and totally surprising — perfect for a show that always loved to smash opposites together, where strict lawyering and abject grifting merged, where the most dishonest characters often delivered the most truthful lines, where profound love sprung from a poisoned well. In addition to its borderline erotic attention to detail and domino-rally plotting, “Saul” had a real sense of style and flair, a subtly warped visual language and sonic palette found nowhere else on television. (Streaming on AMC+.)
‘Better Things’ (FX)
Pamela Adlon’s masterpiece auteur comedy was one of the most brilliantly alive shows on television, not just in the intensity and realism of its characters but also in its obsessions with both long-term life cycles and short-term biological realities. Sam (Adlon) is a caretaker twice over, looking out for her aging and unpredictable mother and raising three fascinating, noisy and sometimes awful children. Everyone matures over the course of the show, maybe especially the adults, and death and funerals and absence are constant themes. And as often as “Better Things” depicted the glories of food and cooking, it was obsessed with bathrooms and toilets — not for shock or vulgarity’s sake but as a means to depict vulnerability, intimacy, a lack of pretense. (Streaming on Hulu.)
‘Derry Girls’ (Netflix)
Even though “Derry Girls” tips the scales at just 19 episodes, there was a lot to the show, both in terms of its enviable joke density and its ability to metabolize entrenched international conflict alongside swoony teen goings-on. “Derry” reveled in its specificity, a comic precision that led to a sense of universality. (Streaming on Netflix.)
‘The Good Fight’ (Paramount+) and ‘The Split’ (Sundance Now)
So sure, “The Good Fight” is the actual spinoff of “The Good Wife.” But in some ways the British divorce-lawyer show “The Split” felt like the heir to the messy-romance side while “The Good Fight” took all the legal intrigue and American political-arena energy. In both, chic work-wear and sultry stares abounded. “Fight” was more ambitious but more uneven, and “The Split” was more prone to sentimentality. Both shows always maintained a strong sense that love and conflict are often synonymous. (Streaming on Paramount+; Hulu.)
‘Joe Pera Talks With You’ (Adult Swim)
Technically, this one shouldn’t qualify because its final episode ran on cable in December 2021. But it aired after last year’s rankings went to print, and the season didn’t land on streaming until January, so I’m embracing this loophole because of all the endings on this list, this one stings the most. We deserved more of this meditative, offbeat series! Boo to shows getting canceled in their primes! A pox on corporate decision-making! We live in a time of relatively abundant television, and plenty of it is good, but very little of it is special. “Joe Pera Talks With You” was, though, a free verse Midwestern ode to tenderness and wonder. (Streaming on HBO Max.)
‘Peaky Blinders’ (Netfix)
The end of “Peaky Blinders” signals the end of a certain era of British imports, a post-“Boardwalk Empire” period drama fascination. “Peaky” ranks among the greatest mud shows in history — feet stomping into wet piles, faces covered in glop, always sinking, sinking, sinking. While plenty of other shows shared a similar appetite for the depictions of violence and anguish, few shared its visual élan. Alongside often sumptuous imagery, you could almost feel “Peaky” breathing, as if the whole show had taken a sharp breath in, and other times feel its slow, smoky exhale. (Streaming on Netflix.)
‘Queen Sugar’ (OWN)
“Queen Sugar” lost a little of its verve along the way, but its early seasons are unimpeachable — gorgeous and rich, soapy enough to be intriguing and grounded enough to be meaningful. Patience is a virtue, and “Queen Sugar” let its characters change slowly, making them more like actual human beings than like ensemble-drama paper dolls. (Streaming on Hulu.)
‘Tuca & Bertie’ (Adult Swim)
Netflix canceled this dazzling, beautifully odd cartoon after one season back in 2019; it was on my list of best shows that ended that year, and now, well, here we are again. Adult Swim rescued the show and aired two additional seasons — so let us be grateful that we had more time with our kooky bird pals and their successes and fears (and fears and fears and fears). All good things must come to an end, and probably a few times. (Streaming on HBO Max.)
Honorable mentions: “black-ish,” “Dead to Me,” “Desus & Mero,” “Gentleman Jack,” “Gomorrah,” “Killing Eve,” “Made for Love,” “Search Party.”