The Best TV Shows of 2022 – Part One

As 2022 winds down, it’s time once again to figure out the best TV shows of the year. I usually do a list of twenty-five, which is excessive, but I watch a lot of TV. This year is a little different, both in terms of my arbitrary rules and my mindset. First off, I don’t want to split hairs regarding placement on the lower half of the list. Whether something is my seventeenth favorite or twenty-third favorite doesn’t seem like an issue of any importance, even to me. So sixteen through twenty-five are presented here today and I’ve just got them in alphabetical order. Less pedantry is good for everybody. And in the interest of that goal, I’ve also rolled back my long-running requirement that a series has to air six episodes in a calendar year to be eligible. I want to talk about what I liked, and that’s what I’m going to do.

I’m also processing some things and I don’t know to what extent this factored into my list-making, but it’s worth talking about. Or it isn’t. There’s no way for me to know. This is the year where I freed myself from feeling obligated to watch something. I had a list of things I wanted to finish because they seem to be pretty well-represented on ‘best of 2022’ lists but I couldn’t get to all of them. I could have made myself miserable finishing two more episodes of The English (which is really good) before I started writing this, but that doesn’t benefit anybody. I’ll finish it, sure. But I’m not going to lose sleep trying to watch everything before the year ends. So if there’s a notable omission, maybe I just didn’t have time to finish it. Or I didn’t like it. That’s always possible.

Also, and this will come up a few times, as I’m writing this, HBO Max in particular has cancelled a lot of shows that it had previously renewed and deleted other shows from the service entirely. The fact that there are shows that were previously always available that will now, in some cases, never be available in any form ever again, just sucks. And the fact that it’s a move to save money during a corporate merger is just grim. HBO is one that you’d think of as being a little more concerned with artistic integrity. Or at the very least, appearing to be concerned about artistic integrity. A series that didn’t seem to have any real buzz would stick around solely because it was good and would maybe win some awards. It wasn’t explicitly a dollars and cents calculation, but now that’s all been made transparent.

So sometimes it feels dumb to care about this stuff. All the time I put into thinking and writing about Westworld and somebody realized they could get a tax credit if they just hit the “delete” key. It sucks. And the people making this stuff obviously care about what they’re doing. But every single avenue that gets these shows in front of our eyes is run by a giant corporation that is breaking it all down to dollars and cents. That’s always been true, but they’re just honest about it now. If HBO could make enough money by removing The Sopranos, would they? 100% they would. I should be used to it, given how much I love merchandising juggernaut Batman, but they at least create the illusion that the people in charge also care. Thinking about it makes me sad and it feels like I’ve wasted the last fourteen years or so. I mean, I’ve definitely wasted those years but they feel wasted in a different way now.

Oh, also – Slow Horses was supposed to be on the list but I found out that the second season came out right at the end of the year and I haven’t watched it yet. I would have felt like a fool if that season was bad or made a hard turn into right wing politics, so I had to leave it off. It’s great, but if you put out two seasons in one calendar year, you’re just getting greedy.

The Afterparty – Apple+ is going to be pretty well represented on this list but it’s still surprising to me every time they put out something that I like. I can’t explain it – they’ve got as good a record as anybody else and I still keep underrating them. I don’t know. Point is, despite the fact that this comes from Lord and Miller (Last Man on Earth, The LEGO Movie, Spider-Verse, the good parts of Solo), I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this comedy mystery. There’s a murder at a high school reunion afterparty, the cops question the suspects, and every episode is somebody else’s version of events. So not only do we see different perspectives, but their stories switch up genres. Ben Schwartz’ recounting is a full musical and Ike Barinholtz gives us a Fast and Furious-style action movie about family. Amazing performers, clever execution, and so much more fun than I could have expected.

Andor – Star Wars TV has been a mixed bag. The Mandalorian is solidly entertaining but has all the depth of a couple of middle-aged men clanking action figures together, which to be fair, is what a significant percentage of the fanbase is asking for. Book of Boba Fett was… bad. Like, surprisingly bad. You couldn’t pay me to re-open that book. Obi-Wan Kenobi turned out better than I expected, with some surprising depth to the villains and a nicely resonant story. And then we got Andor, a show about the guy from Rogue One. No, not that one. Not that one either. The one who had a funny robot. No, the robot isn’t on this show. Nothing against the movie, which I love, or Diego Luna, who does a great job. His role in the movie is to be the guy and everybody else gets fun quirks or backstory. But when you bring in Tony Gilroy and Beau WIllimon to make a Star Wars show, you get something different than we’ve ever seen before. It’s intensely political, forcing you to think about what a rebellion actually is and what it actually means to live under the Empire. Political maneuvering is the worst part of the franchise – look at, you know, all of Phantom Menace. But this was so well done – they made Mon Mothma interesting! Imperial bureaucrats Syril Karn and Dedra Meero are now among my favorite characters in the franchise. (We’re talking Babu Frihk level.) The action scenes, including a payroll heist, are fantastic. There’s a great arc that’s just Andor in space jail. I don’t know that young fans would enjoy this at all, but it’s exactly what “adult” Star Wars should be.

Archer – Thirteen years in, and I can’t imagine a future where the animated spy comedy doesn’t make my best of list. This is a show I genuinely love and after all these years, I’m so excited for each new season. It’s not the buzz show it once was and I can’t quote these newer episodes extensively, but I’ve enjoyed every half-hour I’ve spent with Sterling Archer and when it’s in season I go through the day looking forward to watching Archer when I get home. This season, in the wake of Malory Archer’s departure (RIP Jessica Walter), IIA’s Fabian Kingsworth (voiced by What We Do in the Shadows’ Kayvan Novak) takes over the agency once known as ISIS. There’s competition with a for-profit security company, executive skullduggery, new love for Pam, Archer almost growing a person and then swerving at the last minute, and more of my favorite gang of dummies doing their thing. I love it.

And here’s my pitch – Archer and Lana’s daughter, AJ, has aged in somewhat real time and is now a full-fledged child. Give it another year and Archer’s illegitimate son, the Wee Baby Seamus, is a teenager. Let’s see what that guy is up to!

Bad Sisters Sharon Horgan is just the best. She, along with Brett Baer and Dave Finkel, adapted a Belgian dark comedy and came up with something really compelling. One of the titular sisters is married to a bad guy (Claes Bang, just the most magnificent of bastards) and gradually each of the siblings comes to the conclusion that their lives won’t be OK until he’s dead. The bifurcated timeline cuts between the aftermath of his death and the investigation that follows, and the lead up to said death along with the failed murder attempts. And the thing is, dark comedy is great, but to spend ten episodes with these people, they have to really sell the idea that he needs to die. A comedy movie where normal people become murderers  – you can accept the premise because you have to just get to it. If we’re going to spend ten hours with these people, we need to be on board with the normal people plotting an assassination. And it works. Grounded performances from charismatic performers (including Horgan herself) and just the absolute worst. He gleefully ruins the lives of everybody he encounters and just sells it. But then it also deals with the toll that choosing to end a life would take on people – it’s not a Horrible Bosses-style farce. If this had aired on HBO, we’d be talking about this instead of White Lotus.

The Bear – Man, this was good. It’s a series about a guy running an Italian beef stand in Chicago and all the stress that comes with that. There’s more to it – family issues, addiction, fear of failure, but as a guy who grew up in a bakery family, that’s the part that resonates with me. Somebody here definitely lived this life and knows what it’s like to be trying to get orders ready at 11 PM and maybe they brought their kids in way too late at night to provide what little help they could provide at their age and maybe they just yelled at those kids for not being expert bakers at the age of nine. This isn’t about the show anymore, but it was genuinely great with some phenomenal performances and a truly bravura single take episode. Ignore my trauma, this was amazing.

Kids in the HallLook, the Canadian sketch troupe has reunited in the past, notably for the Death Comes to Town miniseries and a couple of tours. They’ve appeared in one another’s projects for the last twenty years, but it never seemed like we’d see another full revival. They missed out on the sketch boom that ended a few years ago, it seems like there was maybe some bad blood that comes out when they get together (there are some commentary tracks on the DVDs that are a rough listen), and more to the point, they were young punks when they did the original series. Would it be sad to see them again, resurrecting old characters? Would they look like hypocrites? But instead, they came back for a short and perfect run that began with Paul Bellini digging them up from the grave where he left them in the original finale.

Some of the old favorites returned in new forms that acknowledged the passage of twenty-plus years and they also just did a lot of new stuff. It felt exciting and vital in a way that fifty-year-olds doing sketch comedy probably shouldn’t. They didn’t age into being the establishment – big business is still bad, office workers still struggle to find joy in a bleak life, the cops are still incompetent, dads are still drunk and distant.  It was such a great experience seeing my favorites come back and prove they’ve still got their fastballs.

Killing ItSomehow both the highest and least meaningful of concepts, Killing It is about a failed bank security guard and an incompetent Uber driver teaming up to win a snake-killing contest.  It’s nonsense but it ties the show together and lends some suspense to the finale but the real key is that everybody involved with this show is good. The stars are Craig Robinson (The Office) and Claudia O’Doherty, an Australian comedian who should be so much more famous. They are great and hilarious. Behind the camera, the show was created by Luke Del Tredici, who worked on Brooklyn Nine-Nine for years. (And man, is it great to see Dan Goor following in his mentor Michael Schurr’s footsteps and working to develop new shows created by his producers. Goor is in a similar capacity on NBC’s Grand Crew, created by B99’s Phil Augusta Jackson.) In smaller recurring roles you get people like Lily Sullivan, John Early, and Tim Heidecker.

It’s a genuinely funny show rooted in a very 2022 economic anxiety – Craig (the name of the actor and the character) is trying to start his own business but there’s no way to get the money he needs. Jillian G (Craig always says her initial, per the Uber app) is living out of her car and facing deportation. There are side hustles, get rich quick schemes, and YouTube weirdos with a drone. It’s a lot and sometimes the secret murder and the backtracking get to be a bit much, but Robinson and O’Doherty ground this show with incredible charisma and just perfect comic skills. Cast these two and you can get away with making a show where sometimes people have to stop to beat a snake to death.

Mythic Quest – This show, now in its third season, isn’t getting enough credit for being a sharp workplace comedy. Maybe it’s because Apple TV promotes two shows a year and leaves the rest to stumble for the water like sea turtles. Maybe it’s because it’s Rob McElhenney’s third most popular show. Maybe they play up the video game angle too much. I don’t know, but every time this show comes back, I remember “Oh yeah, this is actually great” and then nobody talks about it for the rest of the year.

Honestly, Mythic Quest is more about video games than The Office was about paper, but not so much as to be offputting. It’s about upheaval at an office, the creative pressure to follow up on a hit, and deep insecurity. And it’s a show that breaks its format in interesting ways – it was one of the first shows to do a Zoom episode and probably the one that did it the best. Occasionally you’ll get an episode where we never see the main cast or even the present day – you’ll see the leads as children and explore their early lives. You’ll see the husband and wife game designers who leased the office space that the Mythic group now occupies, or you’ll spend an episode in the fifties with a struggling sci-fi writer. It feels like the template for what a streaming comedy should be.

What We Do in the Shadows – The vampire comedy keeps excelling despite one of the most annoying fanbases in television. (It’s no Our Flag Means Death or Star Wars, but they’re pretty overbearing.) Maybe the most impressive thing is the way it recovered from the previous season finale – last year ended with an episode that seemingly upended the status quo and would force the show to be about something very different. But nobody wants to watch the cast get spread out all over the world – we want the crew together. So it’s resolved in minutes and then back to the show. Nadja spent the season working to open a vampire nightclub, Laszlo raised the baby Colin Robinson in a surprisingly emotional arc, and Guillermo grew increasingly frustrated with his master Nandor. And the important thing we learned is that, after all these years, there’s still nothing funnier than Nick Kroll spending several minutes naming all of his vampire associates. Just an absolute delight.

The Wilds – I’m the softest touch in the world for “survivors of a plane crash wake up on a mysterious island” stories. But darned if The Wilds isn’t doing something new with the concept. Sure, like LOST and Yellowjackets (which is not an island but still worth mentioning), the storytelling is split between past, present, and sometimes future. And like Yellowjackets specifically, it began with a group of high school girls. But, and this is a SPOILER WARNING, we found out at the end of the first episode that there is an organization that orchestrated the crash and is monitoring the survivors. It’s all very intentional and though we have hints, we don’t know why yet. And when we see the cast in the (near) future, they’re being held for interrogation somewhere.  OK, you’ve got me. The mystery organization has collaborators among the survivors. That’s good too. And then in 2022’s Season Two, oh snap, there’s also an island of high school boys! And let me tell you, Boy Island seems like a much worse place to live. These guys are mostly terrible! The season ended with the flash forward of some survivors of both groups finding each other in the facility and things are moving fast. Honestly, this probably would have edged into the Top 15 if it had aired later in the year but recency bias is always a problem. It’s great and I can’t wait for Season Three.

Next up, it’s numbers six through fifteen!

Share Button

One Comment

  1. Pingback: The Best TV Shows of 2022! The Top Five! | The Ape Hive

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *