The Best TV Shows of 2022 – Part Two

I don’t need to explain to you how a best of list works! The year is almost over and I have to get through this. It’s part two, so here are the best TV shows of 2022, numbers six through fifteen. But in reverse order. You get it.

15. Dicktown – Look, it still haunts me that I wrote a script about adult boy detectives based on John Hodgman and Paul F. Tompkins while this animated series where John Hodgman voices an adult boy detective was in active production. But put that aside. Dicktown broke from its original home in the anthology Cake to become its own full-fledged series. And it’s absolutely delightful. Hodgman and David Rees have that rare blend of whimsy and cynicism that you don’t see that often, and now that it’s a stand-alone show and not a series of shorts separated by experimental animation, they could spend the season working on a meta-story.

This season was largely built around a mystery John Hunchman solved as a teenager, a case that got him on TV for a minute. There seems to be a genuine threat to his life that is somehow tied up in that high school mystery.  Meanwhile, stand-alone episodes touched on Gritty, a Belgian boy detective, a mystery on a virtual island based on Animal Crossing, and a horror musical. John and David went their separate ways for most of the season, which usually is a way to ruin chemistry but it’s a small town and they still run into one another. (David actually moved in with John’s dad.) Jon Glaser played their manager, Jamie Lee Curtis made an appearance, and Griffin Newman showed up as John’s new partner. This show is so close to my heart and even at its most combative it gives me a warm feeling. Two friends making a show about two friends who look just like them. How do you not love that? (FXX/Hulu)

14. The Boys – So, there are a lot of superhero shows on my list. Believe me, they’re coming. And one important distinction here is that the original comic version of The Boys is really bad. It’s full of good ideas but writer Garth Ennis gives you either brilliance or absolute dreck with nothing in between. And The Boys is firmly in the latter camp, rarely developing beyond mean-spirited parody and nasty nihilism. The fact that the show is good is surprising and the fact that it’s this good is ridiculous.

At this point, the show has broken enough from the source material that it’s hard to compare and contrast – the ending of the comic is impossible to get to from where they are and cameos like The Deep have developed into major characters on TV. But one specific example is the “Herogasm” superhero orgy. In the comics, that was six full issues (at $3.99 each) while in the show it’s part of one episode. They hit the good superhero sex jokes and then move on, which is exactly what the concept warrants. This season also saw the show get ever more political as the Homelander turned into Donald Trump and we saw the super-powered version of ACAB. The Old Soldier arc was so much more resonant and interesting here and the relationship between Hughie and Starlight, a minor plot point in the comics, is a major plot motivator here. It all just works. There are so many moments that stick. Black Noir’s friends, The Deep being forced to eat an octopus he knows, the jumper, the end of Stormfront’s story, Hughie’s new power – this show is clicking like nobody’s business and keeps growing rather than beating the same jokes into the ground. (Amazon)

13. Hacks – This show is maybe the only example in all of pop culture of a person who isn’t a stand-up comedian convincingly simulating a stand-up performance. Like, did Jean Smart work up a tight five and hit some open mics before doing this show? This season was maybe better than the brilliant first season – putting veteran comic Deborah and reluctant co-writer Ava in a motor home for the bulk of the season was a genius move. It’s fun to see a tour and it’s great to see their already uncomfortable dynamic crammed into a small space. It also let us get a glimpse of the people in Deborah’s circle when she’s not around, letting the already impressive supporting cast shine. Even the agency shenanigans were fun this year even as they only occasionally butted against the main storyline. (But just often enough that they ended up having ramifications.)

The season wrapped up with some of the best acting on TV all year as both women are on the verge of the career wins they’ve been chasing but they end their professional relationship. It’s something that they both theoretically want but they’re struggling with it and it feels like a moment that was meant as a possible bittersweet series finale but works as a season finale that opens up so many potential directions. At this moment, it’s impossible to assume that an HBO Max show is truly going to return until you’re actually looking at it, but it would be such a shame to lose something this unique and perfectly realized to Warner’s tax dodge. (HBO Max)

12. The Righteous Gemstones – After a break of almost three full years, Danny McBride’s televangelism satire returned for a second season. It turns out, wealthy grifters taking advantage of true believers is an evergreen concept. Not like that stopped happening during the pandemic, you know? In all that time I forgot just how Byzantine the plotting is on this show and it was an absolute delight to get back into the betrayals and secret motivations and blackmail and surprising amount of violence that characterize Gemstones. And this is a show that can jump from no-fooling action scenes (there are a lot of motorcycle hitmen) to just the greatest idiot comedy around. And they’re all different kinds of idiots. McBride’s self-important Jesse, Edi Patterson as the genuinely demented Judy, and Tim Baltz as Judy’s fiancée BJ, just a glorious idiot. (And for extra fun, Baltz’ real-life wife played his sister this season.) They’re all crucial to Gemstones and they’re wildly different in the ways they’re insane.

Meanwhile, the show delved into the background of patriarch Eli (John Goodman at his best) with a surprising flashback episode and the return of one of his old cohorts, played by Eric Roberts. There’s this great dynamic in the show where all of the Gemstones, terrible people as they are, all seem to truly be people of faith. It doesn’t affect the way that they live, but they really do believe what they profess to believe and that’s a different tack than you would usually see in a comedy about religion.  It’s truly incredible, and that’s without even getting into Walton Goggins’ Baby Billy and Adam Devine’s Kelvin, the source of some of the funniest scenes of the year. The sheer amount of things to contend with in scenes of big muscle guys carrying a full-sized cross as penance is… maybe more than I can handle here. It’s so good! (HBO)

11. Marvel Shows – The only way to do this is just to group everything together in kind of a rough aggregate. Because you know what? I like Marvel’s stuff. This year’s lineup felt maybe less consequential as it was about introducing new characters rather than expanding on people from the movies, but that meant a little more diversity in approach. Moon Knight made Marc Spector’s alter ego maybe the coolest and weirdest he’s ever been – yeah, they spent a lot of time in the afterlife. Oscar Isaac was great, it was a smart update of a character based in an outdated understanding of mental illness and F. Murray Abraham was the voice of Khonshu. Even the wildest speculation about the future of the MCU never got there. Ms. Marvel was totally charming and a nice counterpoint to the world-ending threats in just about everything else. It’s a character I don’t really know outside of video games and this show nailed that teen superhero vibe that made Peter Parker a star. And She-Hulk was an absolutely wild sitcom that broke the fourth wall and dealt with sexist fanboys in real time. Just an absolute banger. Plus, we got a beautiful Werewolf By Night one-shot and the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, which was a hundred times better than it had any right to be. (Disney+)

10. Minx – One of the best shows of the year, it was renewed for a second season and then, when filming was almost complete, HBO Max retroactively cancelled it and also deleted the first season from their service. Things went horribly wrong this year over at Warner/HBO and getting into it could overshadow my enjoyment of things. Reportedly it’s being shopped to other services but I don’t know who else is going to air something so dong-intensive. But feel free to clip “dong-intensive” and use it as a pull quote on any physical media releases. All that weirdness aside, this was a truly fantastic first season about the attempt to publish a magazine of feminist writing that’s also full of naked men.

The sexual politics are fascinating, as are the reminders that not that long ago, organized religion held considerable sway over numerous areas of life and business, including the publishing industry. (Mob guys displaying reluctance to distribute something the Pope wouldn’t approve of is pretty funny.) Jake Johnson’s charming dirtbag vibe is in full effect here and Ophelia Lovibond is the perfect combination of defeated and determined. (And big props to spunkybuddy Lennon Parham, even though that’s not a thing anymore.) I love scrappy underdogs and watching them power through every (sometimes significant) obstacle thrown their way was truly wonderful. I loved this show and really hope there’s a way for it to continue somewhere. (HBO Max)

9. Doom Patrol ­ We only got a few episodes this year with the first half of the season starting in December, but it counts. I used to have a required minimum of six episodes per calendar year, but I dropped it for these beautiful weirdos. Last time we saw the characters who have never once referred to themselves as the Doom Patrol, they were starting to gel as a team despite losing most of their powers. And picking up this year, they seem to know what they’re doing. Except that Vic lost all his Cyborg weapons and Larry can’t access the Negative Spirit anymore, but they win the occasional fight. And also they may have set in motion the circumstances that will destroy the world.

We’ve only seen part of a story so far this year, but the most recent episode as I write this, “Casey Patrol”, is such an encapsulation of why I love this show. Casey Brinke, from Gerard Way’s run on the comic, joins the show as a fictional character brought to live by Dorothy Spinner. (Mirroring Flex Mentallo’s backstory in the comics.) And crazy things happen but it’s ultimately a story of letting go of grief and of outcasts searching for understanding. It’s beautiful, silly, and heartbreaking. There isn’t a tone like it anywhere else in TV, and I love it. And of course, as a huge fan of all incarnations of the Doom Patrol, I’ve been loving the deep-cut characters. Mr. 104! Dr. Janus! And all these references to Immortus who is maybe not the Forever General of the Silver Age comics but possibly a codename for something! And was that Wally Sage at the end of the episode? I swear, I will cry if they put Wally Sage on TV. (HBO Max)

8. Search Party The fifth and final season of the comedy that somehow survived TBS’ bizarre attempts to recreate streaming binges on broadcast television and then surviving the end of the network’s original programming department and then further managed to reach its finale before HBO Max got drunk and just started deleting shows. The fact that this weird show managed to reach the finish line is something of a miracle and man, what a finish line it was. Search Party, which I’d argue was the first truly great millennial comedy, started as a show about some fairly terrible young people who got way too wrapped up in the disappearance of a girl the sort of remembered from school. It was biting satire but done with affection – it wasn’t an old man yelling at a cloud, it was young people pinpointing the peculiarly awful things about their own generation. (And also nailing their elders along the way. Search Party knows what’s bad about you.)

Things went very badly and by the end of the first season, they’re covering up a murder. And as the show went on, it continued to change. Is it a satire of legal dramas? For a while, sure. Is there an entire season where the main character (Alia Shawkat) is being held prisoner by an obsessed fan? You know it! It was about so many different things and did all of them so well because the core group of four characters stayed true to who they were. And who they were wasn’t good, but it was funny. And this is maybe a SPOILER WARNING except that you won’t believe me and if you start watching Search Party now it’s going to sound like I made this up. This season ends with a zombie apocalypse. And every beat getting there makes sense! There isn’t one crazy leap that breaks the reality. Search Party was set up to fail from the very beginning and the fact that something like this can still get five seasons and end on its own terms makes me thing TV still has some tricks left. (HBO Max)

7. Barry Like several shows on this list, Barry hadn’t aired an episode since 2019. Almost like something happened between then and now. I’ll have to check my journal. In Season Three, Bill Hader did something really bold – he questioned prestige TV’s worship of toxic masculinity. We’re used to rooting for Tony Soprano or Walter White in spite of the things that make them terrible people, but Hader and company made it clear that, as much as he wants redemption and as much as he’s played by a nice man who’s very funny, Barry Blank is a bad man. He may have tried in the past to be better, but he failed. He’s violent and abusive and we’re still rooting for him but we clearly shouldn’t be. Everybody in this show would be better off if they’d never met him. And unlike The Sopranos, which would sometimes remind you that Tony is really just a sad clown, Barry doesn’t let the titular Barry off the hook. Is he traumatized? Yes. Is he still a bad person? Absolutely.

And you’d think that would make this a heavy watch, but it’s so funny. Depressed Barry is hilarious. And the supporting cast, all of who are worse for having had Barry in their lives for the last few years, just crush it. We as a nation have been obsessed with Henry Winkler’s Gene since the beginning, but now he knows just who Barry is and he’s torn between fear and exploiting whatever connections he has as a result of Barry’s unlikely success. There’s a new edge to him and Winkler’s a pro who can just make a meal of it. Sally (Sarah Goldberg) had a story that seemingly predicted the current state of HBO when her character’s critically acclaimed TV series disappeared from the service almost immediately because users didn’t like the banner ad. Her relationship with Barry is so well-done – she did the right thing by getting away from him but he keeps showing up in her life and it’s terrifying when he does. It takes a friend to see the situation with clear eyes and realize that he’s a bad guy and she needs to get away. And you can’t overstate her importance to the show. Without her, Barry is a comedy about violence. An amazing one, but she’s Barry’s connection to a world that he can’t fix by being good at killing and she makes the show about more than the Chechnyan mob. There are real people in this world and they have things in their lives that aren’t about Barry, despite the damage he’s done to them. None of this is getting across how funny the show is or how unbelievably good a director Bill Hader is. Some of the best action scenes of the year happened right here – “710N” is one amazing sequence after another. It’s truly an incredible show that we’re going to end up talking about in the same breath as Breaking Bad, if there’s any justice in this dumb world. (HBO)

6. Game of Thrones: House of the Dragon – I liked the end of Game of Thrones more than most people. Yeah, it was rushed and everybody suddenly got Fast Travel ability, but bringing something so sprawling in for a landing is a nearly impossible task. Honestly, that probably has a lot to do with George R.R. Martin’s lack of book progress for this long. Nobody can beat you up for the ending if you never get around to the ending. That said, my interest was in those characters – I wasn’t automatically sold on a prequel set hundreds of years before those characters were born. I’m not a Westeros historian. And damned if they didn’t get me again.

While the original series had all its intrigue and scheming, it was always against the backdrop of this impending Winter which we knew meant an invasion of White Walkers. So far, House of the Dragon has dispensed with supernatural threats to focus on the glory days of the Targaryan Empire and it is pure gory soap opera. It’s all about questions of succession and treaties and there’s no reason it should be at all interesting but it’s amazing. It took a few episodes to really key in – it started well but the time jumps in the first few episodes meant that some key characters were played by multiple actors in the space of a few episodes and it was hard to adjust. But even then you could still enjoy Matt Smith really sleazing it up or Paddy Considine’s King Viserys, a man who was increasingly feeble with every episode. Like, hilariously so. A fun game for the first half of the season was seeing how much more of his left hand was gone every time. After a big turning point in the last two episodes, things moved up another level and it’s a full blown dragon war for control of the throne. Incest, shifting treaties, a creepy guy masturbating over the queen’s feet, beheadings, twins with very similar names – it’s that perfect combination of elevated and pulpy and I’m locked in all over again. (HBO)

Tomorrow! It’s the top five! 

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