Best TV Shows of 2022
In a year dominated by the familiar, series like “Reservation Dogs,” “The Rehearsal,” “Bad Sisters” and others showed us something new.
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By James Poniewozik, Mike Hale and Margaret Lyons
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.)
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