From streaming to cable to regular broadcast, there’s an overwhelming abundance of quality television this year. But for our money, these were the 30 best TV shows of 2022.
Honorable mentions: 35) All Creatures Great and Small, 34) Spy x Family, 33) Girls5Eva, 32) Andor, 31) Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
The creators of one of the funniest television shows of the past decade (American Vandal) return with a hilarious and surprisingly moving mockumentary esports series following a North American League of Legends team through the conflict between two players: a cocky veteran who co-founded the team and an upcoming superstar who’s poised to be the new face of the sport. The showrunners themselves call it an “esports love story,” and the surprising emotional resonance at the core of Players elevates it from hilarious mockuseries to one of the best new shows of 2022.
Enjoy a blast from the past with a progressive edge in Ellen Rapoport’s 1970s-set Minx. Ophelia Lovibond leads as a scrappy feminist who unexpectedly pairs up with a sleazy porn publisher, played by a career-best Jake Johnson, to produce the first-ever women’s erotic magazine. The charming, phallus-filled comedy packs a heck of a punch, commingling thoughtful character development with hilarious dialogue. Minx is such a raunchy, salacious, and unexpectedly sweet workplace sitcom about double standards, the female gaze and the evolving sexual mores of the 1970s.
The Boys’ third season is as ferociously gory and savagely satirical as the preceding two, racing through the story at something approaching super-speed. While obviously not intended for every taste, the Amazon series remains a scathing examination of the superhero genre and society at large, threaded with warnings about the corrupting influence of power. It’s heady, heavy stuff – and yet The Boys never stops being fun. It’s Marvel where the real villain is unchecked capitalism. Provided you can stomach the gore and the orgies – this is one of the smartest, bravest shows on television right now.
Bridget Everett’s HBO series about small-town Kansas and the feeling of being an adult misfit was a gorgeous way to kick off the year in television. Everett’s character, Sam, is not a straightforward fictionalized version of herself, although the parallels are certainly there. Sam is much less self-assured, though, and has spent much of her life since high school trying to shape herself to fit other people’s expectations and needs. As a result, Somebody Somewhere is a gorgeous, loving, often hilarious depiction of midwestern, small-town culture — everything about Sam’s sister, Tricia (Mary Catherine Garrison), is perfection, as is her friend Joel (Jeff Hiller) — but it’s also a really moving story about how hard it is to make yourself at home somewhere when it’s supposedly been your home from the beginning.
There’s perhaps no romance on television more seductive than the platonic one between Jean Smart’s unsentimental mentor Deborah and Hannah Einbinder’s sceptical protégé Ava, in Hacks. Set in the unforgiving world of standup comedy, this tart, push-pull series—about two female comics across a generational divide—delivered a nearly flawless second season in 2022. The show continues to surprise its main characters with aspects of themselves they had yet to uncover – the emergence of Deborah’s long-dormant nurturing instincts, after a lifetime of blinkered survival, is as much of a revelation to us as it is to her.
Each episode of Little America follows the true story of different immigrant protagonists grappling with assimilation problems in the U.S. – forms of prejudice, nostalgia for their homeland and family, or crushing legal issues. As fraught as that sounds, the show often explores these themes with subtle joy. There’s a conscious effort to not focus solely on the sorrows or hardships of immigration, which is the show’s secret winning formula. Set in various cities and time periods across the country, depicting different cultures, the narratives range from heartbreaking to inspiring. But the underlying genesis is the same: What does the concept of “the American dream” mean for immigrants?
No one is doing it like What We Do in the Shadows. Even after four seasons, the whole documentary crew following around a group of vampires and their capable familiar turned bodyguard hasn’t grown old. This season tossed the characters in totally new situations — energy vampire Colin Robinson was reborn as a small child with the head of a grown adult; ambitious Nadja decided to open up a nightclub; and the ever lofty Nandor decided to resurrect all 37 of his spouses so he could pit them against one another and figure out which one it was he wanted to marry. Amidst all the tomfoolery (and one of the most hilarious parody episodes out there), What We Do in the Shadows also gets really dang sad and bittersweet at points.
Chainsaw Man is the only freshman anime to surpass Spy x Family’s hype this year. The show follows Denji, an impoverished teenager living in a world where hellish creatures known as devils roam. When Denji is murdered, his adorable chainsaw-headed devil dog Pochita saves his life by merging with him – giving him the ability to transform any part of his body into a chainsaw! Recruited by a devil hunting government agency, Denji now uses his supernatural powers to kill devils, earn a comfortable living, and just maybe, hook-up with his hot colleagues. This bloody, brutal, hilarious and super horny show is an absolute riot.
Olivier Assayas has remade his deliriously meta 1996 French film Irma Vep into an even more meta 2022 HBO miniseries. The story follows a disillusioned American actress (Alicia Vikander) who’s tired of starring in superhero blockbusters. So she heads to Paris to team with mentally unstable director René Vidal to craft a modern arthouse remake of a 1915 silent film called Les Vampires. This graceful and gorgeous behind-the-scenes dramedy is a brilliantly post-modern contemplation of art versus commerce, and the many ways that art imitates life imitating art.
The series follows Shigeo “Mob” Kageyama, a kind but clueless middle-schooler who happens to have godlike psychic abilities. The directionless prepubescent is taken under the wing of a con-man running a local exorcism business, Reigen Arataka. Though Reigen uses Mob’s powers for profit, he also genuinely cares for the boy. This paranormal comedy follows Mob’s exploits at school and at work – from the relatable mundanity of finding an extracurricular club to join and crushing on a cute girl, to the unrelatable absurdity of battling evil spirits and other powerful espers to save the world. The show’s hilarious subversion of shonen tropes, poignant insight into a boy’s social anxiety, and kaleidoscopic action sequences all combine to make Mob Psycho 100 a blast well into its third season.
You’ll fall (possibly straight into a tub of acid) for the effervescent, feminist, LGBTQ-inclusive Harley Quinn. Kaley Cuoco voices the titular protagonist alongside Lake Bell as the voice of Harley’s girlfriend Poison Ivy. The DC Comics animated series is not only stunning to behold, but continues and expands the chaotic mythos of Harley in thoroughly modern, satisfying ways. Harley Quinn continues to be a chaotic, vulgar delight, even in season three. This is a gloriously foul-mouthed, action-packed, and blood-spattered adult cartoon with surprising psychological depth amidst its meta humour.
The Italian-language TV adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels may well be the best series routinely ignored even by many critics. The decades-spanning drama—unfalteringly gorgeous in its production, direction, and performances—follows two childhood female friends in postwar Naples, who grow apart in adulthood and yet remain in primal need of each other’s approval. In the most recent season, the series’ third, the pair grapple with their gnarled attempts at liberation while the women’s movement takes root in 1970s Italy. Few shows achieve the biographical or sociopolitical scope of My Brilliant Friend; fewer still are so aching.
Based on Tegan and Sara’s memoir, High School follows the twins’ coming-of-age in the mid-1990s. This show isn’t just a great, grounded teen drama – it’s one of the best TV series of the year! You don’t have to know who Tegan and Sara are to appreciate their story, which explores loneliness, connection and longing with such palpable empathy. This is a tender portrait of two teenage girls that draws its strength from its knack for unvarnished details and uncommon sense of empathy. It takes each of their interior lives seriously, capturing moments of pain, love, lust and anger that might otherwise go unnoticed in more sensational teen shows. If you loved My So-Called Life back in the day, you’ll love this.
While touted as David Simon’s follow-up to The Wire, this adaptation of Justin Fenton’s nonfiction book is more a postscript to his fictional series about the effect of drugs, crime and policing on the streets of inner-city Baltimore. Jon Bernthal stars as Sergeant Wayne Jenkins, the swaggering head of BPD’s corrupt Gun Trace Task Force — think The Shield’s Vic Mackey, only less fictional — whose approach to law enforcement involves extortion, brutality and robbery. Set predominantly in the aftermath of the 2015 BPD killing of Freddie Gray, We Own This City hops back and forth in the timeline of Jenkins’ career, steadily peeling back the layers of institutionalised corruption that appears to reach every echelon of Baltimore society.
The Bear is Safdie Brothers-level stressful, and it’s absolutely enthralling. Creator Christopher Storer lays a foundation for family unease, neighbourhood drama, and perfectionist obsession, all within the show’s opening minutes. This new dramedy follows a fine-dining chef named Carmen who returns to his hometown Chicago neighborhood to take over his family’s beef sandwich shop after his brother commits suicide. This unfiltered dive into the absolute chaos that happens on a daily basis inside the kitchen of a restaurant is both unexpectedly thrilling and anxiety inducing.
Tuca & Bertie, which stars Tiffany Haddish and Ali Wong as bird-women Tuca and Bertie, respectively, is the best comedy about complex, messy women since Broad City. This third season is just as good as its previous, expanding the scope of the already thoughtful show. Where prior episodes dug deeper into Bertie’s anxieties and her relationship with Speckle , this season gives Tuca more space to shine. We get a glimpse into Tuca’s dating life — and how Bertie’s dependence on her prevents her from exploring her own relationships. Creator Lisa Hanawalt’s adventurous visual style adds depth, humour, and sophistication to a sitcom both proudly raunchy and profoundly earnest.
Min Jin Lee’s historical-fiction novel, about a Korean woman named Sunja, during and after the Japanese occupation of her home country, gets a sumptuous and stirring television adaptation. Pachinko deftly straddles multiple eras and generations – primarily with Minha Kim as the young-adult Sunja in the throes of the brutal occupation, and Youn Yuh-jung as the elderly Sunja now living in Japan in the late 1980s. Bouncing between time and cultures, Pachinko’s non-linear narrative gives emotional, deeply personal weight to all the tragic intertwining of these two nations during the 20th century by focusing on the struggles of a single family across the turbulent decades.
The Orville may have begun as a Star Trek spoof, but it’s since grown to become better than any of the actual Star Trek series of the past two decades. Who would’ve thought that the creator of Family Guy could have crafted such a thought-provoking, dramatically compelling, and morally complex science fiction show (just with a little bit of Seth MacFarlane’s trademark toilet humour sprinkled in)? Its third season, entitled New Horizons, is the series’ biggest and deepest – tackling weighty issues such as transgender rights, suicidal ideation, religion, porn addiction, alcoholism, and social media dependence through the lens of space opera.
Though he often frames his projects in vaguely altruistic terms, Nathan Fielder likes to make viewers squirm. The Rehearsal, his wildly ambitious new show for HBO and the follow-up to Nathan For You, finds the comedian “helping” ordinary people by letting them prepare for significant life moments by rehearsing them over and over in meticulously designed environments that he oversees. But as the show drifts into even more bizarre territory, it becomes an often hilarious interrogation of its own absurd methods, peeling back the layers of Fielder’s aloof comic persona. Still, even in its darkest, bleakest moments, Fielder maintains a wry touch that makes staring into the abyss of social awkwardness worthwhile.
After a nearly four-year hiatus, Donald Glover’s surrealist comedy Atlanta finally returned to the small screen. As if to make up for lost time, the show aired not one, but two new seasons this year. Half of its divisive, experimental third season followed Paper Boi on a wild European tour as the crew navigated newfound fame through fans, producers, designer clothing, and racial negotiations. The other half was an anthology collection of one-off stories that examined themes of whiteness. As fascinating as that was, the show’s fourth and final season may be Atlanta’s finest run – crafting a number of thought-provoking, absurdist, laugh-out-loud episodes about the difficulty Black artists face when striving for Black representation in their craft.
In Season one of Undone, Amazon Prime’s rotoscoped odyssey, Alma (Rosa Salazar) confronts and explores her mestiza heritage by traveling back through time to communicate with her native Mexican ancestors, combining the science fiction of time travel with native spirituality. Season two digs deeper into the concepts of generational trauma and cultural memory as we learn about her father’s side of the family, specifically his mother’s escape from the Polish pogroms on the eve of World War II and how her experiences during her journey to America dictated the rest of her life. Alma is transported to an alternate dimension, along with the ghost of her father, as both possess the bodies of themselves in the new reality as they work together to solve a mystery surrounding an enormous secret Alma’s mother has kept from them.
Created by Egyptian-American comedian Ramy Youssef, his series has been a thoughtful, artful and complex depiction of a young Muslim man struggling to reconcile his religion and culture, with more contemporary millennial anxieties in a Western world. Now in its third season, the show continues to be such a nuanced (and awkwardly hilarious) portrayal of a wayward man trying to be more devout, but also coming to terms with his own self-absorbed hypocrisies and superficial grasp of Islam.
Created by Julio Torres and Ana Fabrega (who also star), Los Espookys is a weird and charming comedy about four friends who love horror movies and gore, so they start a business creating scares and horror scenes for paying clients. Need to stage a fake exorcism? They’ve got you. Looking for a sea monster to attract tourists to your beachside town? They’re on it. The Spanish-language series blends magical realism (see: a cursed mirror, a parasitic demon obsessed with The King’s Speech), with relatable, real-world stories of friendship and young adulthood. Fabrega is especially phenomenal as Tati in this second season – a gentle soul who’s caught in a fake marriage and new career as an author who transcribes audiobooks.
Without a doubt, one of the most high-concept animated series being made right now is Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal. It’s a 2D, R-rated production that utilises almost no dialogue to convey the story of a prehistoric caveman (Spear) and a Tyrannosaurus (Fang) that have bonded through great personal loss. Think visceral Shakespearean drama with a Boris Vallejo aesthetic. Mostly devoid of dialogue and gorgeously scored and animated, Primal‘s elemental balance of unspoken compassion and unsparing savagery is astonishing. Although this second season features a more serialised plot, the series remains dynamic – balancing ferocity and tenderness, minimalism and sophistication with captivating flair.
After a long COVID-related delay, Bill Hader’s masterpiece of a showbiz satire about the dark recesses of humanity returned in excellent form. The titular hitman-turned-actor that Hader plays is scarier than ever, the creator leaning into his character’s desperation after realising that his beloved acting teacher Mr. Cousineau (Henry Winkler) is aware that Barry is a killer. Meanwhile, Barry‘s girlfriend Sally (Sarah Goldberg) is trying on girlboss for size, running and starring in her own TV show based on her experiences with abuse. Her mania is somehow both hysterical and tragic, just like the rest of the series, which finds time for sight gags and Noho Hank-isms amid all the sorrow.
Severance doesn’t seem like it should work as well as it does. Every bit of the sci-fi thriller — from its tightly tuned performances to the evocatively low-key score, even to the concept of the show itself — feels like a high-wire act. The world where Lumon Industries has allowed (or, more disquietingly, required) workers to sever their work and home identities is trippy and methodic, like an Escher painting come to life. After all, what do your work and personal self have in common beyond just happening to be the same person? As Severance unpacks just how different those interests are, the result gets more and more chilling as it expertly reminds us of what is actually lost even in the cleanest of work-life balances.
It’s very rare that a prequel surpasses the work that preceded it, but Better Call Saul may have pulled it off. Across six seasons, a pitch that seemed suspect at first — a show about Breaking Bad’s comic-relief lawyer, Saul Goodman — won over most of its sceptics to become one of the best shows of its era. In its final season, Saul hit the gas on its slow-motion obliteration of Jimmy McGill, the man Goodman once was, and leapt forward into a post-Breaking Bad timeline to ponder one of the oldest questions in storytelling: Can a tiger change its stripes? And if they try, would you believe them? Whether or not you think Saul has become better than Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s show is a prime example of how to do a prequel without falling into the usual traps.
Releasing a drama about a devastating, deadly viral pandemic as the world was slowly creeping out of the worst of its own health crisis sounds like a fool’s errand — who wants to watch a show that hits so close to home? Yet Station Eleven is about so much more than the aftermath. It’s about hope and healing, the struggle for humanity in the face of crisis. And it finds real beauty in the telling, set both as the crisis starts to hit (with Himesh Patel’s Jeevan Chaudhary trying to survive) and after (focusing on Mackenzie Davis as Kirsten Raymonde, an actress in a travelling theatre troupe). The Leftovers‘ Patrick Somerville adapts Emily St. John Mandel’s much-loved bestseller to create one of the most beautiful miniseries this medium has ever produced.
Pamela Adlon reimagined the coming-of-age story with Better Things, which moved effortlessly through teen angst, middle age and menopause, and the twilight years of one’s life — often in the same episode. The series remained incisive and big-hearted as it explored the various stages of adolescence from the perspectives of Sam Fox’s (Adlon) three children and the travails of working motherhood. The Fox family’s last hurrah was as glorious as it was pensive, as Sam found new, gratifying ways to define this latest chapter of her life. She defied the framing of loss imposed by a patriarchal society and instead chose to focus on all she stood to gain, even as her eldest moved away, her youngest no longer cleaved to her, and her mother rekindled an old flame. As a storyteller, Adlon’s often eschewed closure, but the final 10 episodes of her dreamy FX series certainly cemented her place as one of TV’s best auteurs.
The comedy about teens living on a Native American reservation is so singular in its perspective, and its writers and actors so skilled at crafting near-flawless television, that it deserves a category all its own. In season two our friends Elora Danan (Devery Jacobs), Bear (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai), Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis), and Cheese (Lane Factor) are confronted head on with the uncertainty of adolescence, capturing a universal experience with the specificity of our Rez Dogs’ lives. Each episode can be wildly different from the next, but also an immensely satisfying step in the overall journey. Making it to California after two seasons of scrimping, scraping and hoping sets up Reservation Dogs for a fantastic season three.