15 great 2022 TV shows to binge
The world started to return to normal in 2022, or at least the new normal, so most of us weren't quite as glued to screens as we were in 2020 and 2021. But Peak TV marched on with what seemed like more notable shows than ever, though there are signs that we have reached the summit and may be sliding down the other side. But let's not worry about what may come, let's celebrate some great TV from this year.
This is not a list of 2022's best shows (though a few of them definitely are), just 15 really good ones that premiered this year, some of which were modest hits, Emmy winners and Golden Globe nominees. Some were based on novels, some have huge stars in the cast, and others flew under the radar. Three involve food and two have choreographed dance number opening title sequences.
If I was doing a Best of 2022 it would include: Reservations Dogs, Better Call Saul, White Lotus: Sicily, Los Espookys (RIP), The Dropout, Barry, Better Things, The Boys, Hacks, Atlanta, Winning Time, Ramy, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, What We Do in the Shadows, Girls5eva, Black Bird, and Bad Sisters. Do check those out if you haven't seen them.
But if you need more things to watch, my picks are below.
The Bear (FX on Hulu)
The most deliciously addictive show of 2022, The Bear is set in the high pressure world of a restaurant kitchen. Shameless' Jeremy Allen White plays Carmen "Carmy" Berzatto, a rising chef who's worked in some of the world's most famous restaurants, who comes home to Chicago to take over the family's Italian Beef sandwich shop after his brother dies unexpectedly. Carmy tries to bring some of his Michelin star training to the dinner menu but encounters myriad hurdles, including the shop's veteran kitchen staff who like the place the way it is, health inspector woes, and a mountain of debt his brother also left him. Shot in the cramped quarters of a real Chicago sandwich shop, The Bear is white-knuckle intense at times -- "Uncut Gems but in a restaurant" hits the nail on the head, especially the seventh episode, which was shot in a single take -- but it's also frequently hilarious, moving and empathetic. White is fantastic as Carmy, and the whole cast is great, especially Ebon Moss-Bachrach as Richie, the restaurant's sorta-manager who was Carmy's brother's best friend, and Ayo Edebiri as Carmy's sous chef. Creator and showrunner Christopher Storer gets most of the details right, though even viewers who don't follow the restaurant biz at all will wonder what kind of sandwich shop doesn't open till 3 PM, while real Toronto chef and YouTuber Matty Matheson is both one of the show's consultants and has an on-screen role (he basically plays himself). Also: in a world of streaming bloat, all but one of the first season's eight episodes clock in under 30, making this series extremely bingeable. (Season 1 might be shorter the new Avatar.) I watched the whole thing within 24 hours and had watched it again with a month. and cannot wait for the second course to arrive.
No knock against The Mandalorian, but Andor is Star Wars for adults. Not as in Rated M for Mature adult, but the characters face real stakes with serious moral and political implications. Tony Gilroy, the screenwriter and filmmaker who made the Oscar-nominated 2007 film Michael Clayton, returns to the Star Wars universe for this series about the seeds of the Rebellion that led to Rogue One (he wrote the screenplay), which itself was about the events that led up to the original 1977 Star Wars (aka A New Hope). Andor is closer to a Cold War spy drama than an outer space western, with nary a cuddly creature in sight, and no character at any point ever exclaims "WHEEEEEE" while firing a laser cannon. (There is, however, a cute but sad robot that, no kidding, is named B2EMO.) Diego Luna reprises his Rogue One role as Cassian Andor -- which was only a small role in the film -- a working stiff who finds himself thrust into the center of the covert rebellion against the Empire. The cast is a deep bench of serious thespians including Fiona Shaw, Stellan Skarsgård, Andy Serkis, Denise Gough, Genevieve O'Reilly, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, and Forest Whitaker, all of whom who feast on Gilroy's meaty, poetic dialogue. The writing really is exceptional and the series' 10th episode contains not one but two incredible, stirring monologues that outclass anything else in this far, far away galaxy. You know a show is serious and requires serious attention when you find yourself turning on the subtitles just to catch everything said. (Also the names are confusing.) That is not to say Andor a drag; there are many thrilling moments throughout the first season, but it's not a show you can be on your phone while watching. Plus you don't want to miss all the sumptuous visuals that were filmed in actual locations around the world and not on a green screen set. Gilroy pitched Andor as a 24-part movie; the first half is one of the best TV shows of the year, and let's hope he sticks the landing with Season 2.
The English (Amazon)
The English is not your average Western. Set in 1890, it stars Emily Blunt as Lady Cornelia Locke, who is traveling to Wyoming to avenge the death of her son. She is aided in her quest by Eli Whipp, a Pawnee former US Army scout who is on his way to claim land in Nebraska the government owes him for his service. In their way is just about everyone they meet -- there are almost no friendly faces in this show. Most of those faces are played by notable actors, including Stephen Rea, Ciarán Hinds, Toby Jones and Rafe Spall. Nearly every character in this six-part limited series is connected to one another, though writer-director and Englishman Hugo Blick (The Honourable Woman) takes his time joining the dots. The English is a little too non-linear for its own good at times, but once the pieces line up, it sets in motion a very satisfying finish. (Before that, to quote Bjork, be ready to get confused.) Clearly inspired by Spaghetti Westerns and Quentin Tarantino, there's a lot of very violent fun to be had -- don't become too attached to any character, no matter how famous the person is playing them -- with an especially scenery-chomping turn by Spall as a lower class Brit who takes full advantage of the freedom America has to offer. Blick's portrait of the West is clearly a metaphor for America itself and unlike any you've seen before.
Fleishman is in Trouble (FX on Hulu)
Taffy Brodesser-Akner adapted her own 2019 novel Fleishman is in Trouble into this limited series dramedy about a successful Upper West Side doctor, the titular Fleishman (Jesse Eisenberg), who comes into his own as a desirable new divorcee, at least until his ex-wife (Claire Danes) goes missing, leaving him with their kids as his life totally unravels. Lizzy Caplan is Libby, Fleishmans's longtime friend and city girl magazine writer who somehow ended up a mom in the suburbs (she's also the series' narrator), while The OC's Adam Brody plays their terminal bachelor best friend, Seth. With the uptown Manhattan locations and decidedly Jewish perspective, it's hard not to compare this to Woody Allen, but this story, directed almost entirely by husband-and-wife teams (including Little Miss Sunshine's Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris), has a lot more on its mind than one neurotic 40-something male. Just when the series seems to be all He Said, it refreshingly (and harrowingly) switches perspectives, more than once, for more of a Rashomon experience, calling into question just which Fleishman is actually in trouble. (It also may give Claire Danes her next Emmy.) Libby our narrator sums up things pretty succinctly in the penultimate episode: "There are no real heroes, either — everyone is great, everyone is terrible, and everyone is flawed, and there are no exceptions to that.”
We Own This City (HBO Max)
The Wire's David Simon returns to the streets of Baltimore for the first time since that series for this account of real life deep-seated police corruption. Based on the book by Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton, We Own This City is focused on the Baltimore Police Department's Gun Trace Task Force that was allowed to run free and enforce via illegal raids and mass arrest with little to no oversight for more than a decade in the '00s and '10s. Co-created with George Pelecanos, who always wrote The Wire's penultimate episode each season, We Own This City examines how GTTF was allowed to happen and how they were finally brought to justice. The cast is led by Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead), who is magnetic as Task Force leader Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, and the rest of the cast is uniformly fantastic, including Josh Charles (who relishes being given the rare chance to play a scumbag), and a bunch of former The Wire players including Jamie Hector (he was Marlo). The story doesn't offer much hope -- truth is more depressing than fiction -- but it's a powerful story about a system that remains terribly bent.
Slow Horses (Apple TV+)
Based on Mick Herron's spy thriller novels, Slow Horses focuses on Slough House, a division of MI5 where fuckup agents are banished to mundane drudgework so that they can do as little harm to the agency as possible. Despite this, the division finds themselves at the center of cases that threaten Britain's security. Slough House is overseen by Jackson Lamb, a slovenly, seen-it-all agent played by Gary Oldman, who spends most of his time drinking, eating Chinese takeout, and belittling his staff. His agents includes River Cartwright (Jack Lowden), a brilliant young agent who was unjustly sent to Slough House and is actively trying to get back in MI5's good graces, along with bumbling Min Harper (Dustin Demri-Burns) who is not-so-secretly seeing fellow agent Louisa Guy (Rosalind Eleazar), as well as arrogant hacker Roddy Ho (Christopher Chung), and Lamb's demure, recovering alcoholic assistant (Saskia Reeves). Oldman is wonderful here in a role that allows him to be both showy and subtle, and he's the main reason to watch Slow Horses, but far from the only reason. The series mixes humor and pathos with real intrigue and thrills, and showrunner Will Smith (no not that one) brings a similar hangdog charm -- and inventive use of profanity -- to the dialogue as he did to The Thick of It and Veep. You'll even grow to love Mick Jagger's series theme song. (Well, I did.) The series surprised viewers at the end of Season 1 by letting us know that S2 was already in the can, and that dropped late in 2022. Season 3 can't get here soon enough.
Pachinko (Apple TV+)
The don't really make shows like this anymore, a sweeping epic that spans continents and decades. Then again, they didn't make them like this in the '70s and '80s, either, when Special Event Miniseries were yearly appointment viewing. Based on the bestselling 2017 novel by Min Jin Lee, Pachinko follows a Korean immigrant family across four generations as they leave Busan in the early 20th century for Osaka, Japan's Korean Quarter, and eventually the West. Along the way they face Colonial rule, discrimination, poverty and many other hardships. The series has it all: romance, intrigue, secrets, lies, betrayal, amazing looking food, stunning sets, you name it. Pachinko is also full of incredible, moving performances including Jeon Yu-na, Kim Min-ha, and Minari's Youn Yuh-Jung, who all play main character Sunja at various points in her life. There's also sumptuous cinematography, Nico Muhly's excellent score, and the best choreographed opening title sequence of the year (sorry, Peacemaker). The bittersweet finale left lots of possibilities for Season 2, too.
Severance (Apple TV+)
The most original scripted series of 2022, Severance stars Adam Scott (Parks & Recreation, Party Down) as a sad sack office drone who works for a mysterious megalithic corporation, Lumon Industries, deep within the bowels of its headquarters on the "Severed" floor of the building. What that means is best left as a surprise, and if you haven't been spoiled already and can stand going into a series totally blind you should do so. That said, Severance is darkly comic, with a sad atmosphere, elements of sci-fi, and owes more than a little to the surreal works of Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich). The entire cast -- which includes Britt Lower, John Turturro, Patricia Arquette and Christopher Walken -- is fantastic, as is the production and sound design, not the mentions the very stylish direction by Ben Stiller and Aoife McArdle. Severance is a series that keeps on surprising right through the heart-racing finale. While you wait for the second season, Severance makes for a fascinating rewatch that shows how well the series laid out a breadcrumb trail.
Somebody Somewhere (HBO Max)
After supporting roles on The Amy Schumer Show, Unbelievable, and Camping, Bridget Everett now is starring in her own HBO series, Somebody Somewhere. Created by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen, who wrote for HBO's High Maintenance, the series follows Sam (Everett), who moves back to her Kansas hometown to take care of her dying sister, and now finds herself approaching 50 and adrift. Having once had aspirations to be a singer, Sam is befriended by a former high school classmate (Jeff Hiller) who invites her to "choir practice," a cabaret night social for the LGBTQ community and fringe dwellers of the town. It's there she finds a home as she tries to sort out her next step. Everett is actually from same hometown where the show is set, and the show leans into her cabaret background and has cast some of her contemporaries and collaborators, like drag performer Murray Hill, who has a significant supporting role in the series. More of a character-based hang that straddles the line between comedy and drama than a plot-driven series, Somebody Somewhere is surprisingly low key for Everett, whose shows with her band The Tender Moments are anything but. Even if you were already a fan, you'll have more of an appreciation for Everett after watching this wonderfully nuanced series.
Julia (HBO Max)
Julia Child was a larger than life presence even without taking into consideration her 6'2" frame; a personality who helped teach America to cook via her PBS series The French Chef and whose mannerisms have been imitated countless times since her cooking series debuted in 1962. Making a biopic series about Child that doesn't dip into parody or broad impressions is as difficult a high wire act as baking a cheese souffle, but HBO series Julia pulled it off in its first season thanks almost entirely to Sarah Lancashire's wonderful starring performance. Along with series creator Daniel Goldfarb (Marvelous Mrs Maisel), Lancashire makes Child more than just a caricature with a funny voice, and you empathise with her almost immediately. (Joan Cusack was originally cast as Child and might have been good, but not as good as this.) The series follows Child, then a Boston cookbook author, as she pitches the idea of an educational cooking show to her local Public Television station. Despite facing opposition from the station's male management, not to mention her husband (David Hyde Pierce), Child soldiers on and the show becomes an overnight success that ended up helping keep PBS afloat in the years before Sesame Street, Mr Rogers' Neighborhood and Masterpiece Theatre. The cast, which includes Bebe Neuwirth, Brittany Bradford, and Isabella Rossellini, is uniformly terrific and the show will leave you hungry for more as well as just hungry.
This is Going to Hurt (AMC +)
Based on Adam Kay's memoir of the same name, This is Going to Hurt stars Ben Whishaw (The Lobster, the voice of Paddington) as a junior obstetrics and gynecology doctor trying to work his way up the ranks in the National Health Service. As he deals with the inadequacies and stress of the NHS, he struggles to maintain some semblance of a personal life. The series' most striking stylistic conceit is that characters often break the fourth wall to give monologues and backstory, and this is where most of its often morbid sense of humor is found. On that note, it should be no surprise that a series set in a hospital that's titled This is Going to Hurt is brutal at times, including a number of emergency birth procedures. Some are funny, others heartbreaking, but humanity is always at their core.
Note: The score for the series was written and performed by Jarvis Cocker's band, JARV IS, and being set in 2006 means the soundtrack is full of indie music from the era, including Florence + The Machine, The Libertines, Radiohead, The Rapture, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Hot Chip and more.
The Patient (FX on Hulu)
It's hard to talk about The Patient without spoiling things at least a little, so be warned, but the main hook of the series is laid out in its first couple minutes (and in its commercials): Steve Carell plays psychiatrist Alan Straus, whose new patient, Sam Fortner (Domhnall Gleeson), is definitely a Kenny Chesney fan and probably a serial killer. Sam kidnaps Alan and chains him up in his basement so their therapy sessions can happen as frequently as Sam would like. (Again, this happens in the first five minutes.) The Patient was created by Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg, the duo that gave us The Americans, and they ratchet up the tension across its 10 episodes, which all clock in around a half hour each. Their brevity almost feels like being a patient -- what, time is up already? -- but the series might be unbearable if episodes were an hour. Carell and Gleeson are in almost every scene together and The Patient wouldn't work if they weren't both exceptional in their roles: Alan is portrayed as deeply empathetic even while his personal relationships are strained, especially with his brother who converted to Orthodox Judaism, while Sam is someone who wants to change but struggles to control his urges. The limited series is leavened slightly by some dark humor -- Sam is a restaurant health inspector and serious foodie -- which is needed as it heads towards its inevitable, satisfying conclusion.
Peacemaker (HBO Max)
A spinoff of The Suicide Squad, HBO Max series Peacemaker was created, written and mostly directed by James Gunn, who made 2021's The Suicide Squad, both Guardians of the Galaxy movies and is now in charge of the DC cinematic universe. Former WWE wrestler and rapper John Cena reprises his Suicide Squad role as a the titular homicidal superhero, whose motto is "I cherish peace with all of my heart. I don't care how many men, women and children I kill to get it." You might think that Amazon's The Boys' had the whole "fucked up, violent, black comedy superhero series" thing covered, but Gunn brings his own distinct flavor to Peacemaker which has some of the most laugh-out-loud moments of any show in 2022. One of the first things you notice about the show, apart from its over-the-top violence and very irreverent, profane sense of humor, is the soundtrack, which is entirely made up of glammy, sleazy, poppy hair metal, including both OG '80s bands and more recent varieties which tend to hail from Scandinavia. The show's amazing opening credits sequence involves the entire cast, not to mention Peacemaker's pet eagle, Eagly, in a elaborately choreographed dance number set to "Do You Wanna Taste It," the 2010 single by Norwegian band and Eurovision Song Contest entrants Wig Wam. You might never hit "Skip Intro" while watching.
The Rehearsal (HBO Max)
Easily the most divisive show of 2022, The Rehearsal probably tested the mettle of even the biggest fans of Nathan Fielder's previous show, Nathan for You. Like that one, Fielder comes up with a simple premise: "Fielder allows ordinary people to prepare for life’s biggest moments by 'rehearsing' them in carefully crafted simulations of his own design." Example: the first episode has Fielder helping a man admit to one of his trivia quiz night teammates that he had lied about having a masters degree. This involves building an exact replica of the Brooklyn bar that hosts the trivia night and dozens of actors to fill it. Cringey moments come fast and quick and, like Nathan for You, things soon spiral out of control, becoming less about helping others and more about Fielder himself as the show... you'll just have to watch. Or don't. This is much more of a love-it-or-hate-it series, and even those who like The Rehearsal may ask at some point while watching: "where's the line between funny and cruel?," "Is any of this real at all?," "how much did this show cost to make?," and "where will it possibly go in Season 2?" Taking things way beyond meta territory, there are jaw dropping moments, hilarious moments, and scenes that will make you want leave the room, but you've never seen anything quite like The Rehearsal before, and it's worth finishing even if only to tell someone like me why it's terrible and how much you hate it.
Our Flag Means Death (HBO Max)
Believe it or don't, this very silly series is based -- very loosely -- on real life person Stede Bonnet, an 18th century English aristocrat who abandoned his life of privilege for life on the sea a pirate. Rhys Darby (Flight of the Conchords) plays Bonnet, who captains the ship Revenge and its crew of ner-do-wells and other miscreants, most of whom regret coming aboard with this person who doesn't know what he's in for. Our Flag Means Death is part fish-out-of-water tale, part workplace farce, and part romcom as Bonnet learns that pirating is not a glamorous a life as he'd thought, and that the real treasure is the friends you make along the way. Things get complicated when Bonnet meets famed pirate Blackbeard (Taika Waititi, who also directed the pilot), and their relationship is one of the series' best and most talked-about plot developments. Given Darby and Waititi's involvement (and it being HBO Max), there's a lot of comedic talent here, including Leslie Jones, Fred Armisen, Kristen Schaal, Nick Kroll, Tim Heidecker, Will Arnett, Kristen Johnston, Ewen Bremner (Spud in Trainspotting), Rory Kinnear, and Kristian "Hodor" Nairn. Season 1 also includes one of the best needle drops of 2022, a ship raid shot in slow motion and set to Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain." If you're a fan of What We Do in the Shadows and the sadly canceled Los Espookys and haven't seen Our Flag Means Death yet, climb aboard.
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