Top 10 TV of 2022 w/ Honorable Mentions

Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a year where the movies were so spectacularly bested by television. To give you an idea, the quality of TV in my honorable mentions are roughly the same quality as the movies in the middle of my Top 10 Films list. It’s a cliche to say, but television keeps getting better, almost like it’s realized that it doesn’t have to continue to live in cinema’s shadow, managing to create thoroughly complex worlds and characters a typical film runtime renders impossible.

I watched as much as I could this past year, around forty or fifty series or so which is probably only 2% of everything that’s out there. It was a competitive year and some shows I really really loved just didn’t make the list. You can also check out my Top 25 Best TV Performances list, right here.

So here we go!

Honorable Mentions

Heartstopper (Season 1)

A Young Adult (YA) coming-of-age romance drama is absolutely not my thing but the acclaim for the UK’s Heartstopper was just too deafening to ignore. Blowing through all eight 25-minute episodes in just a day in a half, I found myself for more invested in these characters than I ever thought I would be. This usually means a series has to go bleak, but Heartstopper manages the impossible by being thoroughly optimistic even in its sadder moments without every feeling maudlin or put-on. It even has a small supporting mom performance by Olivia Colman so you know it’s quality! (Netflix)

Interview with the Vampire (Season 1)

Jacob Anderson as Louis De Point Du Lac and Sam Reid as Lestat De Lioncourt – Interview with the Vampire _ Season 1, Episode 4 – Photo Credit: Alfonso Bresciani/AMC

For those decrying the 1994 Brad Pitt/Tom Cruise adaptation of Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire as “not gay enough”, here’s the show for you! Tweaking the main character of Louis to be a young, successful gay man of color (Jacob Anderson – Grey Worm from Game of Thrones) in turn of the 20th century New Orleans is a smart move because it gives the character and the show overall more stakes. Switching back and forth between this timeline and 2020 Dubai, Louis re-tells his life story to his old journalist friend (formerly Christian Slater, now a reliably acidic Eric Bogosian) of meeting and falling in love with an evil big daddy vampire, Lestat (Australian actor Sam Reid, improving on Cruise‘s portrayal in every way) and trying to raise a vampire child with him, played by Avatar: The Way of Water‘s Bailey Bass giving a performance pretty on-par with Kirsten Dunst‘s fantastic work in the film adaptation. This show is graphically violent, extremely sexual and anything but subtle, but when it comes to a gothic romance about an aristocratic gay vampire couple, would you want something quaint? (AMC+)

Search Party (Season 5)

Search Party, season 5

Christ, it feels like a century ago that Search Party ended its five season run with a Dory- becomes-a-cult-leader storyline. Funnier than the exceptionally dark previous season, but not nearly as seamless as the first three, Season 5 of Search Party was a fascinating but ultimately a bit of a disappointing way to end one of the better comedy series of the 21st century. The core four cast continued to impress with the incomparable John Early stealing scenes as Dr. Carpet, and Jeff Goldbum‘s supporting turn as a cross between Elon Musk and Jeff Goldblum was as fun as you’d expect. However, this season took some major swings that sometimes paid off in full but other times (the zombies) really confused what the show was trying to say the past four seasons. (HBOMax)

Somebody Somewhere (Season 1)

The little show of 2022 that could, Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen‘s Somebody Somewhere was the kind of bracingly funny and genuinely human grounded comedy that doesn’t really seem to get produced much anymore. Calling to mind similar small HBO comedies like Mike White‘s brilliant Enlightened or The Brothers Duplass‘ seriously underrated Togetherness, it follows a wholly relatable and flawed protagonist (Bridgett Everett in a true career-maker performance) returning to her hometown in the middle of nowhere following her sister’s death. Taking a bullshit telemarketing job, she finds a community of lovable nerds of folks she vaguely knew from high school and attempts to mend fences with her estranged family members. All the humor is situational and it manages to hit its dramatic notes pretty flawlessly. It feels like an Alexander Payne movie but as a TV show. (HBOMax)

We Own This City

Photograph by Paul Schiraldi/HBO Rob Brown, Ham Mukasa, Robert Harley, Jon Bernthal HBO WARNERMEDIA HBO & HBO Max | TCA | Winter 2022 We Own This City

Once you accept the fact David Simon‘s Baltimore-set corrupt po-po miniseries isn’t The Wire and isn’t even attempting to reach those ambitious heights, you’ll enjoy it a lot more. Based on a shocking true story of Baltimore’s gun task force, responsible for taking guns off the street but in actuality just opening up shop for themselves, is a riveting watch from start to finish filled with excellent performances (like Jon Berenthal and Josh Charles as dirty cops, and Wunmi Mosaku as a civil rights attorney) and exceptional writing. It’s also only six one-hour episodes, which in an era of overwrought and long-winded prestige TV is an absolute mitzvah from Simon. (HBOMax)

10. Atlanta (Seasons 3 & 4)

Donald and Stephen Glover gave us not one but two 10-episode seasons of the acclaimed FX drama, Atlanta, this year. A great gift after a four year long hiatus. The third season focused more on telling isolated and surreal parabolic stories, most of the time without the four core cast members and the fourth season focused on pretty much the opposite. While the third season was truly invigorating on an episode to episode basis (Three Slaps, The Big Payback, New Jazz, to name a few), the fourth season’s dive into the core four psyches failed to capture the magic of the first two seasons of the show, ending in a series finale that was one of the weakest of recent memory. However the final season did feature two GOAT episodes in The Goof Who Sat By the Door and Andrew Wyeth. Alfred’s World, one a standalone mockumentary about the blackest movie of all time, A Goofy Movie, and the other an uncomfortable sorta remake of The Grey with Alfred facing off against a wild hog, maybe Brian Tyree Henry‘s best acting showcase in the history of the show. It may not have ended with a bang but it’s more than secured its place in television history as one of the most poignant critiques of American culture. (Hulu)

9. Pachinko (Season 1)

Insanely ambitious and complex but only occasionally confusing drama that spans sixty years in three languages – English, Korean and Japanese. Pachinko‘s first timeline takes place in 1989, where a young businessman (Jin Ha) living in New York travels back home to Japan to see his Korean grandmother (Minari‘s Youn You-Jung) and convince an old Korean lady to sell her home so his company can develop a resort on it. The second storyline follows the grandmother as a young adult (series MVP Kim Min-ha) in 1920s Japanese controlled Korea, getting impregnated by a Japanese gangster (a brilliant Lee Min-ho) she’s sorta dating and getting forced into an arranged marriage to a overly nice Protestant preacher (Steve Sanghyun) to protect her family’s honor or whatever. Uprooted from her home and family, she’s forced to adapt to her new circumstances with a guy she barely knows. Gorgeously directed by Justin Chon and After Yang‘s Kogonada and featuring some beautifully nuanced performances, Pachinko was one of the year’s most truly unique shows. (AppleTV+)

8. Severance (Season 1)

Following Ted Lasso and The Morning Show as one of AppleTV+‘s biggest commercial successes, the caustically funny and poignant corporate culture satire, Severance, is about a Google type company that surgically splits employees brains so their work life and personal life are completely separate. The issue with this is, as the show thoroughly explores, is it creates an internal doppleganger that exists only to work – imagine if every time you left work, you woke up the next day at work. Guantanamo Bay doesn’t have shit on that. Featuring one of the strongest casts currently on television including John Turturro, Patricia Arquette, Christopher Walken, Britt Lower and Adam Scott who absolutely crushes a dramatic role and some really sharp writing that certainly rides the line between acidic humor and frightening psychological horror, Severance is like a beautiful onion that slowly and carefully reveals its layers episode by episode, before ending on a fantastic cliffhanger. I’m literally counting down the days for Season 2. (AppleTV+)

7. Hacks (Season 2)

Believe it or not, Hacks was not love at first site for me. I watched the first two episodes when they premiered on HBOMax back in mid 2021 and promptly gave up on it. As a writer and comedian myself, I generally hate projects about them because often they are too on-the-nose or worse, cloyingly self-important or pretentious. However, after all the praise from people whose opinions I whole heartedly respect, I gave the show another go and was surprised by how much I loved it. Season 1 was excellent, but Season 2 truly upped the ante with its exploration of an unlikely friendship/unhealthy co-dependency between an irrelevant old comedian (a never better Jean Smart) and a terminally awkward Twitter comedian (Hannah Einbinder). Laugh for laugh, this was one of the most consistently funny shows of the year featuring an exceptional supporting cast (Pete W. Downs, Christopher MacDonald, and an incredible Megan Stalter) as well as a revolving door of great guest spots – Jane Adams, Harriet Sansom Harris and of course, Laurie Metcalf as a bizarre tour manager who once knew Pete Wentz. As good as the supporting players are on this show, Hacks is at its best when it focuses on the relationship between the two leads – two people at very different life junctures that are far more similar than either is willing admit. (HBOMax)

6. Barry (Season 3)

Expectations were sky high for the return of the beloved HBO comedy(?)/deranged brain child of the endlessly versatile Bill Hader, and Barry delivered. Somehow managing to take the show in weirder and darker directions than ever before, I don’t even know if you can still call it a comedy. Writing, directing and acting with precise skill and total ease, Hader might just be the most talented dude working in television today, but the real standout this season was Sarah Goldberg as Sally whose steady decline and eventual breakdown was so nuanced every step of the way. Henry Winkler was great too, with an incredible turn in the season finale and the best line of the entire season – “Hey! I’m acting here!” Also, Anthony Carrigan was finally given his meatiest arc as NoHo Hank’s coming out part commenced and legendary character actor Stephen Root found new levels with Fuches. Seriously, one of the best casts of television complimented by some of the best writing, directing, etc. It speaks to how incredible television was this year that this is only #6 on the list. (HBOMax)

5. Reservation Dogs (Season 2)

RESERVATION DOGS “Satvrday’” Episode 8 (Airs, Monday, September 20) Pictured: (l-r) Paulina Alexis as Willie Jack, Lane Factor as Cheese, D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai as Bear, Devery Jacobs as Elora Danan. CR: Shane Brown/FX

Maybe not as technically flawless or poignant as Atlanta or Barry on their best days, but Reservation Dogs has a heart and unwavering sense of optimism those other shows don’t have (by design, of course) that allows the viewer to become completely invested in the characters – four Indigenous teenagers in rural Oklahoma dealing with day and day bullshit and trying to get out while they still can. The show is primarily a comedy but hits dramatic moments well, it’s most notably able to balance grounded realism and surreal interludes very well. Like Atlanta, episodes sometimes veer away from the main four kids but the world Sterlin Harjo has created is complex and detailed enough to get away with it. Season 2 improved on an already stellar Season 1, only towards the end in its final three episodes seeing a slight dip in quality. It did however have two absolutely perfect episodes (“Wide Net” and “Decolonativization”). (Hulu)

4. Joe Pera Talks With You (Season 3)

The little show that could, Joe Pera Talks With You managed to really crack the code of satirizing PBS how-to shows over three excellent seasons before getting cancelled. We’ve seen a couple of shows do this before like At Home with Amy Sedaris, but Joe Pera Talks With You certainly does it the best creating a charmingly befuddled host and an oddly lovable cast of supporting characters to teach you weird tasks and skills that always relate back to a deeper message/lesson. It’s kind of like Pee Wee’s Playhouse for adults but the zany host is a quiet dork. And most of the episodes are like 15 minutes long, so that’s a major plus! (HBOMax)

3. The Righteous Gemstones (Season 2)

Laugh for laugh, The Righteous Gemstones was the funniest show on television last year. Danny McBride and Jody Hill‘s new show is similar to their previous shows – Eastbound & Down and Vice Principals – but even better. They’ve figured out the best way to blend substantial drama, existentialism and intensely vulgar humor, complete with some of the most graphic site gags this side of a 90s Farrelly Brothers movie, into something that manages to seem both wildly immature and wise for its years all at the same time. Having one of the best ensembles on television also helps, led by the legendary John Goodman as the megachurch mogul patriarch dealing with his ungrateful and ambitious children (Danny McBride, Edi Patterson, Adam Devine), all trying to take over the family business. This season doubled down both on the drama and weirdness, with stellar guest turns by Eric Andre as a rival preacher and a hilariously brooding Eric Roberts as a ghost from Goodman‘s past, and revealed deeper layers to already well developed characters. The Righteous Gemstones is a rare show that is able to both pull on your heartstrings and make you vomit uncontrollably. (HBOMax)

2. Better Call Saul (Season 6)

Is Better Call Saul better than Breaking Bad? No. Breaking Bad was groundbreaking in a way Better Call Saul could never be, had a tougher juggling act with its protagonist and gifted us quite possibly the greatest cliffhangers in the history of television. That being said, Better Call Saul was still one of the best television dramas of the 21st century and a spin-off show right up there with Frasier. It succeeded because it never tried to be Breaking Bad, because it was wise enough to know it couldn’t. It simply took a character from that show and gave us something completely different – a courtroom drama with a creatively manipulative pair of leads (Bob Odenkirk, Rhea Seehorn). While Breaking Bad faltered somewhat during it’s finale and final season in general, Better Call Saul delivered one of the best series finales I’ve ever seen — perfectly wrapping things up for a character we’ve watched for the past twelve years. It managed to keep a consistent quality over six seasons and sixty-three episodes, and it always managed to surprise you. How many shows can claim that? (AMC+)

1. The Rehearsal (Season 1)

The wildest thing I’ve seen on television since a documentary filmmaker unintentionally hot-mic captured Robert Durst‘s murder confession while he was peeing, The Rehearsal is alt-comedian (is this a term?) Nathan Fielder‘s follow-up series to Nathan For You. On that show, Nathan “helped” struggling businesses regain market viability with a series of outrageously complicated and hilariously executed business development stunts. The creativity on display in Nathan For You was absolutely undeniable, and while it pushed cringe comedy and professional ethics to the absolute limits, nothing could prepare us for the savage mind-fuckery of The Rehearsal.

Working with an actual budget, cause it’s HBO, Nathan gives real-life people a chance to rehearse for the biggest and most difficult moments in their life by hiring local actors to portray their friends and background extras, building to-scale representations of whatever location the event is taking place in and running the real-life person through dozens of hours worth of rehearsals. From helping a bar trivia maestro confess to his trivia team that he lied about obtaining a Master’s degree to helping a born-again, single Christian woman realize her dream of raising a child from age 0 to 18, Nathan‘s set-ups and methods are elaborate, shocking and maybe the funniest television I’ve ever seen in my life. Added to that are real, genuine moments of observation and in Nathan‘s case, unflattering self-reflection, while the series begins to collapse into itself and blur the lines between what’s real life and what’s the show.

In only six episodes, Nathan takes us on a wholly unpredictable journey, that while it is certainly not for everyone or even most people, will absolutely floor those who can handle it. I don’t even know if I can handle it, most people can’t handle it, everyone I know who watches and loves this show says that they can’t even handle it. They post on Facebook in ways they can’t even handle it. However you attempt to handle it, TV has never seen anything like this and I think it might prove to be one of the most significant milestones in modern television. And he’s getting a Season 2. Holy shit. (HBOMax)

TOP 5 INDIVIDUAL EPISODES

  1. The Rehearsal – Season 1/Episode 4 “The Fielder Method” – written by Nathan Fielder, Carrie Kemper and Eric Notarnicola; directed by Nathan Fielder
  2. Better Call Saul – Season 6A/Episode 3 “Rock and a Hard Place” – written and directed by Gordon Smith
  3. Atlanta – Season 4/Episode 8 “The Goof Who Sat by the Door” – written by Francesca Sloane and Karen Joseph Adcock; directed by Donald Glover
  4. Better Call Saul – Season 6B/Episode 6 “Saul Gone” – written and directed by Peter Gould
  5. Reservation Dogs – Season 2/Episode “Wide Net” – written and directed by Tazbah Chavez

OTHER TOP 10s

Top 10 TV of 2021

Top 10 TV of 2020

Filmmaker’s Top 10: John Carpenter

Top 10 New Year’s Eve Movies

Top 10 Thanksgiving Movies

Top 10 A24 Films

Top 10 Worst A24 Films

Top 10 Films of 2021 w/ Honorable Mentions

Top 10 Worst Films of 2021

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