The 25 Best TV Series of 2022


Are we still in the era of Peak TV? Critics pointed to the prime of shows like “The Sopranos,” “Breaking Bad,” “The Wire,” and “Mad Men” as the apotheosis of the form, and we’re pretty clearly not in that kind of a creative boom, but you know what? We also pretty clearly haven’t fallen too far from the top of the mountain. A lot of art forms counter creative bursts with deep valleys of the opposite, but just the diversity and breadth of the list below reveals that hasn’t happened. It feels like the explosion of the streamers over the last couple of years created something of a creative holding pattern, but the greats are still delivering as we also get introduced to new voices. What’s so refreshing about the 25 shows chosen as the best by the most common television critics on this site—Brian Tallerico, Clint Worthington, Nick Allen, Robert Daniels, Cristina Escobar, and Nandini Balial—is the incredible array of tone and creative approach. It’s the cheesiest phrase in marketing, but there really is something for everyone on this list, complete with links to watch them directly from this feature. We apologize for what this is about to do to your free time. But it’s worth it.

“Abbott Elementary” (ABC)

In a time where the network sitcom seems in grave danger, along comes Quinta Brunson to drag it back to mainstream respectability. “Abbott Elementary” was one of the quiet surprises of 2021, a heartfelt but riotous glimpse at the highs and lows of the world’s most honorable profession: shaping the minds of young children. Like “Superstore” before it, it hones in on an ensemble of workaday folks just trying to do their best to fight against the institutional ballast that weighs them down—in this case, the Sisyphean struggles of a public educator. But Brunson’s magic comes from mining genuine laughs from such dire circumstances, the setting as honest about its subject matter as it can be without turning it into a stone-cold bummer. 

Season Two doubled down on the first’s deceptive charm, teasing its core cast of capable performers (especially Jesse Tyler Williams and now-Emmy winner Sheryl Lee Ralph, long may she reign) while testing the limits of Janine’s (Brunson) doe-eyed optimism about her line of work. And Janine and Gregory’s will-they-won’t-they remains an endless source of intrigue. It’s a delightful sitcom, one that lifts your spirits without making your teeth ache. – Clint Worthington

“Andor” (Disney+)

As “Star Wars” spinoff material goes, a prequel series about the third lead from “Rogue One” is probably about the last one on your list. But in a year where Ewan McGregor returned as Obi-Wan and gave us virtually nothing, the crown jewel of Disney+’s TV output comes from “Andor,” arguably the moment where “Star Wars” finally grew up. 

Tony Gilroy builds off the patchwork salvaging he did of “Rogue One” ‘s script and direction during reshoots, with the first of two planned seasons, not just about Diego Luna’s resolute freedom fighter but about the origins of the Rebellion itself. In prior installments, the titular Star War felt like a mythic tale of good and evil. But in Gilroy’s hands, it’s about evils of a burgeoning Empire in all their bureaucratic tyranny, a regime as much about propaganda and disruption as much as Sith Lords and stormtroopers. 

And in so doing, we see the first stirrings of rebellion and the cost it pays in the lives of those who died and the souls of those who didn’t. “I’ve made my mind a sunless space,” Stellan Skarsgård’s amoral Rebel fixer opines late in the series. Some of the smartest writing ever committed to the tales of a galaxy far, far away. – CW

“Atlanta” (FX)

After making viewers wait four years for a new season of “Atlanta,” creator and star Donald Glover delivered two seasons, the final installments in his culturally groundbreaking show, to satiate fans before bidding adieu. As opposed to the first two runs of the show, however, the four friends—Earn (Glover), Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry), Darius (LaKeith Stanfield), and Van (Zazie Beetz)—aren’t the outsiders trying to break into the white-dominated, brutally capitalistic realm of the music industry. Instead, like the actors who play them, now stars, they are firmly centered within the establishment.

When it returned this year, “Atlanta” shifted boundaries as a tonally adventurous, racially satirical offering, representing the forefront of television. It became just one of many television productions—the aforementioned “Ramy” and “Insecure”—working in the same surreal, identity-stretching, lampoonish sandbox.

“Atlanta” found new ways to confound; it discovered other facets to unearth from these familiar characters. Episodes like “New Jazz,” “The Good Who Sat By the Door,” and the series finale, “It Was All a Dream,” are among the show’s best stories—they demonstrate the wit and interest in community and idiosyncratic people that has made “Atlanta” a game-changer. – Robert Daniels  

Barry” (HBO)

It took three years for Alec Berg and Bill Hader to bring their Emmy-winning hit back to HBO, and it was worth the wait. The story of a hitman who ends up enchanted by the world of acting has become one of the smartest and richest shows of its era, transcending its simple concept to reveal how much we’re all trying to find ourselves. That was the story of the third season, a year about Barry (Hader) staying one step ahead of both his enemies and his angry self, while Sally (Sarah Goldberg) discovered how little the Hollywood system cared about who she truly was. Even the supporters like Gene (Henry Winkler), Monroe (Stephen Root), and NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan) felt like they were on journeys of self-discovery, deciding what’s important to them in the context of a city and industry where so little is important at all.

While this was arguably the most thematically rich season of “Barry,” it also was its most technically accomplished, particularly in how it revealed the deep directorial skill set of its co-creator and star. After helming the stunning “ronny/lily” in Season Two, he returned for multiple episodes in Season Three, including the amazing “710N,” which featured a bike chase sequence that felt inspired by the early work of the Coen brothers.

The good news? We won’t have to wait nearly as long for Season Four, which has already started filming. The even-better news? Bill Hader is directing every episode. – Brian Tallerico

The Bear” (FX)

It seems fair to say that “Yes, Chef!” became one of the year’s biggest TV catchphrases, and that’s thanks to the immersive nature and authenticity of FX’s “The Bear.” The high-stakes series from creator Christopher Storer, which follows an Italian beef sandwich shop in Chicago’s River North used those two words often for its dialogue when showing and honoring the process of a busy kitchen. And according to those who have worked in such places, including our reviewer Shelli Nicole, the show is “impeccably done” when it comes to the real details. But the drama that “The Bear” achieved episode by episode is universal, that of a dysfunctional family working together in long hours of the day, juggling the latest mishaps (whether it involves the food supply, the power going out, or having to cater a kid’s party out in the ‘burbs). 

All of this rests on the bruised shoulders of Jeremy Allen White’s Carmy, a worn-down kitchen Sisyphus who used to work at a high-art restaurant in a past life and is now just trying to keep everything from burning down. His caustic cousin Richie (Eben Moss-Bachrach) is only so much help when he’s not being a jerk. And a fascinating newcomer named Sidney (Ayo Edebiri) helps provide some new guidance but also risks inheriting the more toxic parts of this culture in her ascendance to authority. “The Bear” gave viewers minor wins and big losses with each compelling episode, thanks to a raw intensity not felt since the Safdie brothers made “Uncut Gems.” – Nick Allen

“Better Call Saul” (AMC)

Vince Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad” spinoff, which aired its final episode this past summer, is that rare thing in a televised scripted series: a pure character study. This is the story of one man, Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk in a career-best performance), and how class warfare, a lengthy series of unfortunate events, including an abusive relationship with his brother Chuck (Michael McKean, terrific), plus an undeniable talent for trickery, pushed him to become Saul Goodman, crook lawyer extraordinaire. 

The caliber of the cast who brought this story to life was unmatched on TV this year: Patrick Fabian as the slimy but sympathetic Howard Hamlin; the astounding Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler, Jimmy’s girlfriend, spouse, partner-in-crime, and eventually, ex-wife; Jonathan Banks as tough-as-nails ex-cop Mike Ehrmantraut, whose surprisingly soft heart pairs well with his unshakeable moral compass; Giancarlo Esposito as Gus Fring, Los Pollos Hermanos franchise owner, future industrial scale meth impresario, and the scariest person on TV; Michael Mando as Nacho, a fierce, honorable cartel lackey who sacrifices all for his family; Tony Dalton as the distressingly cheerful cartel enforcer Lalo Salamanca. All of them are perfectly rendered.

The series’ cinematography was gorgeous, often dabbling in black-and-white photography in a way that made the show feel like nothing else on TV. The writing on “Better Call Saul” consistently transcended the bounds of scripted series, pushing the limits of format, pacing, and payoff. The show’s use of music rivaled the soundtrack finesse of “Mad Men.” It’s a crime that “Better Call Saul” has gone unrecognized at the Emmys, overshadowed by flashier series, but that doesn’t detract from its achievement: the near-flawless creation of a world and characters that make you laugh, make you cry, and make you chant, “BETTER! CALL! SAUL!” – Nandini Balial

Euphoria” (HBO)

Sam Levinson had a tough act to follow after the Emmy-winning first season of his HBO hit, but he succeeded by stretching his storytelling in unexpected ways, shifting focus away from some of the major players of season one in ways that reinvigorated the program. While Zendaya’s Rue is still the star of this teenage nightmare, it was fascinating to see Lexi (Maude Apatow) and Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) given more room to shine—both actresses did career-best work in this season of the show.

It was frustrating that Barbie Ferreira’s Kat was basically pushed aside entirely and that the great Hunter Schafer was given less to work with than in season one. But “Euphoria” this year felt more anarchic; it bounced these troubled souls off each other and sent them spinning in new directions. It was also Levinson’s most technically accomplished endeavor to date, especially the excellent Rue-centered episode “Stand Still Like a Hummingbird” and the climactic “The Theater and Its Double.”

The second season of “Euphoria” was even more self-aware of the buttons it was pushing to get attention, but the approach worked because Levinson trusts his cast to deliver on his unapologetic style. Say what you will about “Euphoria”—it’s not like anything else on TV. At least until Rue returns. – BT

“Evil” (Paramount+)

As the final season of “The Good Fight” unfolded on Paramount+ this year, maybe now the Kings (partners Robert and Michelle) can focus all of their energy on this increasingly masterful unpacking of the modern meaning of good and evil. The closest that any show on TV right now is to “The X-Files,” “Evil” is the tale of a skeptic and a believer and perfectly balances episode-contained stories with the series-long development of its characters. Katja Herbers and Mike Colter center every episode, but this is one of those wonderful shows wherein everyone can sense that the entire ensemble is on the same page, including Aasif Mandvi, Kurt Fuller, Christine Lahti, Michael Emerson, Andrea Martin, and every guest star.

The third season of “Evil” got even richer as it peppered this year’s scripts with new variations on its theme. What kind of evil can be found in social media? Online multiplayer games? Doomscrolling? And how does evil manifest in everyday interactions impacted by gender roles? As Kristen battled with whether or not the actions that she has taken to protect her family make her evil, she also realized the role fear plays in the lives of her daughters.

It’s wonderful how “Evil” is unpredictable with its plotting in every single episode. Where most shows would go right, this show goes left, and somehow makes you feel silly for thinking you had any idea where it was going in the first place. After all, evil is never predictable. – BT

Fleishman is in Trouble” (FX)

There were a lot of strong mini-series in 2022 but the best might be this adaptation of Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s bestselling novel of the same name. Jesse Eisenberg leans into his type as Toby Fleishman, a recently divorced doctor looking forward to taking New York by storm as a single dad when his ex-wife Rachel (Claire Danes) disappears. Figuring out where she’s gone requires Toby to examine how they got here in the first place and pushes him back into contact with old friends Seth (Adam Brody) and Libby (Lizzy Caplan). “Fleishman is in Trouble” beautifully captures the ripple effect of major decisions as Rachel ends up impacting not just Toby, but Libby too.

The writing here is razor-sharp but it’s the ensemble that elevates the entire production, including Eisenberg’s best work in years, proof that Danes can continue to shine in a post- “Homeland” world, and arguably the best performance in anything this year from Caplan. They all get exactly what the source was going for here, pulling back the layers on the kind of man who always paints himself as the victim without considering what that does to everyone around him. – BT

“Irma Vep” (HBO)

Someone, please tell HBO to give Olivier Assayas and Alicia Vikander more money to make another TV series together. Their HBO series “Irma Vep” shared a title and subject matter with the director’s seminal 1996 film—which was an examination of remaking Louis Feuillade’s classic silent film “Les Vampires”—and the series was playfully littered with meta references to the making of the original film, clips of Assayas’s own film, and dramatizations of Feuillade’s collaboration with Musidora, who played criminal mastermind and French male fantasy Irma Vep. It is genuinely extraordinary that a director can reach into his own past, and his own film, and craft a new, engaging set of stories about the same subject. 

Vikander did some of the best work of her career as Mira Harberg, a Swedish actress popular in Hollywood superhero films, who has taken the role of Irma Vep to escape the explosive end of an unhappy relationship. Everything about “Irma Vep” was exquisite, including and especially Jürgen Doering’s costume design. Mira became unmissable and fearless when in Irma Vep’s infamous black velvet catsuit, form-fitting but flexible enough for some trippy stunts. 

At every turn, Vikander beguiled the audience. It was an absolute pleasure to watch a slightly anxious and self-deprecating Mira become more confident, dance with abandon, serve as the mentally fraught director’s replacement muse, and eventually fly away to a new, non-superhero film-filled future. Assayas isn’t just interested in reexamining his own work and motivations. Also on the menu were debates about the value of film in a digital device-driven world; the boundaries and ramifications of consent on and offscreen; and what film means to the people who make it and the people who watch it. “Irma Vep” is a feast for the senses, and I only hope that Assayas will treat us to a similar meal again soon. – NB

The Last Movie Stars” (HBO)

Like many, I’ve tried to grapple with the dearth of movie stars plaguing the current cinematic climate. It’s worrying how few great actors have the incandescent charm to match their good looks and soaring talent (though, I’d argue that some don’t even have the talent). Worst yet, it’s perplexing to see a system unable to nurture the kind of security needed for star personas to emerge. Director Ethan Hawke’s six-part HBO docuseries “The Last Movie Stars” didn’t necessarily take aim at the inadequacies of contemporary Hollywood to produce motion picture idols. But it did remind you of their scarcity.

Taking a cue from the interview manuscripts of an abandoned Paul Newman memoir, Hawke brought on friends and colleagues by way of Zoom to read the words of Newman and his wife actress Joanne Woodard and the people who knew them best, to parse through the 50 years of unity that defined tinsel town’s golden couple. Avoiding hagiography, Hawke crafted a warts-and-all vision that illuminates the insecurities, foibles, and heartaches felt by each party in a marriage that was less than a fairytale and more like a stubborn devotion to the necessary pain behind love and art. 

Hawke’s clear passion wasn’t the only thing on display in these Zoom meetings. His intellectual and emotional curiosity, as he actively considers the throughline of his documentary and how their story relates to his personal history, made “The Last Movie Stars” a fascinating metatextual exploration of both the subject and their director. – RD

A League of Their Own” (Prime Video)

Abbi Jacobson and Will Graham’s “A League of Their Own” got a lot of pushback for being “woke,” as if politicizing the 1940s All-American Girls Professional Baseball League wasn’t also at the heart of the 1992 film.

The thing is this 2022 version does it better. It got past acknowledging that Black women exist to explore their lives and interiority. The most compelling friendship across a series full of them was between pitcher Maxine (Chanté Adams) and her best friend Clance (Gbemisola Ikumelo) as they deal with segregation, the wartime job market, and truly stepping into their adult lives. This “A League of Their Own” further complicated the picture with Latina characters who exist in the middle of the racial hierarchy, granted some rights and denied others. Here, Roberta Colindrez shines as the team’s pitcher who both tries to please management and forge her own way.

And the show got sexuality right, showing queerness across identities, presentations, and experience levels. It’s a beautiful, compelling portrait, one that proves the need for this update. Jacobson and Graham’s “A League of Their Own” improved upon its beloved source material and made great entertainment out of showing more of the whole truth behind women’s baseball. – Cristina Escobar

Let the Right One In” (Showtime)

Vampires made a comeback in 2022 and Showtime’s “Let the Right One In” proves there’s still plenty of fertile ground to cover here. Yes, it was a remake of the Swedish 2008 film but the ten-part series makes the story its own. For one, the central father-daughter pair here was Latino, drawing upon a rich tradition of Catholicism, food, and family that added an extra layer to Mark’s (Demián Bichir) sacrifices to protect his daughter Eleanor (Madison Taylor Baez). Eleanor was also a different type of vampire than we’re used to seeing—one whose innocence is still intact, which allowed the show to explore just how valuable an unblemished soul really is. “Let the Right One In” then layered in another young vampire and his family, showing how class, race, and education change the material context even in dire circumstances.

With these changes, “Let the Right One In” asked viewers to question the value of life, the limitations of parenting, and standard moral judgments to name a few. It also worked by builting tension with compelling performances from its cast and the bloody conflicts they face. Thanks to its successful combination of edge-of-your-seat suspense with complex questions, “Let the Right One In” was one of the best shows of the year. – CE

Mind Over Murder” (HBO)

In a year when Ryan Murphy’s “Dahmer” caused some viewers to question the integrity and morality—and artistic right—to sift through tragedy for mass entertainment, award-winning documentary filmmaker Nanfu Wang took a different tact. Considering her previous hard-hitting work confronting rogue governments (“Hooligan Sparrow,” “One Child Nation,” and “In the Same Breath“), the realm of true crime might feel less than serious for a filmmaker of her caliber.

And yet, her six-part HBO docuseries “Mind Over Murder,” chronicling the 1985 rape and murder of Helen Wilson and the later conviction of the Beatrice Six, is told with uncommon grace and care for the current expectations of true crime. The series, set in the town of Beatrice, Nebraska, is deeply midwestern. And in interrogating the flawed investigation that led to the wrongful imprisonment of six people, the director utilizes her keen ability to extrapolate how wayward authoritative systems can railroad unsuspecting individuals. 

Wang doesn’t resort to tawdry tricks or baiting accusations. She instead centers smart investigative techniques and sturdy filmmaking while never losing the intensity that makes such tragic stories primed for consumption. “Mind Over Murder” is the newest peak reached by a filmmaker who somehow continues to find new heights. – RD  

“Mo” (Netflix)

You may know him from his career as a stand-up, or as the diner owner on “Ramy,” but Mo Amer’s self-titled Netflix show—yet another scripted series that defies the simple labels of drama and comedy—was a wholly unique enterprise. Set in Houston, the story guided us through the joys and ignominies of being an immigrant in America, something I found myself immediately familiar with. Indeed, much of “Mo” was pleasantly recognizable to any immigrant: a judgmental, perpetually worried mother (Farah Bsieso); family members who are by turns cruel and doting; and most importantly, physically and psychologically juggling one’s own culture (Mo always has on his person a bottle of homemade olive oil; can you imagine how good that must taste?) while also trying to fit in with a hegemonic culture. 

The writing in the first season of Netflix’s best show was loving and funny, dealing out jokes at a rapid-fire clip, gently satirizing America and immigrant communities, while also urging the audience to consider the impact that gun violence, poverty, and racism have on the most vulnerable members of society. It helped that Amer’s onscreen presence is immensely relatable: his frustration, his sorrow, and his hustle combined to create an arresting narrative. 

Teresa Ruiz was a stand-out as Mo’s Hispanic and Catholic girlfriend Maria, her own de-facto immigrant status as a new arrival in Mo’s close-knit Muslim family a source of conflict and humor. I’m especially appreciative of the series’ near-constant subtitles, for both Arabic and Spanish; normalizing them is one of the ways that pop culture can increase the reach of marginalized voices. “Mo” has already been renewed for a second season, and I’m hopeful that it will feature even richer explorations of Mo’s family and friends’ lives. In the meantime, I’ll be trying to make my own olive oil. – NB

“The Old Man” (FX)

In one of the year’s biggest surprises, Jeff Bridges took on the hallowed role of the older male vigilante in “The Old Man,” an FX series based on the book by Thomas Perry. But this form of the archetype was considerably more thoughtful than a “Taken” movie, or less driven by pure star power as with Tom Cruise’s two “Jack Reacher” projects. 

Across its episodes, which often featured bone-crunching action that featured Bridges in shots for as long as possible, “The Old Man” carried on the themes of these previous stories about regret, the peacefulness of a secret past, and the relationships that one remains connected to even when a mission is long over. Bridges’ entirely grounded portrayal of Dan Chase was at the center and helped create a striking history with John Lithgow; the two go way back, farther than they want to look. It’s a complicated, gray history that only became more interesting as the series continued to demystify one of Bridges’ best roles yet. – NA

“Ramy” (Hulu)

I’ll admit it. I didn’t like the second season of “Ramy.” Created by and starring Ramy Youssef, the show, which follows the spiritually conflicted Ramy Hasan as he navigates his Muslimism, featured plenty of missteps: His sister Dena (May Calamawy) felt unwritten, the military angle didn’t cohere with the show’s thesis, and after cheating on his wife, Zainab (MaameYaa Boafo), Ramy was left far too unlikable by the second season’s conclusion.

In this newest offering, however, Youssef has a better handle on the wretchedness of his protagonist. Now working for his Uncle Naseem (Laith Nakli) in New York City’s diamond district, Ramy decides to stake out on his own, in the process, teaming up with a group of dangerous Israeli dealers. The partnership emotionally wounds his uncle, shatters Ramy’s already defective moral compass, and leads to unforeseen consequences. Youssef plays with his character’s unlikability in cogent ways, inducing not just laughs in this dark comedy, but also a deepening of a complex character. By the end of the third season, which climaxes in Ramy realizing the ramifications of his actions, we aren’t reviled by his visage. We feel pity. We feel enough pity to hope that we see how next he will overcome, fail, and maybe, overcome again. – RD    

The Rehearsal” (HBO)

2022 was not a great year for decisions by HBO Max and Warner Bros. Discovery, starting with how they took down numerous beloved shows to save royalty bucks, including “Sesame Street.” But one of their smarter moves this year was getting into the Nathan Fielder business. They threw a lot of money at the Canadian comedian for his latest burst of imagination, “The Rehearsal,” which looks a lot like life. Fielder’s most ambitious project yet continued the people studying and reality-defying of his invaluable Comedy Central series “Nathan for You,” and took it to the level of creating a non-fictional Charlie Kaufman movie, meticulously fake bars and families and all. 

The premise, about preparing people for an upcoming big step in their lives, quickly spun out from helping one man with a long-held confession to giving one woman a sneak peek at motherhood. As Fielder’s touch guarantees, the staging and production were impeccable, with child actors changed every three weeks to simulate growth. But in the process, all of this magic created profound, lingering questions about Fielder’s own place in the expansive artifice. Partly an amazing concoction and also partly an example of documentary filmmaking capturing human behavior at its most bizarre, “The Rehearsal” deservedly went viral. It even had a perfect finale, which centered on the one person who would not understand what Fielder is doing with fiction and nonfiction—a child. – NA

“Reservation Dogs” (FX)

It’s perhaps not the easiest thing to make a comedy about grief. It is certainly not the most obvious. But Sterlin Harjo’s “Reservation Dogs” does so brilliantly, combining loss with bathroom humor and making it look easy. Part of that is the show’s unique perspective—set in Oklahoma with an all-Native cast and writing team, “Reservation Dogs” brings a perspective rarely seen on screen. And it’s not precious about its Indigeneity, simultaneously skewering white ideas of Native culture and Indigenous ideas about it too.

The second season went deeper than the first on all these fronts. The grief was now multigenerational with death coming for the young and the old across decades. The jokes were both delightfully sophomoric (stinky farts and drug trips) and deliciously pointed (Amber Midthunder’s faux-deep Native influencer on one hand and the white secret society that chants “ours, ours, ours!”)

The result was a show like nothing else on television. One that laughs at and with its characters while treating even the most ridiculous with compassion. Thankfully, “Reservation Dogs” is already renewed for a third season and if Harjo’s track record keeps up, that one will top best-of lists as well. – CE

“Severance” (Apple TV+)

Dan Erickson hasn’t done a whit of TV prior to creating and running “Severance,” and in his first turn at bat blows most of the year’s output out of the water. A thought-provoking, genre-flexible corporate thriller/comedy/sci-fi/drama about employees of a corporation that splits their minds in twain, Apple TV+’s latest darling had a lot of moving parts to shuffle. 

But the results, under Erickson’s pen and Ben Stiller’s stylish, precise direction, made for some of the most exciting TV of the year. Within the walls of the Lumon Corporation, Adam Scott’s middle manager begins to wonder, along with his cubicle mates, just what life is like out there. And in the outside world, he can’t shake the feeling of what he’s doing during his own work hours. The world-building was immense, Lumon’s bottom floor containing an entire universe, and performances from Scott, Patricia Arquette, and more make it feel alive in all its hermetically-sealed menace. (To say nothing of Christopher Walken and John Turturro putting in career-best work as two Lumon employees who find late-in-life love in a hopeless place.) Season One ended on a cliffhanger to end all cliffhangers, and we’re all staring at the clock, waiting for the next chapter to unfurl before us. – CW

“The Staircase” (HBO)

One of the most perfect matches of style and content I saw this year, across both TV and film, was creator Antonio Campos’ “The Staircase.” His way of looking at the darkest shades of a true story, with still, cold cameras and an empathetic gaze (seen in “Christine,” “Simon Killer,” etc.), created an American gothic experience out of an HBO series that could have just been a version of a story many people already knew. But it was uniquely thrilling to see Campos’ assembled cast in the same living room, depicting a family torn apart by the sudden death of a mother, who may have been murdered by her husband. 

Colin Firth had one his most compelling roles ever as the accused murderer, with Toni Collette finding the dark humor in such a bleak arc as the woman whose head injuries make for both terror and comedy. The series also has inspired work from Michael Stuhlbarg, Juliette Binoche, Rosemarie DeWitt, Parker Posey, Sophie Turner, Odessa Young, Dane DeHaan, and many more. Campos’ directorial approach, carried on by director Leigh Janiak for two episodes, cracks how to make a family argument feel a lot like a death in the room. And when a documentary crew becomes involved in the show’s tight plotting, “The Staircase” brilliantly balances how contrasting stories can be told from the same event; whoever has the biggest audience can get the last word. “The Staircase” prevailed by showing us what felt like everything, as painful as it may be to watch. – NA

“Undone” (Prime Video)

The genius of Amazon’s “Undone” is readily apparent. Its otherworldly animation brings to life its themes, visually representing a falseness about the nature of reality that puts everything in question. The first season ended on a perfect cliffhanger as our heroine Alma (Rosa Salazar) was about to find out if her time-hopping was real or psychosis. But somehow, the second season was able to top the first, bringing in a more layered understanding of identity, family, and trauma.

Season Two of “Undone” began with us learning that Alma has done the impossible—she has stopped her father Jacob (Bob Odenkirk) from dying in her youth. Now Alma gets to see what her life would be like without the foundational event—and, surprise, it is better! But it is not perfect and Alma itches to use her power to fix even more. What follows became a thoughtful look into intergenerational trauma, the forever-restless human spirit, and the ways our families define us, whether we resist them or not.

That “Undone” also managed to again end in a way that puts the previous whole season in question—without feeling cheap or pat—is a testament to the show’s cleverness and planning. – CE

We Own This City” (HBO)

We have started to take David Simon for granted. One of the best writers in the history of television returned to Baltimore and it didn’t get enough attention. Was it too close to “The Wire”? Too close to home given the stories of police corruption over the last few years? Just too hard to watch?

Working again with George Pelecanos and this time with director Reinaldo Marcus Green, this six-episode series is based on the Justin Fenton novel of the same name and rivets from the first frame to last. If there’s any complaint, there’s too much going on in this dissection of the Baltimore P.D.’s Gun Trace Task Force, an organization that amplified the kind of ignorant corruption that happens when amoral men are given power. With a stunning central performance from Jon Bernthal, “We Own This City” captured how often justice can be derailed by people who are simply given a chance to deny it. So many stories of corrupt cops portray their villains as mad geniuses when it’s more often just a chance of the right greedy idiot being in the right place at the right time.

Much has been written about the show and Bernthal’s performance, but let’s also take a second to appreciate Jamie Hector. He beautifully emobdied the fractured soul of Sean Suiter, a BPD homicide detective who became one of the task force’s most heartbreaking villains in his own way. – BT

What We Do in the Shadows” (FX)

Jemaine Clement and Paul Simm’s adaptation of the Taika Waititi-directed mockumentary classic shows no signs of slowing down, even in its fourth season. The humdrum mundanity of everyday life, even as a vampire, remains an endless source of laughs, “Shadows” still running afoul of that dreaded fear of long-running shows retreading familiar territory. Turning Colin Robinson into a precocious, uncanny dork-child, Mark Proksch’s head disturbingly CGed onto a child actor’s body, is one of 2022’s oddest images; that it dovetails into a story of Matt Berry’s Laszlo learning how to be a father makes it all the better. 

Combine that with Guillermo coming out of the closet, Nandor learning to be careful what he wishes for, and Nadja trying (and failing) to kick off a vampire nightclub, “Shadows” managed to keep its centuries-old corpses feeling fresh and new. (And the HGTV parody episode might rival Jackie Daytona for the series’ most refreshing shakeup.) The gags still came fast and furious, but it’s paired with a deeper understanding of characters who, mass murdering be damned, we’ve grown to love. It’s the spookiest, boldest sitcom in Newww York Cittaaayyyy. And it’s still got plenty of life left in it. – CW

The White Lotus” (HBO)

Having successfully examined money (who has it, who doesn’t, who needs it, who doesn’t) in Hawaii during Season One of “The White Lotus,” writer, director, and showrunner Mike White traveled to Sicily for the series’ second installment to explore sexual mores. As it is with humans in real life, sex means something different to everyone staying at the White Lotus. For sex worker Lucia (a wonderful Simona Tabasco in a breakout role) and her aspiring singer friend Mia (Beatrice Grannò), sex is a means to a financial end. For Greg (Jon Gries), now married to Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge), sex and life with his fourth wife is an annoying chore. Tanya’s bumbling assistant Portia (Haley Lu Richardson) would love to “get away from the discourse” and be “tossed around by a caveman.” Husband and wife Ethan (Will Sharpe) and Harper (Aubrey Plaza) have just moved up several tax brackets but aren’t having sex at all; still, they pride themselves on their honesty, in contrast to their friends and vacation partners Cameron (Theo James), an arrogant finance bro, and his seemingly airheaded wife Daphne (Meghann Fahy, phenomenal in the part). Rounding out the cast are Michael Imperioli, F. Murray Abraham, and Adam DiMarco, playing three generations of Di Grasso men who are dealing with, respectively, sex addiction, longing for sex, and wanting to avoid the callous sexual habits of Dad and Nonno. 

But like “Succession,” HBO’s other popular exploration of the one percent’s habits and foibles, “The White Lotus” allowed the decisions made by these characters to drive the plot, rather than vice versa. As a result, White created room for ambiguity in the characters’ dialogue; with hints of unrest peppering each conversation. The familiar interstitial shots of crashing waves created a faint hum of anxiety and foreshadowing laid heavy on the ground in the title credits alone. The season’s plotting took its time to build momentum but took off in the last two episodes, and the finale is one of the funniest and most satisfying conclusions to a season of TV I’ve seen in a long time. – NB

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