Let’s start with the obvious here: Between networks, streamers, and whatever else, there is absolutely too much TV to consume these days. It’s impossible to keep up with the zeitgeist and you shouldn’t even try. The flipside of that, though, is that come year’s end, you get to learn about all sorts of “new” shows you didn’t get to or hadn’t heard about, making each one a delightful little holiday present you now get to unwrap at your leisure rather than chase down week to week. With that in mind, we present you with this: our list of the best TV shows of 2022.
House of the Dragon
Given that Game of Thrones was a huge success for HBO when it was on, it should come as no surprise that the network threw big money and talent behind the series’ prequel, House of the Dragon. The result is a series that’s as watchable as Thrones, but with about 1,000 percent more dragons. Milly Alcock and Emma D’Arcy both deliver powerhouse performances as the embattled Princess Rhaenyra throughout the years, and Matt Smith is eternally creepy as the always unscrupulous Daemon Targaryen. And just like the original Thrones, viewers will find plenty of gag-inducing gross-outs, horrific deaths, and ill-begotten relationships along the way. House of the Dragon is big, ridiculous TV at its best and most gruesome.
We’ve already said a lot about Andor, so we won’t repeat too much here, but suffice it to say that this is the kind of Star Wars series that embodies how and why Star Wars series on Disney+ can work. Set a few years before the events in Rogue One, the series follows that film’s beloved spy Cassian Andor on the journey that leads him, and various other denizens of the galaxy, to join the fight against the Empire. Driven by a knock-out performance from Diego Luna in the show’s title role, Andor is so packed with talent—Fiona Shaw! Stellan Skarsgård!—it’s almost hard to believe it’s not a Star Wars movie. But if it was, it wouldn’t be able to pack in all the palace intrigue, class warfare, and fights against fascism as it does. Heart-racing stuff.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power
Amazon reportedly spent $715 million making The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, and it shows: The fantasy series’ sets are absolutely massive, and it appears to have a cast of thousands. Fortunately, Rings’ excess isn’t all it has going for it, either, as The Rings of Power dives deep into J.R.R. Tolkein’s Middle-earth for a look at the world’s fabled Second Age. Over the course of just eight episodes, kingdoms rise and fall, epic battles occur almost constantly, and new alliances are both forged and tested. If you’re into fantasy, then the show is a no-brainer, but even if dwarves and elves aren’t always your thing, The Rings of Power is still well worth your time, if only to gawk at the sheer audacity of its creation.
Point-blank, Severance was the most inventive show to come out this year. And frankly, to say more than that almost gives away too much. What we will say is that it’s about a corporate cog, Mark (Adam Scott), who opts into the Severance program after the death of his wife. What’s Severance? Well, unraveling that is part of the fun, but on paper it’s a system by which Mark’s company divides his consciousness so that he cannot remember his non-work life when he’s at the office, and can’t remember the office when he’s home. For anyone seriously considering their career choices this year, this was the show.
HBO’s Barry has always been a stand-out series, delivering Emmy-caliber performances from the likes of Bill Hader and Henry Winkler. In its third season, though, the series turned its bleakness knob to 11 as Hader’s hitman-turned-actor went on a quest to make things right with Winkler’s struggling acting teacher, all while trying to evade the law and still have a functional relationship with his showrunner girlfriend, the amazing Sarah Goldberg. (There was also an absolutely badass car chase.) While the heaviness of Barry’s quest might not sound like good-time TV, watching actors work at the peak of their abilities is always a joy, and Barry has that in spades.
Another darkly funny series that had everyone talking earlier this year, The Bear follows a burnt-out fine dining chef named Carmy (Jeremy Allan White) who comes home to Chicago to run his late brother’s struggling Italian beef restaurant. He’s aided (or hindered, depending on the day) by his newly hired sous chef (Ayo Edebiri) and his loudmouth cousin (Eben Moss Bachrach), both of whom struggle to reconcile Carmy’s vision for the restaurant with their own. There are financial troubles, sketchy relatives, and a hair-raising issue with an online ordering system along the way, and the series does an excellent job of capturing both the breakneck speed and the razor’s edge that some eateries operate on every single day. It really is an excellent show, all greasy intensity and upstart scrappiness. The first season was also only eight episodes, each 30 minutes or so, meaning it’s easily bingeable over a good couch-based meal. Just don’t forget the napkins.
I Love That For You
A Showtime series from co-creators Vanessa Bayer and Jeremy Beiler, I Love That For You is pretty much the quintessential tragicomedy. After a childhood bout with cancer left Bayer’s character Joanna with an obsessive interest in televised home shopping networks, she takes a chance and tries out for one. Things go pretty poorly until she lies and says she actually still has cancer, leading to an uptick in sympathy among both the network’s staff and viewers. As it turns out, sob stories can move some product. Joanna finds a mentor in Molly Shannon’s incredible Jackie, as well as a mostly terrifying boss in Jenifer Lewis’ Patricia. As Joanna’s star rises on the network, she also gets her (pretty sad) life together, all while still carrying this huge lie. We won’t spoil whether it ever comes out, but we will say that I Love That For You is full of all sorts of reveals, the vast majority of which are both hilarious and heartbreaking.
An early entrant into this year’s TV canon, The Afterparty is the kind of oddball ensemble comedy that so many networks and streamers seem to favor these days. With a stellar cast including Sam Richardson, Ben Schwartz, Zoe Chao, Ilana Glazer, John Early, Dave Franco, and more, the show looks to solve the murder of a pop star who perished after a tumble at the afterparty for his high school reunion. Each episode is told from the perspective of a different classmate at the party and the pieces of the series weave together like a brilliantly complicated labyrinth. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud gags throughout the series, but they’re all imbued with the sort of quiet sadness that comes along with trying to either recapture or reframe one’s long gone youth.
The White Lotus
No show got people talking like The White Lotus did this year, and for good reason. The second season of Mike White’s anthology series was full of cliffhangers and whodunnit teases, all leading up to the finale’s big, murderous reveal. The show’s season two cast was stellar too, with the women in particular—Jennifer Coolidge, Meghann Fahy, Aubrey Plaza, et al—really delivering performance-wise. (Michael Imperioli is great too! And Tom Hollander. Everyone, really.) The season is set against gorgeous Sicilian vistas and sparkles with romantic drama, cultural intrigue, and witty lines and readings that’ll have you chuckling days later.
101 Places to Party Before You Die
Sure, it might seem a little left-field to throw a travel show on a “best of TV” list, but hear us out. No show this year brought us as much frivolous joy as 101 Places to Party Before You Die, thanks mostly to the one-two punch of real-life best friend hosts Adam Pally and Jon Gabrus. Together, the pair land in a different US city each episode, then see what drinks, food, and experiences they can pack into two days before zipping off to their families and jobs back on opposite coasts. While the adventures they get up to are funny, it’s really the repartee between the two that sets the show apart. After all, any travel show can drop its hosts in a rum distillery in Puerto Rico, but only 101 Places to Party Before You Die will then let its hosts make jokes about having intimate relations with the barrels. One sad note: With this year’s Warner Bros.-Discovery merger, it seems like this show might not be getting a second season, so all the more reason to enjoy it now.
Another unscripted series with a singular viewpoint, We’re Here drops three RuPaul’s Drag Race alums—Shangela, Eureka, and Bob the Drag Queen—in a different small town each week. There they’ll each team up with a local queer person or ally, all with the goal of putting on a drag show at the end. That might sound like a gimmick, and it is in some sense, but it’s an effective one: There’s not an episode from the most recent season that didn’t elicit our tears, with residents triumphing over past traumas and recent dramas like banned book lists in high schools and questionable firings from their jobs just because of who they were. We’re Here is an essential reminder that queer people are fighting for justice and visibility across the US, a battle that has somehow only gotten more contentious in recent years.
Can you even make a best-of list anymore without including Abbott Elementary? The ABC series about a struggling Philadelphia elementary school is the brainchild of showrunner and star Quinta Brunson and has only gotten better as it has grown into its second season. While Brunson’s Janine is always a stand-out player, the rest of the cast is chock-full of comedic geniuses, with Sheryl Lee Ralph, Lisa Ann Walter, and Janelle James in particular delivering on pretty much every line read. If you haven’t watched Abbott Elementary yet, consider it your homework this holiday break.
While the Marvel and Star Wars universes have been easing into the world of prestige TV for a few years now, DC has only just dipped its toe in this year with the Suicide Squad spin-off series Peacemaker. Helmed by Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn and starring John Cena as the titular hero/villain (it’s complicated), Peacemaker built out an entire bizarre world in just eight episodes. We’re talking glowing fairies, a cavern-size alien “cow,” a cavalcade of other villains, secret government agencies, and even an eagle sidekick named Eagley. Cena’s performance is both nuanced and bombastic, and costars like Jennifer Holland, Freddie Stroma, Robert Patrick, and Danielle Brooks really make the whole show sing. Plus, the show’s bizarrely hypnotic opening credits sequence rules.
Like Abbott Elementary, Hacks is a virtual no-brainer for this and all year-end lists, if only because it’s such a solid watch. Now in its second season, the HBO series really runs on the strength of its two leads, Jean Smart and Hannah Einbinder, both of whom offered up career-making performances this time around. This season, Smart’s Deborah Vance hit the road in an attempt to find her new comedic voice and audience, and the ensuing road trip dramedy that followed between her and Einbinder’s Ava was equal parts charming and cringeworthy. Hacks is a good reminder that everyone’s lives will have peaks and valleys, and that the real story can be found in how we navigate them.