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The 20 Best TV Shows of 2022

Incredible farewells. Miraculous debuts. Expensive high-concept franchises and intimate character studies. A whole lot of outstanding TV defined 2022.

TV 2022

Guy D'Alema/FX; Shane Brown/FX; Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television; HBO

PERHAPS THE YEAR in television should be defined by goodbyes, as three all-time classic series all wrapped up their runs in beautiful, appropriate fashion. Perhaps it should be defined by hellos, as 2022 saw some absolutely fantastic debuts of shows that were like nothing else on TV. Maybe it was a year of franchise reinventions, as a couple of iconic properties somehow felt new again with a pair of very different series? Or maybe we should just say that this was a great, great year, where each of the top four shows in this year’s top 20 list would have a convincing argument to be the best show on any number of past lists.

From Rolling Stone US


The Patient (Hulu)

The concept of this FX-developed miniseries — a serial killer (Domhnall Gleeson) imprisons his therapist (Steve Carell) in his basement in a desperate attempt to cure his homicidal urges — is so heightened that there was almost no way it wouldn’t seem silly or over-the-top. Yet creators Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg manage to take their premise completely seriously, using it to force their psychologist hero to confront less elaborate traumas in his own life, and letting Carell and Gleeson play things straight. And as they did on The Americans, Fields and Weisberg figure out the exact right way to bring this potentially ridiculous story to the appropriate ending. 


Los Espookys (HBO)

There is dream logic, and then there is whatever inexplicable logic supports the universe of Los Espookys, about a group of friends in an unnamed Latin American country who help solve people’s problems using horror movie tropes. Andrés (co-creator Julio Torres) regularly converses with the moon, whom we see as a lonely woman who just wants to flirt with a cute comet. Tati (co-creator Ana Fabrega) decides to become an author just by rewriting classic literary works in her own odd voice, and she soon becomes a bestseller. Renaldo (Bernardo Velasco) is haunted by a beauty queen with an anchor through her chest, and spends an episode playing an adorable, fuzzy pink monster named Bibi’s in order to scare a group of schoolchildren into obeying their teacher. None of it should make any sense. Somehow, all of it does, and the comedy’s second season felt even funnier and more self-assured than the first. Perhaps we didn’t deserve a show this delightfully, hilariously specific; HBO recently announced that there would not be a third season.


Ramy (Hulu)

It was a busy year for Ramy Youssef. In addition to writing, directing, and starring in a third season of his self-titled Hulu dramedy, he also co-created the excellent Netflix series Mo, which could just as easily have been on this list. (Hey Netflix, order a second season already!) Season Three found the fictional Ramy making bank as a diamond dealer, even as his parents and sister were struggling both monetarily and spiritually. But a financially flush Ramy is still a narcissistic, obliviously harmful Ramy. The new episodes smartly used everyone’s changed circumstances to find different ways to explore the series’ questions about faith, morality, assimilation, and less high-minded pursuits. (One episode spends a lot of time talking about the feasibility of a poop transplant, after all.) A great show, albeit one that can sometimes be difficult to sit through when Ramy and the others are behaving badly.


Better Things (FX)

At various points in the final season of this family dramedy, other characters would praise Sam Fox (Pamela Adlon) for the life she has built for herself as a single mother, daughter, friend, and actor (in that order). Because the audience knows that Sam’s life is so closely inspired by Adlon’s, it would be very easy for all of this to play as if the show’s creator/writer/director/star were patting herself on the back about her own awesomeness. But Adlon has told Sam’s story with such artistry, and with such frequent self-laceration, that these moments play less as boasting than as the show finally cutting Sam a break after all these years of struggling. One of the best shows of the last decade went out on its own thoroughly lovely terms.


Abbott Elementary (ABC) 

Everything old is new again in broadcast network comedy, where 2022 saw a bevvy of promising new series drawing inspiration from some of the best sitcoms of the 2010s. By far the best of these has been Abbott Elementary, which transplants The Office/Parks and Recreation formula into a resource-starved Philadelphia school. Abbott surrounds creator/star Quinta Brunson’s pathologically optimistic young teacher Janine with a host of killer supporting performances, including Emmy winner Sheryl Lee Ralph as an aristocratic veteran, Lisa Ann Walter as a shady second grade teacher, Janelle James as a principal who cares more about her side hustles, Chris Perfetti as a cripplingly woke idealist, and Tyler James Williams as a new teacher who can’t stop shooting Jim Halpert-esque looks of disbelief at the mockumentary cameras. It arrived fully formed and has only gotten funnier in its second season. 


Russian Doll (Netflix)

The first season of Russian Doll, which trapped Natasha Lyonne’s hyper-verbal Nadia in a Groundhog Day-style time loop, was one of the more perfect debut seasons in recent memory, setting an impossibly high bar for a second season. And, indeed, the follow-up story, which saw Nadia and Alan (Charlie Barnett) Quantum Leaping into their mothers and grandmothers, felt a lot messier. Yet the emotions somehow felt even richer and more complex, and the new episodes ultimately proved that Russian Doll could work as more than just a one-shot. More, please. 


Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (Paramount+)

Where the next show on our list succeeded by taking an old sci-fi franchise in a new direction, Strange New Worlds was a triumph of returning to what had worked. After previous modern spinoffs like Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard got bogged down in uninteresting season-long arcs, Strange New Worlds remembered that the franchise tends to work best with a Mission of the Week approach. It was fun to again see a starship traveling from planet to planet, and to see it crewed by such an appealing cast of characters, first and foremost led by Anson Mount’s impossibly charming and empathetic Captain Pike. Sometimes, the boldest move is to go where many shows have gone before. 


Andor (Disney+)

The highs of this Rogue One prequel series were incredibly high, offering visceral, tactile drama that felt truly adult in a way Star Wars rarely has, with great performances by Stellan Skarsgård (as ruthless spymaster Luthen), Genevieve O’Reilly (as anxious future Rebellion leader Mon Mothma), Andy Serkis (as jaded prison trustee Kino), Kyle Soller (as Andor-obsessed security guard Syril), and more. But the show also meandered around for the first chunk of the season, and never found a way to make the emotional journey of its title character (Diego Luna) nearly as interesting as that of everyone around him. When it was rolling, though, Andor went to creative places it didn’t seem possible for a Star Wars series to visit.


Pachinko (Apple TV+)

This adaptation of Min Jin Lee’s historical-fiction novel balances epic sweep with intimate characterization, focusing on one family’s struggle during Japan’s occupation of Korea, and the impact it had on future generations. A knockout on technical levels (few shows this year looked or sounded better) and in terms of performances (with Yu-na Jeon, Minha Kim, and Youn Yuh-jung seamlessly playing the same heroine across many decades), it also boasts the best opening credit sequence TV’s had in quite some time, with the whole ensemble dancing through a Pachinko parlor. 


What We Do in the Shadows (FX)

Somehow, the vampire mockumentary just keeps getting funnier. Season Four found Laszlo (Matt Berry) becoming a father figure to the reborn Baby Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch), Nadia (Natasia Demetriou) opening a vampire nightclub, Nandor (Kayvan Novak) making many poor wishes after rubbing a djinn’s lamp, and human familiar Guillermo (Harvey Guillen) struggling to define a life for himself away from his master Nandor. Oh, and there was a whole installment presented as an episode of Laszlo’s favorite house-flipping reality show. Still filthy, still ludicrous, still the most reliable laugh machine you can find. 


High School (Freevee)

Beloved Canadian indie-pop duo Tegan and Sara get an appropriately lo-fi biographical series, focusing on the twin sisters (played by siblings Railey and Seazynn Gilliland) at a moment when they’re drifting apart from one another, only to be brought back together when each realizes how much she enjoys writing and performing music. Primary director Clea DuVall effectively puts viewers into the head not only of the sisters, but at times their beleaguered mother (Cobie Smulders) and various friends, in a way that almost instantly puts High School in the pantheon of TV coming-of-age stories.  


The Bear (Hulu)

This FX-produced drama set in the kitchen of a Chicago sandwich shop is easily the most stressful scripted TV show you could watch this year. So much so that yours truly actually gave up midway through the third episode. But what brought me back — and what made The Bear one of this year’s word-of-mouth sensations — was how time spent in that kitchen didn’t just make the anxiety palpable, but every emotion, both good and bad, being experienced by Jeremy Allen White’s grieving Carmy and his skeptical employees. And in the process, The Bear proved even more cathartic than it could be difficult to sit through. Yes, chef!


Severance (Apple TV+)

This thriller uses a sci-fi conceit — corporate drones volunteer to have their memories of their work and home lives separate, essentially turning them into two different people sharing one body — as a scathing, often terrifying commentary on how out-of-whack work-life balance has become in the 21st century. This strange idea is brought to life by unnerving production design, by Ben Stiller’s assured direction, and by superb performances by Adam Scott, Britt Lower, Tramell Tillman, John Turturro, Christopher Walken, and more. Now let’s all celebrate that great first season with a Music Dance Experience featuring defiant jazz! 


Barry (HBO)

In its second season, Barry seemed to have hit the limits of its black comic premise about a hitman (Bill Hader) who decides he’d rather be an actor. But this year’s belated third season smashed through those limits with a string of episodes that could be unspeakably dark or raucously silly, with both once again feeling like they belonged on the same show. (And occasionally, like the astonishingly-shot dirtbike chase on the LA freeways, Barry could be grim and wacky simultaneously.) The incredible finale was so relentlessly grim that even Hader has suggested Season Four will have to lighten things back up again. That’s probably the right call for the long term, but Barry was never better than this year. 


Atlanta (FX)

After being away for four years, Atlanta decided to reward fans with a pair of concluding seasons in the same year. The reaction to the first of those was mixed, mainly because nearly half of the episodes were anthology stories not involving the main characters. But there was plenty of greatness to be found in that spring run, particularly in Paper Boi’s trippy walk through Amsterdam that included an unexpected chat with Liam Neeson. Still, the fall episodes returned to home turf, and focused almost entirely on Al, Earn, Darius, and Van. (And the one exception was the brilliant, absurd mockumentary about the making of A Goofy Movie.) Every character and idea got a beautiful send-off, from Al discovering that he loves the farming life, to Earn telling Van how he feels, to a thematically perfect final episode in which a show built on dream logic ended by wondering whether everything we had watched for four seasons was a dream.  


Better Call Saul (AMC) 

Like Atlanta, Saul wrapped up its esteemed run in two parts this year. And like Atlanta, the second half was better than the first. (Though few moments in the life of the series were as surprising or chilling as seeing Lalo step out from behind Howard Hamlin in the mid-season finale.) Saul, though, had the tougher assignment to complete. Atlanta could have ended almost any way (even if the final choice sure felt like the right one), while Saul had a far narrower path, even when the story went past the events of Breaking Bad. Yet Peter Gould, Vince Gilligan, Bob Odenkirk, Rhea Seehorn, and friends (including cameos from BB vets Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, and Betsy Brandt) walked that path beautifully, with a conclusion that felt absolutely true to both this show and the one before it. Actually, no. It was better than the last episode of Breaking Bad, which is incredible to think about if you remember what a bad idea the prequel seemed before its debut. And if Seehorn doesn’t win an Emmy next year for the episode where Kim cried on the shuttle bus? We riot. 


Reservation Dogs (Hulu) 

Any of the previous three shows could have easily topped this list and would have felt like the right choice. But there is just something magical about Sterlin Harjo’s dramedy (another FX-on-Hulu creation) about four friends growing up on a reservation in rural Oklahoma. Every moment feels rich with emotion, from Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis) experiencing a vision of her ancestors as a way of coping with the grief she feels about her cousin’s suicide, to something much sillier like Big (Zahn McClarnon) having a bad drug trip in the woods, to moments in between, like Cheese (Lane Factor) figuring out how to navigate a stay in a group home. It is funny as hell when it wants to be, devastating when it has half a mind to be, and lingers with you long after each episode ends. Only a true shitass wouldn’t recognize how lucky we are to have a show this special.