The 25 best television shows of 2022

We count down the small screen treats which had everyone theorising and furiously binge-watching, from Bad Sisters to Pachinko.


Emma Fraser


You would be hard-pressed not to find something worth watching across myriad streaming platforms and traditional TV viewing options available. A glut of television excellence in 2022 means inevitable blind spots and missing titles from this line-up of new offerings and old favourites — it remains impossible to keep on top of everything. Long overdue pandemic-delayed high-profile productions made a triumphant return, while big-budget fare jostled for attention alongside more intimate stories. It is a snapshot of what this medium offers, whether adaptions, original narratives, spinoffs, or reboots that are deemed a must-watch.

25. Peaky Blinders (BBC/Netflix)

The final season of the Birmingham gangster series entered the 1930s, pushing the now-sober Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy) to the brink with a plan to infiltrate and stop British fascism. On and off screen grief informs the darker mood as creator Stephen Knight addresses the loss of Helen McCrory while still ensuring Polly’s presence is felt. Murphy plays new shades of despair and nihilism in his dual role as a crime boss and politician, trying to keep it together while the world falls apart.

24. Under the Banner of Heaven (FX on Hulu/Disney Star)

It has been an excellent 12-plus months for Andrew Garfield performances that dig deep into exploring different versions of faith, guilt, and how work is entwined with these factors. Dustin Lance Black adapts Jon Krakauer’s non-fiction book examining a double homicide that rocked a Mormon community in the 1980s. Garfield plays a detective stuck between his commitment to the LDS church and his professional duty, and Gil Birmingham is as compelling as his partner, offering an outsider’s perspective.

23. Babylon Berlin (Sky Atlantic)

The big-budget German series’ fourth outing kicks off on New Year’s Eve 1930, so while there is still dancing (this year’s earworm is “Ein Tag wie Gold”), it is beginning to tip toward the bleaker end of the scale. Berlin is beset not only by rampaging men in Nazi uniforms (including a familiar face) but organised crime gangs at war with each other. Lars Eidinger wields a cape like no other, as the eccentric (and wealthy) industrialist Alfred Nyssen was not impacted by the financial crash at the end of the last season, but he does encounter new obstacles.

22. The Dropout (Hulu/Disney Star)

Amid a sea of real-life scam adaptations, Amanda Seyfried in a black turtleneck as Elizabeth Holmes stands head and shoulders above the fraudulent heiresses and startup power couples. New Girl creator Liz Meriwether proves she is equally adept at exploring the nuances of the Theranos founder as she is at sitcoms in a limited series that gets to the heart of this scandal. Seyfried deftly portrays a Girlboss cautionary tale, whether awkwardly dancing to Lil Wayne or practising the recognisable deeper voice. It is a performance so good that Jennifer Lawrence dropped out of playing Holmes in a movie version.

21. A League of Their Own (Amazon Prime)

Thirty years after Penny Marshall’s beloved baseball comedy was released, it gets the TV adaptation treatment. Abbi Jacobson and Will Graham have brought back the Rockford Peaches. This time, they have expanded the world further, following Black players like Max Chapman (Chanté Adams), who were not permitted to play in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Queer love stories are vital to this depiction, maintaining the heart of Marshall’s series while acknowledging the era’s realities. This reimagining knocks it out of the park.

20. Derry Girls (Channel 4/Netflix)

The final season of Derry Girls maintained the tricky balance required for a coming-of-age sitcom set against the backdrop of the Troubles in mid-90s Northern Ireland. Creator Lisa McGee dishes out a Spice Girls tribute for the ages, a flashback episode to when the parents were teens, and the lengths required to blag Fatboy Slim tickets. Soundtrack and fashion choices will spin viewers back in time, and there is no shortage of laughs. However, McGee excels at the surprise gut punch when you least expect it and doesn’t sugarcoat the inevitable change.

19. Only Murders in the Building (Hulu/Disney Star)

The second season of the podcast whodunnit is whimsical and biting in its expanding true crime universe. Yes, the crime takes place in the same luxury Arconia residence, but Charles (Steve Martin), Oliver (Martin Short), and Mabel (Selena Gomez) must confront secrets that go back years — and, in some cases, decades. The rich visuals are part of this comedy’s charm, as is the growing cast of memorable characters. Themes of loneliness and community are explored further, and Shirley MacLaine is excellent in a guest-starring role.

18. Abbott Elementary (ABC/Disney Star)

Creator and star Quinta Brunson’s Emmy Award-winning comedy proves that network sitcoms are still vital and hilarious amid a crowded TV landscape. The underfunded Philadelphia school offers a backdrop that deals with the realities of this setting without ever feeling preachy, marrying the mockumentary format with Norman Lear’s social commentary sensibilities. Sheryl Lee Ralph and Janelle James’ performances couldn’t be more different, but both stand out in an ensemble brimming with charm and comedic chops.

17. Andor (Disney+)

Star Wars and Marvel dominate the Disney+ TV original line-up, which can sometimes get repetitive. Enter Tony Gilroy with a prequel to Rogue One that gets to the heart of rebellion on a granular level without a lightsaber in sight. Diego Luna reprises his role as Cassian Andor leading an impressive cast that includes Stellan Skarsgård, Andy Serkis, Fiona Shaw, and Denise Gough. Among notable set pieces, Gilroy cranks up the tension with a heist, a prison breakout, and a funeral procession. The latter utilises Nicholas Brittel’s emotive score in one of 2022’s most unforgettable sequences.

16. Pachinko (Apple TV+)

For starters, Soo Hugh’s adaptation of Min Jin Lee’s 2017 novel has the best opening title sequence of the year. Cutting between archival images and the brightly-lit pachinko parlour, in which each generation of the large ensemble dance exuberantly emphasises the threads of this decades-spanning story. The narrative toggles between Japanese-occupied Korea in the early 20th century to the 1980s when the prejudicial ripple effect is felt long after colonial rule ended. Oscar-winner Yuh-jung Yohn plays the older version of Sunja, embodying the theme of endurance running throughout the stunning eight-episode series.

15. The Good Fight (Paramount+)

Trying to respond to political chaos in near real-time might seem like a fool’s errand, but Robert and Michelle King found the perfect vessel in their spinoff of The Good Wife. In its sixth and final season, protest and civil war loom as the lawyers continue their work in an increasingly fraught environment. It is rare to have a satire that manages to be this biting and playful in its exploration of the current climate. Christine Baranski has portrayed Diane Lockhart for the last 13 years, and this character will be sorely missed.

14. Hacks (HBO Max/Amazon Prime)

Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) goes on the road and out of her Las Vegas comfort zone in the second season of the Emmy-winning comedy. The creative partnership doubling as a platonic love story between Deborah and Gen Z writer Ava (Hannah Einbinder) navigates multiple obstacles stemming from an act of professional betrayal. Work binds them, and this drive to succeed in this field triumphs above everything else. Einbinder more than holds her own opposite Smart, navigating grief rippling beneath the surface. Vulnerability is not easy for Deborah or Ava, but peeling back the layers is a rewarding experience.

13. The English (BBC/Amazon Prime)

Capturing the expansive and dangerous American West has long preoccupied filmmakers, which sees British writer-director Hugo Blick tackle this setting in a stunning six-part limited series. Emily Blunt and Chaske Spencer play the unlikely travelling duo who are both searching for a resolution to a painful past. A tension-building score by Federico Jusid coupled with an expansive landscape captured beautifully by Arnau Valls Colomer contribute to one of the year’s most visually arresting pieces of television.

12. The Bear (Hulu/Disney+)

“Yes, chef!” rings out loud and clear by the end of the first season of this dramedy set in Chicago. The frenetic atmosphere of the kitchen is cranked up further in an episode shot in one long take, and while this is undoubtedly a highlight, there is more to this series than a technical gimmick. Loss, ambition, and family are served up amid arguments about hot dogs, sandwiches, and spaghetti — all of which will make you hungry. Jeremy Allen White, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, and Ayo Edebiri lead the impressive ensemble amid the culinary chaos.

11. Yellowjackets (Showtime/Sky Atlantic)

The year began amid Yellowjackets’ first gripping season, which saw the survivors of a plane crash grappling with whatever went down in the wilderness when they were teenagers. We know matters will eventually tip into Lord of the Flies territory (with added cannibalism), and the mysterious forces (or cult) did not stay in the secluded woods. The adult cast in the present-day scenes includes heavyweights like Melanie Lynskey and Juliet Lewis, and their younger counterparts more than rise to the occasion within the fraught ‘90s timeline.

10. The Patient (FX on Hulu/Disney+)

Therapy and television are comfortable bedfellows, whether as a sitcom backdrop dating back to The Bob Newhart Show (and then Frasier) or aiding the likes of Tony Soprano. In what feels like a reverse Hannibal, a serial killer kidnaps his therapist to overcome his deadly compulsions. Domnhall Gleeson plays the murderer looking to change, with Steve Carrell as the recently-widowed licensed professional. It is a taught, intimate and often claustrophobic examination of what makes us human, loss, and buried trauma. The Americans showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields have struck tension-filled gold again.

9. Bad Sisters (Apple TV+)

Bad Sisters starts with a body before unravelling why each of the five Garvey sisters has a reason to want John Paul (aka the Prick) dead. Sharon Horgan adapted the series from a Flemish whodunnit Clan, layering the story with Irish humour and dread in crisscrossing timelines. In the present, insurance agents and half-brothers Tom (Brian Gleeson) and Matt Clafin (Daryl McCormack) must prove foul play to save their business. Horgan’s script deftly walks the line between horror and heart, with PJ Harvey’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Who By Fire” as an atmospheric theme song.

8. This is Going to Hurt (BBC/AMC+)

Adam Kay is an overworked, sleep-deprived junior doctor, breaking the fourth wall to indulge in gallows humour or give additional commentary on the bleak situation. No, this is not the NHS by way of Fleabag but an adaptation of Kay’s non-fiction book of the same name. Ben Whishaw offers a multifaceted take on the prickly protagonist who wields sarcasm as a shield against the reality of a healthcare system ready to break. Even at its darkest, the drama never lacks compassion.

7. For All Mankind (Apple TV+)

The alternate-history depiction of what would happen if the Soviets landed on the moon first enters the 1990s and a race to Mars. Space tourism and private firms getting in on the astronaut business mean it is no longer a case of the US versus Russia, complicating an already tense head-to-head. The second season ended in tragedy, and For All Mankind quickly reminds viewers that leaving Earth is dangerous. No other series has this many jaw-on-the-floor sequences that are equally exhilarating and emotionally draining.

6. The White Lotus (HBO/Sky Atlantic)

Mike White switches Hawaii for Sicily, but the guests staying at The White Lotus are as blissfully unaware. Meghann Fahy steals the show as affluent (seemingly) devoted wife Daphne while trying to bond with Aubrey Plaza’s prickly Harper on a surprise overnight trip away from their husbands. While the mystery of who has died bubbles beneath the glossy surface, White dials up the intrigue and farce with a helping hand from enterprising local women Mia (Beatrice Grannò) and Lucia (Simona Tabasco) and uptight hotel manager Valentina (Sabrina Impacciatore).

5. Somebody Somewhere (HBO/Sky Atlantic)

Bridget Everett’s small-town Kansas dramedy is a semi-autobiographical look at what her life might have looked like if she hadn’t moved to New York City. Sam (Everett) is still an open wound dealing with her sister’s death and the complicated relationship with her family. Through co-worker Joel (the brilliant Jeff Hiller), she finds salvation in an open mic cabaret hosted in a church after hours. It is a beautiful and frequently hilarious meditation on finding your people and how much power there is in making music together.

4. Station Eleven (HBO/Lionsgate+)

Based on the book by Emily St. John Mandel’s book, the pandemic in Partick Sommerville’s limited series adaptation may sound a little too close to reality. Thankfully, this exploration of the role of art in a post-apocalyptic setting offers hope among the ruins of the world as it was. Crisscrossing timelines are anchored by tween and adult Kirsten (Matilda Lawler and Mackenzie Davis), with Himesh Patel delivering a standout performance as reluctant hero Jeevan. Director Hiro Murai sets the tone, and Dan Romer’s score adds to the unforgettable tapestry.

3. The Last Movie Stars (HBO/Sky Atlantic)

Ethan Hawke took the boxes of transcripts given to him by Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward’s children, enlisting his many actor friends via Zoom to explore the potency of this relationship — within and outside of Hollywood. Interviews conducted as part of an abandoned Newman memoir provide the foundation of Hawke’s docuseries quest that examines the personal and professional highs and lows, never shying away from their imperfections. Hawke’s knowledge and enthusiasm, coupled with his experience, give an insider perspective that adds to the intimacy of the project.

2. Barry (HBO/Sky Atlantic)

It is impressive that Barry creators Bill Hader and Alec Berg find new ways to paint the hitman-turned-actor into deeper corners. Barry has a target on his back, and an exhilarating motorbike chase sequence strips away any music to further ramp up the tension. It is the darkest and funniest season to date, peeling back the layers of the TV industry. Barry isn’t the only one at a crossroads as Sarah Goldberg’s Sally goes through triumphs and tribulations, NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan) experiences love, and Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler) gets a second chance.

1. Severance (Apple TV+)

Being able to divide your work and personal life sounds like a dream, but creator Dan Erickson’s extreme version of this scenario proves otherwise. Adam Scott plays both sides of the severed coin with precision; his Outie is withdrawn and grieving his wife, and his Innie enthusiastically tows the company line. Slowly the divided world begins to merge, and the surreal nature of this workplace increases. Directors Ben Stiller and Aoife McArdle capture the absurd and increasingly disturbing elements while never losing the underlying connections that flourish despite the circumstances. Anyone for some interpretative jazz?

Published 15 Dec 2022

Tags: Barry Severance The Bear Yellowjackets

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