Choosing the best TV episodes is very different from choosing the best TV.
The best episodes might be outstanding hours of shows that fluctuate in quality, or a pivotal character moment or story beat that contextualizes everything else. Sometimes the best episode is part of an almost embarrassing bounty — just one of many consistently brilliant installments in a TV show that blew away both audiences and critics.
IndieWire’s look at the best TV episodes of 2022 is all those things, populated by our usual suspects of top 2022 TV as well as hours we couldn’t forget and shows we gladly binged in a weekend. There is drama, there is comedy, there is literal “Euphoria.” This list has it all. What it doesn’t have, however, is more than one episode from the same show, in an effort to spread the wealth.
Here are the best TV episodes of 2022 so far, in order of premiere date.
Marcus Jones, Kristen Lopez, Erin Strecker, and Ben Travers also contributed to this list.
1. “American Auto” Season 1, Episode 6: “Commercial”
Farce on (scripted) TV in 2022 doesn’t get any better than this half-hour gem. Nestled in the heart of the NBC comedy’s opening season, this episode follows the Payne Motors team as their plans to make a more inclusive car ad go haywire, bit by bit. A disastrous cycle of bad optics befalls CEO Katherine Hastings (Ana Gasteyer) and her inner circle as their well-intentioned plans to make a less heteronormative 30-second spot get foiled by their own overthinking. Casting mishaps and disgruntled crew members start piling up, with each new complication bringing the perfect dagger of a joke to go with it. For a show that thrives in the rapid-fire pace of a boardroom, “Commercial” proved that this is a comedic core that can find laughs anywhere it ends up. It’s also the perfect starting point if you want to catch up on one of the year’s best new comedies. —Steve Greene
2. “The Afterparty” Season 1, Episode 3: “Yasper”
Aaron Epstein / Apple
Christopher Miller’s murder-mystery told through varying viewpoints and genres took major creative risks, none more satisfying than the third installment, “Yasper.” The 34-minute episode retraces the fateful night of Xavier’s (Dave Franco) murder in the footsteps of his old ska-loving bandmate Yasper (Ben Schwartz), who experienced the night as an enthralling musical full of possibilities — or so he tells Detective Danner (Tiffany Haddish). There are three numbers by Jon Lajoie packed into the half-hour; the snappy rap anthem “Two Shots” with Sam Richardson, the breezy “Yeah Sure Whatever,” and “Three Dots From Stardom,” a ballad about not getting texted back after seeing that cruel, dancing text bubble. Schwartz is in his element, all manic-comedy energy and hilarious idiosyncrasy, finding jokes in everything from one-liners to Yasper’s body language on the sofa, and the production adds visual gags to a genre known for spectacle. — Proma Khosla
3. “Euphoria” Season 2, Episode 5: “Stand Still Like a Hummingbird”
The sheer desperation Zendaya brings to the surface in this episode’s opening scene, embodying her character Rue hitting her newest rock bottom, burning bridges with everyone she’s ever loved, should be enough to secure another Emmy for Best Lead Actress in a Drama. But the reason “Stand Still Like the Hummingbird” is on this list is that at least three other awards-worthy scenes still happen after that, evoking every emotion across the spectrum. Rue’s clash with Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) is a meme-worthy romp. The absurd, heart-pounding police chase is soundtracked by one of Labrinth’s best songs made for the series, and the closing sequence escaping deadly, deadpan drug dealer Laurie (Martha Kelly) does a better job of keeping the audience away from drugs than any D.A.R.E. campaign ever could. —Marcus Jones
4. “Severance” Season 1, Episode 1: “Good News About Hell”
Atsushi Nishijima / Apple
It is difficult, nay, impossible to choose a best “Severance” episode, but no fan will ever forget the feeling of watching this pilot for the first time. Helly (Britt Lower) wakes up in the bowels of Lumon Industries, where everything stable and sterile but cloaked in the uncanny. Dan Erickson’s script is executed at the highest level by Ben Stiller’s direction, Jeremy Hindle’s production design, Jessica Lee Gagné’s cinematography, and performances starting with Lower and Adam Scott and later on John Turturro, Zach Cherry, Tramell Tillman, and more.
And then there is that word: Severance, a procedure in which a person voluntarily agrees to split their consciousness in and outside of work, a concept to which Erickson received either total excitement or horror while pitching the show. “Good News About Hell” plants simple mysteries which promise rich answers: What happened to Petey (Yul Vazquez)? How could Helly’s Outie do this to her? What the hell is going on with Harmony Cobel (Patricia Arquette)? Helly might be terrified and determined to leave, but a morbidly curious audience can’t help wanting to learn more about this fresh Hell. —Proma Khosla
5. “The Gilded Age” Season 1, Episode 6: “Heads Have Rolled for Less”
Photographer: Alison Cohen Rosa
Julian Fellowes’ HBO period drama did a lot of things well enough in its first season: It brought more Broadway talent to TV than the Tony Awards, crafted dresses so divine their opulence actually made certain viewers angry and provided a welcome reprieve from bleak, heavy, “prestige” TV without being, you know, bad. But few (if any) of these attributes topped what will forever be known as The Butler Wars.
While tension has been brewing since the Russells (New Money) moved in across the street from the van Rhijn-Brook family (Old Money), first blood is drawn in Episode 6, when Bertha Russell (Carrie Coon) is tasked with hosting an English-style dinner in order to impress the elite social class she’s long-courted. The only problem: Her kitchen staff isn’t trained in English customs. So, to the absolute outrage of her butler, Church (Jack Gilpin), Bertha hires the van Rhijn-Brook’s butler, Bannister (Simon Jones), to run the pivotal luncheon.
Fellowes astutely set the table for such a dust-up in earlier episodes, when the butlers’ paths crossed, but nothing could prepare audiences for the sheer delight of watching two uppity servants engage in a Battle of Manners. Forks go here, not there. Serve from this side, not that one. And just when you think the barbarity has come to a close, one last piece of silverware is driven into the back of a superior-seeming snob. Oh my. All that viciousness cloaked in faux decorum is enough to make anyone with a passing appreciation for well-placed passive aggression squeal in delight. And I did, dear reader. I did.
Oh, and there’s also a doll party, a train mystery, and Christine Baranski being an absolute queen. Great episode. Get hype. —Ben Travers
6. “The Dropout” Season 1, Episode 4: “Old White Men”
Beth Dubber / HULU
Hulu’s “The Dropout” charts the rise and fall of Theranos, as well as its kooky girlboss leader Elizabeth Holmes (an excellent Amanda Seyfried). The Theranos tale is truly wild, full of over-the-top characters and plot twists that seem plucked from a satire, so it’s no surprise that a miniseries about the saga is intriguing. What fans were happily surprised by, however, is just how funny it is. The rollicking internal politics of the startup from hell were at their best in Episode 4, “Old White Men,” when the Walgreens bros come calling to Theranos with $$$ in their eyes. Featuring pitch-perfect “hapless dude” performances by Josh Pais, Alan Ruck, and Rich Sommer, the tight installment laid bare so many of the problems with startups, delusion, media, men, and the fear of getting left behind. —Erin Strecker
7. “Abbott Elementary” Season 1, Episode 11: “Desking”
The comedic genius of the breakout ABC sitcom is best conveyed by two scenes in this episode about schoolchildren completing a dangerous TikTok challenge behind the backs of their teachers: Emmy winner Sheryl Lee Ralph’s line delivery of “Sweet Baby Jesus and the grown one too! My desks have been desked,” and the scene where the staff meets Zach (Larry Owens). And those are just the clips that went viral on social media. There are still plenty more jokes and riotous physical comedy here for viewers to latch onto. A winning showcase for creator/star Quinta Brunson and every member of her impeccable ensemble. — MJ
8. “Better Call Saul” Season 6, Episode 1: “Wine and Roses”
Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television
Throw a dart at the list of episodes in Season 6 of “Better Call Saul” and you’ll hit one worthy of this list. In a year of shocking character departures, meticulous schemes, and returns of familiar faces, maybe it’s best not to overthink it and just look at the hour that kicked it all off. From the elegant mansion-traversing cold open to Lalo’s (Tony Dalton) merciless means of survival to a country club infiltration good enough to get Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) his own Ocean’s sequel, this is maybe the purest distillation of what “Better Call Saul” has thrived on all along. After over a half-decade of living and breathing with these characters mere steps away from mortal danger, it’s episodes like this that combine the everyday peril and the quiet moments of humanity that make this series worth returning to again and again. It’s meticulous and elegant storytelling on all fronts, in facial expressions and camera moves and hard cuts. And it proved that the beginning of the end could be just as beautiful as everything that came before it. —SG
9. “Hacks” Season 2 Episode 4: “The Captain’s Wife”
Lucia Aniello, Jen Statsky, and Paul W. Downs’ odd-couple standup series descends gladly into national-tour chaos in Season 2, peaking with Episode 4. Marcus (Carl Clemons-Hopkins) has booked Deborah (Jean Smart) to perform on a cruise, which she smugly drags Ava on (Hannah Einbinder) because gay men love Deborah. That might be true, but Deborah and Ava are about to embark on a lesbian cruise, and gay women are less forgiving of Deborah’s years of jokes at their expense (not to mention a poorly vetted set of leggings). After managing to not piss anyone off for a few days and absolutely slay a musical performance, Deborah takes the stage to bomb spectacularly. She manages to insult every person on the cruise, including the captain’s wife — not to mention women at large — and gets herself and Ava sent back to land just when Ava was about to have a threesome with the hottest couple aboard.
“The Captain’s Wife” has a ball with what makes “Hacks” great: Deborah and Ava are de facto allies surrounded by strangers, helping each other out but not without a few barbs thrown in. The unique environment draws them closer, a reminder that they understand each other on a higher level that some people — landlocked, distracted Marcus, among others — will never quite crack. Smart and Einbinder give it their all as usual, and the departure from Deborah’s usual performance venues makes audiences also feel like they’re on vacation. —PK
10. “Barry” Season 3, Episode 6: “710N”
Nearly every time “Barry” takes a big swing, it ends up being a home run. Much in line with “ronny/lily,” the most memorable Season 2 episode of the HBO comedy series, the show executes an action sequence better than any kind of procedural on television, while still managing to inject gut-busting gags into it. As the titular hitman with a heart of gold, Bill Hader zooms down the fast track toward a third consecutive Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, cleverly balancing Barry’s superior survival instincts with his admirable dedication to showing up for his friends. Also, its subplot with the beignet restaurant deliciously skewers a Los Angeles social more, yet still makes the viewer crave the sweet treat (and the return of guest star Tom Allen’s sage burnout baker). —MJ
11. “Players” Season 1, Episode 1: “Creamcheese”
Already masters of the form through their work on “American Vandal,” Tony Yacenda and Dan Perrault set their loving tribute sights on the world of sports docs. Before the show even gets to its opening title sequence, it’s already set up the entire season. Perennial underachiever and esports elder statesman Creamcheese (Misha Brooks) is feeling pressure from rising star Organizm (Da’Jour Jones), but the two need to work together to get an elusive League Championship Series title. It’s not just that “Players” uses this kickoff episode to show its recreation bona fides, borrowing establishing shots, fonts, intense cello music, and archival footage beats from “30 for 30,” “The Last Dance,” and beyond. It’s how the show uses all of it, letting you know pivotal details (like the best riff yet on LeBron’s “Not two, not three, not four…”) before they pop up in different contexts way later down the road. Like “Vandal,” it’s also the instant, lived-in performance style that plants you firmly in that documentary interview feel, this time with people rattling off dense in-game combos like they’re telling you their go-to Starbucks order. With an incredibly natural Brooks helping lead the way, this does what the best sports docs do: make you both an expert and an invested fan in real time. — SG
12. “The Bear” Season 1, Episode 7: “Review”
The latest entry into TV’s growing canon of oner episodes, the single-take, choreographed chamber piece “Review” is far from a heartless technical exercise. It’s an instance of a show following through to a natural endpoint, even if it’s not a season finale. With burnout and success both on the horizon for the people of The Original Beef of Chicagoland, this 19-minute opus shows what happens when those two destinies meet in the middle. A rave review in the local paper and an unexpected surge in popularity spell almost immediate doom for the kitchen staff, as Carmy (Jeremy Allen White), Sydney (Ayo Edebiri), Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), and the crew get plunged into the chaos of a hotspot in high demand. From a structural level, it’s another example (like last year’s “Fanny Briggs” from “The Underground Railroad”) of what’s possible when TV is allowed to feel like TV. When you give talented storytellers a chance to break from preexisting molds and embrace the specific energy of a story told in distinct parts, you get slices of magic like this that will stab your butt, stun your tastebuds, and leave you wanting so much more of what’s left to offer. — SG
13. “The Rehearsal” Season 1, Episode 1: “Orange Juice, No Pulp”
Allyson Riggs / HBO
Whether or not you were a fan of how the rest of the season folded in on itself, it’s hard to deny the standalone pleasures of this opening episode of Nathan Fielder’s grand, surreal TV experiment. Boiling down an existential swamp — what if you could practice a single moment so much you could be guaranteed to be prepared for anything — into beautiful spring water, this premiere sees Fielder coaching someone through confessing a long-festering white lie. Armed with a mobile standing desk and an impossibly dense decision tree matrix, Fielder and his team not only prepare conversation topics for Kor, but account for any kind of disruption that might pop up over the course of his planned heart-to-heart. The slow reveal of the recreated Alligator Lounge (and all the people and knick-knacks inside) would be the highlight of just about any other comedy episode. But it’s the flashback montage of all the seeded trivia answers (including one about gunpowder that’s a strong Line of the Year contender) that makes this feel even closer to transcendent. You can’t make the entire plane out of “Finding Frances,” but bless this show for getting as close as it did over the course of 44 minutes. — SG
14. “What We Do in the Shadows” Season 4, Episode 5: “Private School”
Russ Martin: FX
Halfway through “What We Do in The Shadows”’ best season ever, the child who crawled out of the chest cavity of the deceased Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) hits a difficult, hyperactive age. Laszlo, Nadia, Nandor, and Guillermo team up to enroll the boy in private school, but that requires impressing the interviewer and hiding literally everything about who they are. It’s the kind of simple premise that would have been funny even in Season 1, but feels beautifully earned after years of getting to know these vampires and their various dynamics and neuroses. The entire episode unfolds in the sitting room of the crumbling vampire mansion, where Nadja repeatedly hypnotizes the interviewer so they can get their story straight, regroup, and make a good impression. It does not go well by most objective metrics, except that everyone survives — and even that might not last. — PK
15. “Los Espookys” Season 2, Episode 2: “Bibi’s”
Pablo Arellano Spataro/HBO
Julio Torres, Ana Fabrega, and Fred Armisen’s gleefully inventive HBO comedy often sparks admiration at the micro level. A meticulously designed hat. A human embodiment of the moon. An owl with a wig. The ideas are outrageous yet easy to appreciate, and as Renaldo (Bernardo Velasco), Ursula (Cassandra Ciangherotti), Tati (Fabrega), and Andres (Torres) build convincing horror scenarios on behalf of their clients, the production design celebrates practical elements of great craft work. “Bibi’s” is no different: From the opening gag where U.S. Ambassador Gibbons (Greta Titelman) tricks her reflection into drowning herself to Tico (Armisen) arriving in Mexico to stay with his cousin, the second season’s second episode is chock full of delightful details. But it also strings them together with intent, using absurd comic scenarios to push character development forward and set up seasonal arcs you’ll never be able to predict. Meanwhile, Bibi’s itself – a monster made to scare kids into obeying their teacher — doesn’t disappoint. Whether you’re watching for the characters, the craft, or the creatures, each core element of “Los Espookys” has rarely been stronger than they are in this entry. — BT
16. “Atlanta” Season 4, Episode 4: “Light Skinned-ed”
Donald Glover’s “Atlanta” took many a big swing over its four staggered seasons, but the finest entry of its final season is straight-up funny. Written by Stefani Robinson and directed by Hiro Murai, “Light Skinned-ed” pivots around Earn (Glover) and his mother Gloria (Myra Lucretia Taylor) heading to church on Sunday, where the elder Marks ditches her son and sister, Jeanie (Michole Briana White), in order to make off with her father (Bob Banks) — who Gloria believes is being mistreated by Jeanie. Heavy issues come up as the siblings try to sort out their roles and responsibilities, but Episode 4 isn’t focused on making an elevated point about colorism or slipping in sly commentary about, well, anything really. “Light Skinned-ed” is rooted in character and comedy. It helps establish Earn’s decision-making in future episodes, and reinforces how the Marks family relates to one another. But, again, it’s also very, very funny. White is hysterical (in every sense of the word), Glover finally gets to show off his range (though Season 4 certainly provided more opportunities than past entries), and Brian Tyree Henry even pops in to provide more of his patented, one-of-a-kind reactions. “Light Skinned-ed” offers everything that made “Atlanta” so special over the years, and perhaps more importantly, it’s an episode everyone should be eager to revisit time and time again. — BT
17. “Kevin Can F**k Himself” Season 2, Episode 8: “Allison’s House”
Robert Clark/Stalwart Productions/AMC
“Kevin Can F**k Himself” had the unenviable task this year of wrapping up what no doubt was initially planned as a longer running series in a concise manner that gave Allison (Annie Murphy) everything she’d been dreaming of. Sure, Allison wanted to off her horrible husband, Kevin (Eric Petersen), but by the series finale she’d actually given that up. Instead, she started her life anew…and yet she still wasn’t happy. Murphy showed us Allison’s longing and loneliness, which eventually translated her returning to Worcester, MA to reunite with her best friend Patty (Mary Hollis Inboden). Patty and Allison had such a strong, intense friendship that it makes sense to leave the series on these two’s friendship, the longest and most loving relationship in the entire series. It was also great to finally see Kevin get his fiery comeuppance, but really this series prioritized friendship in a beautiful way. — KL
18. “The Good Fight” Season 6, Episode 6: “The End of a Saturday”
The farewell season of “The Good Fight” was dotted with individual, episode-length time capsules. Many of them were gems, but maybe none more dazzling than this one, which finds the show’s central crew scrambling to fulfill a life-saving need for the nephew of relatively new partner Ri’Chard (Andre Braugher). Through hastily assembled Zoom calls, weekend party-crashing, and some good old-fashioned catfishing, Liz (Audra McDonald), Marissa (Sarah Steele), and the rest of the greater law firm family solve a series of cascading problems inside and far outside their usual courtroom battlegrounds. Never has legal jargon — “promissory estoppel”! “detrimental reliance”! — crackled so much as it does here, where everyone feels like they’re working together on a citywide escape room with life or death consequences. Add in some surprise Mississippi John Hurt and a legitimately shocking final beat and you have the perfect example of why Robert and Michelle King’s show stayed so versatile and nimble through each of its 60 episodes. — SG
19. “Documentary Now!” Season 4, Episode 3: “Two Hairdressers in Bagglyport”
Will Robson-Scott / Broadway Video / IFC / AMC
In her second-best performance of 2022, Cate Blanchett takes dead aim at a character so thoroughly corrupted by power many viewers left the theater believing she’s real — an actual conductor, famous for her challenging compositions and infamous for the way she goes about composing them. Honestly, it’s a justifiable assumption. “Tár” paints a vicious portrait of unchecked ego and institutionalized obstinance, with key details tucked into every scene — many within Blanchett’s savage portrayal, which proves as biting in its humor as its censure of Lydia herself.
Shot, meet chaser. “Two Hairdressers in Bagglyport,” a parody so light and loving it stretches the definition of the word, sees Blanchett playing Alice, a widow working at a seaside hair salon more for the company and camaraderie than paycheck or passion. Edwina (Harriet Walter) is the talented stylist and shop owner, who gives the elderly clientele the exact cuts they’re looking for and treats Alice — a klutzy, well-intentioned doofus — with unwavering kindness, even when her antics prove exhausting. Together, they’re impossibly endearing over a mere 22 minutes, and while writer Seth Meyers deserves his share of the credit — riffing off the 1994 BBC Two documentary “Two Salons at the Seaside” — it’s Blanchett’s evocative expressions that tickle your funnybone and stir your heart. From her physical comedy to revealing reactions, Alice springs to life with enough vigor to make you wish “Two Hairdressers” wasn’t a one-off, but a series unto itself. — BT
20. “Andor” Season 1, Episode 10: “One Way Out”
Who needs Jedi lightsaber duels and X-wing aerial battles when you’ve got a heist and a prison break? “Andor,” the “Rogue One” prequel crafted by screenwriter Tony Gilroy, went against the grain “Star Wars” has established again and again in recent years, banking on practical effects, tangible props, and heart-pounding passion over abundant CGI, nostalgia bait, and both at the same time. While Episode 6, “The Eye,” offered a thrilling example of what “Andor’s” mini-arcs could build to, but Episode 10, “One Way Out,” manages to top it.
Unjustly sentenced to six years of hard labor, Cassian (Diego Luna) soon discovers his already intolerable incarceration is actually much worse than expected. So what does he do? He shares what he knows, rallies the troops, and starts a revolution. “Andor” Season 1 meticulously plants the seeds of Cassian’s dissent — a dissent that will inspire the future Rebel army — by illustrating the extent of the Empire’s villainy. “One Way Out” provides a particularly vile example, but there’s more to the episode than just getting our hero back to his main mission. The machinery in place to execute the Empire’s plan only shows how often the goons in power could get away with murder, and the prisoners’ seclusion from the rest of society speaks to the same idea.
What could’ve been a one-off arc while other plot lines move into place for the finale becomes the series’ critical point of emphasis: The Empire is committing atrocities all over the galaxy — more than anyone could ever know about. Knowledge is power, power belongs with the people, and “Andor” makes us feel their might in every second of “One Way Out.” And I didn’t even have room to talk about Andy Serkis! — BT
Read more: The Best New TV Shows of 2022