This year already has big “Lemon, it’s Wednesday” energy.
For television specifically, 2022 has been hectic. Two new Star Wars shows and two new Marvel shows premiered. Oscar winner Anne Hathaway blue herself and that’s not even the buzziest series on Apple. Netflix is doomed but thriving, HBO is going to revamp the best streaming service on the market, and broadcast TV is back, baby! Kind of! Maybe.
A lot has happened in television and a lot of television has happened. The recurring cry of all TV critics, reporters, and viewers alike still echoes through our living rooms — “There’s too much TV!” — as the endless quest to find that next great program persists. Well, I’ve got good news and bad news. Bad news first: It’s only Wednesday. Despite “Stranger Things” already releasing individual episodes that feel longer than most calendar years, we are only halfway through the actual calendar.
But the good news is there are great shows out there. Some you’ve undoubtedly seen — like “Barry.” …except, just this week, I did speak to a prominent voice in television who said they still hadn’t seen Bill Hader’s beloved black comedy. So maybe there isn’t a communal water cooler show among so much supply. No matter. More to discover. And that’s what the below list of 2022’s Best TV Shows is all about: Consider it a worksheet, a viewing guide, or a polite reminder. These 15 shows are worth finding.
So go ahead. Start your next favorite series. And circle back later on, as IndieWire updates this article with the best shows from 2022’s ensuing Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
IndieWire’s Steve Greene, Proma Khosla, and Kristen Lopez contributed to shaping and writing this list.
15. “The Dropout” (Hulu)
We’ve seen a lot of grifter television this year, and Hulu’s Elizabeth Holmes story is easily the best of the lot. Anchored by Amanda Seyfried’s terrifying, intimidating, and at times hilarious performance as the former Theranos founder, “The Dropout” is presented less as the story of a grifter and more of a girlboss who refused to listen to reason. You can consider that a controversial examination of a woman who genuinely hurt people, but the show wants to get at why Holmes was so desperate to succeed in a man’s world, as well as why the “girlboss” era proliferated like it did. For a show about science, the tone shifts unexpectedly, including the odd musical moment that’s as creepy as they are cringey. And through it all, Seyfried and crew are game for anything. —Kristen Lopez
Read IndieWire’s original review of “The Dropout.”
14. “Abbott Elementary” (ABC)
Quinta Brunson’s network comedy about a plucky elementary school staff in Philadelphia won over the notoriously finnicky American TV audience and made it look easy. Brunson stars as Janine, a second-grade teacher undeterred by her school’s lack of funding or inept new principal (Janelle James). Along with the rest of the staff (Sheryl Lee Ralph, Tyler James Williams, and Lisa Ann Walter), Janine makes it her mission to give Abbott students nothing but the best. It’s a fantastic showcase for the writer, creator, and star’s razor-sharp comedy skills, as well as a reminder that the mockumentary format still has legs (when it’s this delightful to behold). But what makes “Abbott” so irresistible is Janine’s optimism, imbued in every single scene and performance. —Proma Khosla
Read IndieWire’s original review of “Abbott Elementary.”
13. “The Righteous Gemstones” (HBO)
For what Danny McBride’s latest HBO comedy lacks in incisive critiques of religious hypocrisy it more than makes up for in blunt force satire. The second season sees the Gemstones — a family of wealthy televangelists with a massive following — wrestling with past sins and fresh temptations. Eli (John Goodman) is visited by old friends who remind him of bad habits. Jesse (McBride) wants to invest in a risky resort complex with fellow megachurch preacher, Lyle Lissons (Eric Andre). Kelvin (Adam Devine) leads a cult-like bodybuilders camp on the verge of an un-cult-like revolt, while their sister Judy (Edi Patterson) works through a few unexpected hiccups with her new husband, BJ (Tim Baltz).
With that cast working within these characters, “The Righteous Gemstones” has plenty of guaranteed comedy built in, but Season 2 pushes everything to be bigger. Eli’s bottled up rage isn’t just a cute old hiccup; it can be scary. Jesse’s ambition isn’t fixated on any one thing; it’s unchecked and quite possibly unending. Kelvin’s campers create challenges that would crush anyone of average size, and Judy’s marriage issues culminate at a baptismal celebration to end all baptismal celebrations. Under the direction of David Gordon Green and Jody Hill, there’s enormity to the sets, the effects, the costumes, and the rest of the series. Such magnitude adds real weight to a black comedy that’s already loud and in your face, making its characters’ go-for-broke choices all the more hysterical. —Ben Travers
Read IndieWire’s original review of “The Righteous Gemstones.”
Courtesy of HBO
12. “Irma Vep” (HBO)
Where Olivier Assayas’ 1996 film felt like a tribute of sorts to a world he’d spent a decade firmly planted inside, his 2022 series of the same name works almost like an exit interview. Both projects track an actress joining a modern update of the classic French serial “Les Vampires,” combining the desires built into the creative process with the thorny interpersonal chain of events that have to fall into place for those storytelling ambitions to become reality. With the extra time that an eight-part series allows for, this new “Irma Vep” has a captivating Alicia Vikander at its center, but there’s extra consideration for the combination of ideas and effort that goes into the final product, no matter how pure the artistic intentions. It’s dotted with self-referential angst, both from Assayas and each member of this phenomenal ensemble called on to play an actor playing an actor. (To call Lars Eidinger “magnetic” here would be a criminal understatement.) Though it has plenty of pessimism about the state of modern financing, blockbuster filmmaking, and the industry at large, such worry is offset with a playfulness that Assayas can’t help but let seep into so many of his frames. If the future of cinema is TV, this series proves it may be more promising than he thinks. —Steve Greene
Read IndieWire’s original review of “Irma Vep.”
11. “Somebody Somewhere” (HBO)
There simply can’t be enough of “Somebody Somewhere.” Sure, we’ve seen the story of a person struggling to find themselves many a time before, but what Paul Thureen and Hannah Bos pull off builds big emotion out of situations that generally aren’t perceived as good for television. In this case, Sam (Bridget Everett) and her Kansas life isn’t about finding success, it’s just about becoming a person who can get up in the morning and feel accomplished. Her relationship isn’t about finding a grand romantic partner who accepts her for her flaws. Instead, it’s about her friendship with the shy Joel (Jeff Hiller) and how they galvanize each other to be the best versions of themselves. It’s a show that finds coziness in good friends, good conversation, and the inevitable wacky hijinks. More importantly, it’s a show where the most relatable moments can be found in watching Joel and Sam just sit in their cars and talk. Who can’t relate to that? —KL
Read IndieWire’s original review of “Somebody, Somewhere.”
10. “Gaslit” (Starz)
TV series set in the 1970s are everywhere this year, but of them all, “Gaslit” felt like the one to actually unearth a fresh, relevant story. For many, the Watergate scandal is well-trodden territory of white males doing bad things. But what creator Robbie Pickering does so skillfully is use that as a jumping off point to tell the story of a woman most people don’t know or don’t remember: Martha Mitchell (played by Julia Roberts, who also executive produces). To look back at the history, Mitchell’s chronic revelations of the truth behind Watergate were known to people, but nobody believed her. She was perceived as crazy, a drunk, or both. Hmm, certainly sounds germane today. Julia Roberts dominates as a tough Southern matron who’s also a vulnerable woman convinced she’s done everything right and yet can’t catch a break. Never mind that her daughter hates her, if Martha’s failed at anything it’s that men, especially her husband (a prosthetics-laden Sean Penn), have let her down when she needed them most.
This desire to lift the curtain and tell the stories of the forgotten victims of Watergate culminates with one of the show’s best episodes (and probably one of the best episodes of 2022 TV), “Tuffy.” In this sixth episode, Frank Wills (Patrick R. Walker), the security guard who discovered the Watergate break-in, is also ignored and pushed aside — he wasn’t even considered a hero for discovering the crime. Instead, he has to leave the city with no job and a couple bucks of tip money. “Gaslit” does what so many shows have failed to do: It takes a piece of history and, rather than retell a known story, it amplifies a perspective wrongfully disregarded until now. Add to that some brilliant performances, and it’s one of the best throwback series of the year. —KL
Read IndieWire’s original review of “Gaslit.”
9. “Pachinko” (Apple TV+)
Perhaps the most epic plea for empathy over violence ever staged for television, “Pachinko” tells an intimate story spanning three generations, three languages, and multiple continents. Sunja, the main protagonist, is followed from her early childhood, as a young adult, and later on, when she becomes a grandmother. Each timeline isn’t a puzzle piece. The emphasis isn’t on how one stage reaches the next but how each aspect of her life shapes what follows. Starting in the early 20th century and running into the 1980s, Sunja survives drastic historical shifts. She grows up in a Korea occupied by the Japanese and becomes entangled with one of the colonizers. She flees a home she won’t be able to revisit for many decades. Even Episode 7, which breaks from Sunja’s perspective and focuses on a supporting, villainous character, depicts the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923 while providing critical backstory. “Pachinko” could feel like a history lesson if not for its thorough investment in people, which grounds the sweeping series in a romantic longing for something better — be it for Sunja, her ancestors, her descendants, or us all. —BT
Read IndieWire’s original review of “Pachinko.”
Paul Schiraldi / HBO
8. “We Own This City” (HBO)
In detailing the rise and fall of the Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force, series co-creators David Simon and George Pelecanos paint a very specific view of corruption. Yes, it’s one built around ill-gotten gains and a curbing of individual citizens’ rights. And when BPD commissioner Kevin Davis (both in archival footage shown during the opening credits and reiterated in Delaney Williams’ performance) describes the actions of the group as akin to “1930s gangsters,” he’s not inaccurate. But the series’ power is in showing how a sustained course of action built on tiny incremental wrongdoing is not only effective enough to build a harmful fiefdom within a major American city, it’s central to systemic issues that plague so many other cities and departments like it. As with Simon and Pelecanos’ previous creative pairings, “We Own This City” doesn’t just look at the instigators or the perpetrators or those tasked with meting out what passes for justice. It carries the strength that comes from showing the downstream effects of what happens when people in power abuse their stations for personal ends. “We Own This City” shows how Sergeant Wayne Jenkins’ (Jon Bernthal) proximity to police sovereignty curdled his duty to serve. In 2022, though, his manipulation of public trust is a story that sadly has too many analogues to mention. —SG
Read IndieWire’s original review of “We Own This City.”
7. “Atlanta” (FX)
Donald Glover’s long-awaited return to FX marked the series’ longest departure from its titular city. Touring Europe, Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles (Brian Tyree Henry), Earn (Glover), Darius (Lakeith Stanfield), and surprise tag-a-long Van (Zazie Beetz) encountered various surprises, commonalities, and surprising commonalities. Entitled fans, ignorant racism, and confounding hypocrisy are alive and well, even outside the United States, as the team navigated thoughtless holiday celebrations, deceptive decoy houses, and corporate cultural appropriation. But Season 3 also took notable time away from its regular cast, telling thematically relevant but narratively independent stories about reparations, exploitation, and identity. Combined with a consistent focus on whiteness, these breakout episodes rubbed some viewers the wrong way, and it will be curious to see how Glover & Co. continue to explore unconventional storytelling methods in the already-shot final season (due later this year). But Season 3 remains a fascinating exploration unto itself — a journey that’s very much about the experience, rather than the destination — and TV needs more shows with similar courage, conviction, and comedy. —BT
Read IndieWire’s original review of “Atlanta.”
6. “Hacks” (HBO Max)
“Hacks” Season 2 might not be charged with the same interpersonal friction as its predecessor, but the combination of Jean Smart and Hannah Einbinder continues to yield pure alchemical comedy gold. Ava (Einbinder) has pledged her loyalty to Deborah (Smart), but not before having to read the damning email she sent producers out loud to her boss and would-be friend, who then decides to do what rich, wronged people do best: take legal action. The two spend a season touring and perfecting Deborah’s special while embroiled in litigation, adding the perfect sting whenever things get too chummy and as pressure mounts for Deborah to deliver a hit special. The supporting cast buoy the HBO Max ensemble — special mention goes to Laurie Metcalf’s guest role, while Megan Stalter does literally anything — and though their professional partnership may not be forever, Ava and Deborah’s relationship will live on. —PK
Read IndieWire’s original review of “Hacks.”
Suzanne Tenner / FX
5. “Better Things” (FX)
A simple list of events depicted in “Better Things” should be more than enough to bring a smile to your face — even for those who’ve yet to appreciate Pamela Adlon’s endearing, empathetic ode to motherhood, family, and finding the joy in life’s everyday offerings.
In one episode, Sam (Adlon) cooks borscht. In another, she and her brother page through their family’s ancestry. She shoots a sitcom episode starring an overacting child. Weddings, funerals, trips — the final season has them all. Enticing situations are an integral, if obvious, key to great sitcoms, and “Better Things” knows how to bring out the best in each of them. Paired with Adlon’s observant, caring eye and appreciation of character-defining details, FX’s gem springs to life, each and every episode. But to call “Better Things” loose or exploratory doesn’t do justice to the sound emotional structure guiding Season 5’s overall arc. Themes are thoroughly explored. Seemingly insignificant beats connect to form a resounding rhythm. While easily enjoyed from scene to scene, Adlon blends episodic and serialized storytelling through stitched together vignettes rooted in deeply felt visual, audible, and emotional logic.
Those revisiting the series can drop in on any episode or any scene and find moments to enjoy. Or they can start from the beginning and discover layer after layer that builds to a moving, virtually unavoidable, yet wholly original ending. “Better Things” is great from the granular to the big picture and back again. Don’t let it drift away. —BT
Read IndieWire’s original review of “Better Things.”
4. “Barry” (HBO)
The three-year drought between “Barry” seasons may have left fans parched and stuck on a tantalizing cliffhanger, but Alec Berg and Bill Hader’s formidable comedy more than delivered upon its return. Season 3 finds Barry at his most vulnerable and volatile, distanced from acting mentor Gene (Henry Winkler) and girlfriend Sally (Sarah Goldberg) as his dreams of a normal life slip slowly out of reach. Hader delivers another knockout performance (as do Winkler, Goldberg, Stephen Root, and Anthony Kerrigan) in a season full of deadly twists, high-octane action, and some truly life-changing beignets. —PK
Read IndieWire’s original review of “Barry.”
3. “Better Call Saul” (AMC)
You can feel it. The end is near. Yet with “Better Call Saul,” the end is only the beginning. Since the start, Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad” prequel has been tracking Jimmy McGill as he becomes Saul Goodman — the sleazy, strip mall lawyer utilized by Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). His transformation has been as nuanced as its motivations are unexpected, even if seeing the con man become a licensed attorney isn’t all that different from watching a snake shed its skin. Now, halfway through the final season, the questions lingering over “Saul” aren’t exclusive to one man or even his subsequent series. What about Kim (Rhea Seehorn)? What fate awaits Saul’s wife and chief conning collaborator? Where has she been during those five seasons, and what does that mean for what’s next? For Jimmy’s future post-Saul? Is a reunion possible? Probable? Worth hoping for, in this tragic spiral we can’t look away from? Perhaps the most pertinent question of all is also the simplest: What does it cost them? All their moral compromises, sneaky scams, revenge plots, and more stick-it-to-the-man stings that, when looked at plainly, are really about proving they’re not as little, as petty, as insignificant, as they feel perceived to be? A steep price likely awaits. After all, the human soul doesn’t come cheap. —BT
Read IndieWire’s original review of “Better Call Saul.”
2. “Undone” (Prime Video)
A remarkable accomplishment. The first season of Kate Purdy and Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s rotoscope-animated family drama follows Alma (Rosa Salazar) as she digs through her past to discover the truth about her father’s death. The twist: Her dad, Jacob (Bob Odenkirk), is helping her do it. Yes, he’s dead, but the father-daughter duo have discovered a way to travel through time together, working their own memories like a mystery, with Jacob’s life hanging in the balance. During their journey, unwanted discoveries alter the present, Jacob’s misaligned priorities are exposed, and Alma’s lasting connection to her father is investigated. How his decisions in the past influence her choices in the present frame a story of parental influence and personal responsibility that crescendos in a question: Is it too late to save them both?
Season 2 returns not with the answer but an answer, while pivoting its focus from Alma’s father to her mother. The time-traveling template is tweaked as she and Jacob again go searching through the past, only this time, it’s to better understand Camila (Constance Marie) — and they’ve got a little extra help from Alma’s sister, Becca (Angelique Cabral). With these shifts, Purdy and Bob-Waksberg show great awareness, dialing up elements that worked well in the first season while expanding on the same themes and ideas still rich for exploration. Intergenerational trauma, self-imposed sacrifice, unknown connections — they all play a role in a story that’s both vast and intricate, while remaining propulsive and thrilling. In the end, “Undone” is rich and satisfying… while still leaving audiences wanting more. —BT
Read IndieWire’s original review of “Undone.”
1. “Severance” (Apple TV+)
Read IndieWire’s original review of “Severance.”