I know I tend to stick to ten with these, but I was too heartbroken by the things I’d have had to leave off this list that I’ve expanded to fifteen. This is in part because I watched a crapload of TV this year – I watched well north of forty shows from this year – but also because 2022 wildly surpasses 2020 and 2021 to the point where it felt unfair to feature 2021’s #10 but not 2022’s #15.
Before I begin, let me mention a few shows that wrapped things up in 2022. The Expanse finished its run with two episodes this year, and while it ended well it’s a shame they’re not continuing to the final third of the source material. Station Eleven and Yellowjackets each had three episodes this year, with Station Eleven finishing its limited run spectacularly and Yellowjackets setting things up for its return this coming March. Ranking of Kings narrowly missed this list wrapping up its fantastic first season, but I mostly wanted to mention it because its 2022 OP is so cool. Check that out.
Finally, 2021 made me think that the future of television would be defined by the miniseries. Then 2022 proceeded to have almost zero miniseries. Go figure! Long live the long-running series.
15. The Rehearsal
stream: HBO Max
The Rehearsal‘s first episode, in which Nathan Fielder helps a guy have an uncomfortable conversation through extravagantly realistic rehearsals, is enthralling, but The Rehearsal quickly pivots to deeper scenarios. The show can feel a little stuck in the mud with Fielder’s parental rehearsal, making all side plots feel greatly refreshing. But the A-plot still goes to some pretty confounding places, and the finale properly interrogates the ethics of the show even if the announcement of a second season might cheapen that a bit. Problems aside, there is nothing like this show, not even close, and I’m fascinated to see how it manages to disappear up its own ass even further next time around.
14. The Owl House
seasons 2 & 3
22 episodes (41 total, 12 in 2022)
Finally. For so long now, The Owl House, essentially Gravity Falls if it was an isekai into a wizarding world, has been promising pretty big things, and while it’s been a joy to watch it chip along, it’s withheld its deepest secrets and taken great care to not reveal the obviously dark places it was sure to go. No longer. The Owl House has finally lined up all its dominos and revealed its endgame. It’s just a shame that Disney Channel has contracted its final act. In related news, things continue to get gayer.
13. For All Mankind
10 episodes (30 total)
stream: Apple TV+
Here we go. This is surely one of the great things they had in mind when they made For All Mankind, a piece of speculative fiction about a space race that never ended. This is where its historical fiction crashes into its science fiction and sees a three-way race to Mars. Though the show has sometimes lacked the perverse delight in twisting history found in its first season, For All Mankind‘s third season is easily its most fun and contains its most brazen historical twist yet.
12. Kaguya-sama: Love Is War
13 episodes (37 total)
Kaguya has spent the last couple seasons establishing itself as one of the strongest still-running anime, but its third season – subtitled Ultra Romantic – elevates the show from great to classic. This show, a romantic comedy where the leads are engaged in a Death Note-like game of cat mouse, can only get away with its bullshit for so long without meaningfully rolling the ball forward. Kaguya‘s epic school festival arc rolls that ball just brilliantly, though it remains to be seen how its hook can survive such a progression. Manga readers promise that Kaguya will remain a classic up until its end.
11. Mob Psycho 100
12 episodes (37 total)
Though One-Punch Man got more eyeballs, Mob Psycho 100 has proven to be mangaka ONE’s masterpiece, its premise fuller and its adaptation more wholly realized. Awkward junior high schooler Shigeo “Mob” Kageyama has the most powerful psychic powers in the world, and instead of seeking to conquer his talent and build his life through that God-given path, he instead chooses to work on his weaknesses, working hard to improve his body and gain social ability. Mob‘s third and final season continues to dazzle with its unique perspective on what it means to really work on oneself. And quite appropriately, the climaxes of its lengthy arcs are less wowing than the ending of a humble, two-episode story. Mob Psycho 100 ends its run as one of the most significant anime of the last ten years.
Also, just look at that intro. One of the finest I’ve ever seen.
10. Smiling Friends
stream: HBO Max
Netflix import Tuca & Bertie aside, it feels like Adult Swim’s animated comedy canon hasn’t had any new entries since Rick & Morty premiered… almost ten years ago??? But unlike Rick & Morty‘s high concept Dan Harmon bullshit, Smiling Friends brings Adult Swim back to its basics: realistically awkward conversation, a creative approach that suggests drug-use either on your part or the writers’, and casually-employed insanity. The childrens’ show premise in which our heroes are part of an organization that sets out to put a smile on unhappy faces of course disintegrates quickly and is a fairly loose setup. Smiling Friends is most impressive as a love letter to the age of internet animation that bred it: Newgrounds’ Tom Fulp, David Firth of Salad Fingers fame, and Mike Stoklasa of RedLetterMedia are just a few of the internet personalities that have voice roles in Smiling Friends, and it’s an overdue reminder of the type of show that couldn’t really exist without Adult Swim around.
8 episodes (16 total)
stream: HBO Max
The hook of Industry‘s first season was that scores of recent graduates, among them our four heroes, were undergoing a competitive intern program at a premier investment bank in London. So Industry‘s second season sees them on the other end and has to find a new way to impress. Each of our main characters is put into a far different context, most notably in Harper’s pursuit of a major, eccentric hedge fund manager as a client that tests both her abilities and her loyalties. It’s hard not to compare Industry to Succession despite the difference in both tone and financial situation of its characters, but the main bit is that Industry‘s craft is around the quality of Succession‘s, no small feat. It’s not quite there, but Industry does provide it sturdy competition for the best show on television built around money and business. In part because its characters, though less monstrously harmful, are every bit as depraved and sick.
8. The Bear
The Bear doesn’t really have a hook. After his brother commits suicide, Carmy tries to use his culinary talent to make something of the Chicago beef restaurant his brother left him. There’s a lot to work with there, but don’t be surprised if The Bear doesn’t grab you right away. Expect the show to win you over on execution, especially in its wonderful final two episodes. The Bear clearly has things to say about the culture of cooking, which makes it very cruel how forcefully it makes you feel the anxiety of that work.
7. Reservation Dogs
10 episodes (18 total)
Though Reservation Dogs arrived last year surprisingly fully-formed, season two came rocking even more freedom and confidence. Our four Oklahoman reservation heroes find themselves in more interesting spots than before: the world’s creepiest man picks up hitchhiking Elora, Cheese is thrown into a Kafkaesque foster home nightmare, Willie Jack gets fed up with dubious decolonization lessons from a city-slicking “Young Elder,” and Bear…gets a job? And as the shows prophecy of California is finally fulfilled, it’s striking how easy things feel for Reservation Dogs. In an era where the best TV comedies have gotten a bit artsier and become a bit more dramatically focused, Reservation Dogs is at the vanguard.
stream: Apple TV+
Pachinko is the story of Korean Kim Sunja’s immigration to Japan in the 1920s and the lives of her family for the next two generations, and the show’s strength in depicting each time period reverberates. Though the show is at its strongest when depicting the Japanese occupation of Korea, this bolsters its 1989 story of Sunja’s grandson trying to convince a woman his grandmother’s age to sell her home to a large Japanese corporation. Pachinko is a wonder, and though I haven’t read its source material, it feels clear that season one leaves a lot on the table for what’s next.
seasons 3 & 4
20 episodes (41 total)
It’s a shocker to think that Atlanta is definitively over. Unlike other shows on this list that ended in 2022, it wasn’t apparent that this would be it until its fourth season was surprise-announced as its last. But it’s not surprising in retrospect, it had been four years since its fantastic second season, and a full quarter of its final twenty episodes – yes, this year’s offerings doubled the show’s length – shift focus entirely away from its characters. So while Earn, Alfred, Darius, and Van travel Europe, we also see a horror story about a black boy fostered by two white women, some white guy suffering the repercussions of real actual reparations, and a white-passing high school senior taking a flamethrower to his school when he’s denied a college scholarship meant for black teens. Meanwhile, season four takes everyone back to the titular city and gives us some final time with everyone. Atlanta goes out as arguably the most essential and imaginative show of the last decade.
stream: Apple TV+
Imagine if you could separate your consciousness so you were entirely oblivious to your work self and your work self knew nothing about who you were outside the office. How would your “innie” feel about this reality it did not choose? Severance‘s premise is dynamite, but just so harrowing, and its first season’s nine episodes are psychically brutal. The offices of Lumon Industries are instantly one of the most iconic prisons in all of fiction, and it’s hard not to shake the feeling that something like this is happening to you, too.
Though I liked some shows better, it’s hard to deny that Severance was the show that defined 2022.
8 episodes (24 total)
stream: HBO Max
Barry was once a show about a hitman who tried to escape his dark past through the joy of acting class. No longer. Barry‘s core relationships have all been a little too disturbed, and through the first half of the season it feels eerie and alarming to feel so disconnected from what once was. Then the show becomes all things: as suspenseful and explosive as Breaking Bad, as artfully contemplative as The Sopranos, and still somehow one of the funniest shows on TV in a style all its own. Its fourth season will be its last, but as with Succession, Barry‘s third season has become a defining moment where the show lifts from one of the best things on TV to outright modern classic status.
2. Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal
10 episodes (20 total)
stream: HBO Max
I actually wasn’t even excited for Primal‘s second season. Season one was a great showcase of Genndy Tartakovsky doing his silent storytelling even more stripped down than in Samurai Jack, but despite the finale promising something a bit more, I thought its ten episodes, all pretty self-contained, did the job well enough.
The second season’s first episode is really more of the same. But from then on Primal becomes an entirely new animal. Season one was all about caveman Spear and T-Rex Fang, each recently widowed, teaming up to kick some ass in a brutal world openly hostile to their survival. Season two is about love, revenge, saving lives, saving souls, Gods, evolution, slavery, civilization, death, and birth. With Primal‘s second – and presumably final this time – season, Genndy Tartakovsky once again establishes himself as one of the greatest working storytellers in animation. We can only pray that his huge creative deal with WB survived the merger from hell with Discovery.
1. Better Call Saul
13 episodes (63 total)
stream: Netflix (eventually 🏴☠️)
Better Call Saul may not have the dynamite premise of Breaking Bad, and Jimmy McGill’s known destiny might remove a layer of suspense from the proceedings. But Better Call Saul stands as a near-equal to its revolutionary predecessor for two reasons: 1. It plays with your knowledge and makes you suffer even worse than if you didn’t know and 2. Much of the team behind Breaking Bad is simply more learned now at how to make good television. Better Call Saul‘s sixth and final season is the creative team showing off. You’re reminded that even though it’s really not essential for this show, Better Call Saul is the best-looking long-running series there is, the knack for cinematography simply unparalleled on television aside from 18-hour-film Twin Peaks: The Return. The writers creatively approach the need to conclude the stories of both Jimmy McGill and Gene Takovic. Better Call Saul continues to be the most well-acted show since Breaking Bad, with Odenkirk, Seehorn, Mando, Esposito, Banks, and Dalton all giving way to unexpected MVP Patrick Fabian.
Better Call Saul‘s unique approach to its finale is one I’m still processing. It always had a hard job in front of it, by design serving mostly as prequel but also partly sequel. But I think its ending is at least as successful as Breaking Bad‘s great-but-not-all-time-great conclusion. But that’s more than enough to count Better Call Saul‘s sixth season as a wild success, a successor that rose to the occasion set by the titan preceding it and the greatest drama of the last ten years.
Abbott Elementary, seasons 1 & 2
Amphibia, season 3
Andor, season 1
Blue Lock, season 1
Bob’s Burgers, seasons 12 & 13
Bocchi the Rock!, season 1
Chainsaw Man, season 1
Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, limited series
Dead End: Paranormal Park, seasons 1 & 2
Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities, limited series
Hacks, season 2
Heartstopper, season 1
Pantheon, season 1
Ranking of Kings, season 1
Russian Doll, season 2
Stranger Things, season 4
The White Lotus, season 2
Tuca & Bertie, season 3
Undone, season 2