It’s time for the best television of 2022. And with so many shows, I’m bound to miss more than one.
Notable mention from spots fifteen to eleven: House of the Dragon (HBO), Welcome to Wrexham (FX/Hulu), The Righteous Gemstones (HBO), Fleishman Is In Trouble (FX/Hulu), The English (Amazon Prime Video)
For a show that could’ve been a one season and done, Alec Berg and Bill Hader continue to get more out of Barry and its third season than imagined: wit, heart, tension — and new to this season, especially — fear. The hired killer just keeps getting by unscathed, but how much longer? Just when you think the writers have painted themselves in a corner, they find a way to keep that corner intact yet continue a satisfyingly intriguing story. The show’s next season, which will be its last, can’t get here soon enough. Barry could be done.
Black Bird lured viewers in probably as a scratch to that Mindhunter itch (RIP) as much as anything, but it spread its wings to be much more, particularly for Ray Liotta, who makes his final onscreen appearance as the father of a jailed son, well played by Taron Egerton. Based on the autobiographical book In With The Devil, Egerton’s Jimmy Keene is tasked with getting a confession from possible killer Larry Hall. It’s no surprise to note that Dennis Lehane developed the series for Apple TV+ as it shows: every scene drips with tense exchanges and undercurrents of danger. Paul Walter Houser shines as Larry and, guilty or not, will scare the shit out of you.
Lest you forget, Steve Carell can act. The Patient garnered enough praise from this site that TV and film podcast Taking It Down covered it week-to-week, and for good reason. The thriller was developed and written by the minds behind the excellent series The Americans, but unlike their previous FX series, The Patient appears to be a limited series only. Juggling themes from fatherhood to religion, Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields also up the stakes by having one of the primary characters not only be a serial killer but also practice his, um, problematic answer to life’s issues. And when the murderer is played by Domhnall Gleeson doing a hell of a balancing act with an obsession for the “No Shoes Nation,” then it’s a must-see show. Add that every episode clocks at thirty minutes or much less and it’s merely a binge away.
Perhaps no set of actors had tougher roles than those in Apple TV+’s the-future-is-now series Severance where the protagonists have their non-work lives “severed” from their work selves. It’s a high-stakes premise, but it pays off well as Adam Scott, John Turturro, Christopher Walken, Britt Lower, and more seem to physically change once outside of the job. What is life when separated from career? Ben Stiller poses that question and plenty more worth debate in this excellent series. The first season left viewers with a cliffhanger of sorts, so it’ll be exciting to see how deftly Stiller and the rest picks it up upon returning. Catch up — it promises to be existentially dreadful.
We Own This City
The buzz behind this David Simon production has died some since its summer air date, but that doesn’t make it any less important for its focus on how a time period — in this case, 2018-2019 — can reflect a larger, systemic problem. Comparisons to The Wire are not only expected but warranted. Simon even casts plenty of alumni from his previous work to toy with the idea of change: many of their roles in We Own This City are direct flips from their work in The Wire. The star, though, is new to Simon’s shows. Jon Bernthal somehow gives a performance of both menace and sympathy as beat officer who transforms into a monster. Based on a true story of the Baltimore city’s gun task force and its corruption, Simon does it again. Good news is that We Own This City does it in only six episodes.
It would be a fruitless exercise to limit the second season of HBO’s Euphoria by singling out one story, one actor, or one episode. But, c’mon. Zendaya’s portrayal of the pitiful, addicted, and struggling Rue having her Odysseus-like escape from the plug did more than make viewers’ hearts beat faster than normal. It allowed for one of the year’s best performances in television and directing. This cast is one of the best in any series, from lovable pothead Fezco (Angus Cloud) to pained friend Jules (Hunter Schaffer). Even Nate Jacobs (Jacob Elordi) got some redemption! Right? Right!?! All of them, and I haven’t even mentioned Sydney Sweeney as Cassie giving one of the best breakdowns of the year. You know a show is great when everyone can’t decide on a favorite character that week. It’ll be hard to keep this cast together, so let’s hope HBO manages to do so for one more season at least.
Look, I’m as surprised as you are! Yeah, Star Wars is absolutely great and fun and exciting and wonderous. If you think I didn’t go see what Disney World offered with Galaxy’s Edge, you’re wrong. I went. I loved it. But as far as television that hits all the marks with scripts, performances, and issues beyond the TV screen, Star Wars hasn’t really been known for that. At least not until now. This is what good I.P. can be if you put it in the hands of an accomplished team, particularly one lead by Tony Gilroy, who took the story of Cassian Andor and the beginnings of the Rebellion seriously and not just spectacle. Andor had more to say about real-world matters than those actually set on Earth! But it still made room for classic Star Wars bits of escapades, albeit enmeshed in grit. None of this could’ve happened without the original, but it’s refreshing to see the saga growing with its viewers and handling granular stories with encompassing themes sans someone named “Skywalker.” Give me more!
At first I brushed off Reservation Dogs‘ second season. The first couple of episodes felt like it was being lauded because critics were supposed to praise stories that aren’t front and center all the time, i.e. white. But then the third through tenth episodes aired and I saw it. Reservation Dogs not only told an authentic, loose story of being a Native American in Oklahoma but it also told the story of being young, confused, and afraid in America, which is universal in any time and with any group. The largest and most deft move that creator Sterlin Harjo used, though, was digging into the grief from the first season and giving the characters development out from it. There were episodes and scenes that had me near tears and plenty more that had me chuckling. If the second season started a little slow to get Bear, Elora, Cheese, and Willie Jack together then it proved its worth ten times over upon completion.
Another in a line of punchy, short dramas, The Bear succeeds in ramping up small stakes to ten — or maybe even to numbers well beyond what an amp should go. Some viewers even found it hard to watch due to the stress. But none of that works without character, and The Bear felt as lived-in as any other show when it comes to its people. The instance everyone is on screen, each actor knew their characters, including Jeremy Allen White’s Carmy, Ebon Moss-Bachrach’s Richie, and Ayo Edebiri’s Sydney. Of those three, only Moss-Bachrach was familiar to me (Girls, The Punisher, Andor), but Jeremy Allen White and Ayo Edebiri became instant stars. The idea isn’t complex: Carmy takes over a dead brother’s fledgling, small restaurant in a rough part of Chicago. Will it work out? It doesn’t really matter, which may be why some critics knocked the last minutes of the final episode. Still, the show did a lot with a little. It is an amazing ride, chef.
Better Call Saul
This was the one. If it didn’t come together here, Better Call Saul would still go down as the best prequels ever made. But it landed every beat — even better than the original, Breaking Bad. Some may knock it for stretching out a plot point in a couple of the final episodes, but that doesn’t make for a hill of beans when everything else clicks together so perfectly, not least of all Bob Odenkirk’s display as a man inching closer and closer to ruin. (Which he did in some episodes after having a heart attack on set!) Rhea Seahorn’s Kim Wexler shined, as always, but Michael Mando’s Nacho and Patrick Fabian’s Harry Hamlin came from almost nowhere to help put a bow on each of their characters as well. It was sad, glorious, inventive, brave, and lovely all at once. It was sad to see the series go, but it ended perfectly. There’s something to be said about putting things right in place.
Hear more on television and movies each week with the podcast Taking It Down.