After nearly three years of delays, shifting timelines, and surprise drops, TV returned to form in 2022. Exciting new series were released, follow-up seasons were hotly anticipated and debated, IPs were extended, cancellation bloodbaths occurred — even pilot season was back, sort of. Yes indeed, TV looked like its old self again, only now, there was somehow even more of it.
Peak TV kept right on cresting, as streamers and networks tried to adapt to viewing habits and tastes. To give a sense of the scope, this year saw the debuts of two new Star Wars shows sandwiched in between multiple new Marvel series, as well as the final bows of two of the most acclaimed cable shows of the last decade. Yet some of the most ambitious TV unfolded on broadcast, and on a weekly schedule.
Critical and ratings darlings really can come from just about anywhere, which is why this year, the Primetimer staff joined forces to separate the wheat from the chaff. Our staffers submitted ranked ballots of their top 15 shows to bring you this list of the best TV shows of 2022, which includes a sprawling sci-fi drama, an exceptionally compassionate comedy (or three), a summer sleeper hit, and what's widely regarded as the breakout show of the year. While we definitely had some differences of opinion, we did easily agree on one thing: There was some truly outstanding programming this year (the tie for 10th place is just more proof).
Second seasons can be daunting, even for series that nailed their first installments. 2022’s “sophomore class,” which included the eagerly anticipated returns of The White Lotus, Russian Doll, and Euphoria, was one of the strongest we’ve seen in years. But Reservation Dogs left its competition behind by being both grander and more intimate in its storytelling. It might have had even more riding on it than its classmates, centering as it does Indigenous performers and creatives, who remain one of the most underrepresented groups on TV. Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi’s eclectic, gorgeously heartfelt dramedy made its way to the top of our list on the strength of its cast — you couldn't ask for more winning performers than Devery Jacobs, D'Pharaoh Woon-a-Tai, Paulina Alexis, and Lane Factor — and its deeply humane storytelling. Almost every character deserves to be called a sh*t-ass at some point, but their flaws are every bit as key to their growth as their virtues.
Season 2 thoughtfully expanded the show's world, starting with the reservation and town of Okern. The elders got more of their due and, together with some hilarious newcomers (Amber Midthunder, please come back), scored some of the funniest scenes of the season. But the quartet of searching teens remained as captivating as ever, whether they were together (as in the profound finale) or trying to forge an individual path. Their friendship is one of the most compelling dynamics on TV, the way it's tested and reinforced. The central question of the first two seasons may have been resolved, but there's absolutely no need to wonder what will keep the show going in its third season and beyond. — Danette Chavez
There’s sticking the landing, and then there’s what Better Call Saul did in its sixth and final season. Co-creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould had their work cut out for them as they attempted to complete the emotional journey of Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), all while linking the series to the events of Breaking Bad and beyond, as seen through the story of Cinnabon manager Gene Takovic. But this duo has always been able to harness chaos and spin it into gold, and the final season of Saul, a triumph of cinematic storytelling, is no exception.
Odenkirk is as good as ever as he navigates the final beats of Jimmy’s descent into criminality, as well as his moral backslide in the black-and-white flash-forward sequences, while Rhea Seehorn steals every scene she’s in as Kim Wexler, who we see make fantastically bad choices, only to make the right one in the end. It’s not surprising that the cartel drama drifts out of the picture as the season progresses; that has never been as important as the questions raised by Jimmy and Kim’s wheeling and dealing, and the show’s exploration of whether we can overcome our worst inclinations. It isn’t possible for Walter White (Bryan Cranston), but Jimmy and Kim get a different sort of conclusion, one that perhaps betrays Gilligan and Gould’s preference for these characters over their Breaking Bad counterparts. Now, time to fight about which show is better. — Claire Spellberg Lustig
There was something so hopeful about the first season of Somebody Somewhere, in both the story being told and the fact that it was able to be told in the first place. It's a show about feeling lost at an age when you feel like you should have figured it out by now, told via a central friendship that is as sweet, sensitive, and empathetic as you're going to find on TV.
That might surprise you if you’re familiar with the bawdy alt-cabaret style of series star Bridget Everett, but if you watched her on Somebody Somewhere, you know it's true. Everett is a force as a comedian, and she brought that to her portrayal of Sam, whose life in Manhattan, Kansas appears to have stalled out after the untimely death of her sister. In one of 2022's best TV relationships, Sam bonds with Joel, a fundamentally optimistic gay man played with bracing honesty by Jeff Hiller. Their relationship — platonic, funny, and deeply necessary for them both — leads Sam to discover a community of welcoming eccentrics tucked into the corners of her more conservative town, lending Somebody Somewhere an accommodating and expansive queerness that felt increasingly comforting to revisit in 2022's more socially harrowing moments. It's a show that could make you cry at a moment of human decency or break out laughing as Everett bulldozes her way through another social interaction, and if Warner Bros. Discovery can resist the urge to cancel it, that would be very nice. — Joe Reid
With all the upheaval of a television industry in a near-constant state of flux, it still feels like if we can have at least one great workplace comedy on TV, we're doing all right. Thank goodness, then, for Abbott Elementary, which rather quickly progressed from unheralded midseason premiere to becoming one of the best — arguably the best — shows on network TV. Quinta Brunson put together a sparkling ensemble comedy whose essential sweetness and support of public school teachers and their struggles to educate children doesn't detract from its delivery of briskly-paced character comedy.
That ensemble has already established itself as one of TV's best: Sheryl Lee Ralph giving not-her-first-rodeo gravitas in an Emmy-winning turn; Lisa Ann Walter, whose Melissa is so Philly she practically enters a scene throwing batteries; Chris Perfetti, who keeps his character's over-woke eagerness and earnest decency in near-miraculous balance; Tyler James Williams who keeps finding delightfully peculiar angles to his straight-man newcomer; and Janelle James, posing through life as nightmare principal Ava. And that's not even mentioning Brunson herself, whose optimistic, often overmatched Janine is already one of TV's great strivers. It’s been remarkable to watch a show be so assured this early in its run while growing ever more playful in its second season (that Halloween episode!). Joe Reid
Severance could almost make our list based on the very last moment in its first season, which is one of the best cliffhangers in recent memory. But that nailbiter of a finale wouldn’t have nearly as much impact if the rest of the show weren’t so intoxicating. The story of corporate workers who “sever” their office memories from the rest of their lives is a chilling metaphor for our own culture, which can demand we devote ourselves to our jobs like religious zealots. Yet this sinister show is also quite beautiful. From the sharp lines and monochromatic designs of the “severed” workspaces to the retro costumes and hairstyles on all the cast members, every episode has the look of the future as imagined by a 1950s ad agency.
But underneath that sleekness, the characters are wild and messy. We spend the season watching them realize who they are, who they want to be, and what their corporate overlords are preventing them from knowing. Brief flashes of memory feel momentous. Small rebellions, both in the office and in the regular world outside, give us hope that their spirits will survive. And the cast — led by Adam Scott and Patricia Arquette as employees with very different relationships to the company — moves expertly between conformity and resistance. They’re especially good at suggesting the volcanic feelings they’re pushing down, and when they finally blow, it’s a thrill. — Mark Blankenship
As it tells the story of a fortysomething guy rebounding from a divorce, Fleishman Is In Trouble is so witty and charming — not to mention sexy — that you might not notice the cracks in everyone’s happy exteriors. The cracks are there, however, and they only get bigger as the FX limited series goes along. Toby Fleishman (Jesse Eisenberg) never stops being clever and quippy, but eventually he can’t joke his way out of his loneliness. His best friend Libby (Lizzy Caplan) remains empathetic and brilliant, but she finally has to face the fact that Toby’s failed marriage isn’t so different from her supposedly happy one.
And then there’s Rachel (Claire Danes), Toby’s ex-wife, who seems like a stereotypical, power-hungry nag when we see her through his biased point of view. But when she gets own episode near the end of the series, she reveals herself as a heart-bruising tangle of love, fear, hope, and hurt. Her perspective spurs a glorious, compassionate conclusion, filled with the grace that everyone over 40 hopes for as they consider their decades of mistakes. Matched by expressionistic cinematography and career-best acting from the three leads, the writing becomes an ode to the people that sustain us in middle age — forgiving us and loving us in equal measure. – Mark Blankenship
No show in 2022 bottled up anxiety and stress quite like FX’s The Bear. The audience feels everything as the camera frantically moves from the giardiniera station to the fryers to the flat-top grill, and with every person who squeezes into that small kitchen, the pressure rises, like a tea kettle on the verge of blowing. When the dam bursts in “Review” — an episode shot almost entirely in a single take, denying the viewer any respite from the chaos — this constant tension gives way to catharsis: Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) is finally able to reflect on his relationship with his brother (and by extension, the Original Beef), and through his grief, he finds a way forward.
White, who grew up on the set of Shameless, was already well-versed in dysfunction, but he thrives as Carmy, a role requiring equal parts intensity and brutal honesty, both of which typically manifest in screaming form. His performance is elevated by that of his co-star Ayo Edebiri as sous chef Sydney, who aims to distance herself from the mayhem, but winds up at the center of it. For viewers unfamiliar with Edebiri’s previous work in Big Mouth and Dickinson, The Bear serves as an excellent showcase for her wide-ranging skill set, and her performance enables the show to ride the line between comedy and drama in a way that reinforces its singularity. Yes indeed, chef. — Claire Spellberg Lustig
You'd be forgiven for looking at the prospect of Andor with weary eyes, as yet another commitment from within the Star Wars universe landed on your TV like an assignment. Part of what made Andor's creative success so thrilling was that it was able to wake up that exhausted part of our psyches that had been worn out by the last seven years of sequels and prequels and books of Boba Fett.
Tucked into a niche in the Star Wars timeline after the Clone Wars and before the events of Rogue One, Andor accomplished what none of the other Star Wars properties had been able to do, and this maybe even includes the original trilogy: It made the rebellion feel like something real and vital and necessary. The Rebel Alliance and its fight against the Galactic Empire was mostly a pretext for a rollicking space adventure in the original Star Wars, which was fine! But in Tony Gilroy's vision for Andor, you can feel the crushing weight of the Empire's oppression from all corners. You can feel it on the mining planets where Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) is so reluctant to take a stand, or in the tension in the corridors of power — as Mon Mothma (Genevieve O'Reilly) maneuvers behind the scenes — that something is about to give way. Andor tells a story that often doesn't feel at all like a Star Wars story, and in doing so ends up galvanizing the underlying narrative for the entire Star Wars universe. — Joe Reid
If the first season of Hacks was about the uneasy alliance between comedy legend Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) and her twentysomething writer Ava (Hannah Einbinder), Season 2 explores the ways in which the women drive each other personally and professionally. In Episode 2, “Quid Pro Quo,” Deborah tells Ava that she’s “just like” her — just as “selfish and cruel” — and the rest of the season plays with this idea as the two discover new sides of themselves while venturing across the United States on Deborah’s tour.
Their complicated, push-pull relationship is the beating heart of the show, but even when Deborah and Ava are at their most vulnerable, Hacks is careful not to be cloying. Its emotional beats are always earned, as in the case of the Season 2 finale, when Deborah fires Ava in an act of love, believing it’s the only way to push Ava to climb her own creative mountain. Smart and Einbinder deliver devastatingly beautiful performances in this scene, which is loaded with expectation and desperation and even a throwaway joke about Ava’s screenwriting software being corrupted.
In this moment, as with the rest of the season, co-creators (and frequent directors) Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs, and Jen Statsky thread the needle between earnestness and levity, making the transition from one to the other look effortless. It’s a neat trick, and one that Hacks will have to rely on even more in Season 3 as Deborah and Ava begin to navigate the world without one another. — Claire Spellberg Lustig
One of the great joys about covering television for a living comes when you watch a show out of professional obligation that then becomes a show you watch for pure pleasure. That joy is multiplied when the show in question is seemingly a summer TV time-filler with meager expectations and zero fanfare. Who could have expected that a show about the non-famous relatives of famous people competing to uncover each other's identities, all hosted by the two least famous Jonas brothers would have been — this is not hyperbole — the best TV show of the summer?
Claim to Fame was exactly that, and not in a "this show is so dumb" rubbernecking way. The show took its own premise seriously — it was incredibly smart in how it allowed the audience to play along and know a little more than the contestants but not too much. The cast comprised a shockingly charismatic cadre of celebrity relatives, including but not limited to L.C. Palmer (Keke Palmer's sister), Logan Crosby (Jason Aldean's cousin), and Adria "Louise" Biles (Simone Biles' sister). The result was reality TV lightning in a bottle that was incredibly fun to watch as an active experience, perhaps even pausing to jot down clues and then compare your guesses with like-minded friends. And that's not even getting into Frankie and Kevin Jonas and their infectiously charming sibling chemistry. The whole thing was a fun, smarter-than-it-needed-to-be delight. Bring on Season 2! — Joe Reid
Pamela Adlon's keen understanding and commitment to depicting how we experience life made Better Things one of the most propulsive shows on TV — though not in the way of overwrought puzzle-box shows. In life, there are no neat resolutions, so every episode, even the series finale "We Are Not Alone," ends with an ellipsis. Every win is followed by a defeat or some other low, but that cycle keeps on churning until our fortunes reverse again. And time will absolutely not stop for anyone, not even a beleaguered working mom of three who needs at least another four hours in the day. But rather than try to capture every change, Adlon, who directed and co-wrote many of the series's 52 episodes, chose to craft exceedingly beautiful moments with full recognition of their ephemerality.
The fifth and final season continued this tradition, along with Season 4's focus on healing. In true Better Things form, uncomfortable questions were posed, poignant answers offered, and the Fox family — Sam (Adlon), Max (Mikey Madison), Frankie (Hannah Alligood), Duke (Olivia Edward), and Phil (Celia Imrie) — reached the brink, only to come back stronger, if more scattered. And Adlon stuck to her guns, performing an in-story Irish exit at the largest gathering the show had ever held. Her ruminative comedy said its goodbye by acknowledging how many things will always be left unsaid, even to those nearest and dearest to us.— Danette Chavez