The TV episode — that building block of small-screen storytelling that's been stretched to the limit, only to be trimmed back down to pithier, ever briefer forms (though "quick bites" were a bridge too far). Even as the binge-release model has warped viewers's expectations (and patience), a single episode of TV still has the power to make or break a series. Any recommendation of a show begins with the recommendation of a particular episode: an entry point for the uninitiated, or a way to sway the skeptical.
When we talk about the best TV of 2022, we're also talking about the best episodes of the year, naturally — the standout entries, ambitious gambits, and emotional payoffs. The Primetimer staff took a festival jury approach to our selections, stumping for our individual favorites while also considering the entries that moved the medium forward as a whole. Here are the 11 best TV episodes of 2022, mostly listed in order by air date, plus an early outing we just had to give an honorable mention.
Air date: February 27, 2022
Music is a massive part of HBO’s open-hearted comedy, thanks especially to the cabaret nights that Joel (Jeff Hiller) hosts in his small Kansas town. But the absence of music is just as important: Ever since her sister died, Sam (Bridget Everett) has found it hard to sing, both because she’s grieving and because her sibling was the only one who really believed in her talent. But Joel — kind, hopeful Joel — keeps pushing her to perform anyway. Every time she does, she loves it, yet she retreats back into herself the second after she hits her last note.
In the season finale, when Sam sings Joel a song that she wrote just for him, the impact could tear your heart out. She’s thanking him; she’s thanking her sister; and she’s letting herself come back to life. Her performance lasts for over three minutes, giving us an unadorned, unwavering look at the love these two people feel for each other, and it’s astonishing to behold. Then Joel and Sam’s impish buddy Fred (Murray Hill) makes a perfect little joke to keep things from getting mawkish. That saltiness is crucial. After all, just a few minutes before Sam sings, she’s with her friends on Fred’s party bus, drinking too much and saying inappropriate things. Those are the moments that gave her the courage to sing to Joel in the first place. Lucky for us, we get to see every part of their friendship in action. — Mark Blankenship
Air date: April 8, 2022
The Severance Season 1 finale is the kind of episode that sticks with you long after the elevator dings and the screen cuts to black. Over the course of 41 minutes that unfold mostly in real time, “The We We Are” ratchets up the tension bit by bit, like a rickety wooden roller coaster slowly inching towards a massive drop. The anxiety-provoking trip begins with the reveal that Helly (Britt Lower) is an Eagan, and from there, it doesn’t let up: Mark (Adam Scott) comes to the realization that Lumon has created some kind of alternate version of his late wife; Irving (John Turturro) ignores his marching orders and sets out to find Burt (Christopher Walken); and Helly lays it all on the line to reveal the truth about the severance procedure.
When Milchick (Trammell Tillman) tackles Dylan (Zach Cherry) to the ground, ending the innies’s excursion into the outside world, it feels like the roller coaster has stopped at its apex. For completionists, this abrupt ending is somewhat frustrating, but the episode’s excellent performances (particularly Lower’s) and the fast-paced action leading up to the moment of impact make up for any disappointment. With so many questions left unanswered, there are a thousand different places Severance could go in Season 2 — hopefully, it will involve those baby goats — but no matter where it takes us, I know I’m not getting off the ride. — Claire Spellberg Lustig
Air date: May 19, 2022
So much of Hacks rests on Deborah’s (Jean Smart) position of power over Ava (Hannah Einbinder), particularly the early episodes of Season 2, in which Deborah holds Ava captive with an NDA violation lawsuit. But “The Captain’s Wife” flips their dynamic on its head, as Deborah fumbles her way through a lesbian cruise, and Ava enjoys the kind of stardom her boss experiences on a day-to-day basis in Las Vegas.
Ava’s newfound popularity gives her the confidence to ask Deborah about her sexuality, and the two proceed to have a frank conversation about what parts of ourselves we choose to examine. It’s a beautiful, intimate scene, and even though Deborah ignores Ava’s advice onstage, resulting in their removal from the ship, its impact can be felt throughout the rest of the season. Without this moment of Ava pushing Deborah to interrogate her own vulnerabilities, it’s difficult to see how her set comes together in Episode 6, “The Click.”
But despite their shifting power dynamic and the weight of Ava and Deborah’s discussion, “The Captain’s Wife” never feels heavy. The episode opens with a great visual gag — Deborah’s team sets up a makeshift QVC set in the middle of a field — and includes an all-star line reading from Einbinder, who lets out a childlike “No!” upon learning that her threesome with the Lavender Travel “it” couple is being cut short. And who could forget Laurie Metcalf’s final appearance as tour manager Weed? Best of luck on your one-person-crusade against the mattress industry. — Claire Spellberg Lustig
Air date: May 20, 2022
The Snatch Game has earned its position as Drag Race's signature challenge over the years, but with that comes increased expectations. The queens’s celebrity impersonations had better good or they’ll catch hell from the fans. Look no further than Season 14's disastrous Snatch Game to see what happens when it all goes wrong. But the expectations for the all-winners Snatch Game were justifiably high, given how many of them had slayed this challenge in earlier seasons.
Jinkx Monsoon, in particular, had already given one of the all-time great Snatch Games when she portrayed Little Edie from Grey Gardens ("quite the scandal, actually!"). Still, no one could have been prepared for her double bill of Natasha Lyonne and Judy Garland. The Lyonne impression on its own would have been worthy of high placement — the raspy voice, the spot-on one-liners, "Don't Tell Mom, the Cheerleader's a Lesbian" — but that was soon eclipsed by the tour de force of Jinkx's Judy. You have to figure many drag queens have a Judy in their repertoire, but Jinkx's mix of slurry delivery, stage presence ("Is that my camera?"), and ingenious comedic instincts added up to something truly singular. By the time she was calling back to a Season 5 moment where a makeover subject had bizarrely confessed to having killed Judy (you really had to be there), the judges were in hysterics and this episode had entered the pantheon of greatest Drag Race episodes. — Joe Reid
Air date: May 23, 2022
It was only a matter of time before Better Call Saul’s cartel and legal chicanery storylines crossed over, but no one was expecting it to go down like this — though with a title like “Plan and Execution,” maybe we should’ve been a bit more prepared. Much like Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) and Kim (Rhea Seehorn), whose silly pranks masked a larger scheme to embarrass Howard (Patrick Fabian) and win the Sandpiper settlement, creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould are working three steps ahead of the viewer. They know we’re anticipating a grim ending for Kim, who doesn’t appear in Breaking Bad, and they understand that fans will seek out Easter eggs in every frame, especially in the final season. So while we’re fretting over Kim and enjoying an extended sequence of Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton) surveilling the Lavandería from a nearby sewer, Gilligan and Gould put a ruse of their own into motion, one that ends with Lalo shooting Howard dead.
”Plan and Execution” marks the halfway point of Better Call Saul Season 6, but it has an air of finality. The days of Jimmy and Kim’s consequence-free scheming are over. Howard is dead, executed for the crime of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. As we see in the final six episodes, Jimmy and Kim will forever have to live with his blood on their hands, and his words ringing in their ears: “You two are soulless.” — Claire Spellberg Lustig
Air date: June 23, 2022
This 20-minute episode changes The Bear in two ways. Most obviously, it reorients the story: The first six episodes are about the stress of legacy, with Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) trying to keep his late brother’s Chicago restaurant up and running. He and his new sous chef Sidney (Ayo EdebirI) are thrust into a business that’s been doing things in a very particular way for a very long time, which leads to comic mishaps, angry misunderstandings, and anxious turf wars about everything from recipes to decor.
That arrangement is rickety from the beginning, and in “Review,” it collapses. Thanks to several simultaneous mishaps, Carmy has a meltdown, Sidney quits, pastry chef Marcus (Lionel Boyce) gets his spirit broken, and hotheaded manager Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) gets stabbed in the rear end. After all that, there’s no more saving what used to be. Instead, the series shifts its focus to a community that’s building something new.
Meanwhile, this episode also expands the show’s aesthetic language. To heighten the tension, it’s mostly shot in a single take, with the camera darting from one disaster to the next. There are no breaks and no escape: Viewers must experience the restaurant’s implosion in real time. By pulling off this audacious move, the creative team signals that even when they’re shooting in a tiny little kitchen, their ambitions are as big as anything on TV. — Mark Blankenship
Air date: September 21, 2022
In its Season 2 premiere, Abbott Elementary put its best aspects on the front burner, meeting all the expectations that followed its breakout freshman season head-on. Janine (Quinta Brunson) plans a mixer for the first week back at school while stubbornly insisting she isn't struggling after a breakup, once again letting her enthusiasm write a check that reality can't cash. Brunson plays Janine's try-hard qualities with such sincerity and a willingness to fall on her face that it's both easy to root for her and fun to laugh at her at the same time.
The premise also gives the show a chance to reiterate its mission statement — celebrating teachers in rueful solidarity over how hard they work with such meager support — and give each of its stalwart cast members (Sheryl Lee Ralph, Lisa Ann Walter, Tyler James Williams, and Janelle James among them) a moment to shine.
“Development Day” is perhaps perfectly encapsulated by Jacob (Chris Perfetti) returning from a summer abroad and bursting at the seams to show off his newfound ASL proficiency. He’s the butt of several jokes before quietly, in the episode's closing moments, getting a moment to genuinely connect with a new deaf student. That combination of sharp humor, well-earned sentiment, and bone-deep Philadelphia authenticity (a Gritty cameo and an A.J. Brown shout-out!) was a declaration that Abbott Elementary was back and at the top of its game. — Joe Reid
Air date: September 28, 2022
The Season 2 finale of Reservation Dogs might be the most restorative episode of the year — we defy you not to tear up when Bear (D'Pharaoh Woon-a-Tai) helps Elora (Devery Jacobs) finally let go of her pain over the loss of Daniel (Dalton Cramer) — but it’s also just a triumph of storytelling. Series co-creator Sterlin Harjo laid out new paths for Bear, Elora, Cheese (Lane Factor), and Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis), each rewarding or challenging in its own way. And they all converge in "I Still Believe," which sees the group finally arrive in California, somewhat worse for wear but unwavering in their commitment to their late friend.
Things are never easy for the Rez Dogs, but this culmination, in which Bear upends the group dynamic once more by refusing to go back home, feels as effortless and natural as the waves breaking on the shore. Patching things up with Elora and fulfilling their promise to Daniel is an end, not the end. Together with his cast and crew, Harjo harnessed the power of loss and community, reminding us that grief is transformative; it certainly changed these four teens. But grief itself changes, morphs into something else. It will always be a part of these kids, just like their bond. "I Still Believe" honors that past while poignantly pointing Bear and his friends (and the series) toward the future. — Danette Chavez
Air date: October 2, 2022
The latest adaptation of Anne Rice’s novel Interview with the Vampire arrived on AMC with a thrilling — if ironic — breath of life, proving that TV's determination to cannibalize any and all intellectual property can still show us something new. The series premiere announced itself confidently, with our titular vampire, Louis de Pointe du Lac (Jacob Anderson) re-fashioned as a Black entrepreneur (of, yes, a brothel) in the French Quarter of New Orleans. This new vision of Louis was already rather exciting, but things got positively combustible when he met Lestat (Sam Reid). With one scorchingly lustful sex scene, decades of homoerotic subtext were eagerly tossed aside and any questions of "will they or won't they" were definitively answered. — Joe Reid
Air date: August 12, 2022
Will Graham and Abbi Jacobson's A League of Their Own defied the nostalgia trap to become one of the most purposeful reboots ever made. The Prime Video series is a reclamation of queer history, a winning comedy, and a smoking hot romance, all rolled into one. "Stealing Home" nimbly balances all of these elements, as Carson (Jacobson) tails Lupe (Roberta Colindrez) out of suspicion that her teammate wants to be traded. But Lupe has actually found a queer haven — a speakeasy operated by Vi (a very welcome Rosie O'Donnell) that welcomes "friends of Dorothy." Their joy is short-lived, as the establishment is raided by bigoted cops, and not-fully-out women like Carson and Greta (D'Arcy Carden) contemplate the refuge of the closet. Graham, who wrote and directed the episode, develops a complementary and equally compelling storyline for Maxine (Chanté Adams), who admires her trans uncle Bertie's life, but can't yet bring herself to live so openly. — Danette Chavez
Air date: November 9, 2022
Before Star Wars: Andor premiered, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story had offered the most extensive look at the human costs of the Rebellion — the lives sacrificed, willingly and otherwise, beyond the battlefields. This prequel series from Tony Gilroy travels further up the chain of command, "spying" on Imperial Senator Mon Mothma (Genevieve O'Reilly) in her own home as she funds the rebel efforts, and shadowing antiques dealer Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgård) as he recruits the title character, played once more with brooding rakishness by Diego Luna.
But Gilroy, who did reshoots and rewrites for Rogue One, remains just as concerned with the people for whom rebellion is an imperative, not simply a choice. Desperation and courage go hand in hand on Andor, and never is that more apparent than in "One Way Out." In a series filled with doomed characters, Kino (Andy Serkis, free of his motion-capture suit and doing some of his best work) may be the most heartbreaking. A sort of prison trustee, he thought, as so many do, that keeping his head down was his ticket out. But Cassian opens his eyes to the harsh reality: none of the prisoners will ever be released. The revelation guts Kino, while also driving him to join Cassian's prison break. But after bringing that mini-rebellion to thrilling life, Gilroy and director Toby Haynes remind us that happy endings are in particularly short supply in this corner of the Star Wars universe. — Danette Chavez
Air date: January 6, 2022
Most of Station Eleven aired in 2021, but since this masterpiece of an episode premiered in early January, it deserves recognition. For one thing, it proves why Himesh Patel got an Emmy nomination for his performance as Jeevan, an aimless young guy who suddenly becomes the caretaker for a little girl he meets during the beginning of an apocalyptic pandemic. In this episode, we see how Jeevan and young Kirsten (Matilda Lawler) survived their first few years together, building a new family while navigating the endless grief of the changed world. And then, when things seem especially bleak, we see Jeevan discover his life’s calling. Both Patel’s performance and the unsentimental script from Will Weggel and Patrick Somerville capture the awe and terror of accepting a new path, and they position Jeevan as a hero without asking him to give up his quirks, flaws, and pain. It’s a great stand-in for this sensational series as a whole. — Mark Blankenship
TOPICS: Star Wars: Andor, Abbott Elementary, The Bear, Better Call Saul, Hacks, Interview with the Vampire, A League of Their Own, RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars, Severance, Somebody Somewhere, Station Eleven, Abbi Jacobson, Ayo Edebiri , Bob Odenkirk, Bridget Everett, Himesh Patel, Jacob Anderson, Jeff Hiller, Jeremy Allen White, Peter Gould, Quinta Brunson, Rhea Seehorn, Sam Reid, Sterlin Harjo, Taika Waititi, Vince Gilligan, Will Graham