There has never been this much TV. One might say that there is too much TV.
As the streaming service boom continues, the output of television remains startlingly endless. Nielsen reported that there were 817,000 different TV shows that were available to watch last year. That is a real number. That is a real, outrageous number.
As daunting as that statistic seems, I find that we haven’t lost what it is about this medium that draws us to it. We bond over our favorite shows together. We progress as a society because of the stories we see on screen. We get whisked away from the harsh realities of our everyday lives, and we confront them head on. Together as a nation, we clap our hands in glee while Jennifer Coolidge screams, “These gays, they’re trying to murder me.”
Series like Better Things, Somebody Somewhere, and The Bear helped us learn how to handle grief—and, crucially, gave us permission to feel the big emotions. A show like Abbott Elementary is hilarious, sure, but also recontextualizes what we thought we knew about teachers and the struggles they go through. In different ways, watching shows like Severance, Fleishman Is In Trouble, and The Good Fight challenged our perceptions of the world around us and our place in it. I put on Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen or What We Do in the Shadows when I need to feel good—when I just want to laugh.
Yes, we’re approaching nearly a million TV series and that is overwhelming, but it’s a medium that continues to better us and itself. That is what we celebrate each year—or, at least, I do.
Obviously, I have not watched all 817,000 shows. I haven’t watched a fraction of that list. In this list of the 22 Best TV Shows of 2022, you’ll notice a lot of your favorites missing, shows that you can’t imagine being absent from a ranking like this. What can I say? I didn’t watch them! A person can’t watch everything.
But I did watch a lot. Of the shows that I watched, here’s what I thought were the very best. I thought about the series that had a profound effect on me this year. I thought about the acting and the writing, of course, and strived to make a diverse list that reflected my diverse viewing habits. At the end of the day—and at the end of the year—these are the series that, when I think about the last 12 months, have stuck with me. Not just entertained me, but have stayed with me in real and meaningful ways.
22. A League of Their Own (Amazon)
When a movie is already perfect, remaking it as a series can seem like a fool’s exercise. But Abbi Jacobson and Will Graham’s reimagining of Penny Marshall’s 1992 classic film is the rare case of creators understanding exactly what made a story special and expanding the world in a valuable, fascinating way. This new A League of Their Own still chronicles the creation of an all-women professional baseball league in the 1940s. But it’s thrillingly inclusive, showcasing the experiences of the Black women and queer women whose stories weren’t told in the film.
21. The Boys (Amazon)
At a time when there is so much pressure to say the right thing, tell stories responsibility, and have something important to say, there is something refreshing about a TV series that is unabashedly gratuitous. The Boys and its depiction of corrupt superheroes abusing their power is shockingly violent and grotesque. But there’s a taunting, cheeky wink to it all that elevates the series from something too cynical and nihilistic to a titillating romp you can’t help but enjoy.
20. Bluey (Disney+)
Parents have long known the magic of Bluey, the Australian cartoon about two young dogs, their mum, and their dad discovering what it means to connect and learn through imaginative play. But, as the show’s popularity continues to explode, this is the year that even those of us without children got hip to its power: Not only is Bluey genuinely moving and educational, but it also is one of the funniest shows on TV.
19. We Own This City (HBO)
The limited series We Own This City marked The Wire creators George Pelecanos and David Simon’s return to Baltimore. Based on a nonfiction book by Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton, the show is a gritty, gripping look at the Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Forth and all its scandal and corruption. With firecracker performances from Jon Bernthal and Josh Charles, it’s a worthy spiritual successor to The Wire, in all its greatness.
18. Interview With the Vampire (AMC)
Just when it seemed like pop culture couldn’t possibly have anything interesting left to say about vampires, especially the ones immortalized in Anne Rice’s Lestat novels, this new, updated take on Interview With the Vampire delivered. It leaned into everything that should be naughty and fun about the genre. It’s gross and violent. It’s lush and sexy. It’s, finally, explicitly gay. That’s right: In this Interview With the Vampire, Lestat and Louis fuck. Thank God.
17. The Real World Homecoming: New Orleans (Paramount+)
Many millennials or members of Gen X have a The Real World season that was most formative to them. For me, it was New Orleans. Like The Real World was in its original form all those years ago, the reunion series Homecoming is a daring sociological experiment. Get the original show’s cast members to live together again for a week, this time as adults in their forties, and reopen old wounds from 20 years prior to—in some cases, at least—finally heal. It was especially fascinating to watch the group remember what it was like for Danny Roberts, who was openly gay on the show, to bear the responsibility of his visibility on TV.
16. The Bear (FX)
The Bear may be responsible for 95 percent of the instances of the word “chef!” used on TV in 2022. It also was the year’s most surprising word-of-mouth hit. Every episode of the series felt like a televised panic attack, a stress-inducing depiction of the chaos in the kitchen of a busy restaurant. As intense and cacophonous as The Bear often was, it was also mournful and melancholy, as a star chef tries to make good, running his brother’s failing restaurant after his death. That it could be both such a powerful shot of adrenaline and such a delicate portrait of grief made it one of the most exciting and original new series of the year.
15. I Love That For You (Showtime)
Joanna Gold (Vanessa Bayer) has always dreamed of hosting a show on a home shopping network. When she nearly botches her chance, she flails and blurts out that she has cancer, in a desperate attempt to keep her job as host. The thing is: Joanna doesn’t have cancer. (She did when she was a child, but that was more than 20 years ago.) Saturday Night Live veteran Bayer finds a way to make Joanna lovable, even as the lengths she goes to maintain her deception become increasingly unforgivable. Molly Shannon and Jenifer Lewis give two of the best supporting performances of the year, as strong women who Joanna’s story and humanity crack.
14. This Is Going to Hurt (AMC+)
The vibes of This Is Going to Hurt are bleak. But they’re also riveting. Ben Whishaw (Paddington in the flesh!) plays a doctor named Adam at a British hospital where everything is falling apart. He’s exhausted from back-to-back (-to-back) shifts, and every day seems like a non-stop fire drill. (In the case of an episode in which the fire alarm won’t stop going off, sometimes literally.) It turns out that being a doctor really sucks, and This Is Going to Hurt is blunt about that in a way that is actually quite refreshing.
13. Better Call Saul (AMC)
When a show becomes as revered during its run as Better Call Saul did, there is a lot of pressure to stick the landing. The final episodes of the series were remarkable for how much risk they took in the march to the finish line. (Remember that game-changing ninth episode that seemed like a series finale, except there were still four more episodes left in the season?) Everyone, especially Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn, was on the top of their game, making this the rare series to leave its fans almost universally pleased at the end.
12. Abbott Elementary (ABC)
Abbott Elementary was the show that everyone rooted for this year—and it was easy to do. Quinta Brunson’s comedy was a powerful revelation of what it is like for teachers struggling and scrambling to be effective educators at an underfunded school with few resources. Never preachy but always warm, the series also became a weekly showcase for two of the funniest performances on TV, in Sheryl Lee Ralph and Janelle James.
11. Fleishman Is in Trouble (FX)
As we get older, we’re all left wondering, “How did we get here?” But rarely do we get to have the answer explained to us. That’s the triumph of Fleishman Is in Trouble, a nuanced and intelligent character study about time, middle age, and how we change. It begins with Toby Fleishman going through a major life change. He is divorcing from his wife, Rachel (Claire Danes), and is single for the first time in decades. Disrupting what is already a chaotic time is Rachel’s sudden disappearance. As Toby tries to figure out what is happening and how to fix it, we’re given a full-circle perspective of his situation, through Rachel, his kids, and his close friends. It’s a fascinating unpacking of how our actions and decisions impact everyone we meet—and are impacted by them in return. The real story might not be what we remember.
10. Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen (Bravo)
Choosing which of Bravo’s reality series is the strongest at any given point is a matter of taste and whims. But the steady, stalwart highlight of the network’s programming is Andy Cohen’s nightly talk show, a Bravo party that doubles as must-see viewing. It’s as gratifying for Bravo fans to watch Real Housewives and Below Deck crew mates come on to gossip about the most recent episode as it is to see Hollywood A-listers excited to let loose. Cohen’s interviews are unashamedly goofy and often surprisingly newsy, creating a safe space for major stars to spill the tea.
9. Bad Sisters (Apple TV+)
We always love a good dark comedy, and they don’t get much darker than Bad Sisters. The Garvey sisters are as close-knit as siblings come, and they’ve had enough of “The Prick.” That’s their nickname for John Paul (Claes Bang), the vile and insufferable husband of Grace (Anne-Marie Duff), who they have decided to kill. The series follows their attempts at getting away with it, but it’s not all so insidious: For a show about murdering a family member, Bad Sisters sure has a lot of heart. Sharon Horgan, the co-creator and co-star of Catastrophe, also pulls both duties here, injecting the show with a lacerating wit, but also palpable vulnerability that makes Bad Sisters, in spite of its premise, feel so achingly human.
8. Severance (Apple TV+)
The premise alone of Severance was the year’s biggest mindfuck. Employees at a major company can agree to becoming a “severed” worker, which means undergoing brain surgery that bifurcates a person’s professional and personal lives. At work, they have no memory or awareness of what goes on at home, or even if they have a family. At home, they have no knowledge of what just went on at the office. That the twists only become more disturbing from there made Severance the most exhilarating new show of the season.
7. Barry (HBO)
There were sequences in the fourth season of Barry that were among the most cinematic, gorgeously shot in all of TV. There were scenes that were the most laugh-out-loud funny that aired this year. It was all the more impressive that they were from a show about a former assassin struggling to leave behind life as a hitman for that of a struggling actor. This season was a gripping look at a precarious house of cards that comes crashing down as Barry’s (Bill Hader) life and the life of those around him becomes more and more dangerous.
6. Reservation Dogs (FX)
The trajectory of Reservation Dogs is the kind of Cinderella story that rarely happens in a tumultuous, difficult, and, let’s face it, jaded business. But this series, about indigenous teenagers grieving the death of their friend as they attempt to beg, borrow, and steal their way from Oklahoma to California, debuted to ecstatic reviews last year. It’s since gone on to major award nominations, including for Best Comedy Series. Its second season leans further into everything that defined the show—its weirdness and its heart—and made it just that much more special. It’s sincere and spiritual, even treading into magical realism, but feels grounded in ways so many struggles to be. Whether it’s with their sarcasm, their desperation to heal, or their fierce sense of community, these are characters—and a series—that is authentic in every beautiful way.
5. The White Lotus (HBO)
It says a lot about how brilliantly Mike White nailed a second trip to a White Lotus hotel that the show seized the zeitgeist to an extent not even HBO’s Game of Thrones spinoff managed to do. Once again perfectly cast, this season dug deeper into sexual politics and sexual power than the first, a psychological commentary that was as captivating as the show was utterly ridiculous. A murder plot involving Jennifer Coolidge, some “high-end gays,” and a hottie who “fucked his uncle”? Such stupidity, and such genius.
4. Somebody Somewhere (HBO)
Bridget Everett is a force. The actress and writer is a cabaret legend in New York, an unbridled stage presence who sings numbers like “Titties” while burying audience members’ heads in her bosom. So when Somebody Somewhere premiered, which she also created, it was an unexpected revelation. It's a profound and meditative—quiet, even—series about a middle-aged woman who moves home to Kansas after her sister’s death. She begins wondering, maybe a few decades later than she should have, what the hell she is going to do with her life. And, maybe more terrifyingly, could she ever be happy? Everett plays against type here, and co-star Jeff Hiller’s performance is similarly stunning.
3. The Good Fight (Paramount+)
No TV drama in the years since Donald Trump was elected president has been as audacious as The Good Fight. It refused to divorce its universe from our own, which meant channeling all the anger, fear, and uncertainty as reality became more unrecognizable and harder to believe. The idea of a “fight” signals a conclusion, that someone or something has been defeated. The genius of The Good Fight’s final season was its harsh understanding that not all fights finish; maybe, God help us, we’re stuck on the same, exasperating loop.
2. Better Things (FX)
I don’t know how Pamela Adlon imbued Better Things with so much emotion. The creator, writer, director, and star of the show perfected the art of personal, intimate storytelling by the series’ fifth and final season. Better Things had not only a bemusement with everyday life and everyday things, but also an understanding of the gravity of the mundane. The show never ignored the Big Feelings: all the things we carry with us a constant montage of the incomprehensibly bad, but also that we still need to get through the day, with all its joys and pains, and all the ways we fail and grow. I will really miss it.
1. What We Do in the Shadows (FX)
It’s difficult—impossible, really—to decide that one show is better than another, or for one to even be “the best.” But What We Do in the Shadows has become just so unspeakably funny that it can’t be ignored. When I say funny, I mean funny. No TV series has as many laughs an episode as this mockumentary about vampires living in Staten Island. Its main cast has so fully formed its characters that, at this point, a slight twitch or glance into the camera incites a wrecking ball of laughter. The show isn’t afraid to be touching, either. Season 4’s storyline that had Guillermo (Harvey Guillen) coming out to his family was genuinely moving—but, crucially, not lacking in humor. The production value on the show is astonishing, too. What We Do in the Shadows is as much a Friends-like sitcom about buddies hanging out as it is its own action film each week.