If you thought we had hit “Peak TV” (a term coined by executive John Landgraf nearly a decade ago), you were wrong. With 600-plus scripted shows airing in 2022, there was absolutely no way to keep up. But I still watched a hell of a lot. So much, in fact, that I’m doing something unprecedented. I’ve got my customary top 10, but my honorable mentions include another 10 shows, and then I’ve got 10 more after that worth highlighting. (And this is on top of my top 5 comedy shows and specials, coming soon.) So strap in. We’re starting with the two best comic book adaptations of the year.
10. The Sandman (Netflix)
They did it. Somehow, they pulled off a proper adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s masterpiece. But it wasn’t mere fidelity that made it so special. The show managed to keep a hold of the graphic novel’s black heart, remaining hopeful even amidst the ugliness of the world. It also updated its casting without calling attention to itself.
Standout episodes: “A Hope in Hell,” “24/7,” “The Doll’s House”
9. The Boys (Prime Video)
The superhero parody grew even more grotesque and cynical in its third season, which I didn’t even think was possible. It made no bones about its view of the American regime, revealing last season’s “political savior” as another blackmailing Supe, and directly connecting its most evil characters to U.S. colonialism and arms dealing in Central America in ’80s. But was it still funny? Oh god yes! Provided you had a strong stomach, of course.
Standout episodes: “Barbary Coast,” “Herogasm,” “The Instant White-Hot Wild”
8. Hacks (HBO Max)
This marvelous comedy’s debut season was one of 2021’s most pleasant surprises. The show took a leap in Season 2, with both Deborah and Ava maturing emotionally. Their evolution from working together to genuinely caring about one another was one of the most touching depictions of friendship on TV. And it still found time to bring in Emmy winner Laurie Metcalf off the bench as an anal-retentive tour manager! Its finale felt like the perfect note to end on, but thankfully there will be more Hacks to come.
Standout episodes: “The Captain’s Wife,” “Retired,” “The One, the Only”
7. Atlanta (FX)
Season 3 of Atlanta felt like a challenge, both for the creators and the audience. Due to COVID restrictions, only about half of the episodes feature the entire cast and their surreal adventures in Europe – including meeting Liam Neeson and eating human hands – while the rest were fables about foster care, reparations and of course, race. There were a lot of cries of “This is not what I signed up for,” and even I had trouble with some of the less sharp satires. But then a few months later the fourth and final season dropped, and while I’m unaware of the actual production schedule, it felt like something had flipped. The quartet was back together (mostly) and every episode seemed like the very best version of this show. The season premiere (titled “The Most Atlanta”) felt like everything the show had gotten exactly right about Georgia’s capital city, condensed into 30 minutes. I watched it twice in the same day. But the show had even more up its sleeve a few weeks later, with an astonishing alternate history mockumentary about the production of A Goofy Movie. (No, really.) It was sublime silliness done seriously.
Standout episodes: “The Big Payback,” “The Most Atlanta,” “The Goof Who Sat by the Door”
6. Abbott Elementary (ABC)
What a miracle. Quinta Brunson has been funny for a long time, and this was the perfect vehicle for her talents. Every episode is keenly observed, hilarious and sweet, and never feels like it’s trying too hard. And it does what the best ensembles do – more on that later – giving everyone a chance to be funny. It also has the funniest TV janitor since Scrubs.
Standout episodes: “Gifted Program,” “Desking,” “Sick Day”
Now here’s where it gets tricky. You could arrange these five shows in just about any order, and I’d be happy with that placement. These represent the absolute apex of TV as an art form. They all had different goals, but they also deftly blended comedy and drama, making my sides hurt and my heart break.
5. Barry (HBO)
A season constructed with Swiss-watch precision, Barry took another impressive leap. It was basically a 30-minute thriller each week, with detours into the impersonal business of making a streaming TV show and fugue-state recollections of evil deeds. Yet it still found a way to be side-splitting: A mentor turning a gun on his favorite student, only for the bullets to fall out. A motorcycle chase impeded by traffic. A man being tortured while getting a lap dance. It was scary good.
Standout episodes: “Forgiving Jeff,” “710N,” “Starting Now”
4. The Bear (Hulu)
The surprise hit of the summer, this intense show about grief and the art of cooking could have been a recipe for disaster. Yes, there is a lot of shouting in kitchens. But the show cares about each of its characters, even when they’re acting like assholes. Its pièce de résistance was a single take episode in which the grand re-opening of the titular restaurant is beset by every problem imaginable, culminating in a resignation, a mental breakdown and a stabbing.
Standout episodes: “Hands,” “Review,” “Braciole”
3. Better Call Saul (AMC)
If there was any debate before, Better Call Saul officially surpassed Breaking Bad with this final season. Its first half matched its predecessor for intensity throughout, culminating in the show’s most shocking cliffhanger. Thankfully, we only had to wait seven weeks for the even more thrilling resolution. The denouement was even more devastating, as Jimmy and Kim went their separate ways and Saul became Gene, who gets drawn back into his “Slippin’ Jimmy” persona.
Standout episodes: “Plan and Execution,” “Fun and Games,” “Waterworks”
2. Reservation Dogs (Hulu)
I feel bad keeping Sterlin Harjo’s incredible exploration of Indigenous life at No. 2 for a second year, but my No. 1 was that impressive. This season was even better, as each of the quartet got their own chance to shine, as did Officer Big (the great Zahn McClarnon). It all culminated in the devastating finale, where the gang finally lets go of their complicated feelings about their missing piece. That would have been accomplishment enough, but it remained true to itself by including cameos from Incubus lead singer Brandon Boyd and original Sexy Sax Man Tim Cappello.
Standout episodes: “Roofing,” “Mabel,” “This Is Where the Plot Thickens”
1. The Rehearsal (HBO)
Nathan Fielder’s first big project since his masterfully cringey Nathan for You defies categorization. Is this a reality show? A completely scripted comedy? A documentary about parenting? It’s all that and more, dodging predictability episode to episode and scene to scene. Fielder (aided by his editors) once again shows a knack for finding the strangest people and letting them keep talking until they’ve said one of the most bizarre things you’ve ever heard in your life. Will a second season be more of the same? With Fielder, there’s absolutely no way of knowing.
The Crown (Netflix)
The English (Prime Video)
Only Murders in the Building (Hulu)
The Righteous Gemstones (HBO)
Search Party (HBO Max)
The Staircase (HBO Max)
Under the Banner of Heaven (Hulu)
What We Do in the Shadows (FX)
The White Lotus (HBO)
VICTIMS OF PEAK TV
Birdgirl – Season 2
Russian Doll – Season 2
DIDN’T WATCH BUT PROBABLY WOULD HAVE LOVED
Bad Sisters (AppleTV+)
Black Bird (AppleTV+)
Dark Winds (AMC)
The Dropout (Hulu)
Fleishman Is in Trouble (Hulu)
Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities (Netflix)
The Last Movie Stars (HBO Max)
The Old Man (FX)
The Patient (Hulu)
Slow Horses (AppleTV+)
Somebody Somewhere (HBO)
Tokyo Vice (HBO Max)