The 10 Best TV Shows of 2022
The streaming gold rush couldn’t last forever. From a business perspective, TV has had a pretty rough year, from Netflix’s financial woes to Warner Bros. Discovery’s post-merger growing pains to this month’s shocking news that former Disney CEO Bob Iger had replaced his successor Bob Chapek at the company’s helm, following the revelation that Disney+ was gaining a lot of subscribers but losing a lot of money. Like many other tech-driven niches, from digital media to rideshare apps, streaming seems to be seeing the price tag of rapid expansion exceed the revenue generated by even the most auspicious uptick in users. The dilemma of how to cut costs without hemorrhaging subscribers remains unsolved, and may indeed be unsolvable.
Of course, for those of us who care more about TV as an art form than we do about its revolving door of executives and growth strategies, the most urgent question at the end of 2022 is: What’s going to happen to the shows I love? The short answer is that it could take years before what we see on our screens fully reflects the fallout of the past several months’ streaming shakeups. But it’s also true that platforms were preparing for a wholly predictable contraction in an overcrowded streaming landscape long before Netflix released its Q2 report. In that sense, this year’s unprecedented glut of expensive genre spectacles and prestige-branded docudramas might well herald an era when every greenlit project must justify its existence with blockbuster viewership numbers or the potential for multiple Emmy nominations. So much for the long tail.
You won’t find much from either dominant category among my favorite series of 2022. It probably isn’t a coincidence that what you will find are more shows that ended their runs than shows that debuted this year. While that doesn’t make me especially optimistic going into 2023, I’d be remiss not to acknowledge that great, idiosyncratic, sui generis television is still getting made—and that, in fact, two of the year’s three best shows turned out to be new titles based on original ideas. As long as fresh concepts are being pitched and writers’ rooms are being assembled, there will be hope for TV, no matter who’s sitting on any corporation’s Iron Throne.
3. Severance (Apple TV+)
Between the recent proliferation of superhero spinoffs, fantasy epics, and space operas and the streaming-era renaissance of the miniseries and various anthology formats, the future of grounded, original, multi-season TV drama has begun to look pretty bleak. Severance, conceived by first-time creator Dan Erickson and directed, marvelously, by Ben Stiller, isn’t just the year’s best new narrative show; it’s also the year’s best argument that it’s still possible to make a serious, serialized drama that is populated by authentic characters, addresses real social issues, and isn’t adapted from pre-existing intellectual property. So what if that show—which follows employees at a dystopian megacorp who agree to have their consciousnesses surgically bifurcated, “severing” the people they are at the office from the people they are outside of it—also happens to have a chilling sci-fi premise?
Instead of relying on elaborate virtual-production setups and other trendy tech, Severance is a triumph of good old-fashioned writing, directing, and acting. From icons like Patricia Arquette, John Turturro, and Christopher Walken to comedy pros like Adam Scott and Zak Cherry to breakout Britt Lower, who’s riveting as a new recruit who can’t forgive her “outie” self for consigning her to a life of indentured labor, the performances are essentially flawless. Stiller’s direction sets a tone that’s equal parts absurdist and tragic. It’s all tied together, and tethered to work-life realities as many of us know them, by writing that resonates on the level of individual lines of dialogue but soars thanks to the intricate plot architecture Erickson put in place.