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My Top Ten TV Shows of 2022
Attention, TV people: Boy, have I got some TV for you. That’s right, I’m talking about my top ten favorite brand new TV show that aired in the year of our lord, two thousand and twenty-two. Most, if not all, of these shows aired on streaming services, but rest assured, I did indeed watch them on my TV, and they are therefore TV shows.
You can also watch this list! Yes, you can consume this list in video form just like an episode of your favorite television program by checking out the version I put on my Quence YouTube channel. If you’re one of those old fashioned types who enjoys words though, read on.
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The Patient (Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg)
This is a limited series starring Domhnall Gleeson (yes, Kylo Ren himself) as a… let’s say, “troubled” individual. He decides that the best way for him to deal with his issues is to kidnap his therapist, played by Steve Carell, and force him into a permanent home therapy gig. Both leads give fantastic performances on this show, and that’s important because this is one that really relies on its actors. Most scenes feature just the two of them, talking to each other in a single room. Gleeson gets the flashier, more exciting part here, but there’s plenty for Carell to do too. His character’s Jewish background is a major element of the show, providing a perspective of Jewish culture that I’ve never seen before. It doesn’t feel like a “religious” show however, as that element is woven in so naturally. Nonetheless, there are definitely larger themes on that subject that can be extracted here if you’re looking for them.
The Patient forces you to confront your own morals as they pertain to the gray areas of humanity. Are you rooting for Gleeson's character to get better? Do you hate him? My experience was something akin to Stockholm Syndrome in TV form, mostly because Gleeson is so talented and charismatic. The showrunners do a great job walking a very thin line with his character.
There are just ten thirty-minute episodes, and each one ends on something of a cliffhanger, that resulted in my marathon-ing it over only a couple of days. In spite of the troubling subject matter, The Patient is a quick, entertaining watch.
The Bear (Christopher Storer)
The Bear is about Carmy Berzatto, a chef who comes from the world of high class cuisine, taking over his brother’s Italian beef restaurant after his untimely death. This is a high-octane, high-intensity show. It's been compared to the movie Uncut Gems in terms of the level of anxiety it’s able to induce in viewers, and while the stakes aren’t quite that high, that should give you a good sense of the frenetic tone. For anyone who has worked in a restaurant kitchen before, you’re likely to be triggered by this show’s presentation. For everyone else, it’s an exciting window into a fast-paced world, expertly shot, and featuring brilliant but subtle character work.
I love the way that The Bear is written. Every choice the characters make feels natural and makes sense given their circumstances. Even when you don’t always agree with their choices, they feel like human beings. The writers never prioritize anything like an actor’s screen time, nor do they sacrifice logic for the sake of a more exciting narrative. And yet, the narrative is plenty exciting. The first season ends on a great note, and I can't wait to see what they do with it the next time around.
Our Flag Means Death (David Jenkins)
Taika Waititi has never done me wrong before, and that hasn’t changed with his role as producer and actor on Our Flag Means Death. Starring Rhys Darby as an aspiring pirate who’s in over his head, this is the perfect opportunity for him to finally showcase his chops as a leading man. What begins as a very silly parody quickly evolves into a vehicle for celebrating complicated and endearing characters that you can’t help but fall in love with. They even strike a balance between surreal comedy and a genuinely dramatic pirate show without shying away from the messier, more violent aspects of pirating. There's a palpable sense of real danger always, which I think helps the jokes land even better.
There are multiple times throughout the show when a plotline that I expected to last for three to four episodes (if not the entire season) gets wrapped up more quickly, and a new arc begins right after. In the modern age of streaming shows, when so often you see concepts stretched past the point of interest, this is a welcome method. The writers understand that a storyline should be over when it’s over, and that gives them the freedom to move on and do new, more interesting things. Our Flag Means Death is as funny as it is touching, with a unique tone that you won’t see anywhere else.
Players (Dan Perrault and Tony Yacenda)
Players is a fictional, scripted, documentary-style show about Esports players; specifically, it’s about a competitive League of Legends team. Personally, I am not a fan of League of Legends in real life; I hardly even understand how it works. And yet, I loved this show. You’re given just enough information to help you understand what’s going on, but never burdened with too much context and exposition. Just like in a well made sports movie, you learn to care about the outcome of the games even if you don’t necessarily understand all the rules.
Players largely functions as a comedy (and there’s no shortage of funny scenes), but it values realism more than opportunities for jokes. The events that take place feel so natural that if you told someone this was a reality show, I think they’d believe you. The season does follow a fairly traditional sports underdog story, but there are plenty of twists and turns along the way to keep it from feeling stale. Each episode reveals new details about through new perspectives, and by the time the show ends, you’ll have a better understanding and appreciation for elements that were present early on. It’s really amazing to me that this show is as good as it is, even if you have no interest or knowledge of video games or Esports.
Fleishman is in Trouble (Taffy Brodesser-Akner)
Jesse Eisenberg plays the titular Fleishman, a recently divorced dad exploring his newfound freedom in New York City. Valerie Faris & Jonathan Dayton of Little Miss Sunshine fame are producers on this one, and I feel that their sensibility shines through here. It's a mix of comedy and drama, generally sweet and heartfelt, but with enough irony and bitterness to keep things from getting too mawkish.
The best thing about Fleishman is the way in which it plays with perspective. The plot mostly follows Jesse Eisenberg's character, but it’s narrated by his close friend (Lizzy Caplan). By moving in and out of various lives and viewpoints, the show makes you question who the heroes and villains are, something we probably don’t do often enough in real life or in fiction. Although the show centers on specific types of people at a specific point in their lives, the themes presented are broad enough that they could be applied to anybody. Fleishman is witty, and offers a presentation unlike most other things on TV.
The Afterparty (Chris Miller)
The Afterparty comes from creator Chris Miller, who (along with his partner Phil Lord) gave us gems like Clone High, 21 Jump Street, and The Lego Movie. I’ve loved just about everything they’ve have had their hands in, and this is no exception. It's a murder mystery that takes place during the afterparty of a high school reunion, and each episode takes the point of view of a different character. They retell the story of what happened that night through the lens of a different movie genre (rom-com, musical, horror, etc.). This provides the perfect vehicle for Chris Miller to show off his expertise in parodying movies, and also works as a Rashomon-style method to reveal new clues, while keeping you guessing as to who's telling the truth.
I’m sure that people who are smarter than me will manage to piece the mystery together before it’s over, but it kept me guessing until the last episode. More importantly, the show is super funny. I had a blast anticipating which character would be the focus of each episode and what their style of storytelling would be. That conceit is just a terrific way to flesh them out and give you a window into their various personalities. Finally, the season’s musical episode features what I believe to be the songs of the summer, and deserves a spot here for that alone.
The Rehearsal (Nathan Fielder)
The Rehearsal is Nathan Fielder's follow up to Nathan For You, one of the greatest comic achievements of our time. I already thought that Fielder was a genius, and The Rehearsal has only convinced me more. It begins as a fairly standard Nathan For You-esque premise, wherein Nathan allows people to laboriously rehearse aspects of their lives that they’re nervous about before carrying them out. Very quickly however, that format goes out the window and develops into something completely different. It truly goes off the rails, becoming wild and unpredictable while still maintaining elements of the core premise and themes.
This is Nathan Fielder elevating his work to new heights. No longer content with goofy pranks and sketch comedy, here he’s saying something significant about people’s anxieties, what we're afraid of, and why we work so hard to prepare for things. My only real complaint is that I wish the episodes were twice as long, because I think there's so much room to explore these concepts. That includes the identity of Nathan himself. Is he playing a character? How much of this show is staged? Those blurred lines are part of what makes it all so thought provoking and fascinating to watch.
Andor (Tony Gilroy)
This is a return to form for Star Wars after the very disappointing Boba Fett and Obi-Wan series, which I found to be abysmal. Andor centers on the character of Cassian Andor previously introduced in the movie Rogue One. Now, I liked Rogue One fine, but its character work was not its strong point, and I had no interest whatsoever in seeing more of them. And, yet…! Creator Tony Gilroy has completely justified Andor’s existence with its believably drawn characters and timely message.
The focus here is on contrasting the inner workings of the Rebellion with the inner workings of the Empire. Over time, that conflict in Star Wars has devolved into little more than a silly backdrop, an excuse to make action figures mash up against each other. But here, it's presented as the real, terrifying premise it deserves to be. Of course, the bureaucracy of fascist authorities is on full display, but they also don’t shy away from the darker aspects of what it takes to build a rebellion. These rebels are anti-heroes, frequently sacrificing things in their own lives or hurting others for the greater good. This show opens with its protagonist murdering two cops. I knew right then that this was not going to be like most other Disney Star Wars shows.
Andor has some of the most creative and clever ideas and set pieces I've seen in the Star Wars universe in recent memory (I particularly loved the design of the prison seen later in the season). Like Our Flag Means Death, it also doesn’t hesitate to end its plot lines when they're over, rather than stretching them out. Truly, it’s remarkable that they got away with this show, and were able to make something on Disney Plus that’s so immediate and honest. It’s worth watching whether or not you’re a die-hard Star Wars fan.
Peacemaker (James Gunn)
Peacemaker is a spin-off of James Gunn's The Suicide Squad, which was one of my favorite movies from last year. That said, just like with Rogue One, I was not personally excited to watch an entire show about the character of Peacemaker played by John Cena. And just like with Andor, I was proven dead wrong. James Gunn took this anti-hero (or villain depending on your perspective) who wasn't all that well fleshed out to begin with and somehow made him lovable, against all odds.
Just like most of Gunn's other works, Peacemaker is a perfect blend of surreal, over-the-top, violent slapstick and gross-out humor, with genuine heart and sentiment. These characters are complicated, but you love them, flaws and all. James Gunn's specialty seems to be taking messy, broken people, and demonstrating their worth. It’s a technique that works for me every time. Peacemaker is brazen, unafraid to alienate audiences by being too weird, offensive, gross, or ugly. In fact, it is all of those things, and unashamedly so. I wish more media was so comfortable being itself. (Oh, and the soundtrack, is also top notch.)
Severance (Dan Erickson)
Severance is not just my favorite show of 2022, it's one of my favorite shows of all time. Adam Scott plays Mark, who has chosen to take part in the “Severance” program, a sci-fi method of separating your work and home lives completely. It's a terribly clever commentary on the concept of “work-life balance”, a critique of capitalism, and an examination of the oppressive nature of employment in our country. On top of that, it’s just an awesome sci-fi mystery show, reminiscent to me of the best parts of Lost. The foreshadowing and clues are dropped perfectly and elegantly throughout the show, stringing you along with just enough new information, while keeping you mostly in the dark and wondering what the hell is going on. I can't remember the last time I saw a show that made me this anxious for the next episode every single time the credits rolled. I was completely obsessed with it from start to finish.
Now, I am definitely a sucker for this genre - sci-fi dystopia, characters making earth-shattering discoveries about their surroundings… That’s very much what I’m into. It's reminiscent of the video game Portal and several other things that I really, really love. And it's executed so, so well. I've always loved Adam Scott, but he shows range in a dramatic sense that I haven't seen him get the chance to pull off before. Plus, you have excellent Christopher Walken and John Turturro in smaller but still meaty parts - how could you not love that?
Severance was created by Ben Stiller, and I think it's about time he finally gets his due as a writer and director (The Cable Guy is one of the most underrated movies of all time, and I’ll die on that hill). I'm somewhat nervous about how they plan to keep this concept going in future seasons, but I have faith in the creators based on how strong it’s been so far.
And those were my top ten favorite shows from 2022! I think the big winner here was FX/Hulu which had several shows on my list, including The Bear, and The Patient, and Fleshman is in Trouble. HBO Max had Peacemaker and Our Flag Means Death. I noticed that none of my favorite shows came from Netflix. Although I did enjoy The Midnight Club, The Sandman, and Cabinet of Curiosities quite a bit, none of those were strong enough to crack my top ten. (Netflix, you’re slipping!)
Otherwise, this was a fantastic year for TV. I highly recommend all these shows, and what's great is that a lot of them are relatively short, so it's not that hard to catch up. Happy watching!
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