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If 2022 is remembered for anything in the annals of TV history, it will probably be noted as the end of the Peak TV era.
Mind you, I’m not talking about the quality of shows: The best TV shows of 2022 were excellent, finding ways to amaze, entertain, and inspire. Instead, I’m talking about the quantity.
Following years of flooding subscribers with an avalanche of content, Netflix is scaling back its spending on original programming after posting disappointing Q4 earnings. HBO Max is being run by a CEO who is removing HBO shows from its library so the company doesn’t have to pay actors residuals, refused to release a $90 million superhero movie so Warner Bros. Discovery could get a tax writeoff, and envisions a platform full of “House Hunters” and “90-Day Fiance”.
Even entertainment behemoth Disney has brought back former CEO Bob Iger to help stem losses, and Disney+ is one of several services to raise prices and create an ad-supported price tier to help boost revenue.
In short, studios are no longer treating streaming as a gold rush, and we’ll likely begin to see fewer original programs per year as a result. That’s unfortunate, because that means fewer jobs for original, inventive showrunners who are given room to create something that may not find millions of viewers, but will be 100,000 people’s absolute favorite show.
That being said, as consumers, there’s no way we needed this many shows, right? According to Statista, there were 559 original scripted shows released in the U.S. in 2021. That doesn’t take into account the very popular docuseries, reality TV, or competition genres, which would surely push that number into the four figures. Netflix on its own was set to release 398 shows in 2022.
That’s a long-winded way of saying that choosing the best TV shows of 2022 was a daunting task, made even harder by the fact that it’s physically impossible to watch every awards-worthy show in a given year.
After mulling over dozens of fantastic TV shows, I’ve narrowed my list of the best TV shows of 2022 down to 10. And after asking Boston.com readers to complete the same difficult assignment, we’ve got the community’s top 10 as well. Quite a few shows made it onto both lists, which is clearly proof that all of you have excellent taste. (PS: There’s still time to make your voice heard in our year-end movie poll.)
Here are the best TV shows of 2022, as chosen by me and the Boston.com community.
Amazon’s billion-dollar bet on J.R.R. Tolkien was a good one, with the immense production budget yielding the most visually stunning and thrillingly immersive show of 2022. Some of the storytelling for “Rings of Power” sagged in places, but this show was always making my Top 10 for one simple reason: It was the first show since the start of the pandemic that became appointment viewing for my friends and me, with a small group of us gathering every Friday night for dinner and Middle Earth. You can’t put a price on community, but I’m glad Jeff Bezos did.
How to watch: “Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” is streaming on Prime Video.
Danny McBride’s comedy (“Vice Principals,” “Eastbound & Down”) isn’t for everyone: The Gemstone family of televangelist hucksters are some of the most spoiled, spiteful, and downright kooky characters on TV. Even patriarch Eli Gemstone (John Goodman), easily the most sympathetic of the bunch, doesn’t come out clean this season, which explores the twisted path that made him the king of mega-pastors. But Lord have mercy, this show is funny. The phrase “Uncle Baby Billy” is my “cellar door,” a collection of words that results in uproarious laughter, regardless of context.
How to watch: “The Righteous Gemstones” is streaming on HBO Max.
After a four-year gap between episodes, Donald Glover’s FX dramedy gave viewers two distinctly different seasons in the first and second half of 2022. In the spring, Season 3 took the cast out of its comfort zone in Atlanta, traveling the world while Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry) went on tour. Season 4 brought the crew back home, mixing in standalone experimental episodes that rank among the show’s best with a touch of sentiment as their journey came to an end.
How to watch: “Atlanta” is streaming on Hulu.
Based on Min Jin Lee’s 2017 novel of the same name, “Pachinko” is a sprawling, masterfully drawn drama that jumps between cities, languages, and generations to tell the story of one Korean family’s slow, steady rise. Oscar winner Yuh-jung Youn (“Minari”) is fantastic, but the real standout star is her character’s younger, 1920s self, played by Minha Kim. “Pachinko” spins an epic tale, one that you’ll want to keep going well beyond the eight-episode season on Apple TV+. (Thankfully, the streamer greenlit a Season 2 earlier this year.)
How to watch: “Pachinko” is streaming on Apple TV+.
After a breakthrough first season, “Reservation Dogs” showrunners Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi deepened the show’s focus in Season 2, moving beyond its four protagonists and zooming out to tell stories of the whole community of Indigenous people living in rural Oklahoma. Like many FX shows (including two others on this list), “Reservation Dogs” can be at any moment in time gut-bustingly funny, tear-jerkingly sad, and deeply profound, all of which made us care about every single cast member and their daily lives.
How to watch: “Reservation Dogs” is streaming on Hulu.
Much like his Comedy Central show “Nathan For You,” Nathan Fielder quickly pushed past the structural boundaries of this HBO show, seeking unknowable answers about the human condition in the most painfully awkward way possible. The concept of the show is ludicrous, with Fielder “helping” real people prepare for difficult moments in their lives by rehearsing them over and over, with the help of actors and scale-model reproductions. Even if you have to watch episodes through your fingers due to secondhand embarrassment, there is simply nothing else like “The Rehearsal” anywhere on television, which makes it unmissable.
How to watch: “The Rehearsal” is streaming on HBO Max.
Whether or not you’ve worked in the Sisyphean hellscape of a short-order kitchen, FX’s freshman dramedy gives you something to chew on, thanks to a trifecta of fantastic performances. Carmy (Jeremy Allen White, “Shameless”) is the best of the bunch, playing a young chef who burned out at the highest levels of fine dining and is running his family’s sandwich shop in Chicago following his brother’s suicide. But don’t sleep on a pair of Massachusetts natives in the second and third leads, with Boston native Ayo Edebiri (“Big Mouth”) playing an ambitious sous chef and Amherst native Ebon Moss-Bachrach (“Girls”) as Carmy’s loudmouth brother. “The Bear” mines comedy from the darkest situations, and manages to nail the intricate dynamics of a restaurant’s inner workings and inevitable internecine conflicts.
How to watch: “The Bear” is streaming on Hulu.
If this list took previous seasons of a show into account, “Better Call Saul” would be an easy No. 1 pick. To be clear, putting it third on this list isn’t a knock on the final season, which saw Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) fully complete his transition into Saul Goodman foretold by five seasons of “Breaking Bad.” What Vince Gilligan and co. pulled off — telling a compelling, wholly original story that deepened the backstory of one of the best shows of all time — is nothing short of a miracle. And if there’s any justice in the world, Rhea Seehorn will win a long-overdue Emmy for her portrayal of Kim Wexler, who extricated herself from Jimmy while still showing empathy for the slippin’ lawyer.
(Note: For those who were playing catch-up, the final season of “Better Call Saul” unfortunately isn’t streaming anywhere currently: AMC+ only had the rights up to 30 days after original air date, and while Netflix has the first five seasons available, it hasn’t announced a debut date for Season 6.)
How to watch: “Better Call Saul” is available to rent or purchase through Amazon, Google, and other on-demand platforms.
Speaking of prequels that exceeded all expectations, Tony Gilroy’s series might be the most entertaining piece of the “Star Wars” universe since the original trilogy. There’s nary a lightsaber to be found, with the focus instead on the everyday people of the galaxy impacted by the sprawling surveillance state created by the Empire. “Andor” still has daring recon missions and white-knuckle outer space dogfights, but the most exciting moments occur in the sterile confines of bureaucracy. “Andor” is a taut political thriller that makes you think about colonization, prisoner abolition, and class privilege without once slowing down the action. Lucasfilm should do everything in their power to emulate the “Andor” model going forward, giving marquee directors like Gilroy the space to tell a story in their own corner of the galaxy.
How to watch: “Andor” is streaming on Disney+.
Who knew when Apple’s sci-fi thriller debuted back in February that nothing would surpass “Severance” as the best show of 2022? Dan Erickson’s dystopian drama, about a group of office employees who have their brains “severed” into a work self and a home self, is the total package: From the tone-setting opening credits to the sterile production design, everything about the series is as finely calibrated as the Lumon employee handbook. As middle manager Mark S., Adam Scott leads an ensemble of disaffected workers who slowly awaken to the lab rat quality of their lives. Be warned: If you can’t stand cliffhangers, “Severance” ends on a doozy. Thankfully, Apple quickly gave Erickson and director/producer Ben Stiller the green light for a Season 2.
How to watch: “Severance” is streaming on Apple TV+.
The first of five shows to appear on both lists, “Reservation Dogs” kept readers engaged in its second season on FX.
“It effortlessly runs the gamut between genuine, heartfelt pathos, absurdist comedy, and great drama,” wrote Reggie from Milford. “Often all in the same episode.”
“Abbott Elementary,” a mockumentary-style sitcom that follows the exploits of the teachers at its titular underfunded Philadelphia public school, won over both readers and awards voters in 2022, nabbing Emmys for Writing for a Comedy Series and Supporting Actress in a Comedy (Sheryl Lee Ralph).
“It’s very heartfelt and genuine,” wrote Boston.com user Bluefish, of Dracut. “The comedy is great without being crass. And the characters compliment each other really well.”
How to watch: “Abbott Elementary” is streaming on Hulu, with new episodes airing Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.
George R.R. Martin’s prequel to “Game of Thrones” won fans over once more, producing a season finale that had fans (and the Boston.com staff) buzzing.
“‘House of the Dragon’ is a culture in and of itself,” wrote Wendy from Cambridge. “For those of us who were invested in ‘GOT,’ this prequel gives us more to chew on and share and debate. Looking forward to the next season!”
How to watch: “House of the Dragon” is streaming on HBO Max.
FX’s summer series was a fan favorite, especially among those who worked in a restaurant.
“It is brilliant and the cast is so very talented,” wrote Boston.com reader Peg. “I loved it and if you have ever worked in a restaurant, you know.”
Boston.com readers touting “Andor” as their favorite made sure to make clear that the show is much more than just another piece of Star Wars content.
“Sure ‘Andor’ was a Star Wars show, but anyone who watched it knows it was first and foremost a compelling drama that was part spy thriller, part heist movie, and part political conspiracy with just the right amount of action and heart mixed in,” wrote Burt from Salem. “Best show of the year, hands down.”
“Don’t let the Star Wars overexposure/stigma fool you, ‘Andor’ is prestige-level television at its finest,” wrote Melissa from Ipswich. “Between the top-notch acting, compelling storytelling and special effects that add to the story rather than distract you from it, you simply cannot go wrong. Whether you’re a Star Wars fan or not: Watch. This. Show.”
“Bad Sisters,” a new Apple TV+ series from Sharon Horgan (“Catastrophe”), tells the story of five sisters, including Grace (Anne-Marie Duff, “Shameless”), whose husband John recently passed away. Though John’s death is ruled an accident, his brothers are determined to prove that he was murdered — partly out of a sense of justice, but mostly so their life insurance company doesn’t have to pay out on John’s policy to Grace.
The comic tone of “Bad Sisters” can be pitch-black, but that — and its distinctly Irish attitude — is what won readers over.
“I enjoyed all the characters, the humor, soundtrack, and depiction of Ireland as a place with its own unique culture that is at the same time diverse,” wrote Tom from Manchester.
“I loved the well-developed characters, the beautiful setting, and the dark humor,” wrote Jen from Westwood. “I was sad when the season ended!”
How to watch: “Bad Sisters” is streaming on Apple TV+.
Sneaking in just under the gun with its December finale, “The White Lotus” was a crowd favorite again in Season 2, whisking viewers away to Italy to luxuriate in the bad behavior of the titular hotel’s guests. With approximately 12% of the reader vote (one of only four shows to hit double-digit percentages in our poll), HBO once again proved to be the undisputed leader in creating water-cooler shows.
“It was perfectly executed,” wrote one reader from Boston. “Lots of Easter eggs along the way to bring you into the murder mystery, and the ending nevertheless was a complete surprise no one saw coming.”
“Quirky characters, interesting and at times uncomfortable storylines about social status and breathtaking scenery,” wrote Lee of Wrentham.
How to watch: “The White Lotus” is streaming on HBO Max.
Out of 72 critics’ year-end Top 10 lists compiled by Metacritic, only one mentioned “Yellowstone,” the hugely popular modern western now in its fifth season on the Paramount Network. If the 14% of Boston.com readers who chose the Kevin Cosnter series as their favorite are any indication, critics are missing out.
“It’s addictive — great cast, great mix of drama, action, and humor,” wrote Erica D. of Foxborough. “It’s a unique blend of cowboy life, family drama, and politics.”
How to watch: “Yellowstone” is streaming on the Paramount Network website with a valid cable login.
With more than 15% of the vote, “Severance” finished as the runner-up pick for Boston.com readers, who praised its ensemble and the tense, twisty plot.
“‘Severance’ perfectly provided a nightmare analysis of a work/life balance to the extreme, or lack thereof,” wrote one reader from the North Shore. “It created a rich dystopian world that enthralled, upset and energized those who took the time to dissect and analyze the storylines. The only negative is waiting for Season Two.”
With more than 26% of the vote, the sixth and final season of “Better Call Saul” was the runaway choice for best show of 2022 among Boston.com readers.
“It was the culmination of many seasons of brilliant work by all involved — and I include Breaking Bad under this umbrella,” wrote Rose of Brookline.
“‘BCS’ was ingeniously constructed as a prequel to ‘Breaking Bad,’ and even though you knew part of the future, the writers cleverly kept you guessing what would happen next,” wrote Julie of Hopedale. “BCS’s characters were complex, nuanced, and endlessly fascinating, performed by a brilliant cast, especially Seehorn & Odenkirk.”
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