So far in 2022, television has delivered us spectacular series that include an alternate history drama with a race to Mars, a true-crime story you might've heard before, a gay pirate romp, a dystopian workplace nightmare and a trilingual epic. And those are only five of the best series this year.
There are more of them than ever, which doesn't always mean there are more quality shows to enjoy. But this year has brought, among many mediocre series, 20 that might just be truly great. From streaming services and broadcast networks, they range from science fiction to true crime to romantic comedies to sitcoms to farces. Some stars are Oscar winners, others are unknown teens. What they have in common is an ability to remind us why television is such a powerful storytelling medium.
20. 'The Staircase'
Although the story of Michael Peterson, a North Carolina author who was charged with murdering his wife in the early 2000s, has been told many times before (including in a documentary also called “The Staircase”), the true-crime miniseries starring Colin Firth and Toni Collette finds something new in the well-trod territory. It’s also a showcase for young talent, including Sophie Turner, Dane DeHaan, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Odessa Young and Olivia DeJonge, who make up the blended family at the center of the mystery.
After a four-year hiatus, Donald Glover’s auteur comedy returned with an outstanding third season that felt worth the wait. The varied and layered episodes run the gamut of what "Atlanta" can be: Bold, experimental and allegorical; comedic and astute examinations of the mundanities and specificities of Black life. They remain singular, exceptional and thought-provoking in the way only "Atlanta" can be. The fourth and final season is currently airing Thursdays (10 EDT/PDT).
HBO Max's acerbic, bold series is one of many cynical comedies that don't shy away from mixing darkness with humor. Season 2 – not quite as laugh-out-loud hilarious as Season 1 but still a riot – brings its characters to a literal crossroads as veteran comedian Deborah (Jean Smart) takes her new act on the road with help of writer Ava (Hannah Einbinder). The heartwarming season finale had the flavor of a series finale, and it would be as great a way to go out as Deb could have imagined.
Amazon's comedy about a near future when the wealthy can upload their consciousness to a digital heaven is a unique combination of sweetness and pessimism – a high-concept science-fiction comedy with down-to-earth stories of love and loss. Season 2 recaptured the charm and mystery with seven sharp new episodes that deepen the conspiracy and romance stories with equal aplomb.
16. 'Ms. Marvel'
Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) is truly the hero we all needed. The Disney+ Marvel series is a breath of adolescent fresh air, unique in its joyous tone and animated aesthetic. Kamala is a Pakistani American Muslim teen from New Jersey who discovers her family's heritage has given her superpowers. Her journey of self-discovery, her conflicts with protective parents and romantic entanglements make it the ideal teen superhero series. Vellani, a newcomer destined for at least one Marvel movie after this six-episode series, is a joy to watch and certain to inspire a new generation of young girls to try on a cape.
15. 'This Is Going to Hurt'
Cynical and blisteringly realistic, this medical drama has none of the gloss or melodrama of “Grey’s Anatomy” or “ER.” Ben Whishaw plays a jaded, exhausted obstetrician in the mid-2000s. Wading through Britain’s National Health bureaucracy and dealing with low budgets, Whishaw’s Adam tries his best and sometimes fails, and spends most of the season haunted by one particularly egregious misjudgment. The actor and writers nail a tone of misanthropy without wallowing in despair, making “Hurt” a uniquely satisfying (and sometimes terrifying) portrait of modern medicine.
14. 'Our Flag Means Death'
Jocular, joyous and jolly (roger), this pirate romcom from Taika Waititi and David Jenkins was an absolutely lovely surprise this spring. The series follows the hapless “gentleman pirate” Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby) as he fumbles his way through third-rate swashbuckling and eventually catches the eye of the legendary Blackbeard (Waititi). Full of guest roles from great comedians, including Leslie Jones, Fred Armisen and Will Arnett, “Our Flag” mixes romance and farce with ease, and happily was renewed for a second season to follow up on its cliffhanger ending.
13. 'DC’s Legends of Tomorrow'
One of the more under-the-radar DC Comics shows aired in the second half of what turned out to be its final season this year. Season 7 retained only two original cast members, but every new face in the ensemble played an intricately developed character who fit into the show’s unique tone (super fun, bouncy yet sophisticated science fiction with plenty of romance and comedy thrown in). It’s hard to say a series that ran for seven seasons was canceled “too soon,” but “Legends” was so skilled at reinventing itself, it could have run for many more years.
Bill Hader's HBO "comedy" about a hitman and aspiring Los Angeles actor turned darker in its third season, but the series flourished because of it. "Barry" offered episodes more gripping and intense than almost anything on the air this year, but also featured pitch-perfect satires of the worst aspects of Hollywood and superb performances from Hader and co-stars Henry Winkler, Sarah Goldberg and Anthony Carrigan.
Ben Stiller’s dystopian drama became one of the most apt and biting critiques of corporate culture and capitalism just as many companies demanded workers return to the office after two years of working from home amid the COVID-19 pandemic. “Severance” takes place in a world in which people can “sever” their work and personal lives so that their work self never remembers their real life and their real self never remembers working. Adam Scott leads the cast as Mark, a severed worker trying to escape grief in his “outie” life, while his “innie” uncovers the evils of the Lumon Corp.
10. 'The Dropout'
One in a long list of true-crime adaptations this year, “Dropout” is positively illuminated by Amanda Seyfried’s can’t-take-your-eyes-off-her performance as disgraced Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes. Seyfried turns the enigmatic Holmes into a weird, nervous, explosive con artist, and her scenes opposite Naveen Andrews as business associate and sometime lover Sunny are the highlights of the miniseries.
9. 'The Bear'
(FX on Hulu)
The show of this summer isn't a bombastic sci-fi epic or A-list period piece, but a tiny half- hour drama about a struggling Chicago sandwich shop and the gourmet chef who's trying to fix it. Starring Jeremy Allen White (Shameless") and Ayo Edebiri as his talented yet under-appreciated mentee, "Bear" stormed onto Hulu this summer with knives flying and F-bombs dropping. The series brings the chaos of a restaurant kitchen to life in excruciating detail, with frenetic, tense scenes and literal stabbings. If you can get through the stressful series, you might want to treat yourself to a nice bubble bath to relax.
8. 'What We Do in the Shadows'
Few series on TV are as reliably funny, and as reliably unhinged, as FX's vampire mockumentary. The fourth season was one of the comedy's best, taking its vampire and human protagonists on a wild journey involving a rapidly aging energy vampire baby with the face of a grown man (the wonderful Mark Prosch, turning in his best performance on the series to date), a vampire nightclub, a djinn, a clone, a spot-on HGTV parody and important character growth.
This delightful romantic comedy from New Zealand comedian Rose Matafeo follows 29-year-old Jessie (Matafeo), who's working dead-end jobs and flitting through life when she gets involved with a movie star (Nikesh Patel). Season 1 featured a strong story of meeting and finding love, but Season 2 is an even better chapter about trying to keep love when you come from different worlds and carry baggage from failed relationships. Matafeo is a comedic delight, a master of both physical high jinks and witty repartee who deserves to catch the eye of Emmy voters.
Perhaps the most ambitious new series this year, “Pachinko” is Apple’s first trilingual TV show, with dialogue in English, Japanese and Korean. It tells a time-jumping and continent-spanning story about multiple members of one Korean family. Set in 1920s Japanese-occupied Korea and 1980s America and Japan, “Pachinko” examines generational trauma and ambition. The stunning drama stars Min-ha Kim, Lee Min-ho and Youn Yuh-jung, who won an Oscar last year for her performance in “Minari.”
5. 'Abbott Elementary'
Creator and star Quinta Brunson did more than just make a successful network sitcom in 2022 (an impressive feat these days). She crafted instantly beloved and classic characters, settings and jokes with “Abbott” (Wednesdays, 9 EDT/PDT). Brunson plays Janine Teagues, an idealistic and energetic second grade teacher at a Philadelphia elementary school, often hilariously and harshly confronted by the realities of low budgets, terrible bureaucrats and other difficulties of teaching. There are more TV shows than ever, but there aren’t a lot of hilarious sitcoms with perfectly cast actors and heartening themes. “Abbott” is well-timed for a dim year in the news and a lovely showpiece for a comedian like Brunson, who has done great if less visible work for years.
Elation is the best way to describe how you’ll feel after watching Netflix’s young-adult rom-com about two teen British boys who fall head over heels for each other. Based on the graphic novels by Alice Oseman (and adapted by the author), “Heartstopper” brilliantly portrays the struggles of being a queer teenager, opting not for despair but for jubilant hope. It uses animated imagery from the comics that adds to the feeling that “Heartstopper” is part reality, part fantasy. Its positive take on the story of coming out and falling in love feels essential.
3. 'Life & Beth'
Amy Schumer is back on TV in this excellent dramedy as Beth, a woman approaching 40 who begins to change her life after her mother's death shakes her out of her blithe routine. Michael Cera co-stars as a handsome, neurodivergent farmer who catches Beth’s eye after she moves from Manhattan to her hometown on Long Island. More than a romantic comedy, "Beth" dives into childhood trauma and grief in real and heartbreaking ways, and shows off the depth of Schumer's writing and acting.
2. 'Reservation Dogs '
(FX on Hulu)
The comedy about teens living on a Native American reservation is so singular in its perspective, and its writers and actors so skilled at crafting near-flawless television, that it deserves a category all its own. In Season 2 our friends Elora Danan (Devery Jacobs), Bear (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai), Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis), and Cheese (Lane Factor) are confronted head on with the uncertainty of adolescence, capturing a universal experience with the specificity of our Rez Dogs' lives. Each episode can be wildly different from the next, but also an immensely satisfying step in the overall journey. Making it to California after two seasons of scrimping, scraping and hoping sets up "Dogs" for a fantastic Season 3.
1. 'For All Mankind'
Apple’s alternate history of the space race, which posits what might have happened had the Soviet Union beaten the U.S. to the moon and the competition for the final frontier never ended, has rocketed ahead to a spot on a list of TV’s all-time great dramas. Season 3, set in a version of the 1990s where NASA, the USSR and a private company are in a three-way race to set foot on Mars, is just as smartly written, with riveting action set pieces. No show but “Mankind” has quite the same talent for setup and payoff, wringing tension and drama out of every moment.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Best TV shows of 2022 (so far): 'Reservation Dogs,' 'Barry'