Thursday, 8 December 2022

My Top 10 TV Shows of 2022

With more to stream than ever before, there's no shortage of great stuff out there – which means making a top ten list is trickier than ever before too. Nevertheless, I've put my thinking cap on and cooked up a list of my favourite shows and series from 2022. Read on to find out what made the cut...

Honourable mentions: Black Bird (Apple TV+), Yellowjackets (Paramount+), The Staircase (HBO Max), The Rehearsal (HBO), Westworld (HBO), Barry (HBO), Euphoria (HBO), Peacemaker (HBO Max), Ozark (Netflix), The After Party (Apple TV+).

10) The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power season one (Prime Video)

There's fantasy TV, and then there's fantasy TV. Prime Video's billion-dollar blockbuster show is definitely the latter, and rarely has television felt quite as vast and luscious as this. Right from the first episode, it was clear that there's scope to spare, and across the following seven, showrunners JD Payne and Patrick McKay took us on a whistle-stop tour of Middle-Earth and beyond, from the Elven lands of Lindon and the towering turrets of Numenor to the Dwarven halls of Khazad-Dum and icy northern wastelands of Forodwaith. This was still Tolkien's world, mixed with Jackson's vision, through the lens of new creatives, with a new story to tell, new vistas to paint and new horizons to cross. 

Juggling a large ensemble is never easy, and The Rings of Power brought them all together – from harfoots and handmaidens and more. Lavish production design is one thing, but using that to tell a compelling and rewarding story is another. The Rings of Power took its time to weave a layered story about Sauron's return to the fold, and tees up bigger and even better things down the track. 

9) The Boys season three (Prime Video)

Look, there are some things I simply cannot unsee thanks to season three of The Boys. This show's ability to conjure up the goriest, gooiest and grossest visuals is second to none, and for that I applaud it. 

But here's the thing; The Boys is about so much more than just vast superhero orgies and exploding urethras. Nestled amongst the lewd and the crude, is some of the sharpest and most incisive satire currently streaming. And the fact that those this show is commenting on (and in most cases, straight up roasting) can't or won't see that it's about them, is the best part. This show just goes from strength to strength, with season three possibly being the strongest yet. 

8) Stranger Things season four (Netflix)

The biggest, boldest and strangest Stranger Things yet, Netflix's summer tentpole series was almost enough to justify the subscription fee hikes all by itself. Alright maybe that's going too far, but you catch my drift – without it, Netflix would be seriously flagging behind its streaming competitors. 

Complete with episodes with runtimes to rival some of Hollywood's splashiest sequels, this season of Stranger Things saw the Duffer Brothers up the ante and then some. With a new villain, Vecna, causing trouble for the teens of Hawkins, there was a sense that Stranger Things had finally scaled up to match the original ambitions of its creators. 

While the ensemble cast is getting a bit too big, and I really could have done without that whole Russia subplot that kinda went nowhere, the thrill of Stranger Things is in seeing what loopy, squelchy thing lurks around the next corner, and if there's one department in which this season excelled, it was the monsters and the frights. Plus, it introduced millions of clueless zoomers to Kate Bush, so bonus points for that.

7) Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season one (Paramount+)

Aside from liking the 2009 reboot and its two sequels, I wouldn't consider myself a particularly knowledgeable Trekkie – which is perhaps why I found the latest Star Trek series, Strange New Worlds, so easy to vibe with.

Billed as a good entry point for newbies, Strange New Worlds is a spin-off of Discovery and a prequel to The Original Series; so much so that it features classic characters – Spock, Uhura, Captain Pike, James T. Kirk – that a layman like me has actually heard of! 

With glossy production design and visual effects that put the vast majority of other streaming shows to shame, and a neat balance of episodic stories and a broader arc to tie it all together, Strange New Worlds didn't hit a bum note once across its ten-episode first season. 

6) Severance season one (Apple TV+)

Ben Stiller's sleek sci-fi dystopian workplace drama Severance posits the question, do you ever feel like you're a different person at work? How far would you go to keep your work life seperate from your home life?

Across 10 slick conspiracy-laden episodes, the mysteries sitting at the centre of Severance slowly start to untangle themselves. The fun and the tension comes from seeing these strange jigsaw pieces click into place, and we learn more about the cast of curious desk jockeys, from Adam Scott's moustachioed Mark to Britt Lower's new starter Helly. 

The stark and otherworldly production design – which mixes eerie open-plan corporate design with clunky CRT monitors and some retro-futurist technology – looks like it costs a packet to produce, and really sets this show apart from your run-of-the-mill mystery box thriller. The plot is a bit of a slow burn, but the final episode culminates in a thrilling cliffhanger. 

5) The Bear season one (Disney+)

If you can't handle the heat, get out of the kitchen – because hoo boy, there's a lot of heat coming off this one. Season one of The Bear is akin to a frantic and frenzied kitchen fire that has been brewing for a while, only to burst into life and lash out at you. 

After meeting our protagonist (Carmy, who gives up his life working a posh New York restaurant and returns to Chicago to take over a popular but dilapidated sandwich shop after its owner – his brother – commits suicide), we're introduced to a familiar conceit. The shop, dubbed The Beef, is in disrepair.

Debts are racking up, there's chaos and unprofessionalism rife in the kitchen, Carmy seems to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown at any moment. All good stuff that makes for excellent, high-stakes character drama – is Marcus going to find the perfect recipe for his new line of doughnuts? How can we make our next rent payment without Richie selling crack in the alleyway out back? Who keeps sabotaging the staff and causing us to trip up when the clock is ticking?

The Bear isn't exactly reinventing the wheel; we've seen stories about talented but flawed people and their art a thousand times before. What makes it marinate on the mind and linger on the lips, is the way it takes familiar ingredients and remixes them in a fresh and delectable fashion.

4) Andor season one (Disney+)

This is more like it. I've been bitterly disappointed with the trajectory of Star Wars' TV stuff ever since that dreadful CG Luke Skywalker popped up in the season two finale of The Mandalorian. But Tony Gilroy's terrific 'between the trilogies' show Andor shows there's still life in the old dog yet, by dispensing with the Sith/Jedi binary, and the cumbersome retcon-heavy narrative (looking at you, Obi-Wan Kenobi), and instead offers something low-key, grounded, gritty and character-driven. 

Diego Luna makes a terrific central figure for this 'boots on the ground' story of a fledging Rebellion amidst an oppressive Imperial regime. What's more, this might be the first Star Wars project in a long while to focus on exactly that: the politics and ideologies of Star Wars. Who are these people, who choose to rise up and fight for something greater and grander than themselves? Andor may be named after one man, but it's the story of so much more. And it's proof that Star Wars can still be relevant without reverting to a retread of old characters and old stories. Fingers crossed that quality continues into Gilroy's second season.

3) House of the Dragon season one (HBO)

House of the Dragon faced the unenviable task of being not just a satisfactory follow-up to the good stuff from Game of Thrones; it needed to make up for all the bad stuff from that controversial and calamitous final season too. 

So what better way to woo fans back, than putting out the Thrones equivalent of a 'greatest hits' album? 

With all the things we loved about Thrones – the politicking and manoeuvring, the quarrelling at court, the sprawling medieval battles, the incest – and with the added bonus of more dragons than you can shake a morningstar at, House of the Dragon had me rapt from start to finish. 

With such a vast cast and a narrative spanning decades, where do you even start when picking a favourite moment or a series MVP? Right out of the gate, a star was born in Milly Alcock, who played young Rhaenyra, so much so that it took some getting used to her older counterpart Emma D'Arcy after the midseason time jump.

But the crown of House of the Dragon MVP finds itself shared by quarrelling brothers Paddy Considine and Matt Smith, as King Viserys and Prince Daemon respectively. The former was the literal and emotional glue that held the kingdom together, whilst Smith cheerfully chews the scenery and steals the show.

2) The White Lotus season two (HBO)

Swapping tropical Hawaii for a very saucy Sicily, The White Lotus' second season sees Mike White continue to explore themes like gender, sexuality, class and intergenerational trauma through the lens of rich white people upending their fucked up lives whilst on holiday.

Every bit as arresting as the first season, The White Lotus once again boasts an embarrassment of riches in its ensemble cast; Aubrey Plaza, F Murray Abraham, Michael Imperioli, Theo James, Tom Hollander, Haley Lu Richardson and of course a returning Jennifer Coolidge. 

There's still one episode to go, but I can confidently say that it's earned its place on this list. Each week, White peels back the next layer on this delicate onion, to reveal something about his frustratingly oblivious (or in some cases, frustratingly self-aware but still flawed) characters, and ourselves at the same time. Who lives, who dies? I guess we'll all find out on Monday, but at the end of the day, the best part about this show is that journey is more interesting than the destination. 

1) Industry season two (HBO)

Truly the most toxic and torturous workplace drama on TV, Industry goes from strength to strength in its sophomore season.

Rarely does a show make such a dramatic leap in quality than Industry did between seasons one and two. Buoyed by new blood (Jay Duplass' millionaire hedge fund manager Jesse Bloom), a firmer focus and a propulsive plot that pushes its core cast into darker and more dangerous challenges, Industry delivered shock after shock across eight tight, compelling episodes. 

Will Harper's latest swing on shorts come good in the end? How can the brokers on the FX desk outwit and outmanoeuvre the CPS desk? And most crucially, what does all this mean? If, like me, you don't know your bull market from your bear market, Industry cleverly offsets its finance bro lingo-heavy dialogue with big bombshell moments, broad character motivations and thrilling sequences with wall-to-wall tension that don't require a degree in economics to not just understand, but lose yourself in. 

Industry has graduated from the Succession school of making complicated corporate junk accessible; embrace the jargon, don't get bogged down in the nitty-gritty, and instead focus on putting a core cast of compelling and deeply flawed characters in new debauched scenarios, week in week out. Everyone is looking out for number one, there's always a scheme or a plot afoot, and crucially, the stakes are very, very real and very, very personal. 

But it's also a second-cousin to another HBO show, Euphoria. Fuelled by raging hormones, illicit drugs and corporate greed, Industry is a uniquely Gen-Z lens through which to view the modern workplace.

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