When it comes to surveying the TV landscape, a best-of-the-year list is no longer an indulgence; it’s become a necessity. IMDB’s feature films and TV series released between January and December 2022 has more than 21,600 entries. As TV critic Craig Mathieson despaired earlier this year, even the task of managing a watchlist has become impossible.
So, how did we come up with the greatest TV hits of 2022? We asked our panel of TV critics to name the best shows both new and returning that they’d watched this year. Fifteen shows appeared on three or more of those lists, which we’ve opted to cover in alphabetical order rather than a hierarchy.
What makes this year’s list so interesting is the mix of big, buzzy and (unless you live under a rock) unmissable shows alongside a handful of shows that were barely promoted or written about. It’s both encouraging and revealing that the shows that grabbed our critics’ notice weren’t just the big and noisy ones (conversely, many of the big and noisy shows failed to get mentions), but shows that were discovered or, in the case of returning shows, rediscovered.
So unless you’re across those 20,000-plus shows and movies, this list might also provide some viewing selections as we head into the end-of-year holiday season.You’ve been under a rock this year if you haven’t heard about Andor, the show that has had even critics who would normally turn up their noses at a Star Wars property salivating indeed many have called it the best thing to come out under the SW brand since the original trilogy.
Created by Tony Gilroy, writer of movies like Michael Clayton and the Bourne trilogy, it’s perhaps not surprising that Andor frequently smacks of a classic spy thriller more than a space opera. The story follows thief-turned-Rebel Cassian Andor – played by Diego Luna – in the years leading up to the events of Rogue One, which was itself a prequel to the first Star Wars film.
In reaching back to the early history of the Rebel Alliance, Andor eschews fan service and the relentless addition to the backstory of familiar characters that has been the hallmark of the average Star Wars TV show, in favour of tense, taut, atmospheric storytelling – that still gets in its share of rousing action scenes and laser blasts in its depiction of rising revolution.
More realistic than any Star Wars story has a right to be, Andor is an outlier in the ever-growing Lucas-verse, but hopefully a sign that the future of the franchise is bright.While the first season of this brilliantly dark take on parenting focused mostly on familiar tropes – sleepless nights; awful fellow parents; the dual horror of dealing with kids and ageing parents – it was still a cut above most in its genre.
Centred on Paul (Martin Freeman), his partner Ally (Daisy Haggard) and their kids Luke (Alex Eastwood) and Ava (Eve Prenelle), the series is based on Freeman’s own parenting experiences (he’s a co-creator with Veep’s Simon Blackwell and actor Chris Addison) which, given Paul is a man who could do with a generous course of anger management classes, is rather a brave thing to admit publicly.
This makes the series even more extraordinary. Especially as things grew much darker in season two (which jumped ahead five years) and this year’s third season, which opened with Paul living at his mother-in-law’s house after his temper and impatience with the troubled Luke came to a head.
This season was the bleakest so far, touching on menopause, kids’ anxieties, middle-age ennui, career crises and infidelity – and yet, it still has some of the funniest lines on TV; nobody delivers a sharp riposte quite like Daisy Haggard.This is a two-for-one shoutout, as – shamefully – season one of Fisk was overlooked in our best-of list last year. Thankfully, season two of Kitty Flanagan’s probate-lawyer comedy, returned with all the unapologetic panache of an oversized brown suit.
This year saw Flanagan’s Helen Tudor-Fisk find her confidence at Gruber and Associates, settling into a rhythm with boss Ray (a dry-as-dust Marty Sheargold), nemesis Roz (Julia Zemiro in a scene-stealing performance) and webmaster George (a superb Aaron Chen). Fisk works because the writing is sharp and each character arrives fully formed on the page. The risk with half-hour comedies is that characters don’t grow, but Flanagan revealed Helen’s heart at the end.
That it took years of Flanagan pitching to make Fisk happen is jaw-dropping, but now it’s here, let’s give Helen all the $1 coffee she can drink (or the key to the coffee pod drawer).The year 2022 was quite the year for retelling familiar stories through the female lens, and one of the best was this fabulous romp starring Julia Roberts. Just when you thought there was nothing left to say about Nixon and the Watergate scandal, Leon Neyfakh’s podcast and a television treatment from Robbie Pickering (Search Party, Mr Robot) turned the whole thing sideways.
Roberts is Martha Mitchell, wife of Nixon’s Attorney General/campaign manager, a force of nature – and the first to blow the whistle on Watergate. Who knew? There are a lot of blokes in this story, from the conservative but well-meaning (Dan Stevens is wonderful as White House counsel John Dean) to the completely cray-cray (Shea Whigham as G. Gordon Liddy).
But what makes this so fascinating – and so very 2022 – is the way it shows us the story that was running alongside the men’s the whole time: Martha, stubbornly, loudly and oh-so-entertainingly ploughing her own row; and Dean’s girlfriend – and then wife – Mo (Betty Gilpin) trying (unsuccessfully) to bring a progressive voice of reason to a situation that any rational person could see was completely nuts.When Netflix announced the reboot of this beloved ’90s afternoon TV staple, there was worry it couldn’t be pulled off. But what creator Hannah Carroll Chapman and her writing team did was deliver a fresh and funny take on an old favourite that managed to hook in not only a local audience, but a worldwide audience as well.
Viewers came out of curiosity but stayed for the winning performances and the very Australian take on the high school experience (and yes, they said “rack off” as well as a whole lot of other phrases that had this old lady looking at Urban Dictionary). The whole cast was exceptional, but special mentions go to Ayesha Madon as Amerie, James Majoos as Darren and Will McDonald as Cash. I cheered in the final episode not only for the sweet resolution of a high school crush, but out of relief that they had pulled it off. Bring on season two.