It's never easy to put together a list of the year's best shows, but not always for the same reason. Some years there's a lack of top-tier series, and other years there's so much great stuff that narrowing down the options is like trying to pick out the most perfect grains of sand on the beach. This year was the latter. Maybe it was what remained of the pandemic backlog getting cleared, maybe it was the crest of the Peak TV wave at last, or maybe it was just the stars aligning, but it felt like 2022 had even more great shows than usual.
There were extraordinary debuts like Severance, Abbott Elementary, and The Bear, which seemed to come out of nowhere to become shows that everyone was talking about. There were blockbusters like House of the Dragon and Andor, which showed that there are well-established franchises with plenty of vitality left in them. There were masterful final seasons of era-defining shows like Better Call Saul and Atlanta, which ended as strong as they started. And there were shows in the middle of their runs like Evil and The Boys that have remained impressively consistent.
Television's era of superabundance seems to be coming to an end, and audiences may not be spoiled with as many great shows in the future as studios recalibrate their budgets. So TV Guide is taking the time to appreciate how good we had it while watching TV this year with our list of the 20 best shows of 2022.
When a show begins as well as The Boys did, you expect later seasons to take a downturn at some point. The satirical superhero drama, which already avoided the sophomore slump, upped the ante yet again in its stellar third season. Not only did the show manage to get even grosser (no one is going to think about sneezing naked the same way ever again), but it grew even more adept at holding a funhouse mirror to our societal woes. The addition of Jensen Ackles' gruff Soldier Boy made for a genius foil for Homelander's (Antony Starr) tragic insecurity complex, and the explosive showdown between the two not only led to the most epic fight scene in the show's tenure but was also an incisive commentary on what happens when toxic masculinity is given unlimited power. The Boys presents itself as an explicit, over-the-top blockbuster drama, but it is sneakily one of the most intelligent shows on TV. -Megan Vick
House of the Dragon, the follow-up to Game of Thrones, is the best-case scenario for what happens when people mostly stick to the formula that worked the first time. The palace intrigue, complex characters, and jaw-dropping (or chopping) "oh sh--" moments ain't broke, and the fixes to the original show's blind spots are appreciated. The season started strong and kept getting better as it went on, handily beating the other, even more expensive fantasy series it was competing with for cultural clout. It turns out the only show that can be the next Game of Thrones is more Game of Thrones, and thank the Seven for that. -Liam Mathews
Abbott Elementary is the overachiever of the 2022 freshman class. Quinta Brunson's Emmy-winning ABC comedy had barely premiered when this year began (only the pilot aired in 2021), and it's already made network sitcoms cool again — and topped TV Guide's annual summer ranking of the 100 best shows on TV right now. The familiar comforts of a good mockumentary don't hurt, but as much as Abbott embraces the best of that formula, it's also rewriting the rules. A Black workplace comedy set in the West Philadelphia public school system is like no workplace comedy we've seen before. It isn't easy to fold the real-world issues facing teachers in America into a 22-minute episode, and it's even harder to make that episode funny. Abbott doesn't miss a beat. -Kelly Connolly
When it was revealed to be in development, HBO's The Staircase was met with concern: "Do we really need this? Isn't the original good enough?" Don't get me wrong; the "Do we really need this?" question is incredibly valid for 99 percent of today's reboots, remakes, and spin-offs. But it must feel good for creator Antonio Campos to deliver a dramatized miniseries about a revered true crime docuseries that complements, rather than retells, the original. HBO's The Staircase is about more than the alleged crime — Michael Peterson's murder of his wife Kathleen — as it examines Michael's behavior within the crime and in context of being a documentary star, dusts for fingerprints in the true crime genre itself, and puts the camera on the movie makers. Bolstered by an exceptional cast, most notably Colin Firth and Toni Collette as Michael and Kathleen, who were game for the wildest recreations of theories — we wouldn't blame Collette if she developed strigiformophobia while filming the infamous owl scenes — it was immensely watchable. -Tim Surette
A little distance — the series debuted back in January — has turned the memory of Somebody Somewhere into a lovely little thing. It's a warm show; watching it feels like lingering longer than expected with a new friend. But look closer: Somebody Somewhere is able to be kind because it also has bite. The HBO dramedy, starring and executive produced by Bridget Everett, extols the healing joy of finding someone who hates the same people you do. It's powered by the alchemy between Everett's Sam, adrift after the death of her sister, and Jeff Hiller's Joel, her old show choir classmate. To their coworkers, and even to Joel's boyfriend, they're a clique; to each other, they're salvation. Somebody Somewhere is set in Sam's Kansas hometown, which is also Everett's, but as vivid as the Midwestern setting is, the show defines home as people, not place. From the emotional tumult of biological family (the late Mike Hagerty is stunning as Sam's father) to the refuge of queer found family, it's a map of an inescapable community. -Kelly Connolly
There were a lot of based-on-a-true-crime limited series this year, but none as urgent and timely as We Own This City, which documents sickening corruption in the Baltimore Police Department. Writers George Pelecanos and David Simon returned to the city of their masterpiece, The Wire, with their patented eye for journalistic detail. Their fast-paced polemic scripts come to life in the hands of a hardworking ensemble cast led by the tremendous Jon Bernthal, who gives a live-wire performance as Wayne Jenkins, a dirty cop with the wildest Ballmer accent you've ever heard. -Liam Mathews
There were two seasons of Atlanta in 2022. Season 3 was the most provocative of the show's whole run, an artistically challenging experiment playing with variations on a theme ("the curse of whiteness") that spent almost no time in Atlanta and polarized viewers. Season 4 returned to the show's home, literally and spiritually, for a final season of classic formula episodes that did the things that made Atlanta one of TV's most boundary-expanding shows in the first place, with surreal comedy, astute social commentary, and poignance that gets you when you're least expecting it. The seasons were very different, but they both demonstrated all the things Donald Glover & Co. were capable of — and only they were capable of. -Liam Mathews
Industry was very good in Season 1, but in Season 2 it became one of the best dramas on TV. HBO's slick series about young investment bankers in the pressure-cooker world of London high finance entered its second season with the confidence of a BSD. It found the absolutely perfect way to balance its jargon-heavy authenticity with real emotional stakes — you may not understand what characters are saying, but you sure as hell understand what they mean — and figured out exactly what makes its gloriously messed-up characters tick, putting Myha'la Herrold, Marisa Abela, and Harry Lawtey on the path to superstardom in the process. -Liam Mathews
The fifth and final season of Better Things gave TV's most casually beautiful dramedy the send-off it deserved. Pamela Adlon, the show's creator-star-director-writer, used the final episodes to continue her singular observations on things like aging and being a woman who dares to remain single, while also delving into themes like gender identity and teen depression. The show's vivid details reward multiple viewings, and its rambling sensitivity makes every episode feel like a warm hug. But to mistake Better Things' softness for weakness would be a disservice to Adlon's carefully thought-out thesis that life is full of impossible challenges. It's the show that has it all. There'll never be another one quite like it. -Allison Picurro
There's a scene late in Andor's first season where Stellan Skarsgård's rebel leader Luthen Rael gives a monologue about the sacrifices he's made in his fight against the Empire — his soul, his future, everything — and it's one of the best-written, best-acted descriptions of the toll the fight for justice takes on the fighter ever depicted in film or television. It's intelligent and adult and weighty. It's really about something. And the whole show is like that. Every five minutes, you'll say, "I can't believe this morally complex spy thriller about fascism is a Star Wars show on Disney+." Andor would be an extraordinary achievement on its own, and it's doubly so for the franchise constrictions it works within. -Liam Mathews
Evil upgraded its opening theme for Season 3; the new one whirls like a top spinning off its axis, or maybe like Dante descending the circles of hell. That's the show. Robert and Michelle King's freaky procedural is both a frantic journey to a dark place and a straight-up banger, a thrilling blend of doom, absurdism, and joy. Its third season was its first to be written entirely for streaming, and this year's episodes were more playfully profane than ever, not that Evil needed four-letter words to be shocking. The shrunken head in the toilet would have been enough. Season 3 delivered a Vatican mafia, haunted plumbing as a metaphor for problems in the home, matrilineal violence in the Bouchard family tree, Andrea Martin whacking invisible demons with a shovel, a poignant unrequited gay love story featuring Wallace Shawn as a priest who came back from the dead, and a whole host of visions and temptations for David (Mike Colter), still one of the most beautifully written men on TV. And then it really knocked the wind out of you. -Kelly Connolly
A true sleeper hit, The Bear took us all by surprise when it captured mass attention after arriving all at once on Hulu in the middle of the summer with minimal fanfare. But Christopher Storer's kitchen dramedy about a struggling sandwich restaurant called the Original Beef of Chicagoland is more than just fodder for horny tweets. It's difficult to think of many other shows that are able to so eloquently weave the internal war of ambition with the all-consuming process of grief in a way that feels honest, examining the ways emotions manifest differently in different people. Anchored by standout performances from Jeremy Allen White (finally in the starring role he's long proved himself capable of), Ayo Edebiri, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, and Lionel Boyce, The Bear is a frenetic, stressed-out, and unmissable portrait of humanity. -Allison Picurro
We could talk at length about Pachinko's cultural impact: how it's a U.S.-produced series told in three languages — English, Korean, and Japanese — and how it challenges existing, mostly dated notions around what separates "American TV" from "international TV." ("I want that to go away. I hope one day we can talk about shows, period," series creator Soo Hugh told TV Guide earlier this year.) But breaking barriers aside, Pachinko is an inspired show. Based on Min Jin Lee's bestselling novel of the same name, the stirring epic follows one Korean family across four generations. And while the story is expansive in scale — taking place everywhere from 1915 Japanese-colonized Busan to 1989 Osaka and New York City — Pachinko's magic comes from sharply focusing on the emotional journey of the family's matriarch, Sunja (played as a teen by Minha Kim and as an adult by Yuh-jung Youn). Many viewers may have not experienced the terrors Sunja faced, but most can identify with her pain of leaving home, her search for belonging, and her longing for just one more taste of her mother's cooking. -Kat Moon
What makes The Righteous Gemstones special is the way it treats humor like an art form. In Season 2, Danny McBride's televangelism comedy confidently dug in its heels, mimicking the sincerity of a prestige drama by zeroing in on small details that give the series its richness. Entire mini-stories exist within those details. The series utilizes everything from thoughtful costuming to a curated soundtrack of Jesus bangers and trusts its flawless ensemble to deliver jokes so casually that you might not realize you're listening to a joke until they've already moved on ("I tried to call curfew, but they would not retire to their yurts"). Here, full-frontal male nudity is rampant, muscled-up God Squads make total sense, and phrases like "toilet baby" are part of the everyday vernacular. At one point, Joe Jonas even shows up. Still, the story is never sacrificed: Season 2's ode to fraught family history is an exploration of how the past sins of parents weigh on the lives of their children, and how it's up to the children to find their own path to forgiveness. It's tempting to list every one of its innumerable, irreverent pleasures, but what's most impressive is how Gemstones always finds the beating heart amid the absurdity. -Allison Picurro
I want every show to be as audaciously unpredictable as Interview with the Vampire. Rolin Jones' delectable adaptation of Anne Rice's iconic novel is a work of bloody, campy, queer genius, a rollicking vampire story that uses its split timeline to ruminate on the slippery nature of memory and how people manipulate their own personal histories in order to protect themselves. Its beauty comes from its ability to strike a tricky balance between controlled chaos — Episode 1's vampiric church transformation scene comes to mind — and a deep emotional core, brought out by the love Louis (Jacob Anderson) has for Claudia (Bailey Bass) and, despite himself, Lestat (Sam Reid). Sometimes you get a perfect sight gag of two vampires sleeping in adjacent I Love Lucy-style coffins, and sometimes you get to hear the great Eric Bogosian deliver the most cutting TV line of the year in "Was it raining, Louis?" At no point in Interview with the Vampire's first season did I know what was coming next, down to its dizzying final moments that signal even better things to come. -Allison Picurro
Bill Hader's brilliant black comedy returned from a three-year break without missing a beat. Season 3 of Barry reminded viewers why they got hooked on the show about the hitman who wants to be an actor in the first place: the off-kilter unpredictability of the humor, the gut-punching tragedy of the drama, the audacious artistic technique in moments like the music-less motorcycle chase in "710N," and the award-worthy performances from Hader, Henry Winkler, Sarah Goldberg, Anthony Carrigan, and Stephen Root. -Liam Mathews
Who knows whether series creator Nathan Fielder meant it this way, but it's ingeniously subversive that The Rehearsal, an experimental "reality" show about being prepared, is impossible to prepare for. Fielder's follow-up to the iconic Comedy Central series Nathan for You, which became more and more meta across its four seasons, is layered with unexpected perspectives and subtext right from the start as he helps a man come clean about a lie he told to his bar trivia group. In the following five episodes, Fielder walks to the edge of reality and cannonballs right off it, crashing through his own self-reflective mirror to absorb his new subject's insecurity of being a parent and inadvertently, and eventually purposefully, run the experiment on himself. And this isn't even getting into the fact that an extremely detailed replica of a real New York City bar was deconstructed, shipped to Oregon, and rebuilt just so he could have a place to think. The Rehearsal is wild, and unlike anything else that's been seen before. -Tim Surette
Reservation Dogs was this year's easiest recommendation — I gave it out like candy to anyone who asked for something good to watch, no matter what kind of show they're usually into. What makes Sterlin Harjo's Indigenous comedy so great is the clarity of its voice. The FX-produced show about teens on the rez moves and feels like nothing else on television, punctuating its dry, low-key sense of humor with strong emotion and spiritual meditation. This year, Reservation Dogs built on a solid first season with an exquisite second season that used the fracturing of the friend group to tell short stories about their grief, giving them space to grow up a little before they came back together. But the series also saved time for the adults in the room, whose pain and desires mirrored the kids'. Growing up is an unfinished project. -Kelly Connolly
It's rare that a show is as perfect as Severance, especially right out of the gate. Every single part of this genre-defying psychological thriller is executed at the highest level, from creator Dan Erickson and his writers' clever scripts to Ben Stiller and Aoife McArdle's meticulous direction to the performances of the magnificent ensemble cast to the distinctive production design. It's a wholly original work that can be compared to a few things, most obviously the films of Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze, but isn't really all that much like any of those things. It's philosophically rich, darkly hilarious, and so tense you might develop lockjaw from clenching your teeth so hard. I would go as far as to say it's the best new show of the decade so far. I wish I could undergo the severance procedure and watch it again for the first time. -Liam Mathews
Better Call Saul's sixth and final season opens with a hypnotic tour of Saul Goodman's (Bob Odenkirk) gaudy mansion as movers pack up his belongings. The scene is filled with easter eggs — a pair of sneakers from Season 3 here, a Zafiro Añejo bottle stopper there. Other details, like a copy of H.G. Wells' sci-fi novella The Time Machine seen on a nightstand and a glimpse at a certain painting from a certain apartment, are meant to be revisited, taking on new meaning after the end of the series. In retrospect, the sequence foreshadowed just how deeply the last 13 episodes would reward the show's audience for years of eagle-eyed viewership, and also served as a salute to one of Better Call Saul's greatest strengths: Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan's peerless talent for deliberate and methodical storytelling.
In its entirety, Season 6 is a marvel, a rare perfect combination of filmmaking, writing, and acting that remained surprising even as it spun closer to an inevitable conclusion. The first half ended with a senseless body count, which gave the second half a sobering resonance as the walls closed in around Jimmy McGill and Kim Wexler (the glorious Rhea Seehorn), both forced to deal with the brutal consequences of their actions. That they both become ghosts in different ways — Jimmy, buried under about three different personas, and Kim, a shell of the person she once was — is fitting for a series that was always about dead people, about regrets and what could have been. That Jimmy, not Saul Goodman or Gene Takovic, re-emerged in the final hour to orchestrate his own punishment and helped absolve Kim in the process is fitting for a series that ended up being a love story — a show about going through hell just for the chance to share a cigarette with your ex-wife. The Emmys have exactly one more chance to recognize Better Call Saul's brilliance, but even without any awards, it's still one for the history books. -Allison Picurro
Honorable mentions: Bust Down, Derry Girls, Fleishman Is in Trouble, The Good Fight, High School, Irma Vep, A League of Their Own, Minx, Peacemaker, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, This Is Going to Hurt, Under the Banner of Heaven