We have no idea what's going on over at WarnerMedia either. Seems crazy! RIP Minx! In any case, even as things got more dramatic and confusing behind the scenes, 2022 was a good TV year for both HBO and HBO Max. HBO was home to one of the biggest series of the year in House of the Dragon, while also producing under-the-radar gems like Somebody Somewhere. HBO Max gave us the best of all the year's true crime adaptations with The Staircase, along with a widely beloved third season of the animated superhero series Harley Quinn.
With such an embarrassment of riches with only the rare miss, it was difficult to narrow this list down to just 12 shows. But that's literally our job, so narrow it down we did (know that there are plenty of series we loved, like Julia, The Tourist, South Side, and The White Lotus Season 2, that just barely missed the cut). Here are the 12 best HBO and HBO Max shows of 2022.
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
Industry's second season was proof of all the series can be. The simmering finance drama about a group of young investment bankers in London picked up in a post-COVID world, allowing its excellent cast of performers, including Myha'la Herrold, Ken Leung, and Harry Lawtey, to run wild as the stakes ratcheted up with every episode. You don't have to understand the financial jargon to appreciate the depth of these characters, their twisted relationships with each other, and how every bad decision they make has its own set of consequences. It's not exactly a bad thing to be compared to Succession and Euphoria, which Industry so often is, but Season 2 made it clear that this series is doing something entirely unique. -Allison Picurro
Harley Quinn, HBO Max's raunchy animated superhero spoof series centering on the DC Comics rascal Harley Quinn (voiced here by Kaley Cuoco), leveled up in Season 3. It didn't abandon its signature meta humor as it centralized the burgeoning romantic relationship between Harley and Poison Ivy (Lake Bell), reframed our understanding of Batman's well-trodden backstory, and let a suburban dad-ified Joker run for Mayor of Gotham (on a socialist platform, even). The show's best surprise is that it just keeps getting better. -Allison Picurro
Search Party, the most underrated show on TV, might have gotten lost in the shuffle after dropping its fifth and final season back in January, but it would be a mistake to overlook it. The series that boldly committed to changing genres every season used its last episodes to satirize the cult of wellness culture as Dory (Alia Shawkat), believing that she'd been humbled by a near-death experience, continued her reign of terror by embarking on a quest to "enlighten" the world with a single pill. It would be a Dory-worthy crime to give away how spectacularly that went wrong, especially because the road to get there — paved with sharp humor, outstanding performances, and cameos from the likes of John Waters and Jeff Goldblum — is unlike anything else you'll ever watch. -Allison Picurro
Even in an increasingly overcrowded sea of superhero narratives, there was something irresistible about Peacemaker this year. James Gunn's series expanded on John Cena's musclebound The Suicide Squad character, teaming him up with a ragtag group of amateur heroes and giving him just enough of a tortured backstory to make him feel three-dimensional. Sure, the jokes didn't always land, but it was hard to care when the series boasted a charismatic lead performance from Cena and such go-for-broke action scenes. The opening title sequence alone is enough to earn it a spot on this list; the fact that it's actually great is a bonus. -Allison Picurro
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. 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
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
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
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
Irma Vep, Olivier Assayas' limited series adaptation of his 1996 movie of the same name, is easily the coolest show of 2022. Stylish and layered, the series stars Alicia Vikander as a disillusioned actress who is in France filming a remake of a classic French silent film called Les Vampires. It's full of meta commentary on the film industry, great music, and fashionable clothes. It reminds us that Vikander is an Academy Award-winning actress, dammit. It's tres chic. -Allison Picurro