If channel surfing was once a casual pastime, then it has become an Olympic undertaking. Not only are channels now siloed across different streaming platforms, each with their own catalog and subscription fees, but there’s more TV than ever before.
You wouldn’t be alone if you felt like riding the deluge was a Herculean feat; at this rate no one could be expected to fully keep up with even the year’s top-billed releases, let alone the whole horizon of television at the moment. As such, we’ve got a list of the best of the year so far. Take the “so far” as both a promise and a challenge; this is a list we’ll be updating several times throughout the rest of 2022 as new shows drop, older shows settle in our minds, and we (like everyone else) continue to catch up with unsung gems of the year. And if you like lists, we’ve got more lists — specifically lists of the best movies, games, anime, and books of the year so far.
We’re organizing this list with the most recent additions at the top, with older things floating down as we move through the year. With any show that ends in 2022 eligible for consideration, scroll on and see what your next TV watershed moment is.
The third season of Atlanta is a difficult one to summarize. As my colleague Joshua Rivera so succinctly put in his review of the premiere, the crux of the show is not so much in a place as it is in a mindset, one which calls attention to the strangeness of race, as well as the peculiarities and dangers of inhabiting a world that warps in response to it.
The latest season of Donald Glover’s dark comedy-drama dabbles in a new format, dividing its run time between tragicomic episodes focused on Earn and co.’s misadventures across Europe and stand-alone anthology episodes, exploring themes like restorative justice, American racial identity, and the perils of white allyship. Not every episode hits the mark, but the willingness of the show’s creators to reinvent the series offers some of the most insightful and incendiary moments Atlanta has yet offered. In short, Atlanta continues to be like nothing else on television right now, and continues to earn its reputation as must-watch TV. —Toussaint Egan
Atlanta is available to watch on Hulu.
Prime Video’s eerie ranch drama comes by way of a writers room filled with playwrights, led by showrunner Brian Watkins. The theatricality of Outer Range is essential: While on its surface it is a science fiction story set on a Wyoming ranch, it is also a story of a family in crisis that draws on many elements of the “kitchen sink” drama.
Outer Range follows the Abbott family — patriarch Royal (Josh Brolin), matriarch Cecilia (Lili Taylor), their sons, Perry (Tom Pelphrey) and Rhett (Lewis Pullman), and Perry’s daughter, Amy (Olive Abercrombie). Their ranch has been in the family for generations, but is under threat as a wealthier, rival family looks to exert their influence to gain control of it. Meanwhile, Royal finds a mysterious hole in the ground, and a mysterious girl (Imogen Poots) on his land. Much of the mystery in Outer Range is about this hole, whose properties and origins bewilder and enthrall all who encounter it.
A contemplative mystery stuffed with shocking moments and visuals, Outer Range is for viewers who like to ponder with their television. It is also a terrific showcase for Brolin’s talents. He shines in the show, given the space to play into moments both quiet and loud. —Pete Volk
Outer Range is available to watch on Prime Video.
Apple TV’s brisk six-episode spy thriller is adapted from the 2010 novel of the same name and brings the kind of layered mystery and effectively twist-y plot you’d expect from the genre. Slow Horses follows a group of lovable losers from the world of espionage who have all been punished for past failures or transgressions by being sent to “Slough House,” a dead-end assignment filled with boring paperwork and a general sense of uselessness. They are led by Jackson Lamb (Gary Oldman), their cantankerous boss whose only moments of joy seem to come with farting. When a kidnapping plot captivates the whole nation, the rejects of Slough House take it upon themselves to save the day.
Slow Horses comes from an effective and unconventional combination of creatives: veteran action and drama directors James Hawes and Jeremy Lovering are paired with a group of writers that have largely worked on comedies (including Paddington 2 and Veep). The result is a spy thriller that nails all the notes you’d want from the genre, while also delivering sitcom-style laughs and characters. —PV
Slow Horses is available to watch on Apple TV Plus.
Pamela Adlon reimagined the coming-of-age story with Better Things, which moved effortlessly through teen angst, middle age and menopause, and the twilight years of one’s life — often in the same episode. The series remained incisive and big-hearted as it explored the various stages of adolescence from the perspectives of Sam Fox’s (Adlon) three children and the travails of working motherhood. The Fox family’s last hurrah was as glorious as it was pensive, as Sam found new, gratifying ways to define this latest chapter of her life. She defied the framing of loss imposed by a patriarchal society and instead chose to focus on all she stood to gain, even as her eldest moved away, her youngest no longer cleaved to her, and her mother rekindled an old flame. As a storyteller, Adlon’s often eschewed closure, but the final 10 episodes of her dreamy FX series certainly cemented her place as one of TV’s auteurs. —Danette Chavez
Better Things is available to watch on Hulu.
Our Flag Means Death
Viewers who tune into David Jenkins’ pirate comedy Our Flag Means Death because they’ve heard so much about Thor: Ragnarok and Hunt for the Wilderpeople director Taika Waititi in the show, or about its tender bromance-turned-romance, may be surprised to learn that neither of those elements really kicks in until episode 4 of a 10-episode run. Jenkins explained to Polygon why that had to happen to make the story work, but the result is that viewers who want the series’ full emotional impact have to stick with it through some light early comedy that recalls the early episodes of What We Do In the Shadows.
That comedy has its own charms, and sets a lot of important gears in motion, but it also only teases at Our Flag’s full powerful impact, as Waititi and his longtime partner-in-movies Rhys Darby, playing comic versions of real-life pirates Blackbeard and Stede Bonnet, both endure personal identity crises and find the answers in each other. Our Flag never stops being tongue-in-cheek for long, and the parade of comedy ringers pulling cameos — including Leslie Jones, Fred Armisen, Will Arnett, Nick Kroll, and Kristen Schaal — keeps the action lively. But by the end of the first season, it’s also a sweet, smart invitation for viewers to run off and become pirates themselves — or at least examine their assumptions about their own lives and loves. —Tasha Robinson
Our Flag Means Death is available to watch on HBO Max.
Ranking of Kings
Ranking of Kings is a fantasy series where monarchs are measured by their deeds, and more importantly, their strength. Enter Bojji, a tiny, warm-hearted boy who is next in line to take on the throne from his ailing father, who is king. Bojji isn’t physically strong, and struggles to speak, thus leading him to communicate primarily through sign language. However, where his characteristics might lack in comparison to other more traditional leaders, he makes up for in heart. In the first episode, he literally takes the shirt off his back for someone in need.
Bojji is one of the most moving and compelling anime protagonists I’ve seen on screen, ever. Ranking of Kings charges even the most banal of moments with the highest stakes; It makes a non-lethal spar between Bojji and his half-brother somehow feel more important than a fight between gods. He makes for the perfect protagonist as his tiny stature and sense of awe make a sweeping fantasy land populated with golems, wizards, and giants feel all the more grand. That being said, Bojji is far from being the only character who stands out. Alongside him is his companion, Kage, who is the sole survivor of a once-persecuted clan, as well as his half-brother Daida, who struggles to find a way to power that feels true to him.
Ranking of Kings works because I would die for Bojji. However, this series is more than an underdog story. Based on the manga written and illustrated by Sosuke Toka, the anime nails all the fixings of a great fantasy series: intriguing creatures, mystical and dark magic, palace intrigue, and an adventure that takes the little lad to the depths of hell. It’s an incredible series so far, and one that I can’t recommend enough. —Ana Diaz
The sitcom mockumentary format has been done to death at this point, but against all odds, Abbott Elementary manages to refresh that formula and breathe new life into it. It just makes sense that a school would be the subject of a documentary.
The best part of Abbott Elementary is that each of the teachers just feels real, like a teacher you probably had at one point or another in your life. Sheryl Lee Ralph and Janelle James command the cast as wise kindergarten teacher Barbara and work-allergic, self-absorbed principal Ava, but from eager and sometimes naïve Janine (Quinta Brunson, also series creator) to street smart Philadelphia native Melissa (Lisa Ann Walter), all the characters are vivid, messy, and relatable in their own ways. And they all learn from each other, so no one person is the butt of all the jokes and instead they have their own separate strengths and weaknesses — and separate quirks about them that make them hilarious. Also, the added bonus of the kids being absolutely adorable makes Abbot Elementary particularly special. —Petrana Radulovic
Abbott Elementary is available to watch on Hulu.
Severance doesn’t seem like it should work as well as it does. Every bit of the sci-fi thriller — from its tightly tuned performances to the evocatively low-key score, even to the concept of the show itself — feels like a high-wire act, a series of plates spinning atop sticks and staying perfectly balanced. The world where Lumon Industries has allowed (or, more disquietingly, required) workers to sever their work and home identities is trippy and methodic, like an Escher painting come to life.
After all, what do your work and personal self have in common beyond just happening to be the same person? As Severance unpacks just how different those interests are, the result gets more and more chilling as it expertly reminds us of what is actually lost even in the cleanest of work-life balances. —Zosha Millman
Severance is available to watch on Apple TV Plus.
When best friends Amy (Eliza Coupe), Jodie (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Sarah (Maggie Q) lose their friend Colleen, the middle-aged trio vow at her funeral to stop wasting their precious time and do the things they’ve been putting off. Sarah quits her career as a surgeon and starts working at a grocery store. Amy stops using her career as an excuse to hide from her family. And Jodie decides to be more impulsive and flirt with her personal trainer.
Despite the unusually dark premise and drastic-seeming pilot, Pivoting is a breezy, sharp comedy that mostly stands out in how grounded its characters are. Not necessarily in their decisions and upper-middle class lifestyle, but in their warts-and-all friendship, one where they all care about each other but also know making new friends is just too much work to do anything other than support each other, even when one of them is being an idiot. —Joshua Rivera
Pivoting is available to watch on Hulu.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: a sitcom built around a group of friends who hang out, have a good time, and get into wacky hijinks together. Grand Crew, one of NBC’s newest half-hour comedies, certainly follows suit (it follows a group of Black friends in L.A. who hang out together at a wine bar; shenanigans ensue). But it’s more than just a singular entry to the long-list of hangout shows, it’s an incredibly solid one.
The only weakness of the cast is also their strength: they anchor the show with an incredibly clear handle on who their characters are. It can feel at times like the show is putting the cart before the horse — the cast comes on strong and funny while the show is left to catch up to them. But unlike other returns-to-sitcom that end up feeling like relics, Grand Crew lets its cast feel like they’re really playing. Like wine and all great sitcoms, it starts strong and only gets better with age. Here’s to uncorking another season and letting the characters grow even more. —ZM
The Righteous Gemstones
Danny McBride’s raunchy story of American failchildren reached new heights and excesses in Season 2, adding Jason Schwartzman and Eric Andre to a cast already stuffed to the brim with comedic talent. As my esteemed colleague Joshua Rivera put it, “a single Danny McBride episode will often say more about America than an entire season of one of your little rich people dramas AND have a great fart joke.”
The second season of Gemstones builds on the foundation of the first season, and continues to hold its place as can’t-miss television (especially if you’re okay with the occasional vomit-based gag). It introduces new context for the upbringing and background of family patriarch Eli (John Goodman), linking the showmanship of pro wrestling directly to the theatricality of evangelical megachurch shows, all while methodically cataloging the repeated failures of his (hilariously inept) children to build their own legacy. McBride and co. highlight the absurdity of our current moment with comedy that is at once astutely observant and uproariously vulgar. —PV
The Righteous Gemstones is available to watch on HBO Max.
All Creatures Great and Small
In a television world stuffed to the brim with police procedurals and 10-hour movies cut into one-hour increments, All Creatures Great & Small stands apart as a charming veterinary serial set in the lush Yorkshire Dales countryside. The second season of All Creatures retains and builds on the appeal of the first season, with top production design, beautiful cinematography, and complicated characters filled with life.
Our central characters branch out from their established molds from the first season, too. James (Nicholas Ralph) is prioritizing what he wants in life and where “home” is, Siegfried (Samuel West) is figuring out how to show his brother he cares about him, Tristan (Callum Woodhouse) is (mostly) growing up and becoming an adult, and Mrs. Hall (Anna Madeley) is recapturing her identity as her own person. All of the actors are phenomenal, led by Woodhouse and Madeley, who are each given significantly richer material to work with this season.
With World War II looming on the horizon, the second season of All Creatures brings into focus one of the main themes of the show: the little but significant ways in which we can make a difference in the lives of those around us, animals and human alike. (As the characters often remind us, being a good veterinarian is not just about the animals — it’s the people that’s the difficult part.) A loving ode to the original series and books with one of the most charming opening credits sequences on TV, All Creatures is about the difficult, worthwhile pursuit of caring for all living things around us, as best we can. —PV
All Creatures Great & Small is available to watch on PBS Masterpiece.
If Guardians of the Galaxy showed how James Gunn could paint within the lines to form one of the better MCU scripts, then Peacemaker shows what he can accomplish when given relatively free rein. The C-string hero Peacemaker was best known for inspiring Watchmen’s Comedian or being the consummate asshole of The Suicide Squad.
Post-Peacemaker, Gunn showed him in all his human glory: flawed, intense, wounded, caring, an impeccable dancer, bisexual, Vigilante’s best friend. Throughout it all, John Cena as Peacemaker manages to fine-tune some genuine pathos, while also anchoring a rock-solid cast adept at Gunn’s tonal swings. At this point, it’s one of the few superhero projects that feels easy to root for the next chapter of. Here’s to many more eagle hugs. —ZM
Peacemaker is available to watch on HBO Max.
The Marshawn Lynch episode of Murderville
No one is more game than Marshawn Lynch when they come to Murderville. The former NFL running back may get high marks just because his seamless transition into comedy king is something of a surprise, but he earns this episode’s place on this list with every fired-off quip.
What’s great about Lynch’s performance is that he is totally down to clown around when it comes to the scenarios (who knew he’d make such a good mirror to Rob Huebel?), but also makes the whole thing feel like a buddy cop comedy. Whether he’s backing up Seattle’s doll DNA suggestions or defending the time-honored procedural cross-talk — “Then act like you can’t!” he yells at the witness who says he can hear everything they’re saying — Lynch puts the team on his back and just runs with it. —ZM
The Marshawn Lynch episode and the rest of Murderville is available to watch on Netflix.
The Orbital Children
After nearly 15 years since his last original anime, Dennou Coil director Mitsuo Iso returns with The Orbital Children, a six-episode anime (released in Japan as two feature-length films) following the story of five children stranded aboard a commercial space station on the brink of a cataclysmic disaster. Through a dizzying tapestry of rich worldbuilding brought to life through beautiful animation, Iso and co. weave a coming-of-age story that takes the lives of five unsuspecting children and places them at the precipice of humanity’s expansion into the vast unknown of space. It’s a brilliant anime with dense, beautiful visuals that rewards both attentive first-time viewers and repeat watches alike. —TE
The Orbital Children is available to watch on Netflix.
No show arrived with as much pizzazz in late 2021 as Yellowjackets did. With a pilot directed by Karyn Kusama, the show jumps between a group of teen girls in the 1990s, stranded in the wilderness after their plane crashed en route to a soccer tournament, and their older counterparts, each still coping with the traumatic experience — and also being mysteriously blackmailed by someone about their time in the woods.
Yellowjackets is creatively confident from the jump, deftly balancing its highwire act and slowly unfurling its grand designs, even when you have no idea what to make of them. Even with a slightly mellow (by their standards) finale, Yellowjackets season 2 will have my full attention. Whether it’s handling messy characters, woodsy abortions, or supernatural cultism, Yellowjackets is clearly top of the class. —ZM
Yellowjackets is available to watch on Showtime Anytime.
There is perhaps no show easier and harder to recommend to people this year. Station Eleven, based on the novel of the same name, traces a handful of characters as they live through a deadly pandemic and figure out what life “after” looks like. Its pilot is immediately gripping, thanks to careful writing and images that sear themselves into your mind; it is also, of course, horribly timed, given the on-going pandemic and the waves of unresolved grief that wash around our ankles every minute of the day.
And yet Station Eleven is one of the most beautiful things, start to finish, TV has gotten this year. As Nicole Clark put it in her look-back at the season:
Station Eleven is that rare piece of pandemic media that dwells less on the heroism of a solution, or the thrill of a core cause, and more on the idea of the persistence of community and the creation of art. Even as the show forges numerous circuitous connections between its characters, much of its plot is left open-ended. The show’s vignettes work out more like a collage that convey emotional tones. “Survival is insufficient” is more than a mantra painted on the side of the troupe’s wagon. It’s a thread that binds episodes together; it’s a reason to stay alive at all.
It might not always be the easiest of watches, but it’s among the most rewarding. —ZM
Station Eleven is available to watch on HBO Max.