The Saboscrivner’s Top 15 TV Shows of 2022

Welcome back, stalwart Saboscrivnerinos!  Every year I make my dozens of readers wonder why they should seek television and movie recommendations on a food blog, but let’s face it, not that many people seek restaurant recommendations here either.  So let’s get on with it!

15. George and Tammy (Showtime).  An acting master class from the great Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain as troubled country music icons George Jones and Tammy Wynette, two incredible songwriters and performers who loved each other as best they could.  The miniseries isn’t over yet, but it has been excellent so far.  I’m really impressed that Shannon and Chastain, two of my favorite actors, are doing their own singing.

14. Fleishman Is In Trouble (FX on Hulu).  Taffy Brodesser-Akner adapted her own first novel into this miniseries, and it is depressing, but beautifully written.  The Fleishman in trouble seems to be the newly divorced doctor dad navigating dating apps and single parenting in Manhattan, after his wife completely disappears.  But when the focus shifts to his best friend (played by the wonderful Lizzy Caplan, who is also the narrator), we learn he might not be the only Fleishman in trouble, and that every divorce — every story — has at least two sides.  There is one episode left, and I have a good feeling it won’t disappoint.

13. The White Lotus, season 2 (HBO Max).  I enjoyed this season, with horrible, attractive rich people on vacation at a Sicilian resort, more than the first season in Hawaii.  Most of the characters really were awful, but because the show opened with the discovery of a body and a mention of “a few” more deaths, I enjoyed it the most for the murder mystery aspect, figuring out who would kill and who would be killed, searching for clues and crafting theories that might have been more interesting than the way things actually played out.  Season 1 was more about racism, classism, and colonialism, but this season focused more about sex (especially the transactional nature of sex), infidelity, and the mind games people play with their partners and themselves.  Anything about infidelity and cheating makes me feel really depressed, but I appreciated that I felt real tension during the finale episode, waiting for everything to go wrong.  Even if I didn’t love the show like some of these others on my list, I give it props for making me feel anything at all and giving me a chance to speculate between episodes.  

12. Reacher, season 1 (Amazon Prime Video).  This show about a former military police investigator embroiled in small-town intrigue reminded me of two of my all-time favorite shows: Justified (although Reacher isn’t nearly as clever and witty) and Banshee (although Reacher isn’t nearly as badass).  Still, I enjoyed the hypercompetent protagonist solving mysteries and owning the corrupt local yokels.  I’ve never read the novels this show is based on, but my father and my father-in-law both love them, which speaks volumes — no pun intended.

11. Our Flag Means Death, season 1 (HBO Max).  I didn’t expect to like a show about pirates, especially when I found out it was supposed to be a comedy.  But then it turned into an unlikely romantic comedy, and it became the feel-good show of 2022, like Ted Lasso and Schitt’s Creek in previous years.  If you don’t like it at first, I can’t say I disagree with you.  But especially now that you don’t have to wait for a new episode every week, hang around until Blackbeard shows up, played by New Zealand actor-writer-director Taiki Waititi.  That’s when the show gets good and will become great.

10. She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, season 1 (Disney+).  I’m definitely feeling Marvel Studios burnout, y’all.  This show definitely wasn’t perfect, but it edged the charming Our Flag Means Death out of my Top Ten because it stars one of my favorite actresses, Tatiana Maslany, playing one of my favorite comic book characters, Jennifer Walters, a mousy lawyer who becomes the big, green, fun-loving, sexy superheroine She-Hulk.  This show did its best to delve into some of the weird legal issues that would come up in a world of superheroes and supervillains, crazy future technology, unnatural powers, people being snapped out of existence and coming back to life en masse, and so forth.  It did provide a nice view of the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” from the point of view of regular people trying to deal with the weirdness.  I just wish it had more weight to it, even though it’s a superhero show and a comedy at that.

It seemed clear to me that the writers’ room was more comfortable writing about Jen’s relationship woes and trouble with men than the legal stuff, which is totally fine.  Those parts really fleshed out her character and mattered in the end.  But everything felt so rushed, when they could have developed the other characters more, extended entire scenes, and given everything a chance to breathe and matter.  Longer episodes would have helped with the pacing, but maybe it came down to budget issues.  I’m sure you’ve already heard about the second-to-last episode, in which my favorite Marvel character shows up and reminds us how awesome he is.  Then the season finale is super-fun and joyful, and it probably pissed off all the right people.  I know it’s a big ask, but if you can binge through the whole season, you will probably enjoy it.  Episodes are short (I argue too short), so it should be an easy binge.

9. Andor, season 1 (Disney+).  The least-“Star Warsy” Star Wars thing I’ve ever seen, and also one of the best.  The show’s tone is grim and bleak, the pacing can be slow and ponderous, and there isn’t a lot of comic relief to break up all that darkness, but there are definitely moments of catharsis and hope that make it all worthwhile.  It is a prequel to a prequel, set a few years before the events of the Rogue One movie, which in turn is set right before the first Star Wars movie, Episode IV: A New HopeAndor is all about the rise of fascism and authoritarianism in the form of the Empire, and how regular people — not Jedi knights, not members of a special family — can stand against it.  It wouldn’t be spoiling anything to tell you that Andor’s highlights include a daring heist, a heart-pounding prison break, and a brave, brutal uprising in the streets, plus a handful of rousing monologues and heartfelt speeches.  But if that doesn’t sound “Star Warsy” enough for you, there is also a cute, cool, and loyal new droid and a visit to “Planet Miami.”

8. Peacemaker, season 1 (HBO Max).  Christopher “Peacemaker” Smith was introduced in James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad movie, which I liked much better than the previous article-less Suicide Squad, but still didn’t love.  As a result, I wasn’t expecting much from this show, but it went a long way toward redeeming Chris, a violent, macho, immature jerk.  By the end, he was still a violent, macho, immature jerk, but he dealt with his daddy issues and learned how to function on a team, make friends, think for himself, and do the right thing.  It was a really interesting deconstruction of toxic masculinity and childhood trauma, with plenty of raunchy humor and gory violence to keep it from ever feeling too serious or weighty.

I’ll argue to anyone that pro wrestler-turned-actor John Cena  is one of the greatest comic actors out there.  He really made us hate, laugh at, and care for the deeply problematic Chris.  But the highlight of the show was Freddie Stroma playing Vigilante, a bizarre adaptation of one of my low-key favorite DC Comics characters.  The guy stole every scene he was in and made you root and cheer for a very weird and unsettling character.  So James Gunn made a super-fun and funny show, and now he’s in charge of all DC movies and TV shows moving forward.  I feel like they may finally be in the right hands after Peacemaker.  Also, the show has what is probably the best opening title sequence of all time.  You’ll never want to skip it because it’s infectious in every possible way, and you’ll notice new little details about it every time.

7. The Afterparty, season 1 (Apple TV+).  A really clever and entertaining show that’s a murder mystery, but also a comedy.  A group of old friends attend their high school reunion, followed by an afterparty at a famous classmate’s house.  Someone ends up dead, and a police detective arrives to interview all the attendees, since everyone is a suspect.  But the structure is so cool: every episode is a different interview, so you see the same events play out as flashbacks from multiple perspectives, filling in the gaps for the audience so we get a clearer picture of the evening’s events.  And even cooler, every episode is also a different genre, depending on which unreliable narrator is telling the story, so we get a rom-com, an action movie, a musical, and more.  It wrapped up the loose ends in an extremely satisfying way, and yet somehow, we’re getting a second season!

6. The Righteous Gemstones, season 2 (HBO Max).  Another show I fully expected to hate, and did at the very beginning, but ended up really enjoying.  We binged both seasons back to back, but only season 2 aired in 2022.  It’s a comedy about a family of wealthy televangelists in South Carolina, and how hilariously screwed up they all are.  The widowed patriarch (John Goodman) is detached, disapproving, and paternalistic, the eldest son (co-creator and showrunner Danny McBride) is ambitious but overestimates his competence and intelligence, the middle daughter (comedy secret weapon Edie Patterson) is sexually inappropriate and practically feral, and the youngest son is… not-so-secretly gay, but doesn’t realize it?  His plots are a bit of a comedy vacuum, but the rest of the show had us howling with laughter.  And then the great Walton Goggins is in it as their scheming Uncle Baby Billy, a former Christian music child star, now in his 60s after squandering countless opportunities and wasting most of his life.  I never had any patience for McBride’s loudmouthed Southern jackass characters, but his humor totally grew on me, so much so that we even went back and binged Vice Principals, his previous show that he and Goggins starred in together.  That’s a more uncomfortable watch, but also entertaining.

5. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, season 1 (Paramount+).  This is it, folks.  My favorite Star Trek of all time.  Better than the current Discovery (which I also enjoy) and any of the previous, beloved series.  Discovery season 2 introduced the core trio at the heart of Strange New Worlds (so I would recommend watching at least that season too): Ethan Peck as Mr. Spock, Rebecca Romijn as Number One, and Anson Mount, one charming and handsome dude, as the best fictional boss ever, Captain Christopher Pike.  With his empathy and emotional intelligence, Pike is my favorite Star Trek captain of all time, and he really makes the show.  Strange New Worlds perfects the formula of exploring, making contact with alien races, solving problems, and bonding with the crew that has made Star Trek endure through the decades.  If you have ever been skeptical, or you think Star Trek is boring, or you don’t get what all the Trekkies love but wish you did (as I have through much of my life), this is the show for you.  It’s pure joy — fun, optimistic, hopeful, feel-good entertainment about the smartest, bravest, kindest, most heroic people doing their best and being their best.

4. The Bear, season 1 (FX on Hulu).  As much as I love restaurants (which is A LOT, considering I review them in this blog), I’ve never worked in the restaurant business, or any food service or hospitality jobs.  A lot of my friends have, though, and I have the utmost respect for the people who cook and serve me.  I realize it’s a hard job, but no show has ever shown a more realistic look at life in a restaurant kitchen than The Bear, about a fine dining chef who returns to run his family’s dumpy Italian beef sandwich restaurant in Chicago after his brother commits suicide.  The show is so stressful.  You feel it when the kitchen is slammed with orders, when co-workers yell and scream at each other, when family fights, when egos clash.  Chefs and kitchen staff have told me how accurate it all is, and I feel even more awe toward them.  But on top of the gripping, gritty drama, the show also made me really hungry for Chicago-style Italian beefs (I like mine with hot giardiniera but not dipped), and also for spaghetti.  If you know, you know.

3. Atlanta, seasons 3 and 4 (FX on Hulu).  Donald Glover hasn’t proven me wrong yet.  I’ve been a fan since he his earliest Childish Gambino mixtapes and his days as a young writer on 30 Rock, where he gifted the world with “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah.”  I quit watching Community around the same time he left the show, I saw him perform stand-up live in 2012, I’ve listened to all his albums more times than I can count, and I’ve loved Atlanta from the beginning, which seems like a long time ago (2016, damn!).  This year we got two seasons, after a few years with none, and they were remarkable.  There were several stand-alone episodes that felt like experimental short films, that were always interesting even when they didn’t include the four central characters.  And when we caught up with Earn, Alfred, Darius, and Van (played by four of my favorite actors: Glover, Brian Tyree Henry, the effortlessly cool LaKeith Stanfield, and Zazie Beetz), it was like spending time with old friends.

Season 3 had the crew hanging out in Europe, but I preferred seeing them back home in the ATL in Season 4, exploring its secret passages and endless parking garages, avoiding angry old white ladies and deranged Tyler Perry analogues, navigating family squabbles and Black-owned sushi restaurants, going to therapy, and forming complicated revenge plots.  The show is over now, but it went out on top.  There was funny Atlanta, surreal Atlanta, and even scary Atlanta, but never any mediocre or bad Atlanta.

2. Severance, season 1 (Apple TV+).  The less you know when you watch this show, the better experience you will have.  It’s complicated and sometimes confounding.  It’s a workplace drama, a dark comedy, a mystery, dystopian science fiction, and existential horror, all at once.  It has some of the best acting, writing, and directing I’ve seen this year.  It sucked me in, had me on the edge of my seat with clammy-palmed tension, and made me feel extremely uncomfortable at times.  But I see that as a good thing, the fact that it made me feel any strong emotions at all, when so much entertainment is designed to be bland and banal, disposable and empty.  I am notoriously bad at maintaining a healthy work-life balance, so Severance hit me hard.  I guess I’m the target audience, and I doubt I’m alone.  Don’t read anything about it, don’t watch any teasers or trailers, just watch it before some fool spoils it for you.  You can get a free week trial subscription for Apple TV+, and I swear you’ll binge it within the week.  Then keep it long enough to squeeze in The Afterparty and Ted Lasso, too.

1. Better Call Saul, season 6 (AMC).  You knew this was coming.  The final season to one of my favorite shows of all time, which was a prequel/spinoff of another one of my favorite shows of all time, and they stuck the landing.  They wrapped up everyone’s story arcs and/or set them up for Breaking Bad in the perfect possible ways.  There were moments of extreme tension balanced by cathartic humor, shocking deaths, and plenty of wild plot twists as details set up over the course of two long-running shows, some over a decade old, finally paid off.  The last few episodes flashed forward to events that took place after Breaking Bad, which I think many of us were waiting for the entire time, to learn the final fates of Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman/Gene Takovic and our beloved Kim Wexler, played by the best damn actress on television, Rhea Seehorn.  They both broke bad, did some terrible things, and had even more terrible things done to them.  In the end, I think they both redeemed themselves, but in ways that would have been hard for anyone to predict.  I’m sure most people reading a list of some nerd’s favorite TV shows of the year have already watched all of Saul, but if you haven’t, it’s never too late to start.  You definitely won’t be sorry.

For anyone who made it this far, here are my lists from previous years:

Top Twenty TV Shows of the Decade (2011-2021)
Top Ten TV Shows of 2021
Top Twenty TV Shows of 2020
Top Twenty TV Shows of 2019
Top Ten Movies of 2019
Top Ten TV Shows of 2018
Top Ten Movies of 2018

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