I didn’t realize until I tried to put together a top 10 list of the best shows of the first half of 2022 just how much great television we are recipients of right now. It’s not just that there is too much television; there is too much great television and I, for one, hate to miss any of it.
I could have easily put together a list of the 20 best shows of the year, so far, but I didn’t, because criticism above all is about leaving things off of lists so that people can be mad at you! A word about this particular list: The original reviews (linked) were written by the staff, but the list is mine, just so you know who to be angry with. Moreover, we didn’t write new blurbs because blurb-writing is hell and no one reads the blurbs, anyway. They just scan over them looking for ommissions, so some of the blurbs are from recaps, and some others are from early reviews of shows before we knew just how good they’d be. Feel free to click on the links and read the full reviews!
10. Pachinko — There are many diasporas throughout the world, each of them unique, yet share a number of commonalities. These mass migrations are usually triggered through extended and brutal hardship, frequently due to war, colonization, or the horrific combination of the two. In Pachinko, the intergenerational epic drama based on Min Jin Lee’s bestselling novel of the same name, we see this specific identity portrayed by a Korean family over an 80-year period as they pursue survival and, over time, attempt to thrive as they remain unmoored from their homeland, creating fragile but persistent roots in unexpected places. — Kaleena Rivera
9. Heartstopper — Everyone should be able to see themselves in the flickering lights of their screens and not just as the outcasts or the weirdos — although, that’s OK, too — but also as the cool kids, the people you want to hang out with. They need to understand that their feelings about love — and to whom that love is directed — are not only normal but amazing and wonderful and they should be incredibly proud of who they are and who they love and that it’s never OK to say that it’s not OK to talk about it. That’s what Heartstopper does. It is phenomenal, and everything about it lives up to its title. — DR
8. Under the Banner of Heaven — Under the Banner of Heaven is a solid murder drama, particularly for fans of True Detective or true crime, or for those who have an interest in Mormonism and cults. It’s a bleak series, but Garfield brings some light and thoughtfulness to it while subverting the toxic masculine tropes we often associate with these shows, all the more ironic given his character’s place in a patriarchal religion. It’s a fine adaptation, and a fascinating exploration of a religion that has existed only 75 years longer than the state of Utah. — DR
7. Our Flag Means Death — The humor, though hardly revolutionary, finds some unique beats along the way, with a frequent target being toxic masculinity. Bonnet’s crew is reluctant to make their own pirate flag because they worry that sewing is too feminine, but they also hesitate to initiate their plans for mutiny because they really like the way Bonnet reads them bedtime stories. It all falls squarely in a sort of gently amusing chuckle zone most of the time. Where the show picks up steam, however, is when it applies complications to the formula. — Tori Preson
6. Better Call Saul — Better Call Saul is still good for the occasional laugh—Saul leveraging his faux-Jewish identity at the country club is offensively outlandish behavior, but “it’s wall-to-wall mayonnaise!” got a chortle out of me—but the anxiety-inducing countdown has officially begun when it comes to finding out the fates of those who have no place in the world of Breaking Bad. — KR
5. Umbrella Academy — The world is ending, and the super-powered siblings of The Umbrella Academy are the only ones who can stop it … if they’d just stop drinking and arguing and generally f*cking around long enough to focus. That is the premise of the hit Netflix series, rinsed and repeated every season — and improbably it keeps getting better … Even when the show’s plot sometimes gets a little too repetitious, the delightfully dysfunctional Hargreeves siblings provide all the reason you need to keep watching. — TP
4. Abbott Elementary — The snappy writing and cast chemistry are already garnering a fair amount of social media buzz. It seems to be positioning itself as a comfort watch despite the hardships of the profession. There’s plenty of material that feels extremely familiar here, including the sweet substitute teacher Gregory Eddie (Tyler James Williams), who’s clearly the other half of what will surely be a ‘will they/won’t they’ dynamic with Janine, who just so happens to be in an unfulfilling long-term relationship (you would be forgiven for thinking of Pam and Jim with this scenario). But thus far, none of the more recognizable elements are to the show’s detriment. There’s too much promise on offer here, and even if there wasn’t, the pairing of Walter and Ralph alone is worthy of a half-hour sitcom. — KR
3. This Is Going to Hurt — This Is Going to Hurt is a genuine, unflinching look at what it means to work inside a UK public hospital, but it’s not altogether bleak. There’s a lot of dark humor and pathos to enliven the harsh reality, and it’s almost impossible not to root for these underdog doctors and nurses who are given so little and asked of so much. There’s a lot of heartbreak, but also a few moments of joy, while Whishaw and Ambika Mod are so captivating that the 45-minute episodes feel like 15. It’s a remarkable series not just for what it says but for how it says it, but most of all, for how it so effectively highlights the real human stakes involved in medicine. This is not a show about attractive doctors fucking in a broom closet. It’s about what it looks like when the healthcare system all but abandons the people it needs the most.
2. The Bear — The latest FX series trafficks in anxiety—among other emotions, several of which are of the soul-crushing variety—to the point of causing hesitation in some viewers. Most of the episodes, save for one amazing children’s backyard birthday party, take place mainly within the kitchen. If you have never worked in one, it’s unsurprising that these scenes would cause a measure of anxiety. Loud noises, dangerous implements, and constant near collisions as multiple bodies flow in and out of the notoriously cramped spaces found in the average restaurant (take a shot each time “Behind” or “Corner” is yelled) doesn’t make for relaxing viewing. On the other hand, if you’ve ever worked in food service, there’s a likelihood it’ll still bring on a measure of anxiety—a scene involving an online ordering system spitting out dozens upon dozens of tickets brought me to the brink of hyperventilation. Combine all of this with the manifestations of grief and the unease that comes with encroaching gentrification, and you’ve got a pressure cooker of a series with savory results. — KR
1. Severance — What if you, for all intents and purposes, were an entirely separate person at work? Free from any of the distractions from your personal life, yet able to go home with no lingering thoughts of the workday as you do laundry, make plans with loved ones, or prepare meals. This sounds wonderful in theory, but seeing it in practice in the workplace thriller, Severance, forces me to reconsider my stance. Because in this not-too-distant future, being able to have two distinctly separate existences means undergoing the rather permanent process of “severance,” resulting in a total lack of awareness of half of your life, and, with it, a ton of horrible implications and too many mysteries to count. — KR
Header Image Source: FX