It was a full-to-bursting year for TV. Mostly streaming, but who’s counting? “Succession” took a breather this season, giving a break to newbies (that’s you, “The Bear“). There was so much to watch, it would take a machine to keep up. No worries. You have me. And here are my picks for the top 10 TV shows of 2022.
While snob critics denigrate this modern Western as a red-state oat opera aimed at conservatives, the ratings keep climbing. For good reason. Season 5 surpassed everything on scripted TV as a top-form Kevin Costner plays rancher king John Dutton, who’s elected governor of Montana and finds his chief of staff in his daughter Beth (a firecracker Kelly Reilly). Also, series creator Taylor Sheridan doesn’t do partisan politics, he specializes in the human drama of lives lived on the edge. If there is such a thing as must-see TV, “Yellowstone” is it.
9. “The Crown”
OK, season 5 can’t match the royal smashups in season 4. But please, this is “The Crown,” arriving in the year of the death of Queen Elizabeth II, who occupied the throne for an unprecedented 70 years. Wearing the crown and taking the throne now is Imelda Staunton, taking over from Olivia Colman and Claire Foy, as the queen copes with the scandalous split between Charles (Dominic West) and Diana (Elizabeth Debicki). All the actors shine, especially Debicki. Sure it’s all, “this is speculative fiction,” but prepare to be spellbound.
The third and best outing yet for this one-of-a-kind series catches Barry Berkman (Bill Hader) torn between his careers as experienced hitman and actor in training. As star and sometime writer and director, Hader is sheer perfection. Catch his killer staging in episode 6 of Barry on a bike chase in heavy traffic. Hader lets darkness fall over Barry in ways that sum up the duel between comedy and drama that’s like nothing else on television.
Think of a world where you go to work with a chip implanted in your head that makes you think only of work. Another chip handles the same focus for home. And out of this suspenseful, sci-fi premise, director Ben Stiller and an up-for-anything cast led by Adam Scott, Patricia Arquette, John Turturro and Christopher Walken, create a mesmerizing mindbender that takes you to places you don’t see coming.
Too many junk rip-offs from the “Star Wars” cash cow might make you nervous about a 12-episode series that takes place five years before the events of the first released “Star Wars” movie in 1977. But “Andor,” like “Rogue One,” the 2016 film spinoff/prequel that preceded it, impresses as a thoughtful provocation of the moral and political choices faced by its all-too-human characters. Diego Lunas excels as Cassian Andor, a rebel insurgent against the fascist Empire. Series creator Tony Gilroy, of the Jason Bourne films, deepens the story and characters as they face the consequences of living in a reality unsoftened by fantasy.
5. “Better Call Saul”
The finale of this six-season gem is everything a fan could wish for and more. I felt gutted saying goodbye to Bob Odenkirk, who played sleazeball lawyer Saul Goodman with the subtle mastery that won him five Emmy nods and no wins — yet. The last episode, in which Saul showed a conscience and genuine love for Kim Wexler (the stupendous Rhea Seehorn) as they shared a cigarette in Saul’s prison cell, distilled an entire relationship in the space between words. This is acting at its finest.
4. “The Extraordinary Attorney Woo”
If you’ve never heard of this world-class charmer from South Korea, get busy. It’s pure enchantment. The brilliant and beguiling Park Eun-bin, who is not on the spectrum, stars as an autistic attorney who sees whales everywhere — even in the courtroom, where daily challenges from negotiating a revolving door to arguing cases threaten to wreck her ambition to fit in. The series never sugarcoats her difficulty, which only adds to its impact on the heart.
3. “Abbott Elementary”
In the streaming era, it’s near impossible for a network sitcom to crack the TV leaderboard. But series creator Quinta Brunson has broken the jinx. She also stars as a second grade teacher trying to bring optimism to a predominantly Black Philadelphia public school where classrooms are crisis zones. With the fiercely funny Janelle James as an inept principal who brings in a documentary crew to record the clashes between students and underfunded management, the jokes come with a welcome sting.
2. “The Bear”
The best new series of 2022 stars a sensational Jeremy Allen White in the performance of the year as Carmy, a young fine-dining chef who comes home to Chicago to run his family sandwich shop. Even with the support of a new hire (a fab Ayo Edebiri), Carmy hits a wall of hostility from the kitchen staff. The stress is off the charts, but so is the quality of the series. More please, chef!
1. “The White Lotus: Sicily”
They said it couldn’t be done, that Mike White could never follow up his first “White Lotus,” which won 10 Emmys and all our twisted hearts. But White, that merry prankster, tops himself by departing Hawaii to track a new batch of overprivileged tourists to gorgeous Sicily, where sex and violence fester in the sun. “Please, these gays are trying to murder me,” goes the viral line of the year from Jennifer Coolidge, the only star returnee from season one. Line up another Emmy for this hilarious diva. And awards talk for her new co-stars, led by F. Murray Abraham, Meghann Fahy and a priceless Aubrey Plaza. I never want to see this series end.