As part of our annual Mid-Year Report, we’ve tasked Senior Contributor and Lead TV Critic Valerie Ettenhofer with assembling a list of the Best TV Shows of 2022 so far, as of the end of June.
This time last year, I was lamenting my favorite medium’s sluggish start as TV entered an era in which everything you could ever imagine was on but nothing seemed particularly good. This year, I’m happy to report we have no such problem. 2022 hit the ground running, premiering some of its best shows in the winter months before giving way to a massive blockbuster summer TV season with stories that are gunning to give cinema a run for its money. Also, there have been so many limited series about scammers.
Despite that last part, 2022 has served up a plethora of content worth tuning into. I loved a half-dozen or so shows that didn’t make this list, and a few of my favorites – keep an eye out for Apple TV+’s Black Bird! – haven’t actually aired yet. But what’s the point of a list if it goes on forever, right? We’ve narrowed it down to only the best of the best, in alphabetical order. So bust out your watchlist as we dig into the ten best shows of the year so far.
If sitcoms are cyclical, we were just about due for a feel-good workplace comedy to hit it big. We’re just lucky the one we ended up with is Abbott Elementary, a well-cast and uproarious series about an underfunded Philadelphia school. Quinta Brunson, who created and co-wrote the show, stars as Janine, an ultra-chipper second-grade teacher with a mind for educational innovation that Abbott’s limited resources can’t always match.
With a mockumentary style and enthusiastic attitude that brings to mind shows like Parks and Recreation, Abbott Elementary has a strong comedic foundation to draw from. Yet it’s not just the show’s premise that makes it appointment television, but its stellar cast: Tyler James Williams plays an awkward substitute who harbors a soft spot for Janine, while Janelle James is the series’ clear breakout star as self-obsessed, clueless Principal Ava. Sheryl Lee Ralph, Lisa Ann Walter, and Chris Perfetti also impress in a rock-solid sitcom lineup that seems built to last.
It’s clear from the ruthless opening moments of the third season of HBO’s Barry that this show is entering uncharted territory. Bill Hader and Alec Berg did something masterful with the series’ first two seasons by making audiences relate to a PTSD-addled mercenary turned mostly terrible actor. This time around, they just as masterfully unravel our attachment to the character, taking him down a relentlessly dark path that feels like an eight-episode mental breakdown.
Luckily, though, Berg and Hader can make flaming out look fantastic. The series’ direction is more controlled and cinematic than ever in these episodes, as they execute a tricky freeway chase sequence, an enigmatic near-death experience, and more. The show is still bleakly funny, but it also gives its supporting cast members a chance to put in serious performances, as Noho Hank (Anthony Carrigan) finds himself in the belly of the beast and Sally (Sarah Goldberg) gets put through the wringer as the creator of a streaming series. No other show on television seems as unafraid of change as Barry, and its fearlessness this season pays off big time.
FX and Hulu’s The Bear stings like a grease burn, the kind its anxious, high-strung head chef Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) wouldn’t let you stop to soothe under cool water. The show itself doesn’t stop for a breather either: it maintains the frantic pace of its sloppy Chicago restaurant kitchen, which revered chef Carmy just inherited from his brother after his suicide. Despite its ever-moving flow, The Bear doesn’t shy away from its own dark premise: in fact, its eight-episode first season is pretty much all about the mental cost of seeking perfection.
White, who perfected his hangdog expressions and exhausted smoke breaks as ‘Lip Gallagher in Shameless, here employs both and much more as a talented guy thrown face-first into a pressure cooker situation. Ayo Edebiri is the show’s breakout star as his precocious second-in-command, Sydney. When the pair aren’t screaming in the kitchen, The Bear surprises by making room for hints of beauty and softness. It rather quietly tackles grief and addiction, and each character pushes the next exactly up to the edge of their breaking point before backing off to let them lick their wounds. According to The Bear, you get through restaurant work the same way you get through sobriety, which is the same way you get through life itself: one shitstorm of a day at a time.
Better Call Saul
Better Call Saul’s final season has a tall order to fill. The AMC series is bumping up against the edges of its prequel chronology, meaning its sleazy lawyer protagonist, Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), is about to get into some seriously dangerous business. Yet the show has also established itself as more of a nuanced character study than its high-body-count parent series, and its final season needs to deliver meaningful payoff for Jimmy, his partner Kim (Rhea Seehorn), and others, even as the Breaking Bad of it all encroaches.
With half the sixth season over, it looks like Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould might just pull it off. The new season veers more into cartel violence and politics than any before it, but it also tugs at the strings of plots the show has been weaving for years, like Jimmy’s feud with former coworker Howard (Patrick Fabian). The midseason finale showed us Better Call Saul firing on all cylinders, as an intricate, high-stakes con gave way to an even more high-stakes shocker of a confrontation. A flickering candle has never been so scary.
The final season of FX’s Better Things brings a precious and bittersweet conclusion to one of the most organic, lived-in TV shows in modern memory. The series about actress single mom Sam (Pamela Adlon) and her three kids, Max (Mikey Madison), Frankie (Hannah Riley), and Duke (Olivia Edward) has always overflowed with a maternal sort of magic, and its last hurrah is no exception.
Better Things is less about plot than it is about truth and spontaneity, both of which creator, writer, and director Adlon provides in abundance during these last few episodes. When the series does make big moves for its characters, as when Max procures an abortion without telling her mom, Frankie has a tough talk with Sam about pronouns, and Duke starts smoking weed, the show still makes sure to imbue every moment with honesty and love. Leaving Better Things behind feels like leaving a family that raised you, but Adlon makes sure to give us everything we need before we go.
This list of the 10 Best TV Shows of 2022 (so far) concludes on the next page…
Related Topics: Mid-Year Report