The current TV landscape has never felt so uncertain. As streaming shows continue to be canceled or deleted from a platform with no physical releases available, the longevity of shows is in danger. To be canceled is one thing; to be permanently deleted is an erasure of great stories and the hard work put into them by the writers, directors, actors, editors, VFX artists, and anyone else involved in making a show. Though some of those shows are not on our 15 best TV shows of 2022 list, they still make an impact on television canon. It also makes every show feel like we’re about to lose it at any moment. In that case, any celebration of a show is important to keep its impact alive.
This is our first Best of TV list at InBetweenDrafts, and I couldn’t be happier with the results. It’s a drastic change from a mid-year list that was run on a different site—there, Barry Season 3 topped the list while Station Eleven was at number seven. To me, the significant difference in placement for shows means people eventually watched some shows they hadn’t gotten around to yet. What a thing it is, to discover a show on your own time. While this list certainly celebrates what we here at InBetweenDrafts have enjoyed on the small screen this year, there are many more that didn’t make the cut but are no less worthy than these.
However, the shows here cover a wide range of genres, from sci-fi adventure to period character-driven dramas. A lot of them are adaptations, and some are remakes, but each is original in its own right. With great performances and inspiring direction, TV this year has upped its game despite the precarious situation it’s in right now. May we enjoy them while we have them.
15. A League of Their Own
Creators Abbi Jacobson (Broad City) and Will Graham (Movie 43) revamped the classic film A League of Their Own from 1992 by leaning into the subtext and putting the unsaid in the spotlight. It’s a beautifully cast ensemble show with unforgettable moments of emotional levity and humor. I haven’t been about to stop thinking about Roberta Colindrez’s smirk ever since. Max Chapman’s (Chanté Adams) storyline gives the unwritten history of Black female baseball players during the 40s a platform while highlighting the Black queer culture at the time.
So much of 2022’s A League of Their Own is about the constant uncertainty of women’s livelihoods at this time, whether that’s being unable to pay the mortgage because their husband has been called to war or living a secret double life with their lover. The story isn’t over, but Prime Video has not officially renewed the series yet. [Isobel Grieve]
14. Spy x Family
There remains a bizarre stigma against animated shows that exist outside of the Western sphere of popularity amongst critics (Bob’s Burgers, The Simpsons, etc.) So it’s not surprising that the delightful series Spy x Family produced by CloverWorks and Studio Wit hasn’t landed on many best-of-year lists for television. They’re all wrong because Spy x Family is one of the best new shows in ages.
Based on the manga series written and illustrated by Tatsuya Endo, Spy x Family is consistently hilarious as it follows a spy, an assassin, and a telepath as they masquerade as the perfect family despite having their own specific motivations for the ruse. A welcome antidote to the stressors of everyday life with a heartfelt story at its center, and a character whose expressions alone account for the majority of the laughs per episode (Anya is a gift), it’s both a bridge series for viewers who’ve yet to dip their toes into the anime pool while also being a terrific adaptation of an already popular manga. [Allyson Johnson]
13. Ms. Marvel
I feel like female-lead superhero projects get a lot of unnecessary hate online from male fans, and then on top of that, Ms. Marvel is about a first-generation Muslim teenage girl. Men on Twitter were frothing at the mouth over this series, which in truth, did stray from the original comics but still pulled out an incredible, enlightening story about immigrants, generational trauma, and the Partition as part of Pakistan and India’s cruel history.
Canadian-born Iman Vellani’s Marvel debut was commendable, and her love for the comics makes it excruciating for haters to find cracks in her casting and performance. I can’t wait to see what’s next for Ms. Marvel in Phase 5. [Isobel Grieve]
Heartstopper is not only one of the best queer love stories on Netflix but also one of the best teen romcoms on the streaming platform—period. Based on the graphic novel of the same name, Heartstopper follows the relationship between quiet art kid Charlie and gentle rugby jock Nick.
The critically acclaimed coming-of-age story is an absolute joy to watch because it embraces the beginning stages of a romance between adolescents with tenderness and care. It also helps that the two leads, Kit Connor and Joe Locke, give one of the best performances as teenage lovers to date. It is no wonder that Heartstopper became one of Netflix’s top ten television shows in less than a few days after its premiere. [Phyelica Miller]
11. House of the Dragon
HBO had a lot riding on House of the Dragon. Due to the disastrous series finale of Game of Thrones, fans were worried if creators Ryan Condal and George R. R. Martin could bring back the magic that made the high fantasy drama great. Fortunately, viewers received everything they wanted and more with the prequel.
Taking place 172 years before the birth of our favorite authoritarian princess Daenerys Targaryen, House of the Dragon follows the civil war that brings down the mighty House Targaryen. With its morally complex characters, juicy political intrigue, and gorgeous set pieces, House of the Dragon makes the case that there are still more intriguing stories to tell about the Seven Kingdoms. [Phyelica Miller]
Based on the popular novel by Min Jin Lee, there’s an argument to be made that the Apple TV+ series adaptation Pachinko was the best show seen by nobody in the past year. Towering in its visuals, lush and energized and pulsating with tangible life, the beauty to behold in the series is abundant. No one frame is lacking, each telling their own story as the characters find themselves awash in the paralyzing societal want for them to define who they are.
Traveling from Korea, Japan, the United States, and back again, this story of generational trauma, displacement, and the need to feel at home in this world is one of the few series to actually capture that cinematic quality. Directors Kogonada and Justin Chon do marvelous work as they capture the different architectures and exterior landscapes as we follow these characters through time and share in their moments of heartache, triumph, and dancing in the rain. [Allyson Johnson]
9. The Bastard Son & the Devil Himself
A reckoning is coming for Netflix. It’s just a matter of time. Because to cancel The Bastard Son & the Devil Himself less than two months after it dropped on Netflix is a shame. The show, based on the Half Bad trilogy by Sally Green, follows three witches on the run from the Fairborn Council, a leading government-type body that oppresses Blood Witches. Nathan, our main character, is one such witch and is also the son of one of the most notorious Blood Witches to exist.
Using magic as a metaphor for growing up is a tale as old as time but the main draw of Bastard Son is the chemistry between the three leads: Nathan, Annalise, and Gabriel. At its core, the show showcases a deep care between the three even though they haven’t known each other long. While the worlds they find themselves in are steeped in prejudice and cynicism, Nathan, Annalise, and Gabriel’s love for each other shines above all and bypasses the easy love triangle route to present a wonderful example of romantic and queerplatonic relationships. It’s impossible not to love them right back. [Katey Stoetzel]
8. The Dropout
The scandal of Elizabeth Holmes’ failure of a company, Theranos, has made its way across headlines in the last few years. Hulu’s miniseries, The Dropout, stars Amanda Seyfried as Holmes and depicts her journey from aspiring Stanford student to her rise to fame as a biotechnological entrepreneur and founder of the company Theranos, which claimed to be able to run many different tests with just a single drop of blood, then her eventual downfall.
Seyfried does an amazing job as Holmes; every intricate detail, from her voice to her mannerisms, is on point, and scarily accurate. Seyfried also brings humanity to a person who successfully conned many people for a number of years. [Alexa Brown]
7. The White Lotus Season 2
Creator Mike White expands on what was initially a limited series by using only the thinnest of connective tissue. A mostly new cast is put into the vacation pressure cooker to see what smashing together various personalities can reveal about human nature. With COVID-19 restrictions reduced, The White Lotus’ second season spills out of the resort, this time weaving a larger web of interconnected stories and a strong cast anchored by career-best work from Jennifer Coolidge and a breakout performance by Meghann Fahy.
Season 1’s interest in the power dynamics between people of different social classes recedes as the show shifts its focus to romantic and familial relationships. What do people need from those relationships and what are they willing to give, or give up, in return? What stories do they tell themselves when reality doesn’t meet expectations? The observations of these characters remain as smart as ever. The White Lotus Season 2 has fun embracing the murder mystery hook employed last season and spins up another engrossing vacation getaway. [Jose Cordova]
6. Barry Season 3
Barry Season 3 asks the hard questions, like ‘can a serial killer earn forgiveness?’ Of course, under Bill Hader’s steady direction, the question is a lot more nuanced than that. The third season of the HBO comedy is an unraveling. Barry’s precarious control of his double life is about to end as Henry Winkler’s Gene Cousineau realizes the truth of Barry’s nature.
As Barry desperately tries to keep his lives separate, Hader layers the season’s theme onto the other characters as well. Each one, from Gene to Sally to Fuches has to grapple with what forgiveness looks like for them, both as people capable of giving it and receiving it. But how does that extend to someone who’s killed a lot of people, and what does it look like?
Barry Season 3 doesn’t let its characters off easy no matter what they’ve done. Hader delivers another masterclass in restraint on all fronts, from writing, directing, and acting, and is explosive in each only when the story calls for it. What started as a show with a ridiculous premise—a serial killer joins an acting class—has turned into one of the most fascinating and nuanced depictions of a very complicated character. [Katey Stoetzel]
5. Abbott Elementary
Streaming platforms are going through an upheaval. HBO Max is removing content without notice, Netflix is losing nearly a million subscribers, and production has stopped entirely on many television series (RIP Minx). However, Quinta Brunson is singlehandedly saving network television with her break-out sitcom Abbott Elementary.
The workplace mockumentary follows a group of dedicated teachers trying to provide the best for their students at an under-resourced elementary school in Philadelphia. With its rapid-fire jokes, charming characters, and entertaining storylines, Brunson proves that a hilarious sitcom has staying power. Netflix and HBO Max may be in their flop era, but Quinta and her team of funny writers are soaring. [Phylecia Miller]
We started at the end: 2016’s Rogue One gave us Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a practical, reserved agent of the Rebel Alliance. Andor is not just the expansion of Cassian’s history, but one of the best installments of Star Wars lore, expanding the political landscape of the universe.
From a prison surrounded by water to the upper echelons of intergalactic society, Andor explores corners of the galaxy as yet undepicted. A thrilling ensemble assembles in Andor, from Kyle Soller’s relentless security inspector Syril Karn to Genevieve O’Reilly’s Mon Mothma, a minor character from Return of the Jedi turned MVP of the modern Star Wars universe. And of course, there’s Cassian himself, played with quiet, fervent dignity by Luna. We know how Cassian’s story ends, but it is enthralling to see how he begins. [Claire Di Maio]
Season 1 of Severance delivers one of the most interesting premises for a show in recent times. Corporate drones can undergo a procedure that literally splits their minds in two with one version perpetually at work and the other perpetually free. It seems an easy choice until you consider the wider ramifications. The question then becomes, who would volunteer for such a dramatic procedure, with creator Dan Erickson pulling on that thread to delve into those individuals’ psyches.
Over the course of the season, the show slowly reveals a fascinating world and compelling characters. Ben Stiller’s subdued and confident directing highlights a meticulously constructed world and allows room for beautifully layered performances. Veterans like John Turturro, Patricia Arquette, Adam Scott, and Christopher Walken are great and the lesser-known cast members and relative newcomers Trammell Tillman, Britt Lower, and Zach Cherry give standout performances.
Season 1’s overarching mystery builds carefully and takes the time to explore the lives of its core cast so that when we reach the explosive finale we are just as invested in them as we are in unraveling the plot. [Jose Cordova]
2. Station Eleven
The miniseries Station Eleven premiered on HBO Max nearly a year ago, at the tail-end of 2021. The series is a dystopian drama that takes place in the aftermath of a global flu pandemic and the collapse of civilization over the course of twenty years. Mackenzie Davis stars as the lead as the older version of Kiersten, a member of a traveling symphony, a group of survivors formed after the pandemic who perform Shakespeare plays across the Great Lakes Region.
I loved Davis in the criminally underappreciated AMC drama, Halt and Catch Fire, so I was greatly anticipating her performance in Station Eleven, and she certainly didn’t disappoint. A pandemic show in the middle of an ongoing pandemic around the globe doesn’t sound like the most appealing viewing experience that many would choose to indulge in. Yet, Station Eleven is a heartbreakingly optimistic take on the power of human relationships and how art can persevere and survive even the most severe circumstances. [Alexa Brown]
1. The Bear
Jeremy Allen White is a powerhouse in the dark comedy The Bear which follows White as a once-up-and-coming chef who must return home following a family tragedy. Tightly written and shot with a perfected claustrophobic framing, the series’s frenzied energy captures the controlled mayhem of working behind the line.
Created by Christopher Storer, the most impressive feat of the series along with the performances from White and Ayo Edebiri is how consciously it’s choreographed. This is a slick, lean story that understands hitting well-timed emotional beats while simultaneously offering a demonstration of how physicality is just as mighty a storytelling tool as dialogue. Playing with comedy and drama where each character is given a moment to shine as everything begins to go off the rails in the anxiety-inducing penultimate episode, The Bear excels in telling a full, richly textured story through every means available to them. [Allyson Johnson]
Photos courtesy of Lucasfilm Ltd., Netflix, Apple TV+, HBO Max, Prime Video, ABC
Photo illustration by Katey Stoetzel