As I sit here at my computer this morning, hacking and sniffling through day four of my current COVID bout, it seems like a good time and place to make another list because, hey, that’s how I roll at this time each year, sick or well. So shall we reflect together, y’all and I, on what we watched on the idiot box this year? Let’s give it a go, I say. Or maybe that’s the drugs talking . . .
I must point out up front that this is one year-end list that I wouldn’t, and couldn’t, have meaningfully prepared prior to the Anno Virum. In the ’60s and ’70s, I assume I was a fairly typical television-watching kid/teen from a fairly typical television-watching family, not much outside the mainstream, keeping reasonably well abreast of and casually consuming then-popular shows, either in real time or in syndication, or both. But some time in the very early 1980s, I generally stopped watching broadcast or cable television shows, and that remained my norm pretty much right up until 2020, with only a few notable exceptions.
I was down with Twin Peaks and Seinfeld in the ’90s, yeah. And I watched Daria and Strangers With Candy in their entireties. Breaking Bad caught and held my attention, though Better Call Saul did not. A few other relatively short-lived comedies worked for me, most notably My Name Is Earl, Malcolm in the Middle, Beavis and Butthead, In Living Color, Flight of the Conchords, and Schitts Creek. But beyond that, I can’t recall having many “must watch” shows from about 1980 to about 2020, when the rest of the world was losing its collective mind over things like The Sopranos and The Wire and Lost and Mad Men and Six Feet Under and The X Files and 30 Rock and The West Wing and Downton Abbey and Game of Thrones and on and on and on.
Marcia and Katelin watched a lot of those shows (along with some reality TV stuff), but during their TV time, I’d typically be at my computer, writing, or listening to music, or mucking about in various online communities, or doing volunteer/board stuff. We were always big on movie rentals, in both pre-streaming days and in the modern paradigm, and I would watch films on television regularly, and sports, but just not TV shows. Then, of course, the plague arrived, bringing lockdowns and social distancing in its wake, and Marcia and I adjusted our home-life schedules accordingly to have more together-time, including watching television shows that I would likely have skipped in pre-isolation days.
While the most-restrictive periods of our COVID era have mostly passed (this week’s personal sickness and isolation notwithstanding), we’ve kept going with our television watching together, such that feel like I’ve actually experienced enough to have valid opinions on what moved me most in 2022. I didn’t keep track in real time of what I was watching, the way I do with music, and books, and films, but looking at a few online resources, I think I watched at least one full season of 27 different shows this year. I know we sampled and bailed on probably a dozen others beyond that.
I note that we’ve just begun the as-yet-incomplete third season of South Side, which I adore, so that will most likely get added to my top of the pile list once it runs its course. I also note that I’m not including the great Yellowjackets, because most of its debut season premiered and aired in 2021, though we did get a few episodes last January. As a preamble to my Top Ten of 2022 list, here’s my honorable mentions list of ten shows that engaged me enough to make me keep watching, and which I enjoyed well enough, but not to a point that makes me want to laud them as the best of the best of anything:
- 1899 (Season One)
- Beavis and Butthead (Season Nine)
- Disenchantment (Season Four)
- Los Espookys (Season Two)
- Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities (Season One)
- The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power (Season One)
- Only Murders in the Building (Season Two)
- Resident Alien (Season Two)
- Rick and Morty (Seasons Five and Six)
- Undone (Season Two)
And then here are the ten best serial things I watched in 2022, counting down toward what I deem to be the very best the year offered:
#10. The English (Season One): This one had some structural flaws (too episodic in its first installments, with some confusing relationships between cast members), but once its pieces finally clicked about four episodes in, the climax and denouement were worth the bumpy early ride. Outstanding performances in the lead roles by Emily Blunt and Chaske Spencer, with some fun guest stars popping up in various episodes as well.
#9. Shoresy (Season One): Shoresy (the character) was a one-note comedic part in the hilarious Canadian comedy Letterkenny, so when a spin-off series about him was announced, I was skeptical that it could work. But, happily enough, it did, adding some back-story depth to a caricature of a character, putting together a fun new ensemble cast, and creating a series story arc that actually made you care how it turned out.
#8. Solar Opposites (Season Three): Justin Roiland’s Solar Opposites looks, sounds, and feels a lot like its creator’s other great show, Rick and Morty. I like both of them a lot, but this year Solar Opposites seemed to edge ahead of its older sibling in terms of lasting quality entertainment value, in large part because of the increased number of episodes prominently featuring modern TV’s greatest supporting character: The Pupa.
#7. The Tourist (Season One): As I was working on this list, I noted that The Tourist had been renewed for a second season. Enhhh . . . I’m not feeling that, and I think they should have left this alone as a limited-release series, given how incredibly the first block of episodes ended, and how crazy the ride to get there was. Dark, dark, and dark throughout, even though you’ll find yourself giggling every now and again, nervously.
#6. What We Do In the Shadows (Season Four): As with Shoresy, I was highly skeptical that this series, based on a film that I love, could have had lasting entertainment value. And, as with Shoresy again, I was wrong. The core ensemble cast here makes the whole thing work brilliantly, and regular on-screen or behind-the-scenes guest involvement from the original film’s Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement are always welcome.
#5. Our Flag Means Death (Season One): Taika Waititi on the list again with a fabulously over-the-top and outre pirate serial based on the true stories of Stede Bonnet, once known as “The Gentleman Pirate,” and Edward Teach, a.k.a. Blackbeard. Yeah, all the expected pirate tropes are here, but beyond that, well, to its great credit, it explicitly goes places that a century’s worth of sweaty sailors at sea sagas have typically ignored.
#4. Somebody Somewhere (Season One): I’m not sure why we started this one, as it lacks the usual links or tags or stars or topics or buzz that normally catch my attention. But, boy, I sure am glad I tuned in, as this was the most wonderful, laugh-out-loud, cry-in-your-beer, life-affirming, tragicomedy of errors I’ve seen in some time, with a great cast bringing a vibrant collection of quirky characters to life, full of heart and soul.
#3. Reservation Dogs (Season Two): It’s a Taiki Waititi hat trick in my top ten, this time with the great Kiwi writer-director-actor co-creating an Indigenous American dramedy with Seminole-Muscogee writer-director Sterlin Harjo. Once again, core cast is key, along with a patient writing and directorial style that spools out stories in dribs and drabs over time, rather than showing or telling everything up front, or all at once.
#2. Severance (Season One): Great concept, great cast, great visuals, great show! It’s science fiction on one level, sure, but like Patrick McGoohan’s great The Prisoner (one of my all-time favorite shows), it’s often what’s not shown, or what’s not explained, that creates the deepest dread, and spawns the most suspense. Season One’s ending was incredible, with a crucial reveal and a cliffhanger knit together just perfectly, just so.
#1. Atlanta (Seasons Three and Four): While Severance‘s Season One ending showed how to best set up an ensuing season, Atlanta‘s series finale showed up to best wrap up an insanely brilliant television program at the peak of its powers. Oh, I’m gonna miss Earn, Alfred, Darius and Van, for sure, but Donald Glover has been such a genius creator over the years that whatever he give us next, I known it’s going to be grand.
As noted above, I deeply dug the first two episodes of South Side‘s latest season this week, and I’m also looking forward to getting into the new Sherman’s Showcase series soon. Was there anything else out there that I need to see before 2022 runs its course? Or, probably more relevantly, was there anything else out there that I saw and forgot about, but will be reminded of as soon as I post this article, and Marcia or Katelin or John refresh my memory. There may well be edits. Hold onto your popcorn and milkshakes accordingly . . .