This is a list of the 10 best TV shows of 2022 so far. It doesn’t cover every cool thing television has done in the past six months, but this is a great spread. If for some reason you decide you don’t like our choices or think something else should be on this list instead of the ones that are, well then that’s a you problem, my friend. I will also direct you to our end-of-year list six months from now that may or not have what you want there. We’ll see.
I was looking at some of our past Best of List introductions and they usually say something about the state of the world at the current moment (bad) and that TV is a nice distraction from all that. 2022 is no different, but I’d say these shows are more than a distraction. Some of the best TV is on right now, from Barry‘s meticulous balancing of comedy and darkness and willingness to “go there,” to Abbott Elementary‘s hilarious and endearing group of teachers and scene-stealing students, television this year has covered a range of topics, including the aftermath of a pandemic, which somehow feels less apocalyptic than reality.
Below are the ten best shows of 2022 so far, voted on by TYF’s staff writers.
10. Better Things
Over the course of five seasons, Pamela Adlon’s Better Things has explored the ways in which women must weather the troubles and tribulations of living in a perpetually demeaning and demoralizing society through their hard-fought, headstrong wisdom, unabashed emotionality, and ultimately the thorny support of the ones we know and love—even when it’s hard to know how to love them. In many ways, Adlon’s frank, poignant, semi-autobiographical FX dramedy series has been forced to mold, manage, and mature through complications of its own—including the departure and early influence of disgraced co-creator Louis C.K.
But much like Adlon’s Sam Fox, Better Things has adapted and evolved through punchy humor, unwavering lived-in honesty, and profound self-evaluation, resulting in a show that has continued to find its own footing with each successive season. Now, with its last hurrah, Adlon has crafted a confident and rewardingly complicated series about a woman who remains a work-in-progress, even as she enters the second stage of her life, that has become fully realized and completely a work of its own. Guided by the reliable strengths of its young stars, including Mikey Madison, Hannah Riley, and Olivia Edward, and the assurance of Adlon’s guiding voice and vision, finely tuned since she took over directing duties in Season 2, things haven’t gotten easier for Better Things.
However, its final season showcases not merely the depths of Adlon’s proven skills, both on-screen and behind-the-camera, but the power of compellingly complicated women who will push against the odds because, frankly, that’s the only real way to push forward. Things don’t always get better, but for Aldon’s show, that’s ultimately the case.—Will Ashton
9. Stranger Things Season 4
It’s a given that the long-awaited 4th season of Stranger Things would be a highlight of 2022 television. The phenomenon gracefully transformed into the next stage of its run, embracing the older age of its cast and transitioning deeper into the horror genre with the introduction of the season’s villain Vecna.
Season 4 has something for all of its viewers; it features strong emotional stories in several characters’ arcs including Max coming to terms with her brother’s death, Will struggling with his feelings for Mike, and Steve’s feelings for Nancy resurfacing. But that’s not all! The season also expands on the lore of the Upside Down through Vecna’s backstory and the older teenagers’ adventures there. Not only does Stranger Things Season 4 tell thrilling stories by itself, but it also sets the stage for an explosive final season, making the stakes clear and its audience sighing over another potential 2+ year waiting period.—Amanda Reimer
8. Ms. Marvel
Marvel’s television output has not always been great. For every WandaVision and Loki, there is an Inhumans that brings the cinematic universe to its knees. Fortunately, Ms. Marvel fits into the pantheon of great MCU series thanks partly to British-Pakistani comedian and writer Bisha K. Ali’s take on the iconic comic book character. Not only does the showrunner make Kamala Khan an intriguing superhero that is easy to root for, but she also incorporates Islamic culture and myths into the coming-of-age show effortlessly, like when Kamala travels with her mother to Pakistan to learn more about her newfound powers.
Iman Vellani is also a tour de force as the young heroine. The breakout star embodies the teenager with charisma, wit, and high energy, especially when her character fights bad guys or simps over hot boys. Kamala proves that Brown girls like herself can kick just as much butt as any Avenger.—Phylecia Miller
7. Station Eleven
When I first heard that Station Eleven was about a pandemic, I had no interest in checking it out. Shows had tried to incorporate COVID-19 into their seasons since 2020 and only a couple truly succeeded (Superstore, Everything’s Gonna Be Okay). But the show goes beyond its initial premise to deliver something gently human and therapeutic. The first episode “Wheel of Fire” takes you on a familiar whirlwind of panic and chaos as the unknown virus begins to spread, but it also establishes the show’s core relationship between Jeevan and eight year old Kirsten. Thrown together out of necessity, the two unlikely friends are a great starting point to this story, and Himesh Patel and Matilda Lawler deliver the first of many powerful performances.
The non-linear storytelling of Station Eleven takes us 20 years into the future, to the aftermath of the virus, and the survivors doing what they can to keep humanity alive. For an apocalyptic show, Station Eleven is surprisingly uplifting—the focus of the 20 years narrative is a traveling Shakespeare troupe, where an older Kirsten, played by Mackenzie Davis, continues her search for Jeevan. As the show jumps back and forth through time, it pieces together for us the events of the first few years of the pandemic, leading to some of the best episodes of the show—”Hurricane,” where Danielle Deadwyler shines as Miranda Carroll; “Goodbye My Damaged Home,” a deep dive into Kirsten’s psyche and her relationship with Jeevan and Frank; and “Dr. Chaudhary,” a powerhouse of an episode focused on Jeevan that features one of the most emotional birthing scenes seen on television. What perhaps could come across as cynical, the cyclical nature of Station Eleven—that things always return, in one form or another—is actually quite comforting.—Katey Stoetzel
6. Spy x Family
Based on the weekly Shonen Jump serial by Tatsuya Endo and animated by Wit Studio, Spy X Family has overtaken the charts for most popular anime series all year long and has quickly topped the lists for easy-to-recommend series for newcomers to the anime by combining the delightful absurdism of shonen heroes and the structure of a slice of life comedy.
Admittedly, pitching the show is a bit clunky on its face by its sheer ridiculousness—a spy must infiltrate a grade school academy by building a new family: a wife who is secretly an assassin and an adopted daughter named Anya who is an adept psychic who has schemed her way through life reading everyone’s minds around her. While the disguised Forger family struggles to keep their impulses under wraps, Anya is an endearing character to experience the world through her antics as she deviously sleuths her way into first grade at the prestigious academy with the most impressive of elegances.—Evan Griffin
5. Our Flag Means Death
Come with creator David Jenkins and hop aboard the “Revenge,” Stede Bonnet’s gentlemanly pirate ship, and experience the queerer side of life on the seven seas. That’s the basic idea of Our Flag Means Death, which follows Bonnet and his motley crew of swashbucklers as they encounter the Royal Navy, and worst of all, bureaucrats.
Even scarier than that is Stede’s eventual run-in with Blackbeard, the treacherous sea dog himself. Scary because Blackbeard is a notable killer, but also because the two unexpectedly find out more about themselves than they originally expected—their rivalry blossoming into a friendship, which itself blossoms into something more. This proud pirate show starring Rhys Darby and Taika Waititi (who also executive produces) waves its flags high. Featuring an incredible cast and a groundbreaking focus on LGBTQ+ presentation, Our Flag Means Death isn’t a voyage you want to miss.—Adonis Gonzalez
Created by Dan Erickson, Apple TV+’s Severance is one of the most chillingly topical series released this year. Adam Scott, in perhaps career-best work, plays Mark, the leader of a group of office workers whose memories have been surgically divided between their work and personal lives. However, this state of complacency is disrupted following a co-worker’s mysterious disappearance and their subsequent replacement, as the narrative thoroughly pulls on the thread until the entire infrastructure begins to unravel.
The excellence of the series is found in every avenue, from the direction of Ben Stiller and Aoife McArdle to extraordinary performances from Scott, Patricia Arquette, John Turturro, Tramell Tillman, and the rest of the similarly strong cast. However, perhaps it’s the competing atmospheres between the work world and personal worlds which make for such gripping television. The blinding white of the workspace, their cubicles, and never-ending hallways, create domineering, cult-like energy and claustrophobia, while the gray that lies outside the office walls is just as oppressive, leading us to question the misery some of them must’ve been enduring to pick this life for themselves. Leaving viewers on one of the best-earned and most emotionally potent cliffhangers in ages, Season 2 couldn’t come soon enough.—Allyson Johnson
3. Abbott Elementary
Abbott Elementary is one of the most honest and funniest depictions of a predominantly Black inner-city school to date. With Quinta Brunson at the helm, the hit mockumentary series gives viewers an insider’s look into what it is like for dedicated teachers to work in a wholly underfunded public elementary school in Philadelphia without relying on tired tropes like white teachers with savior complexes (eck).
Instead, Brunson and her hilarious team deliver funny but surprisingly heartfelt storylines, such as Janine and Melissa’s attempt to stop a mad genius and possible future cult leader—I mean second-grader—from disrupting their classes. Of course, it helps that the ensemble cast is also a delight. Everyone from Tyler James Williams to Sheryl Lee Ralph to Lisa Ann Walter brings their comedic A-game to every episode. With that in mind, it is safe to say that Abbott Elementary deserves all its flowers and more.—Phylecia Miller
If there’s one TV show that will bring you to tears this year, it’s Heartstopper on Netflix. The sweet and heartwarming series about two high schoolers discovering their feelings for each other will tug at all the heartstrings. Heartstopper did an incredible job channeling the vibe of what it meant to have a crush and the warm feeling of being in love.
Rugby player Nick and hopeless romantic Charlie radiated chemistry throughout the first season, and their romance gave us an optimistic look at what relationships could be, especially for 2LGBTQ+ people experiencing love for the first time. Plus, the series features a great ensemble cast that brings their characters and romances from the Alice Oseman graphic novel to life. Paired with a great soundtrack and amazing writing, Heartstopper easily won over our hearts.—Justin Carreiro
1. Barry Season 3
The magic of Barry is that you always think you know where it’s going, but then Bill Hader masterfully takes us in the opposite direction. Season 3 is an unraveling. As Barry tries to keep his carefully crafted life as an actor from falling apart, Gene contends with a surprise career opportunity, but it’s at the expense of doing what’s right. Fuches continues his revenge against Barry, while NoHo Hank builds a life with Cristobal. Sally’s pandering to the audience last season has landed her her own show, but the realities of Hollywood send her spiraling. After last season’s surprise “ronny/lily” episode, Barry Season 3 continues to push the boundaries of what’s possible on television.
Bill Hader knows how to keep things simple and grounded; by doing so, the more satircal aspects of the show can really pop off. Episode six’s motorcycle highway chase is a masterclass in restraint while still providing exhilarting action sequences. Among all of the amazing technical feats, Barry also asks the hard questions—can anyone earn forgiveness? In Season 3, everyone has something to atone for, but not everyone will work for it. The layers of each character—in relation to each other and to themselves—gives us rich character-driven stories. What started off as a funny premise—a hitman takes acting classes—has turned into one of the best television shows to ever do it.—Katey Stoetzel