Continuing with my annual list of the Top 25 Programs of the Year, here are my Top 12 from 2022. You can see the rest of the list here.
Better Call Saul (AMC) -- When I published my review of season six four months ago, I had already made my decision: Better Call Saul was the Program of the Year. Saul brought the personal stories of characters it introduced throughout its run and many first seen in Breaking Bad to interesting (if mostly tragic) conclusions. That was in its primary timeline, which centered on Jimmy McGill (the man who would become the Saul Goodman we first met on Breaking Bad) and his true love and partner in cons Kim Wexler. All of Saul happened six years before the start of the Breaking Bad story as we know it, but Saul also revisited the Bad timeline in ways that enhanced hindsight appreciation for that show. And at the same time, it advanced the story of Gene Tacovic, the hapless Cinnabon employee Saul Goodman remade himself as in order to escape detection by the FBI and the many dangerous people he crossed paths with while working for Walter White and other sketchy characters. Plus: Carol Burnett! (She's pictured above with star Bob Odenkirk.) To say that franchise creator Vince Gilligan and his talented team went out on top is a trite understatement. They were already there when Breaking Bad began.
Abbott Elementary (ABC) -- The television industry would have us all believe that broadcast TV is increasingly outdated and will soon be obsolete. And yet, out of the hundreds of new and returning scripted programs that appeared this year across the linear, cable and streaming landscape, the most talked about show of them all is this charming contemporary network comedy about teachers at an inner-city school holding it together as best they can for the benefit of their kids. I mean, who doesn't love Abbott Elementary? And who thinks it would have made the same wide-ranging splash on a streamer that it is enjoying on ABC?
Ghosts (CBS) -- Meanwhile, over at CBS, Ghosts in its sophomore season continues to sparkle as yet another example of broadcast comedy done right. It's smart, sweet, funny, inventive, informative (as we continue to learn about the lives and times of the many ghosts) and often genuinely moving. Granted, it's an adaptation of a British series, but Ghosts is an example of genuine creativity coming out on top. Score another plus in the broadcast column.
Reservation Dogs (FX on Hulu) -- This show has been enjoying wide-ranging support in the press since it began, but as I said last year, when Reservation Dogs also landed in my Top 25 column, nobody covered it from the start with quite as much gusto as my MediaVillage colleague Juan Ayala. So, I asked his opinion of season two. "After a fantastic first season, Reservation Dogs skillfully avoided the dreaded sophomore slump and remained as heartfelt and hilarious as ever," he replied. "Stars D'Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, Devery Jacobs, Lane Factor and Paulina Alexis continued to shine together as an ensemble and individually in solo episodes. Season two dealt with death, purpose, tradition and trauma in compassionate, relatable ways that many comedies have trouble pulling off."
The White Lotus (HBO) -- The unabashedly adult nature of The White Lotus is as much a meditation on lust, longing and desire as anything else. (It continues to remind me of '70s-era cinema, which drilled deep into the American psyche in ways that Hollywood hadn't done before.) Season one was also an unapologetic observation of family, parenting, ambition and the soul-crushing recognition that one's dreams may never be fulfilled. Round two was more like an addictive sexy beach read with much criminal behavior in the mix. I'm not sure it ended the right way, because on that rare occasion when one captures lightning in a bottle it's not always wise to dispose of it. Regardless, at a time when seasons of so many cable and streaming series run entirely too long, White Lotus always feels way too short. If there is a higher compliment for a television series these days, I don't know what it is.
Merli: Sapere Aude (Netflix) -- I'm not sure how I found this remarkable Catalan import about young philosophy students and the particularly demanding professor who isn't afraid to say whatever it takes to challenge them, but few series of recent vintage from any country have nailed the emotional, psychological and physical confusion of youth with such heartfelt conviction. Nor can I recall being instantly enthralled by a spin-off of something without having seen the original (in this case, Merli). Maria Pujalte as Maria Bolano, the professor who isn't always successful at battling her own demons, is a marvel. And all the kids are great. But Merli: Sapere Aude belongs to Carlos Cuevas (pictured above at right) as Pol Rubio, a young bisexual philosophy student coming to terms with love, sex, relationships and family matters while navigating much drama among his friends and family. Cuevas is a sensational young actor clearly destined for global stardom. (He had a great 2022, also starring in the new comedy Smiley on Netflix and co-starring in Leonardo on The CW.) If you aren't convinced by the end of season one, watch how he handles a walloping plot twist for Pol at the top of season two and see if you don't agree.
The Good Fight (Paramount+) -- The thirteen-year journey of Atty. Diane Lockhart -- which began on CBS' The Good Wife and continued through spin-off The Good Fight on CBS All Access and then Paramount+ -- can't really be over, can it? World-builders extraordinaire Robert and Michelle King can't just stop now, can they? Christine Baranski is a national treasure, and while we will still be able to enjoy her in HBO's period drama The Gilded Age, to never again watch Lockhart take command of a courtroom crisis, express political exasperation, put an unctuous acquaintance in his or her place or simply let loose with her distinctive laugh seems inconceivable. With all those wonderfully vital characters from both shows still alive and well, surely the Kings can find one or two to continue their vital, ongoing stories. Whether Lockhart appears at center stage or simply makes guest appearances is up to Baranski. Whatever happens, we'll always have Wife, a show that challenged broadcast drama to get smart and grow up, and Fight, which was crucial to the early success of two streamers.
The Bear (FX/Hulu) -- Call it the unexpected success of the year. Who would have thought that a modest little dramedy about a successful young chef who returns to his native Chicago following his brother's suicide to run his family's struggling sandwich shop and the varied relationships he forms with the kitchen staff there would emerge as one of the best shows of the year? I'm not sure that running a show during the summer months that is largely set in a cramped, sweltering kitchen was the smartest scheduling decision, but why complain? The Bear is a true original, and the cast is uniformly terrific -- especially Jeremy Allen White, a soulful marvel on Showtime's long-running Shameless who is even more marvelous here.
Euphoria (HBO) -- With apologies, Euphoria is easily the most addictive series on television ... and perhaps the best argument ever for birth control. Are kids today as feral and bat-shit crazy as teenager Rue and her friends? Are parents as toxic and useless as the "grown-ups" in this show? I'm not sure I want to know the answers. But it's great to see a controversial American show about contemporary American teenagers that eats the bones of typical youth-ensemble dramas for breakfast and can proudly take a seat at the same table as similarly unfiltered shows from other countries. (For example, the early seasons of Elite on Netflix.) I haven't seen an actress so fearlessly immerse herself into so demanding a role in the way that Zendaya inhabits Rue since Edie Falco shook us up in Nurse Jackie. She must be exhausted.
The Offer (Paramount+) -- In my praise of The White Lotus above I referenced my profound appreciation for the movies of the '70s. The Offer literally took us inside the moviemaking machine of that era, focusing on the historic development, production and release of The Godfather and touching upon the execution of so many other classic movies from that time (including Love Story, The Getaway, Chinatown and others). The nostalgia of it all was intoxicating, as were so many of the performances, especially cool cat Matthew Goode (pictured above at left) as slick super-producer and studio chief Robert Evans; a nicely understated Miles Teller (above at right) as producer Albert S. Ruddy, and sparkling Juno Temple as his devoted assistant, Bettye McCartt. And has Justin Chambers (formerly of Grey's Anatomy) ever had more fun than he did here playing the legendary Marlon Brando?
Reboot (Hulu) -- Hulu's delightful Reboot can take its place alongside Abbott Elementary, Ghosts and Apple TV+'s Ted Lasso as one of the smartest comedies currently on television. A lot of thought went into the basic narrative of this show, which has great fun with the industry's unfortunate fixation on relaunching, rebooting, remaking or reviving classic TV programs of yesteryear. If only those "real-life" shows were as entertaining as this one. Reboot tells the story of a cynical screenwriter who successfully pitches a contemporary revival of an early 2000s family sitcom featuring the original cast (who went from being big stars to mostly train wrecks in the years since the show ended). The stories of the actors navigating a second shot at success are funny enough, but the real comedy gold here comes in scenes set in the writers' room, where woke Millennials of questionable talent and experience clash with talented (and unapologetically not woke) veteran scribes as they assemble scripts. The sublime cast includes Keegan-Michael Key, Judy Greer, Johnny Knoxville, Rachel Bloom and Paul Reiser.
Evil (Paramount+) -- Is there a television series anywhere that was more fun this year than this always surprising thriller from master storytellers Robert and Michelle King? Every episode seemingly careens from urgent drama to unrelenting horror to wild story twists to laugh-out-loud comedy and back again, all incorporating aspects of digital technology that other shows dare not touch. (The Kings excelled at tackling tech in The Good Wife and The Good Fight, too.) I'll admit, there are times when I'm not sure what's going on. But I don't care. It's a ride unlike any other, and I'm there until the end. Cast members Katja Herbers, Mike Colter, Michael Emerson, Aasif Mandvi, Christine Lahti and the invaluable Andrea Martin must be having the time of their lives with the material they're given.
You'll find the rest of my Top 25 Programs of 2022 here.
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