If you thought there were already too many streaming platforms to keep track of, then this year must have been hell. On top of Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+, NOW, STARZ and the rest, the past 12 months also saw the arrival of Paramount+ and Lionsgate+ in the UK.
Luckily, the content being pumped out was excellent – even if impossible to keep track of. From punky music biopics to sassy superhero sitcoms and fantasy spinoffs to, well, more fantasy spinoffs, 2022 could legitimately lay claim to being the best year for TV of all time. Here are our picks for the 20 best shows you absolutely cannot miss. Get stuck in.
Alex Flood, Commissioning Editor (Film + TV)
Words: Elizabeth Aubrey, Paul Bradshaw, Rhian Daly, Alex Flood, Ella Kemp, Nick Levine, James Mottram, Hannah Mylrea, Gary Ryan, Sarah Shaffi, Ali Shutler, Thomas Smith, Adam Starkey, Andrew Trendell, Kyann-sian Williams
Many old-school punks sneered at the prospect of a Sex Pistols biopic being made by Disney, but the truth is that a colourful, raucous and almost cartoon-ish retelling of story of the UK’s most notorious punk band was much needed. Directed by Danny Boyle (of Trainspotting fame) and loosely based on guitarist Steve Jones’ memoir Lonely Boy, Pistol made for a riotous romp that was also driven by a very human heart – the perfect punk entry-point for a new generation who don’t need another dreary BBC Four documentary. Kudos is especially due for Toby Wallace’s touching performance as Jonesy, Anson Boon’s magnetic Johnny Rotten, Thomas Brodie-Sangster’s devious Malcolm McLaren, and Sydney Chandler’s star-turn as Chrissie Hynde.
Best episode: ‘Track 3: Bodies’
Watercooler moment: That Bill Grundy interview of course. AT
Marvel’s run of Disney+ TV shows have covered a lot of ground from psychological mystery (Moon Knight) to buddy-cop action (Falcon And The Winter Soldier) but it’s She-Hulk that’s really nailed the format. A monster-of-the-week law sitcom, it’s snappy, smart and oh-so-funny, featuring a range of impressive cameos, some brilliant new characters and the return of old favourites. There’s a lot to love in these giddy 30-minute bursts. There’s also a slow-burning, season-long plot that features the most grounded threat in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe alongside a very bonkers resolution that does nothing to dampen its emotional impact. We haven’t even got to the pristine use of the fourth-wall breaks yet. Tatiana Maslany is brilliant as She-Hulk and ace as the very relatable Jennifer Walters, making She-Hulk must-watch television whether you know who America’s ass belongs to or not.
Best episode: ‘Ribbit and Rip It’
Watercooler moment: A giant, green superhero working at a top law firm, twerking with Megan Thee Stallion. AS
18. ‘Abbott Elementary’
Seasons: one and two
It’s only been a year since the release of episode one, but Abbott Elementary has already given us two seasons worth of laughs that will live on long into the future. Created by viral star turned acclaimed comedy writer Quinta Brunson – and featuring a star-studded cast with Sheryl Lee Ralph (Moesha, Sister Act 2) and Tyler James Williams (Everybody Hates Chris) – this workplace sitcom fills a similar hole to that of The US Office or the recently departed Brooklyn Nine-Nine. In a similar way to those two old favourites, it cleaned up at the Emmys, racking up four nominations in 2022 and making Ralph the first Black woman to win the Supporting Actress – Comedy Series award in more than 35 years. As far as we’re concerned, she deserves to win for the next 35 years too.
Best episode: ‘Work Family’
Watercooler moment: Zack Fox, who plays Quinta’s no-good boyfriend Tariq, delivers an absurd anti-drugs rap to the kids. KSW
17. ‘The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power’
Lavish doesn’t even begin to cover it. Prime Video’s flagship fantasy series is so expansive and visually spectacular that it almost makes House of the Dragon look cheap. But despite the odd bit of wobbly pacing, this engrossing first season is no triumph of style over substance. Mainly based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s appendices to The Lord of the Rings, it’s set in the Second Age of Middle-earth, thousands of years before Peter Jackson’s Oscar-gobbling films. There are a few characters familiar from the movies – Morfydd Clark plays a younger version of Cate Blanchett’s Elven Lady Galadriel – but for the most part, The Rings of Power offers a fresh yet authentic spin on Tolkien’s mythology. Once you’ve become accustomed to the somewhat random accent choices – the Harfoots are Irish? Sure! – it’s truly a series to savour on the biggest screen you can find.
Best episode: ‘Udûn’
Watercooler moment: Seeing the forging of the elven rings is a goosebumps moment no Tolkienite will ever forget. NL
16. ‘Bad Sisters’
How would you get away with murder? Sharon Horgan took a Flemish black comedy series to Ireland to restage the ballsiest family whodunnit in years. Claes Bang excelled himself as one of TV’s great wankers – controlling husband to Anne-Marie Duff’s fragile “mammy”, toxic brother-in-law to sisters Horgan, Eva Birthistle, Sarah Greene and Eve Hewson – and everyone had very, very good reason to want him dead. But by the time the last episode finally crowned the killer, the murder mystery was playing a strong second fiddle to the female relationships the show had been slow-building in the background – an ode to the way love and resilience can keep a broken family together, as well as to perfect ensemble casting. As darkly funny as it was sweetly disturbing, Horgan’s barbed-wire script served the sisterhood perfectly, with no one who finished it not still planning their own alibi (or humming PJ Harvey’s ‘Who By Fire’ cover).
Best episode: ‘Saving Grace’
Watercooler moment: Frozen paintball vs watermelon – you could have someone’s eye out with that. PB
15. ‘Top Boy’
Back in 2011, the first season of Top Boy aired on Channel 4 and followed the lives of ambitious/power hungry drug dealers Dushane Hill (Ashley Walters) and Sully (Kane ‘Kano’ Robinson) around fictional London estate Summerhouse. In the years since, the show’s found a new home on Netflix and grown into more of an ensemble drama, but the complex relationship between Dushane and Sully remains the beating heart of the show. Season four sees them trying to take their business international, while exploring PTSD, domestic abuse and the reason people go to such extreme lengths to survive. It’s a gritty drama that refuses to sex-up the action or sugarcoat the emotional repercussions. The evolving relationship between Dushane and Sully drives the story forward but the new generation of talent including Jaq (Jasmine Jobson), Jamie (Micheal Ward), Lauryn (Saffron Hocking) and Shelly (Little Simz) all hold their own as Top Boy heads towards a fifth and final season.
Best episode: ‘We Ride Out For Family’
Watercooler moment: The game-changing closing moments of ‘Prove Yourself’ which turn the tables over for good. AS
Given that Pachinko is told in three languages (Korean, Japanese and a smattering of English), it’s ironic that trying to find the words to describe how good this hugely expensive show – adapted from Min Jin Lee’s novel of the same name about four generations of a Korean immigrant family – is proves tricky. But here are a few that get close: sumptuous, heartbreaking, intimate, sweeping, exceptional. It’s fantastically acted across the board, but all the awards should go to Kim Min-ha and Youn Yuh-jung for portraying teenage and older versions of protagonist Sunja – every facial expression, every breath they take and every line they say is arresting, making Sunja one of the best characters to hit our screens not just this year, but in a long time. And, as entertaining as it is, this is also a show that has something to say, about the long reach of history, the bonds of family, the meaning of home, and how humans can somehow, despite the worst of circumstances, often endure.
Best episode: ‘Chapter Four’
Watercooler moment: “Here I was, wanting your roots firmly planted in the ground, but your father wanted you to fly” – if you know, you know. SS
The Star Wars spin-off television market has been oversaturated for some time, but Rogue One spin-off Andor promised something different – and boy, did it deliver. The show has more in keeping with Game Of Thrones than Star Wars at times, not least through its violence and rogue’s gallery of baddies. Syril Karn (Kyle Soller) – has a touch of the Joffreys about him, while Denise Gough’s terrifying Imperial officer Dedra Meero is not one to be messed with. Neither, though, is good guy Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), who, in episode one, ruthlessly kills two guards, setting the show’s darker tone from the get-go. Its action sequences are the best of the Star Wars spinoffs by some way – check out Stellan Skarsgård’s Luthen Rael’s daring escape from the Empire or the dizzying dogfight in ‘The Eye’. Visually, the decision to shoot extensive scenes live on location in wild, rural Scotland also resulted in some of the most beautiful cinematography in Star Wars history. Roll on season two.
Best episode: ‘The Eye’
Watercooler moment: When Cassian ruthlessly killed the bad guys in episode one. EA
12. ‘The Boys’
Any fears that the Supes may have lost their power to shock or gleefully pole-vault over the lines of good taste were allayed within minutes of The Boys most confident, wildest and darkest season yet. Standout moments involved the introduction of Jensen Ackles’ killing-machine Solider Boy, a joyously OTT musical number for Frenchie (Tomer Capone) and Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara), as well as Butcher (Karl Urban) and Hughie (Jack Quaid) acquiring their own powers due to Temp V, Black Noir’s (Nathan Mitchell) animated imaginary friends, and the anticipated ‘Herogasm’ orgy involving a character named er, Love Sausage. Besides being an absorbing ultra-violent thrill ride, The Boys further honed its pop culture and political satire, taking on performative virtue-signaling and – in maniacal Homelander (Antony Starr; give him all the awards) – provided a reflection of contemporary America so lacerating that even MAGA bros noticed it and turned against the show.
Best episode: ‘The Instant White-Hot Wild’
Watercooler moment: The opening moments – where Termite, a parody of Marvel’s Ant-Man, shrinks to crawl into his boyfriend’s urethra – certainly set out its stall. GR
11. ‘Only Murders In The Building’
At the end of season one of Only Murders In The Building, Mabel (Selena Gomez), Charles (Steve Martin) and Oliver (Martin Short) were celebrating working out who killed Tim Kono when another death took place. This time, Mabel was found covered in the victim’s – board president Bunny Folger – blood, her knitting needle covered in platelets. And so season two continued its whodunnit escapades, only with much higher stakes – the podcasting trio’s liberty. The second series of Only Murders had all the wit and plot twists of its predecessor, but it also came packed with deeper dives into the three unlikely friends’ lives, fleshing out their characters brilliantly, and taking murder mystery tropes (like Agatha Christie’s habit of gathering suspects in one room to reveal the killer) and turning them on their head. The perfect mix of comedy and edge-of-your-seat thrills that left you begging for more clues.
Best episode: ‘Framed’
Watercooler moment: The big reveal of Bunny’s real murderer in the season finale. RD
10. ‘The White Lotus’
This year we took a second trip to the luxury White Lotus, with the new cast of guests somehow more dysfunctional than the last. Season two takes us to stunning Sicily, and opens on the reveal that several guests (not just one) have died at the resort. We then flash back a week and meet a host of increasingly terrible visitors. From the philandering film producer Dominic (Michael Imperioli) to perpetually uptight lawyer Harper (Aubrey Plaza) and conniving finance bro Cameron (Theo James), alongside the welcome return of the brilliant Jennifer Coolidge as totally oblivious, totally selfish Tanya, it’s hard to tell which of the guests is more insufferable, particularly as the show unravels and each character’s secrets and worst traits are revealed. Uncomfortable and frustrating, their terrible holidays make for the television trip of a lifetime.
Best episode: ‘Bull Elephants’
Watercooler moment: The climax (sorry) of episode five, which finds Jack and Quentin in a romantic entanglement. HM
9. ‘Peaky Blinders’
Each season of Peaky Blinders has a distinct tone. For instance, the first was a Western set in Birmingham, season four was a mafia epic, five was a political thriller. From those opening scenes on Miquelon Island, it was clear that the final season was going to be a gothic drama. With Cillian Murphy’s Tommy Shelby attempting to lay all his demons to rest as the ghosts of his past, present and future haunt him for a life of misdoings, will the man with the Red Right Hand finally find redemption, or is he himself the one enemy he can’t defeat? It was a rich, cinematic and fulfilling ending – highlighted by musical contributions from Radiohead spinoff The Smile and the show’s touching tribute to Aunt Polly, played by the late, great Helen McCrory.
Best episode: ‘Lock And Key’
Watercooler moment: The unforgettable ending that kept us guessing right up to the credits. AT
8. ‘Stranger Things’
How do they keep getting away with it? Just when it seems like Stranger Things and its creators The Duffer Brothers appear to be running out of road, the show completely reinvents itself again. Season four might be its most astonishing and satisfying refresh yet. By fully embracing ‘80s-inspired horror, the show generated its most compelling villain yet: Vecna, an alternative dimension-dwelling baddie played by Jamie Campbell Bower in grisly make-up. He looked like a soft-boiled egg. Elsewhere, the show adopted feature-length episodes to allow the tension to build, storylines to resolve and new characters to assimilate. Rocker Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn) joined the gang, Hopper (David Harbour) returned, while its use of retro bangers by Kate Bush and Metallica helped spur the acts back into the mainstream. Netflix’s crown jewel was back to its best, and sets up an explosive, emotional series finale, due to begin production in 2023.
Best episode: ‘Chapter Four: The Massacre at Hawkins Lab’
Watercooler moment: Max (Sadie Sink) is rescued from Vecna’s clutches by Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’. TS
If we were to pinpoint when Apple TV+ became more than just the Ted Lasso app, we’d probably say it was when word-of-mouth hit Severance released its season one finale. Like all the best shows, it has a compelling conversation-starter pitch: would you take a medical procedure that splits your brain between work and home life? As it stands, Severance definitely makes you want to say no. Spinning the workplace comedy into a nightmare, the show threads in social commentary on the stings of modern capitalism and an intriguing puzzle box mystery. Even as it juggles the lives of “innies” and “outies”, with the occasional room of baby goats, it manages to balance all its different tone shifts and oddities into a cohesive, superbly realised unit. Simply put, a sci-fi series hasn’t landed with such confidence since Westworld’s debut. Let’s hope, unlike the latter, it doesn’t end up getting cancelled.
Best episode: ‘The We We Are’
Watercooler moment: The triple-pronged revelation rollercoaster finale, where we witness the best “she’s alive!” mic drop since the Bride Of Frankenstein. AS
With the first season of Euphoria, it really did feel like these kids had been through enough – struggling through addiction of all kinds, betrayal and tragedy in the most horrific forms, surely you’d think they’d earned a break. But this is Sam Levinson’s world: season two finds Rue (Zendaya) and her school classmates more messed up than ever. Sydney Sweeney’s Cassie has much more to do as the lovesick, love-crazy teen who fully comes into her own, while Kat sadly fades out of view. But Rue’s journey with addiction becomes darker and more dangerous as very important people with very threatening amounts of money enter her orbit, and it’s unclear who can save her. Plus, Lexi stages a musical and Ethan steals the literal show – a dream for drama kids everywhere.
Best episode: ‘The Theater and Its Double’
Watercooler moment: Sydney Sweeney’s Cassie screeching that she has “never, ever been happier” with make-up streaming down her face in one of her post-breakup hallucinations. EK
5. ‘The Bear’
Just when you thought you’d got a grip on tense kitchen drama The Bear, it morphed into a completely different dish. Starting out as a workplace show stuffed with Succession-style backstabbing, it eventually ended up a wholesome family comedy, stopping off at surrealist psychological portrait along the way. The one constant was its chef’s knife-sharp dialogue, and also Jeremy Allen White’s Carmen, a young cook from the fine dining world who returns to Chicago in the hope of saving his family’s sandwich shop from going bust. Throw in an indie banger-filled soundtrack, featuring tunes by The Breeders, Wilco and Pearl Jam, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for one of TV’s best new shows. Now if we could just try Carmy’s patented braised beef hoagies, we might be able to bump up season two to the top of this list.
Best episode: ‘Sheridan’
Watercooler moment: When Carmy and Richie cater a kids’ party, but accidentally spike the juice with Xanax. Playtime soon becomes nap time… AF
4. ‘House Of The Dragon’
This was the year of the fantasy spinoff, with Game Of Thrones and The Lord Of The Rings fighting it out to see who could milk their success the longest. In terms of quality, you’d have to say there was only one winner. House Of The Dragon, HBO’s prequel series to the biggest TV show ever made, took all the best bits from its predecessor (the swearing, the shagging, the throne room squabbles) and ditched whatever ruined Thrones’ final season. Yes, there were less battle sequences. Yes, the CGI looked quite dodgy at times. And yes, that Negroni meme has become quite annoying. But apart from that, there was very little else to criticise. More of the same next year, please!
Best episode: ‘The Lord of the Tides’
Watercooler moment: Every time Daemon lost his head and did something rash (decapitating relatives, murdering wives, bedding his niece). Brilliant telly, yes, but rash. AF
3. ‘Derry Girls’
The end of a classic sitcom always feels like waving goodbye to your own friends. So it proved with the hilarious and poignant valedictory run of Lisa McGee’s coming-of-age comedy about our four favourite Northern Irish schoolgirls – plus wee English fella James. Highlights included an appearance from Liam Neeson, an inventive flashback episode for Ma Mary and Aunt Sarah, the parents, and Clare (Nicola Coughlan) experiencing her first kiss at a Fatboy Slim gig, before finding out about the heartbreaking death of her father. McGee even found creative ways of working around Coughlan’s clashing Bridgerton filming commitments by turning Clare’s repeated missing of the gang’s escapades into a running joke. Set against the pulse of The Troubles, the show has always mixed the political and the personal, and its extended finale, which saw Erin (Saoirse-Monica Jackson) and Orla (Louisa Harland) celebrating their 18th birthdays while preparing to vote in the Good Friday Agreement referendum, left both the characters and the country standing on the precipice of a new chapter. A total ride to the end.
Best episode: ‘Halloween’
Watercooler moment: The last episode served up a valuable history lesson and an unexpected cameo. GR
2. ‘Better Call Saul’
Reaching its final season, Better Call Saul concluded with an elegant, heartbreaking flourish. Creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould showed the world exactly how you make (and finish) a prequel series, as the brilliant Bob Odenkirk’s crooked lawyer Saul Goodman reaches his end-game. With Saul’s real-life persona, Jimmy McGill, seemingly long gone, the show finally bumped up against its predecessor, Breaking Bad, curling around it like a wisp of smoke. There were memorable cameos, shock deaths, and even an actor switch as Pat Healy took over the key role of cabbie Jeff. But there was nothing more stunning than the arc of Kim Wexler (the mesmerising Rhea Seahorn), Saul’s partner and the one major character whose own fate was uncertain. Her final scene with Saul, shot in rich black-and-white, as they share a cigarette, might just be one of the single most beautiful moments in TV history. Give this show every Emmy going.
Best Episode: ‘Plan and Execution’
Watercooler moment: The return of Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, as Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, in the episode titled – aptly enough – ‘Breaking Bad’. JM
When it debuted in April, Netflix’s uncommonly tender coming-of-age drama charmed absolutely everybody. Adapted by Alice Oseman from her own graphic novel and webcomic series, it follows the blossoming relationship between popular rugby lad Nick (Kit Connor) and nerdier, nervier Charlie (Joe Locke). It’s not just the sweetest story you’ll enjoy all year, but also one of the most inclusive: Oseman has created a world where multiple interlinking LGBTQ+ stories are soundtracked by glistening indie bangers from the likes of Baby Queen, Beabadoobee and CHVRCHES. Across eight half-hour episodes, you won’t just be rooting for the super-likeable lead duo, but also for Charlie’s overprotective mate Tao (William Gao), their poised trans pal Elle (Yasmin Finney), and a cute queer couple who help to show them the way: Tara (Corinna Brown) and Darcy (Kizzy Edgell). The perfectly formed and utterly life-affirming first season was such a huge word-of-mouth hit that Netflix has already ordered two more. Start stockpiling the tissues right away.
Best episode: ‘Boyfriend’
Watercooler moment: The perfectly cringey line “I’m not, like, homophobic – I’m an ally” became an enduring Twitter meme. NL