Amidst the final exit of several strapping small screen war horses, 2022 may go down as the year Peak TV hit middle age – in a good way
Not saying a midlife crisis and cherry red sportscars are in the mix, yet. However, besides the ever-tightening economic constrictions girdling the industry, the past 12 months has witnessed a maturation of narrative that enhanced even Star Wars, Marvel and DC Comics offerings.
Reaching that prime of life level was personified in primetime by Abbott Elementary.
Having premiered on December 7, 2021, the Quinta Brunson created ABC sitcom isn’t officially on my list. Yet, like how The Clash’s London Calling is rightly considered one of the best albums on the 1980s even though it came out in December 1979, the excellence of Abbott Elementary, plus the rebirth it gave to network relevance, has to be acknowledged. According, top notch second and third seasons respectively of FX’s Reservation Dogs and Amazon’s The Boys deserve shout-outs too.
Fact is, after years of exuberance on the streamers, cablers and good old broadcast television, the tone shifted in 2022 as the fallout from the pandemic, fierce political divisions, and the other what-the-f*ck-just-happened anxieties crystallized. As Disney+’s Andor so nimbly framed up, even life in that galaxy far far away “breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places,” to quote Ernest Hemmingway.
With the medium bidding goodbye to Better Call Saul, Queen Sugar, This Is Us, Grace & Frankie, The Walking Dead mothershow, Atlanta, Peaky Blinders, Better Things, black-ish, and The Good Fight, you may notice the absence from the 2022 Best TV list of both HBO’s much hyped first Game of Thrones spinoff House of the Dragon and Amazon Prime Video’s sprawling The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.
While ambitious, both shows exhibited a disqualifying lumbering tendency in their early episodes that asked viewers, in my opinion, to work harder for the shows than the shows were willing to work for their audience – which just isn’t on in a crowded content landscape. On the flipside, picking up the pace as their respective initial runs continued, both Dragons and LOTR ultimately delivered strenuous debut seasons that set up promising sophomore turns now the games themselves are afoot. Turning back to what is on my longer than usual Best of list, most of the rookies represented succeed in part by knowing their audience and stripping off sentimentality to fly an unflinching flag in their own fashion – which was precisely what the times required.
In that context, and worthy of more explanation, the primetime debuting hearings of the January 6th Committee investigating the Donald Trump fueled MAGA mob attack on the Capitol last year became a riveting real-life miniseries – which, along with putting out a red alert on American democracy, was exactly its point.
Bookended by an oddly anemic June 9 start that looked more like radio and the aftershow dropping of their 845-page final report on December 22, the otherwise intense Congressional probe picked up the pace and production value quickly to expose the nakedness of the former Celebrity Apprentice host’s lust to remain in office. Across the Big 4 networks, the internet and cable newsers (albeit Fox News Channel chose to do their viewers the dubious honor of weaving in and out of live coverage), the literal and figurative assaults on the Republic by the previous administration and their enablers were peeled back in true True Detective fashion by the disciplined committee to reveal a rancid core.
Fronted by chair Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss) and vice chair Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and packaged in part by ex-ABC News president James Goldston, the panel’s thorough examination of the lies and violence Trump and his henchmen sought to unleash to achieve their Constitutionally crippling goals became true Must Watch TV of 2022. With a parade of testimony from disillusioned former White House staffers and Trump family members, the televised also likely played a pivotal role in this year’s surprising midterm election results – which is truly democracy in action.
Paired with the brutality and banality of life under the Imperial boot in Andor, the January 6th committee hearings is absolutely one of the only show that matter this year – to reference The Clash again.
As you can see in the list below and to reference Hemmingway again, there were a lot of broken places, and broken people to be found among television’s best new shows this year across a swath of genres and categories. So much so that, like my colleague Pete Hammond’s recent Best Movies list, I cheated a bit. This year Pete went up to 11 flicks from the standard 10. I went a tad further: