best of 2022

The Best TV Shows of the Year (So Far)

(Clockwise from top left): The Bear, We Own This City, Severance, Barry, and Conversations With Friends. Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos by Disney+, Hulu, FX, HBO and Apple TV

It’s no earth-shattering observation that television is doing a lot these days. Every week, sometimes every day of the week, brings with it a new high-profile series, or a much-anticipated continuation of a high-profile series, or perhaps a high-profile limited series, or maybe yet another high-profile true-crime adaptation or IP brand extension. Even a “slow” month of television can be expected to produce a half-dozen shows that you simply must watch right now because you know it’s all anyone will be talking about!

But the tension between quantity and quality is always present in this endless smorgasbord, and just because a show is provoking discussion and memes doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a great representation of the medium or attempting to push it forward in interesting ways. So while acknowledging that there will always be an appeal to dissecting a noisy TV spectacle in exacting detail, that is not our primary objective here. This regularly updated monthly list, maintained by Vulture critics Jen Chaney, Roxana Hadadi, and Kathryn VanArendonk, is dedicated to the shows that may or may not have risen above the constant din but have nonetheless proven themselves representative of the best television has to offer: a freshman network comedy that’s already firing on all cylinders, an auteurist dramedy ending a phenomenal run in peak form, a stylish and original mystery-box thriller, and more. Together, they comprise a small slice of a massive pie, but it’s that slice that’s keeping us hungry for whatever television serves up next. Below are the best, listed by order of U.S. premiere date.

Abbott Elementary

Photo: Gilles Mingasson/ABC

We love to see a network sitcom take the TV world by storm, and we especially love to see it when that network sitcom is funny and smart and made by someone as talented as Quinta Brunson, Abbott Elementary’s creator and star. It has been a while since a network series of any kind has penetrated with linear, Nielsen-style viewership numbers and an extremely online audience, but Abbott has managed to do both. The series, about the teachers and students at a Philadelphia school, has revived the mockumentary format in a way that leaves room for drama among the adults and small moments of social commentary (with stories about school funding, gifted programs, and teaching to the test). At its best, Abbott feels like classic sitcom storytelling from decades ago: a show that insists on the specific, grounded details of its world while also being built for an enormous audience. Plus there’s the joy of watching a character like Principal Coleman (Janelle James) come into her own, because Abbott’s success means we’ll probably get to enjoy her for a long, long time. —Kathryn VanArendonk

Read Jen Chaney’s review of Abbott Elementary and Ashley Ray Harris’s interview with creator and star Quinta Brunson.

Available to stream on Hulu

The Righteous Gemstones, Season Two

Photo: HBO

The Righteous Gemstones should not be funny. Megachurch televangelists vie for even more power, fame, and fortune? Ugh. But no one finds the beating heart of a posturing, selfish asshole like Danny McBride, and his series clicked into fully realized, consistently hilarious life in its second season. Over nine episodes, McBride and the flawless ensemble he has assembled brought humanity and vulgarity to an ever-absurd story line involving a group of motorcycle-riding assassins out to murder Gemstone patriarch Eli (John Goodman), Eli’s past in the Memphis wrestling scene, and a journalist sniffing around the Gemstones’ finances. If casting judgment for adultery, murder, and greed is the Lord’s work, as the Gemstones believe, then forgiveness for those misdeeds belongs to us. And after providing laughs at baptism rompers, toilet babies, and musclemen, the camaraderie and loyalty that The Righteous Gemstones emphasizes among its characters is its own kind of empathy. —Roxana Hadadi

Read Roxana Hadadi’s review of Righteous Gemstones’s second season; Hadadi’s interview with creator and star Danny McBride; Hadadi’s interview with star Edi Patterson; and Scott Tobias’s recaps of season two.

Available to stream on HBO Max

Somebody Somewhere 

Photo: HBO

Bridget Everett’s HBO series about small-town Kansas and the feeling of being an adult misfit was a gorgeous way to kick off the year in television. Everett’s character, Sam, is not a straightforward fictionalized version of herself, although the parallels are certainly there. Sam is much less self-assured, though, and has spent much of her life since high school trying to shape herself to fit other people’s expectations and needs. As a result, Somebody Somewhere is a gorgeous, loving, often hilarious depiction of midwestern, small-town culture — everything about Sam’s sister, Tricia (Mary Catherine Garrison), is perfection, as is her friend Joel (Jeff Hiller) — but it’s also a really moving story about how hard it is to make yourself at home somewhere when it’s supposedly been your home from the beginning. —K.V.A.

Read Kathryn VanArendonk’s review of Somebody Somewhere and Jackson McHenry’s interview with star Bridget Everett.

Available to stream on HBO Max

As We See It

Photo: Amazon Prime Video

It’s difficult not to think that Amazon Prime Video did As We See It a disservice by releasing the show’s eight episodes all at once in late January. Jason Katims’s series about three 20-somethings on the autism spectrum trying to navigate the personal and professional challenges of adulthood is thoughtfully nuanced and surprisingly funny, with a flair for unexpected scenarios that poke at whatever preconceived notions viewers might hold about this community. Rick Glassman, Albert Rutecki, and Sue Ann Pien, who all identify as neurodivergent, fully embody their characters’ singular arcs, while Sosie Bacon adds both compassion and friction as the roommates’ aide. The series’s emotional rawness and pervasive honesty build up in that typical Katims way until your only option is to cry and cry, and a slower rollout might have let that atmosphere breathe. Still, whatever your viewing schedule ends up being, As We See It is worth your time. —R.H.

Read Roxana Hadadi’s review of As We See It.

Available to stream on Amazon Prime

We Need to Talk About Cosby

Photo: Mario Casilli/mptvimages/Courtesy of SHOWTIME

As much as the media has covered Bill Cosby’s assaults on women, as a culture we haven’t fully reconciled our reverence for his body of work with our disdain for his decades-long history of drugging and preying on women. W. Kamau Bell, who directs this four-part Showtime docuseries, forces that conversation by assembling academics, journalists, people who worked alongside Cosby, and survivors of his assaults to discuss his legacy and how it has been diminished, if not fully destroyed, by the crimes he committed. These are difficult conversations, and Bell guides them with intelligence and empathy. He also lays out Cosby’s assaults and cultural achievements on a timeline that fully drives home that, as one interview subject puts it, as much as we thought we knew Cosby, we didn’t really know him at all. —Jen Chaney

Read Jen Chaney’s review of We Need to Talk About Cosby.

Available to stream on Showtime

Severance

Photo: Apple TV+

A high-concept puzzle that finds horror in self-sabotage and unexpected inspiration in self-help, Severance might be Apple TV+’s first great drama. (No disrespect to For All Mankind, which grew into excellence, but Severance burst out of the gate with it.) Creator Dan Erickson has created an uncanny world where the division between our work and personal selves can be made permanent; where our two halves live in abstract, pained separation from each other; and where any hope of reconciliation is crushed by the shadowy corporate overlords that created this surgical procedure in the first place. Every one of the season’s nine episodes is grounded by a compelling lead performance from Adam Scott, who pivots easily between bleakness and buoyancy, and the atmosphere is fantastically unsettling thanks to the direction of Ben Stiller and Aoife McArdle. Severance could go anywhere, and the possibilities built into storytelling this confident are thrilling to imagine. —R.H.

Read Roxana Hadadi’s review of Severance; Jen Cheney’s interview with star Patricia Arquette; and Erin Qualey’s recaps of the season.

Available to stream on Apple TV+

Better Things, Season Five

Photo: Suzanne Tenner/FX

Pamela Adlon’s observant dramedy about the life of Adlon alter ego Sam Fox was painting a vibrant picture of a middle-aged woman long before And Just Like That … tried to do a version of the same thing. But Better Things is practically the opposite of And Just Like That … in that it’s fully realistic and unfolds according to the rhythms of actual life. In its fifth and final season, the series, also directed and co-written by Adlon, drops its audience into various scenarios involving Sam, her three children, and the friends and family members who surround them, then invites viewers to soak in all the details. There is something simple and beautiful about the show’s casual, rambling quality, whether that involves tagging along with the whole family on a trip to England or witnessing an argument between Sam and her kids about giving up cell phones for a week. Better Things is a low-key, joyful, and enriching pleasure, and when this season ends, it will be deeply missed. —J.C.

Read Jen Chaney’s review of Better Things’ final season and Chaney’s interview with creator and star Pamela Adlon.

Available to stream on Hulu

The Dropout

Photo: Beth Dubber/ HULU

Too many of this year’s shows about scammers are underwhelming. Sure, they’re fun, and if that’s what you’re looking for, it’ll still hit the spot, but an okayish scam show is still just an okayish TV experience. The obvious exception is The Dropout, one of the few shows in 2022’s slew of scam dramas to actually nail what makes this kind of story so interesting. Amanda Seyfried’s performance as Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes is mesmerizing, largely because it’s a portrait of Holmes slowly becoming the famous failed CEO. The guest cast is stellar (Laurie Metcalf!), the slow build to the company’s collapse is great, and it manages to find a tone that is neither too grave nor too light. And the music! The Dropout, baby — you’re a firework. —K.V.A.

Read Kathryn VanArendonk’s review of The Dropout; Jackson McHenry’s interview with series creator Elizabeth Meriwether; and Jessica MacLeish’s recaps of the series.

Available to stream on Hulu

Starstruck, Season Two 

Photo: Mark Johnson/HBO Max

We tend to think of romance in terms of scale, and it’s usually about extremes. It is either massive (grand, sweeping romance that is life-changing and earth-shaking and huge) or it’s tiny (intimate, gemlike, precious, rare). Starstruck’s remarkable quality is that it is simply life-size. Its humor and emotional range is dialed precisely for the experience of love in the real world. It can be devastating and thrilling and all of those impressively scaled things, but the world of Starstruck, and especially its lead creator and actor, Rose Matafeo, is unmistakably built for people. They make plausible mistakes and get into stupid arguments, and their misunderstandings and jealousies are hilarious and sharp, while also being humane and grounded. The only thing wrong with Starstruck’s scale is that it is always over too soon. —K.V.A.

Read Kathryn VanArendonk’s review of Starstruck’s second season and Maggie Fremont’s recaps of both seasons.

Available to stream on HBO Max

Pachinko

Photo: Juhan Noh/Apple TV+

The danger of telling a generational story is overly predictive tidiness and the tendency to tie together our past, present, and future along rigid, unassailable lines. “There’s a curse in my blood,” says a mother early on in Apple TV+’s Pachinko, and a lesser show would take this statement as prescriptive. But Soo Hugh’s adaptation of the same-named 2017 novel by Min Jin Lee shakes up the source material’s linear narrative by incorporating flashbacks that consider what endures and what is lost to time, and that reframe that “curse” for each generation that Pachinko follows. Is the curse the colonial rule under which that young Sunja in Japanese-occupied Korea in the early 20th century? Is it the racism that her grandson Solomon endures in corporate New York City more than 70 years later? Is it how we move away from our cultures and our families in pursuit of “success”? Pachinko floats all these possibilities with poignant scripts from Hugh, gorgeous cinematography and direction from Kogonada and Justin Chon, and a deep ensemble led by Yuh-jung Youn as the grandmother version of Sunja. The white-rice-preparation scene in “Chapter Four”? I’m going to need some time to wipe away all these tears. —R.H.

Read Kathryn VanArendonk’s review of Pachinko and Nina Li Coomes’s recaps of the series.

Available to stream on Apple TV+

Julia

Julia, the HBO Max series starring the charming Sarah Lancashire, is sort of a biography of Julia Child. Yes, Lancashire plays Child, and the series is about the moment in her life when she swiftly changed from being an unknown cookbook author to a beloved TV personality. At its heart, though, Julia isn’t really about Child’s life. It’s a workplace show set in the 1960s that considers how to create public television that people will actually want to watch. It’s also about Child’s role in culture, about her role as an early TV personality and her feelings toward fame and feminism, but Julia handles those ideas with a fairly light touch. Its strongest draw is the pleasure of witnessing a remarkable person care about something, and how fun it is to watch her friends take a great deal of joy in helping her pull it off. —K.V.A.

Read Kathryn VanArendonk’s review of Julia and Alice Burton’s recaps of the series.

Available to stream on HBO Max

Better Call Saul, Season Six

Photo: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

The first part of the sixth and final season of Better Call Saul opens with an ambitious, mesmerizing tour through the mansion of Saul Goodman/Jimmy McGill as movers pack up his many gaudy belongings. It’s so deliberate, intricate, and rife with Easter eggs that it begs to be rewatched and studied. That’s just the first five minutes of the season, but the same rules apply to practically every scene in this prequel, which is heading toward a conclusion that finally connects the dots between this series and the events in Breaking Bad. Part two of this final season has been just as strong as part one, and often quite a bit more stressful as the walls have begun to close in around Bob Odenkirk’s Jimmy, forcing his wife, Kim Wexler (the brilliant Rhea Seehorn), to take some life-altering measures. Only Better Call Saul could take what is clearly inevitable and turn it into moments that push viewers to the farthest edges of their seats. As has been the case throughout this series, the acting, writing, and direction is all deliberate and rich with detail and subtext. This is a prestige drama about people who make bad choices and do wicked things that doesn’t wallow in its own self-importance. It’s got nothing to prove at this point, but nevertheless keeps proving how exceptional it is, right to the end. —J.C.

Read Jen Chaney’s close read of the midseason finale and Scott Tobias’s recaps of Season 6.

Available to stream on AMC+

Barry, Season Three

Photo: Merrick Morton/HBO

Barry has always been dark. As the titular hit man turned actor turned hit man, Bill Hader has long walked along a thin precipice, dipping into vulnerability or rage as the character requires. What’s new about the third season, and Hader’s exceptional writing, directing, and acting work within it, is the sense that we’ve reached the point of no return: the rock bottom that our very anti-hero can either crawl up from or be buried under. Nearly three years after the series’s second season ended with Barry going on a killing spree, things pick back up with Hader’s character in a professional and romantic rut because of his myriad betrayals. He can’t connect with girlfriend Sally (Sarah Goldberg), whose aloofness is only exacerbated by her Hollywood success, while his acting coach Gene (Henry Winkler) and former friend, Chechen mobster NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan), want nothing more to do with Barry because of his backstabbing and lies. It’s all incredibly bleak, but Barry punctures that cynicism often with clever sight gags, Carrigan’s enthusiastic line deliveries, and a smirking mockery of the entertainment industry. And grounding it all is Hader’s ability to turn on a dime emotionally while still conveying the moral weight of his addiction to death, unlike, say, Ozark. When Barry pleads to Hank, “I need a purpose,” it’s a fragile moment of self-awareness — but the discomfiting power of Barry is in how it never once pretends that all guiding motivations are good. —R.H. 

Read Jen Chaney’s review of Barry’s third season; Jesse David Fox’s interview with co-creator and star Bill Hader; and Ben Rosenstock’s recaps of Season 3.

Available to stream on HBO Max

Gaslit

Photo: Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/Starz

There is such an overwhelming amount of TV these days that Gaslit, starring movie stars Julia Roberts, Sean Penn, and Dan Stevens in a ’70s period piece about the Nixon administration’s scrambling during the Watergate scandal, seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle. That’s a shame given that each of those three and the literal dozens of character actors surrounding them are having a grand time sneering, screaming, and scheming through writer Robbie Pickering and director Matt Ross’s portrait of American politics gone to rot. There are layers of camp, intentional and unintentional, in these broad performances, particularly that of scene-stealer Shea Whigham as zealot Nixon operative G. Gordon Liddy. (His dyed-black mustache and slicked-back hair are enough to communicate This guy’s bad news before he even opens his mouth to deliver gritted-teeth diatribes against anyone who isn’t a white Republican man.) But Liddy is just one part of a massive machine that works to defend Nixon, smear the people who dare talk about his misdeeds — including Roberts as Martha Mitchell, a member of his inner circle whom Nixon orders abducted and restrained so she doesn’t talk to press about Watergate — and lay the groundwork for the Republican Party as we know it. It’s a horror show, and its excessive grime isn’t easy to wash off. —R.H.

Read Roxana Hadadi’s review of Gaslit and Alice Burton’s recaps of the series.

Available to stream on Starz

We Own This City 

Photo: HBO

The new George Pelecanos–David Simon HBO miniseries, part of what Simon has described as the PBS portion of HBO, both continues in the tradition of The Wire and twists its legacy. There are moments when We Own This City veers aggressively toward undisguised, unmodulated lectures: Characters stop what they’re doing to deliver lengthy tirades about the futility of the drug war and the emptiness of stats-driven drug policies. By the end, though, We Own This City nevertheless still manages to find the uncomfortable, complicated, dissonant notes that characterize Simon and Pelecanos’s best work. There are enormous systems at work, and there are also specific human lives affected by those systems. No TV creators are better at expressing the way that both of those realities can be true even when they are in direct contradiction. —K.V.A.

Read Jen Chaney’s review of We Own This City and Scott Tobias’s recaps of the series.

Available to stream on HBO Max

Under the Banner of Heaven

Photo: Michelle Faye/FX

No TV show can fully explain the entire history of Mormonism as a religious ideology and political movement; trace the violence, racism, and misogyny within its traditions; and connect that lineage to a true-crime framework with frustrated detectives, evasive suspects, and intracommunal tension. It is too much, and Under the Banner of Heaven doesn’t always pull off the balance. But the fact that the FX on Hulu adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s nonfiction best seller mostly finds a way to connect all these threads into a grimly thought-provoking portrait of religious fundamentalism in America is laudable, and the ensemble’s performances make the dense, time-hopping series compelling. Series creator Dustin Lance Black makes a thoughtful change to Krakauer’s source material by inventing two detectives, portrayed by Andrew Garfield and Gil Birmingham, to investigate the murders of young wife and mother Brenda Laffety (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and her infant daughter, and that entry point into this story allows Under the Banner of Heaven to fulfill some cop-show traditions while subverting others. Sometimes the flashbacks to Mormon leaders like Joseph Smith and Brigham Young are jarring, and the perspective shifts between various characters can be choppy, but for the most part, Under the Banner of Heaven nails the pacing and tone required to try to make sense of this horrific crime. Garfield in particular knows what he’s doing — watch as his shoulders slump over the course of the season, as his line deliveries get sharper, and as he realizes that the way of life he grew up in might not be as pure as he thought. The dread he feels, we do too. —R.H.

Read Kathryn VanArendonk’s review of Under the Banner of Heaven and Andy Andersen’s recaps of the series.

Available to stream on Hulu

Girls5Eva, Season Two

Photo: Heidi Gutman/Peacock

Technically a light comedy about the members of an early-2000s girl band reuniting and giving the group a second shot in middle age, Girls5Eva is actually medicine, the kind of silliness that soothes the soul. Like just about every show that’s come from the Tina Fey–Robert Carlock school of comedy — Fey and Carlock are executive producers, and series creator Meredith Scardino previously wrote with them on Netflix’s The Unbreakable Kimmy SchmidtGirls5Eva is coated wall-to-wall with pop-culture send-ups and rapid-fire jokes, both verbal and visual. In season two, all four of the actors behind the girls — Renée Elise Goldsberry, Sara Bareilles, Busy Philipps, and Paula Pell — have an even stronger grasp on their characters’ quirks, and the songs they craft, including “B.P.E.” and “Bend Not Break” (inspired by a knee injury, obviously), are as absurd as they are catchy. (Continued kudos to composer Jeff Richmond and everyone, including Bareilles, who contributed to the music.) Even the throwaway lines on this show — “I have brain fog, and I have brain fog,” Bareilles’s Dawn tells a doctor — are a riot. The world is seriously crazy right now, making Girls5Eva’s hilarious strain of crazy feel like therapeutic treatment. —J.C.

Read Roxana Hadadi’s review of Girls5Eva’s second season and Jackson McHenry’s interview with star Renée Elise Goldsberry.

Available to stream on Peacock

The Staircase

Photo: HBO Max

Making a scripted version of The Staircase, a story that had already been told over multiple episodes in a docuseries of the same name, should have been a pointless endeavor. To build a limited series around the confounding murder case involving writer Michael Peterson, who was sent to prison for killing his wife, Kathleen, despite his claims of innocence, seemed as if it would only be redundant. That assumption turned out to be wrong. Under the supervision of creator Antonio Campos and starring Colin Firth and Toni Collette in the roles of Michael and Kathleen, this scripted iteration provides a fuller, 360-degree view of the Petersons’ blended family and the dynamics within it. It also introduces the documentarians as characters in their own right, including Sophie (Juliette Binoche), an editor who develops a personal attachment to the case that raises questions about the way bias can infiltrate true-crime projects. While Michael, played with an appropriate edge by Firth, is still the central figure, The Staircase does something its predecessor and many docs like it don’t: establish Kathleen as not just a victim but a human being who had her own struggles before her life was cut short under such frustratingly mysterious circumstances. —J.C.

Read Jen Chaney’s review of The Staircase.

Available to stream on HBO Max

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

Photo: Marni Grossman/Paramount+

The new Star Trek franchise, Strange New Worlds, is throwback-y without being nostalgic, referential without being precious about the show’s past, episodic (!), and so much fun. Led by Anson Mount as Captain Christopher Pike, the show is in the tricky position of needing to both integrate the legacy of the earliest Star Trek installments and fit into the world of the newer, glossier Treks from the Paramount+ era. It succeeds at that task beyond what I thought was possible for a modern-day Trek series, and it does so largely by embracing what made Trek work in the heights of the network-TV days: high jinks, painstaking control of a wide tonal range, and strong character stories embedded in episodic plots. It’s the kind of show that streaming platforms almost never make, and I hope it runs for dozens and dozens of episodes. —K.V.A.

Stream on Paramount+

Couples Therapy Season Three

Photo: Courtesy of SHOWTIME

The most captivating TV docuseries of the past several years had a small but fully incapacitating hiccup last year. COVID protocols, combined with the particular intimacy of Couples Therapy’s beautiful set design, meant that while the show’s second season was certainly compelling, it didn’t quite live up to the heights of season one. So it’s absolutely a delight to see season three come roaring back with the insights and compassion of this show operating at its best. It helps that the couples chosen for this season are particularly fascinating — the group provides a varied set of circumstances and challenges, but all the couples come to therapy after many years of commitment to each other. Without question, though, the show’s therapist, Dr. Orna Guralnik, is key to making the show tick. If any TV figure ever had the power to make you feel seen through the screen, it’s her. —K.V.A.

Available to stream on Showtime

Conversations With Friends

Photo: Enda Bowe/HULU

Sally Rooney’s first novel provides the foundation for the second Hulu adaptation of her work, one that’s more challenging than Normal People. Focused on the relationship dynamics between Frances (Alison Oliver); her best friend and ex-girlfriend, Bobbi (Sasha Lane); and a married couple they befriend, Melissa (Jemima Kirke) and Nick (Joe Alwyn), Conversations With Friends is a slow-burn character study that spends much of its time with a pair of introverts — that would be Frances and Nick — who often struggle to communicate their feelings. As co-directed by Lenny Abrahamson, who also worked on Normal People, and Leanne Welham, this limited series has an intimate, naturalistic vibe similar to the previous entry in the Sally Rooney–verse and features an exceptional performance from newcomer Oliver, whose instincts perfectly suit the material and Frances’s soft-spokenness. This is a show that asks its audience to slow down, pay attention, and take note of what’s not being said as much as what is. — J.C.

Read Jen Chaney’s review of Conversations With Friends; Rachel Handler’s interview with star Joe Alwyn; and Jessica Goldstein’s recaps of the series.

Available to stream on Hulu

This Is Going to Hurt

Photo: Anika Molnar/Sister Pictures/BBC

Adapted from the nonfiction book of the same name, the British import This Is Going to Hurt is as if Call the Midwife were transported to the early aughts and all the warm fuzzies were scraped off with a scalpel wielded by an overtired surgeon. It could be grim. Actually, it is grim. But it’s also full of sardonic, painfully dark humor. Even though it’s frequently bleak and sometimes excruciatingly tragic, it has a core of unwavering sincerity about patient care and the gravity of its subject. Most important, it has Ben Whishaw as the lead, which transforms This Is Going to Hurt from a familiar, sad medical drama into something distinctive and lovely. Whishaw can hold on to seven different layers of emotional complexity in a scene as simple as walking down a hallway. The only thing that could make the show better is if some grande dame of British acting were cast as his mo— just kidding, it’s Harriet Walter, they knocked it out of the park. —K.V.A.

Available to stream on AMC+

Ms. Marvel

Photo: Disney+

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has felt like a conveyor belt for a long time: the same types of stories featuring the same kinds of world-ending events with the same cast of (mostly) white Avengers and villains. For those who enjoy routine, that’s great; for anyone looking for something different in tone, visuals, and audience, the emotionally layered and aesthetically joyful Ms. Marvel has delivered something new. Creator Bisha K. Ali’s Disney+ series, based on the comic books about first Muslim MCU superhero Kamala Khan, tweaked the character’s origin story to more explicitly focus on her personal coming-of-age and how her Pakistani heritage, her family, and the legacy of Partition shaped her powers. That more intimate focus was the right call and gave actor Iman Vellani — a megawatt star in the making — the opportunity to shine as the slightly self-deprecating, yearning-for-more Kamala, who chafes against her parents’ overprotectiveness but also wants their love, support, and acceptance as she discovers her new abilities. That’s not to say the series is perfect — the pacing of the six episodes is a little messy, and neither the Department of Damage Control nor Clandestine villains were that well-developed. But the series establishes itself well as a story for viewers who are the same age as the titular character with a lighter tone and an imaginative visual style that conveys Kamala’s inner thoughts, and its treatment of the time period around Partition is thorough and compassionate. Ms. Marvel is so enjoyable when it’s doing its own thing that a season-finale reminder of the larger world of the Avengers is almost a disappointment. More time with Vellani’s pitch-perfect Kamala would be preferable to all that, and a potential season two will hopefully provide it. —R.H.

Read Roxana Hadadi’s review of Ms. Marvel and Siddhant Adlakha’s recaps of the series.

Available to stream on Disney+

For All Mankind, Season Three

Photo: Apple TV

There is a moment in nearly every For All Mankind episode of this third season where it seems like everything is going to go irreversibly wrong. Some space doohickey is going to malfunction or break down. Somebody is going to make a reckless choice. Life is impossible to predict, and people are impossible to predict, and there is an underlying fissure of chaos to our universe that nothing and no one can control. But then there is another moment that counteracts that preceding destruction, rights the balance, and returns these astronauts and cosmonauts to the missions at hand. Exploration does not stop, and these characters do not give up, and the certainty of that ideology reaches astonishingly entertaining heights. To be fair, there are a few story lines this season that are infuriating (I do not care about the Stevens children, at all, not one bit!), but For All Mankind also grasps the power of episodic storytelling like few other series on TV. Each 60 or so minutes is simultaneously a contained narrative that throws myriad obstacles at the Americans and Soviets we’ve come to know and love and a simmering continuation of all the themes that have come before in this space-race series. When does personal ambition cloud your judgment? What kind of sacrifice is so great that a person loses their identity in the process? What kind of shared experiences bond people closer together than a marriage? For All Mankind masterfully wields both its disaster scenes and its wistful “Hi, Bob” utterances, and it’s still the best show not enough people are watching. —R.H.

Read Kathryn VanArendonk’s review of For All Mankind’s third season and Sophie Brookover’s recaps of Season 3.

Available to stream on Apple TV+

The Bear

Photo: Matt Dinerstein/FX

What could possibly be up for debate about a nice little restaurant show where damaged people realize they need one another in order to be better humans who make better food? As it turns out, an endless number of things, including: how accurate The Bear is in terms of Chicago culture and geography, whether it’s really a show about restaurants or actually a show about gentrification, whether it’s fundamentally a comedy or a drama, and whether it makes any sense that this sandwich joint was at one time regularly serving spaghetti. Within those arguments, though, is the fact that The Bear is richly, lovingly made and that its frenetic workplace energy makes a striking setting for performances from leads Jeremy Allen White, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, and Ayo Edebiri. The Bear also has a surfeit of great guest stars, among them, Jon Bernthal, Molly Ringwald, Joel McHale, and Jeremy Allen White’s hair. —K.V.A.

Read Jen Chaney’s review of The Bear and Marah Eakin’s recaps of the first season.

Available to stream on Hulu

Would It Kill You To Laugh?

Photo: Peacock

This is a slightly odd fit on the list of best TV, but Early and Berlant’s stellar, glorious hour of sketch comedy is going onto our TV list for two reasons. The first is that it is closer to Kids in the Hall than it is to stand-up, and the flexibility and collaborative nature of sketch comedy are key to what makes Would It Kill You to Laugh so fantastic. Berlant and Early are so compelling as comedic partners, able to swap their assumed roles while also retaining everything about what makes an Early performance feel distinct from a Berlant one. (Early operates on another plane of reality right up until he reveals a sudden softness; Berlant appears firm and grounded but then you realize her ground has been the ceiling this whole time.) The other reason to include Would It Kill You to Laugh on the TV list is that it absolutely should be a sketch show. Please, Peacock. Give us at least six episodes! —K.V.A.

Read Kathryn VanArendonk’s review of Would It Kill You to Laugh?

Available to stream on Peacock

What We Do in the Shadows, Season Four

Photo: Russ Martin/FX/Copyright 2022, FX Networks. All Rights Reserved.

The challenge of a great sitcom as it moves past its first few seasons is in finding some way to retain all the things people like, but shake up the status quo enough to avoid eternal repetition. In its fourth season, What We Do in the Shadows attacks the challenge from multiple angles. The vampires are opening a new nightclub; their home has fallen into ruin; and the beloved, nightmarish energy vampire Colin Robinson has been reborn as a tap-dancing theater kid (???). Most fascinating, though, is the way the show continues to poke at the relationship between goofy-dumb vampire Nandor and his paradoxically vampire-slaying familiar Guillermo. That experimentation is what makes season four not just a rest-on-its-laurels, continued good time, but one of the best comedies on TV. —K.V.A.

Read Katie Rife’s recaps of the Season 4.

Available to stream on Hulu

The Rehearsal

Photo: Allyson Riggs/HBO

The question of whether Nathan Fielder is a monster or a genius has swirled around The Rehearsal since its meta-experimental premiere episode, “Orange Juice, No Pulp.” Is giving people the opportunity to “rehearse” major moments from their lives a generous move, a way to help exert power over their own choices? Or is making people act out a tense, stressful event over and over again, even if it is ostensibly to prepare for all possible outcomes, its own kind of torture? Fielder has long luxuriated in the fluid space between documentary and fiction (watch any episode of Nathan for You to experience all-body hives brought on by his determined awkwardness), and The Rehearsal takes that approach one step further with the shockingly vast resources at Fielder’s fingertips and the freedom HBO has seemingly given him to do whatever he wants. Build an extremely detailed version of a New York City bar so a guy can practice coming clean to a trivia team member about his educational achievements? Sure! Rent a home for a woman to live in and cycle out various actors posing as her son to determine whether she wants children? Okay! One of the purposes here is to probe at the different standards between how we consider “reality” in our regular, day-to-day lives and how we consume “reality TV,” but even if you were to disregard that very philosophical reading of The Rehearsal, Fielder and the people he has invited into this world will still manage to surprise you with what they reveal and what they obfuscate. It is awesome in the original sense of the word — off-putting and compelling to dueling degrees — and its voyeurism feels a bit like spying on the lies we tell ourselves. You don’t really like The Rehearsal so much as you hand yourself over to it and to the specificity and engrossing oddness of Fielder’s vision. —R.H.

Read Kathryn VanArendonk’s review of The Rehearsal; Lila Shapiro’s profile of Nathan Fielder; and Emma Healey’s recaps of the series.

Available to stream on HBO Max

The Last Movie Stars

Photo: Album / Alamy Stock Photo

A laudatory docuseries about Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward would have been entertaining to watch because, well, we’re talking about Newman and Woodward here, two of the most commanding actors in film history who shared a marriage and life of philanthropy that has been rightly admired. But to director Ethan Hawke’s credit, with The Last Movie Stars, he documents the actors’ lives and careers without shying away from their flaws and regrets. By using the transcripts from interviews conducted for an abandoned Newman memoir and recruiting numerous high-profile actors to read portions of them in character — George Clooney, for example, speaks for Newman, while Laura Linney voices Woodward — Hawke reveals the struggles, jealousy, drinking problems, and deep sense of commitment that defined the Newman-Woodward relationship. In the process, he shows us that there is no such thing as a perfect movie star or a perfect marriage. It’s their imperfections and their ongoing attempts to correct them that makes this attractive pair truly beautiful. —J.C.

Read Kathryn VanArendonk’s review of The Last Movie Stars and Alice Burton’s recaps of the series.

Available to stream on HBO Max

Update: An earlier version of this list included season three of Atlanta based on the season’s early episodes. After seeing the remainder of the season, we have opted to remove it.

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