Public Media Arts Hub

Critics look back on the standout TV shows of 2022


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Judy Woodruff: TV might be the most popular American pastime. One study shows that, on average, 55 percent of Americans spend one to four hours each day watching TV, and 22 percent watch four or more hours each day.

And, to be sure, 2022 has been an intriguing year for series and shows, with a bumper crop of choices.

Jeffrey Brown looks at the year in TV for our arts and culture series, Canvas.

Jeffrey Brown: No one can possibly watch everything broadcast in streaming these days, but we have two critics who do their best.

They join me now, Lorraine Ali of The Los Angeles Times, Eric Deggans of NPR.

Welcome back to both of you. Nice to see you.

Lorraine, why don't you start? Give us two or three of your top picks of the year.

Lorraine Ali, The Los Angeles Times: Well, my top pick is "Severance."

And it is a dystopian kind of workplace nightmare, psychological thriller on Apple TV+. It follows the employees of this mysterious place called Lumon Industries.

Adam Scott, Actor: I give consent to sever my memories.

Lorraine Ali: And these employees can have their personalities severed. One-half of you goes to work. The other half goes home, and they do not remember one another.

And so all sorts of kind of mysterious things happen within this bifurcated world. It is thrilling, but it is also incredibly eerie and creepy. And it will make you feel really good about your own workplace, because, like, there's nothing that could be this bad.

Jeffrey Brown: Well, we all -- everybody needs that. That sounds good, yes?

Lorraine Ali: I really love "Pachinko." And it is a drama, Apple TV Plus+ again.

And it is about a Korean family, four generations, and following them from the Japanese occupation all the way through to the immigration to America, beautifully shot. And it's the women that really push the story forward. And I think that is, like, one of the best dramas of the year.

I would also like to bring up "Wednesday," which is a dark comedy on Netflix, and it follows Wednesday Addams, yes, of the Addams Family, played by Jenna Ortega. This comes from the mind of Tim Burton. And it is just fantastic in so many ways, dark, sarcastic. It really captures this teen angst through Wednesday Addams and is really kind of the teen drama or the teen comedy I wish I had when I was in high school for all us girls that, like, didn't really fit in because we weren't perky enough.

Jeffrey Brown: All right, Eric, can you top that?

Eric Deggans, National Public Radio: I don't know if I can top that. I'm not going to try to top Lorraine, because, first of all, I'm going to cosign on "Severance." I love that show.

My top is going to be "Better Call Saul," the AMC series and a spinoff from "Breaking Bad" featuring sort of the origin story of the sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman. The people who made "Breaking Bad 'really perfected their storytelling techniques on "Better Call Saul." And they created this story that told us about the making of this character and also what happened after "Breaking" -- after the events of "Breaking Bad," when the cops would have descended on this meth-making operation, and Saul Goodman had to go into hiding.

Very subtle, very sophisticated, and also a way of sort of going back and rewriting some of the story of the other "Breaking Bad" characters. So of that show.

I am a "Star Wars' and "Star Trek" nerd, so I want to talk about a show from the "Star Wars" universe called "Andor," which is a show starring Diego Luna as a Rebel leader that we also saw in the movie "Rogue One."

And, again, this is sort of his origin story, how he came to be part of a Rebel Alliance that would challenge the evil empire from the "Star Wars" movies, and, indeed, how that rebel alliance actually was formed. It's about these people seeing a fascist government slowly take over a representative government and how that Rebel Alliance forms to resist it.

And there's a lot of -- there's a lot that can speak to today's times, I will just say.

And then my third one would be "Abbott Elementary," which is just an amazing comedy on ABC about a young teacher in Philly schools, a Philly elementary school, jokes every five seconds, and they're all funny. The characters are amazing. And it's a show that has three substantial parts for women of color, for Black women.

And they're all different, and they're all dynamic, and they're all essential to the story, which is something you rarely see in network television.

Jeffrey Brown: Lorraine, is there one that you just felt was overlooked and you find yourself still telling -- wanting to tell people at the end of the year, you got to go back and look at this?

Lorraine Ali: I'm so glad you asked, because I love "The Serpent Queen."

Actress: Never trust a single soul.

Lorraine Ali: Historical drama that was on Starz and starring Samantha Morton.

And it follows the 16th century ruler Catherine de' Medici. And, essentially, she's gone down as a villain in history. She gets to tell her own story and explain how she became the woman that she is and how she gained so much power.

Samantha Morton is just captivating. It takes this historical drama, but it also has this overlay that is really gritty and really raw and very punk rock. And I just love it. I cannot recommend it enough.

Jeffrey Brown: I want to end by asking about something we have been talking about over the years, about prestige television, and then pandemic viewing.

And there's a lot of big questions now, I think, about where we're at, about the viability of creating new programming.

Lorraine, is there plenty more to come? Is that your sense? Or is the era of peak TV over?

Lorraine Ali: I haven't seen that. I see plenty of great content out there. There's more this year than it was there year before, than there was the year before that.

I don't see a drop in the quality. I see much more creativity. There's so much out there. It's challenging. Each production is challenging the other to up the quality. And so I don't see that we're at a place where, uh-oh, we have used up all the creativity we have had. I think we're in a great place. And I see more to come.

Jeffrey Brown: Eric, what do you see?

Eric Deggans: What I see is that streaming, which has fueled a lot of this, is moving from its infancy into its adolescence.

The era of a "House of the Dragon"- or a "Rings of Power"-level series, where they spend tens of millions of dollars on every episode, that is going to happen less than less,. We're going to see a little less content, because Wall Street is starting to question whether it makes sense to spend all this money on these platforms that may never make money.

And there's also a sense that there's only going to be two or three big platforms that really emerge as profitable winners when the dust settles. And so there's a fight on between Netflix and Disney+ and Amazon and HBO Max, the major contenders. Who are going to be among the two or three or maybe four that survive all of this?

And then, if you're smaller, how do you get bigger, so that you can be among those that survive? We're going to see a lot shake out in the next year. Consumers can't keep up with it. And Wall Street can't justify spending the money to make all those shows.

Jeffrey Brown: All right, Eric Deggans of NPR, Lorraine Ali of The Los Angeles Times, thank you both again.

Eric Deggans: Thank you.

Lorraine Ali: Thank you.

Judy Woodruff: I'm taking notes. I'm going to go watch all of those in coming days.

Support Canvas

Sustain our coverage of culture, arts and literature.

Send Us Your Ideas
Let us know what you'd like to see on ArtsCanvas. Your thoughts and opinions matter.