The 15 best TV shows of 2022

By Kylie Northover, Debi Enker, Craig Mathieson, Ben Pobjie, Louise Rugendyke and Melinda Houston

Shows we loved (clockwise from top left): Gaslit, The Bear, Love Me, Severance and Heartbreak High.Credit:Stephen Kiprillis

When it comes to surveying the TV landscape, a best-of-the-year list is no longer an indulgence; it’s become a necessity. IMDB’s feature films and TV series released between January and December 2022 has more than 21,600 entries. As TV critic Craig Mathieson despaired earlier this year, even the task of managing a watchlist has become impossible.

So, how did we come up with the greatest TV hits of 2022? We asked our panel of TV critics to name the best shows – both new and returning – that they’d watched this year. Fifteen shows appeared on three or more of those lists, which we’ve opted to cover in alphabetical order rather than a hierarchy.

What makes this year’s list so interesting is the mix of big, buzzy and (unless you live under a rock) unmissable shows alongside a handful of shows that were barely promoted or written about. It’s both encouraging and revealing that the shows that grabbed our critics’ notice weren’t just the big and noisy ones (conversely, many of the big and noisy shows failed to get mentions), but shows that were discovered or, in the case of returning shows, rediscovered.

So unless you’re across those 20,000-plus shows and movies, this list might also provide some viewing selections as we head into the end-of-year holiday season.

Find out the next TV, streaming series and movies to add to your must-sees. Get The Watchlist delivered every Thursday.

Andor (Disney+)

You’ve been under a rock this year if you haven’t heard about Andor, the show that has had even critics who would normally turn up their noses at a Star Wars property salivating – indeed many have called it the best thing to come out under the SW brand since the original trilogy.

Created by Tony Gilroy, writer of movies like Michael Clayton and the Bourne trilogy, it’s perhaps not surprising that Andor frequently smacks of a classic spy thriller more than a space opera.

The story follows thief-turned-Rebel Cassian Andor – played by Diego Luna – in the years leading up to the events of Rogue One, which was itself a prequel to the first Star Wars film.

In reaching back to the early history of the Rebel Alliance, Andor eschews fan service and the relentless addition to the backstory of familiar characters that has been the hallmark of the average Star Wars TV show, in favour of tense, taut, atmospheric storytelling – that still gets in its share of rousing action scenes and laser blasts in its depiction of rising revolution.

More realistic than any Star Wars story has a right to be, Andor is an outlier in the ever-growing Lucas-verse, but hopefully a sign that the future of the franchise is bright. Ben Pobjie

Breeders (Disney+)

While the first season of this brilliantly dark take on parenting focused mostly on familiar tropes – sleepless nights; awful fellow parents; the dual horror of dealing with kids and ageing parents – it was still a cut above most in its genre.

Centred on Paul (Martin Freeman), his partner Ally (Daisy Haggard) and their kids Luke (Alex Eastwood) and Ava (Eve Prenelle), the series is based on Freeman’s own parenting experiences (he’s a co-creator with Veep‘s Simon Blackwell and actor Chris Addison) which, given Paul is a man who could do with a generous course of anger management classes, is rather a brave thing to admit publicly.

This makes the series even more extraordinary. Especially as things grew much darker in season two (which jumped ahead five years) and this year’s third season, which opened with Paul living at his mother-in-law’s house after his temper and impatience with the troubled Luke came to a head.

This season was the bleakest so far, touching on menopause, kids’ anxieties, middle-age ennui, career crises and infidelity – and yet, it still has some of the funniest lines on TV; nobody delivers a sharp riposte quite like Daisy Haggard. Kylie Northover

Fisk (ABC iview)

This is a two-for-one shoutout, as – shamefully – season one of Fisk was overlooked in our best-of list last year. Thankfully, season two of Kitty Flanagan’s probate-lawyer comedy, returned with all the unapologetic panache of an oversized brown suit.

This year saw Flangan’s Helen Tudor-Fisk find her confidence at Gruber and Associates, settling into a rhythm with boss Ray (a dry-as-dust Marty Sheargold), nemesis Roz (Julia Zemiro in a scene-stealing performance) and webmaster George (a superb Aaron Chen).

Fisk works because the writing is sharp and each character arrives fully formed on the page. The risk with half-hour comedies is that characters don’t grow, but Flanagan revealed Helen’s heart at the end.

That it took years of Flanagan pitching to make Fisk happen is jaw-dropping, but now it’s here, let’s give Helen all the $1 coffee she can drink (or the key to the coffee pod drawer). Louise Rugendyke

Gaslit (Stan*)

The year 2022 was quite the year for retelling familiar stories through the female lens, and one of the best was this fabulous romp starring Julia Roberts. Just when you thought there was nothing left to say about Nixon and the Watergate scandal, Leon Neyfakh’s podcast and a television treatment from Robbie Pickering (Search Party, Mr Robot) turned the whole thing sideways.

Roberts is Martha Mitchell, wife of Nixon’s Attorney General/campaign manager, a force of nature – and the first to blow the whistle on Watergate. Who knew? There are a lot of blokes in this story, from the conservative but well-meaning (Dan Stevens is wonderful as White House counsel John Dean) to the completely kra-kra (Shea Whigham as G. Gordon Liddy).

But what makes this so fascinating – and so very 2022 – is the way it shows us the story that was running alongside the men’s the whole time: Martha, stubbornly, loudly and oh-so-entertainingly ploughing her own row; and Dean’s girlfriend – and then wife – Mo (Betty Gilpin) trying (unsuccessfully) to bring a progressive voice of reason to a situation that any rational person could see was completely nuts. Melinda Houston

Heartbreak High (Netflix)

When Netflix announced the reboot of this beloved ’90s afternoon TV staple, there was worry it couldn’t be pulled off. But what creator Hannah Carroll Chapman and her writing team did was deliver a fresh and funny take on an old favourite that managed to hook in not only a local audience, but a worldwide audience as well.

Viewers came out of curiosity but stayed for the winning performances and the very Australian take on the high school experience (and yes, they said “rack off” as well as a whole lot of other phrases that had this old lady looking at Urban Dictionary).

The whole cast was exceptional, but special mentions go to Ayesha Madon as Amerie, James Majoos as Darren and Will McDonald as Cash. I cheered in the final episode not only for the sweet resolution of a high school crush, but out of relief that they had pulled it off. Bring on season two. LR

Heartstopper (Netflix)

The year’s most wholesome teen drama, this adaptation of British YA author Alice Oseman’s long-running webcomic about blossoming romance between two teenage schoolboys might not have the cool cachet or expletive-laden soundtrack of the controversial Euphoria (it’s British, after all), but its warm depiction of teenage love is much more relatable.

It follows 14-year-old Charlie (Joe Locke), who is already out at school (and regularly bullied for it), who develops a crush on Nick (Kit Connor), a boy in the year above who at first seems the exact opposite of Charlie; a popular rugby player who the girls seem to love. But as Nick and Charlie’s friendship blossoms, Nick wrestles with his sexuality, and Charlie’s best friends Yasmin (Elle Argent), Tao (William Gao) and the bookish Issac (Tobie Donovan) try to warn him off.

With group texts popping up on screen, and animations (love hearts, fireworks) appearing during the more emotional moments, this adaptation is amazingly faithful to its webcomic origins, and features a cast of terrific teen actors – plus Olivia Colman as Nick’s mum. And while it’s mostly very sweet, it’s not unrealistically so – just enough to restore some faith in teenagers. KN

Here Out West (ABC iview)

The Opening Night film at the Sydney Film Festival and a nominee for Best Film at the recent AACTA Awards, this poignant, elegantly crafted portmanteau telemovie arrived quietly on the ABC.

Made up of eight, loosely connected stories written by eight screenwriters, it presents a vibrant mosaic of life in Sydney’s inner-west, focusing on characters from a range of ethnic communities. All of them are dealing with some sort of adversity.

There are parents who’ve been separated from their children or are fighting with them. There are children struggling with or rebelling against expectations. There are migrants endeavouring to honour the traditions of their homelands while battling to adapt to the realities of a more recently adopted country: trying to find work, meet the demands of employers, keep their businesses afloat, and cope with health issues. All manner of compromises are required in order for them to get by.

There’s stress and strain everywhere and, in such an environment, small gestures of kindness assume great significance. Events unfold in unpredictable ways and nothing is overstated. Quietly powerful and deeply affecting, this beautifully judged drama, shaped by a handful of female directors, offers a fresh and distinctive perspective on the melting pot that is modern Australia. Debi Enker

Julia (Binge, Foxtel)

You’d have to be very brave to try and best the wonderful 2009 comedic biopic of Julia Child starring Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci. Even braver, perhaps, to cast a well-known British actress in an iconic American role. But thank goodness showrunners Christopher Keyser and Daniel Goldfarb held their nerve, because the result is sublime.

In fact, that any version of Child’s stranger-than-fiction life worked – let alone two – is remarkable because any performance could so easily tip over into caricature. But Sarah Lancashire (normally the linchpin in dour English crime series and kitchen sink dramas) somehow manages to capture both Child’s enormous joie de vivre, and her great vulnerability – and it’s the combination of those qualities that makes Julia such a joy.

The story is also a cracker, of course: both the unlikely rise to stardom of housewife-turned-French-chef, and the birth of food-on-television. There’s also delightful chemistry between Lancashire and David Hyde Pierce as Julia’s husband, Paul. In the end, though, Lancashire’s Julia is someone you just want to spend time with. If only we’d had the chance to taste her food as well. MH

Love Me (Binge)

I’m in love with Love Me. This six-episode series felt like grown-up TV in a good way. It filled the gap lovers of Australian romcoms have been screaming out for since the end of Offspring and Love My Way.

Bojana Novakovic and Bob Morley sizzled as the central couple Clara and Peter, while you just wanted to give William Lodder’s character Aaron a good shake. Not only did Love Me do what it said on the box, but it was a delicate examination of the way grief can affect family members in different ways.

Watching Hugo Weaving unfold from the put-upon widower Glen into a man with confidence was something special and a reminder of how powerful he is on screen in his quietest moments (although I may never recover from seeing his bottom).

Heather Mitchell continued her stellar run of top-shelf roles as Anita, the woman helping Glen find his mojo. And a tiny shoutout to Colin From Accounts, another excellent Australian romcom that started too late for our list, but was exceptional. LR

Minx (Stan)

All hail Jake Johnson. Sure, almost everything about this porn-based comedy (stay with me) is beautifully done – but it all would have fallen to pieces if not for Johnson. Ophelia Lovibond is certainly the star as Joyce, a young, serious-minded feminist in 1970s LA who ends up creating America’s first erotic magazine for women. And there’s an awful lot to love about Minx’s insights into and wholehearted celebration of female (hetero) sexuality.

But it’s Johnson – who’s been bumping around for a while now in second-banana roles, notably as Nick in New Girl – who takes Minx to the next level. He plays Doug, a low-rent porn publisher with some very dodgy business connections, who ends up championing Joyce’s projects.

Thoroughly unreconstructed, and with an eye firmly on the bottom line (or sometimes just bottoms) he could have come across as an absolute creep. But whatever kind of character he plays, Johnson manages to imbue them with enormous humanity, and that’s the secret to Doug’s appeal. He’d never call himself a feminist. But he is definitely a humanist – and a wonderful role model for modern men everywhere. MH

Mystery Road: Origin (ABC iview)

Shifting back in time to depict the early days of police detective Jay Swan, this absorbing origin story reinvigorates a series that was starting to sag. Playing the younger version of Aaron Pedersen’s troubled yet effective Indigenous police detective, a perfectly cast Mark Coles Smith brings a more youthful energy and lightness to the lawman.

Introduced in Ivan Sen’s 2013 movie, he’s since featured in a second film and two TV series. While drawing on the mood and mannerisms established by Pedersen as the roaming lawman, Coles Smith brings a vigour that might’ve been present in Swan before events in his life and work hardened his emotional armour.

Back in his remote Western Australian hometown of Jardine, he’s investigating a series of robberies while renewing his relationship with his estranged father (Kelton Pell) and recalcitrant brother (Clarence Ryan). At the same time, he’s learning more about Jardine’s ugly past, dealing with its corrupt present and tentatively pursuing an interest in nurse Mary Allen (Tuuli Narkle). As ever, Swan is caught between his job and his community. By going back to its future, Origin, directed with a cinematic eye by Dylan River, makes us want to see more of Jay Swan. DE

Severance (Apple TV+)

A company finds the ultimate solution to the problem of work-life balance: surgically split its employees’ consciousness into two entirely separate segments, so that when at work they have no memory of their home life, and when they go home they have no idea what they do at work.

It’s the perfect setup for a heavy-handed satire of late capitalism but becomes so much more. The satire is there, certainly, but it is woven into a stunningly realised dystopia, where meditations on free will, questions about what makes a human a human, and disturbing speculations on the nature of the mind are all nested within a dark mystery as chilling as any conventional horror.

Just what the hell is going on at Lumon, and whether its workers, with their bifurcated consciousness, can ever find out, is a riddle that unspools itself with unnerving yet irresistible menace. With echoes of Orwell and resonances of Gilliam, superb writing and performances from a cast led by Adam Scott – who hits the greatest heights of an already-brilliant career – Severance is a work of rare intelligence, tension and even beauty.

More than anything, in a world stuffed with remakes, reboots, re-imaginings and sequels, creator Dan Erickson and director-producer Ben Stiller have produced something proudly, vibrantly, original. BP

Slow Horses (Apple TV+)

Skilfully adapted from the first of Mick Herron’s series of wonderfully witty Jackson Lamb spy novels, this eight-part thriller opens with River Cartwright (Jack Lowden) in hot pursuit of a suspected terrorist when things go awry. But, as is the way of this assured, surprising and sometimes very funny espionage drama, appearances can be deceptive.

Occupying the opposite end of the spy spectrum from jet-setting James Bond, its focus is a neglected backwater of MI5 presided over by the grubby, flatulent Jack Lamb (Gary Oldman, terrific as always), once a revered agent, now a cranky and disinterested time-server. He oversees the pejoratively nicknamed Slough House, a dumping ground for the intelligence service’s rejects and outcasts to which the indignant Cartwright is exiled.

As the ambitious young operative seeks redemption, there’s a headline-grabbing hostage situation unfolding and the “slow horses” of Slough House scramble into action, to the displeasure of inscrutable MI5 second desk, Diana “Lady Di” Taverner (Kristin Scott Thomas at her icy best). As a Christmas bonus, Dead Lions, featuring the further exploits of the slow horses, has recently landed. DE

Somebody Somewhere (Binge)

HBO routinely produces blockbuster television series such as Mare of Easttown, White Lotus or House of the Dragon, but you can make the case – quietly, without pretension, just like the show itself – that the best series it aired in 2022 was this tiny comedy about the struggle to know where you belong in the world.

Bittersweet but never portentous, low-key but always genuine, Somebody Somewhere charted the return of forty-something Sam (Bridget Everett) to her hometown of Manhattan, Kansas, where it’s safer for her to busy herself with the struggles of her ageing parents than to take stock of what’s become of her life.

Sam’s budding friendship with her work colleague Joel (Jeff Hiller), a gay man dedicated to his Christian faith, gives her a road back, starting with the unofficial gig and LGBT mixer he runs at his church (Everett is also a gifted singer). But redemption is neither straightforward or triumphant in Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen’s show – there are everyday follies, casual missteps, and genuine setbacks to endure.

Changing your life for the better exposes you to more jeopardy than staying hidden away, but Somebody Somewhere makes clear how the reward joyously outweighs the risk. Craig Mathieson

The Bear (Disney+)

Set inside the kitchen of a Chicago sandwich joint where chaos was somehow an ingredient essential to surviving another day, The Bear was an almighty antidote to the cult of the superstar chef and a workplace dramedy where the drama and the comedy were equally bruising.

Returned from years of acclaim in Michelin-starred restaurants, Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White) tries to impose order on his late brother’s family restaurant even as he struggles to hold himself together. The feeling that everything could suddenly collapse – a business, a relationship, your will to go on – was palpable in the debut season of Christopher Storer’s outstanding show.

The tension was excessive, whether it was in a busy shift or Carmy’s relationship with a sous chef, Sydney Adamu (Ayo Edibiri), trying to reconcile her boss’ sublime cooking with his flawed personality.

In its confined sense of space and ticking-clock urgency, the narrative created a genuine sense of people faltering under pressure. The seventh episode, mainly shot in a single thrilling take, reached a nightmarish crescendo, while the eighth episode was a finale marked by empathy and dedication. The Bear brilliantly held everything together. CM

* Stan is owned by Nine, the owner of this masthead.

Find out the next TV, streaming series and movies to add to your must-sees. Get The Watchlist delivered every Thursday.

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