2022 Television Worth Watching (and some other show, too)

While I don’t see nearly as many movies as I’d like, I do consume massive quantities of television. Forthwith, my favorites from the past year (listed here, then expanded on below).

  • Reservation Dogs
  • Andor
  • The Bear
  • Bob’s Burgers
  • Letterkenny
  • Severance
  • South Side
  • Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
  • Station Eleven
  • Tuca and Bertie
  • What We Do In The Shadows

Reservation Dogs (Hulu)

Though I made a decision not to rank shows, this is the one exception. Reservation Dogs is, without reservation (ha!), my single favorite television show. I eagerly awaited it each week, and was bereft when the season ended. It features a delightful mix of character work, comedy, pathos, mysticism, set in a milieu that is both familiar and utterly foreign. And no show better handles tone and emotion without feeling manipulative. Two seasons in, it’s a weekly revelation.

Andor (Disney+)

All the critical plaudits are dead-on. This is the best piece of Star Wars media since the first movie. (Yes, I think A New Hope is superior to The Empire Strikes Back.) It may also be the best piece of ‘sociological storytelling’ since The Wire. A complex, multi-layered story, it’s told in a matter-of-fact fashion such that you never get lost, and it’s never boring. And a remarkable portrayal of the banality of evil.

The Bear (Hulu)

A standout among the smaller, heartfelt, indie-style television shows. This follows a fine-dining chef who inherits his brother’s short-order Italian beef restaurant after the brother commits suicide. Come for the authentic representation of running a restaurant, stay for the unparalleled acting (very New York-70s-era) and clever filmmaking.

Bob’s Burgers (Hulu)

My family never saw an episode of this until the end of 2021, and it is the single most watched show in our household (usually over dinner). I’ve been awestruck at how they’ve maintained such quality and humor over so many seasons. Every 3 or 4 episodes I laugh harder at this than anything else I watch.

Letterkenny (Hulu)

They drop seasons the last week of every year. We’ve watched a couple from the most recent, but I’m counting the 2021 drop as we watched it at the beginning of the year. And Season 10, Episode 3, titled “Dyck Meat”, may be the hardest I laughed over the course of any half-hour this past year.

Severance (Apple TV+)

A show where the less you know about it the better. If you haven’t watched it, and were wondering if it was worth the investment, well, if you like Kubrickian filmmaking, corporate satire, mystery-box sci-fi, and occasional out-of-left-field absurdity, this is for you. I don’t know if anything *looked* better.

South Side (hbomax)

There may be no sillier show, and you’d be hard-pressed to find more laughs-per-minute. It all clicked for me when I heard its creator, Bashir Salahuddin, compare it to The Simpsons. There’s a main cast of 5-6 folks, and then a menagerie of literally dozens who populate this world, each of them richly drawn, even if only on screen for a minute. The first season is rougher around the edges, and the 2nd and 3rd show sure footing.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (Paramount +)

I was heartbrokenly disappointed by the latest season of Star Trek: Discovery. Everything that made that show interesting was taken away. And the less said about Picard the better. So thank goodness Strange New Worlds delivers, hewing more towards classic Trek and ST:TNG in terms of episodes that standalone, and tonal variety. This show remembers that Star Trek can be fun.

Station Eleven (hbomax)

Released at the end of 2021, and definitely worth inclusion for its lyricism, open-heartedness, and thankful lack of “bad guy.” A meditation on what makes life worth living, told after a pandemic wipes out nearly everybody.

Tuca and Bertie (Adult Swim)

In this house, we stan horny lady birds. Thanks to the magic of animation, this is far and away the most imaginative show. While rewarding paying close attention for all the visual wit on display, it never skimps on emotional depth and honesty. Sad to see it go, but happy that we ever got it in the first place.

What We Do In The Shadows (Hulu)

This is perhaps the most trustworthy sitcom on television. Episode in, episode out, it delivers. If you haven’t started it, you’re in for a treat. This season showcased a somewhat increased budget, best put to use in a brilliant Night Market episode that may be my favorite of the whole series.

Thoughts on other shows.

Only Murders in the Building features in my spousal-watch rotation, a fun and amiable murder mystery.

Rick and Morty, which is somehow on no one’s top lists, still delivers.

Netflix had a number of shows with premise that proved terrible. As a fan of Dark, I really wanted to like 1899, and gave it a few episodes. It’s… not good. A puzzle box that forgot we need to give a shit about the characters to stick around for the mystery. And the less said about Inside Man, created by Steven Moffat and starring David Tennant, the better.

The first episode of House of the Dragon bored me, and given how miserably Game of Thrones ended, I didn’t bother. (I did enjoy Rings of Power just fine, largely for the amazing production design.)

The Peripheral (Amazon), an adaptation of William Gibson’s novel, started strong, and then faded into mediocre melodrama. In particular, the ‘villains’ are just terribly drawn, all mustache-twirling (even those without mustaches) and no sense of motivation.

I’m midway through the second season of Slow Horses (Apple TV+) and liking it better than the first.

All about the bass line

Growing up, one of the staples of household television viewing was Barney Miller, the classic 70s sitcom set in a police station. My dad was an early adopter of the VCR, which he’d use to tape the late-night syndication so that we could watch it with dinner the following day.

We stopped watching BM around the time I reached 12 or 13. I liked the show, even if I didn’t really get all that was going on.

20 years later, I’m rekindling my love for Barney Miller, thanks to it’s daily appearance on the TV Land cable channel. They play the episodes in order, and about a month and a half ago, the cycle came back around to season 1. They’re now just starting Season 3.

It might be an understatement to declare Barney Miller “amazing.” Pretty much from the outset, there was a style of writing and acting that set this apart from any other such work. It’s easy to forget that 95% of all that happens takes place in a single room (and the other 5% takes place in one other room). You’d be hard-pressed to find a more cleverly written episode than “Escape Artist” from season one, with a witty parallel of two men yearning to breathe free (Roscoe Lee Browne’s prison escape artist, and Leonard Frey’s bird man). Or a more heartfelt one than “The Hero”, where Chano deals with his gunning down of two armed robbers, while Harris attempts to set a kid (Todd Bridges, later of Diff’rent Strokes) on the right path. (“You ain’t no brother!”)

Watching Barney Miller conjures mixed feelings. The most obvious is joy at the laughter so easily elicited (yet I’m sure was so difficult to craft). The deeper is a sadness that it’s unlikely that such a production nowadays would get past a “reader” much less have a pilot or a series. This is a show about mostly unattractive men in their 30s to 60s. The setting is dingy. The ethnicities are mixed. The only references to sex are when the occasional hooker is brought in. Yes, it’s a TeeVee show, but it had a certain… authenticity, low-key believability, which you simply won’t find in current productions.

And no one has ever composed a TeeVee theme song as FUN-KAY…