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The 10 best TV shows (and three best dance sequences) of 2022

Quinta Brunson in “Abbott Elementary,” Minha Kim in “Pachinko,” Rhys Darby and Samson Kayo in “Our Flag Means Death.”
(Illustration by Mel Cerri / For The Times. Photos by Prashant Gupta/ABC; Jake Giles Netter/HBO Max; Apple TV+)
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This year was supposed to be the year that television nosedived into a creative slump. Worriers theorized that the darkest days of the pandemic had disrupted so many productions that there’d be nothing left worth watching by the time 2022 rolled around: Think of it as the entertainment equivalent of those half-stocked shelves at Target and Walmart.

Thankfully, that tragic prophecy did not come true. Excellent returning series included “Never Have I Ever,” “Reservation Dogs,” “Stranger Things” and the sendoffs of “Better Call Saul” and “Better Things.” But for the sake of time and bandwidth, my top 10 list is limited to new series — and one small dedication to dance numbers. There was no better year to cut loose and celebrate the fact that we’d made it through the worst of times (fingers crossed) and that the good television didn’t dry up with the rest of the supply chain.

‘Our Flag Means Death’ (HBO Max)

A dandy pirate in a turquoise coat and his shipmate on the high seas
Rhys Darby, left, and Samson Kayo in “Our Flag Means Death.”
(Jake Giles Netter / HBO Max)
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Set in the 1800s, this wonderfully oddball comedy follows gentleman-turned-pirate Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby) and his crew aboard the Revenge as they try to make a name for themselves as feared swashbucklers. But terrorizing and pillaging doesn’t come easy to this sensitive crew of misfits, even after they team up with the notorious marauder Blackbeard (Taika Waititi). High jinks on the high seas ensue, as does an unlikely romance. This surprisingly endearing series from David Jenkins is inspired by the true story of seafarer Bonnet, who sailed with Blackbeard during the Golden Age of Piracy. But their tender relationship — and the crew’s misadventures — are an impressive feat of the imagination.

We surveyed The Times TV team to come up with a list of the 75 best TV shows you can watch on HBO Max. And yes, your disagreement is duly noted.

‘Severance’ (AppleTV+)

A woman stares at a monitor with two men standing behind looking over her shoulders.
Zach Cherry, left, Britt Lower and John Turturro in “Severance” on Apple TV+.
(Wilson Webb / Apple TV+)

Want to feel better about your job? Watch this psychological thriller about a dystopian workplace and you’ll realize how good you have it. Unnerving and wildly entertaining, “Severance” is set inside the antiseptic offices and hallways of the enigmatic Lumon Industries, where employees have had their memories surgically divided between their work and personal lives. The procedure is voluntary, of course. Or is it? It’s hard to say in this bifurcated drama, but when severed manager Mark (Adam Scott) starts asking questions he uncovers a web of conspiracy that spans both sides of his life. A stellar cast (Christopher Walken, John Turturro, Patricia Arquette, Britt Lower and Tramell Tillman) and the direction of Ben Stiller ensure you’ll never want to clock out of this creepy workplace drama.

The Jan. 6 committee hearings

A blond woman wearing glasses sits behind a nameplate that says Ms. Cheney.
Former Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) delivers remarks during a hearing of the House Select Committee.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Insurrection is never entertaining, but the House of Representatives’ investigation into who was behind the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the Capitol was hands down the most riveting drama of 2022. The expertly produced series of hearings, broadcast live across multiple platforms — including in prime time — presented the public with findings from the committee’s detailed investigation, organized into a clear and persuasive narrative. The hearings cut through the lies, conspiracy theories and political theater around the Big Lie, revealing a cabal of Trump lackeys bent on stealing the 2020 presidential election. Luckily, there was also humor to be found in this tragic story of a democracy gone wrong. From testimony about an allegedly drunk Rudy Giuliani advising the president on election night to declare victory to absurd theories about ballot mules, armies of dead voters and a deceased Venezuelan communist leader conspiring to sink the incumbent, the hearings painted a picture of President Trump that made “Veep’s” fictional Selina Meyer look like a policy wonk. The hearings also gave us the Best Badass moment of the year: behind-the-scenes footage of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi when the Capitol was under siege. Sequestered in a room with other members of Congress, she took charge, calling for backup and advising Vice President Mike Pence of the threat while unwrapping a Slim Jim with her teeth. Wicked. (Read our full coverage here.)

‘Abbott Elementary’ (ABC)

Two women stand in a grade-school classroom, smiling at students.
Sheryl Lee Ralph, left, and Quinta Brunson in the sitcom “Abbott Elementary.”
(Prashant Gupta / ABC)

Technically this work mockumentary, created by Quinta Brunson, isn’t a wholly new series: Its pilot aired last December before the full Season 1 run picked up in January. But under the rules I just made up, it qualifies. What’s one episode among friends? This ABC comedy stars Brunson as a second-grade teacher at Abbott Elementary, a public grade school in an underserved area of Philadelphia. Despite the lack of funding to buy things like pencils and paper, the teachers are dedicated to enriching their students’ lives. The apathetic principal (played by Janelle James) is another story. “Abbott Elementary” highlights ugly truths about racial and class inequity in the education system, and American values when it comes to education, but it does so with humor and empathy. A panacea for snarky, jaded times. (Read our full review)

We surveyed The Times TV team to come up with a list of the 75 best TV shows you can watch on Hulu.

‘Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey’ (Netflix)

Four women in conservative dresses with their hands behind their backs, standing in a clearing among trees.
Netflix docuseries “Keep Sweet, Pray and Obey” focuses on women in Warren Jeffs’ Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints.
(Netflix)

“Keep sweet, pray and obey” was a motto meant for the women of Warren Jeffs’ polygamist sect, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Their harrowing stories of survival and escape drive this compelling docuseries and chart the rise and fall of a cult leader whose sex crimes against minors led to a life behind bars. His former wives and other FLDS members give first-hand accounts of the methodology Jeffs used to control his followers and convince them that taking multiple child brides was in service of God. This four-part docuseries premiered within weeks of a scripted drama about fundamentalist Latter-day Saints, based on Jon Krakauer’s nonfiction bestseller “Under the Banner of Heaven,” but nothing beats hearing straight from the brave women who helped put a religious extremist like Jeffs behind bars.

‘The Serpent Queen’ (Starz)

A woman wearing a medieval gown and jewelry.
Samantha Morton stars as Catherine de’ Medici in the historical drama “The Serpent Queen” on Starz.
(Starz)

Catherine de’ Medici, the 16th century ruler of France, did the unthinkable for her time: She rose to power in a man’s world. She’s gone down in history as a ruthless villain who did whatever it took to keep her family in power, be it poisoning foes, using dark magic or committing mass murder. But with this series the maligned queen (played by the captivating Samantha Morton) gets to tell her side of the story — and it’s anything but predictable. The Italian orphan’s ascension to power is a vivid and bold tale of survival told by a young version of the queen (Liv Hill) and the steely adult she became. The twee etiquette of the period is putty in her hands. The series, like the queen, is satisfyingly irreverent.

‘Pachinko’ (Apple TV+)

A woman sits in the sunlit part of a darkened room, looking pensive.
Minha Kim stars in “Pachinko,” based on the bestselling novel.
(Apple)

Based on the New York Times bestseller of the same name, this sweeping drama chronicles the evolution of a Korean immigrant family across four generations, from their hardships under Japanese occupation to their new life in America. Female perseverance drives the 70-year saga of resistance, hardship, familial love and assimilation. “Pachinko,” which was made by a Korean team that includes showrunner and writer Soo Hugh and directors Kogonada and Justin Chon, is a study in the successful use of tonal shifts. The mood and look of each episode changes as it moves between the new world and the old, Korea, America and Japan, while 70 years of history are connected by the hopes and aspirations of one far-flung family.

‘The Sandman’ (Netflix)

A person all in black sits in an ornate chair with light filtering through a drape behind.
Tom Sturridge stars in “The Sandman.”
(Liam Daniel / Netflix)

Based on Neil Gaiman’s DC comic book series (1989-1996), this ethereal sci-fi masterpiece follows Morpheus (Tom Sturridge), a personification of dreams. We meet the enigmatic, brooding figure as he’s captured in an occult ritual in 1916 and then held captive for 106 years. On his escape he sets out to restore order to his realm. Each episode finds him contending with at least one of his six siblings: Destiny, Death, Desire, Destruction, Delirium and Despair. It’s no wonder it took decades to bring Gaiman’s vision to the screen. Turning an abstract, complex tale about amorphous entities into a live-action drama is a recipe for spectacular failure. But the 11-part series is a shimmering, magical, moving masterpiece that defies the odds. Added bonus: the statuesque Gwendoline Christie as Lucifer. (Read our full review)

We surveyed The Times TV team to come up with a list of the 75 best TV shows you can watch on Netflix. As in, tonight.

Mo’ (Netflix)

A man in a backward baseball cap with his arm around a man in a cowboy hat on the sidewalk outside stores.
Mo Amer’s Texas roots are as important to “Mo” as his Palestinian ones. He stars in “Mo” with Rutherford Cravens, right.
(Rebecca Brenneman/Netflix)

The undocumented status of a Palestinian immigrant family is rich source material in this comedy from performer Mo Amer. The comedian plays a character named Mo, whose narrative (if you haven’t guessed yet) is loosely based on Amer’s own story. To get by, the 30-something “entrepreneur” sells bootleg designer items out of the trunk of his car as he waits for his green card to come through. But it’s been decades and he’s still “illegal.” It doesn’t help that he lives with his mother and brother in Houston, and feels a responsibility to take care of both since the death of his father. Amer’s comedy is a mixture of belly laughs and painful truths about the immigrant experience and the trauma carried by those who come from war zones.

‘Bad Sisters’ (Apple TV+)

This dark comedy starring Sharon Horgan, Eve Hewson, Anne-Marie Duff, Sarah Greene and Eva Birthistle follows the Garvey sisters, five tight-knit Irish siblings who’d kill for one another. The women’s bond and strength was forged by the premature death of their parents, so when one of them is threatened by the actions of her deceitful, manipulative husband (Claes Bang), the others conspire to kill “The Prick.” Misadventure ensues. But when he’s found dead, the life insurance company suspects foul play by the sisters and their loyalties are tested. Sharp writing, multiple twists and turns, and an undeniable chemistry among the women make this one of the best dark comedies of the year.

Bonus: If you don’t have time to watch an entire series, or even a full episode, find joy in these quirky dance numbers: the satirical dance routine in the title sequence of HBO Max’s superhero parody “Peacemaker”; a competitive dance-off to the tune of “Footloose” in the season opener of Netflix’s “The Umbrella Academy”; and the spasmodic zombie shuffle of Wednesday Addams in Episode 4 of Netflix’s dry-witted, sardonic teen comedy “Wednesday.”

It was another weird year. This is the music, movies, theater, books, television and art that got us through.


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