Screen Scholars Top 20 TV Shows of 2022: 10-1

After counting down numbers 20 to 11 yesterday, we’re back with our top ten, which has some definite surprises alongside many of the usual suspects among the TV cognoscenti. We’ll start with an innovative sci-fi show that probably topped as many lists as any other this year, but lands at number ten with our Scholars.

10 Severance [Apple TV+] 10

What does it mean to be a human? That’s the central conceit of one of the most mindbending scripted shows of the year: set in an alternate present, some employees of the Lumen Corporation divide their consciousness so that they cannot remember their working hours after they leave. It sounds like an ideal situation until you realize that your “innie” (as they are called in this world) has its own existence where all their time is spent trapped underground. In the first season, Britt Lower’s Helly R. is the reluctant new worker in the sinister sounding Metadata Refinement Dept led by the affable and newly promoted Mark S. (Adam Scott) whose “outie” we see grieving the death of his wife. Zach Cherry’s neurotic Dylan G. and John Torturro’s uptight Irving B. round out the department–the latter becoming enamored with Christopher Walken’s Burt G. It’s an absolute thrillride as the four become restless and hunt through the white-walled, phosphorescent-lit halls try to find out what Lumon is up to and possibly escape their purgatory. – Jason Thurston

9 Rutherford Falls [Peacock] 9

My argument against streaming platforms, of which I have subscribed to many, is that the best shows on television have been relegated to premium tiers. (Kevin Can Fuck Himself is the other ace in my pocket.) Rutherford Falls should never have been canceled–and if it had been allowed to thrive on NBC, where it belonged, it wouldn’t have been. At the very least, we’d have fewer eyes on Yellowstone and its spin-offs, which the series cleverly critiqued, lambasted and canceled in its own universe. Rutherford Falls modernized the half-hour comedy while showing us what the world might be if we allowed ourselves to be smarter, kinder, and more patient. – Katherine M. Hill

8 Atlanta [FX] 8

We knew the end was coming but it still hurts so bad! It’s so hard to say goodbye to one of the smartest shows in contemporary TV. But alas, here we are. Season 4 took us back to the essence, physically back to Atlanta. Fresh off a tour, Earn is making moves to relocate in LA, but the question is what does that mean for Vanessa and their daughter? This is the storyline in the backdrop of the surreal snippets of White avatars, D’angelo and Judge Judy. I love the idea that we are left with the question that maybe this was all a dream and Darius my philosophy boo is at the helm of it all. In terms of finales this left on the perfect note. – Navani Otero

7 What We Do in the Shadows [FX/Hulu] 7

Laszlo is the last immortal being we’d choose as a parental figure, but in a stunning turn of maturity, he chose to raise Baby Colin Robinson while his wife Nadja traveled to Europe. Much of their storyline lampooned and celebrated the struggles of parenthood, including the challenge to get your kid into a good school. It turns out that Baby Colin Robinson’s smashing and smashing and smashing in the basement served a purpose (and it’s not a We Need to Talk About Kevin situation, phew), and suddenly THE BOY was restored to Colin Robinson, who remembers almost nothing about his upbringing, a grim and bittersweet reminder that the moments that impact us may have little significance to the others involved (especially as it pertains to childhood). Of course, Baby Colin Robinson wasn’t raised alone. Laszlo may disagree, but he might not have survived to puberty without Guillermo, who managed Nadja’s nightclub, suffered through Nandor’s wedding, and came out to his biological and loving family. – Katherine M. Hill

6 Wednesday [Netflix] 6

Why bother saying anything about this show which puts The Addams Family daughter into a Hogswart-style school where she’s the outcast among outcasts? It seems like everyone with a Netflix account has seen it. That dance scene, the charming characters flawlessly cast, the monsters, the twists, the turns. Jenna Ortega, you are now an icon. This show may be cold goth but it has a beating heart that pumps red. – Brad Filicky

5 Only Murders in the Building [Hulu] 5

Could Steve Martin’s Woody Allen-esque (minus the ew factor) New York mystery starring himself, his longtime pal Martin Short, and Selena Gomez sustain the charm, and more importantly the storyline, into a second season? Well, not everyone agreed, but we thought the second season of the podcast-within-a-show simply worked and was a lot of fun. We had paternity tests, a glitter bomb, multiple stabbings, a “Brazzos” reboot, a spooky painting that kept appearing and reappearing in weird places, a secret corridor AND a secret elevator, Shirley MacLaine, and a new famous body to kick off the third season. And we are waiting on tenterhooks for that third season to come. – Jason Thurston

4 Ghosts [CBS] 4

The U.S. version of this surprise hit U.K. series about a woman who conks her head and sees the apparitions of those who died on the grounds of her inherited estate continued to defy expectations in a hilarious, and often touching, second season. In spite of an extended cast, all the ghosts managed remarkable growth in the afterlife, even if none of them got “sucked off” (their term for ascending by a white ray of light to heaven). Brandon Scott James’ Revolutionary War soldier finally confesses his love to his former rival. Danielle Pinnock’s boisterous jazz/blues singer learns new clues to her own murder. And Devan Chandler Long’s viking Thorfinn learns his son from his 11th Century Norway days is surprisingly nearby. Meanwhile, we fall more and more in love with our central couple of Sam (iZombie‘s Rose McIver) and Jay (Utkarsh Ambudkar) as they struggle to get their bed & breakfast going through collapsed floors, competitive (swinger) neighbors, and savage Yelpers! – Jason Thurston

3 Abbott Elementary [ABC] 3

Quinta Brunson’s debut sitcom as star and creator found its unique voice from its pilot last December where her eager-if-naive second grade teacher Janine Teagues tries to get a simple rug for her room only to find herself repeatedly thwarted by bureaucracy–and a narcissistic principal played by comedian Janelle James. It was a simple story, but it worked and introduced us to her cast of fellow teachers at the Philly elementary school, led by Sheryl Lee Ralph’s world weary kindergarten teacher Barbara Howard. Ralph won a deserved Emmy this year for the role as did Brunson’s writing. Brunson shines a light on the struggles of both the teachers and students at an underfunded city school while rarely falling into saccharine traps and almost never failing to be uproariously funny. All of the teachers have their strengths and weaknesses and few, even the nerdy, overenthusiastic white teacher and Brunson’s closest colleague or James’ aforementioned “leader”, come across as caricatures. Watching their connections grow stronger as they build gardens, practice dance routines, and go on fraught school trips is often thrilling and downright inspirational. – Jason Thurston

2 The Bear [Hulu] 2

This dark comedy is about a man trying to save his brother’s restaurant because he believes that it can repair the relationship that fractured before his sibling died. But life and grief don’t work that way, and perhaps my navel-gazing is too deep when I say that one of the lessons at The Beef and in The Bear is that success can only happen with the aid of others. (Not because I see so much of myself in Sydney and believe myself to be a savior, but because one of my deepest flaws is the refusal to ask for or accept help.) This deeply moving, tightly executed, and horrifyingly accurate look at the culinary world rocked me to the core. Not because I’ve spent a finite amount of time in professional kitchens, but because it can apply to any workplace. (If you can’t see that, it’s because you’re a contributing member of the team.) What separates The Bear from Kitchen Nightmares is an abundance of grace and heart. There are consequences for yelling at your staff and treating them poorly, and there are rewards for recognizing the value in the people around you, at work and at home. The Bear is prescient because we’ve lost so much in the last three years. Many of us are grieving the loss of our old lives and the country is reckoning with the way it valued its labor. To overlook the lessons at The Beef as anything less than a tidy culmination of what our country has faced would be a tragedy. – Katherine M. Hill

1 Reservation Dogs [FX/Hulu] 1

Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi’s atmospheric dramedy(?) dug deep into the psychelogical crevices of its four lead teens, the members of the titular gang, in its second season. Each character had at least one standalone episode in one of the most well-written seasons of television in recent history. Willie Jack saw spirits as she tried to convince her friends to celebrate their dead comrade Daniel’s wishes as expressed in an old letter. Bear apprenticed with local construction workers, never quite comfortable with their goofball ways, and attended the world’s lamest sympsium. Elora fled the res with new friend Jackie, stole a car, and returned to grieve her grandmother. Cheese had the best episode, winding up in a halfway home supervised by Marc Maron (Maron-ing it up) and with his effortless oddball charm immediately bonded with the rest of the “delinquents.” Even the Keystone Kop-esque Lighthorseman Big had his own showcase in an alternately hilarious and moving episode where he awkwardly tried to impart wisdom before winding up on an inadvertant psychedelic soda trip. And the season culminates with an ill-fated journey to L.A. where White Jesus leads them to the beach and an ending that could have stood as the most mindbending finale, but thankfully the res dogs will be back for a third season. – Jason Thurston

Check out the first half of this countdown here

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