I know what you’re all thinking – one year, he’ll decide not to write an epic end of year TV blog post and just keep his opinions inside his body.
Maybe, but not yet!
So here we go with the eleventh instalment, and the pasted list…
So what kind of year has it been?
I spent a lot of 2021’s TV chart apologising for failing to keep up with many recent big serious TV shows and retreating into familiar series and comedies, but I think I broke out of that cycle this year. As you’ll soon see, I’ve caught a fair cross-section of this year’s telly, including many of the big new shows.
So many of them, in fact, that a lot of old favourites have been crowded out. Our old buddy Stats Corner becomes increasingly redundant as long-running continuing shows become rarer in my viewing, or struggle to compete with the new upstarts. But there’s enough to keep it for now.
Despite keeping up with many of the latest launches, I inevitably missed a few – the most conspicuous ones which might’ve stood a chance of making the list are probably Our Flag Means Death (because it’s not showing legally in the UK til January 2023) and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (because I am too cheap to subscribe to Paramount Plus). One day, readers.
But still, there’s plenty to talk about, starting with…
#10 – We Own This City
I watched The Wire in full for the first time a few years back and got quite into it, including reading two of creator David Simon’s huge journalistic books about crime in Baltimore. (Specifically The Corner and Homicide, both of which are very good if you’re so inclined.)
So I was excited to see him back with new mini-series We Own This City, returning to the streets of his favourite Maryland city in the modern context of riots against the police and the election of Trump. And although it wasn’t quite an epic at the level of The Wire, it was unmistakably an important, stirring and, inevitably, depressing work about law enforcement and the depths it can sink to. There’s a couple of big twists that absolutely kick you.
Perhaps because it’s based on a true story, the show doesn’t get into deep character work in the same way as The Wire, which may be why it didn’t resonate with me as hard, but it’s definitely compelling, a worthy thematic epilogue to that classic series, with a strong anchoring performance by Jon Bernthal. Didn’t see enough chat about this one, check it out.
Stats Corner – Despite my enjoyment of David Simon’s work, this is his first appearance on this list. First of two HBO shows, and here comes the second…
#9 – Westworld
I’ve enjoyed over-complicated cowboy-robot mystery scifi drama Westworld a lot over the years, but increasingly felt a little alone in this. And sure enough, a few months after they aired this fourth season, HBO announced there would not be a fifth.
A shame, as the fourth year was a good one for me after a slightly disappointing third, coming back to a lot of the fun secrets and intelligently contrived storytelling which worked so well back in the beginning. There’s a twist around halfway through the run which absolutely just kills. It was always going to be on this list just for pulling off that swerve.
The second half of the season maybe flags compared to the first, but still, they give the storyline a somewhat-ending, as if they knew getting that fifth and final year might not have been a certainty. Some comfort for we longtime viewers, but it’s hard not to feel a little disappointed.
Then again, given the extensive stories online about corporate turmoil at Warner Brothers/HBO and shows being cancelled to write off for tax (they’re now pulling Westworld itself off their streaming service, potentially to avoid paying residuals), maybe it’s not a huge surprise that they didn’t renew this expensive-looking series with a cast of movie stars.
Stats Corner – A rare long-runner here, as Westworld has placed all four of its seasons here, ranking #2 in 2016, #3 in 2018, #10 in 2020 and finally #9 this year. So at least it’s a climber.
#8 – Ghosts
The opposite of a climber, here’s last year’s #1 – the excellent BBC sitcom Ghosts, about a couple trying to get on with their life while living in an incredibly haunted house. This year, they’re opening part of the estate up as a B&B. Let’s see how that goes.
This is another strong showing from the team, bringing back everything you loved from the show, and to be honest, the primary reason it’s dropped this far down the chart is my mood shifting towards big serious dramas this year, as discussed above.
I suppose once a sitcom reaches year four, there’s an inevitable familiarity to the jokes, but even if we all know the deal with Ghosts by now, I don’t think the quality has dropped off too hard. The last episode this year especially was a glorious work of farce.
Excited to see how they keep it up in the fifth run – and yes, also curious about the American version which they’ve now added to BBC iPlayer, though I’ve not yet managed to watch it.
Stats Corner – Last year’s #1, as I said. As often happens, I discovered a show a few years into its run, binged all three seasons and it explodes up to #1.
#7 – Yellowjackets
Technically, most of Yellowjackets’ first season aired in 2021. But the final episodes slipped into this year (in both US and UK), and that’s also when I watched it, so here it is in my top ten. Not as if the second season has arrived yet.
This, of course, is the cult favourite new show about a high school girls’ football (well, “soccer”) team whose plane crashes in the wilderness while flying to a tournament, leaving them no choice but to go full Lord of the Flies, with added horror-tinged Satanic vibes. The incident took place in the 90s, and the show flips between a present-day timeline, with the older women struggling with their horrific past ordeal, and lengthy flashbacks to their teenage selves experiencing it in real time.
This is a silly but compulsive mystery show, which definitely has the potential to vanish up its own arse in the style of Lost, but for now, they’re keeping on top of it. It helps that the cast, especially for the older versions of characters, is full of great performers who are just fun to watch. Christina Ricci’s Misty is the big scenestealing part, but everyone’s doing good work here.
And yes, I want to know who did the cannibalism. I’ll be watching the second season, possibly week by week as it airs. I’m only human.
Stats Corner – Got nothing for this, I don’t think? Although I can tell you that the last show with an insect in the title was Fleabag in 2019.
#6 – Peacemaker
A direct spin-off from James Gunn’s 2021 movie The Suicide Squad, Peacemaker follows the titular character, played by John Cena, as he grapples with the ethical limitations of his mission to bring about peace through the medium of mass slaughter, while also digging into the circumstances which shaped it.
This kind of low-level black ops superhero story has been done to death on TV, mostly because it’s the obvious way to make something cheaper than the movies. But Peacemaker does a great job of it here, with a well-judged combination of dark, absurd humour and surprisingly touching emotional sincerity which James Gunn’s always handled well in his mainstream work.
The big difference here, of course, is that he’s got a higher age rating to play with, so there’s the added bonus of swearing and extreme comedy violence alongside the nicely deployed music drops. It may not change any lives, but it’s a tightly paced action drama which kept me rivetted throughout, with good characters, genuinely funny jokes and one of the best intro sequences in recent TV history.
Will Gunn have time to run a second season now he’s been promoted to co-master of the entire DC enterprise? No idea, but if this ends up being the only one, it works as a standalone story.
Stats Corner – The only comics adaptation on the list. Yes, you can tell I’ve had time to watch a lot of well-reviewed premium telly when all the superhero stuff gets relegated to the honourable mentions. Oh, and The Suicide Squad was my #1 movie last year in my list on the podcast, so I guess I was always gonna like this.
#5 – Severance
What if you could split your personality in two and have a separate self who went to work and did your job, without ever needing to experience any of it? Does that count as “quiet quitting”?
That’s the question posed by Severance, the mystery drama from Apple TV, focusing on a group of mind-split workers at a strange cult-like corporation, whose work-selves (or “innies”) are performing incomprehensible data processing tasks while their home-selves (or “outies”) remember none of it.
Funnily enough, questions soon emerge about why they’re doing this and what the hell is going on – to be honest, this and Yellowjackets share a similar high concept mystery subgenre and although I enjoyed both, I found Severance’s wrenching character moments and surreal twists slightly more compelling. But it’s a tight race this year, these are all good shows, check them all out.
Stats Corner – First Apple TV show ever on these lists. I also watched Ted Lasso, Dickinson and Mythic Quest this year and they are all good too, but didn’t release any episodes in 2022. (Except Mythic Quest which I just haven’t managed to catch up on yet. Okay, there’s another omission.)
#4 – Andor
Not much big franchise stuff this time, but I’m making an exception for the surprise IP hit of the year – Andor from the Star Wars division, a prequel series to the extremely good Rogue One movie exploring how supporting character Cassian Andor got involved with the Rebellion.
Yes, an obscure choice to build a show around, but who cares when it’s done this well? While many Star Wars spin-offs seemed happy to focus on cameos or continuity patching, Andor dug into the real implications of living under a galactic Empire and just how shit it must be, then asked what it would take to get people to crack.
Paced out in several short storylines over the course of a longer season, building a wide range of characters with different perspectives on what it means to resist and how much they’ll risk, the Disney corporation bring us an incredibly (and frankly, surprisingly) thoughtful, detailed portrait of fighting back against a crushing monolith. Also the heist in episode 6 was one of the best action sequences in recent Star Wars history.
Stats Corner – First Star Wars series on the list ever, the only Disney+ show this year.
#3 – Derry Girls
Yes, a second UK sitcom on the list. Truly, comedy is all we’re good for.
Of course, Northern-Irish teenage girl retro-comedy Derry Girls is widely regarded as one of the best sitcoms of recent years, and here it comes to bow out after a few good runs like all the classic ones do, ducking off screen while we’re still applauding and before the jokes have time to go stale.
Mission accomplished, then – they go out on a high here. The final extra-length episode covering the Good Friday Agreement especially is a masterpiece, balancing the comedy and real emotion & importance of it with extreme deftness. And the series beforehand is another good one too, including a fun flashback episode taking us back to the youth of the girls’ parents. Great series.
Stats Corner – I think Derry Girls has featured on the honourable mentions at least once but here it is on the main list. Another beneficiary of the make me cry and get a good review rule.
#2 – The Bear
Exploding out of nowhere onto many people’s Best Of Year lists, The Bear is an intense drama series about working in a kitchen and getting yelled at, while also processing your personal issues. Angrily.
The beauty of this show, ultimately, is the surprising sincerity of it. After only a few short half hour episodes, I was impressed just how attached and familiar I felt with the whole ensemble, and some of the later events of the season, when things start to go properly off the rails, are proper heart-in-mouth viewing.
I made a remark just now about getting a good review if you make me cry, and this show puts you on the edge of a tearful meltdown for enormous chunks of time. There are also some good jokes and uniformly great acting. Enjoyed this show a huge amount. Part of me doesn’t even care if they ever do more, I felt like I’d really experienced something just watching this.
Stats Corner – Oh, I don’t know. First cooking-related show on the list?
#1 – Better Call Saul
Ah yes, the Breaking Bad prequel, the little lawyer show that could. After hovering around these charts for a few years, here’s Better Call Saul at #1 to mark its excellent final season.
There have been times in the past few runs of this show where I’ve felt the storylines have meandered or felt too self-indulgently prequelly, which kept it short of the top, but the last run was a masterpiece front-to-back. From the epic long con that makes up the early episodes, to the disastrous consequences and, of course, the heartbreaking black and white coda to resolve the entire show, dancing between the Breaking Bad raindrops. They barely put a foot wrong this year, and I was on edge every week.
Stepping nimbly between lawyer show and crime show, blending its two sides in a way that felt seamless and thrilling after a few years of them staying more separate, Better Call Saul paid itself off fully. The tragic end of Nacho’s storyline, which would probably have been the highlight of the season for many shows, almost gets overshadowed by the greatness of what follows. Lead actors Bob Odenkirk, Rhea Seehorn and Michael Mando deserve shovel-loads of kudos for the work they’ve done here, along with the rest of the cast, writers and crew.
Genuinely tempted to spend 2023 rewatching Breaking Bad now.
Stats Corner – Breaking Bad was #2 in 2012 and #1 in 2013 back when I started this chart, then Better Call Saul embarked on a journey from #5 in 2017, to #7 in 2018, climbing to #4 in 2020 before finally ascending to the top this year.
A big, busy year, and as well as the great shows on the list, I could probably bang on about the entries I cut out for ages. But I’ll try and control myself.
As I said, not many superhero shows in the top ten this year, but for the record, Ms Marvel gave us strong teen hero origin fundamentals, while She-Hulk tried some more interesting things, albeit a little inconsistently. And bloody subversionfest The Boys also had a decent year, though I am starting to feel like it’d be nice to feel more genuine change and forward movement.
And they cancelled my beloved Legends of Tomorrow on a cliffhanger! The final season didn’t quite make the top ten, but it went out fun.
Of course, The Sandman adaptation was also better than it had any right to be. I thought that one might be unfilmable but am happy to be proven wrong.
Elsewhere on Netflix, I enjoyed the latest season of Stranger Things a fair amount, despite the gargantuan episode lengths.
Oh, and I liked House of the Dragon a lot too. And The Peripheral. And Only Murders In The Building. Truly just an embarrassment of riches this year.
Alongside all that, I finally finished my ineligible viewing project of classic series The Americans, the retro spy show about KGB agents undercover as a suburban couple. It’s a thoughtful, epic character study about politics, espionage and the moral compromise they heap upon you. Fantastic story. Watch all six seasons of that as well.
Lot of homework in these posts, isn’t there?