There are still some big shows to come, but if “Severance” doesn’t top most of 2022’s end-of-year TV roundups, it’ll be a huge surprise. Hugely engaging, beautifully shot and brilliantly acted, this Apple TV+ series arrived with little fanfare (possibly because it’s very much a slow-burner, so reviewers seeing only the first couple of episodes may have been less-wowed than if they’d seen the whole thing), but turned out to be one of the finest shows in years. A dystopian psychological thriller with some heavy doses of black comedy, the show focuses on a group of employees at a mysterious tech giant, Lumon Industries, where they volunteered for a medical procedure that severs their non-work memories from their work memories. Mark (Adam Scott) is the leader of a team that begins to unravel a company conspiracy. “Severance” is disturbing, thought-provoking, funny, moving and wholly original.
HBO’s adaptation of Emily St. John Mandel’s 2014 novel set 20 years after a flu pandemic causes civilization to collapse would’ve made waves whenever it was broadcast. Arriving as it did in the midst of an actual pandemic just gave it an extra edge. Post-apocalyptic shows are rarely uplifting, but this one — which focuses on a group of survivors (and their back stories) who have built new lives as wandering performers (the Traveling Symphony) making an annual round trip to various settlements — contained real optimism about how humanity and culture might prevail when our infrastructure and technology collapses. There is plenty of grim stuff too, mostly caused by a violent cult whose leader is inspired by the (fictional) titular graphic novel. The show is anchored by three superb performances from Himesh Patel, Mackenzie Davies and Matilda Lawler — the latter two playing older and younger versions of the symphony’s lead actress Kirsten. It’s an intense ride with a great payoff.
The so-tense-it-hurts fourth and final season of “Ozark” was a fitting end to a great run. The Byrde family — Marty (a wound-tight Jason Bateman) and Wendy (a captivating Laura Linney) and their kids Charlotte and Jonah — began the season still in over their heads laundering money for a ruthless Mexican drug cartel, but still believing they could get out clean and return to Chicago. The deeper we got into the season, the less likely that appeared. Instead, it was Marty’s former protégé Ruth Langmore (a faultless Julia Garner) who was starting to make the journey to respectability and wealth that the Byrdes so longed for. This was a twisted roller-coaster ride of a final run that left us wanting more — more of the great writing, more of the spot-on directing, more of the stunning cinematography, more of the pitch-perfect acting.
The Eighties-set sci-fi phenomenon continued its ‘let’s-go-darker’ trajectory in its fourth season as the teen heroes faced their most horrific enemy yet: A humanoid demon called Vecna who brutalizes his victims. With three storylines taking place in three different locations (including Russia, where police chief Hopper is incarcerated), this was an ambitious, sprawling story arc from showrunners the Duffer Brothers. But they piled on the tension, the drama, the jeopardy and the thrills for the show’s biggest and best season yet.
Another dark, downplayed crime saga that wound things up this year, “Peaky Blinders” didn’t spare the viewers’ feelings with an unremittingly bleak final season that saw the Shelby family, led by Tommy (the excellent Cillian Murphy), falling apart from grief, trauma, substance abuse, stress, rivalry and more. There was a palpable heaviness to the show — appropriate given that Tommy’s double-dealing constantly placed him in mortal danger, while he and his family threatened the lives and livelihoods of so many others.
A spy thriller with a twist. That twist being: These spies are hapless, disgraced burn-outs. But “Slow Horses” is not a comedy — although it’s very funny in parts, mainly thanks to Gary Oldman’s scene-stealing turn as the foul-mouthed Jackson Lamb, the leader of a gang of British Secret Service outcasts exiled to a tiny, filthy office away from the real action of ‘The Park’ (MI5 HQ in the show). It’s a gritty, fast-paced, twisty tale of power struggles, betrayal and vengeance told with real flair by a solid ensemble cast.
‘Better Call Saul’
There are just a couple of episodes left in this series that began as a prequel spin-off from the much-loved “Breaking Bad” and has gone on arguably surpass that show. Bob Odenkirk continues to excel in the role of a lifetime as the lowlife lawyer Saul Goodman/Jimmy McGill, making out that everything’s great while his life is falling apart, but the stardust in this show is sprinkled, it seems, over cast, crew and creator in equal measure. It’s a show made by an entire team at the top of their game and an absolute joy to watch.
‘Only Murders in the Building’
A show that manages to have its cake and eat it. “Only Murders…” is both a snarky parody of the true-crime dramas and podcasts that are so globally popular and a compelling murder-mystery in its own right. The second season delivers more of what made the first so great, including razor-sharp writing, the stunning design of the sets and costumes, the vibrant cinematography and, most importantly, the chemistry between the central trio: Steve Martin as Charles Haden Savage, Martin Short as Oliver Putnam, and Selena Gomez as Mabel Mora.