(BBC One/iPlayer) It was excruciating watching social-media obsessive Becky (a brilliant Erin Doherty) persist with a fake identity in order to escape her dowdy life and fit into a glossy, affluent crowd. “Stop!” you wanted to scream at the screen, sick with anxiety that she was about to be found out. But as it became clearer that she was doing this to find out what happened to her old school friend, Chloe, whose life seemed so perfect online, you started rooting for her to continue the charade and get to the bottom of it.
What we said: Chloe is a fierce, fresh sort-of-murder-mystery as keenly scripted as it is paced, and whose many threads are held firmly together by an outstanding performance from Erin Doherty. Read more
Freddie Flintoff’s Field of Dreams
(BBC One/iPlayer) Cricket is still so dominated by the wealthy and privately educated. In this affecting three-parter, the famed cricket player wanted to lift the lid on classism in the game – so he went back to his hometown of Preston to introduce a group of initially suspicious local teens to the closed-off sport. By the end, it was perhaps the most life-affirming documentary of the year.
What we said: Field of Dreams allows the tensions between stardom and selfhood, and Flintoff’s own success and wider social concerns, to be dealt with in a satisfying way. Of course, trying to get a handful of state-school kids into cricket is not in itself a major blow for the levelling-up project. But the sport’s exclusivity is a symbol of a much larger class problem that continues to bedevil British society. Read more
Ellie and Natasia
(BBC Three/iPlayer) Just when the sketch show seemed to be on its way out, Natasia Demetriou and Ellie White delivered a tremendous comedy treat. Despite some sketches being unwaveringly niche, the duo’s writing and committed performances kept us hooked – and the neverending Saturday Kitchen applause skit had us on the floor.
What we said: Ellie and Natasia achieves one of the most elusive goals in comedy: it rings true. To have characters say things you can absolutely imagine people like these saying, exaggerated by a small and very precise amount for comic effect, is a rare joy. Read more
(Disney+) This real-life tale about the Silicon Valley fraudster Elizabeth Holmes – who was the youngest self-made female billionaire in the US, until the rumours started – was anchored by such a remarkable lead performance by Amanda Seyfried that it made Jennifer Lawrence drop out of playing the founder of Theranos in a planned film. As she told the New York Times, “we don’t need to redo that. She did it.”
What we said: Seyfried keeps our attention – even our sympathy – as Holmes’s desperation to make a name for herself and prove that her intelligence and drive are worth something tangible slips further and further into corruption and lies. Read more
SAS Rogue Heroes
(BBC One/iPlayer) Steven Knight’s follow-up to Peaky Blinders was a thrilling, boisterous ride anchored by a terrific cast. Following the exploits of the Special Air Service during the second world war, a trio of renegade soldiers in Cairo hatch a plan to attack Nazi supply lines from the desert instead of the sea. Big and brash, it certainly made for rollicking Sunday night viewing.
What we said: A lot of fun, old boy! Read more
(BBC Two/iPlayer) Hugo Blick’s beguiling western was a stunning tale of loss, love and vengeance beautifully told. It followed Lady Cornelia Locke (Emily Blunt) – a woman out for revenge for the death of her son – whose path to Wyoming collides with pawnee scout Eli Whipp (Chaske Spencer), who is heading home to claim his rightful land. What ensues is a classic wild west adventure, but with a female lead giving the finest performance of her career.
What we said: The English is, simply, not going to be for everyone. But anyone who can endure “a cool execution” is going to find an awful lot to love about this surprisingly brilliant – and funny and tender and interesting and cinematic – show. Read more
(BBC One/iPlayer) Anna Kendrick led the opening season of this underrated series – an anthology of the relationships in her character Darby’s life. This time, William Jackson Harper stepped into the central role of Marcus, a thirtysomething man who navigates dating in New York after getting a divorce. Just as before, his story is told through a tender, funny and occasionally devastating script. Marcus is a good guy but he isn’t perfect; it’s refreshing to see such an honest portrayal of the mistakes men make in relationships. The pandemic episode was particularly close to the bone for anyone who spent time pondering what they really wanted from a partner during those times.
What we said: Love Life is always going to be a deeply romantic series, despite the wobbly routes it takes to get there. That’s part of its appeal, and it does romance impeccably. But it avoids being too sickly sweet, throwing in a touch of realism so all those meet-cutes don’t overwhelm. Read more
(ITV) Jeff Pope’s true-crime drama about the rise of neo-nazism in modern-day Britain was sad, disturbing and all-too true to life. We followed Matthew Collins’ (Stephen Graham) efforts to infiltrate and derail National Action, one of the UK’s most dangerous far-right groups. The show was particularly effective and disturbing in showing how fascism can take in the angry and disillusioned.
What we said: The point of The Walk-In, of course, is that there are no loners. Fascism collects the lonely, the dispossessed and the disfranchised, and gives them a group identity. The numbers swell under the right conditions, which began to align during Brexit and have only ripened, thanks to further impoverishment and pressures … Read more
(BBC One/iPlayer) This comedy thriller co-created by Stephen Merchant returned on sparkling form for its sophomore outing. Our crew of lovable offenders found themselves in even more compromised positions. As the stakes ratcheted up, so did the laughs. A deft balance of humour and genuine danger.
What we said: The thriller element is only half of what makes The Outlaws an upgraded sitcom. We’re really here for the sweet, gentle drama of watching the characters learn that their marked differences are not a problem, as they all share the same secret: they are alone and lost because they don’t know what to do with their lives. Read more
(HBO) After a three-year absence, the hitman with a passion for amateur dramatics returned for his darkest and funniest turn yet. Barry (Bill Hader) is back to what he knows best – contract killing – while his girlfriend Sally (Sarah Goldberg) is hitting it big in the acting world. Things got progressively more shocking and by the end of the series, it was a bona fide chiller.
What we said: It might nominally be a comedy, but it is able to match the intensity of the most propulsive of dramas. This is TV unafraid to plumb the depths of humanity, with a grin on its face. Read more
(BBC Two/iPlayer) You could feel the rage thunder out of playwright Lucy Kirkwood’s script, written during lockdown in response to the murders of women – and yet it remained so articulate, so concise in its message. Zawe Ashton and Hayley Squires were brilliantly cast as the two Marys who go to the police to report the man who attacked them both. Unsurprisingly to most female viewers, the story of what they go through made for an incredibly searing 25 minutes of television. Women are so often told not to get angry, but this served as a reminder that we have every damn right and reason to be.
What we said: Maryland is weeks, months, years, generations of pain and fury distilled into something truly powerful. I would like to see a recording or a script pressed into the hands of every schoolgirl, to arm them for the struggle. And every schoolboy. Because not all men, but more men than you think. Read more
(Netflix) Season by season, the thrilling drug-trade drama got darker and darker – and it wasn’t about to stop for its final series. As Marty and Wendy Byrde desperately looked for a way out of their lives of crime, Jason Bateman and Laura Linney gave their all as one of the most evil TV couples to ever grace our screens. But it was Julia Garner as Ruth who deserves all the awards going.
What we said: Linney’s performance as Wendy is all the more chilling because her face says apple pie, but everything she does curdles into evil. Meanwhile, Bateman’s Marty is a study in how far a pragmatic accountant can go into the depths of wickedness without the strain showing on his face. Read more
(BBC One/iPlayer) Was this the easiest show to tear your way through in 2022? Served up in juicy 10-minute morsels, it followed the lives of Fola (Susan Wokoma) and Josh (Joshua McGuire), who meet on a work trip, have a one-night-stand … then fly home and realise they live directly across the road from each other, with their partners. It sizzled with tension and chemistry throughout. What fun.
What we said: McGuire and Wokoma are both excellent: McGuire is slightly stereotypical but funny as an overthinking nerd who struggles to keep any emotion hidden or under control; Wokoma is even better, with more to play with as a woman whose outward assertiveness masks her vulnerability. Read more
(Apple TV+) The creepiest character of the year rubbed up against the most charming in this tense prison thriller. Taron Egerton played suave con Jimmy Keene, who was deemed so affable by the FBI that he was offered a reduced sentence to head into a maximum security psychiatric unit and try to extract a confession by Larry Hall (Paul Walter Hauser) for the killing of multiple girls. Though it sounded far-fetched, the two-handers were horrifying, affecting – and made all the more disturbing by the fact that it is based on a true story.
What we said: Developed by crime writer Dennis Lehane from James Keene’s 2010 memoir In With the Devil, it stars Taron Egerton as Keene – acquitting himself brilliantly in a part about as far removed from his last starring role as Elton John in Rocketman as it is possible to be. Lehane is a renowned thriller writer and was a writer on The Wire, but this may be his finest work yet. Read more
(BBC Two/iPlayer) As Pamela Adlon’s loosely autobiographical comedy drama came to a close, it did so with its best season ever. This fifth series zipped along at breakneck pace, celebrating the chaotic joy of motherhood in storylines that flitted from moments of delight to the gutpunching cruelty of family arguments when they involve adolescent children. Its passing has left a huge hole in TV comedy.
What we said: It’s a creatively confident style of storytelling, this hectic flickering between characters and conversations and settings, and one that turns the knotty, nuanced emotional palette of the show into gripping entertainment. Read more
Am I Being Unreasonable?
(BBC One/iPlayer) The opening scene of Daisy May Cooper’s comedy-drama was horrendous: a man dying after being stood on a platform and getting his coat trapped in the door of a train. It set the bizarre tone for this story about a woman, Nic, who is secretly grieving the man she was having an affair with. The only person she can rely on is her new friend Jen (Selin Hizli) – who has dark secrets of her own. The series was full of twists, turns, more affairs, unreliable flashbacks, hallucinations, false identities and a cremated pet cat. Yes, it veered off course at points – but it was original, confident, funny and centred on female friendship. It also introduced us to a brilliant rising comedy star: 13-year-old Lenny Rush.
What we said: Cooper remains an absurdly brilliant comic performer who is capable of heartbreaking moments of vulnerability, as she showed in This Country. Hizli is an equally fine actor … And what a gift they have in Rush, who has the comic chops and emotional range of an actor twice his age and the kind of chemistry with Cooper that is an absolute joy to watch. Read more
(BBC Two/iPlayer) By some distance the most jaw-dropping TV moment of the year, this staggering documentary that played out like a wild spy story showed Putin’s nemesis, Alexei Navalny, team up with investigative journalists, phone up the people who poisoned him with novichok – then ask them one by one why they tried to kill him. Unforgettable.
What we said: Like an entertaining but far-fetched espionage thriller. Read more
Frozen Planet II
It’s no bad thing that you know exactly what you’re getting with a David Attenborough series: whether that’s sobbing as a grizzly bear chases a muskox calf that’s lost its parents, or marvelling at a Lapland bumblebee using her furry body to rebuild her colony. This time, however, there was a stronger urgency in its message about how the climate crisis is destroying these animals’ existence, as we saw a starving polar bear that couldn’t hunt seals because of the melting ice.
What we said: This latest offering from the crack team and Sir David accomplishes its goal as effectively as ever; it makes us, in the best way, children again. You cannot stay unengaged, you cannot remain unmoved by the sight of nature in all her glory. Read more
(Channel 4) “I look at you and go dry like sand.” Catherine (Elle Fanning) delivered one of the funniest lines of the year to her husband, Peter (Nicholas Hoult) in the second season of Tony McNamara’s racy, violent, vodka-fuelled period drama about Catherine the Great. As well as the usual witty one-liners and constant shagging, more emotional depths were explored – at one point, you even felt a bit sorry for murderous Peter. The cherry on the cake came in the form of Gillian Anderson, who played Catherine’s mum – and met a hilarious death after a romp with her son-in-law. It’s impossible to sign this off without a “Huzzah!”
What we said: Every scene, every line of Tony McNamara’s script carries its own wicked hedonism: there is always something to enjoy that’s ruder, sillier or sharper than other shows would dare to include. Read more
Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared
(Channel 4) It was a gamble to take a deeply odd YouTube show and adapt its surreal parody of kids’ TV into a half-hour comedy, but Channel 4 made it pay off admirably. A stellar cast including Phil Wang, Lolly Adefope and Edinburgh Comedy award winner Sam Campbell brought uproarious pitch-black laughs to the Technicolor sets and puppets, with episodes just as likely to leave you humming along to catchy ditties about jobs as gawping at grisly skits about death. Like nothing else that aired on television this year – or maybe ever.
What we said: It’s clever, bleak, charming, grotesque and funny. More than that, it is clearly still – just as the original web series was – the genuine, idiosyncratic result of two people’s own vision, one shared off-kilter sensibility and retains the sense that they are, at all times, having fun. Read more
(ITV) At the start of this harrowing but rallying four-parter, Anne Williams (Maxine Peake) waves off her teenage son and his friend to go and watch Liverpool play at Hillsborough. The year is 1989, and we know how the day ends. Peake offers up a quivering performance as a grieving mother who spends 23 years campaigning for the truth to be acknowledged about the death of her son and the other 96 victims of the disaster. TV has surely never made a better case that you should not back down in the fight for justice.
What we said: Peake, an apparently pale, frail presence with fire beneath her skin, is ideal casting. She does the hard yards first, showing us the times when Williams is confused and fallible and nearly beaten by sadness. But by the end of episode one she’s ready to unleash the righteous strength of a working-class woman who has been wronged. Read more
(Disney+) After a year of Disney-produced Star Wars shows that ranged from middling (Obi-Wan Kenobi) to downright ropey (The Book of Boba Fett), hopes were low for this prequel to the Rogue One movie. But its brooding, moody take on the Star Wars world has breathed new life into the TV adaptations. The exploits of rebel hero Cassian Andor (played by Diego Luna) were superbly paced, wonderfully acted, and featured such a lore-lite take on the galaxy far, far away (there’s barely a stormtrooper in sight) that it felt as fresh as George Lucas’ movies once did.
What we said: The comforting nostalgia of the most recent Star Wars series, Obi-Wan Kenobi, has been replaced with something gnarlier. This has more dirt under its nails and colder blood in its veins. Read more
(Netflix) Alice Oseman’s webcomic was adapted into a rare, special thing – an optimistic gay romance set in a British school. After watching rugby boy Nick fall for drummer Charlie, any of the show’s superfans – of which there are millions – will quickly be able to reel off the most heart-palpitating moments from the first series. Which wins out? Snowball fight? First kiss? Nick abandoning the rugby match to take Charlie by the hand? Nick coming out to his mum, Olivia Colman? Fear not, fans: there are at least two more seasons of cuteness to come.
What we said: There is something altogether soothing about the time spent in its company. Read more
(Sky Comedy) This hugely underwatched sitcom was one of the feelgood TV experiences of the year. Its tale of a woman who moves back to her home town in the wake of a family trauma was packed with joy and warmth. The tomfoolery between lead Sam (a wonderfully versatile Bridget Everett) and her new bestie Joel was glorious, as were Sam’s steps towards finding herself within a community and the moments of self-discovery that went along with them.
What we said: Not much happens in Somebody Somewhere, but don’t let that deceive you. This comedy is a stealthy new arrival that doesn’t shout about its charms, but rather lets them unfurl steadily, with surprising beauty. Read more
(Sky Atlantic) One of the finest actors in existence, Sarah Lancashire took the US by storm in 2022 by not only playing, but being the living, brow-mopping embodiment of Julia Child, the cookbook author who revolutionised television with her nascent cookery programme, The French Chef. This drama followed her as she came, used lashings of butter, cracked copious coq puns – and made Americans fall for her even as the (inevitably male) TV executives around her willed her “little show” to flop like a soggy baguette. Furring up your arteries has never been such fun. Bon appetit!
What we said: Julia is about a successful woman’s rise to even more success, against the odds. This is a Mrs Maisel-esque world, in which men tell Child what she can’t do, and she goes ahead and works out a way to do it anyway. Read more
(Netflix) The Duffer Brothers’ sci-fi drama was a cultural force this year. Not only did its fourth season serve up possibly its best episodes ever, its mega-dark, horror-tinged feature-length extravaganzas made headlines after showcasing Kate Bush to a new generation of fans and earning a Metallica song its first ever Top 40 position. No mean feat, especially given that its tearjerking plot was essentially about community trauma.
What we said: Stranger Things now has a supersized dramatic purpose, on the assumption that the 12-year-old viewers who were wowed by season one are now 18 and ready for darker meat. What was once a spooky but essentially cute thriller, in hock to Steven Spielberg, has taken on elements of full-blown horror inspired by The Exorcist and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Read more
(BBC One) Following his appearance in the Fifty Shades trilogy, this twisty thriller set in Australia arrived as proof that Jamie Dornan is still capable of putting in a compelling performance, as his character wrestled with memory loss, assassins and monster trucks. Add in Danielle Macdonald’s show-stealing performance as a gutsy local copper coming out of her shell – plus the adorable relationship that develops between hers and Dornan’s character – and this was a show that wasn’t just packed with action, but which had real heart.
What we said: It’s well worth watching this fun, stylish and confident caper, which has numerous twists up its sleeve and characters to play with. Read more
How to With John Wilson
(BBC Two) Two years after debuting in the US, film-maker John Wilson’s oddly soothing documentary series arrived in a post-lockdown UK when life was back to full-throttle pace. Every episode – how to make small talk, how to improve memory, how to split the check – was an opportunity to check out for half an hour, as Wilson narrated his smart, sweet and sometimes silly social observations illustrated with expertly edited footage he had taken of New York City’s everyday minutiae.
What we said: It is highly original and unusual, and when it finds its sweet spot, it is an empathic and lovely celebration of the characters and eccentricities that make life interesting. I loved it. Read more
We Own This City
(Sky Atlantic/HBO) A Baltimore-based drama about policing was nothing new for David Simon and George Pelecanos, given their work on The Wire. But this limited series, telling the true tale of drug cops who turned criminal, scaled new heights of jaw-dropping nefariousness. Excellent turns from Wunmi Mosaku as an idealistic civil rights lawyer and Jon Bernthal as a crooked cop/ego on legs added up to a gripping, weighty watch.
What we said: Anyone expecting to have their hand held as they are walked through this multi-faceted story may be disappointed. Instead, this six-parter is a sinewy true story of police corruption that drops you right into the thick of the action. Read more
(Disney+) Abbott Elementary was a warm hug of a show, following keen bean teacher Janine (played by creator Quinta Brunson) and her motley crew of colleagues as they navigate their underfunded school in west Philadelphia. It’s a cracking comedy – packed with those deadpan looks-to-camera – but there is plenty of heart as we watch these flawed but ultimately dedicated adults do their best.
What we said: The pace never flags, the character portrayals are note-perfect, the actors’ timing immaculate. And the rapid-fire gag rate, even without the fleeting looks of disbelief, embarrassment or acknowledgment to camera that are the hallmark of the mockumentary, leaves you breathless. Read more
(Apple TV+) Sharon Horgan’s whodunnit got off to a good start – JP (played horribly well by Claes Bang) is dead, and all his sister-in-laws are suspects. Cue farcical flashbacks to the many times bullying JP drove each sister to dream up ways to kill him. All the while, two desperate, broke insurance agents are trying to work out what really happened. This show got better with each episode – as the yearning for our villain’s death grew stronger – finally hitting its crescendo with the most satisfying season finale reveal of the year. But with a cast including Anne-Marie Duff, Sarah Greene and Horgan herself, it was always destined to do great things.
What we said: As an exercise in catharsis, Bad Sisters is wonderful. It is also superbly constructed, perfectly paced and brilliantly performed, with Horgan on top form as both writer and actor, surrounded by a cast who don’t put a foot wrong. Read more
(Starzplay) Some may have worried that a show set at the chaotic onset of a pandemic would be too close to the bone. But Station Eleven quickly proved to be stunning, uplifting television that mused on what makes life worth ploughing on with, as the Traveling Symphony theatre troupe offered art to the post-apocalypse masses. The most poetic show of the year bar none – with one of the most weep-inducing reunion scenes ever seen on screen.
What we said: How deeply strange it is, how deeply unsettling, to be able to compare and contrast a fictional pandemic with the real thing. I read Emily St John Mandel’s bestselling Station Eleven shortly after it came out in 2014, when the tale of a mysterious flu sweeping the globe and laying waste to normal life lay wholly beyond the bounds of reality. Now the television adaptation by Patrick Somerville (known for Maniac and The Leftovers) is here and … resonating. Read more
(All 4) Pete Jackson’s devastating drama shared the story of 18-year-old Danny, who was told by his dad, Steve, not to leave his house because of killer monsters. When Steve suddenly dies, Danny steps into the real world for the first time and goes to live with his aunt. It’s an emotionally complex watch, particularly the blurred lines around the abusive father-son relationship. It’s also difficult to keep it together while bingeing – the moment when Danny picks out the suit he wants to wear to the funeral is guaranteed to make you cry. But the most special thing about this series is the relationship between Danny and his awkward cousin Aaron. At first, Aaron writes the new guest off as a weirdo. By the end, their unlikely friendship seems likely to save them both.
What we said: Somewhere Boy is one of those rare dramas that manages to hold several themes in its hands and examine each one with equal consideration. It is about starting again and fitting in; trauma and abuse; family and love; and monsters, both figurative and literal. Read more
(Netflix) Given comedian Mo Amer’s previous TV role – as the larger-than-life sidekick in HBO sitcom Ramy – it would be easy to assume that his shtick was all about big, brash laughs that trade on his on-screen charisma. But his semi-autobiographical sitcom, about a Palestinian refugee in the US, proved Amer to be a writer and performer of far more depth. Storylines involving opioid addiction, the painful battle for citizenship in the face of ineffectual bureaucracy and lovelorn attempts to reconcile romance and religion added up to a warm, distinctive watch – whose success owed no small debt to Amer’s charisma.
What we said: A detailed, gorgeously textured, warm and moving story of one man’s life, bringing us closer to understanding a little bit more of everyone’s. It’s a story told via a gallimaufry of languages, cultures and creeds, united by hustle and humour. It is very, very funny. Read more
The White Lotus
(Sky Atlantic) Arguably, this second season of Mike White’s holiday whodunnit shouldn’t exist. How do you beat frazzled hotel manager Armond crapping in a suitcase? You don’t … And yet, the show’s excellent comedy writing is enough to compel people to check in again. That and the spectacular cast – led by the queen of Vespas, Jennifer Coolidge, followed closely by the deliciously deadpan Aubrey Plaza. This time, there’s far more sex thrown in – but still plenty of opportunities to laugh at the awfully rich and ridiculous.
What we said: The writing is as dense and layered as ever, the plotting is immaculate and the viewers’ sympathies – or loathings – are never allowed to rest in one place for too long. The characters may be there to unwind, but White is not one to let his audience relax. Read more
(Apple TV+) Pachinko was such beautifully crafted TV that it should have been a criminal offence to watch it on a laptop. The sweeping adaptation of Min Jin Lee’s novel was bursting with drama across mixed timelines, following the strong-willed Sunja and the next generation of her family. She flees occupied Korea in 1915 after being wronged by a bad man she thought loved her. After starting a new life in hostile Japan, there are multiple romances, questions around identity and culture, and plentiful moments of high emotion. This was something very special. Plus, it wins the award for the best title sequence of the year.
What we said: It’s a vast, sumptuous, dynastic political TV series of the kind scarcely made any more, complete with swooning strings from Nico Muhly’s score. It reminds me of the historical television dramas I grew up with – Roots, Tenko, The Forsyte Saga. Read more
(Disney+) Was it a goofball sitcom about the hip-hop industry? A Black Mirror-inspired anthology series of darkly comic takes on racial politics? Attempting to categorise this chameleonic comedy became futile long ago, but its third series saw it broaden its sights more than ever, as Earn and co travelled Europe, cocking a snook at continental habits, and on more than one occasion, delivering such shocks that it was all you could do not to leap out of your seat.
What we said: Just when you think you’re watching a whimsical stoner-comedy, Atlanta grabs you like a dead hand reaching up from a haunted lake, and reminds you of the absurdist horror lurking beneath. This is television as likely to take inspiration from internet memes and 90s kids cartoons as from a Palme d’Or-winner’s canon. Read more
(Sky Atlantic) A stellar cast of retro greats – including Juliette Lewis and Christina Ricci – were on fine form in this menacing survival story about a girl’s high-school soccer team in a plane crash that you could never quite put your finger on. Was it a modern-day Lord of the Flies? A cannibalism-packed story of blood-hungry forest spirits? A whodunnit revenge thriller featuring drugs, murder and shady politicians who’d do anything to survive? You never knew – and that’s what made it so gripping.
What we said: Think of it as a hybrid of The Craft and The Island with Bear Grylls, or Lost – with intentional jokes – plus a hint of Big Little Lies, if that had more of an interest in cannibalism than property porn. Read more
House of the Dragon
(Sky Atlantic/HBO) Fire, frenemies, fights and foot fetishes … the Game of Thrones prequel certainly scratched the itch for many fans. Matt Smith became TV’s most lovable villain of the year, while Emma D’Arcy gave us another Targaryen queen to root for. Together, they were the incestuous power couple we never knew we could be so invested in. All 10 episodes were thick with plotting, backstabbing and building a world about to be torn apart by civil war. And just when your attention was about to stray … DRACARYS! Judging by the fiery look on Rhaenyra’s face in that final scene – right after she’d been told her son had been gobbled up by a team Black dragon – all hell is about to be unleashed in the confirmed second season. Let it burn.
What we said: A greatest hits playlist of Westeros at its meatiest. Read more
(Netflix) Never before has the London drug gang drama had such huge scope. On its second Netflix series (its fourth season proper), Dushane’s (Ashley Walters) never-ending battle to make Ps took us into boat-based murders in Spanish waters, gangland executions on Moroccan beaches and a bizarre incident involving Sully (Kano) befriending a fox in a bush. The dynamics shifted at every turn with Jamie (Micheal Ward) just out of prison and Sully trying to stay away from his former best friend by laying low on a houseboat. Then there’s mouthy but loyal Jaq (Jasmine Jobson). Just when you think the order of things has been settled, a huge shock ending changes everything. Bring on season five.
What we said: Part of Top Boy’s brilliance is that it could go either way. We see characters act with tender kindness in one moment, then ruthless brutality in the next, and none of their deeds – good or bad – cancels out the others. Dushane, Sully, Jamie, Jaq: they’re all ruthless, reprehensible bastards, who you desperately want the best for. Read more
This is Going to Hurt
(BBC One) This darkly comic adaptation of Adam Kay’s memoir of life as a junior NHS doctor rapidly became one of the most talked-about shows of the year. For every spiky gag there was an emotional gut-punch, for every snippet of existential malaise about life spent on (literally) crumbling hospital wards, there were big-hearted characters desperately battling to help patients. It was moving, funny and unflinchingly honest in a way that, at its best, felt like a masterclass in ambitious, accomplished TV writing.
What we said: From its first graphic, wisecrack-stuffed episode, the tale of Kay (played by Ben Whishaw) and his struggle to cope with the monstrous workload and understaffing on the “brats and twats” (AKA obstetrics and gynaecology) wards was the TV hot topic. Read more
Lisa McGee’s magnificent coming-of-age comedy picked up endorsements from heavy-hitters including Matt Groening and Martin Scorsese and boasted cameos from Liam Neeson and Chelsea Clinton. But success didn’t go to Derry Girls’ head: the final season was every bit as pointed, poignant and hilarious as ever. With GCSEs and romantic confusion assuming equal significance to the looming Good Friday Agreement, the show once again movingly illustrated that the personal and the political are inseparable: they dovetail within individual lives and wider communities alike. The great sitcoms manage to combine humour with real emotional heft – and by the end, Derry Girls could hold its own with the very best of them.
What we said: Absolutely. Cracker. The fact is, I love Derry Girls like I loved what I loved when I was a teenage girl. With all my heart. Read more
(BBC One) One of the most anxiety-inducing series to hit our screens in years, Industry gave us an insight into the greedy, turbulent and sex-infused world of finance during its debut in lockdown. In this second series, bankers turned writers Konrad Kay and Mickey Down picked things up as the City dealt with the aftermath of the pandemic. The ever-unlikable Pierpoint graduates might have finally got their feet under the table, but that just means bigger risks, worse decisions and wilder benders. Everything we love this show for, then.
What we said: Set three years after we last saw them, the Pierpoint graduates are no longer fresh-faced and bright-eyed. Now, they’re world-weary and drug-addled, chasing the highs of money and success – bringing a desperation to this finance drama that has cemented it as one of the best shows on TV. Read more
Better Call Saul
(Netflix) The final, nigh-on faultless season of this Breaking Bad spin-off had it all: cameos from Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), a narrative switch that saw it flip from prequel to postscript, and a phenomenal directorial debut from Rhea Seehorn (Kim Wexler). Its final episode not only stuck the landing, but brought this tale to a close with heart, style and inevitability – but not without one last, poignant twist.
What we said: It turns out that Better Call Saul’s creators were saving its greatest trick for the final stretch. A trick so flawlessly executed that it no longer feels right to call Saul one of the best shows of the year. We are now talking about an all-timer. Read more
(Channel 4) Jack Rooke broke hearts with this autobiographical series about the best friend he made while grieving his dad. Thankfully, he constantly made us laugh between the tears too. As Jack (Dylan Llewellyn) and Danny (John Pointing) navigate university together, Jack becomes more confident in being gay and finding his identity. Danny, though, struggles with his own declining mental health, while hiding behind big smiles and laddish banter. What ensues is a beautiful, thoughtful and honest story about male friendship.
What we said: Recommending this show to people is a gift – one I truly believe might change, maybe even save, some men’s lives. Read more
(BBC One/iPlayer) Tony Schumacher spent 11 years as a night patrol officer in Merseyside. Night after hellish night he worked the job that ended up giving him a nervous breakdown and PTSD. He took all the carnage, trauma and humour and packed it into The Responder, one of the most raw BBC dramas in recent memory. Martin Freeman played Chris Carson, a constable heading for certain collapse, possibly death. Freeman put in an astonishing stint as the officer whose every act was either hard to stomach, ethically questionable or entirely reprehensible. Here was a man who had to sift the motorway’s edge for body parts. Who regularly attacked the people he was meant to protect and serve. Who stole a flask of soup and pack of cigs from a woman who’d not long since died. This was television so morally murky it made for fascinating, challenging viewing – but it kept up the propulsive pace of a thriller.
What we said: If it sounds grim, oh good grief it was, yet it was also a perfect depiction of a broken life in a broken system. This was state-of-the-nation stuff, and a Bafta land grab. Not bad for a reformed bobby on his first TV writing gig. Read more
(Prime Video) We didn’t just get one excellent season of this tale of two comics pushed into an unlikely writing partnership this year, thanks to a delay in a UK broadcaster bringing it across the Atlantic, we got two. The first season took young, bratty, wise-ass quip merchant Ava Daniels (Hannah Einbinder) and successful but out-of-touch comedian/QVC presenter Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) and told an unfailingly cackle-worthy story that grew into an unexpectedly moving tale of companionship. Season two picked up with the pair falling out over Ava leaking embarrassing stories about Deborah to a TV show, only to make amends, cram into a bus and head off on tour together. They went on a lesbian cruise trip, dealt with the aftermath of a suicide and came dangerously close to junking their working relationship. Luckily, we know a third season is on its way, so hopefully there’s plenty of life left in the duo’s adventures yet.
What we said: Hacks has an unusual degree of emotional acuity but crucially, it never forgets for a second that it’s a comedy … It’s an admirably complicated relationship, brilliantly brought to life by the two leads: Smart, particularly, is a revelation. Read more
(Apple TV+) Right as workers started shuffling back into the office at the end of the Omicron surge, Apple TV+ released a show that captured all those heightened tensions over our relationship with work, and condense them into one highly bingeable product. The result was Severance, a paranoid-thriller puzzle-box mystery. with a bewilderingly high-concept premise. Employees at shady biotechnology company, Lumon Industries, opt into a process where they are split into two selves: an “innie” and an “outie”. The innie has no memory of life outside the workplace, the outie remembers nothing outside their leisure hours. A tantalising prospect, you might think – but only if you’re an outie. The innie is essentially trapped in 24/7 servitude. For all its curious qualities, Severance never feels less than engrossing. That’s down to the performances by big-name stars including Adam Scott, Patricia Arquette, John Turturro and Christopher Walken, which fill Lumon’s sterile hallways with warmth and pathos. The show also looks gorgeous and, in Ben Stiller, boasts one of the most interesting directors working in TV at the moment.
What we said: At a time where so many shows are guilty of hand-holding, Severance should be praised for its absolute refusal to do so. Read more
(BBC One/iPlayer) Not content with merely being a gripping thriller about a bow-and-arrow-based murderer lurking in a forest, this singular drama was also an exploration of the scars borne by the communities of former mining towns. Writer James Graham drew upon his time living in the Nottingham area to create a staggeringly vivid portrait of the ferocious divisions that still torment the city decades after the miners’ strikes. There was also plenty of pacy, twisty, crime-based action, helmed by a coppering double-act whose mutual dislike giving way to grudging respect would easily have been the best narrative arc – if there weren’t such a wealth of richly plotted tales and impeccably written characters to choose from.
What we said: I love a good ensemble cast, and it doesn’t get better than this. Claire Rushbrook and Lesley Manville are spectacular as warring sisters, but everyone is remarkable and does their best east Midlands accent. If Sherwood doesn’t pull off a clean sweep at the Baftas, I will demand to see the receipts. Read more
(Disney+) With a plot replete with slicing, dicing, druggings and, er, stabbings, The Bear – set in a sandwich shop in Chicago – was not always an easy watch, but that only made it a more satisfying dish to be served up. We watched as Carmy, a revered fine-dining chef, ditched the “foie gras and tweezers” scene to overhaul his brother’s chaotic business – all while trying to process his death. When its emotional payoff came, with that extraordinary monologue at an AA meeting, it gave us a moment of pure catharsis. The most intense, claustrophobic and spectacular show of the year.
What we said: The Bear is an eight-course, perfectly prepped, cooked, balanced, seasoned and served meal. Delicious. Enjoy. Read more