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Home»Features»TV In 2022: When Dragons Rose & Anti-Heroes Fell»

TV In 2022: When Dragons Rose & Anti-Heroes Fell

Recapping the highs and lows of a year in TV and streaming.

TV In 2022: When Dragons Rose & Anti-Heroes Fell
The small screen sure brought us plenty of spectacle in 2022.
  • Prahlad Srihari

Last Updated: 12.26 PM, Dec 29, 2022

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We're recapping a year in entertainment with a series of '2022: The Year In...' essays. Join us on the journey!

And ICYMI, catch up with our Hollywood, Bollywood, Hindi streaming, Tollywood and Mollywood rewinds.

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North Korea landed on Mars before the US, Russia or Elon Musk could get there. Toni Collette fell down a staircase again and again and again. Wednesday Addams, that wonderfully weird doomer born off baby boomers, turned into a Goth Daria of sorts for Gen Z, danced the “Goo Goo Muck,” and became a TikTok sensation. The one person who has been loyally watching Riverdale all this while might not be your 18-year-old sister but your 58-year-old uncle. Thanks to Netflix’s nostalgia fest, Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” was at the top of the Billboard charts some 27 years after its release, and shredding “Master of Puppets” only got cooler (at least enough to forgive Metallica for St. Anger but not forget). A baby was born in a porta potty. A penis got chatty. Superheroes got together for an orgy. The small screen sure brought us plenty of big WTF moments, enough to forget Slapgate and the sorry spectacle of Depp vs. Heard.

To wrap up the year in TV and streaming, here's a look at some of the key trends and themes.

Going full-frontal

The penis made enough cameos this year to qualify for Outstanding Guest Actor at the Emmys. To make up for years of gender imbalance when it comes to full-frontal nudity on TV, streaming services and cable channels attempted to compensate for years of phallic oversight. Leading the way in this bold new era was of course HBO, which dominated the discourse with House of the Dragon and for being the “Home of the Dick.” Minx, on its sister streaming platform HBO Max, threw a whole pageant as the editors of the first erotic magazine for heterosexual women looked for a centrefold model. A montage puts the viewer up-close and personal with penises of all shapes, sizes and colours — in the name of representation. One of the staffers points out, “Not all weiners are the same, babes. There’s shorties, fatties, long ones, flatties.” Another adds, “Playful, shy, jaded, bored.”

Taking cue from HBO, others joined this exclusive member-ship as well. On Pam & Tommy, Tommy Lee (Sebastian Stan) has a heart-to-heart with his animatronic appendage (voiced funnily enough by Jason Mantzoukas) over whether to settle down with Pam Anderson or go on screwing more celebrities. Putting a vicious spin on the infamous Thanus theory, the third outing of The Boys opened with an Ant-Man type (called Termite) shrinking himself to crawl inside his lover’s penis and stimulate him from the inside. Only, as he learns, there’s a vas deferens between doing it sober and doing it after snorting a line of coke. A sneeze leaves a bloody mess. Talk about a dick move.

IP TV

In the battle for supremacy, the streaming services are betting on existing IP. Why invest in fresh and original stories? Taking a leaf out of its big brother’s book, the small screen too is turning to sequels, prequels, spin-offs and revivals. Amazon reportedly spent a billion dollars on The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. The first season of House of the Dragon cost HBO some $200 million. Both enjoyed impressive debuts even if they took a while to make a solid impression. The eruption of Mount Doom and the Sauron reveal no doubt gave long-time LOTR fans collective goosebumps. Between gruesome C-sections and foot fetishes, incestuous politicking and dragon riding, the Game of Thrones prequel gave us everything we expected from a show about the Targaryens.

But the biggest surprises, in terms of franchise extensions, came from Star Wars and Star Trek. Though The Book of Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi were damp squibs, Andor turned out to be the best series set in the galaxy far, far away — yet. Its rich combination of espionage thrills and grounded drama — without relying on Jedis, Siths, lightsabers, X-Wing fighters or surprise cameos — was a joy to behold. For once, the people of Star Wars even sounded like people, courtesy the writing talents of Tony Gilroy and co. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds too had a terrific debut. It’s the most excited I have been about the franchise since Deep Space Nine.

(Sorry, Marvel fans. From Moon Knight to She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, none of the series really worked for me. Ms. Marvel was fun for about a couple of episodes before all the Clandestine drama and Kamala-is-a-mutant revelation just so the X-men could be brought into the MCU fold.)

Time travel therapy

The pandemic forced us into a holding pattern for at least two years. Some of us dreamed of travelling back to a past before “social distancing” and “N95 masks” were part of our everyday vocabulary. Some dreamed of travelling to a future when the nightmare could be finally over. In the spirit of art reflecting the times, TV was full of chronally challenged characters in 2022. Nadia (Natasha Lyonne), in Season 2 of Russian Doll, gets caught in a new temporal mystery involving her Jewish Hungarian ancestors and Nazi-stolen gold Krugerrands. Time travel presents her a chance to alter family history for the better and heal the trauma inherited over generations. The attempt proves futile. Nadia realises there is no changing the past and learns to accept her reality. Season 2 of Undone had similar lessons to teach Alma (Rosa Salazar) as she digs deep into her father’s family history and learns of the ripple effect of her Jewish grandmother’s childhood trauma in Nazi-era Poland. If Russian Doll benefits from Lyonne’s biting sense of humour, Undone’s use of rotoscope animation allows for a dizzier head-trip in its investigation into cultural memory.

Trauma and time travel are interlinked even in Shining Girls. Elisabeth Moss dazzles as newspaper archivist Kirby Mazrachi, who survives a brutal assault and discovers her assailant (Jamie Bell) may be a time traveller responsible for a string of murders dating back decades. Making Kirby’s quest to confront her assailant harder is a constantly shifting present which makes her accounts unreliable in the eyes of the others. Paper Girls explores mental health and trauma by putting four young girls face-to-face with their older versions in the future. While the show doesn’t let time travel and its mechanics overpower the storytelling, the same can’t be said of its fellow Amazon series The Peripheral.

TV gets mega meta

There were three series this year which deserve a special mention because they pushed the boundaries of the medium. First up: Irma Vep, Olivier Assayas’ remake on the making of a remake. The second: The Rehearsal, Nathan Fielder’s social experiment cum autocritique. The third: The Kingdom: Exodus, Lars von Trier’s five-part conclusion of his hospital-set whatsit. All three auteurs in their own way leveraged the length afforded by a series to reflect on themselves, their art and the industry, introducing extra-textual ironies and fascinating new variables to the medium in this era of peak TV.

Breaking new ground

With Native American talent in front of and behind the camera, TV continued to make significant strides towards bringing fresher voices and diverse stories. Reservation Dogs returned with a stellar second season. Things get sadder but also funnier as the four Indigenous teens from rural Oklahoma grapple with the loss of their friend while trying to realise their Californian dream. One of the strengths of the show is how seamlessly it shifts focal points over the course of its 10 episodes. Another is its ensemble, one of the best assembled on TV, who work so beautifully off each other. Dark Winds finds a Navajo policeman (Rez Dogs’Zahn McClarnon) and his new deputy (Kiowa Gordon) investigating a double-murder case with possible links to an armoured-car heist. Over the course of the investigation, we learn about a community’s spiritual beliefs, past traumas and a government-sanctioned sterilization campaign targeting Indigenous women. Rez Dogs and Dark Winds sure signalled a much-needed change in how Native Americans are portrayed on screen.

No saturation point yet for true crime stories

The true crime boom didn’t relent. Junkies didn’t have to wait long for their next fix throughout the year. There was Inventing Anna, The Dropout, The Girl From Plainville, The Staircase, Candy, Under the Banner of Heaven, and Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story — to name a few of the many dramatizations. It was the strength of the performances rather than the writing that made any of them worthy of consideration. Amanda Seyfried was so compelling as the Theranos fraudster Elizabeth Holmes in The Dropout, Jennifer Lawrence decided to drop out of a planned film on the same subject. The Staircase deserves a shoutout for perhaps being the only true crime series this year which wrestled with the ethical concerns that come with the genre.

The Goodbyes

Worlds collided in the final season of Better Call Saul, setting up the downfall of Jimmy McGill aka Saul Goodman. By the end of it all, Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould gave us another show for the ages. Jimmy, Mike, Nacho and Gus will be missed. But if Better Call Saul became that rare event over time, it was because of Kim Wexler. Rhea Seehorn was an absolute joy to watch in the role of the ponytailed lawyer extraordinaire.

Better Things, a comedy about the love-hate relationship between three generations of mothers and daughters, went from strength to strength even as the lives of the Fox family got more tangled. Creator, writer, director and star Pamela Adlon delivered a swan-song season with grace and honesty without losing her sense of humour. Ozark ended at the right time. The Walking Dead ended at least 6 seasons too late. Westworld was cancelled after a second straight season of diminishing returns. On the other side of the Atlantic, Derry Girls ended on a high note with a fun Liam Neeson cameo, a Spice Girls tribute, a buried bunny, and the Good Friday Referendum.

The Hellos

Bidding farewell to reliable favourites was made a little easier by the welcome consolation provided by exciting newcomers. For once the wreaths have been laid for what we have lost, we must celebrate what we have gained. Among the newcomers, Yellowjackets was THE obvious standout. The show made its debut in November 2021 and ended its first season in January 2022. Holdover it may be, but 12 months later, I still can’t stop thinking about it. I doubt anyone who has watched and loved the show can. Karyn Kusama set the ball rolling with a killer pilot, and it was one shocker after another: Misty chopping off Ben’s leg; Lottie getting possessed during an ill-advised séance; Shauna giving birth to a rotisserie chicken; Taissa sleepwalking and eating dirt; Van getting mauled by wolves, the girls getting high on shroom, hunting, kissing and nearly killing Travis; and that ending — pick any. The mysteries aside, the show captured the emotional extremes of being a teenager in all its messy glory.

Severance was a close second. In the corporate dystopia of the Apple TV+ series, people undergo brain surgeries to split themselves into innies (professional selves) and outies (private selves). Creator Dan Erickson serves a stark reminder of how capitalism forces its workers to dissociate at the cost of alienation. It is a modern nightmare like something out of a Philip K Dick story. The Bear was a sleeper hit, giving us an anxiety-inducing peek into a working kitchen that would have made the Safdie brothers proud. There were some new shows (like Abbott Elementary, Bad Sisters, Black Bird, The Sandman, Under The Banner of Heaven and Wednesday) that most critics seemed to love but I was lukewarm about.

The Hello Agains

The Righteous Gemstones, Barry, Hacks, What We Do in the Shadows and Mythic Quest all made welcome returns. Back after a three-year absence, Bill Hader and Alec Berg’s Barry reached further into the depths of darkness, supported by excellent turns from Henry Winkler, Sarah Goldberg, Stephen Root and Anthony Carrigan. The sixth episode, “710N,” featured the most bonkers action sequence on TV this year, as Barry finds himself ambushed by a group of bikers. Mark Proksch’s energy vampire enjoyed the spotlight in the fourth season of What We Do in the Shadows: the sight of his bald adult head CGI’d onto the body of a young child performing a vaudeville act has to be one of the funniest moments of the year. But the most consistently funny show this year was Hacks. Putting Deborah (Jean Smart) and Ava (Hannah Einbinder) aboard a lesbian cruise (instead of a gay cruise): pure genius. Quality however dipped considerably in the recent outings of The White Lotus, Only Murders in the Building and The Crown.

The unmissables

Keeping up with every show that merits consideration has become overwhelming nowadays. If my own personal list of the year’s best series had 10 strong contenders with an additional 10, it’s a reflection of just how much quality content was available on the dozen or so streaming services. No doubt, it is better to have a problem of plenty than a problem of few.

Note: Ranking is based on mood at the time of writing this wrap-up and thus subject to change from day to day.

1. Yellowjackets (Voot Select)

2. The Rehearsal (Disney+ Hotstar)

3. Severance (Apple TV+)

4. The Kingdom: Exodus (MUBI)

5. Better Call Saul (Netflix)

6. Irma Vep (Disney+ Hotstar)

7. Hacks (HBO Max)

8. All of Us Are Dead (Netflix)

9. Barry (Disney+ Hotstar)

10. The Righteous Gemstones (Disney+ Hotstar)

11. Reservation Dogs (Disney+ Hotstar)

12. Better Things (Disney+ Hotstar)

13. The Bear (Disney+ Hotstar)

14. Andor (Disney+ Hotstar)

15. Evil (Voot Select)

16. What We Do in the Shadows (Disney+ Hotstar)

17. Derry Girls (Netflix)

18. Pachinko (Apple TV+)

19. Raised by Wolves (Amazon Prime Video)

20. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (Voot Select)

Best performances of the year: Lars Eidinger in Irma Vep; Tramell Tillman in Severance; Jean Smart in Hacks; the whole damn cast of Yellowjackets; the whole damn cast of Reservation Dogs; Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn in Better Call Saul; Ayo Edebiri in The Bear; Yuh-Jung Youn in Pachinko; Paddy Considine in House of the Dragon; Amanda Seyfried in The Dropout.

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