Warning: Although we’ve done our best to avoid spoiling anything too major, please note this list does include a few specific references to several of the listed shows.
It’s been another banner year for television, in which streaming continued to dominate with a vengeance, giving us spy thrillers, science fiction, fantasy, comedy, tormented superheroes, gritty inner-city drama, and feel-good dramedy. In fact, this is the first year without a single major network series on the Ars year-end list.
Who knows how long this cornucopia of creative goodness will last? Nearly every major streamer, including Netflix, reported at least some losses in 2022, and the outlook for next year is cloudy at best. Budgets are getting slashed, streamers are consolidating, and promising shows are being canceled left and right as streaming services adapt to the changing market environment. For now, at least, we are still reaping the benefits of past years’ investments. Our top TV picks for 2022 are listed below, in no particular order. Be sure to weigh in with your own favorite 2022 shows in the comments.
House of the Dragon
Making a prequel to a beloved series is never easy, especially when it’s a prequel to one of the most influential blockbuster series of the last decade—one that whiffed its finale so badly that it alienated some of its most devoted fans. HBO’s House of the Dragon rose to the challenge, debuting in August with a solid, promising pilot episode. The remainder of the season lived up to that initial promise.
The series is set about 200 years before the events of Game of Thrones and chronicles the beginning of the end of House Targaryen’s reign. The primary source material is Fire and Blood, a fictional history of the Targaryen kings written by George R.R. Martin. As book readers know, those events culminated in a civil war and the extinction of the dragons—at least until Daenerys Targaryen came along. It’s King Viserys I Targaryen’s (Paddy Considine) fateful decision to name his fierce dragon-rider daughter Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) as his heir—passing over his brother and heir presumptive Daemon (Matt Smith)—that sets events in motion. As Rhaenys Velaryon (Eve Best)—aka the “Queen Who Never Was,” because she was passed over when Viserys was crowned—knows all too well, “Men would sooner put the realm to the torch than see a woman ascend the Iron Throne.”
House of the Dragon lacks the sweeping epic scope and multiple storylines of Game of Thrones, focusing instead on exploring the complex core relationships and family dynamics that will ultimately lead to civil war. The first season spans many years and makes some pretty significant time jumps—which in turn required replacing the younger actors as their characters aged. For instance, Emma D’Arcy plays the older version of Rhaenyra. Perhaps it might have been better to simply compress the timeline, or spread out the events over two seasons, but then the pacing might have lagged. And the time jumps aren’t especially jarring until the latter episodes, when one is tempted to hit pause and draw up a genealogical chart to keep track of all the incestuous marriages and generations of silver-haired offspring.
It’s still a compelling, entertaining series, with plenty of personal conflict and political intrigue, plus dragons galore. House has an especially gifted stellar cast, and yet somehow Matt Smith steals every scene as Daemon—even when he’s just standing around smirking. And his chemistry with D’Arcy goes a long way toward off-setting the squick factor of their eventual coupling and marriage. The S1 finale brought Westeros to the brink of civil war, and we can’t wait for S2 to watch that conflict play out.