Apparently streaming is already maybe going to collapse? I figured it’d take a little bit longer. Okay, “collapse” might be a bit strong, but with most streamers failing to hit their subscriber projections this year, and the misers at Discovery dismantling HBO Max one show at a time, the overwhelming amount of TV we’ve been buried under the last few years might be turning back into something manageable. That might sound good for people like us, who somehow get paid to write about TV every day, but it obviously isn’t good for creators and TV crews. Also, if it wasn’t for streaming, most of the shows on our list never would’ve existed. There’s only one network show on here, and only a handful of traditional premium or basic cable ones—and the latter are mostly promoted as streaming shows at this point instead of cable. Given the wholesale devastation of niche originals at Warner Bros. Discovery this year, I wouldn’t be surprised if next year’s version of this list is only a top 10.
That’s 2023, though. Let’s talk about 2022. Here are the shows that made us laugh the most this year, from sitcoms to sketch comedy to whatever you’d call The Rehearsal. Enjoy.
Honorable Mentions: Sherman’s Showcase; Ghosts; A Black Lady Sketch Show; Our Flag Means Death; Reboot.
15. Documentary Now
Photo by Will Robson-Scott, courtesy of Broadway Video / IFC / AMC
Documentary Now returned after too long of an absence with an incredible two-part premiere that simultaneously satirizes Werner Herzog’s documentaries and early ‘80s network sitcoms. I don’t want to get bogged down in the details but it’s about as great as that sounds, with Alexander Skarsgård putting in a fantastic turn as a dour German realist with a genuine love for both cheesy American sitcoms and CBS Head of Comedy Alan Yaffa (Fred Armisen, naturally). That John Mulaney-penned debut is the season’s peak, but parodies of When We Were Kings and My Octopus Teacher are almost as good. Documentary Now remains a smart show that’s profoundly silly, and an intermittent side gig for mainstream comedians like Armisen, Mulaney and Seth Meyers to work on very niche, closely-observed projects that a general audience might not appreciate. Hopefully somebody keeps giving them the money to crank these out every few years.—Garrett Martin
14. Bust Down
In another sign that there’s just too much TV these days, we totally forgot that the excellent Bust Down premiered in 2022. It totally felt like a ‘21 show. Fortunately we checked the dates just to make sure, saw it launched on Peacock in March, and so bam: it’s on the list. This shaggy hangout comedy about four casino employees in Gary, Indiana, rests almost entirely on the charm, charisma, and chemistry of its four stars and creators: Chris Redd, Sam Jay, Langston Kerman, and Jak Knight. Each plays a heightened, sitcom-ified version of their stand-up personas, with Knight (who tragically passed away this summer) regularly stealing the show with his absurd logic and almost childlike naivete. Only six episodes were made, and you can see the show finding itself as it goes, with its more ridiculous tendencies increasingly balanced by the naturalism of Jay’s storylines and performance. A second season has to be unlikely at this point, which is a shame: Bust Down had more potential than any other show on this list.—Garrett Martin
13. Three Busy Debras
The second (and, sadly, final) season of Three Busy Debras might have actually been more absurd than the first one, which is an amazing (and almost unthinkable) feat. Sandy Honig, Mitra Jouhari and Alyssa Stonoha went bigger across the board this year, with more violence, a broader look at their ideal suburb Lemoncurd, and even a deep dive into some Debra lore. Oh, and there was an apocalypse along the way, too. And on top of the surreal non-sequiturs and ridiculous stories the trio squeeze in just enough critique of wealth, privilege, tradwife sexism, and suburban soullessness to counter any “weird for weirdness’s sake” complaints. It’s smart, silly, unpredictable, and consistently hilarious, so of course it got canceled as soon as Adult Swim’s new owners at Discovery took over. Bummer.—Garrett Martin
12. Derry Girls
The juxtaposition of humorous, self-absorbed teenage shenanigans against the threat of terror and violence is what has always set Derry Girls apart from other shows. In the third and, sadly, final season, which hit Netflix October 7, McGee doesn’t alter the formula simply because this is the final chapter. Erin is still selfish. Orla still dances to the beat of her own drum. Michelle is still a wild child. Clare is still obsessed with her studies. And James (Dylan Llewellyn) is still… English. But the seven episodes do serve as both an emphatic ending for the show and a bright new beginning for its characters, as the 45-minute special that serves as the series finale centers on the vote for the Good Friday Agreement, which largely ended the violence of The Troubles.—Kaitlin Thomas [Full feature
Deborah’s emotional arc takes center stage this season, and arguably for the better (after all, Smart won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for the role). The first episode literally opens with her face being painted over as her residency at the Palmetto ends, a major ego hit for the Vegas fixture. Deborah has to confront her own shortcomings, both professionally and emotionally, again and again throughout the season. Sometimes it feels like a Sisyphisian task for Deborah; she continually seems to take two steps back as soon as it seems like she’s moving forward. That’s not to say she’s suddenly pathetic, but rather that the writers are willing to let her struggle. It makes any win for Deborah all the more earned.
Character development aside, the show is still acerbic and hilarious. Ava and Kayla (Meg Stalter) get some of the funniest one-liners, thanks in part to how well we know each of them (one of the best moments comes when Kayla insists that Castaway is “about masturbation”). The writers keep pushing cringe comedy, just as they did in Season 1, and it pays off especially well in both Deborah and Marcus’ storylines. I actually had some difficulty finishing an episode where Deborah bombs spectacularly because the secondhand embarrassment was so visceral.—Clare Martin [Full review]
10. Tuca & Bertie
Every 20-odd minutes spent in Birdtown is a treat thanks to the diligent work of the writers. The in-show universe of Tuca & Bertie is so wonderfully fleshed-out—there’s even a throwback in Season 3 to the Slow Walkers Parade from the series pilot. In a world so silly, it could be hard for emotional moments to land (I mean, Bertie gets swallowed by a snake and it’s considered a quotidian inconvenience). However, because the world of Birdtown and the inner worlds of the characters are so well-rounded, the more serious plot points actually work. In the first three episodes of this season, the show tackles addiction and chronic pain, while also joking about doctors using urine as currency. The writers pull off an incredible balancing act; the show is absurd and funny, but with a gooey emotional core.
The cast also keeps the show vibrant. Ali Wong is a particular standout as Bertie; her vocal highs and lows perfectly capture her character’s pendulum swing between overwhelming anxiety and utter enthusiasm. Tiffany Haddish imbues Tuca with so much life, whether she’s languishing from period cramps or leading a raucous tour of Birdtown. The pair have a rare and captivating chemistry together. And as for Speckle, he could be cloying if played wrong, but Steven Yeun makes him one of the most endearing characters on the show.—Clare Martin [Full review]
9. Rutherford Falls
Photo by Greg Gayne, courtesy of Peacock
The writers of Rutherford Falls exceed the expectations set by Season 1, treading the same delicate line of packing in jokes and addressing serious issues. The first episode alone kills it as Sally (Julia Jones) and Wayne (Bobby Wilson) go hunting for a white ghost, attempting to trap it with items sacred to white people (a Cheers DVD, white wine, and Malcolm Gladwell books). Overachieving high schooler Bobbie (Jesse Leigh) gets some of the best lines, just as they did last season (“I can be very persuasive, like when I convinced Sarah G. to go down into that well to fetch my bracelet. I didn’t even lose my bracelet.”). The level of continuity is satisfying, like the fact that Reagan and Nathan still give each other fruit bouquets to commemorate special occasions. And in between these hilarious and touching moments, this season properly explores (rather than simply pays lip service to) bureaucracy, appropriation, corporate wrongdoing (Rutherford Inc. changing its name to Züvis has big Meta vibes), and how single and childless people are often left behind in community planning. It’s an impressive feat, but the writers make it look effortless.—Clare Martin [Full review]
8. The Kids in the Hall
The beloved Canadian sketch troupe reunited again for a new series on Amazon, and like all great reunions it doesn’t feel like a brand new start but a seamless continuation of the work they started on their classic ‘90s series. It doesn’t rest on nostalgia, and it doesn’t repeat old ideas or sketches just to repeat them, but it updates what made that show so vital and hilarious in ways that feel true to the Kids and perfectly in keeping with the spirit of today. It’s like the show just kept being made without interruption over the last 27 years, and the new episodes are where they naturally landed as artists and comedians in that time—an honest snapshot of how their viewpoints and sensibilities have grown and changed as they enter their 60s. It’s hard to imagine any reunion, be it in comedy, music, or any other performing art, coming together as gracefully and successfully as this one. Hopefully there’s more to come in the future.—Garrett Martin
7. Los Espookys
In its second and, sadly, final season, Los Espookys exceeds the dry and bizarre standards set by the first. Renaldo (Bernardo Velasco), Andrés (Julio Torres), Úrsula (Cassandra Ciangherotti), and Tati (Ana Fabrega) reunite—occasionally with the assistance of Renaldo’s uncle Tico (Fred Armisen)—to fabricate supernatural phenomena for their clients. These last eight episodes see Andrés ask the moon for a helping hand, a beauty queen haunt Renaldo, and the team assemble an eclipse. Silly and surreal, Los Espookys is just a really fucking weird, good time. It’s heartbreaking to know we won’t get to see what other kooky storylines Torres and Fabrega (who co-wrote and co-created the show with Armisen) had in store, but for now we can fantasize about their idea of casting Björk as a pharmacist and keep laughing at this wonderful second season.—Clare Martin
6. Abbott Elementary
Kids are unintentionally hilarious all the time, so an elementary school is a natural setting for a sitcom. Quinta Brunson’s mockumentary-style show Abbott Elementary is laugh-a-minute funny, in part thanks to the students at the titular school, but also largely due to the adults running it. Janelle James is an unexpected highlight as the selfish one-woman show of a principal, Ava Coleman. Tyler James Williams has grown up in the years since Everybody Hates Chris and makes the laidback Gregory more than just Jim Halpert 2.0 (though he often sarcastically looks at the camera). Sheryl Lee Ralph rightfully won an Emmy for her portrayal of the frighteningly competent kindergarten teacher, Barbara. Brunson leads the pack as the overachieving Janine, and Lisa Ann Walter (yes, from The Parent Trap), Chris Perfetti, and William Stanford Davis round out this lovably motley crew. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll want to give your favorite teacher a hug.—Clare Martin
5. What We Do in the Shadows
Four seasons in, What We Do in the Shadows, FX’s vampire mockumentary from the mind of Jemaine Clement, is still one of TV’s best comedies. Through the first four episodes of the new season for review, the show effortlessly flexes and reframes its scope, tightly following its protagonists on their shared journey. The show feels somehow more intimate than (and just as vulgar as) before, as the characters’ uneven relationship with change and growth provides new opportunities for intentional and offhanded shenanigans in a story where, for once, all their motivation comes from their own wants and desire rather than pressures from outside their Staten Island residence. The jokes are still raunchy, the protagonists are still self-assured in their wit despite frequent ignorance, and the actors feel engaged and alive in their undead roles, keeping the show vibrant and laying the groundwork for the already-renewed seasons to come.—Kevin Fox, Jr. [a href=”https://www.pastemagazine.com/tv/hulu-fx/what-we-do-in-the-shadows-season-4-review-/”>Full review]
4. The Afterparty
The murder mystery might be one of the most formulaic genres in pop culture, but it’s also the most versatile, able to bend itself into whatever shape a story requires. It can be atmospheric and moody, full of humor and hijinks, or tense and thrilling. In the hands of creator and director Christopher Miller, Apple TV+’s The Afterparty takes this versatility and runs with it, creating one of the most entertaining shows of the young new year.
The eight-episode series—which is executive produced by Miller and his filmmaking partner Phil Lord—follows the investigation of a murder that occurs at a high school reunion afterparty. Although it’s a comedy that gleefully operates within the framework of a mystery, each episode is a retelling of the night’s events as viewed through the lens of a different popular film genre that corresponds to the perspective and personality of the person being interrogated. It adds a fun twist to a familiar scenario, and as each classmate chronicles their evening, they reveal not just who they are, but what interests and drives them, and what might have motivated them to kill Xavier (Dave Franco), the famous musician-actor classmate whose death kicks off the show.—Kaitlin Thomas [Full review]
3. Reservation Dogs
Sterlin Harjo’s FX series Reservation Dogs (airing on Hulu) is more than just a glimpse into an underrepresented Native American community. It’s hilarious, heartbreaking, and thought-provoking all at once. Following a group of young teens trying to find their way—and maybe their way off—an Oklahoma reservation, a throughline of loss and grief propels the series. Struggling to cope with the death of Daniel (Dalton Cramer), one of their closest friends, Elora Danan (Devery Jacobs), Bear Smallhill (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai), Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis), and Cheese (Lane Factor) form a ragtag gang, robbing chip trucks and their local convenience store just to make another buck. They’re desperate to find enough money to leave the reservation, living by the belief that if Daniel had made it out, maybe he’d still be alive. At the start of Season 2, the young adults exist in a state of liminality, divided amongst themselves. A better life on the reservation seems possible in Willie Jack and Cheese’s eyes, but Elora and Bear see nothing but their dreams of California.—Kristen Reid [Full review]
2. The Righteous Gemstones
There’s a common skill set that’s invaluable to the televangelist, the pro wrestler, and the rock ‘n’ roller alike. All three fields are the domain of the charismatic blowhard, the fast-talking slick who can project a larger-than-life character while easily charming the audience. John Goodman’s Gemstone patriarch, Eli, got his start as a wrestler-turned-enforcer in Memphis in the ‘60s, and it’s this history of violence that starts season two down its shocking and bloody path.
I don’t mean to make Gemstones sound too serious, of course. This is a show that turns the potential death of a major character into a mass barfing scene that’d make Stand By Me proud. It’s as brash, vulgar, and absurd as Danny McBride’s earlier HBO shows, as anybody who watched the first season of Gemstones can attest. But like Eastbound & Down and Vice Principals, no matter how ridiculous Gemstones gets, it still somehow makes you care about its destructive, cartoonish characters, exploring the fear, desperation, and sadness that drive them. McBride and his collaborators Jody Hill and David Gordon Green have consistently found the humanity within people defined by how inhumanely they treat others, and although that never makes them sympathetic characters, it at least helps viewers understand why they act the way they do.—Garrett Martin [Full review]
1. The Rehearsal
With The Rehearsal Nathan Fielder expanded the reality-teasing prankishness of Nathan For You into something genuinely profound. Theoretically a documentary series about helping people “rehearse” important life decisions and experiences in order to prepare for any repercussions, The Rehearsal stacks layers of fiction and non-reality on top of each other in such a ridiculous and complicated way that it becomes extremely difficult to separate what’s “real” from what isn’t—almost as if anything stops being “real” once a camera is pointed at it. (Could it be that simple?) As he did on Nathan For You, the on-screen version of Fielder has a knack for amping up the awkwardness and tension of any scenario, while also capturing the kind of opinions and deep-seated personality quirks that most people should probably know to not reveal in front of a camera. Fielder blurs fact and fiction together so thoroughly that it’s practically impossible to separate them, without losing sight of how inherently funny and absurd the whole concept is. No lie: watching The Rehearsal from week to week was one of the most fulfilling communal TV experiences since the heyday of Lost.—Garrett Martin [Read Reuben Baron’s review]