This Year Reminded Us To Not Take Great TV For Granted

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It’s an uncertain time in TV right now, with megamergers and a looming recession creating seismic shifts at many studios, networks and streaming platforms. Periods of cost-cutting and belt-tightening too often lead to the jettisoning of bold and singular work, many times from underrepresented voices.

A lot of the HuffPost culture team’s picks for the best TV of the year are shows that are reshaping the medium, such as ones revitalizing familiar genres like the workplace comedy or the period drama, or finding creative ways to make a reboot actually interesting. Some are returning shows that made their second seasons possibly even better than the first.

It’s a reminder to not take any of these great TV shows for granted. Here’s hoping the TV landscape remains as interesting and as daring, no matter what happens in the coming year.

Reboots That Were Actually Interesting

Abbi Jacobson and Chanté Adams star in “A League of Their Own.”

“A League of Their Own”

A League of Their Own” was the TV series I raved about for months. Anytime someone needed a recommendation, it was the first thing off my lips. A reboot of the 1992 film, the Prime Video series welcomes audiences to a 1940s queer community where baseball is more than just a pastime. The eight-episode series follows Max (Chanté Adams), a closeted pitcher, as she pursues her dream of joining a professional baseball team; simultaneously, Carson, the catcher of the Rockford Peaches, is helping her team come together while exploring her own sexual desires while her husband’s away at war. It’s the rare reboot that really reimagines and extends the storylines of the original text, adding diversity, complexity and depth to create a whole new world for some really intriguing characters. The performances were incredible, including Abbi Jacobson (who co-created the series with Will Graham), Chanté Adams, Gbemisola Ikumelo (her comedic timing is incredible), D’Arcy Carden, Lea Robinson and so many more. Here’s hoping for a Season 2. — Erin E. Evans

“Interview with the Vampire”

Fact #1: There is absolutely no need for Anne Rice’s classic novel, “Interview with the Vampire,” to be adapted (again) for the screen. Fact #2: Race-bending characters previously established as white is a Hollywood trend that should endure a painful and certain death. Fact #3: This hella Black and hella gay version of “Interview with the Vampire” is one of the most pleasant surprises that have happened to TV this year. Shockingly adapted by a white showrunner, Rolin Jones, the series painstakingly reimagines the seminal story now of a queer Black vampire (Jacob Anderson) in late-1800s New Orleans, probing the sheer torture of immortality and love — both familial and romantic. It’s ravishing, terrifying and devastating in equal measure. — Candice Frederick

We’re constantly talking about how reboots are the worst, but “Reboot,” a comedy about the process of making a rebooted family sitcom, is a breath of fresh air. From “Modern Family” creator Steven Levitan, “Reboot” isn’t exactly about the show within a show. Rather, it delves into the human implications of agreeing to a reboot. Those include the lead actress (Judy Greer) who is no longer the sought-after ingénue and definitely doesn’t know how to maneuver today’s sensationalized celebrity press. There’s also her co-lead (Keegan-Michael Key) who left the hit series to become a movie star, only to return to this reboot with his tail between his legs. And the party boy (Johnny Knoxville), who’s now sober and decidedly more mature, returning to Hollywood and a life filled with temptation. Of course, there’s the writer’s room that struggles to merge the old ideas with new audiences. “Reboot” actually acknowledges all the things that plague the decision to make a reboot and the people affected along the way. And, in its own way, it asks: Can we really move forward? And should we? What makes it such a smart comedy is that it’s both aware of and curious about these questions. — Frederick

Great Second Seasons

Paulina Alexis as Willie Jack, Devery Jacobs as Elora Danan, D'Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai as Bear, and Lane Factor as Cheese, acting in a scene from "Reservation Dogs."
Paulina Alexis as Willie Jack, Devery Jacobs as Elora Danan, D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai as Bear, and Lane Factor as Cheese, acting in a scene from “Reservation Dogs.”

One theme of this year’s list is “shows that were great last year and then returned for a possibly even greater second season in 2022.” That is exactly what Season 2 of FX’s “Reservation Dogs” managed to pull off by featuring several wonderful standalone episodes focusing on specific characters. There was a poignant one following Elora (Devery Jacobs) as her grandmother is dying (beautifully co-written by Jacobs and showrunner Sterlin Harjo), followed by a hilarious one about Bear’s mom Rita (Sarah Podemski) turning a work conference into a girls’ weekend. More than any other show this year, it’s the show I’ve recommended to people wondering if there’s one show they should absolutely prioritize. Every single episode is a profound viewing experience, leaving me awestruck by the beauty and care put into every detail. From its groundbreaking Native representation to its singular stylistic choices, it’s a show that’s reimagining what TV can do, on many fronts — and pushing the whole medium forward. —Marina Fang

In the Season 2 finale of “Hacks,” when legendary comedian Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) abruptly lets her assistant Ava (Hannah Einbinder) go, Ava tearfully tells her boss: “I want to be wherever you are.” That scene encapsulates one of my favorite things about the HBO Max series: It’s stealthily a rom-com — but about work. Co-creators Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs and Jen Statsky struck comedic gold once again by taking the new season on the road, with Deborah and Ava testing out new material on tour. Few shows make me laugh as hard, especially the comically dysfunctional pairing of Downs as Jimmy, Deborah and Ava’s long-suffering manager, and his inept assistant Kayla (Meg Stalter, whose line readings live rent-free in my head). This season also brought several great new additions to the cast, like Ming-Na Wen as agent-from-hell Janet Stone, Jimmy’s rival. For every belly laugh, the show also consistently leaves me feeling verklempt, like that wonderful season finale scene. Just like Deborah Vance, “Hacks” may appear to be one thing, but contains so many multitudes underneath. — Fang

Season 2 of an A+ show often has to, A, keep doing what made the first season crackle, while B, pushing the concept forward. “Starstruck” creator and star Rose Matafeo sticks the landing on both. In its second season, Matafeo keeps cleverly riffing on classic rom-com tropes while making her character Jessie and her movie star one-night-stand-turned-boyfriend Tom (Nikesh Patel) figure out: “OK, now we’re together … but how do we make this relationship work?” The show remains grounded by peeling back the curtain behind the rom-com fantasy, punctuated with jokes like Tom being unable to do an airport chase because he has a bad knee. Part of me wonders if future seasons could run out of steam. TV romances are inherently difficult to sustain because the show has to keep throwing obstacles at the couple. And yet, I would watch many more seasons of this show because it’s just so fun, glorious and genius. — Fang

Rose Matafeo stars in "Starstruck."
Rose Matafeo stars in “Starstruck.”

One thing about me: I know exactly where I like to be on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. EST: on my couch watching Ava Coleman do next to nothing as principal all while cracking jokes at every turn on “Abbott Elementary.” In today’s stream-it-whenever culture, it’s rare to feel like you have an appointment with a television show, let alone a network sitcom. But Quinta Brunson and her writing team deliver us fresh comedy in each episode, and the ensemble cast is perfect. Brunson and Sheryl Lee Ralph’s Emmy wins this year were one of the highlights in entertainment. And now, because of Ralph, I can’t see Michelle Williams without thinking about her suiting up as Spider-Man in a fictional reboot. “All the way to the Academy Awards … from ‘Dawson’s Creek.’” — Evans

“The Sex Lives of College Girls

It’s taken a long while for Mindy Kaling to bring us a show that doesn’t entirely hinge on the white gaze (“Never Have I Ever” is slowly moving away from this). But with “The Sex Lives of College Girls,” co-created by Justin Noble, we get a series that actually trusts that disparate young women on a mostly white college campus probably have a whole lot more to discuss that doesn’t revolve around contorting themselves to fit inside a white patriarchal space. Like, the fact that they’re horny AF, and getting laid isn’t as easy as it appears to be in whatever rom-com we’ve all watched. Or that tuition isn’t cheap, and selling your eggs for money just makes sense. Now in its second season, the show’s titular women (terrifically brought to life by Amrit Kaur, Alyah Chanelle Scott, Reneé Rapp and Pauline Chalamet) continue to straddle the line between empowered and deprived, smart and nerdy, and sexy and sexless. It’s so bingeable. — Frederick

Sabrina Impacciatore acts in Season 2 of HBO's "The White Lotus."
Sabrina Impacciatore acts in Season 2 of HBO’s “The White Lotus.”

My friend described her relationship with this show as being “utterly confused but devoted.” That definitely tracks as this satirical drama taps into societal hierarchies and privileges fueled by entitlement in a way that feels akin to hypnotism. In Season 2, creator Mike White uses the gorgeous backdrop of a five-star resort on the coast of Sicily to juxtapose its beauty with the ugliness of toxic masculinity. Between the chaotic suspense of each scene, the scandalous affairs happening left and right, the fan theories on social media and Jennifer Coolidge hilariously and effortlessly stealing every scene, this season is much more entertaining than the previous. It’s worth drinking the “White Lotus” Kool-Aid. — Taryn Finley

Created by ex-bankers Konrad Kay and Mickey Down, the British-American HBO drama follows a class of junior bankers at Pierpoint, a toxic, backstabbing fictional investment firm in London, as they navigate career, life and relationships. Heralded as “Gen Z’s first great workplace drama,” these 20-somethings are tasked with parsing through capitalism, institutionalization and power struggles as they discover who they truly are. With an uber-talented cast led by Myha’la Herrold, what I love about this series is that the writing, the acting, everything keeps getting better with each season without being too didactic. In Season 1, we meet the characters and get to know their Achilles heels; in Season 2, we see each character either overcome or succumb to their struggles. It’s easy to get lost in the banking jargon, sure, but the series is a testament to the growing pains of independence. The “coming-of-age” process is often associated with tweens, but what about when you’re thrust into adulthood and everything you’ve been taught gets challenged? “Industry” skillfully depicts how difficult self-actualization becomes when survival is on the table — and if you’re not tuned in, you’re missing out. — Ruth Etiesit Samuel

Myha'la Herrold and Ken Leung act in the Season 2 finale of HBO's "Industry."
Myha’la Herrold and Ken Leung act in the Season 2 finale of HBO’s “Industry.”

“Sort Of,” created by Bilal Baig and Fab Filippo, has the unique distinction of being both comically mundane and exuberant at the time. That’s because not a whole lot unfolds on the series, though it follows a life that is constantly evolving. Portrayed by Baig, who uses they/them pronouns like their character, Sabi works as a nanny and at a bar part-time. They also have a pretty typical social life for a millennial — highlighted by nightclubs, the gig network and the occasional offer of a threesome — thanks in part to their friendship with 7ven (Amanda Cordner). But it’s the things beneath the main narrative, taking up less space in the dialogue, that give “Sort Of” its heartbeat. Like the fact that Sabi’s Pakistani American father hasn’t come to terms with their identity, so the two barely fill a conversation. Or that Bessy (Grace-Lynn Kung), the mother of the kids Sabi takes care of, is navigating her own identity. When these things come to the fore in Season 2 this year, that’s when the series really soars. Because it compels Sabi to confront the inevitable: life, work, relationships and each of their dissolutions. The pathos of “Sort Of” sneaks up on you, even when you’re in mid-laugh. — Frederick

Creators Shion Takeuchi and Alex Hirsch’s “Inside Job” had already given us a wonderfully subversive debut season that not-so-subtly pokes fun at government agencies and conspiracy theories that somehow seem razor-sharp here in animation. But with this year’s Season 2 launch, the series comes out, guns blazing, identifying Beyoncé and Jay-Z as actual Illuminati along with Lin Manuel Miranda, whose favorite rappers are Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. As much as “Inside Job” leans into the absurd, it also highlights topics real people discuss, such as trying in vain to overthrow the white male corporate structure and shattering the glass ceiling and being severely overworked. It’s a workplace comedy that manages to be both grounded and wacky at the same time. Because, especially in today’s internet age, even some of its most ridiculous ideologies are beginning to make sense. — Frederick

“The Ms. Pat Show” is a hilarious and compelling look at Black life in the suburbs. Comedian Patricia “Ms. Pat” Williams leads the BET+ sitcom as a mom and former drug dealer who moves to the suburbs in Indiana with her family to have a better life. Her sister Denise ― portrayed by Tami Roman, whose comedic timing is as perfect as it is biting ― lives with Pat, her husband (J. Bernard Calloway) and their kids (Vince Swann, Briyana Guadalupe, Theodore John Barnes). The best part of the Emmy-nominated series is that it’s not just full of sharp jokes and slick one-liners, but it is also a look at serious family issues, sociopolitical topics and identity. As Pat struggles to adjust to suburbia and what it means to be politically correct, her husband and her kids are on the ride with her, guiding her as best as they can. — Evans

New Arrivals

Mo on “Ramy” isn’t a particularly memorable side character on a show that is chock-full of deeply interesting series regulars. But Mo on his own show, aptly titled “Mo?” It’s the perfect example of what can happen when a character is thoroughly fleshed out and navigating his own insecurities and complexes. Mental health stigma, undocumented immigration, Latina entrepreneurship and what it means to embody two cultures (American and Palestinian) are just a few of the subjects that creators Mohammed Amer and Ramy Youssef humanize in this earnest and genuinely funny series. — Frederick

Oscar winner Youn Yuh-jung plays an older Sunja in Apple TV+'s "Pachinko."
Oscar winner Youn Yuh-jung plays an older Sunja in Apple TV+’s “Pachinko.”

On paper, the Apple TV+ adaptation of Min Jin Lee’s historical epic novel seemed like it would be a daunting undertaking. The award-winning bestseller chronicles several generations of a Korean family, whose matriarch, Sunja, immigrated to Japan as a young, impoverished woman during the Japanese occupation of Korea in the first half of the 1900s. It ends all the way in the late 1980s, with her grandson Solomon working as an investment banker in New York. In the hands of showrunner Soo Hugh, the resulting series is stunning in its scale and scope. Shot on two continents, told in three languages and chock-full of wonderful performances from an international and multigenerational cast, the show is epic on every level (including its buoyant opening credits sequence). I was admittedly surprised when Apple TV+ announced the show was renewed for multiple seasons, given that the novel and the adaptation both tell a complete story. But given Hugh’s incredible vision and ambition for the show, I’m excited to see what she cooks up for future seasons. — Fang

Creators Lucy Gaymer and Sian Robins-Grace’s “The Baby” isn’t a show that should actually work. It follows a biracial Black woman of reproductive age (Michelle de Swarte) running around with a murderous white infant in her arms that isn’t hers and won’t leave her alone. And everyone thinks that she should just take care of the child, even though she doesn’t even like kids. Oh, the horror! Constantly evolving as the episodes progress, “The Baby” peers beneath that wild premise to examine the absurd expectations of motherhood in a society that doesn’t care to ask why a woman would refuse procreation. Gaymer and Robins-Grace are curious enough to find out. — Frederick

A TV series showcasing workplace dynamics is nothing new — but I’m fairly sure corporate mundanity has never been presented in such a brain-breaking way as on “Severance.” The Apple TV+ series stars Adam Scott as Mark S., who works for the secretive company Lumon in the macrodata refinement department. Mark and his co-workers have undergone a process called severance that keeps their work selves and non-work selves entirely separate — “innie” Mark has no idea what “outie” Mark does and vice versa. Season 1 follows new employee Helly’s (Britt Lower) adjustment to the team, slowly revealing the menace that lurks at Lumon beneath its delightfully retro office vibes. The scenes we get of Mark and his colleagues in their outside lives are equally perplexing, from the show’s time period (why do all the cars look like they’re at least 30 years old?) to his sister’s bizzaro self-help guru husband and his friends. Something is afoot both in and outside of Lumon. With a thrilling, stress-inducing season finale, impeccable musical score and lovable goofiness (defiant jazz and “coveted as fuck” deviled eggs forever!) “Severance” is a true standout. Let’s hope Season 2 keeps up that momentum. — Jillian Capewell

It’s probably the most nonsexual series on this list, and yet “The Bear” made the internet intensely horny this year just by its lead Jeremy Allen White showing up onscreen with literally dirty blonde hair, a relentless chip on his shoulder and a knack for making Italian beef. “The Bear,” from showrunner Joanna Calo, isn’t gripping because of the “Hell’s Kitchen”-like drama it depicts inside a professional kitchen, the kind of toxicity that makes the well-meaning, cotton-mouthed sous-chef (Ayo Edebiri) eventually throw up her hands and walk out. Rather, what makes “The Bear” so superb is that it’s a show about the way ego, trauma and success often collide on the way to making a good restaurant great — and the unlikely friendships that are formed along the way. — Frederick

Robert (Fred Armisen), Rhonda (Eliza Coupe), Minister Payne (Michael Imperioli), Julio (Chris Estrada) and Luis (Frankie Quinones) star in Hulu"s "This Fool."
Robert (Fred Armisen), Rhonda (Eliza Coupe), Minister Payne (Michael Imperioli), Julio (Chris Estrada) and Luis (Frankie Quinones) star in Hulu”s “This Fool.”

There are plenty of great shows set inside a prison — like “Oz,” for starters — but far fewer about what it’s like to rehab former inmates, and maybe zero that are comedies. Co-created by comedian and star Chris Estrada, “This Fool,” at its core, is all about striving for goodness in a world where few genuinely good things happen and few good people are. Estrada’s Julio is the nice, “punk-ass bitch” who created a space for former prisoners to be rehabbed and give back to their communities. Things are going well until his cousin Luis (Frankie Quiñones) is released from prison and tries to reacclimate himself to society. His mere presence disrupts Julio’s self-righteous veneer and gives way for the sitcom to look at the sliver of difference between two men who just made different choices in life — and what ultimately brings them back together. It is a hysterical delight. — Frederick

I’d argue that “From Scratch” was the saddest, most beautiful TV series I’ve watched in a long time. The Netflix drama stars Zoe Saldana and Eugenio Mastrandrea and is based on the true story of author and actor Tembi Locke and her late husband, Saro. At first glance, the series seems like a whimsical look at a woman’s time in Florence, Italy, as she seeks to hone her artistic talents. But quickly, audiences see Amy (Saldana) fall in love with Lino (Mastrandrea) in a whirlwind romance that is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking. The ensemble cast is incredible, with Danielle Deadwyler flexing her comedic chops alongside great performances by Keith David, Judith Scott and Kellita Smith. Lino’s parents, portrayed by Lucia Sardo and Parido Benassai, nearly broke me with their compelling portrayals. It is nearly impossible to complete this series without tears, a true testament to the depth of love and care between Locke and her husband. — Evans

It was indeed “Showtime” once this Lakers sports drama premiered on HBO Max. “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty” was chock-full of excellent performances and told the personal stories of the folks behind the storied legacy of the franchise, including Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Spencer Haywood and the Buss family. Yes, there are several parts of the series that are a bit over the top — several members of the team were not at all pleased with the series — but it’s a gripping and wild ride if you’re curious about the rise of the Lakers in the ’80s. — Evans

What a surprise this series was. “The Gilded Age” premiered on HBO Max seemingly with little fanfare, but was quick to draw a dedicated audience each week with its whip-smart writing, engaging performances and amazing costuming and production design. The historical drama is set during the booming 1880s in New York City, with Bertha (Carrie Coon) trying to break into high society and being rebuffed at every turn by old-money influencers like Agnes (Christine Baranski). Denée Brooks, Cynthia Nixon, Louisa Jacobson and Morgan Spector round out the cast in this surprisingly funny and engaging series, which is equally a messy and soapy drama as much as it is a smart look on race, class and family in the Gilded Age. — Evans

Returning Favorites

It’s been three seasons, and Ramy, both the character and the actor Ramy Youssef, who created and plays him, is no closer to having the answers — to love, the power of Muslim prayer or whether “Congratulations” is an appropriate thing to say to a Holocaust survivor. But that’s also what makes “Ramy” so special. Youssef, along with co-creators Ari Ketcher and Ryan Welch, bring us a character who doesn’t claim to know anything concretely and still gets by. While the show shares Youssef’s name, it has since expanded to deftly examine the lives of his family members, including his mother (Hiam Abbass) and sister (May Calamawy), who are similarly struggling to reconcile their aspirations with what’s expected of them. “Ramy” somehow continues to get better each season, catapulting it into a league among very few others. — Frederick

Ramy (Ramy Youssef) and Dena (May Calamawy) star in "Ramy."
Ramy (Ramy Youssef) and Dena (May Calamawy) star in “Ramy.”

Thanks to “Stranger Things” this year, we might never get Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” out of our heads. We might not have realized that Sadie Sink’s young heroine, Max Mayfield, is actually the true heart of the series. Or that the horrifying Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower) would give every monster who’s ever graced this series a run for their money. “Stranger Things,” created by Matt and Ross Duffer, has managed to have a death grip on audiences throughout the entire summer, which is a long time in the binge era. And there’s a reason for that. It blends the supernatural with what is human: like someone’s love for you, grief, and physical fear. Six years since it first premiered, “Stranger Things” still has us on the edge of our seats as we await its conclusion. — Frederick

Three seasons in, and “Evil” still manages to keep audiences on their toes with a storyline that continues to probe what is good and what is evil, and the short pathway between them. With the unmistakable sexual tension between psychologist Kristen (Katja Herbers) and freshly minted priest David (Mike Colter) going on for the last two seasons, one might have predicted that showrunners Michelle and Robert King would concoct a romantic connection between them. But the idea that Kristen would be a demonic conjuring of David’s imagination could only live in the darkest places of these particular creators’ minds. Can you truly be good, even as a man of the cloth like David? Or are you doomed to your own urges, now manifested as your worst nightmares? And how much can your own system of logic be tested until it gives in to what cannot actually be proven? Monsters abound in “Evil,” but it’s really the increasingly difficult debates among the central trio (along with Aasif Mandvi’s skeptic Ben) that truly unsettle. — Frederick

Bidding Our Farewells

Bianca Lawson and Ethan Hutchison act in the final season of "Queen Sugar."
Bianca Lawson and Ethan Hutchison act in the final season of “Queen Sugar.”

Richard DuCree/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. / Courtesy of OWN.

“Queen Sugar” said its goodbyes this year with perhaps one of the most satisfying series finales that I’ve ever seen. The seven-season OWN series included spectacular performances by the ensemble cast, with an especially stellar turn by Bianca Lawson as Darla, a recovering addict and married mother of two who comes into her own as an astute deal-making businesswoman in the final season. Aunt Vi (Tina Lifford) and Hollywood (Omar J. Dorsey) take their relationship to new heights by fostering two boys, and Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe) goes to great lengths to save his farm and his family in the midst of some pretty heart-wrenching ordeals. Nova (Rutina Wesley) deals with love and loss. “Queen Sugar” is one of the best dramas on television, and it’s a shame the series didn’t get more shine during its run. But it doesn’t change the fact that its run was extraordinary, not only for its rich storytelling and amazing performances but also for making history with 42 female directors shepherding it all the way to its brilliant end. — Evans

It’s truly painful to think about “Ozark” in the past tense. This eternally suspenseful crime drama about a man (Jason Bateman) and his family who become progressively terrible people in the Missouri Ozarks had such an immaculate four-season run. Part of that comes down to the incredible cast in addition to Bateman: Laura Linney as the sociopathic mama bear and Julia Garner as the local misfit who gets too caught up in the central family’s corruption. Oh, and in the show’s final season, Veronica Falcón, the crime boss with a vendetta. “Ozark” is a story about coercion, greed, blood money — and the white family that just knew they’d get away with everything. It all hits really close to home in a masterful way. — Frederick

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