Entertainment

The Best TV of 2022 (So Far)

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ABC
ABC
ABC

This year got off to a good start TV-wise. As 2022 kicked into gear we finished off seasons of beloved shows that premiered in late 2021, the likes of Yellowjackets (on Paramount+) and the latest season of The Expanse (Prime Video). We spent the earliest days of January huddled around our sets wondering what Che Diaz will do next on And Just Like That… But because these shows debuted at the end of last year they did not make our list of the best of 2022. We have to save that honour for the truly new. We were wowed by the final season of Search Party and captivated by Severance; charmed by Abbott Elementary and Somebody Somewhere. So the next time you’re thinking of what to watch venture over here. Just don’t ask us where Euphoria is.

ABC
ABC
ABC

Abbott Elementary (Disney+)

Season 1, 13 episodes
Creator and star Quinta Brunson pulls off something of a magic trick with the ABC sitcom Abbott Elementary. She managed to make a fresh Office-style mockumentary comedy about a struggling Philadelphia school that feels neither trite nor flippant. And on top of all of that, she’s brought the cool kids of Twitter back to network television. In the series, Brunson plays Janine Teagues, a dedicated elementary teacher whose optimistic, people-pleasing nature can rub her jaded colleagues the wrong way. A comedy is only as good as its ensemble, and Abbott Elementary‘s is incredible, from Brunson to veterans Sheryl Lee Ralph and Lisa Ann Walter to hilarious breakout star Janelle James as the scene-stealing DGAF principal Ava. –Esther Zuckerman

Netflix
Netflix
Netflix

All of Us Are Dead (Netflix)

Season 1, 12 episodes

On the heels of Netflix’s other recent Korean horror WebToon/TV series Hellbound,
All of Us Are Dead capitalized on the ongoing hallyu wave with its apocalyptic high school zombie story featuring a sprawling ensemble cast, teenage drama, and escape room-like plot as surviving students must evade an outbreak that has swept through their school. Those who watched 2020’s Sweet Home will find plenty of similarities here, what with AOUAD‘s tense action in confined spaces, mysterious outbreak, abundant death, occasionally sus CGI, and One Special Kid who might just have the cure to end it all. But this series stands on its own emotional legs that carry AOUAD‘s episodes, even in the ones that start feeling a little tedious. -LB

Showtime
Showtime
Showtime

Billions (Stan)

Season 6, 12 episodes
After Billions‘ Season 5 finale revealed that Damien Lewis would be leaving, we wondered how the Showtime series would fare without the manic energy of his hedge-fund shark Bobby Axelrod to push things forward. It turns out that Billions can be just as sharp when it’s focused on a different billionaire, a benevolent-presenting egomaniac in Corey Stoll’s Michael Thomas Acquinas Prince, especially when the cast around him, i.e., Asia Kate Dillion, Condola Rashad, and Paul Giamatti as always, are turning in reliable performances. In a bid to bring the 2028 Olympics to New York City under the guise of “revitalizing” the city-which includes an enviable new subway prototype-Prince’s motives behind his do-gooder façade show off a side of Billions more interested in the moral ambiguity around wealth than ever before. In the Season 6 pivot, Billions is flashing its hand: There are no good billionaires, and even seemingly clean philanthropic money can still feel dirty. -Leanne Butkovic

Hulu
Hulu
Hulu

The Dropout (Disney+)

Limited series, 8 episodes
It’s easy to feel skeptical about the current wave of scripted series based on scams ripped from recent headlines, but The Dropout is far better than counterparts like Netflix’s Inventing Anna and Apple TV+’s WeCrashed. Run by New Girl creator Elizabeth Meriwether, the Disney+ show charts the breathless rise and tantalizing fall of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes (Amanda Seyfried), who girlbossed her way to fame and riches without confirming that her radical blood-testing innovation actually worked. If you’ve read, heard, or watched the many chronicles of Holmes’ decline, you might not learn much new information from The Dropout. But in addition to great performances from Seyfried, Naveen Andrews, Stephen Fry, Laurie Metcalf, and others, you will get a barbed insight into how a single-minded go-getter can dupe herself into believing in a self-driven vision that was always too good to be true. –Matthew Jacobs

Hulu
Hulu
Hulu

Pam & Tommy (Disney+)

Limited series, 8 episodes
Pam & Tommy got people’s attention with prosthetics that transformed Lily James and Sebastian Stan into uncanny replicas of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee, as well as the promise of many ’90s pop-culture references. But after a few episodes, the bio-drama came down from its Señor Frogs party binge and proved that it intended to reframe the narrative around the theft and distribution of the couple’s sex tape as an instance in which tabloids and society weaponized a woman’s sexuality against her. It’s James’s fully inhabited performance that elevates the show, as she brings an immense sincerity to her portrayal of the Baywatch star, from scenes in which Anderson is underestimated on the set to an episode about her infamous deposition. While Pam & Tommy ultimately has to grapple with its own place amid Hollywood’s ongoing reevaluation of the ways it has hurt famous women-Anderson was not involved in the production-it’s certainly moving, and now it’s become a catalyst to hear Pam’s own experience. –Sadie Bell

Amazon Studios
Amazon Studios
Amazon Studios

Reacher (Amazon)

Season 1, 8 episodes
What Reacher lacks in ambition, it makes up for in mass. The latest airport-thriller adaptation from Amazon, the streaming home of Bosch and Jack Ryan, is a sturdy take on author Lee Child’s long-running Jack Reacher book series, which was first turned into a pair of sturdy if unspectacular movies starring a diminutive Tom Cruise as the titular ex-military drifter. This version, which comes from Prison Break writer Nick Santora, swaps out Cruise for the suitably large Alan Ritchson and stretches the plot of the first Reacher novel, 1997’s The Killing Floor, into a whole season’s worth of twists and turns. The mystery can get convoluted, particularly as the show attempts to connect the dots of its small-town conspiracy, but Ritchson is an effective Reacher, understanding the combination of wit and stoicism that sells the macho fantasy. He keeps you engaged as he punches his way to the truth. -Dan Jackson

HBO
HBO
HBO

The Righteous Gemstones (Binge)

Season 2, 9 episodes

Strongmen for Christ, a biblically themed timeshare, a toilet baby: When you describe what happened in Season 2 of Danny McBride’s megachurch family dramedy to a non-watcher (tragic), it’s hard to keep a straight face with all of the absurd concepts that make total sense in context. After Season 1 put a pin in its own extortion plot that established the Gemstone family’s innerworkings, The Righteous Gemstones became more of itself, diving into the surprising backstories of the family patriarch Eli (John Goodman) and wacky Uncle Baby Billy (Walton Goggins), while unspooling new unscrupulous yarns for the siblings-Jesse (McBride), Judy (Edi Patterson), and Kelvin (Adam DeVine)-to get tangled up in all in order to make their daddy proud of them. With guest roles from Eric Andre and Eric Roberts adding both hilarious bits and high stakes to this season, Gemstones delivered a multipronged saga of death, birth, redemption, and catchy Christian songs that more people should be watching. -LB

HBO Max
HBO Max
HBO Max

Search Party (Stan)

Season 5, 10 episodes
Throughout its five-season run, HBO Max’s Search Party was one of the best things on television that continually flew under the radar. What was first a dark comedy about millennial ennui reached a much bolder conclusion, following Dory (Alia Shawkat) and her friends on the other side of Dory’s near-death experience. It brought them back together, but this time under Dory’s influence as a newfound spiritual deity heading up a cult. It might seem like an outlandish storyline to end the show on, but it comes full circle with what the show’s been about all along-just how much our actions can not only impact ourselves but ultimately the world. –Kerensa Cadenas

Apple TV+
Apple TV+
Apple TV+

Severance (Apple TV+)

Season 1, 9 episodes
Mark (Adam Scott) is employed at Lumon Industries, a company so mysterious its own workers are obligated to undergo “severance,” a one-time procedure that totally wipes their memories of anything they do while at the office. What they’re not told is that, in order to wall off one section of their memories from another, severance basically manifests an entirely new personality that lives, trapped, inside their heads, existing only within their workplace. The workers, naturally, become obsessed with finding out who they really are. The result is a hideous and hilarious parody of office life and its bizarre intricacies. The show, created by Dan Erickson, builds an entire world inside an office, constructing a mappa mundi of white-tiled halls, carpeted cubicles, and a delightfully analog tech aesthetic that positions it somewhere between Office Space and Being John Malkovich. –Emma Stefansky

HBO
HBO
HBO

Somebody Somewhere (Binge)

Season 1, 7 episodes
While Euphoria was the most talked-about show this winter, the best one aired after it. Somebody Somewhere is a gorgeous, hilarious, and elegiac show that acts as a showcase for the immensely talented Bridget Everett. The performer best known for her bawdy cabaret show plays a woman named Sam who moves back to her hometown in Kentucky after the death of her beloved sister. Working at a test-grading facility, she reunites with Joel (Jeff Hiller), a high school classmate she doesn’t remember, and they become fast friends as he introduces her to the local queer community. Created by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen, it’s a beautiful series that delves into faith and grief with a mastery of tone and musical numbers. –EZ

Freeform
Freeform
Freeform

Single Drunk Female (Disney+)

After her stint on the underrated comedy The Mick, Sofia Black-D’Elia gets a deserving showcase in Single Drunk Female. She plays Samantha, a 28-year-old alcoholic who gets fired from her soul-sucking media job and moves in with her widowed mother (Ally Sheedy) who doesn’t understand the nature of her addiction. Few shows have tangled with young women’s sobriety as honestly as Single Drunk Female, with its potent blend of dark humor, deep self-reflection, and emotional breakthroughs as Sam works through Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12 steps. Created by Simone Finch based on her real-life experiences and produced by the likes of Leslye Headland (Russian Doll), Jenni Konner (Girls), and Daisy Gardner (30 Rock), the series often feels painfully real as Sam weathers the ups and downs on her road to recovery. –LB

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Entertainment

With One Orgy, 'Queer as Folk' Sets a New TV Standard

Peacock's reboot of the gay drama is finally giving queer disabled people some of the representation they've been seeking on television.

Peacock
Peacock
Peacock

Everything is ready for the orgy. The snacks and drinks are prepared, the disco ball is hanging, and there are mechanical lifts to help people in and out of their wheelchairs. As a few guests mingle and a go-go dancer gyrates, Marvin (played by Eric Graise) rolls onto the stage in his wheelchair to act as emcee. With the help of a sign-language interpreter, he kicks things off by announcing, “I know you’re all dying to tear each other’s clothes off, or to have your attendants take them off for you.” This is no ordinary orgy; it’s “#F*CK Disabled People,” the titular orgy from Episode 4 of Queer as Folk.

The Queer as Folk reboot, released this month on Peacock, is already far more diverse than the versions of the show that came before it: more racially diverse, more body types, more genders, and multiple disabled actors in key roles. Episode 4 pushes the envelope beyond almost anything seen on network TV. It’s the kind of representation that disabled viewers-and actors-have been dreaming about, centring on a queer disabled orgy and one stunningly beautiful sex scene.

Ryan O’Connell, who both co-writes and acts in the series, recognized the reboot’s potential when it came to better representing the lives of queer disabled people like himself. Key to this was sharing the screen with multiple disabled actors, including recurring appearances by Graise. Marvin’s presence had already sold O’Connell on the show when he began meeting with series developer Stephen Dunn, who had previously directed the coming-of-age movie Closet Monster. “He was like, ‘I also want you to star in it too,’ and I was like, ‘Wait, you want two disabled people?'” says O’Connell.

O’Connell grew up enjoying the sexy, soapy escapades of the American Queer as Folk, Showtime’s five-season adaptation of the British series of the same name. Amid widespread bigotry and the AIDS epidemic, the two popular shows offered a rare picture of happy gay life. But O’Connell longed for a reflection of himself on the screen. That impulse eventually led him to create Special, the Netflix sitcom about a gay man with cerebral palsy seeking love, sex, and friendship. Queer as Folk gives him another special opportunity: to tell sexy, soapy, positive LGBTQIA+ stories with an ensemble cast wherein he wouldn’t be the only disabled character. “I was so shocked in a way that was truly depressing, but it’s so rare as disabled people that we get any kind of inclusion whatsoever, let alone that there’s two of us,” O’Connell says. “Immediately, writing for the reboot, I felt a sense of ease.”For Graise, working on a show written by O’Connell was a “dream come true.” He continues, “I’d always said there needs to be a disabled person in the writers’ room, but I had no idea how significant it would be and how much it meant to me. And even Stephen Dunn has a disabled friend who Marvin is very much inspired by.”

Marvin is outgoing, even wild in his energy. When we meet him at a bar in the first episode of the series, he acts like he owns the place, flirting and serving up wicked verbal jabs with equal ease. Before we get to know him better, O’Connell’s shy, sheltered Julian Beaumont seems to fade into the background by comparison. Initially, he serves mostly as a foil to his more outgoing older brother, Brodie (Devin Way), who, in many ways, is the chaotic core around which the rest of the ensemble orbits. During the first three episodes, the brothers, along with Brodie’s on-again, off-again lover Noah (Johnny Sibilly), convert their shared New Orleans home into the epic party house known as “Ghost Fag.” It’s Ghost Fag that attracts Marvin, in the fourth episode, with the idea of hosting a queer disabled orgy. We don’t learn as much about Marvin’s background, but it’s clear he’s made himself a cornerstone of the LGBTQIA+ community despite the everyday ableism he faces.

Beyond the surface differences, Julian and Marvin couldn’t be more divergent. In addition to their differing disabilities (Marvin, like Graise, is a double amputee), they come from disparate economic classes and have radically contrasting outlooks on life. Julian protects his vulnerability with an introverted lifestyle and a carefully cultivated routine, while Marvin hides his behind a boisterous exterior. Just like real life, not all members of a marginalized group get along, or even have very much in common.

“I don’t ever try to feel the burden of representation because there’s no point-you have to write from a place of truth,” says O’Connell, who wrote Episode 4 with Alyssa Taylor. “It was really fun creatively to have these two disabled characters who are so wildly different from each other in how they conduct themselves in their relationship to disability and to sex and all those things, but also I think in Episode 4 it was really interesting to show their commonalities.”

Peacock
Peacock
Peacock

Both Marvin and Julian get laid over the course of the episode, but even before their clothes come off, the orgy scene fills the screen with something seldom seen on TV: disabled people in all their sexual glory. The scenario was inspired by a 2015 disabled sex party co-hosted in Toronto by Andrew Gurza, the show’s disability awareness consultant. After Gurza joined QaF, he mentioned the party in the writers’ room. “Mine was a lot more tame than this should be,” Gurza recalls telling them. “I’d like this to be a lot racier.”

Gurza even appears in a sex scene during the episode. “Being together on the show was an amazing moment,” says O’Connell, who cites Gurza as one of his inspirations. “He’s so honest and demands that his voice be heard and makes no apologies for that, and I try to do the same.”

As the orgy continues, both characters hook up with sex workers. It’s clear the actors and creators wanted to affirm that sex work is work. “It’s incredibly difficult work, not only the physical labour but the emotional space you have to hold for somebody to make them feel seen and heard and not judged. It makes me happy to showcase their work in a more positive light,” O’Connell notes.

Sachin Bhatt, who plays Ali, the sex worker hired by Marvin, agrees. He adds that his role is an all-too-rare example of a Southeast Asian man being sexual on-screen. “Anyone who’s not a cisgender, white male has many more mountains to climb,” Bhatt says. “So for me it was really exciting to play this sex worker because they wouldn’t typically cast an Indian for this role.”

Peacock
Peacock
Peacock

While their relationship is transactional to begin with, Ali is respectful, playful, and caring throughout his interactions with Marvin. However, his feelings for his client intensify during Episode 4 as the pair connect alone in a room at Ghost Fag. “We bonded instantly,” Bhatt recalls of Graise. “It was very important to both of us that we get the intimacy and the vulnerability right.”

For Graise, who also appeared on Netflix’s Locke & Key, that actorly connection made the sequence what it is. “We spent a lot of time kiki’ing off-set and discussing what we wanted out of this scene for both of us. The scene wasn’t just about me. It’s also Ali exploring Marvin’s body in a way that he’s never explored with anyone before, and his insecurities and trepidations about interacting with a disabled body.”

Unlike previous interactions shown between them, Ali asks to top Marvin this time-and to interact with his body in new ways. “Can I touch your legs?” Ali asks. This was influenced by Graise’s own life, as someone he dated for three years realized he’d never touched Graise’s legs. After some tender caressing, Marvin wraps his thighs around Ali and they make love. Graise’s background as a dancer is evident in his elegant movement throughout the scene, which contrasts with some of the polished, more “Hollywood”-style sequences that appear elsewhere in the series.

“Sachin and Eric really fucking landed that plane,” O’Connell says. “It was everything I want in a sex scene, which is that it was vulnerable, it was tender, it was awkward, and it was sexy.”Beyond the new Queer As Folk, it’s rare for media to let disabled people be either queer or sexy. O’Connell cited a few other examples, such as Jillian Mercado’s role in The L Word: Generation Q or the work of playwright and actor Ryan J. Haddad, but it’s sparse overall. With one episode, Queer as Folk has set a high bar for other shows to follow, and the series as a whole demonstrates how disabled actors can portray real, complex, and flawed human beings.

“A cognitive dissonance happens when we watch things on our TV screens, where, all of a sudden, we want things to be simplified,” O’Connell says. “Isn’t it art’s job to reflect humanity accurately?

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Kit O’Connell is the Digital Editor at the Texas Observer, and lives in Austin, Texas with their spouse and two cats. Follow them @KitOConnell.

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