We were spoiled for choice when it came to TV this year. So rather than a simple “Best TV of 2022,” we have to break it up: Best TV Episodes, Best New TV, and Best Returning TV of 2022.
This list toasts those series that didn’t just awe us out the gate but have also kept us invested. Whether we’re talking about an adventure series about vicious monsters and resilient adolescents, a sitcom about the quirks of growing up, or twisted takes on what it means to be a superhero (or supervillain), these shows had us howling with excitement. They took us into rapturous resorts, cutup classrooms, and the Upside Down. Others kept us close through gnarly and hilarious investigations or murder and time travel. Still others explored hard-hitting issues with a sharp comedic perspective. Here, we celebrate all of the above. Did your favorite make the cut?
Here, in no particular order, are the best returning TV series of 2022.
1. Stranger Things, Season 4
We thirsted over Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower). We cried over Eddie (Joseph Quinn). And we squealed over Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Hopper (David Harbour). The penultimate season of Stranger Things was an emotional rollercoaster, catapulting our Hawkins gang into their final showdown against the Upside Down. Described by the Duffer Brothers as their “Game of Thrones season,” Stranger Things 4 was packed with firsts.
It was the first time the story spanned to locations beyond Hawkins. It was the first time the crew wasn’t together for it all. And it was the first time they lost — monstrously. The season’s final moments of a spore-infused Hawkins molting as the Upside Down crackled beneath it was an incredible cliffhanger with seemingly no hopes on the horizon for our crew, or for Max (Sadie Sink). She gave Kate Bush a Gen Z boost, but at what cost? Stranger Things 4 raised the stakes to heights that previous seasons didn’t dare reach for, transforming its tone from E.T. to Alien. Long gone are the days of Dungeons and Dragons in Mike’s (Finn Wolfhard) basement; it’s Vecna’s world now. —Yasmeen Hamadeh, Entertainment Intern.
How to watch: Stranger Things is now streaming on Netflix.
2. Derry Girls, Season 3
Credit: Channel 4
Derry Girls came to a conclusion in 2022, and we’re still pretty cut up about it. For three uproarious seasons, our beloved Erin (Saoirse-Monica Jackson), Orla (Louisa Harland), Clare (Nicola Coughlan), Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell), and the Wee English Fella James (Dylan Llewellyn) have been steadfast companions to us, making us laugh ’til our ribcages ached. Season 3 was a wild ol’ ride, not to mention a joyful trip down ’90s memory lane.
In the final season of the beloved show, the gang is nervously waiting on their GCSE results against the backdrop of the peace process, and true to form, they’re up to no good. Unsurprisingly for the diehard Derry Girls fans amongst us, the Season 3 soundtrack is another absolute corker full of ’90s musical nostalgia. In episode one alone, you’ll hear The Beautiful South, The Corrs, Texas, 5ive, Björk, OMC, and Shola Ama. Absolute bangers. The series will be missed, but they sure did go out with a bang. — Rachel Thompson, Features Editor*
How to watch: Derry Girls Season 3 is now streaming on Netflix.
3. The White Lotus, Season 2
While Season 1 of The White Lotus examined race and privilege (and not always effectively), the Sicily-set Season 2 looks at how wealth impacts relationships and especially sex. This new focus allows creator Mike White to lean hard into what made Season 1 so compulsively watchable: soap opera levels of mess. Questions about fidelity and the power dynamics of sex work come to light against a background of stunning frescoes and foreboding ocean waves.
Based on the season’s opening scene, we know several guests will end up drowned by the end of the series — figuring out who is half the fun. The other half of the fun comes from watching the White Lotus Resort’s rich and often insufferable guests implode in paradise. Jennifer Coolidge returns in excellent form as heiress Tanya, but the real stars of the show are the quartet of Aubrey Plaza, Will Sharpe, Meghann Fahy, and Theo James. Playing a pair of married couples, this stellar quartet brings you into a tangled bedroom farce peppered with moments of hilarity, horror, and pathos. — Belen Edwards, Entertainment Reporter
How to watch: White Lotus is now streaming on HBO Max.
4. Abbott Elementary, Season 2
The dedication of these Philly elementary school teachers will have you dreaming about the days when grilled cheese and chocolate milk was considered a lunchtime delicacy. Quinta Brunson’s sophomore season of Abbott Elementary gets straight A’s, thanks to its performers’ impeccable comedic timing, smart but never cynical writing, and an irresistible mockumentary style.
Janine Teagues (Brunson) and her fellow teachers are back from summer vacation with varying degrees of success and excitement for the coming year. Over the course of the second season, we’ll learn how Janine’s first solo summer went and how she’s been coping since breaking up with Tariq (Zack Fox) in last season’s finale. On top of the everyday drama of teaching in an underserved public school, there’s also a neighboring charter school running attack ads on Abbott’s teachers, a hapless teacher’s aide (Keyla Monterroso Mejia) for the increasingly frazzled Melissa (Lisa Ann Walter), and, of course, the delicious slow burn between Janine and Gregory (Tyler James Williams) — not to mention Janine’s friendship with Jacob (Chris Perfetti), the always-innovative social media scams of Principal Ava Coleman (Janelle James), and every frame featuring Barbara (Emmy-winner Sheryl Lee Ralph). —Kyle McWilliams, Entertainment Intern
How to watch: Abbott Elementary is now streaming on Hulu.
5. The Umbrella Academy, Season 3
Season 3 of The Umbrella Academy is a blast. Superpowers? Check. Daddy issues? Check. A killer dance off to “Footloose”? Check. The Hargreeves siblings return from saving the world in 1963 to find that they’ve created another timeline — again. In this timeline, the Umbrella Academy doesn’t exist. Instead, the Hargreeves come face to face with the superpowered members of the Sparrow Academy. The families bicker and square off in a series of fun fight sequences. Little do they know that the world is coming apart around them.
The Umbrella Academy remains a rollicking ride with an excellent soundtrack, but Season 3 gives us extra levels of weirdness with the Hotel Obsidian and a powerful floating cube. This season also handles Viktor’s (Elliot Page) transness with great care, giving us some of the best moments of Hargreeves family bonding the series has ever seen. —B.E.
How to watch: The Umbrella Academy is now streaming on Netflix.
6. Only Murders in the Building, Season 2
Credit: Craig Blankenhorn / Hulu
The second season of this cozy crime show doubled down with a fresh murder, even bigger guest stars, and scads of meta-commentary. How do you follow up a hit premiere season of a true crime podcast that breaks the mold? OMitB‘s showrunners had a similar puzzle on their hands in putting together a follow-up to Season 1. But they were off to a rollicking start with the murder of snarling biddy Bunny Folger (Jayne Houdyshell) and a frame job painting Broadway bombast Oliver (Martin Short), notorious knitter “Bloody” Mabel (Selena Gomez), and TV has-been Charles (Steve Martin) as killers and conspirators. Now, their necks are on the line as they seek to solve the case before it’s too late.
Along with slews of jokes about fickle fandoms, sophomore slumps, and the complicated ethics of true crime podcasting, Only Murders in the Building delivered laughs and character. Newcomers like Cara Delevingne, Amy Schumer, and Shirley MacLaine brought the eccentricities of New York City living to vivid life with deliciously bold roles. Meanwhile, Season 1 standouts Adina Verson, James Caverly, and Michael Cyril Creighton got new depth with episode arcs about regret, romance, and a questionable sandwich. Yet for all the wild twists and wacky turns, the best bit of Season 2 might have been the magic of episode three, “The Last Day of Bunny Folger,” which recontextualized the witch of the Arconia, deepening the impact of her death and reminding us — amid the mirth, murder, and mayhem — that nothing and no one is truly what they seem. In finding the heart of gold in Bunny, Only Murders hit us where it hurts. —Kristy Puchko, Film Editor
How to watch: Only Murders in the Building is now streaming on Hulu.
7. Atlanta, Season 3 and Season 4
Credit: Guy D’Alema/FX
After a four-year hiatus, Atlanta returned to screens twice in 2022, finally delivering to viewers both its third and fourth installments. The critically acclaimed FX series, created by multi-hyphenate Donald Glover, made its comeback first with a whirlwind, dystopian European tour in Season 3, and with the characters (finally) returning to the show’s namesake city in Season 4.
While the third season had viewers divided, the show never strayed from its provocative narratives and signature dark humor. Throwing the beloved cast – Earn Marks (Glover), Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles (Bryan Tyree Henry), Darius Epps (LaKeith Stanfield), and Van Keefer (Zazie Beetz) – into all sorts of nail-biting circumstances, each episode provided plenty to think over. Its commentary on race, gender, and the human condition remained sharp at every turn. And with Season 4, the show’s final bow, the heart of Atlanta truly emerged once again. It was the perfect goodbye to what is arguably one of the greatest segments of television to grace screens in a long time. —Meera Navlakha, Culture Reporter
How to watch: Atlanta is now streaming on Hulu.
8. Never Have I Ever, Season 3
Credit: Lara Solanki/Netflix
Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) continues her chaotic journey through high school in the tremendous third season of Never Have I Ever. Now that she’s dating her dream crush, Paxton Hall-Yoshida (Darren Barnet), Devi should have everything she wants right? Well, it’s a lot more complicated than that. Creators Lang Fisher and Mindy Kaling deftly navigate Devi’s feelings of self-worth as she enters her first public relationship, all while juggling the show’s many other romances. All these relationships create plenty of opportunities for nuance and teen drama. Luckily, we get both in spades! Devi might start the season with Paxton, but with ex Ben Gross (Jaren Lewison) and new crush Nirdesh (Anirudh Pisharody) in the picture, Devi’s affections are anyone’s game.
However, one of Never Have I Ever‘s strongest suits is that it never focuses solely on Devi’s love life. Season 3 continues to deepen her connection with her mother Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan) and with her friends, treating us to some excellent character growth on Devi’s part. Yes, she still makes a ton of mistakes, but she’s learning to own up to them and handle them with maturity. Never have I ever been so proud of Devi. —B.E.
How to watch: Never Have I Ever is now streaming on Netflix.
9. Girls5eva, Season 2
Credit: Heidi Gutman/Peacock/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
Meredith Scardino’s pitch-perfect comedy Girls5eva stomped into Season 2 with eight quip-a-minute episodes and “B.P.E.” (figure it out). The ’90s girl group making a comeback in 2022 — Dawn (Sara Bareilles), Wickie (Renée Elise Goldsberry), Gloria (Paula Pell), and Summer (Busy Philipps) — turned their attention to the studio this season, recording their first album since their peak stardom. And fans, it’s a record full of certified bangers.
Goldsberry’s dramatic vocal runs to the top in her performance as ambitious diva Wickie. Phillips brings sweet hilarity to a newly-independent-but-still-conservative Summer. Bareilles brings that serious songwriter energy back to Dawn, and Pell’s penchant for physical comedy bubbles through the group’s shenanigans. If you haven’t watched it, and with Season 3 on the way, what are you waiting five? —Shannon Connellan, UK Editor
How to watch: Girls5eva is now streaming on Peacock.
10. Harley Quinn, Season 3
Credit: HBO Max
Season 3 of HBO Max’s explosive anti-heroine animated series begins with a bang. Specifically, the Eat Bang Kill Tour is a rollicking, romantic crime spree committed by Harley Quinn (Kaley Cuoco) and her official girlfriend, Poison Ivy (Lake Bell). After two seasons of battling with her fuckboi ex (Alan Tudyk) and her own self-loathing, DC’s baddest bombshell was ready and very willing to dive face-first into this new chapter, featuring deadly escape rooms, owl-masked orgies, award show villainy, green science gone wild, and a mind-bending race through the Crime Alleys of Batman’s brain. But that wasn’t all.
This sensational season saw Harlivy blossom, even as this dynamic duo’s interests grew apart. It also gave us a Joker redemption that was as shocking as it was darkly satisfying. And even though it denied us Batman going down on Catwoman, this proudly TV-MA series brought on plenty of raunchy jokes that had us cackling like a mad clown. Thankfully, amid all the mayhem of HBO Max’s restructuring, this superhero series didn’t get the axe — which means that sure-to-be bonkers Harley team-up teased in Season 3’s finale will be explored in Season 4. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Kick back and enjoy the ride, be it in a stolen invisible jet or a hijacked Billy Bob Thornton. —K.P.
How to watch: Harley Quinn is now streaming on HBO Max.
11. Barry, Season 3
Credit: Merrick Morton/HBO
Barry has always been a fairly flawless 30-minute comedy, despite the fact that the show is about a guy who is essentially a serial murderer. The uncomfortable gap between laughing at Barry Berkman’s (Bill Hader) violent antics and knowing he is a legitimately bad person has always been present. But Season 3 turned that gap into a canyon, forcing both the characters and the viewers to see exactly who Barry is now — and who he’s been the whole time. — Alexis Nedd, Senior Entertainment Reporter
How to watch: Barry is now streaming on HBO Max.
12. Better Call Saul, Season 6
Credit: GREG LEWIS / AMC / SONY PICTURES TELEVISION
Better Call Saul returned for a final season where the stakes had never been higher. Reputations, relationships, and lives were on the line, as mounting tension exposed seldom-seen sides of characters we thought we had all figured out. Self-doubt, fear, and unease swelled in some, while others defended and asserted themselves in unexpected ways. As loyalty was tested, old faces returned, and body bags piled up, reacquainting us with the thrill of always being one step behind the masterminds of Better Call Saul‘s world.
The return also cemented what we’ve always known to be true: Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) and Kim (Rhea Seehorn) make one hell of a team. The show was as carefully calculated as ever, yet there was an unshakable sense of turmoil in the air throughout the season. While viewers had ample time to ruminate on what was to come, in true Better Call Saul fashion, there were more than a few moments of gripping suspense that sent heart rates skyrocketing. — Nicole Gallucci, Senior Editor
How to watch: Better Call Saul is now streaming on AMC Plus.
13. Hacks, Season 2
Credit: Karen Ballard/HBO Max
In its second season, Hacks takes the dynamite duo of stand-up legend Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) and comedy writer Ava (Hannah Einbinder) on the road. Between county fairs, lesbian cruises, and dumpster diving for human remains, the show dissects the relationship between its leads — played to perfection by Smart and Einbinder — with its trademark cutting wit.
While Season 2 gets off to a slower start than its first season, Hacks builds momentum into something compelling, hilarious, and, by the finale, genuinely heart-wrenching. —B.E.
How to watch: Hacks is now streaming on HBO Max.
14. Bridgerton, Season 2
Credit: Courtesy of Netflix
When Bridgerton Season 2 made it past the series midpoint without any on-screen sex or even kissing, people were ready to riot. “Where is the sex?” they asked, “The first one was hot because it had the sex!” Those people missed the point. Season 1 followed the sexy tropes of a recognizable bodice-ripper, but Season 2 drew inspiration from Bollywood romance.
The forbidden longing between Kate (Simone Ashley) and Anthony (Jonathan Bailey) is the sexy part of Bridgerton Season 2, which makes every near-miss kiss as charged as any of Daphne and the Duke’s scenes from the first season. Long live tension, and long live the Viscountess Bridgerton! — A.N.*
How to watch: Bridgerton is now streaming on Netflix.
15. Russian Doll, Season 2
Credit: Courtesy of Netflix
What’s worse than getting stuck in an almost-endless cycle of dying and waking up in a weird bathroom? According to Russian Doll Season 2, the answer is “turning into your mother.” Natasha Lyonne and a mustachioed Charlie Barnett return as Nadia and Alan, who find that New York isn’t quite finished bending the laws of time and space to teach them what they need to learn.
Russian Doll Season 2 compounds the first season’s themes of trauma, place, and second chances. Nadia and Alan trip through their own personal histories in a timey-wimey series of mishaps that ends with just as much of a gut punch as we’ve come to expect from one of Netflix’s weirdest, deepest shows. — A.N.*
How to watch: Russian Doll is now streaming on Netflix.
*This blurb was previously or partially used on another Mashable list.