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Why I made the list: As I made a list of underrated series of 2021, I felt it only appropriate to continue the tradition with a list of underrated TV shows of 2022!
Once again, I’ve picked the best series from 2022 that I felt either flew under the radar a little bit or didn’t get the huge audience they deserved. I’ve excluded anything that just premiered or was still airing episodes when I published the list in late November (so, sorry, His Dark Materials season 3), as I don’t think enough time has passed for them to become underrated or overlooked.
So, let’s dig into the list!
I almost completely wrote off this gimmicky-sounding show from some of the same creators of Lost, thinking it would be another copycat disappointment in the vein of Under the Dome or Wayward Pines.
However, I’m really glad that I decided to give it a shot, and subsequently became totally hooked, binging the whole 10-episode season in one weekend. From certainly feels heavily indebted to Lost, from the presence of Harold Perinneau in a lead role to weirdly out-of-place surreal elements to the slow parsing out of mysteries the show isn’t in a hurry to answer.
But some of its mysteries are definitely tantalizing and the series certainly knows how to stage a cliffhanger and keep you watching. Whether this show about a small town that seems to suck in and trap everything unlucky enough to cross its path has mileage remains to be seen – but for now it’s a creepy and very fun ride.
American Horror Stories
One of my least favorite series of 2021, the previously lackluster single-episode story anthology spinoff of AHS significantly improved its quality in its second season. After a poorly-received first run of episodes that got bogged down in rehashing old glories of the flagship show, it seems that Ryan Murphy and co. went back to the drawing board a bit.
The first 2 installments of the new series were incredibly solid. Welcome to the Dollhouse was a creepy, seemingly self-contained episode that turned out to have a surprising and fun link to larger AHS lore. Aura, starring Gabourey Sibide, was also effectively unsettling and used its concept of a haunted doorbell camera well.
Episode 3, Drive, starring Bella Thorne, although a bit gimmicky, was also solid. Episode 4 Milkmaids, starring Addison Timlin and Cody Fern, was probably the tensest and most atmospheric. Also hats off to the lush period design.
Another standout was Facelift, starring Judith Light, Severence‘s Britt Lower, and Rebecca Dayan (from the Death Valley segment of AHS: Double Feature). Although ultimately a not-so-surprising riff of an old Twilight Zone idea, it was seriously elevated by great acting, particularly from Light.
Eps 5 and 7, Bloody Mary and Necro, were somewhat disappointing, despite some great work from Madison Iseman as the lead in the latter. The last episode, Lake, was probably the weakest and featured some puzzlingly bad acting from Alicia Silverstone and Teddy Sears. It also disappointingly failed to bookend the series with another callback to the mothership show, as many were expecting.
Still, the vast improvement in quality bodes well for season 3, which hopefully works in more little nods to the wider AHS universe.
It may be surprising to see an MCU entry on this list, but Ms. Marvel was unfortunately afflicted by mediocre ratings, and that’s a real shame because it’s one of Marvel’s most vibrant and fun shows to date.
Those who think the show is squarely aimed at teenage girls and/or can only be enjoyed by Muslim Americans are firmly missing out – Ms. Marvel is creative, very funny at times, and full of likable characters – not least the protagonist herself, performed with effortless charm by newcomer Iman Vellani.
It was undoubtedly burdened by mediocre, somewhat nonsensical, and forgettable villains – unfortunately not that uncommon for the MCU in general. But otherwise, the series managed to be a surprising delight with a robust identity all its own – not to mention an unexpectedly informative history lesson on the Partition of India. Bring on the further adventures of Kamala Khan in The Marvels!
You can read all about why I was such a fan of this underrated Elizabeth Moss vehicle and check out the trailer in my full review of Shining Girls!
The Midnight Club
Mike Flanagan has recently proven himself a master of crafting atmospheric, character-driven, and intensely creepy horror TV shows. And his hot streak continued with The Midnight Club. Although it didn’t generate the same amount of (well-deserved) buzz as The Haunting of Hill House, Bly Manor, or Midnight Mass and is lacking a bit of the scare factor of his previous hits, his latest offering proves to be another thoughtful, well-crafted meditation on grief and death.
Although maybe a little bit too YA for some tastes, The Midnight Club earned huge points from me for its lovingly recreated 90’s setting and vibe that heavily drew on teenage horror classics of that era such as Are You Afraid of the Dark?
The stories that the titular society told around the fire at night were generally creative and fun, the characters were mostly likable and engaging, and the casting of Nightmare on Elm Street‘s Heather Langenkamp as the den mother of the group was total genius. The cliffhanger ending demanded a season 2, but Netlfix sadly canceled the series. Still, the first season is well worth watching!
I thoroughly defended the last installment of American Horror Story, Double Feature, in my list of underrated TV shows last year, but feel like this year’s story is even more deserving of praise because I felt it was the strongest season in a long time. It’s sad, then, that it flew almost completely under the radar.
With co-creator Ryan Murphy’s juggernaut successes Dahmer and The Watcher dominating on Netflix at the same time, and some puzzlingly last-minute, minimal promotion, most people weren’t even aware that AHS had returned. But returned it had, and with a (mostly) tightly scripted, atmospheric, and disturbing story set in New York City in the lead-up to the AIDS epidemic.
The fact that this story was almost completely disconnected from AHS lore and featured well-written characters played by almost total newcomers to the franchise (with Joe Mantello as reporter Gino Barelli a particular standout) lent it a fresh and exciting edge. And (for once) the themes of the piece made sense right rough the series run.
Yes, there were the usual expected dangling plot threads (if anyone knows what the AIDS-adjacent deer infection conspiracy or brief appearance of The Angel of Death were all about, let me know) and some of the excellent cast got short shrift (particularly Sandra Bernhard and Patti LuPone).
But in general, AHS: NYC was the rare season of this show that managed to tell a cohesive story by the end. And, like some of the best seasons, it wisely leaned into real-life horrors to make an unforgettable (though sometimes uncomfortable and harrowing) impact.
The original season of Undone made it onto one of my lists of the most underrated series of the first 2 decades of this century, and, to be honest, I didn’t think I’d have the opportunity to feature it on a list in the third. Although beautifully made and an incredibly well-told story, the 1st series only ended with a mild cliffhanger, and I didn’t think it would be expanded.
Luckily though, and to my surprise, Amazon decided to give this wonderfully animated, heartfelt, and philosophical story a second go-around.
While it doesn’t quite hit the heights of the first and can feel a little repetitive, Undone season 2 is still worth watching for the dazzling animation alone. Also, Rosa Salazar remains a delight in the lead role, and it offers a satisfying (and this time pretty definitive) ending.
One of the best series of 2022 that was almost guaranteed to have a huge audience (but that somehow didn’t really happen), this Star Wars series seemed promising from the moment it was first announced. It’s a prequel to the well-received Rogue One (2016), is co-written by the excellent Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler, Velvet Buzzsaw), and puts the always-appealing Diego Luna front-and-center in the title role.
However, I completely understand why people were reluctant to tune in when it premiered (as was I, at first). Because let’s be honest, Lucasfilm firmly exhausted its goodwill earlier this year with not one but two underwhelming Star Wars shows in The Book of Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Despite having their moments, both felt like incredibly contrived stories designed purely to prioritize the inclusion of fan-pleasing characters, locations, creatures, and tech over delivering any originality or deeper understanding of this world.
So it was an incredibly welcome surprise to discover that Andor is an incredibly well-written, character-driven show that digs deep into the difficult moral dilemmas the people on the ground faced during the earlier years of the Rebellion. There are no deus-ex-machinas or surprise appearances from Jedi to save the day here: the well-drawn characters solely need to rely on their wits to get through a palpably dangerous, believably lived-in world.
My heart sank a little when it introduced Coruscant and the dreaded senate chamber as major locations, but this series provides far more insight into this world than the prequel trilogy ever did in its flat, dry, and painfully drawn-out sequences in the same settings.
The production design is agreeably grubby and Luna is excellent, but perhaps the biggest surprise is Genevieve O’Reilly as the previously underserved Mon Mothma. The actress gives an incredibly nuanced and enlightening performance, and all of her scenes (even several discussions about intergalactic banking) drip with intrigue and tension.
Although it did technically debut in late 2021, Showtime’s excellent mystery/drama also aired many of the installments of its first run in early 2022, and I hadn’t had a chance to form an opinion on the full first series for last year’s list. Saying that, I knew I’d started watching something very special just a few episodes into this riveting show.
Notable enough for the fact it gave Melanie Lynskey, Christina Ricca, and Juliette Lewis their best roles in years, season 1 of Yellowjackets was also a wild ride that kept up the tension in inventive ways while flitting between different time periods and toying with numerous genres.
Plus, as a fan of 90s indie punk/rock, I have to shout out the fantastic period soundtrack that includes Smashing Pumpkins, Hole, and Dinasaur Jr. Excellent all around!
Borgen: Power and Glory
Like Undone, Borgen is another repeat offender from my list of more underrated TV shows from 2000-2020 that I thought I’d said goodbye to. Luckily, Netflix decided to revive this excellent Danish political drama for another go-around almost a decade after we last saw charismatic politician Birgitte Nyborg do her thing.
Sidse Babbett Knudsen effortlessly slips back into her signature role, and the writing is as sharp and the characters as relatable as ever. The biggest surprise is the considerably higher stakes, as Denmark finds itself embroiled in the middle of an international tug-of-war over the discovery of oil in Greenland.
Despite the larger scale, though, Borgen never loses sight of the human drama and difficult moral questions it holds at its core and remains one of the very best things on television.
Netflix horror anthology Guillermo Tel Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities is uneven, but worth watching mainly for the installments directed by Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), Ana Lily Amirpour (Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon), and, especially, Panos Cosmatos (Mandy). The latter episode, The Viewing, is a must-see for fans of trippy horror. The rest, in my opinion, are nothing special and can probably be skipped.
So, what did you think of my picks for the most underrated TV shows of 2022? Any egregious omissions? Think some of these shows were overrated? Let me know in the comments!