This year was a bit of a reset for the entertainment industry, with more people returning to theaters and more must-watch TV shows hitting streaming networks. That’s a fairly major change from 2021, when many movies hit services like HBO Max on the same day as theaters. But if you’ve gotten used to catching up on everything on your couch, don’t worry — there’s still plenty to watch over the holidays. (And be sure to check out our recommendations from last year, which are still good, I swear!)
Perhaps the best piece of media I’ve seen this year, Station Eleven is an adaptation of Emily St. John’s novel about a society-collapsing swine flu epidemic. Wait, don’t run away! While the series may evoke the worst of our COVID experience at first, it also transforms into a hopeful tale about the power of stories (and pop culture!) and human connection. It delivers something we could all use right now: Hope.
Tuca and Bertie Season 3
After being unceremoniously canceled by Netflix in 2020, the cartoon duo of Tuca and Bertie found a new home on Cartoon Network last year. The third and (unfortunately) final season of the series aired this year, and it remains a delight. Created by Lisa Hanawalt and executive produced by Raphael Bob-Waksberg (BoJack Horseman), it follows a pair of friends as they deal with life, love and simply existing in their ’30s.
Also on HBO Max:
The White Lotus (Season 2): Mike White’s series on the exploits of privileged resort guests, this time in Sicily instead of Hawaii, remains a delight.
Harley Quinn (Season 3): This show remains one of the best DC series currently airing. Tune in for a comedic and more adult spin on your Batman faves.
Yes, it’s another Star Wars show, but Andor ended up being one of the biggest surprises of the year. Created by Tony Gilroy (who helped transform Rogue One into a stellar film), it centers on Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a small-time thief with a healthy distrust for the Empire. The show follows his journey towards becoming a member of the rebels, and in doing so it also serves as a blueprint for taking down authoritarian systems.
Fire of Love
Katia and Maurice Krafft were a rare couple, two expert volcanologists who were also madly in love. They dedicated their lives to documenting active volcanoes, often by directly confronting lava flows, rock explosions and acid lakes. Fire of Love unearths their original footage to show just how far they went in the name of science. But it also paints a portrait of a truly rare couple, one whose contributions we still owe much to.
Also on Disney+:
Tales of the Jedi: A short animated series that gives us a bit more backstory on Ahsoka Tano and… Count Dooku? If you’ve been interested in the Star Wars cartoons, but don’t want to slog through tons of old episodes, this is a good start.
Bluey: This remains the best kids show on TV. Bluey’s latest season is as funny and poignant as ever. It’s the rare show that can teach both kids and their parents.
Cyberpunk 2077 had a notoriously rocky game launch, but the setting of Night CIty was always compelling. Edgerunners is an anime spin on that universe, centering on a plucky street kid who finds himself equipped with a military-grade spine implant. You know, typical teenage stuff. Will his newfound power keep him on the wrong side of the law? And will he ever get revenge against the people who ruined his life? The show doesn’t do much new, but it features genuinely compelling characters and some of the best animation in recent years.
The Midnight Club
Mike Flanagan can do no wrong. The talent behind Midnight Mass, Doctor Sleep, and the excellent “Haunting of…” horror shows on Netflix has now set his sights on a Christopher Pike adaptation, and the results are glorious. The show, co-created by Leah Fong, follows a group of terminally ill teenagers as they tell spooky stories and explore the supernatural mysteries of their hospice mansion. It’s a meditation on the power of storytelling, but also yet another Flanagan exploration of the value of life.
Also on Netflix:
Wednesday: Come to see Tim Burton finally get his shot at The Addams Family, stay for Jenna Ortega’s perfectly deadpan performance.
Can an award-winning chef truly come back home and save his family’s beleaguered sandwich shop? Or is he just trying to work through the death of his brother the only way he knows? The Bear captures the energy and madness of kitchen life better than any TV show — forget all the glossy stuff you’ve seen on Chef’s Table. But amid the insanity, it’s the story of a found family banding together to mourn and save the place they all love.
What makes Elizabeth Holmes tick? This series, which stars Amanda Seyfried as the notorious Theranos founder, paints a more complete picture of Holmes than the 2019 HBO documentary The Inventor. We see Holmes’ early life, as well as her initial connection with Sunny Balwani (Naveen Andrews, perhaps the best TV adaptation glow-up any South Asian man can hope for). After proving her smarts in college, she sets off to build the world’s best blood testing machine with Theranos. We all know how that went. When the hype around Theranos starts to fall apart, The Dropout turns into a fascinating portrait of self-deception.
Also on Hulu:
Fleishman is in Trouble: Toby Fleishman is going through a divorce. But as he starts to rebuild his own identity, he also needs to deal with the wreckage of his marriage (and find his missing ex-wife).
Taking the idea of work/life balance a step too far, Severance follows a group of people who’ve received a procedure that completely splits their memories between home and office life. The result is two completely separate personalities within the same body, both trapped in their respective cages. Severance is a bit of a slow burn, but it’s a fascinating exploration of corporate control akin to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. (Be sure to check out our interview with the creator of the show, Dan Erickson, on the Engadget Podcast.)
An adaptation of Min Jin Lee’s 2017 novel, Pachinko follows a Korean family across several generations starting in 1917 and reaching into the late ‘80s. We see a young fish seller fall in love and make her way to Japan as an outsider, while her grandson struggles to maintain his identity in the pressure-filled business world. Pachinko has almost everything you’d want in a family epic: Children struggling to live up to their parents’ standards, forbidden love and the constant threat of generational trauma. Also, it has one of the best opening sequences of the year.
Other things to watch
The Good Fight (Paramount+): Over its six-season span, The Good Fight tackled the insanity of our current social and political environment better than any other TV show. It’s first and foremost a legal procedural, but coming from the minds of Michelle and Robert King, it ends up being so much more.
Gangs of London (AMC+): Now on its second season, Gangs of London is one of the most brutal crime shows on TV. It’s part gangster epic, part martial arts smackdown (it comes from Gareth Evans, director of The Raid films). While the plot becomes increasingly ludicrous, it’s worth a watch just for the sheer ambition of its action sequences, many of which go far harder than anything we’ve seen in American films lately.