The 12 Best Under-the-Radar TV Shows of 2022TV Lists best of 2022
Did you look at our 25 Best TV Shows of the Year list and think, “Eh, been there seen that.” Well dear reader, may I interest you in something a little different? Something that will make you look like a real TV critic amongst your friends, making recommendations that only those searching through the deeps of the streaming dial could possibly know of? Some of the best diamonds in the rough on TV this year?
Behold! Our list of the best under-the-radar series below are shows that have passionate fans, but were perhaps a little too niche to make it on our list of the Best 25, as voted on by the Paste staff, editors, and writers. These are 12 shows that you might have heard of, or you might not, but each is a special gem very much worth your time.
If you’re looking for even more series that are off the beaten path, you can also check out our lists celebrating some of the greatest genre series of the year: anime, reality TV, and the best LGBTQ series of 2022.
Created by: Dan Perrault, Tony Yacenda
When your premise is “the guys from American Vandal make a mockumentary about a dysfunctional Esports team in a sort of comedic hybrid of Drive to Survive or The Last Dance,” there is almost no conceivable way the final product can be anything but spectacular. Spoiler: Players is spectacular. From the wounded, egotistical brilliance of Misha Brooks as a gamer legend named Creamcheese to the up-and-coming rookie Organizm to the long-suffering coach Braxton to the tertiary characters who embody the sports doc style, everything here works. The key to the show’s success is that the story is every bit as engaging as the comedy, and this is really @$#*ing funny. What felt like a can’t-miss prospect to begin with fulfills the hype; Dan Perrault and Tony Yacenda have another winner. —Shane Ryan
Spy x Family
Created by: Tatsuya Endo (manga)
Network: TXN (TV Tokyo) / Crunchyroll
Spy x Family is an action-comedy that has quickly taken the anime world by storm, largely thanks to the adorable antics of one Anya Forger. We follow Loid Forger, an undercover agent in the Cold War-esque city of Berlint, who is forced to form a “fake” family and infiltrate an enemy country’s political circles to avert war. He ends up adopting Anya, an orphan with telekinetic mind-reading abilities, and—at least on paper—marrying Yor, an assassin working for a rival government. While its premise may sound similar to self-serious prestige TV like The Americans, Spy x Family is a (mostly) light-hearted spoof of the nuclear family that is deeply hilarious, often cool, and sometimes touching.
So far, Wit Studio and Cloverworks have gone above and beyond to bring this adaptation to life, and the first season is full of well-delivered gags that I still find myself randomly chuckling over months later. While Loid is technically the protagonist, Anya is the star of the show, as she oscillates between being a little goblin and a precious bean attempting to help her dad with his mission of avoiding a war. And in addition to the many goofs, it convincingly portrays a found family who find solace in each other. Thankfully, the second season once again demonstrates the series’ ability to operate as both a tense spy-thriller and family comedy. As long as its production doesn’t run into issues (something which is unfortunately quite common given the state of labor in the anime industry), it will continue to be must-watch television. —Elijah Gonzalez
This Is Going to Hurt
Created by: Adam Kay
This Is Going to Hurt deals with the miserable professional lives of junior doctors with grim realism, empty of any disguise, and carries an emotional hammer that can devastate the viewer at any moment—sometimes mid-laugh. Ben Whishaw stars as Adam Kay, a junior doctor on a nearly decrepit NHS ward. He’s tetchy, he’s snobby, and he’s repressed even by British standards. But he’s also sincere and funny, and he’s more than up to the task of shouldering the heaviest dramatic burden in a show that revolves around him. The thick of the action takes place inside the hospital, where an alternating array of tragic and comic situations mark off the long days and nights as Kay tries to ensure the health of his nation’s pregnant women and babies. Bitingly comic, searingly sad, and fully educational—how can you beat that combination? —Shane Ryan [Full Review]
A League of Their Own
Created by: Will Graham, Abbi Jacobson
Network: Amazon Prime
While there are numerous excellent films centered around America’s pastime, there aren’t many TV shows set in the world of baseball. Luckily, with the debut of Prime Video’s A League of Their Own, we’ve got a new one to add to the list. But Abbi Jacobson and Will Graham’s take on the classic Penny Marshall film of the same name is more than just a show about women playing baseball in the 1940s while men are at war.
Told through parallel storylines following Carson Shaw (Jacobson), an indecisive white catcher-turned-manager for the Rockford Peaches, and Max Chapman (Chanté Adams), a talented Black pitcher barred from even trying out for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, the show tackles head-on the prejudices of the day, from racism and sexism to homophobia (many of the women in the league are queer), as women attempt to make their baseball dreams come true. With a major focus on the Black experience and the ways in which Max must work around and outside the paths open to white women (and even Black men, to an extent), the show is able to tell a story that was only hinted at in the film. So while the actual baseball itself could be better, and the games could probably be more central to the show, A League of Their Own swings for the fences in its attempt to tell a powerful, timely story. While not every at-bat results in a home run, every step into the batter’s box allows the characters (and the viewers) to learn something new about themselves… and about the game of life. —Kaitlin Thomas
Created by: Andy Siara
The Resort concocts an ambitious vacation adventure that provides both fast-paced escapism and a meditation on the languid effects of time. For their 10th wedding anniversary, Emma (Cristin Milioti) and Noah (William Jackson Harper) book a stay at a picturesque resort on the Mayan Riviera. Their relationship’s in a lull, and the trip offers the perfect opportunity to reconnect. But while Noah’s content to weather this out, Emma’s crisis has deepened into something more existential. When she stumbles upon a dusty Motorola that belonged to a college kid who disappeared 15 years prior, she decides to investigate the strange case. Part old-fashioned adventure à la Romancing the Stone, part love story, and part off-kilter comedy, the show cuts across two timelines as it unravels the mystery. Not all of The Resort’s ambitions quite land in its short runtime, but to its credit, the show’s confident trek forward also smooths down loose threads. The rapid twists and likable cast make the mystery a diverting watch that doesn’t take long to get into. No matter the weather, The Resort provides a welcome respite of AC-sanctioned fun. —Annie Lyons [Full Review]
We Own This City
Created by: George Pelecanos, David Simon
Network: HBO (streaming on HBO Max)
Based on the non-fiction book of the same name by former Baltimore Sun crime reporter Justin Fenton, We Own This City showcases not only the corruption within a unit of the Baltimore Police Department but the tireless work of the FBI agents who broke the real life scandal in 2017, and the Department of Justice lawyer that tries to repair one of the most corrupt law enforcement agencies in the country. Even though it has some issues, David Simon’s latest work is a captivating story of how a criminal justice system has failed its citizens. Provocative, powerful and with first rate performances, We Own This City is the next generation of The Wire fans have long craved. —Terry Terrones [Full Review]
Created by: Rose Matafeo and Alice Snedden
Network: BBC Three / HBO Max
Starstruck Season 2 takes everything we loved from the HBO Max’s comedy’s glorious first season—its biting honesty, its heartfelt relationship humor, the fantastic chemistry between stars Rose Matafeo and Nikesh Patel—to the next level. Where its first outing reimagined the will they/won’t they rom-com courtship for a new generation, its second season asks: what’s next? What comes after the grand gesture, when the question of Tom and Jessie’s relationship status is both answered and affirmative? How does a rom-com ending translate into real life?
Season 2 carefully shifts the pair into that next stage of their relationship, filled with the usual pitfalls and shared awkwardness that is part and parcel of seriously dating someone, and reshapes the contours of their story into something that is new and different, but no less compelling than it was before. —Lacy Baugher Milas [Full Review]
Created by: Meredith Scardino
Here’s the thing about Girls5eva: You are either an Xennial woman who will feel so seen by every single moment of the series that it will be impossible for you to not text every line to your friends and hum “BPE” regularly, or… you aren’t. That’s not to say that Girls5eva isn’t an extremely fun and witty satire of the music industry that could easily be enjoyed by anyone interested in a tightly-packed half-hour comedy. But if you are its niche target demographic, there’s no expressing the heights of its excellence.
That specificity, of a time, a place, a people, is what makes Girls5eva so wonderfully dense and rewarding to watch. Like the group itself, it knows what it wants to say and it makes no apologies for it. The songs remain great and catchy (I’ll never stop singing that theme song at every opportunity), and from top to bottom the series winningly mixes together low-key humor with laugh-out-loud moments.
Grounding it, though, is that the show allows its characters to grow—which is the real crux of Season 2. The women finding new, adult roles for themselves in this girl group is part of that, along with the joy of success on their own terms. But it’s also about their growth as people. And yet, the show never makes that feel forced or lame; how could it, when the culmination of their efforts is the song “Big Pussy Energy”? They’re discovering their own power, and some of their own foibles, and they are owning all of it. That’s BPE, folks—and you don’t want to miss it. —Allison Keene [Full Review]
Created by: Alice Oseman
From a Tumblr webcomic to a graphic novel to a Netflix show, Alice Oseman’s uplifting queer tale has gathered a dedicated fanbase that is only going to grow with the arrival of the Netflix adaptation. The sweet romance between Charlie (Joe Locke) and Nick (Kit Connor) is wonderfully realized in this heartfelt and earnest teen coming-of-age drama directed by Euros Lyn and written by Oseman. Much of Oseman’s original spark carries over into the moving frames that are complemented with a fantastic soundtrack, perfectly detailed production design of teenage bedrooms, and an all-around talented cast.
As Nick and Charlie grow closer and their feelings become impossible to ignore, they have a whole host of supportive friends to confide in. The group includes caring Elle (Yasmin Finney), eccentric Tao (Will Gao), quiet Issac (Tobie Donovan), and two girlfriends: bubbly Darcy (Kizzy Edgell) and thoughtful Tara (Corinna Brown). Heartstopper updates stale cliches of the teen coming-of-age genre to deliver a thoughtful and earnest reflection of youthful self-acceptance, exploring what it is to be part of the LGBTQ+ community today. —Emily Maskell [Full Review]
Created by: Dennis Lehane
Network: Apple TV+
A former high school football star and son of a decorated police officer, Jimmy Keene is sentenced to 10 years in a minimum security prison for dealing drugs when he’s given an offer he can’t refuse. If he agrees to enter a maximum security prison for the criminally insane and gets vital information from a suspected serial killer, he can have his sentence erased. The influence of series developer Dennis Lehane’s previous work, most notably Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone, can clearly be felt in Black Bird, which is also carried by memorable performances from Paul Walter Hauser and Taron Egerton. Hauser is mesmerizingly disturbing while Egerton turns in an equally masterful performance as a drug dealer-turned-hero. —Terry Terrones [Full Review]
Single Drunk Female
Created by: Simone Finch
In Simone Finch’s comedy series Single Drunk Female, Samantha (Sofia Black-D’Elia) is forced to move back to Boston and live with her mom Carol (Ally Sheedy) after her public intoxication at work leads to a criminal conviction. Once home, she must confront the fact she is an alcoholic, albeit one who has functioned for years. She needs a job and a sponsor. And, she needs to own up to the mistakes she’s made. The result is a series that blends humor with a raw and honest look at addiction. Sheedy is fantastic as a mom who loves her daughter but makes a lot of mistakes in her efforts to support her, while Black-D’Elia shines as a woman who continues to make frustrating choices even though she wants to do better. —Amy Amatangelo
Created by: Hannah Bos, Paul Thureen
It took a little while for us to find and catch up with the marvelous Somebody Somewhere, but Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen’s quiet, funny, and emotional show absolutely deserves a spot on this list (and on your watch queue). The half-hour series follows Sam (the exceptional Bridget Everett), who is in the throes of a midlife crisis after returning home to Manhattan, Kansas, to take care of her sister Holly. After Holly’s death, Sam finds herself adrift, but befriends an old high school acquaintance at work, Joel (Jeff Hiller), which revives her. From the many domestic dramas that swirl around Sam with the rest of her family, as well as Joel’s own path towards self-understanding, to an exploration of a rural America queer scene, the show simply radiates casual authenticity. It wants to invite you in, to feel seen and heard, and introduces you to an incredible cast of characters along the way. Somebody Somewhere also pushes back against the notion of returning home as an act of failure; here, we see it as a kind of rebirth. It’s not about settling, but finding yourself. It’s beautiful, and thankfully, it’s been renewed for Season 2 (and hopefully that renewal sticks). —Allison Keene
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