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No Expectations 003: The Best TV of 2022
Plus, a holiday playlist, a good TouchTunes prank, and a book recommendation.
In order to beat this massive winter storm and safely visit my family for Christmas, I drove from Chicago to Michigan earlier than expected, so, this No Expectations newsletter will be banked EOY list stuff rather than a timely blog like last week. This week is about the best TV of the year and the next will be the same but about movies. Apologies if some of this feels a little rushed: I planned to leave Friday but kept having to bump up the trip, shortening the window to finish the blog, pack, and do any last-minute shopping before the storm (which might not even be that bad). I think it’s fine though I’m probably overthinking it.
Thanks again to everyone reading, subscribing, and sharing this. There are a lot of people leaving Twitter, the main platform where I’ve promoted my writing for the past decade. It’s a bummer but it makes sense. For a ton of obvious reasons, that website doesn’t seem like a sustainable outlet to grow a Substack anymore so the fact that people are gifting subscriptions, texting out links, and telling their friends about No Expectations is really cool. If you feel inspired to keep doing that, it’d mean the world.
The 2022 TV Shows Worth Watching, According to Some Guy in Chicago
I probably wrote about TV and film more than music this year, which is pretty weird to think about. 2022 started with me being employed as a senior writer at Netflix’s Tudum publication where I did things like interview Bubba Wallace about his docuseries Race: Bubba Wallace and metal, chat with both Tom Morello and D.B. Weiss about their Metal Lords comedy, make up guides about directors Jane Campion and Richard Linklater because they had films coming out on the platform, and write a handful of other articles. It was a great gig—my editor Evette Dionne hired an amazing newsroom and it was fun to watch countless early cuts of shows and movies coming out on the streamer and call it work. After my team got laid off at the end of April, I managed to get a few gigs writing about streaming for other places.
With that said, as the year went on I watched way more movies than shows. TV started to feel a little stale for me: you sit for eight hours to watch one story unfold when you realize you could instead watch one story unfold over 90 minutes and feel just as rewarded. There’s just so much to stream and a lot of it is bad. There are few worse ways to spend your free time than sticking with something that “gets good after the sixth episode.” You could have watched Tár twice in that time frame! Below, I’ve compiled some series that are actually worth it. It’s a tough ask to get someone to devote a huge chunk of time to a TV show but these are actually good, I promise. To quote Bob Dylan in his latest WSJ interview that touched on his TV habits, there’s “nothing disgusting, nothing dog ass” here. (Sorry: I don’t think I’ll ever get around to Barry, Industry, or Succession).
Pachinko (Apple TV+)
No question this was my favorite show of 2022. Based on the National Book Award-winning 2017 novel by Min Jin Lee (which you should read but don’t need to in order to enjoy this Apple TV+ series), no show in 2022 was as affecting and ambitious. Kogonada (who did two films that are modern-day all-timers in Columbus and After Yang) and Justin Chon (who many know as Eric from Twilight but more should know as the director of Blue Bayou and Ms. Purple) split directorial duties throughout Pachinko. casting this multi-generational story about a Korean family living in Japan with pristinely composed and gorgeous shots. But more than its stunning cinematography is the excellent ensemble cast and the way the show is able to seamlessly thread the stories of three generations of one family into one cohesive epic. Watch this with your family over the holiday.
Better Call Saul (AMC)
Confession: I was a bit late on Better Call Saul. Breaking Bad was such an important show for me that I’d get reflexively pissy when critics would say that the prequel was somehow better than the original thing. It was incomprehensible that a series focusing on the scuzzy lawyer, who, while entertaining, was not the most compelling character by a longshot, could somehow be better than one focusing on Walter White and Jesse Pinkman. I’m wrong a lot in my career but almost all of those times it’s because I didn’t give something a proper shot. Diving into Better Call Saul and watching every episode was my most rewarding TV experience of the year. It’s better than Breaking Bad no question. Rhea Seehorn is a genius.
The Righteous Gemstones (HBO)
Few people can capture the American psyche better than Danny McBride. I’m not kidding: between Eastbound and Down, Vice Principals, and now The Righteous Gemstones, no one’s been able to capture a Certain Type of Guy quite like McBride. The McBride hero is crass, gaudy, status-obsessed, and egotistical to the point their necessary insecurities are obvious. His characters desperately cling to relevance and cope atrociously with losing it whether it’s a former baseball pro, a middling school administrator, or a hypocritical megachurch pastor. But more than McBride’s charisma and the fact that, though cartoonish, it’s one of the most accurate depictions of American evangelicalism’s frequent depravity, the rest of the cast is so down to clown, especially Edi Patterson, Tim Baltz, and Walton Goggins.
If you would’ve told me at the beginning of the year that a Star Wars TV show would make a good case for being my favorite series, I would’ve immediately worried that I’d officially lose my edge in 2022. Don’t get me wrong: I grew up with Star Wars but the TV shows have never really transcended being “fine, maybe sort of good.” A plushie Baby Yoda can’t replace quality storytelling. But Andor is just a good, smartly-written thriller that takes place in the Star Wars universe. It’s from the guy who did Michael Clayton Tony Gilroy and it actually does a great job of explaining why the Rebel Alliance exists, the ethical casualties of revolution, and the brutality that comes with guerilla warfare. It’s the first Star Wars thing that can be accurately compared to something like The Battle of Algiers and that rules. Diego Luna is excellent and so is Nepo Daddy Stellan Skarsgaard.
Severance (Apple TV+)
The hype is real. Besides The Rehearsal, Severance is probably the most original show to come out in 2022. For a culture writer and someone who has effectively monetized their interests, the premise of having a work self and your true self that’s turned on and off based on a surgical implant is fascinating and pretty terrifying. It’s hard to think of another show that had such a promising first season as this one. I hope this doesn’t fall off a cliff like Mr. Robot. Adam Scott is fantastic as the sad-eyed lead character and the series even has a super-compelling romance arc between Christopher Walken and John Turturro’s characters. It just rocks.
The Rehearsal (HBO)
Listen, there is no way to explain what The Rehearsal is about, what it’s like to watch it, and what Nathan Fielder was trying to accomplish with it without sounding like a crazy person. There are too many meta-layers, ethical debates about whether or not it’s ok to mess with real people for a show like this, and discourses about comedy to go through. If you haven’t watched it yet, just ignore everything you’ve read or heard about it and start the ride. The first episode is a solid litmus test for whether or not it’ll be For You but be warned that the show gets increasingly ridiculous, out there, and even sweet as it goes along. It’s the best rabbit hole to fully immerse yourself in. Plus, the funniest line reading of 2022 is 100% “It's days like these that I curse the Chinese for inventing gunpowder.”
Flatbush Misdemeanors (Showtime)
Showtime’s Flatbush Misdemeanors was one of the most underrated series on television before it was unfairly canceled after its excellent second season. It’s helmed by comedians Dan Perlman and Kevin Iso, who also star as fictionalized versions of themselves. Dan’s an anxious teacher in Flatbush, Brooklyn who is addicted to prescription drugs and doesn’t stand up for himself while Kevin is a struggling artist prone to self-sabotage. It’s a brutal combination (imagine if How To Make It In America had heroes with exclusively bad luck) but the humor and humanity in the script keep it from being overly bleak.
The White Lotus (HBO)
The White Lotus isn’t Mike White’s best TV show—that’s Enlightened—but he’s managed to make a fun, smart, and easy-to-watch watercooler black comedy that’s more exciting to talk about with friends and family than, say, Game of Thrones. While season one was a little bit better because it was grounded, focusing more on the hotel staff and how the guests can actively make their lives worse, this iteration thrilled in both the cast’s chemistry and with the ways money colors friendships, romantic relationships, and obviously, your place in the world. White has said in interviews that this season is primarily about sex, which is true, but some of those specific storylines rang a little hollow (plus, he sometimes writes like he’s too online) even if he stuck the landing in the finale. Still, I’ll watch this show as long as they keep making it: a great, easily-replicable premise.
South Side (HBO Max)
As of writing this, the Comedy Central-turned-HBO Max series South Side is only four episodes into its third season but it’s a show that is so funny that it’s still worth an inclusion even if for some reason the following episodes suck. While shows like Shameless and The Chi claim to capture what it’s like to live in Chicago’s south side, this 30-minute comedy feels way more authentic and true to life. It nails the references, the in-jokes, and the sensibility in ways that feels pretty refreshing but more than that, it’s just really, really funny. Chicago music fans can also expect to see guest stars like Jeff Tweedy and Chance the Rapper.
Shining Girls (Apple TV+)
The Bear was the Chicago show of the year according to TV critics and Twitter collectively thirsting for actor Jeremy Allen White, but I wish Apple TV+’s Shining Girls, which is also set here, got even half of the attention the Hulu chef show did. It’s a serial killer limited series that stars Elizabeth Moss as a Chicago Sun-Times archivist who survived a gruesome attack from the murderer six years back. She teams up with a journalist to solve the case, which the story tackles by utilizing sci-fi and period-piece narrative experiments. It’s a fascinating and sometimes pretty spooky binge, which gets added points from me for filming in some truly recognizable places like Innertown Pub.
Honorable mentions: Ramy (Hulu), Abbott Elementary (ABC), Mo (Netflix), Somebody Somewhere (HBO Max), The Rings of Power (Prime Video), Race: Bubba Wallace (Netflix), Race for the Championship (Peacock), The Bear (Hulu), What We Do In the Shadows (Hulu), Night Sky (Prime Video), Winning Time (HBO Max), Minx (HBO Max)
What I listened to:
Alright, this week’s playlist is holiday themed. It’s full of Christmas-y songs that don’t suck and one at the very end that is undoubtedly one of the worst things you’ll ever hear. Let me explain: last week at a bar someone put this on TouchTunes. The place wasn’t packed and everyone there was talking among themselves. But within the first 30 seconds of this track playing, everyone looked at each other and laughed. It’s just that awful. An older guy thought I had played it but some other dude copped to queueing it up, claiming it was Michael Buble’s rendition of “All I Want For Christmas.” It’s not Michael Buble, it’s actually someone who performs as Michal Bubble—which, honestly, is a good bit. This Substack isn’t big enough to feel guilty about blowing up this guy’s good prank so if you feel inspired, put this one on at your hometown bar. You might get kicked out or you might get a bar to laugh with you and make some new friends.
As far as music listening goes, I keep finding notable omissions from my own year-end list. It’s impossible for any personal EOY thing to be totally exhaustive and indicative of what happened in music during a given year but I have no real excuse for not checking out Korean indie rock band Say Sue Me’s latest LP The Last Thing Left: They’re a great group and have been making consistently great and pristine throwback indie rock since their 2018 effort Where We Were Together. If you were one of the many people to give Alvvays’ Blue Rev a high spot on your own year-end rankings, you owe it to yourself to give Busan’s Say Sue Me a chance.
Live music was pretty light for me this week: I saw Hollyy play Sleeping Village last Thursday and had a great time. Had to miss Whitney at Thalia this year due to holiday travel plans. Bummed to not be there but I hope those staying in Chicago had the best time. The songs on Spark sound incredible in person: grateful I caught it live during a trip to Nashville this fall.
What I watched:
Over the weekend, my wonderful friend Katie (longtime GMan regulars will know she’s the best person and bartender) invited us out to go see a screening of It’s a Wonderful Life at the Music Box. I tend to hate big screenings of already-released movies (ever been to go see The Room? The people are unbearable) and overt displays of Christmas cheer (I like the holiday but sometimes people are a little much about it). But, honestly, I was pretty charmed by the whole vibe. Sure, there were carolers, a Christmas song sing-a-long before they showed the movie, and people brought bells and hissed whenever Mr. Potter was on-screen. Despite that stuff which would normally make me cringe, I honestly had a good time. This movie is truly worth its acclaim and seeing my friends, who go every year, have a ball is something that makes me want to do it again in 2023. Even though I probably watch it every year, I still tear up at the end. It’s a movie about hating the rich and not killing yourself. A much better film than Christmas with the Kranks.
I also put on a lot of fun double features for myself this week: an Ireland-themed bill with The Wonder paired with The Banshees of Inisherin, three-hour epics in Bardo and then RRR, as well as Tár plus Spencer. I’m trying to catch up on as many 2022 movies as I can before I write a list of my favorites from the year. I’ll write more about each next week. I also started HBO’s Irma Vep TV series from director and writer Olivier Assayas which stars Alicia Vikander. I’m only one episode in so I will hold off on writing anything about it until I watch more and know what I actually think about it. The 1996 film Irma Vep from Assayas is excellent though.
What I read:
I’m making my way through Jon Mooallem’s excellent essay collection from this year, Serious Face. He’s an incredible writer and magazine journalist. The pieces here are uniformly stunning and thoughtful even if they veer wildly from topic to topic. You’ll get a sweet, intriguing but self-effacing essay about Mooallem finding a photo of a 1940s Spanish bullfighter who looks exactly like him and then a harrowing piece about surviving a California wildfire. Quite selfishly I try to read every well-reviewed essay collection I can: these well-reported, long-form stories that require travel budgets, talking to dozens of people, and researching a single topic for what seems like weeks are totally aspirational to me. I’ve rarely had the opportunity to travel on assignment: the closest I got was this profile I did on Deer Tick in 2017 where I flew to Nashville but honestly I was already going there anyway to visit my grandpa. The piece paid for my flight there and back and that’s it. That said, that story is still one of the things I’m most proud of.