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Choosing the best TV episodes is very different from choosing the best TV.
The best episodes might be outstanding hours of shows that fluctuate in quality, or a pivotal character moment or story beat that contextualizes everything else. Sometimes the best episode is part of an almost embarrassing bounty — just one of many consistently brilliant installments in a TV show that blew away both audiences and critics.
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IndieWire’s look at the best TV episodes of 2022 is all those things, populated by our usual suspects of top 2022 TV as well as hours we couldn’t forget and shows we gladly binged in a weekend. There is drama, there is comedy, there is literal “Euphoria.” This list has it all. What it doesn’t have, however, is more than one episode from the same show, in an effort to spread the wealth.
Here are the best TV episodes of 2022 so far, in order of premiere date.
1. “American Auto” Season 1, Episode 6: “Commercial”
Farce on (scripted) TV in 2022 doesn’t get any better than this half-hour gem. Nestled in the heart of the NBC comedy’s opening season, this episode follows the Payne Motors team as their plans to make a more inclusive car ad go haywire, bit by bit. A disastrous cycle of bad optics befalls CEO Katherine Hastings (Ana Gasteyer) and her inner circle as their well-intentioned plans to make a less heteronormative 30-second spot get foiled by their own overthinking. Casting mishaps and disgruntled crew members start piling up, with each new complication bringing the perfect dagger of a joke to go with it. For a show that thrives in the rapid-fire pace of a boardroom, “Commercial” proved that this is a comedic core that can find laughs anywhere it ends up. It’s also the perfect starting point if you want to catch up on one of the year’s best new comedies. —Steve Greene
2. “Euphoria” Season 2, Episode 5: “Stand Still Like a Hummingbird”
The sheer desperation Zendaya brings to the surface in this episode’s opening scene, embodying her character Rue hitting her newest rock bottom, burning bridges with everyone she’s ever loved, should be enough to secure another Emmy for Best Lead Actress in a Drama. But the reason “Stand Still Like the Hummingbird” is on this list is that at least three other awards-worthy scenes still happen after that, evoking every emotion across the spectrum. Rue’s clash with Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) is a meme-worthy romp. The absurd, heart-pounding police chase is soundtracked by one of Labrinth’s best songs made for the series, and the closing sequence escaping deadly, deadpan drug dealer Laurie (Martha Kelly) does a better job of keeping the audience away from drugs than any D.A.R.E. campaign ever could. —Marcus Jones
3. “Severance” Season 1, Episode 1: “Good News About Hell”
Atsushi Nishijima / Apple
It is difficult, nay, impossible to choose a best “Severance” episode, but no fan will ever forget the feeling of watching this pilot for the first time. Helly (Britt Lower) wakes up in the bowels of Lumon Industries, where everything stable and sterile but cloaked in the uncanny. Dan Erickson’s script is executed at the highest level by Ben Stiller’s direction, Jeremy Hindle’s production design, Jessica Lee Gagné’s cinematography, and performances starting with Lower and Adam Scott and later on John Turturro, Zach Cherry, Tramell Tillman, and more.
And then there is that word: Severance, a procedure in which a person voluntarily agrees to split their consciousness in and outside of work, a concept to which Erickson received either total excitement or horror while pitching the show. “Good News About Hell” plants simple mysteries which promise rich answers: What happened to Petey (Yul Vazquez)? How could Helly’s Outie do this to her? What the hell is going on with Harmony Cobel (Patricia Arquette)? Helly might be terrified and determined to leave, but a morbidly curious audience can’t help wanting to learn more about this fresh Hell. —Proma Khosla
4. “The Gilded Age” Season 1, Episode 6: “Heads Have Rolled for Less”
Photographer: Alison Cohen Rosa
Julian Fellowes’ HBO period drama did a lot of things well enough in its first season: It brought more Broadway talent to TV than the Tony Awards, crafted dresses so divine their opulence actually made certain viewers angry and provided a welcome reprieve from bleak, heavy, “prestige” TV without being, you know, bad. But few (if any) of these attributes topped what will forever be known as The Butler Wars.
While tension has been brewing since the Russells (New Money) moved in across the street from the van Rhijn-Brook family (Old Money), first blood is drawn in Episode 6, when Bertha Russell (Carrie Coon) is tasked with hosting an English-style dinner in order to impress the elite social class she’s long-courted. The only problem: Her kitchen staff isn’t trained in English customs. So, to the absolute outrage of her butler, Church (Jack Gilpin), Bertha hires the van Rhijn-Brook’s butler, Bannister (Simon Jones), to run the pivotal luncheon.
Fellowes astutely set the table for such a dust-up in earlier episodes, when the butlers’ paths crossed, but nothing could prepare audiences for the sheer delight of watching two uppity servants engage in a Battle of Manners. Forks go here, not there. Serve from this side, not that one. And just when you think the barbarity has come to a close, one last piece of silverware is driven into the back of a superior-seeming snob. Oh my. All that viciousness cloaked in faux decorum is enough to make anyone with a passing appreciation for well-placed passive aggression squeal in delight. And I did, dear reader. I did.
Oh, and there’s also a doll party, a train mystery, and Christine Baranski being an absolute queen. Great episode. Get hype. —Ben Travers
5. “The Dropout” Season 1, Episode 4: “Old White Men”
Beth Dubber / HULU
Hulu’s “The Dropout” charts the rise and fall of Theranos, as well as its kooky girlboss leader Elizabeth Holmes (an excellent Amanda Seyfried). The Theranos tale is truly wild, full of over-the-top characters and plot twists that seem plucked from a satire, so it’s no surprise that a miniseries about the saga is intriguing. What fans were happily surprised by, however, is just how funny it is. The rollicking internal politics of the startup from hell were at their best in Episode 4, “Old White Men,” when the Walgreens bros come calling to Theranos with $$$ in their eyes. Featuring pitch-perfect “hapless dude” performances by Josh Pais, Alan Ruck, and Rich Sommer, the tight installment laid bare so many of the problems with startups, delusion, media, men, and the fear of getting left behind. —Erin Strecker
6. “WeCrashed” Season 1, Episode 3: “Summer Camp”
Peter Kramer / Apple
“WeCrashed” was at its best when it focused on Anne Hathaway’s flighty, idealistic (or delusional, depending on your POV) performance as Rebekah Neumann, the other half of the WeWork universe led by her husband Adam (Jared Leto). For Rebekah, it’s not enough to project confidence and success: It must be lived in one’s everyday life. But the facade starts to crack in episode 3, “Summer Camp.” Here, Adam and Rebekah put on a company retreat that’s meant to bring the underpaid and overworked WeWork employees together. It’s also the chance for Adam and Rebekah to sell themselves as the messianic creators of this utopia. But, for Rebekah, that’s hard to do when her father is being charged with fraud. It’s even harder when she declares to the WeWork staff that a woman’s role is to help a man “manifest his destiny.” Hathaway is so perfect in these moments, trying to tamp down her fear at what’s happening to her father, while blithely believing that what she’s said about inspiring men is true — or at least true to her. When Rebekah organizes a listening session with WeWork’s female employees, it becomes a moment where she finally breaks and the camera captures all of Hathaway’s terror, anxiety, and confusion beautifully. If every episode had been about this, with a focus on Rebekah, it would have been the masterpiece of the season because Hathaway is simply fantastic. —Kristen Lopez
7. “Better Call Saul” Season 6, Episode 1: “Wine and Roses”
Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television
Throw a dart at the list of episodes in Season 6 of “Better Call Saul” and you’ll hit one worthy of this list. In a year of shocking character departures, meticulous schemes, and returns of familiar faces, maybe it’s best not to overthink it and just look at the hour that kicked it all off. From the elegant mansion-traversing cold open to Lalo’s (Tony Dalton) merciless means of survival to a country club infiltration good enough to get Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) his own Ocean’s sequel, this is maybe the purest distillation of what “Better Call Saul” has thrived on all along. After over a half-decade of living and breathing with these characters mere steps away from mortal danger, it’s episodes like this that combine the everyday peril and the quiet moments of humanity that make this series worth returning to again and again. It’s meticulous and elegant storytelling on all fronts, in facial expressions and camera moves and hard cuts. And it proved that the beginning of the end could be just as beautiful as everything that came before it. —SG
8. “Atlanta” Season 3, Episode 8: “New Jazz”
Every episode of “Atlanta” that picks up Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles (played by the ultra-expressive Brian Tyree Henry) and plops him outside the core cast of characters is a great episode of “Atlanta.” Season 1’s “B.A.N.,” where Alfred is a guest panelist on the Black American Network, was one of the series’ first episodes to break from the established structure. “Barbershop,” where Alfred trails his barber around the city, just trying to get a haircut, is hysterical and sharp. “Woods,” where Alfred rebukes the trappings of modern fame and ends up lost in the forest, is challenging and eerie.
Season 3 brings “New Jazz,” which stands on its own while harkening back to key themes from past Alfred-centric episodes, especially “Woods.” What starts as an experimental drug trip on their day off — Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) and Alfred sample “Nepalese space cake” before a planned day at the spa — quickly goes south when Alfred loses Darius (an untrustworthy guide to begin with) and confronts demanding fans, deceptive spaces, and a disapproving woman named Lorraine (Ava Grey). Alfred’s insecurities about who he is and what he represents as a famous rapper are laid bare. Unlike certain other celebrities, Alfred fears his status, fortune, and career could easily be lost. He frets over the hat he chose on his day off. He worries about long-done record deals. He fears being taken advantage of by everyone, from his new guide Lorraine to his oldest friends, Darius and Earn (Donald Glover).
“New Jazz” captures these feelings and bottles them up within a surprisingly fun episode. “Atlanta” has proven it can turn out intriguing surprises and quick wit whenever they’re needed, and Glover (who wrote the episode) along with director Hiro Murai fill Episode 8 with plenty of both. Of course, watching Henry react to anything for 30 minutes is going to be entertaining; the actor not only has a pliable, vivid face, but an arresting screen presence, and “New Jazz” makes the most of his talents. But most of all, the episode illustrates so many of “Atlanta’s” best aspects: It’s funny and filled with meaning; contemplative without getting confused; moody and purposeful. Here’s hoping for one more Paper Boi episode in Season 4. —BT
9. “Hacks” Season 2 Episode 4: “The Captain’s Wife”
Lucia Aniello, Jen Statsky, and Paul W. Downs’ odd-couple standup series descends gladly into national-tour chaos in Season 2, peaking with Episode 4. Marcus (Carl Clemons-Hopkins) has booked Deborah (Jean Smart) to perform on a cruise, which she smugly drags Ava on (Hannah Einbinder) because gay men love Deborah. That might be true, but Deborah and Ava are about to embark on a lesbian cruise, and gay women are less forgiving of Deborah’s years of jokes at their expense (not to mention a poorly vetted set of leggings). After managing to not piss anyone off for a few days and absolutely slay a musical performance, Deborah takes the stage to bomb spectacularly. She manages to insult every person on the cruise, including the captain’s wife — not to mention women at large — and gets herself and Ava sent back to land just when Ava was about to have a threesome with the hottest couple aboard.
“The Captain’s Wife” has a ball with what makes “Hacks” great: Deborah and Ava are de facto allies surrounded by strangers, helping each other out but not without a few barbs thrown in. The unique environment draws them closer, a reminder that they understand each other on a higher level that some people — landlocked, distracted Marcus, among others — will never quite crack. Smart and Einbinder give it their all as usual, and the departure from Deborah’s usual performance venues makes audiences also feel like they’re on vacation. —PK
10. “Barry” Season 3, Episode 6: “710N”
Nearly every time “Barry” takes a big swing, it ends up being a home run. Much in line with “ronny/lily,” the most memorable Season 2 episode of the HBO comedy series, the show executes an action sequence better than any kind of procedural on television, while still managing to inject gut-busting gags into it. As the titular hitman with a heart of gold, Bill Hader zooms down the fast track toward a third consecutive Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, cleverly balancing Barry’s superior survival instincts with his admirable dedication to showing up for his friends. Also, its subplot with the beignet restaurant deliciously skewers a Los Angeles social more, yet still makes the viewer crave the sweet treat (and the return of guest star Tom Allen’s sage burnout baker). —MJ
11. “Peaky Blinders” Season 6, Episode 6: “Lock and Key”
Steven Knight’s bloodstained drama is next in line for #sixseasonsandamovie, but until then Small Heath can rest easy knowing that the Peaky Blinders received a worthy sendoff. Helmed by Anthony Byrne, who directed all of Seasons 5 and 6, the 80-minute finale follows Tommy (Cillian Murphy) as he ties up loose ends everywhere: His dealings with Mosley (Sam Claflin), his marriage to Lizzie (Natasha Keeffe), his severed ties with Michael (Finn Cole), and the news he received in Episode 4 about a girl he met before the war and the shade of a hazel tree. After 36 hours of television, fans of the Birmingham gangsters can’t help but find comfort in the show’s dusky cinematography, muted colors, contemplative pacing, and stinging violence. The center act is devoted entirely to a nighttime shootout between the IRA and the Blinders, filled with eerie silence in lieu of the show’s signature alt-rock soundtrack. By the time the final time jump occurs, “Peaky Blinders” catches up with every remaining character and story, leaving only Tommy himself and what he’s left with: Himself. —PK
Read more: The 15 Best Shows of 2022, So Far
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