The Best Things We Watched In 2022
11:06 AM EST on December 27, 2022
This is what the staff of Defector watched and enjoyed this year.
CM Punk’s All Out Press Conference
“Huh, I think Punk’s pretty mad about something,” I remarked to my Chicago friend as I scrolled Twitter in the passenger seat on the way back from All Out. “Wait … I think he called Hangman an ‘empty-headed fucking dumb fuck?’ What?”
All Elite Wrestling is still trying to recover. In just a few minutes, after winning the title back from Jon Moxley in the main event of a major PPV, AEW’s biggest star entered what should be a mundane, boring formality and completely undid a whole year of work that began when he came out of retirement to help raise the upstart promotion to new, increasingly mainstream heights. In the post-show press conference, CM Punk unloaded months and months of fury that must have festered inside him while he spent the summer out with an injury. He vented about backstage politics, about his co-workers not listening to his advice, about “Hangman” Page tossing an unplanned insult his way on live TV, and about the rumors that he had caused the demotion of his former friend Colt Cabana. He went on and on in a creepy voice artificially lowered by a technical glitch, denigrating the place where he worked and the people who helped build it until, one ridiculous off-camera brawl later, he would be legitimately stripped of his title and ostracized from the promotion.
This was one of wrestling’s best talkers, freed from the obligation to serve a scripted storyline, and using that platform to tell everyone that a guy shares a bank account with his mother. In what was really a banner year for rich and successful people getting swallowed by their unignorable need to hash out petty feuds in the public eye, CM Punk was funnier than anyone else while still being just as stupid.
Also I watched some episodes of Frasier. They were usually pretty entertaining. - Lauren Theisen
Everything Everywhere All At Once
There were many reasons you probably heard about Everything Everywhere All at Once. It took the concept of the multiverse from tired trope to inventive genius. It gave us Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, and Stephanie Hsu in the major roles they deserved. It generated its own meme and not in a forced way; those googly eyes make perfect sense in the movie. It planted jokes early on and paid them off in the final act. Yes, it was a bit too long. So what? Since when did the right to be a little baggy extend only to characters that originated in comic books or were owned by Disney?
When I saw it earlier this year, I felt blown away and also a bit cautious. You never want to declare something the best thing you saw too early. But nothing made me feel quite like Everything Everywhere All at Once. Movies tend to be lopsided—like in most stories, there seems to be an unwritten rule that we can only have one hero—but, for me, when felt most special about it was how it told the story of a mother and a daughter in a way that lets you ultimately come to understand both of them: You can see why Yeoh's Evelyn Wang is perpetually somewhere on the continuum between exasperated, annoyed, and enraged at the many human beings making her life harder, and also how, of course, this leads to a strained relationship with her daughter, Hsu's Joy.
OK, so Joy turns her pain into an everything bagel with a dark hole at the center that will destroy the entire multiverse. But if I think back to how gut-wrenching it has felt, and sometimes continues to feel, when I even suspect that I have disappointed my parents or they simply cannot convey an emotion to me that I desperately wish they could, the symbolism feels apt. If love feels like a perfect bagel, its inverse is a black hole in the center, tearing everything apart.
Enough time has passed now that I believe I can tell you that Yeoh's Evelyn saves the multiverse. But that isn't the part of the movie that made me cry, and I bet it's not the part where you'll get a little misty either. Now, it's the end of the year and I'm throwing my caution into the dark hole of the bagel. Everything Everywhere All at Once is the best thing I saw this year. And you can put googly eyes on that. - Diana Moskovitz
I used to watch movies. I still read about them and think about them and very occasionally watch them, but I don’t really watch the movies that I want to watch the way I used to. Instead, I watch the movies that my wife and I can agree seem fun and aren’t too long; I also watch Hallmark movies for the podcast I do about Hallmark movies, and I cannot bear even to estimate what percentage of the films I watched last year involved a soap opera actress with tiny facial features stressing over a pumpkin-carving contest. I for sure saw more of those than I did any of the films that I thought seemed worth watching. I am not a person who writes things down, and in this case that’s a blessing. What was the best film I saw last year? The Guest? Confess, Fletch? I know it wasn’t Butlers In Love but did it crack the top 10 somehow?
Instead, we watch television. Bad television, and sometimes good television, and, where it can’t be avoided, the same television that everyone else is watching, at the same time that everyone is watching it. There is both patently too much of it and not nearly enough that I really want to watch with both my eyes. This is the thing we can agree on, and that fits within the time we have, and sometimes it is better than others. It is unclear whether this is still a golden age for the medium, but I always felt like that was more a revolution of production value than it was of quality. There are more handsomely produced, expertly acted, peerlessly state-of-the-art series out there than I could watch if I devoted myself to nothing but, and most of them still somehow aren’t actually much good—they’re too slow or too sweaty, overextended and calculated in the way that a great many cultural products are. These are desperate times; you can feel it.
When something that actually is different, and has some sense of what it wants to say and why, it sticks out; I think part of what I loved most about Lodge 49, which I wrote about here a couple years ago, was how thoroughly it abjured any and every television trend, while still leveraging the medium’s cadence and inherent tendency towards the episodic to its own ends. I loved it, but mostly I couldn’t believe that it existed. Which, finally, brings me to the best thing I watched in 2022, which was also a television show, and which also seemed somehow to have snuck through the many industry snares designed to prevent anything this interesting—and, in this case, anything this bookish and jagged—from ending up that way.
I haven’t read Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven; my wife has, and liked it, and that was what led us to watch it. Neither of us were in anything like the right place to watch it when it started airing. It premiered during the COVID winter at the end of 2021 and finished its 10-episode arc early in 2022, which means that nearly half of the episodes of this show, which is about a pandemic that kills many millions and what happens to the people who survive the erasure of everything that came before, aired while either my wife or I were sick and suffering from the novel coronavirus powering our own unended pandemic.
If the timing was not ideal, it was at least still there—and still is, for now—on HBO Max for whenever we were ready for it. Once we started, the question of how ready we were remained. The show is unremittingly intense, and if the shape of the threat bearing down on the people at the center of it—a child actress, a brilliant and secretive young woman, an aimless young man and his heartsick brother, an aging movie star and his troubled friend, and many more as things go on—changes over the course of the show, it never diminishes, or even stops trying the locks. For a show that stretches over the course of a couple decades, this is quite frankly a lot of threat, and a lot of dread, and a lot of ambient death.
There are only so many times when this kind of entertainment feels not only appealing but even feasible. We started in the spring and finished it quickly; it is so singular, and so thoughtful and even hopeful in how it engages not just the people that animate it but the sort of Big Themes that this kind of TV checks but mostly cheapens—community, guilt and repentance, the dreaded trauma—that I am disinclined to give too much of it away. It is not the only show that I’ve seen that references Shakespeare, but it is the first I’ve seen in a long time that seems to not merely know anything about it, but actually love it. It does a lot of big prestige TV stuff, but never quite along the beats or in the ways I expected. It looks amazing, naturally, and the performances are great up and down the cast, but this is also true of a lot of not-very-good high-end television. But also there is a rare and fine commitment in it—to engaging seriously and humanely with all the big themes and texts running through it, to not merely winking at those various signifiers in a way that flatters the viewer but to follow them out into some darker places, and finally to ending when and where it should. There’s something silly to me, mostly, about our household having replaced a 130-minute movie with all these eight-and-a-half hour TV shows, primarily because we justify it from one instance to the next by agreeing that we don’t have time for the former. But Station Eleven doesn’t just repay that commitment, it honors it. I wouldn’t trade it for any of the movies I didn’t watch. - David Roth
A Separation (2011)
People have been lying for as long as they’ve been talking. Lying is a plot device in much of the narrative art ever made by humans. I’m not sure the lie has ever been used as elegantly, dynamically, and painfully as in this movie. - Giri Nathan
For All Mankind
For All Mankind is one of those shows that comes with a sharp hook embedded in the premise: What if, in the summer of 1969, it was the Soviet Union that was first to put a man on the moon? How would history unfold differently? The simple answer to that question that the show plays with is that the space race would have never ended. The more complicated answer is that by 1995 the United States would have elected a closeted lesbian Republican president.
If that sounds goofy to you, that's because it's supposed to be. Maybe the creators of this show originally set out to make a prestigious epic exploring Big Themes and asking viewers to think existentially, but what they ended up with is something much sillier, and the show is all the better for it. This is basically the most expensive soap opera ever produced, and the drama is all derived from an easily repeatable formula: There is a logistical problem in space, and unless NASA's biggest nerds and most charismatic flyboys can come together in time to solve it, people are going to die out there! Also, one astronaut's college-aged son has started having sex with the mother of his childhood best friend, who got hit by a car and died when he was 12. That's basically every episode, and it rules. - Tom Ley
I can’t stop thinking about it. Months after I finished it. I can’t stop thinking about that piano riff. I can’t stop thinking about that office, to the point where I feel as if I’m trapped inside of it myself. I can’t stop thinking about the conference room speaker, and the primitive computer equipment, and the break room, and the pattern-less office attire. I can’t stop thinking about Tramell Tillman’s plastered-on smile, which is both horribly menacing and also the only armor that Milchick has at his disposal. I can’t stop thinking about Patricia Arquette’s eyes; how she can look through me as if she’s actually in the room with me. I can’t stop thinking that Irving definitely isn’t British when he leaves that office. I can’t stop hearing Adam Scott scream "SHE’S ALIVE!" right before the smash cut to black.
I can’t stop thinking about the composition of every shot. Every interior is so clean. Every exterior is so cold and remote. Every wide shot is nearly symmetrical. I want to tell you that Severance’s aesthetic is like if Charlie Kaufman and Stanley Kubrick decided to collaborate, and yet that’d be unfair to all three parties mentioned. This is a work of art entirely its own: one that takes a relatively simple premise and finds an endless supply of ideas to mine from it.
And tension. God, I can’t stop thinking about the tension. Every episode is one long, sustained moment of tension: between characters, between worlds, between man and industry, and between people and themselves. How much of your identity do you really want? How much of other people’s identities do you want? How much of your identity do THEY want? And, most disturbing of all, what if they had to means to get that part of you and only that part? That tension is palpable, unbearable, and addictive. This is a show that had me ROOTING for a character to die by suicide, and not wrongly.
I think about all of that, all of the time. There are only a handful of works of art that have reached the deepest part of me and remained there. Psycho is one. Thief is one. Here is another. I’ll never forget Severance. It’s one of the best things I've ever seen. - Drew Magary
The Big Tree Outside My Window
I did an atrocious job of watching television and movies this year. I might as well be Barry! I read a lot, and I looked at my phone a lot, and I had the most robust social calendar I've had in years, but when I watched TV or movies, the information just seeped out of my brain immediately. I was whining just today about not having watched a TV show in a million years when my partner reminded me that I literally just wrote a whole blog with Samer about watching The Mole. I'm also currently watching Sex Lives of College Girls. Whatever!
Because I cannot remember it, I refuse to crown anything I watched on a screen this year as my best of 2022. What I did spend a lot of time watching this year, very enjoyably, was the tree outside the window by my desk. This is the first tree I've had near my window since childhood, when my window faced a huge willow tree that I also paid far too close attention to, and I'm grateful to have one again. It is a big tree, one of the evil Bradford Pears. When I first moved into this house in March, the tree was just getting leaves, small little green shoots that were trying hard to persevere against the cold. Then it bloomed, and with the blooms came birds. I watched robins and blue jays and many other little fluffy birds hop around outside. The tree went dark green for summer and then vibrant orange for fall. Now, I sit typing this in a beam of sunlight because the tree is bare.
It's nice to hear the birds, but it's even nice to not hear them, and to rest in the knowledge that they will return, that the tree will bloom again, that there will be another year so soon. - Kelsey McKinney
Defector has always been a safe space for Taskmaster, going all the way back to Series 11 (before that, we didn't exist but we freelanced our love), so this isn't another hysterical paean to a show we have already come close to overpraising. This is about the star of Series 14, the redoubtable Fern Brady.
In fairness, Taskmaster doesn't declare a star of the show; Dara O'Briain won the series, Sarah Millican had the funniest world view, Munya Chawawa the least justified air of confidence, and John Kearns the most justified air of defeat. They were all inspired castings, as is normally the case.
But Brady inspired me to go through her entire video record during the series, and because she is so prototypically Scottish, her sense of barely concealed disgust at the world is both hilarious and enduring. Few things all year have touched my rotten soul quite like her describing the difficulties of female comics in Scotland through the words of an audience member at one of her gigs: "Why is the stripper talking?"
Her engagement with the tasks during the series was particularly Scottish, in that she seemed to need to give a look to Alex Horne before every appearance to reinforce her opinion of how ridiculous his asks were. Even when she was nominally enchanted by a task, like the chair bocce at the airport, she viewed it as though she had to dig into the earth's core to find the fun, and then upon completion acted like she'd won the task by merely putting it behind her. This is the attitude that is most correct for the times in which we live: I'll do this because I have to do so for the integrity of the show, but I hate you all for thinking of it.
Taskmaster has provided a series of gloriously funny women with distinct styles in its fourteen series, from Roisin Conaty in Series 1 through Katherine Ryan, Kerry Godliman, Lou Sanders, Judi Love, Jo Brand, Sarah Kendall, Desiree Burch and Victoria Coren Mitchell, and there are still plenty more out there to get (hint: Tiff Stevenson, Maisie Adam and Sarah Keyworth, to begin a list to which you can add your favorites). Yes, this seems like a Rothian Remembering Some Guys litany, but we mention it only to say that there are plenty of other binge-watching opportunities when COVID-26, The Final Reckoning comes for our weakened immune systems.
In the meantime, though, there is the best news of all. Frankie Boyle will be in Series 15. The show may implode from the nuclear weight of his most casual asides, and I'm willing to let us all die on that hill. In the meantime, a multi-yeah on Fern Brady. - Ray Ratto
Filbert the Beaver
Thanks to my robust and growing distaste for screens, I forewent movies and TV this year, which means that the best thing I watched was going to be by default a video from online. And pure probability made it almost certain it would be some or other animal video. So: It's Filbert, a.k.a. the Branch Manager, a.k.a. the Oregon Zoo's 11-year-old North American beaver, who has a charming name and a commanding presence and a strong sense of purpose and is, above all else, just kind of nice to spend time with.
It's nice to watch Filbert build his dams. It's nice to see him drag his sticks around. It's nice to listen to him crunch. It's nice to watch him hang out with his girlfriend Maple. It's nice to watch them walk around the zoo. It's very nice to see Filbert as baby. It's just nice! More things should be nice.
I predicted last year that the hot internet animal of 2022 would be beavers, and look at that: I was correct. My 2023 prediction? I'm not totally sure yet, but I've got my eyes on skunks and porcupines. - Barry Petchesky
Perhaps this says more about me and my consumption of tweets and websites than the substance of Todd Field’s latest, but I have never seen a movie that diverges more, and more gleefully, from a supposed discursive position than TÁR. I believed heading into the theater that TÁR is a movie about “cancel culture.” You can find so many posts taking that very take, which, thankfully, I saw but did not read. Giri Nathan wisely told me to have as little of the movie spoiled for me as possible before sitting down to watch it, which was good advice, though, really, what you are avoiding when you do this is not so much details about the plot of the movie, but rather, the way it tells its story. TÁR is a movie about cancel culture in the same way that Snowpiercer is about train engineering. Which is to say, it certainly forms part of the temporal setting, though it is not—or was not to me, anyway—a load-bearing pillar of a movie that is more of the flash negative of a ghost story than anything else.
When the movie begins, Lydia Tár, played by Cate Blanchett, is about to reach the apex of her impressive career. She is the best conductor in the world, about to lead the Berlin Philharmoniker in a recording of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. She is also a monster, in ways that are revealed slowly and carefully as the story, and Tár’s life, unspool. She is being haunted by the specter of her victims, in a way the viewer can intepret as literally or figuratively as they want. The degree of ambiguity TÁR is comfortable with is its chief strength. A lesser movie would make more things more literal, or lean so far into the metaphorical haunting that you would not be able to misinterpret anything.
Yet TÁR rides the line. Field’s spare direction, and Blanchett’s taut performance, imbue the movie with an all-consuming uncanniness. It slowly morphs into (or, more precisely, reveals itself as) what Dan Kois aptly characterized as a Grimm-esque “journey through a haunted forest.” Is any of this story actually happening as it is shown to us? How much of this is real? Just how twisted is Lydia Tár’s internal life? That’s up to you, and if anything else, I hope you watch for one of the funniest endings you’ll see all year. - Patrick Redford
The Nutcracker Ballet
A couple of weeks ago we took the kids to see the complete Nutcracker ballet performed by a touring company at a lovely old theater in town. This is just an extremely good time! Ballet rules; old theaters rule; The Nutcracker, with all its instantly recognizable melodies, wild costumes, silly story, and quick pace, is particularly fun and colorful and easy to get into. I came home with ballet fever and watched Black Swan. (Not as good.) - Albert Burneko
The Tufted Titmice At My Birdfeeder
Two things can be true: I love all creatures, and I have never really been a bird person. My beef has never been with birds but the attention that surrounds them—our outpouring of human love and care, and the dedicated magazine and conservation dollars that accompany such care. Birds are easy to care about because almost all of them are conventionally attractive and, even if they are not, they are still conventionally inspiring in their ability to soar through the skies in a way humans can only dream of. Sometimes I wonder if there were simply a glossy Audubon equivalent for fish or bugs, I would never have developed this resentment.
Anyway, I bought a birdfeeder this year to entertain my cat Sesame, who believes he was born to kill yet is cruelly trapped inside my apartment 24/7. At first there were cardinals, house sparrows galore, the occasional mourning dove. But then the tufted titmice came, all of a sudden and in innumerable swarms. I couldn’t stop watching the cheeky little fellows swinging upside down from the perch, daintily tucking their tiny tufts to grab a seed, flapping away in gentle, arching swoops, and then hammering it into a branch with their little beak. As they began fattening up for winter, becoming more ball than bird, I realized I could watch their stupidly spherical bodies flit here and there for hours. Had I become … a bird person? I suppose anyone is capable of change; we need only open ourselves to it. I salute you tufted titmice; you can steal hair from my head for your nest any day of the week. - Sabrina Imbler