There were plenty of attention-seeking shows in 2022. Some had movie stars who now ache for prestige-TV stardom, others had flying dragons or featured the Elves of Middle Earth. Most of those were headache-inducing exercises in tedium, even if they cost more to produce than Qatar spent staging a World Cup it didn’t want anyone to enjoy.
But enjoyment is often found in under-the-radar series, the ones with genuine depth and a detailed, more subtle understanding of both life and storytelling. Herewith, a list of eight great underrated series to seek out.
Wolf Like Me (streams Amazon Prime Video) is a sweet, funny and slightly outlandish concoction. Set in Australia, it has widower Gary (Josh Gad) meeting Mary (Isla Fisher) and there is obvious romance emerging, but it’s the impact she has on his daughter Emma (Ariel Joy Donoghue) that matters. Mary has baggage and you know in one episode (of six) what it is. Funny, but formidably adult, and carrying layers of meaning.
Son of a Critch (streams CBC Gem) is based on Mark Critch’s memoir about growing up in Newfoundland and Labrador. The 22 Minutes guy plays his dad, Mike, a radio reporter, and little Mark (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) is, “11 going on 70.” After a slow start the series – 13 episodes – finds a delightful groove as Pop (Malcolm McDowell), the live-in granddad who shares a room with young Mark, springs to life as a blissfully absurd old crank.
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The Dry (CBC Gem) is from Ireland and about drinking, and staying sober while putting up with family, ex-lovers, the past and the present with all its rituals and events where everybody drinks. Shiv (Roisin Gallagher) is 35 years old, six months sober and hanging on, but moving back to Dublin to live with her family, she’s cracking up. An arresting, bittersweet masterpiece of aching humour.
We Own this City (streams Crave) is a dirty-cop narrative from David Simon (The Wire). An unfussy, powerful dramatization of a true story – how an elite plainclothes unit within the Baltimore Police Department became corrupt, it’s about the route from straight-arrow beat cop to the embodiment of sleaze. It shifts back and forth in time, but your patience is fully rewarded.
Conversations with Friends (Amazon Prime Video) is based on the first novel by Sally Rooney, whose second book Normal People was adapted to become a huge pandemic-era hit. Here 21-year-old Frances (Alison Oliver) has her first serious love affair, with a married man. She’s as mixed-up as all get-out, and her fraught confusions are handled with gentle sensitivity in 12 half-hour episodes. Not for everyone, this tart but beautiful celebration of youthful love and despair.
Paper Girls (Amazon Prime Video) is delightful, and comparisons with Stranger Things abounded, but it’s a very different kind of nostalgia drama/comedy. The world is turned upside-down on a day in 1988 when a small group of 12-year-old girls are delivering the local newspaper. They get to meet their adult selves. They’re in danger, but resourceful. Amid the fun, some serious questions arise – do you want to go back to your childhood, and why? Eight episodes of brittle, humane drama.
The Old Man (Disney+) has Jeff Bridges as Dan Chase, a man living alone off the radar, with his two dogs. He seems grizzled, tired, lonely but intact. Then someone tries to kill him. He handles it with aplomb and hits the road, clearly a wanted man. A CIA operative decades ago, he’s got enemies. On the road, he meets Zoe (Amy Brenneman) a woman of an age where she’s wise to the selfishness of older men, wary of involvement and suspicious of men who have secrets. The scenes between the two characters are beautifully done, and the core of the seven-episode series that does, in the end, fall apart a bit, but not before it enthralls you.
The Afterparty (AppleTV+) is a wildly ambitious but masterfully done crime-comedy series with delicious input from the actors who improvise some material. It starts with a dead body. The deceased is a rich pop star who dies during a party at his mansion, after attending a high school reunion. Yes, it’s a whodunnit, with multiple suspects, and the series expands to see the drama from their perspectives. The cop investigating, Detective Danner (Tiffany Haddish, having the time of her life), says, “Here are some messy white folks,” surveying the scene. A genre-bending delight and sweet escapism.