The Best TV and Movies of 2022
Mostly about the TV
It was great to chat with Kyle Smith of the WSJ about the best movies and TV of 2022, but the truth is that the prep for this for me was almost entirely about the TV side of the spectrum. I’m not sure I saw more than three movies this year that I’ll ever rewatch. Maybe this is just the hangover from the pandemic era, maybe it’s that the superhero content has finally run out of steam post-ENDGAME, but the quality of television was just so abundant this year as to make this conversation a little uneven.
A few thoughts on my top TV shows of the season:
Better Call Saul: This final season was a worthy conclusion for the phenomenal series which managed to satisfy while also finding a balance between dark humor and real tension. The character actors in the ensemble — Tony Dalton’s performance as Lalo, Patrick Fabian as Howard, and Michael Mando as Nacho — were particularly incredible in this final run. Who would have imagined this type of career for Bob Odenkirk? And whatever Rhea Seahorn does next, I’m in for it. A spinoff that comes to match the success while being significantly tonally different than the original series is a rare thing.
Andor: So that’s what an adult STAR WARS series looks like. Tony Gilroy’s take on this corporate espionage/early stages of rebellion look at this world was impressive and grown-up, and Diego Luna and Stellan Skarsgard were exceptional in it. But the real standout was the brief arc of Andy Serkis. Ditching the Skywalker family drama helps the storytelling so much.
Atlanta: I can’t really do this series’ conclusion justice, there were just so many odd and oddly hilarious moments from Donald Glover’s darkly comic run to the end of this story. The episode targeting Tyler Perry was a standout, and I laughed very hard at this moment:
Peacemaker: I realize that no one liked this show as much as I did, but a foul-mouthed peace-loving murderous John Cena mocking himself repeatedly in this Suicide Squad spinoff and engaging in some of the most ridiculous insults you’ll ever hear was just joyous. Definite language warning:
What We Do in the Shadows: This season, with its main arc surrounding the slow return of energy vampire Colin Robinson, was full of dark hilarity. No episode was better than the Property Brothers’ spoof featuring the Sklars as hosts of a purported home improvement reality show was particularly great.
The Bear: This show was frustrating in some respects — there’s plenty to nitpick about its depiction of the way a kitchen works and the prevalence of destructive personalities (“oh my gosh he’s selling coke?”) — but the lead performance by Jeremy Allen White was the best single performance I saw this year.
Rick and Morty: I love this show, this season was a return to form after two uneven ones. Every episode was good and several were great. “Time to do a Die Hard.”
Barry: Not its best season, Bill Hader is taking this in a much darker direction than I thought he would, but it had its moments. This feels like it should have been the final season of the show.
The Boys: The prior season was better, but Antony Starr is still so great as the lead antagonist that you can’t turn away.
The Rehearsal: I’m conflicted about this “reality” show because Nathan Fielder is clearly a dangerous sociopath with bottomless resources but it just grabbed you from the first episode and wouldn’t let go. I feel like I’m watching the origin of a Batman villain.
There are plenty of other options you could throw in here, including GOT: House of the Dragon (which functionally was really just setting everything up this season), Hacks, Severance, We Own This City, Yellowstone, Reacher, Slow Horses, Archer, and Solar Opposites. I’m sure I’d include White Lotus, but I haven’t seen yet.
As for Movies: Here was my top ten — left unmentioned is Baz Luhrmann’s ELVIS (which featured one great performance in the lead and a terrible one from Tom Hanks), PREY (which is better as a concept than in execution), the SPIDER-MAN and DR. STRANGE sequels (which just seemed like poorly executed Rick and Morty plots), THE LOST CITY (funny!), BLACK PHONE (scary!), and PEARL, which was good but makes no sense without X (I guess I could list them both as a cheat). Here was my top ten, and honestly I think TOP GUN, NOPE, and BANSHEES are the only ones I’d rewatch. So: just not a great year.
But these are just, like, my opinions man.
Musk’s Twitter and Its Enemies
Even though the First Amendment does not restrict private actors, the cultural concern about the danger of centralized authority does not disappear when an authority other than government makes the decisions in the form of content moderators. That danger becomes acute when Twitter or Facebook has substantial market power. Those who are banned from Twitter have few other avenues nearly as good to allow others to access their work on the internet. Consider this analogy: if elders of a small town four hundred years ago had enough power to persuade people to ostracize those with whom they disagree, free speech would not be effective even if the state did not formally censor. That example shows that the exchange of ideas requires not only favorable law, but a favorable culture, one in which people widely accept the dissemination of ideas they dislike and even consider to be false. In such a culture, there is confidence that truth will win out in the long run.
Musk faces a culture increasingly hostile to this view. The mainstream media in particular has emphasized the danger that Musk’s takeover will lead to a disinformation dystopia as he changes Twitter’s monitoring process. That stance is not surprising when one considers that Twitter is a competitor of established institutions. If Musk succeeds in making Twitter an ever better boulevard for free and decentralized expression, legacy journalism is at risk, because it will be easier to find better experts and more vibrant and original opinion. Twitter is an engine of disintermediation, and institutions resist disintermediation for existential reasons.
Such hostility to upstart methods of communication has characterized legacy media’s reaction to technological innovation in the past. After the French Revolution, for instance, there was an outpouring of new pamphlets on current events. But the Paris Book Guild reacted by petitioning the government to require that any book published in France receive the imprimatur of one of the publishers in the booksellers’ guild:
We request, sir, that you glance over it and lend all your influence to our demands. From these abuses of the freedom countless persons who can barely read have established and maintain shops in every quarter of the capital, hanging over their door their name and the title of Bookseller, which they have no scruple about usurping. France will soon be infected by the sale of bad books if everyone is free to do business as a bookseller.
The media also has a political valence—to the left. Twitter on the other hand empowers people of all ideologies. Thus, just as the mainstream media tends to favor restrictions on spending for political speech at election time because such funding can counteract its one-sided influence, so it is largely hostile to a forum that will disturb its power to set the national conversation.
The WaPo Self-Demolition
The First Law of Meetings states that a boss should never convene a meeting, especially an employee meeting, unless he can safely control its substance and outcome.
Washington Post Publisher Frederick J. Ryan Jr. botched this simple dictate on Wednesday at an afternoon all-employee town hall. Ryan surprised the staff by disclosing that layoffs beyond the November dismissal of the entire Washington Post Magazine staff and the paper’s dance critic were in the cards for early 2023. A cascade of stinging questions fell like hail on Ryan’s comments, prompting his whimpering pushback that he wasn’t about to “turn the town hall into a grievance session” and a retreat from his own meeting, as this video documents.
What was Ryan thinking? What sort of executive calls a meeting less than two weeks before Christmas to promise attendees that the sack of coal of more layoffs was a certainty in the new year? Did he expect the news to go down like bourbon-fortified eggnog? Following the disastrous meeting, Ryan took another shot at announcing the impending layoffs by issuing an email to staffers that was equally undiplomatic. “It is not a decision that has been taken lightly,” he wrote, assuaging nobody.
The town hall blow-up could be dismissed as just a random bad day in the office if viewed in isolation. But much of 2022 has been a nightmare for Ryan, who has held his job since 2014, when Post owner Jeff Bezos hired him. After years of Post growth, expansion and profits, the tide has turned against Ryan’s paper. In late August, the New York Times reported that the Post was on track to lose money this year after previous profitability. It has lost 500,000 subscribers since the Biden inauguration, down from a high of 3 million, and digital ad revenue is off, too, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Report From the NY Republican Gala
Here we jump to Manhattan, to the already famous Saturday night dinner of the New York Young Republican Club. Gowns, tuxedos, important national speakers, a special night. Donald Trump Jr. said Republicans must finally investigate Hunter Biden. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, in the prime speaking spot, received the club’s Richard M. Nixon Award, “given to a citizen who exemplifies the fundamental ideals of Americanism.” She spoke of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol: “I want to tell you something, if Steven Bannon and I had organized that, we would have won. Not to mention we would’ve been armed.” She took other strange turns—“defund the FBI,” Kamala Harris dresses in boring colors. Not a “single penny” should go to “a country called Ukraine whose borders are far away and most of you couldn’t find it on a map.” She charged, “You can pick up a butt plug or a dildo at Target nowadays.” I’ve never noticed that at Target. I guess it depends on what you’re looking for.
My point isn’t that she’s an idiot, though that appears to be true—she once called Hitler’s secret police “the gazpacho”—or that the audience, which laughed and applauded, were idiots. It is that you don’t talk like this and applaud if you are trying to win anyone over to your side. And if you are serious about making America better, you try to win people over to your side.
If the speakers at that dinner were even a little sincere about controlling the border, they wouldn’t be swanning about or beating their chests like chimps but reaching out to those who share their alarm but aren’t Trumpist. Instead, they stick with their own club, one that, at least in this instance, involves comparative wealth, a certain conception of glamour, and an insider feel. They seem to proceed as if they are all on the winning side, the side of what they all call the base. But they haven’t won a big election since 2016.
There is one way in which they very much are winners—they changed the policies and attitudes of a great party, making it more populist in domestic and foreign affairs. This was a huge win!
But they couldn’t absorb it intellectually or consolidate it politically. If you are a Trump candidate, you would do this by showing voters—not only Republicans but Democrats, independents, centrists, moderates—that a vote for you isn’t a concession that they have grown radical or extreme or drawn to peripheral issues. No, a vote for you is a vote for a regular normal person of intelligence and good faith. A vote for you is a vote to address the issues that bedevil us, in a truthful and constructive way. A vote for you is a reassertion of a preference for normality.
Derek Thompson: The Top Ten Breakthroughs of 2022.
Items of Interest
How to know if Putin is going to nuke Ukraine.
Europe’s economic data points to contraction.
Stavridis: Can the U.S. think longterm on China?
Wenstrup: Intel community stonewalling on Covid origins.
France’s restart of nuclear reactors eases blackout fears.
Why woke Canada could be Britain’s future if Tories ignore culture.
Americans pessimistic about prospects for the economy in 2023.
Why companies do layoffs around Christmas.
Goldman Sachs to lay off 4,000 people.
Virginia Dems rush to House special election nomination with firehouse primary.
LA City Council in shambles as Democrats squirm.
Strassel: SBF’s dirty political donations.
Steve Bannon calls for firings after Trump’s digital card stunt.
Trump to meet with Orthodox Jewish group.
Hirsi Ali: Don should make way for Ron.
A profile of Justin Smith of Semafor.
KJP keeps using a ridiculous definition of the Hatch Act to dodge questions.
Ana Cabrera leaves CNN for NBC.
AOC clashes with Elon Musk over suspensions of journalists, Olbermann.
Twitter suspends journalists for tweeting out Elon’s jet location.
U.S. military Covid vaccine mandate repealed in NDAA.
NLRB says NCAA student athletes are misclassified.
Breer: NFL owners now think Dan Snyder may use sale to play keep away.
Suderman Review: James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water.
Henry Cavill set to star in new Amazon Warhammer 40K series.
Eight works from famed artists that sold for less than a Hunter Biden painting.
“Of course we would all like to ‘believe’ in something, like to assuage our private guilts in public causes, like to lose our tiresome selves; like, perhaps, to transform the white flag of defeat at home into the brave white banner of battle away from home. And of course it is all right to do that; that is how, immemorially, things have gotten done. But I think it is all right only so long as we do not delude ourselves about what we are doing, and why. It is all right only so long as we remember that all the ad hoc committees, all the picket lines, all the brave signatures in The New York Times, all the tools of agitprop straight across the spectrum, do not confer upon anyone any ipso facto virtue.”
— Joan Didion