From frothy murder mysteries and grubby prison thrillers to surreal comedies and grimy workplace dramas — it was business as usual on the small screen this year. Yet even with a never-ending collection of bingeworthy shows to choose from, viewers found solace and magic in a rich, homegrown documentary about a proper Irish legend. These are our top picks of the year — and, in case you missed them, where you’ll find them now.
10 The Responder
(BBC iPlayer where available)
Martin Freeman excels in this nervy, gritty crime drama, courtesy of former police officer-turned-author and screenwriter Tony Schumacher. Freeman is Chris Carson, an exhausted urgent response copper whose head is in an awful state. Therapy isn’t working, his home life is in tatters and, oh yeah, he also has a terrifying drug dealer on his back. Stressful stuff, and Freeman — armed with an impeccable Liverpudlian accent — is utterly compelling.
9 This is Going to Hurt
(BBC iPlayer where available)
Former medical man turned acclaimed comedy writer Adam Kay adapts his bestselling memoir in this absorbing, high-wire hospital dramedy about an over-worked junior doctor (the excellent Ben Whishaw) struggling to keep his eyes open on a noisy London labour ward. It’s real, it’s horrifying and it’s often difficult to watch. It’s also bloody hilarious.
8 Maeve Binchy: The Magic of the Ordinary
Produced and directed by Máire Kearney, this lovingly assembled celebration of the life and work of Maeve Binchy hit us where it hurts. With invaluable contributions from Binchy’s nearest and dearest, including broadcaster Olivia O’Leary, literary agent Christine Green and her adoring husband, author Gordon Snell, The Magic of the Ordinary did exactly what it was supposed to. Ten years on from Binchy’s death, Kearney and her team conjured up a witty, intimate and undeniably moving tribute to a phenomenal woman, whose legacy continues to weave its magic.
A twitchy serial killer (Domhnall Gleeson) kidnaps his therapist (Steve Carell) in the hope that their daily dysfunctional sessions might put an end to his killing spree. The unsettling premise requires at least some suspension of disbelief — but make no mistake: The Patient is the real deal, a snappy, sweat-inducing thriller with sharp ideas and stellar performances. Gleeson delivers a career-best turn as a slippery sociopath in desperate need of a hug. Carell digs deep as a grieving widower who would do well to follow his own advice. Made for bingeing.
6 Bad Sisters
Sharon Horgan’s deadly Irish remake of an acclaimed Flemish series, Clan, came dangerously close to overstaying its welcome. And yet, since it ended, I’ve missed my weekly catch-up with the awesome Garvey sisters and their impossibly beautiful houses. Did it matter that one of them was responsible for the death of a despicable in-law (Claes Bang’s JP)? Absolutely not. The chap deserved it — and, despite a few hiccups, our commitment to the murderous Garvey cause never waned. Plus, Bad Sisters boasted one of the best casts in the business (take a bow, Sarah Greene and Eve Hewson). A second season is in the works.
5 We Own This City
Jon Bernthal gives the performance of a lifetime in George Pelecanos and David Simon’s slick, sophisticated crime epic, based on real events. Bernthal is Sergeant Wayne Jenkins, a troublesome cog in the Baltimore Police Department’s crooked Gun Trace Task Force. Eventually, Jenkins and his boys get what’s coming to them, but not before the show’s writers have their fun with a dense, non-linear narrative that will test your attention span. Simon, of course, is the man responsible for The Wire. This is every bit as good.
4 The Bear
The breakout hit of 2022, Christopher Storer’s searing kitchen drama tells of an anxious superstar chef (Jeremy Allen White’s Carmy) who returns home to Chicago to run his late brother’s sandwich shop. It won’t be easy. The shop’s mouthy manager (Ebon Moss-Bachrach’s Richie) is a bit of a handful, the staff are all over the place and Carmy is on the hook for a $300,000 debt. Not ideal, and this intentionally hectic series will probably stress the hell out of you. But it’s worth it. Honest.
3 The White Lotus
A devilish, sun-drenched satire all dressed up as a playful whodunnit, The White Lotus was initially conceived as a limited series. It wasn’t supposed to be an anthology, and the idea of a second run came about only after the first one was a hit. That’s how telly land now works, and — on the basis of this magnificent follow-up — you won’t hear us complaining. Come for the breathtaking Sicilian scenery, stay for the gaggle of ghoulish, wealthy holidaymakers, scrambling to make sense of the human condition over gallons of Aperol spritz. Our favourite sarcastic troublemaker? Aubrey Plaza’s Harper, obviously.
2 Only Murders in the Building
I wasn’t overly keen on the idea of Steve Martin and John Hoffman’s tricksy murder mystery returning for a second spin of the wheel. What if, I wondered, this masterful comedy talks itself into a corner with a bigger, barmier plot? It didn’t. Things did, in fact, get bigger and barmier, but somehow the Only Murders team — including the fabulous Selena Gomez and the incomparable Martin Short — kept a tight lid on proceedings. Oh, and that sensational finale was the funniest thing I watched all year.
1 Black Bird
Dennis Lehane’s nail-biting prison drama ranks among the finest in its field. After a charismatic drug dealer named Jimmy Keene (a never-better Taron Egerton) is sentenced to a lengthy stretch behind bars, the FBI offers him a way out as an undercover snitch. First, Jimmy will transfer to a maximum-security lock-up. Then, he’ll need to befriend a suspected serial killer (Paul Walter Hauser’s Larry Hall), and somehow coax a confession out of him. If Jimmy succeeds, he gets to go home. If he slips up, he’s on his own.
Inspired by true events, Lehane’s taut, tense and brilliantly plotted display kept us guessing right until the end — and the late, great Ray Liotta was superb as Jimmy’s heartbroken father. Flawless.
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