Get the children’s choir on-tap cos Listmastime is here! After a very long, very busy, and very tumultuous year, I find it’s good to take stock on the things which happened over the past twelve months as a means of centring yourself. Remember that, in amongst the total existential chaos, there were some really good things which helped push us through a year with three successively worsening Tory Prime Ministers. It’s very much a Set the Tape tradition at this point, and things will be no different in this last week before giving 2022 the boot! To come, Amy Walker will be bigging up her favourite books and comics of the last 12 months, Joel Thornton has got a list of albums he thinks you may have overlooked during one of the best years for music possibly ever, and of course there’s our collective favourite films list.
But we begin, as always, with television. The medium’s had a bit of a strange year. Not so much on the programming end, where things have been reliably excellent for geeks and telly aficionados as you’ll see from our list. But more on the business and delivery ends. We now have more mega-studio streaming services than terrestrial TV channels, with Paramount+ and Lionsgate+ and Peacock joining the fray in the UK, all of which are doing their very best to justify haggling another recurring-monthly-payment of £7.99 out of you. (Or, when that doesn’t work, partnering with Sky to become just another random submenu on their dashboard at ‘no additional charge*.’ *terms and conditions apply) Said streaming services, looking mainly at Netflix, have been getting positively brutal on their cancellations as of late. And, hell, we may be in the final decade of terrestrial TV if the imbecilic current director general of the BBC gets his way.
It’s a weird time. But the shows on the uncertainly fluctuating box have been great! Ginormous-budget fantasy epics, zeitgeisty capitalist satires, alarming historical documentaries, refreshingly offbeat cape content, and a farewell to one of the 2010s’ most acclaimed sitcoms. Each show featured here meant something deeply to the writer who highlighted it. We’d love to hear what shows meant something deeply to you. Something to relax into when you finally log off from the try-hard weed bro ruining the screaming bird app. – Callie Petch
There have been a lot of great Star Wars shows this year but, whilst the emotional last episode of Obi-Wan Kenobi almost had that as my favourite of the year, Andor beat it. By a lot. Not only does Andor look fantastic, but the quality of the writing and acting is some of the best in the franchise in years. Series headliner Diego Luna is fantastic throughout, but it’s the supporting actors and guest roles that really make the series shine. Stellan Skarsgård steals most scenes he’s in, and Andy Serkis shows once again that he needs to be in front of the camera without CGI so much more often because he’s just that good.
Plus, the series’ message of ordinary people rising up against evil, fascist regimes is something we need now more than ever. The show doesn’t feature space wizards or famous generals. It’s ordinary people looking at the injustice around them and wanting to change that, which makes for some impactful and inspiring television. The funeral march and speech in the final episode alone makes this a must watch series, delivering one of the best moments in the entire Star Wars franchise, and all without the Force or lightsabers. – Amy Walker
Being a UK produced sitcom, it didn’t come as too much of a surprise that Derry Girls opted to finish while it was ahead. Its final seven episodes were amongst the funniest, most tender and surprisingly emotional to be broadcast this year; the cast as perfect as always, everyone getting a moment to shine and every episode always being a highlight of the viewing week.
The icing on the cake came with a tremendous finale that saw the series bow out in moving style. Maybe it was the fact that I grew up in the dying days of The Troubles and remember the emergence of The Good Friday Agreement and the promises that lay ahead, but Lisa McGee captured in both a hilarious and tenderly poignant manner the prospect of a new light over the hill, one to be captured by a new generation and the potential that future promised.
The fact of it airing during a period when the province and its political infrastructure faced seismic change meant that it played not only as a period piece but also one which still has a lot to say about the current climate. Its final moments were amongst the very finest put to screen in recent memory, and was an indication of the brilliant tonal balancing act this sitcom pulled off across its entire run. One of the very best comedies of its generation and a series that will leave a lasting impression, it’s the definition of a grand wee finale. – Eamon Hennedy
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She-Hulk: Attorney at Law
At a time when the wheels seem to be falling off the DCEU faster than ever, and the Snyder fans seem up in arms over any attempt to try and do anything which strays even remotely from the norm, the MCU is busting out in all directions.
Bless Kevin Feige; you could never accuse him of just treading water, and letting himself be sent up as a soulless automaton in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law shows us there are no sacred cows. Considering how gritty, dark and po-faced Warner Bros’ DC output has tended to be, Marvel has gone completely the opposite way, and given us a superhero sitcom, one which punches in the fourth wall with such gleeful abandon.
However, She-Hulk is also the perfect Trojan horse, using a stream of jokes to mask a joint-biting satire and outright attack on toxic masculinity, social media influencers, the meat market that is online dating, and online trolls, to name but a few topics in the firing line. Oh, and any show which lets us see Daredevil doing the walk of shame must surely be worth a look. Funny, fresh, irreverent, and daring to be different. – Lee Thacker
Does anyone like work? Surely, we’ve all had days where you just want it over with? Imagine a surgical procedure that separated your memories into work-life and personal-life. Imagine arriving at the office and then, in an instant, you’re already leaving. You’ve worked a whole day, but remember none of it. Life is all spare time. But what about your other life, stuck in the office? The you who never leaves, never goes home, never sleeps. No evenings, no weekends, your entire life is work. It’s surely no coincidence there’s no ‘Escape’ key on your keyboard?
Severance is the creation of writer Dan Erickson and producer/director Ben Stiller… yes, that Ben Stiller. It’s not a comedy, although it’s steeped in workplace satire. It’s more a sci-fi thriller, akin to the earlier seasons of Lost rather than The Office. What is so important about the work? Why the cult-like reverence to the company founders? Why are the numbers scary? And what the hell even is a Waffle Party? It’s one of those shows that gnaws at you, leaving you thinking about it long after you’ve finished watching. Season 2 is currently in production and the wait is unbearable. Watch it! – David Claridge
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The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power
Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, is a far from perfect series. It’s badly paced, occasionally has suspect special effects, and the less said about a bunch of chirpy, Irish accented hobbits literally trotting through bogs the better. However, it deserves its place on this list because of its absolute, balls-to-the-wall casting attitude.
Obviously Tolkien fans should gripe about the fact that the time scale is hugely truncated, an Elf and Human romantic relationship is so rare that really it shouldn’t be happening, and, well, Halbrand..? However, the huge swathes of online noise about this series came from people upset that they had the audacity to cast actors who weren’t white in heroic roles.
There was a hand waving justification that Tolkien described Harfoots as being “browner of skin”, but in the end, it’s a story about orcs, sorcery, and magic rings set on a flat earth (yes, seriously). A person who can’t deal with the fact that some of the actors are a different colour than what they might have imagined a Dwarf, Elf, or Harfoot to be is a ruddy little ignoramus. A phrase used, incidentally, by Tolkien himself to describe Adolf Hitler, because he didn’t like racists. Representation matters, and hopefully next season this series will make better use of its excellent cast. – Paul Regan
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It may not be popular to admit now, but I was a hardcore Lost fan. Every week, I not only watched an exciting, twisty-turny mystery unfold but spent countless hours scouring internet message boards for clues, theories and Easter eggs in the episodes. I called the Hanso Foudation phone number. I watched YouTube videos about how polar bears react to different climates. I was all in. While a lot of shows, especially in the mid-2000s, tried to reach the same heights (Heroes, Fringe, The 4400), nothing came close to Lost for me.
When Yellowjackets premiered, the Lost comparison was obvious – plane crash survivors, mysterious circumstances, and a combination of present-day and flashback storylines. But the show was unique in its own way: the Yellowjackets survivors are a female high school soccer team, they’re stranded in the cold Canadian wilderness rather than the tropical beaches of Hawaii, and they may or may not be cannibals.
Yellowjackets is a mix of horror, survival, teen drama, adventure, crime caper and more, but at its heart, it’s a mystery. As we watch the storylines unfolding – the teen crash survivors in the 1990s, and their modern-day selves, 20-odd years after the incident – we find new questions to ask. “Did they really eat each other to survive?” may have been the first question introduced by the premiere episode, but by the finale, we have a potential cult, mysterious symbols, murder, a French-Canadian ghost and three twisted middle-aged women who will do anything to keep the secret of what really happened in the woods.
And so, once again, I find myself turning to the internet and hunting for clues, scouring Reddit for theories, and rewinding episodes to try and catch potential messages in the opening credits. With season two on its way (and a third already announced!) I’m ready to follow Yellowjackets even further down the hatch and into the mysteries that await. – Jenn Reid
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Two years, one month, and two days after HarlIvy rode off into the sunset, making out furiously with Gotham City PD bearing down on them, the best (and queerest!) superhero show on television finally returned. It came with a number of awkward changes – the shift from a proper Big Bad with driving goals to a series of psychological examinations of our cast, an accompanying effort to ease up on the more gross-out and mean-spirited gags, and animation which was at best inconsistent episode-to-episode. But that’s the thing with rebuilding periods, you gotta let them play out all the way before you can really judge their worth. And the now-HBO Max series’ rebuild turned out to absolutely be worth those growing pains, with a season back-half which delivers series-best episodes one after another.
Whilst getting to that knockout stretch, Harley Quinn leans on one of the most enjoyably rounded character casts in television today who are just a joy to watch interact with each other for 22 minutes a week. The more day-to-day scale of the show allowing Gotham’s rogue’s gallery chances to reveal fun and unique character beats rather than always being antagonistic forces, in amongst the reliably killer comic wit. Many of these interpretations of Gotham mainstays have become my personal favourite in my years as a DC fan; the sweetly vulgar King Shark, the manic-depressive Commissioner Gordon, everything to do with this Kite Man.
And then, when all the pieces are in place, those final five episodes provide some of the most astute probings of Joker, Batman and Harley yet seen in non-comics Batman-media; really diving deep into how these characters can change without fundamentally making them different people. Whilst the publicly-stated refusal to break up HarIvy enables the show’s writers to dramatise the kind of tested but emotionally-honest and, eventually, healthy relationship between two people who love each other dearly that you just don’t see on TV all that much. All whilst still making time for hilarious dick jokes and Clayface’s amazingly-bad acting. And did I mention it’s super queer? Hopefully I don’t have to wait til 2024 for Season 4. – Callie Petch
Russia 1985 – 1999: TraumaZone
Whatever you think of controversial BBC filmmaker Adam Curtis, his work presents an outlook on society that is unique within the landscape of modern mainstream media. Since the turn of the century, and particularly 2015’s Bitter Lake, he has become the voice of alternative societal deconstruction, focusing on the system of power and the individual’s powerlessness to do anything about it.
A seven-hour epic subtitled What It Felt Like to Live Through The Collapse of Communism and Democracy, Russia 1985-1999: TraumaZone reaches the same end via different means. Curtis abandons his usual addictive yet memeable concoction of narration and Trent Reznor-Massive Attack needle drops in favour of straight, raw footage from a critical period of Russian history oft-overlooked by the West. The stark reality of TraumaZone is what makes it so compelling. A nation’s decade-long descent into greed and hopelessness under the guise of reform is as mesmerising as it is terrifying because there is no overarching narrative to the madness, no structure to the destruction. To the average Russian, the country flew by the seat of its pants from Gorbachev to Putin, and that’s what TraumaZone captures so perfectly. – Nicholas Lay
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Werewolf by Night
It is fair to say that the MCU’s Phase Four has been a mixed bag of offerings, especially when it came to its television shows. Some have been universally beloved, such as Loki; some not so much which is a shame, such as She-Hulk; and others have taken us completely by surprise, such as the fantastic Moon Knight. But there’s been one television offering that has been truly outstanding: Werewolf by Night. Another character unknown to the wider MCU audience, again like Moon Knight, no one truly knew what to expect from Marvel’s first TV Special. What we got though was an outstanding, gory, practical effects filled masterpiece.
Paying homage to the old Universal and Hammer Horror film, first time director Michael Giacchino chose to present the special in black and white which added to the overall look and feel of the show, the only colour being that of the glowing red Bloodstone, the powerful gem that almost everyone is after. Giacchino is more known as a composer, having scored movies, television shows and countless video games, but he’s also been making films ever since he was a child. Perhaps that amateur childhood influenced the decision to use practical effects rather than CGI and built sets instead of relying on green screen. Both of these choices allowed us to see Man Thing brought to life, and experience the claustrophobic feel of the Maze located in the ground of Bloodstone Manor.
Credit of course needs to go to Gael García Bernal, who brought a vulnerability and humanity to the titular werewolf Jack Russell – his dog-like motions in places made him very endearing – and also to Laura Donnelly as the kick-ass Elsa Bloodstone, who held her own despite the odds being stacked against her. Werewolf by Night is entirely different to anything else in the MCU’s catalogue that everyone should check out. A truly outstanding piece of television history. – Helen Balls