Patrick Freyne’s TV of 2022: Liam Neeson’s bitter words, The Love Boat with full frontal nudity, and a farewell to a legend

The White Lotus, The Bear, Severance and Somebody Somewhere were unmissable

A legend passed and reminded us of episodic shows of yore: Hollywood veteran and all-round sound person Angela Lansbury died in October. This led me to rewatch a bunch of Murder, She Wrote Episodes in which Jessica Fletcher maintained a cheery disposition as she contended with an endless wave of death, a busy writing career and, if the opening credits are to be believed, a rich array of hobbies. She was far too busy to have a dark past, fatal flaw or drinking problem. Jessica Fletcher was a legend who, to paraphrase another lost legend, Christine McVie, made murder fun. Anyway, shine on Jessica Fletcher/Angela Lansbury. I hope there are murders for you to solve in heaven.

A former UK minister for health ate kangaroo genitals on television: Matt Hancock is what you’d get if you went to one of those online AIs and said, “AI! Create for me a generic human man”. He is the exact midpoint of all human personalities. His main function is to make up the numbers on a lads’ night out, cinematic crowd scene or inept government. He is so unremarkable that he must do notably gross things in order to even register on the human retina. Gross things like: mishandling a pandemic, breaking his own pandemic rules by having an affair with an adviser or going on I’m a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here to eat kangaroo genitals. What will reality TV producers facilitate him to do next?

The Future of Media Commission’s main suggestion led to the Government urgently doing nothing: Yes, I know you think that the reporting infrastructure of RTÉ News can be replaced by your angry friend Jim who rants into a phone camera about vaccines and the family courts while sitting in his car, but I’m inclined to think that publicly funded, public-interest journalism might be necessary to keep infantilised fascism at bay. This long-awaited report suggested (among a lot of other things) a need to scrap the long-static licence fee in favour of a more robust direct-taxation approach. The Government read this advice with great seriousness and instantly took inaction.

Baby Gandalf met the Irish: In The Rings of Power, the very expensive, quite entertaining Lord of the Rings prequel, the Irish-accented, always hungry, people-pleasing hobbits/harfoots were visited by a beardy foreigner who rocketed into a nearby crater, substantially upping their GDP. If this is a comment on contemporary Ireland, I find it a little on the nose. Though it’s heartening that the people at Amazon Prime Video agree with us that we are a great bunch of lads.


Liam Neeson appeared in the strangest places: Neeson does a heartfelt turn as an RUC officer in Lisa McGee’s excellent final season of Derry Girls, a programme that’s doing a lot of heavy lifting processing the trauma of the Troubles. And he turns up very differently, but no less resonantly, in Donald Glover’s amazing experimental drama Atlanta (Disney+). There he appears as a surreal fictionalised version of himself, propping up an Amsterdam bar and talking bitterly about his recent non-cancellation for telling a controversial anecdote. Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry) asks him if he has learned to be more careful about what he says and he responds: “Aye. But I also learned that the best and worst part of being white is that we don’t have to learn anything if we don’t want to.” Both appearances were fascinating. I now expect Neeson to turn up beside me on the bus into town, possibly playing one of my neighbours.

The dead were reborn: Everything can be rebooted, prequeled, sequeled or recommissioned now. Nothing ever truly dies. Take Neighbours, that endless Sisyphean drama transmitted from Australia to Ireland and Britain since 1985. The travails of the doomed citizens of Ramsay Street came to an end this year when they lost their UK broadcaster, Channel 5. Celebrated former cast members such as Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan and Guy Pearce joined the current cast around the show’s deathbed for a final show in August. But then, much like fan-favourite Harold Bishop who was swept out to sea in 1991, it turned out that Neighbours wasn’t dead at all. Revived by Amazon Studios, it will be back in 2023, possibly with amnesia, possibly in the form of an evil twin.

The “golden age” of TV started to falter: For a while, American streamers and cable operators, in an orgy of endless growth, threw money at television auteurs to make long and shapeless passion projects that might have been better served as one-off indie movies. But now growth has stalled and Netflix seems to have realised its most successful genres are real-estate shows fronted by toothy Americans, dating shows featuring an array of hunks each more hunky than the last and teen dramas built for teens but also adults in a state of arrested development. They’re also planning to bring in ads.

There is also turmoil elsewhere. HBO Max has just gone on a purge, cancelling shows such as the excellent Minx (which was already in production for a second season) and removing others from its platform (to avoid paying ongoing licensing fees). The only streamer that seems to be on some sort of creative growth spurt right now is Disney, and that’s largely because they’re holding Generation X’s memories to ransom. When my generation dies our children will be free to roam the scorched earth telling their own stories as they see fit.

The franchise schlock was sometimes good: I’d resigned myself to a future in which Disney/Marvel/Star Wars shoved our childhood toys in our faces forever, saying “Take this, you pigs. This is what you like, isn’t it? Derivative mediocrity. Gorge yourself on the nostalgic drippings from a lost past” (This is a direct quote from the Disney homepage). But then Tony Gilroy looked at the Star Wars universe, thought “What this franchise needs is kitchen-sink realism and class analysis” and created Andor. It was really good. Gilroy hid the space wizards and gnomic muppets behind pencil pushers, accountants and regional English accents and created a story about ordinary people reckoning with a cruel fascist bureaucracy. It radicalised me. Now I care deeply about space politics.

The best dramas were, once again, really comedies: The White Lotus (Now) is The Love Boat with full frontal nudity and class analysis. Succession (Now) is Steptoe & Son with billionaires. The Bear (Disney+) is a cinéma verité Cheers with extra grief and good food. The sci-fi nightmare Severance (Apple TV+) is The Office but slightly less dystopian. And, my favourite, Somebody Somewhere (Now), is Friends with the corners knocked off by age, disappointment and real human warmth. These are the best shows of 2022. This is a fact, not an opinion.