The Best Teen and Millennial Shows of 2022
I loved "Severance" too, but there are so many other series from this year you're sleeping on, from "The Midnight Club" to "Single Drunk Female"
Over the last few weeks, everyone from NPR to overeager TikTokers have weighed in on the best shows of 2022, amid a dizzying amount of content out there (some would argue, too much). There have been some constants on every list, which also made my list of overall top shows of the year: season 2 of “The White Lotus;” “Severance;” “The Dropout;” “Bad Sisters;” “The Rehearsal;” “Abbott Elementary.” I agree all these shows have earned the accolades they’ve received (though I’d also include “Girls5Eva” season 2, “Under the Banner of Heaven” and “The Resort” on my own top 10 list). But for the purposes of this newsletter, I’ve put together another list of under the radar shows focused on teens and millennials that I think you should watch, beyond the 500 people who have already told you to watch “Severance.”
First, a word on my “methodology,” in which I tried to adopt my librarian friend’s taxonomy of the books she’d read this year for her bookstagram account. By my count, I watched 46 shows this year – that means shows I watched for the first time, and watched most of. They had to have come out in 2022 (with a few exceptions because I couldn’t help myself). This list is probably not totally complete, as most of the streaming apps don’t have a good way to see your entire viewing history.
I classified each of these shows by streaming network (12 on Hulu, 11 on Netflix, 8 on HBO Max, 9 on Apple TV, 4 on Peacock, 1 on Amazon Prime, and 1 on Starz, which I only had a free trial for) and some rough categorizations: teen/ Gen Z shows; millennial; prestige; sitcom; and reality/documentary. I classified 21 shows as Gen Z or millennial, meaning that the majority of the show had to do with those age groups, 9 “prestige,” 6 sitcom; and 3 reality/documentary. A few non-sitcom comedies were left unclassified.
From there, I went a step further to designate how many shows had major characters or themes about LGBTQ+ issues, because that’s a big theme of my newsletter. Encouragingly, about a third of them did. This number dwindled when I looked at shows that discuss disability and illnesses. I counted seven, but this included just one featuring major characters with physical disabilities (“The Midnight Club”), and it heavily skewed towards a few conditions (high-functioning autism, cancer). My categorizations are admittedly a bit dubious.
For the purposes of this newsletter, I went through my list and picked my top 5 under-the-radar teen, gen Z and millennial watches. They are (not in order):
1. “The Wilds” (Amazon Prime)
As I wrote earlier this year, Amazon’s “The Wilds” combines masterful storytelling, intrigue, mystery, and strong character development, especially in its first season. While its second season, which brings in a second group of teen island strandees– boys this time– was widely seen as weaker than the first, it was still a fascinating, twist-filled character study that was so addicting I couldn’t wait for my partner to watch the next episode together, so I secretly watched them all twice. Rather devastatingly, “The Wilds” was canceled due to low viewership, but I’ll still continue eagerly evangelizing it to all who will listen.
2. “The Midnight Club” (Netflix)
Netflix’s “The Midnight Club” was one of the most original shows on television. The brainchild of Mike Flanagan, who has a Netflix deal of a string of hit shows I can only describe as emo horror: slow, compassionate, character-driven, but spooky stories. I am a total scaredy-cat, but I was still immediately intrigued by the premise of “The Midnight Club,” which seemed loosely similar to “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” A group of teens with terminal illnesses who live in a hospice home together, which is, of course, a haunted mansion, get together each night to tell scary stories. The central mystery, stories-within-stories, and wide range of diverse characters made “The Midnight Club” one of the best shows of the year. It, unfortunately, was also not picked up for a second season, but Mike Flanagan wrote a Tumblr post explaining everything that would have happened had the show continued.
3. “Young Royals” (Netflix)
I devoured this soapy show about a tortured gay Swedish prince in a matter of days. Though it got comparatively less attention than another Netflix teen gay romance this year, “Heartstoppers,” I found it much more compelling. The music, cinematography, characters, and chemistry between the two leads were all stellar. The second season was definitely weaker, as second seasons often are, but it still kept me completely captivated.
4. “Single Drunk Female” (Freeform, streaming on Hulu)
This show wasn’t perfect, but I was really impressed with its humor and handling of serious topics with humility and irreverence. It follows Sam (Sofia Black D’elia), a 20-something alcoholic working as a blogger in New York, in the year after she hits rock bottom (a few times, actually) and is forced to move back to her childhood home with her mother (played by Ally Sheedy!), recover, rebuild her life, and become a better person. Sam’s character has a really remarkable character arc, but it’s not heavy-handed or cheesy. Despite being largely about AA and recovery from addiction, “Single Drunk Female” was ultimately uplifting and funny. Special props to Lily Mae Harrington as Sam’s best friend Felicia, who is hilarious and so much more than meets the eye. Luckily, the show did well enough to secure a second season.
5. “Cruel Summer” (Freeform, streaming on Hulu)
Freeform has been producing great content for teens and millennials since 2017, from “The Bold Type” (costarring Meghann Fahy, who is now having a huge career Moment with her incredible turn in “The White Lotus” season 2) to “Good Trouble” to more recent offerings like “Single Drunk Female” and “Cruel Summer.” Okay, technically “Cruel Summer” came out in 2021, but I just had to put it on this list. “Cruel Summer” is peak teen tv. The show feels like “Pretty Little Liars” meets “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” It’s a taut, suspenseful mystery that follows two teen girls in parallel over three summers, who experience radical transformations after one is abducted, sending shockwaves through the town. On top of keeping me on the edge of my seat with its many twists and turns, it also feels like an updated corrective to some of the most problematic parts of “Pretty Little Liars,” complicating and condemning the kinds of relationships that show romanticized. I will give it deductions for bad wigs and overly dramatic lighting, however.
Here’s my list and categorizations for all the shows I watched in 2022.
As usual, thanks for reading… looking forward to more in 2023!