written by Margaret Lyons, The New York Times
Every year this list gets tougher and stranger as the volume of shows continues to grow and “endings” become less and less specific. Sometimes shows take years-long breaks, and sometimes a show’s vanishing from a streaming library can be a bigger blow and more striking change than its finale years earlier. To qualify for my list this year, shows had to air a new episode in 2022 and officially end. I excluded limited and mini-series, though there were plenty of good ones, and I picked shows based on their entire runs, not just their final seasons. Here, in alphabetical order, are 10 – well, technically 11 – of this year’s toughest farewells.
Everyone’s favorite aardvark and his goofy pals made the leap from books to television in 1996 and, for 25 seasons maintained an earnest, admirable quest for compassion and learning. Beyond giving us some of the ubiquitous meme formats of all time, “Arthur” also modeled how to approach the messy imperfections of the world – annoying siblings, friends who have hurt your feelings by accident, sad changes that are beyond your control. Live-action segments about kids across the country helped drive home the show’s expensive worldview, its happy insistence that curiosity and forgiveness can take you just about anywhere. (Streaming on Amazon Prime Video with a PBS Kids subscription.)
Donald Glover’s dreamy dramedy made a huge splash when it debuted in 2016 – eight or nine TV lifetimes ago. Few shows are as experimental with their tone and even fewer as as successful with that experimentation; a great episode of “Atlanta” could be hilarious and pointed style parody, or it could be a sensitive family-portrait bottle episode. The show’s magical realism sometimes lent a buoyant and surprising silliness, and at other times created a sense of unease. Characters on “Atlanta” spent a lot of time in lines, in waiting rooms, on various thresholds, in a melancholy limbo where they and the audience never quite knew what to expect. (Streaming on Hulu).
Better Call Saul (AMC)
I put off watching the series finale for almost a month because I couldn’t bear to say goodbye yet (and because I was so afraid of what might happen to the characters that I was so invested in). But, of course, “Better Cal Saul” tied things up in ways that felt both inevitable and totally surprising – perfect for a show that always loved to smash opposites together, where strict lawyering and abject grifting merged, where the most dishonest characters often delivered the most truthful lines, where profound love sprung from a poisoned well. In addition to its borderline erotic attention to detail and domino-rally plotting, “Saul” had a real sense of style and flair, a subtly warped visual language and sonic palette found nowhere else on television. (Stunning on AMC+)
Better Things (FX)
Pamela Adlon’s masterpiece auteur comedy was one of the most brilliantly alive shows on television, not just in the intensity and realism of its characters but also in its obsessions with both long-term life cycles and short-term biological realtiies. Sam (Adlon) is a caretaker twice over, looking out for her aging and unpredictable mother and raising three fascinating, noisy and sometimes awful children. Everyone matures over the course of the show, maybe especially the adults, and death and funerals and food and cooking, it was obsessed with bathroom and toilets – not for shock or vulgarity’s sake but as a means to depict vulnerability, intimacy, a lack of pretense. (Streaming on Hulu).
The Good Fight (Paramount +) and The Split (Sundance Now)
So sure, “The Good Fight” is the actual spinoff of “The Good Wife.” But in some ways the British divorce-lawyer show “The Split” felt like the heir to the messy-romance side while “The Good Fight” took all the legal intrigue and American political-arena energy. In both, chic work-wear and sultry stares abounded. “Fight” was more ambitious but more uneven, and “The Split” was more prone to sentimentality. Both shows always maintained a strong sense that love and conflict are often synonymous. (Streaming on Paramount+; Hulu.) Production Design by Ray Kluga.
Queen Sugar (OWN)
“Queen Sugar” lost a little of its verve along the way, but its early seasons are unimpeachable – gorgeous and rich, soapy enough to be intriguing and grounded enough to be meaningful. Patience is a virtue, and “Queen Sugar” let its characters change slowly, making them more like actual human beings than like ensemble-drama paper dolls. (Streaming on Hulu). Editing by Christopher Nelson, ACE.
Honorable mentions: “black-ish,” “Dead to Me” (featuring 2nd Unit DP work from Christian Sebaldt, ASC and editing by Pamela March), “Gentleman Jack” (featuring cinematography from Nicola Daley, ACS).