The following are the 10 shows that captured hearts, minds, souls of audiences globally — as well as broke through to the zeitgeist in 2022:
Ranking #1 on my Top 10 Shows of 2022, “Pachinko” is a bold, thought-provoking, awe-inspiring series that leaves you wanting more. Fortunately, AppleTV+ has ordered Season 2, which currently in production and which will, hopefully, be released later in 2023.
“Pachinko” features Academy Award winner Youn Yuh-jung, along with charismatic Lee Min-ho and introduces the enigmatic Kim Min-ha as his counterpart, and Jin Ha, who portrays the conflicted grandchild of their characters. From start to finish, “Pachinko” is stacked with phenomenal on-screen talent, which also includes: Youn Yuh-jung, Lee Min-ho, Kim Min-ha, Jin Ha, Jung Eun-chae, Anna Sawai, Kaho Minami, Steve Sanghyun Noh, Soji Arai, Han Jun-woo, Jeong In-Ji, and Jimmi Simpson.
“Pachinko” offers an split-timeline story told across multiple generations and weaves throughout the intertwined personal lives of its heroine Sunja (portrayed by Kim Min-ha in earlier years and Youn Yuh-jung in the present). At its core, “Pachinko” is the heart-breaking, yet delicate romance of Lee Min-ho and Kim Min-ha’s characters as Sunja and Hansu, which later segues into the tender tale of love between Sunja and Isak (portrayed by Steve Sanghyun Noh), a preacher who married her to provide Sunja and her son a better life.
Surprisingly, while Jin Ha’s character Solomon appears to be the modern day focus of the story, as Solomon delves back into his familial roots, the tumultuous lives of his grandparents — and those who helped them survive through their toughest years — becomes a lens from which the multi-generational story unfolds. Backdropped against the evolving Japanese occupation of Korea, embedded in cultural tension as a result of human rights issues and alleged abuses, the characters’ lives are ripped apart and yet hold fast against a fateful series of events and tragedies.
Based on the book by Min Jin Lee, “Pachinko” is a heart-felt story of love, loss, and self-discovery nestled amongst the turmoil of three generations. Initially, “Pachinko” seems too far removed from the events of today, but Solomon’s journey of self-reflection and self-affirmation brings to light his family roots, ambitions and a profoundly touching tale of survival.
What I found intriguing was how much of “Pachinko” is actually the story of Solomon’s grandmother and the other women who she found kinsmanship throughout her journey to find a place for her and her children and grandchildren — and how those generations of women became the foundation and backbone for modern day South Korea, symbolizing the tenacity and courage of the Koreans who lived abroad in places like Japan and the United States who strove to find a way to survive and thrive while providing for their families. The stories of those women’s lives and achievements is remarkable and laud-worthy.
“Pachinko” is fearless in its storytelling, providing an unflinching examination of the lives of women who found joy and love, providing fuel for generations to embrace their heritage, culture and passions. The feeling that history is layered upon tragedy laced with love, provides a unique foundation for each family is fascinating as told through the “Pachinko” lens.
As a bonus, the series also included real-world stories of women who actually lived through that time period. Hearing and seeing women who actually lived such quietly profound and significant lives is powerful. It is also a strong storytelling tactic that was incorporated through skillful editing by the behind-the-scenes talent who worked on “Pachinko”. Kim Min-ha, as Sunja, commands attention in every scene and is the character who most closely guards her emotions throughout the series. Lee Min-ho mirrors her restraint and passion at equal levels in their scenes, making them irresistible on screen. That undeniable magnetism draws viewers deeply into their complicated tale of star-crossed love through multiple generations. In contrast, Youn Yuh-jung as the older Sunja is a bit more open and expressive with her feelings, probably reflecting how Sunja gained confidence in herself and her relationships, as well as her ability to survive no matter where she found herself, as older Sunja — more savvy at life and the need for self-expression and self-determination — is excellent foil in her scenes with Jin Ha as her grandson, who also learns to be more expressive and self-determined through their shared experiences in present day.
“Pachinko” is not an easy series to watch, but it is gripping and engaging on multiple levels. As a viewer, you find yourself wrapped up in its tumultuous saga as it invites you to examine and learn from the history that it used throughout — a history that incorporates legal issues, political issues, and economic issues while highlighting geo-political tensions.
The fact that one watches “Pachinko” and is moved so much by its characters is because of how much the top tier talent immersed themselves so fully into their characters. One’s heart is only touched so deeply because of how deeply each of the actors’ hearts were touched by their own characters. That is the true secret to “Pachinko” — it makes you feel all the complicated emotions along with the characters. Watching these characters live and learn is the essence of the story, which slowly reveals its tenacious heart as the story unfolds.
The series ranks my highest compliments — both to the entire on-screen cast and those who worked steadfastly behind-the-screen bringing this exceptional series to life. “Pachinko” is a series that burns brightly and leaves a strong, enduring impression. I remain intrigued to see where the characters’ lives lead in the second season.
Thank you to “Pachinko” for being fearless, ferocious, heartfelt, family-oriented, filled with love, and daring to share its broken and battered heart on screen so that we could learn from it. The women portrayed, as well as the remarkable women portraying these characters, are riveting to watch and cheer for — the empowering women theme really hit the heart. Every moment of this series, from the masterful cinematography to the cheerful and inviting theme song to the well-crafted characters and portrayals, it reminds you of the art that every series should aspire: dare to be this bold, brave, and bountiful. Art should aspire to be more and deliver more; when it does, it is magnificent.
“Extraordinary Attorney Woo” (Netflix)
Claiming the #2 spot on my Top 10 Shows of 2022 is the surprise breakout of 2022: “Extraordinary Attorney Woo”, which invites viewers into the joyous world of a young woman diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, who chose to become a trial attorney while proving her abilities , which was just another facet of her wide-ranging skills, allowing her to see things in different ways and to express her unique perspective in ways that made her a strong advocate for her clients. “Extraordinary Attorney Woo” is such a bright and loving series and it allows its characters to search for and find love, while working zealously as advocates and champions of the under-represented in an uncaring and calloused legal system.
“Extraordinary Attorney Woo” featured Park Eun-bin, Kang Tae-oh, Kang Ki-young, Jeon Bae-soo, Baek Ji-won, Jin Kyung, Ha Yoon-kyung, Joo Jong-hyuk, Joo Hyun-young, Im Sung-Jae. The warmth and curiosity that they bring their characters made each shine and entices viewers to get to know those characters and root for each, in and out of court. Exceptional casting really makes the entire series more addictive than expected. There is such warm camaraderie among the characters and cast that viewers want to spend more time with them and led to a worldwide clamor for a second season of the show, which Netflix has greenlit, but will take a bit longer than usual as they want to wait for Kang Tae-oh to complete his mandatory military service in South Korea, so that he can appear in Season 2. The unexpectedly sweet romance between Park Eun-bin’s character Woo Young-woo and Kang Tae-oh’s character Lee Jun-ho is such an exuberant love story that it makes sense to wait for Kang Tae-oh to reprise his character in Season 2.
Another interesting aspect of “Extraordinary Attorney Woo” was how not every legal case is won, nor does Woo Young-woo find herself always on the right side of a case. It leads to thought-provoking legal issues and challenges perceptions on what love and justice is as different clients and shifting cases reveal the inner darkness and depths of those who manipulate cases, courts and news cycles. Allowing a lead character to fail or make wrong choices and then show their learning from those mistakes makes the show feel more prescient and relevant to our current world than most fictional shows.
The charm that infuses every scene of “Extraordinary Attorney Woo” is felt through the cinematography, geographic locations, color schemes, wardrobe choices, and interactions of the characters. Credit is due to the phenomenal writer Moon Ji-won, director Yoo In-shik, and the multitude of other behind-the-camera crew and production staff who created such a vivid, colorful, inviting world for “Extraordinary Attorney Woo”. Charming characters with rich dialogue and interactions are enhanced by the off-screen talent using their abilities to the fullest and it shows every second on screen.
Special credit should also be given to Park Eun-bin (an actor that I have adored from her other K-drama series “The King’s Affection” and “Do You Like Brahms?”) who brings her character Woo Young-woo to life with such realism and inner joy that you really want to embrace the character and meet her in the real world. Another fascinating aspect was how Woo Young-woo’s love of whales invited everyone to appreciate the water-bound mammals that we take for granted most of the time. It was a gentle reminder that whales are far more intelligent and can communicate in amazing ways. It can be easy to forget how marvelous and miraculous the world we live in is — so to find such a creative and appreciative way to show the inner-thought process of Woo Young-woo and how it changes the perspectives of those around her is clever and amazing.
“Extraordinary Attorney Woo” also wove in a delightful romance for its lead character, which allowed co-star Kang Tae-oh to show off a bit as a natural charmer, both on and off screen. The series also deftly introduced and utilized its supporting characters in ways to complement Park Eun-bin as Woo Young Woo. It gave her a loving and respectful father and an unusually understanding and supportive boss and, as a surprise, allowed her professional co-workers and peers to be full characters with personal lives and who grew along with her through her journey as a new attorney learning to navigate the tricky and thorny path of the legal world. Hat tip to co-stars Kang Tae-oh, Jeon Bae-soo, Kang Ki-young, Ha Yoon-kyung, Joo Jong-hyuk for those wonderful performances. It made all their interactive scenes opposite of Park Eun-bin feel warm, welcoming, and brighter. These were Woo Young Woo’s family and friends and we got to experience all their joys with them. It is a fun world that you want to spend more time in.
“Extraordinary Attorney Woo” is both a rom-com and a legal drama that found a way to nestle deep into viewer’s hearts and reminds us to believe in the magic of the world we live in. This is actually a tough thing to do and yet “Extraordinary Attorney Woo” makes it feel easy and achievable. For me and every one of the fans of “Extraordinary Attorney Woo”, the long wait for Season 2 will feel like a clock ticking down to visit our favorite place. Yet, when invited into a magical world of love, joy and justice, it is worth the wait.
“Little Women” (Netflix)
Hot at #3 on my Top 10 Shows of 2022 list, “Little Women” is a sizzling-surprise hit. Loosely based on the sisters from Louisa May Alcott’s beloved book “Little Women”, this series is a modern day tale of three sisters caught up in an international murder-mystery tied to a missing $70 million and a series of blue orchids that symbolize those marked for death. From start to finish, the series felt more like an Alfred Hitchcock thriller than a young adult story of the unbreakable bonds of three sisters. But with each scene feeling like a puzzle piece slowly revealing a much larger puzzle to be solved, “Little Women” is a brain-teaser. Each clue leads to another and it keeps viewers guessing right until the end. In spite of the adrenaline-rush and thriller aspects that remind of Hitchcock, the twist-filled mystery is more like an homage to Agatha Christie — particularly once the secret of the blue orchids is revealed.
“Little Women” featured Kim Go-eun, Nam Ji-hyun, Park Ji-hu, Choo Ja-hyun, Wi Ha-joon, Kang Hoon, Park Bo-Kyung, Gong Min-jung, Kim Mi-sook, Um Ki-joon, Uhm Ji-won, Jeon Chae-eun. Each actor embodied their character so thoroughly that it was riveting to watch. The typically effervescent Kim Go-eun dialed back her natural radiance to portray her character In-joo as more downtrodden and at-risk through a series of unfortunate and cataclysmic events. Yet when that effervescence did peek through, it was as binding as ever. “Little Women” was truly a perfect complement to Kim Go-eun’s extraordinary range as an actor and on-screen performer. Having watched her varied roles for the past decade (“Coin Locker Girl”, “Goblin” aka “Guardian: The Lonely and Great God”, “The King: Eternal Monarch” and “Yumi’s Cells”), she is a force of nature and a marvel on screen, which made her casting perfect for such a complex character in “Little Women”.
Complementing her were co-stars Nam Ji-hyun (“Suspicious Partner” “100 Days My Prince”) and Park Ji-hu (“All Of Us Are Dead”) rounding out the staunchly protective Oh sisters as the key to “Little Women” was the sisters’ unbreakable bond and love for each other as viewers had to believe that their shared love would compel them to take such life-threatening risks and allowed each to handle the terror that they faced alone as a result. It is smart to have allowed each of the three sisters to have equally strong storylines that they followed separately through the series, only intersecting at pivotal points. It reminded that each is capable of facing the challenging world they chose to inhabit. That individual agency for each sister is vital. It also felt more realistic since so much of our modern world means we live fragmented lives beyond our siblings and must rely on ourselves most of the time. “Little Women” trusts its characters to find their way on their own and cope with the rewards and consequences of their individual actions.
Another fun surprise was watching Wi Ha-joon deftly insert his pivotal character into scenes where the sisters dominated and commanded much of the story. He brought such enigmatic charm to his role as Choi Do-il that one wants to cheer for him even if his motives may be not aligned with the Oh sisters. It also adds a layer of romance to the series which kept viewers guessing if Choi Do-il is truly in love with In-joo or just good at convincing others that he is. (Count me in for Team Injoo-Doil and that promise-filled ending of “I’ll see you again”.)
“Little Women” does not simply rest on the strength of superb casting, it is also an extraordinary thriller with more twists and turns to it that kept the audience guessing until the last second as to where the mystery would ultimately end. That ability to hook its audience to that it felt like an exhilarating and breathless roller-coaster ride is what keeps the audience engaged. It also made the series “must see” for every episode and propelled a huge amount of water-cooler conversation across social media during its 8 week-run.
“Little Women” is the most surprising series that I watched all year. It took big swings and delivered on each outrageous plot twist perfectly. It kept the audience guessing and completely engaged so that each episode felt like a big event. To command the zeitgeist and social media conversation so fully takes a brilliant series. Compliments to series writer Jeong Seo-kyung and director Kim Hee-won. Kim Go-eun also delivered what I thought was “the performance of the year” and deserves full accolades and awards for it. (As if Kim Go-eun were not busy enough, she also delivered a wonderful and nuanced performance in the second season of “Yumi’s Cells”, which is also starting to garner deserved award recognition.) While “Little Women” was written and intended to be a single season series, it is just a bit of wishful thinking that perhaps there might be another fun tale ahead for these rich and wondrous characters. I will be rooting for that possibility — particularly as, for now, it seems like all things are possible when it comes to the rapidly expanding universe of K-drama series.
“The Good Fight” (Paramount+)
For its sixth and final season, “The Good Fight” secured its fifth consecutive spot on my annual Top 10 Shows list with ease, coming in at #4. The stellar series consistently provided outlandish and skewering entertainment aimed at modern politics as well as the flawed legal system(s) under which people must attempt to navigate or circumvent, no matter how much money they may have. Money is no excuse in the legal system, and it is not always the “get out of jail” card that rich people think it is, as consequences equally apply to everyone.
Fortunately, “The Good Fight” addresses heavy legal issues with a healthy dose of absurdity and humor. Its ability to deftly deliver poignancy laced by absurdism in the midst of truly awful crimes and worrisome injustices makes the show standout. “The Good Fight” is one of the best written series. The craftsmanship to pepper-and-layer its character stories in the midst of timely judicial clashes and cases is remarkable. Each character feels less like a component of the legal system and more like a full-fledged person with a personal life that weaves in and out of the legal realm, while also existing wholly separate. That is clever and gives the series a layer of humanity and hope that it would not have but for that carefully embedded personal life element.
“The Good Fight” legacy will not be its outlandish cases, but rather the full lives it allowed its characters to have and live in. “Life is the journey, not the destination” has never felt more utilized and implemented than reflected in “The Good Fight.” The characters are who will be remembered and the journey that we went on with them over the show’s six seasons: Diane and Kurt’s lusty marriage, albeit from differing political viewpoints; Liz’s struggle to retain her father’s firm and accept her father’s inherited workplace abuses; Carmen juggling her shady legal clients and maintaining a strong professional distance in the process; Marissa rising from being roped into her father’s political fixer and legal realm intersections into becoming an attorney and advocate; Jay gracefully navigating the high-risk legal world and then finding a calling outside of it in political activism; Julius becoming a judge and then caught up in a judicial scandal that nearly cost him his career; David Lee ready to maximize every legal and monetary opportunity that came his way; and newcomer Ri’Chard, who could see the potential in looking beyond the old ways of law firms to a bigger, hopefully better, future for the firm and the legal field working together.
Optimism is not what I expected to take away from “The Good Fight.” But reflecting upon it and its predecessor series “The Good Wife,” the entire journey was to remind each person, each character, to embrace the joy in their lives and pursue their calling or bliss in the process. It gave them confidence to believe in themselves and to find ways to use the legal and sometimes the political realm to achieve their dreams and still have a personal life in the process. So optimism and awe is what I take away from the series.
I am grateful to have spent these years with it, learned from it, and have been vastly entertained by it. Not every show can shine that brightly and brilliantly for so long, yet “The Good Fight” did. Thank you to Michelle King and Robert King, the writers, directors, producers, all behind-the-screen talent and contributors, as well as the deep-bench of amazing talent on-screen, including: Christine Baranski, Audra McDonald, Sarah Steele, Nyambi Nyambi, Charmaine Bingwa, Michael Boatman, Zach Grenier, Gary Cole, and newcomer Andre Braugher. I remain a grateful fan. May our paths cross again one day — hopefully soon.
“Twenty-Five, Twenty-One” (Netflix)
Laying claim to #5 on this list is “Twenty-Five, Twenty-One”. What was thought to initially be a sweet coming-of-age story of a fencing team who befriends a budding journalist became a much richer and deeper tale of a complicated life-story of two young women bound to follow their dreams as Olympic-hopeful fencers on a parallel journey with a reporter, as their lives intersected during a pivotal time period and propelled them into their future lives. Looking through the lens of the journals from those years as a young girl discovers the unseen side of her mother’s life before she was born, creates a window to look back with fondness and understanding. “Twenty-Five, Twenty-One” was an unexpected find. It remains a cherished series that introduced both charming and unforgettable characters, and the marvelous actors who portrayed them.
Already familiar with leads Kim Tae-ri (from “Mr. Sunshine”, “Space Sweepers”, “The Handmaiden”) and Nam Joo-hyuk (“Start Up” “Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo”, “The Bride of Habaek”), it was fun seeing both so fully inhabit their new characters in “Twenty-Five, Twenty-One” and fall deeply under their spell. The friendship between fencer Hee-do and reporter Baek Yi-jin as their lives intertwined through points of time and pushed them to achieve their dreams while going through times of pain and struggle was addictive. We watched them as friends, then as lovers, and then years later after their lives had moved on; while rooting for them every step of the way even after their career paths diverged. Young love and teen friendships are always remembered sweetly as there is a special nostalgia that attaches to that special time period in a young person’s life. It is when they dream bigger, strive harder, and every struggle feels more painful than the last. Yet, in the end, it is always remembered with fondness because of those friends with which they shared those experiences. To be invited into that rainbow-filled time of their lives and seeing how it launched them into their adult lives was wonderful, and having watched this series, it is remembered with just as much warmth.
The world of entertainment is filled with stories of youth angst and torment. What you do not always see are stories told with such humor, grace, charm, and warmth. Memories of a special time in someone’s life should be told with such elements. It is more inviting. It makes you root for them. It makes you invested in their lives. “Twenty-Five, Twenty-One” was not intended to be a bittersweet tale of love lost, but rather a tale with fondness of how it is better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all. Hee-do and Baek Yi-jin made the decision as young adults to keep pursing their dreams separately, prioritizing themselves over a relationship that could not working out. Making difficult decisions is what ultimately signifies that someone has become an adult. For the young daughter of Hee-do, she had reached at a pivotal time in her life and needed to see how her mother learned to make adult decisions for her personal life and for her professional career. Professional ballerinas and professional dancers are asked to make huge career decisions as early ages, which is a daunting task. So “Twenty-Five, Twenty-One” became a learning tool for a young teen.
This is the magic of “Twenty-Five, Twenty-One”: is it a powerful example of making adult decisions. But it does it with such aplomb and beauty and joy that its infectious energy captivates while watching it. Credit goes to the writer Kwon Do-eun and director Jung Ji-hyun and the show’s talented crew and behind-the-screen talent who brought the world and characters of “Twenty-Five, Twenty-One” to life. It made the time spent with them in their incredible world feel real, vibrant and wondrous. Not many coming-of-age shows can pull that off so effortlessly.
Special shout-out to leads Kim Tae-ri and Nam Joo-hyuk for giving above and beyond for their performances and their scenes, whether shared scenes or separate scenes. They put so much into their roles that you never once felt the absence of their bond on screen. The fates had connected these characters so deeply, that their performances felt linked every step of the way. That tethering is powerful and when felt creates an addictive story to watch.
It was also a pure delight watching their co-stars Bona, Lee Joo-myung, Choi Hyun-wook, Choi Min-young, who were caught up with them having the time of their lives as well. It was not clear if they were just having a great time, or if all that enthusiasm was just infused into their characters, but no matter what their characters struggled with, endured or celebrated, it was fun to spend every minute with them.
Shout-out to Kim Hye-eun and Seo Jae-hee for also contributing a bit of fondness, tenderness, understanding to their characters and scenes. Portraying a teen’s mom or a coach of teens can be a tricky task to portray, but in “Twenty-Five, Twenty-One” the characters were written to allow for such warmth. It added much to the story and is appreciated.
When all was said and done, “Twenty-Five, Twenty-One” told a nuanced and well-told and wonderfully portrayed story, which provided a few life lessons that resonated deep in our hearts. It was a joy and honor to share that journey with them.
Ranking #6, on my Top 10 Shows of 200, “Snowdrop” is an amazing wonder. It surprised time and time again. Helmed by the immensely talented Jung Hae-in (known for his award-nominated role in “D.P.” and his work in “While You Were Sleeping”, “Prison Playbook”, “A Piece of Your Mind”), who starred opposite K-pop idol Jisoo from the group BlackPink in her first leading role, “Snowdrop” captured attention right from the start. It was an even bigger surprise to see how perfectly they complemented each other on-screen and how masterfully they embodied their roles.
“Snowdrop” felt like an epic, sweeping romance set in the 1980’s while tension between South Korea and North Korea are on edge. Thus, watching the tale of an injured spy stuck across enemy lines who strikes up an unlikely friendship and ally with a young college woman that evolves into a gripping hostage tale at a women’s college was unexpected. Everything felt larger and richer and more epic as the story unfolded. It looked amazing and its ability to draw you in further made it feel like you were drawn into a “snow globe” world of wonder. One where bullets were flying and lives were lost, but still a bit infused with a fairytale magic. The fact that Jung Hae-in and Jisoo had such magnetic chemistry on-screen only added to the “magical” feeling.
“Snowdrop” became the first K-drama series acquired by Disney+ and was timed to release for Valentine’s Day. So timing and platform seemed to cast a rosy hue over the series. Looking back, it still feels like it was crafted to be a fairytale style story. It invites you into this world set “out of time” and sets up an epic romance that is intended to sweep you away. So the emotions invoked feel heightened, powerful and intoxicating. It invites you to fall in love with it and, for those of us who let ourselves fall, it was a delicious and heady experience watching “Snowdrop” as you want to root for the star-crossed lovers who are faced with an impossible situation, which made it burn brighter because of the danger surrounding them at all times. I admit it: I fell completely in love with them and the show. It was marvelous.
Full credit to everyone involved, from writer Yoo Hyun-mi and Jo Hyun-tak to all the behind-the-screen crew and the wondrous cast who brought each of their roles to life on-screen. “Snowdrop” became this amazing world where in the span of just a few days time, you get to know these characters and love them deeply, and not just the lead characters, the supporting characters as well. Special shout-out to Jung Hae-in, Jisoo, Yoon Se-ah, Kim Hye-yoon, Jung Sin-hye, Kim Mi-soo, Choi Hee-jin, Jung Yi-seo, Kim Min-kyu, Jang In-sub, Yoo In-na, Jung Yoo-jin, and Nam Mi-jung for their phenomenal performances.
A story of a foreign spy, who can kill and lie with ease, befriending a trusting college woman is not easy topic to sell. But when crafted with such loving care and infused with such warmth, color and joy, it entices, dazzles and delights. Perhaps that is the point of the story: the seduction of the forbidden and dangerous, and the tragedy that results. But “Snowdrop” was crafted with care and chose to tell a bigger story of how the college women rose to the challenge of saving themselves while still having empathy for those who may or may not wish them harm. Human beings are complex and “Snowdrop” dared to show the multi-faceted complexities of being a trapped spy, dependent on those untrained and fearful, yet finding common ground in the process. Trust, understanding, empathy, self-empowerment, self-determination — all of these were lessons to share and learn from in “Snowdrop”. Learning to love, expressing love, and understanding the varieties of love and boundaries of love were also powerful lessons and themes woven throughout “Snowdrop”.
“Snowdrop” dared to be something unexpected, something more, something better. Its audacity and daring soul is what we remember and feel long afterwards. It wanted to share a story and introduce characters that demanded more and offered more. I call it “art that hits the heart” when it dares to be more than art on a screen, and captures your heart. “Snowdrop” did that: it captured my heart.
“Under The Queen’s Umbrella” (Netflix)
At #7 on my Top 10 Shows of 2022, “Under the Queen’s Umbrella” is a series that hooked me at first sight. Its simple, yet effective, advertising poster depicted the image of a young queen protectively holding an umbrella over a boy as they walked towards a historical palace. That image immediately invoked feelings of curiosity about a mother who would protect a young prince from the destiny that awaited him. Thus, it was wonderful to discover that “Under the Queen’s Umbrella” lived up to that curiosity and delivered a beautifully told tale of a queen protecting not only her five sons, but all children within her reach and care. “Under the Queen’s Umbrella” expanded the role and responsibilities of the queen to include all the children around her, which made the story much more heart-tugging. It made you want to see how she would carefully and strategically use her position and power to protect those who could not yet protect themselves — especially against the most formidable foes throughout the kingdom.
Casting proved key in “Under the Queen’s Umbrella”, which starred Kim Hye-soo (know for her roles in “Hyena” and “Juvenile Justice”). Kim Hye-soo was the perfect choice as a ferocious advocate with a tender heart. Kim Hye-soo was able to carry every scene, whether alone or to complement the younger actors on-screen with her. Her ability to convey strength of position and strength of mind simultaneously made sure that viewers never forgot that she was queen of an entire country where she used her power carefully, pragmatically, and strategically. Another fun aspect was the humor and warmth that Kim Hye-soo brought to her character in the interactions and scenes she shared with her younger co-stars. Her character was a queen with five teen sons, each who could potentially become king one day. So it was essential that the audience felt her affection and love for her sons, as well as for the other rival princes in the palace. Seeing the story through the queen’s eyes and through her genuine love, affection, appreciation, and unwavering support for those teens and children under her care made an irresistible invitation.
Supporting actors Bae In-hyuk, Moon Sang-min, Yoon Sang-hyeon, Yoo Seon-ho, and Park Ha-joon were similarly delightful portraying the queen’s five sons — the heirs-apparent to the kingdom, who all had different paths to follow throughout the series. By allowing each prince to have their own agency and independence, it added another layer to the varied storylines and created richer character interactions, as not every prince wanted to one day be the king. Further, expanding the prince “pool” beyond her five sons to the other seven consorts’ sons also gave the series more depth and emotion as the young princes looked at each other as siblings and that bond proved crucial and enlightening as the series progressed. Adding another layer of comedy mixed in the drama was how the variety of romantic interests for the princes were introduced.
“Under the Queen’s Umbrella” had a king, a queen, 12 princes, 7 consort mothers, and 3 young women whose fates became intertwined with prince heirs. Rather than vicious and scheming rivalries, “Under the Queen’s Umbrella” turned its inquisitive and introspective story into a more family-oriented tale of how they work together to achieve common goals even when history would try to paint them as cut-throat competitors. The series focused on two murder mysteries that they had to band together in order to piece together the puzzle that spanned two generations.
The end result was that they all learned that they needed each other to find a way forward for the good of their kingdom, and to honor and support their cherished family members. This was not a tale of blood-thirsty battles and behind-closed-doors scheming to steal birthrights, it was about a family finding out how much they truly loved and cherished each other and chose to ultimately do the right thing. Such powerful lessons of love and family were embedded in each episode.
Kudos to the masterfully written script by Park Ba-ra and beautifully directed by Kim Hyung-sik, and all the behind-the-camera crew and production staff, as well as the charming and talented cast: Kim Hye-soo, Kim Hae-sook, Choi Won-young, Bae In-Hyuk, Moon Sang-min, Han Dong-hee, Ok Ja-yeon, Woo Jung-won, Shin Soo-jung, Song Young-A, Lee Ha-young, Kim Ga-eun, Lee Hwa-kyum, Park Jun-myeon, Oh Ye-ju, Jeon Hye-won, Yoon Sang-hyeon, Yoo Seon-ho, and Park Ha-joon. They brought this loving tale of a sprawling extended royal family to screen that made it so loving and inviting that you wanted to see where their life journeys would take them.
Special acknowledgement should be made to Kim Hye-soo for embodying her character so fully with love, wisdom and unfailing support for all of her “children” and wards. Kim Hye-soo took her role so seriously that you never forgot how much the queen had to protect, even beyond her five sons. The feeling of power and responsibility imbued with such strong, protective love was riveting. You never doubted this queen was going to do exactly what she said she would do and anyone who got in her way had better heed warning or suffer her quiet wrath. She was absolutely magnificent to watch on screen.
“Under The Queen’s Umbrella” is one of those series that stays with you for awhile. Its strong world-building and characters were just that inviting. You continue to think of them days, weeks and months later hoping that they are well, wherever they may be. That kind of wonderment after a series ends is telling — it made it so real that the viewer loved spending time there. Quite a remarkable feat and one that is only achieved through superior craftsmanship. Impressive series with an impressive array of talent that brought the series to life.
“Money Heist: Korea — Joint Economic Area” (Netflix)
Securing the #8 spot on my Top 10 Shows of 2022, “Money Heist: Korea — Joint Economic Area” had the unimaginably difficult task of distinguishing itself from the Spanish series “La Casa de Papel” (aka: “Money Heist”), which it was based on. With similar characters and set up for a bank heist with political ties, “Money Heist: Korea — Joint Economic Area” found a way to reintroduce familiar characters with new actors and a spectacular conclusion to its bank heist that felt different enough to make it its own story. As a massive fan of the Spanish predecessor series, it was even a harder hurdle to achieve a spot on this list, yet I was and remain impressed by how “Money Heist: Korea — Joint Economic Area” chose to set up its characters and story with its own chosen ending.
“Money Heist: Korea — Joint Economic Area” featured Yoo Ji-tae, Kim Yun-jin, Park Hae-soo, Jun Jong-seo, Lee Hyun-woo, Kim Ji-hoon, Lee Joon-bin, Lee Si-woo, Ahn So-young, Kim Sung-Oh, Park Soo-young, Jang Yoon-ju, Lee Won-jong, Lee Kyu-ho, and Lim Ji-yeon were phenomenal in their roles and made the familiar characters feel new and intriguing. As a long-time fan of the series “LOST”, in which Kim Yun-jin was a lead, it was awesome to see her lead another major action role series so successfully. Her natural charisma and charm was the perfect complement for this high-octane series. Plus, watching her in scenes with Yoo Ji-tae, as the Professor, was delightful and amazing. So much of the success of “Money Heist” rests on the interpersonal chemistry and casting, so to see that element brought into “Money Heist: Korea — Joint Economic Area” for its core cast for the heist proved to be the secret ingredient that kept the audience fully engaged and invested.
Further compliments to the “Money Heist: Korea — Joint Economic Area” staff who chose the bank heist location and the surrounding sets that were used in the story, which felt so visually rich. Plus, the scene with the red balloons popping up through the street covers dispersing money was brilliant. Another clever scene was the use of BTS’ song “DNA” in the opening scene for the series. It created a fast “hook” that catches viewers’ attention.
The “Money Heist: Korea — Joint Economic Area” storyline divergences were clever as well. It made it more fun for fans and viewers who had watched the Spanish series to see what kinds of twists and turns that “Money Heist: Korea — Joint Economic Area” took with its story and characters. Hat tip to them for those cool storylines and character surprises.
In the end, I was just impressed at how wonderfully this series distinguished itself and populated a familiar feeling story with new elements. That kind of care and craftsmanship is appreciated and garnered a spot on my list for such extraordinary work and attention to detail. Looking back over the entire series, the best compliment that I can give it is that it was jaw-droppingly spectacular from start to finish.
“All Of Us Are Dead” (Netflix)
Claiming the #9 spot on my Top 10 Shows of 2022, “All of Us Are Dead” debuted in January, yet it is a series that sticks with you and haunts your soul long after. The name alone hooked me into watching this series. The phrase “all of us are dead” conveys such a tormented image and feeling. You know going into the series that something terrible is about to happen and there is a high likelihood that the characters you meet will not live through their ordeal. Forewarned is forearmed. So with that awful premonition hovering throughout, as a viewer, you begin to watch just to see who the characters are and why they were selected for this foreshadowed doom.
“All Of Us Are Dead” is centered around a handful of young teens scattered around a large high school when a viral-outbreak occurs, leaving them surrounded by the walking dead aka: zombies. As a dark drama, “All Of Us Are Dead” had so much heart and dark humor. The characters made you want to cheer for them and hoped fervently that they would survive. The amount of emotional attachment that arose upon meeting each character was surprising. Great stories depend on “tethers” between its story and the audience. “All Of Us Are Dead” managed to create so many unbreakable tethers between its diverse and interesting cast that each character death felt a bit more devastating than the last. Whether that is due to the superior writing, superb casting, or just the luck of these amazing actors portraying their characters with such emotional resonance that attachment happens naturally. The experience of watching “All Of Us Are Dead” was deeply personal and emotional.
Compliments to writer Chun Sung-il and directors Lee Jae-kyoo and Kim Nam-su, as well as the “All Of Us Are Dead” cast Park Ji-hu (also seen in K-drama series “Little Women”), Yoon Chan-young, Cho Yi-hyun, Lomon, Lee Yoo-mi, Kim Ju-A, Kim Bo-yoon, Kim Jin-young, Yoo In-soo, Lee Kyu-hyung, Kim Byung-chul, and Lim Jae-hyuk. The actors portraying the teens were amazing. They had to capture that delicate balance of their character’s natural distrust of each other that makes them believable as teenagers faced with a zombie outbreak where they had to rely on each other to survive. “All Of Us Are Dead” was smart in that it leaned into that natural distrust and used it to create an undercurrent of tension where perhaps the greatest threat that they faced was actually each other, not the infected zombies that surrounded them.
The series also understood that there had to be heart-breaking losses to make the stakes feel real. Even with the initial foreshadowing of the title of the show, it was still utterly heartbreaking to watch each death. Those real stakes made the series hit the heart harder as the series did not avoid claiming lives when the story demanded it. While this kind of viral outbreak seems like pure fiction, it still feels more real on the heels of a worldwide pandemic. Thus, the heightened stakes seemed more real to viewers as the world was slowly emerging from 2 years of lockdown due to Covid-19 while everyone awaited a vaccine. So “All Of Us Are Dead” had the incredible timing of being released while that experience was still fresh in the minds of viewers.
While zombies may still seem outside the realm of our reality, the world we live in does have those we view as “infected” and who could potentially kill the unvaccinated by simply being within breathing distance. Timing, relevance, and within the realm of possibility — viral outbreak stories hit closer to home these days — and that is the world we all live in now: fear of the unknown, fear of the infected, fear that the person next to you could die before your very eyes. “All Of Us Are Dead” benefitted from that heightened realism and awareness. It has been said that “science fiction” is only fiction until it becomes “science fact”. There is a lot more to fear these days and watching teens cope with those kinds of life and death stakes is terrifying simply because it feels closer to “science fact” these days.
Besides the incredible timing, as well as the clever and foreshadowing title, “All Of Us Are Dead” is really just a heart-felt and heart-breaking series to watch. You become attached and invested in their life-and-death (and race-against-the-clock) to survive. With great casting, strong writing, a chilling yet familiar school setting, and strategic use of the familiar items and props used to fight off an enemy that seems overwhelming and unstoppable, “All Of Us Are Dead” left a haunting residue in our hearts and memories. Add in the open-ending for the series and how Netflix announced that it had greenlit a second season for the show, there is an uneasiness that the zombie nightmare they survived is only the beginning — for them, and for us. Not every series can hit that close to home — tapping into our real world fears. I look forward to seeing where the continuing journey for the survivors in “All Of Us Are Dead” leads, as it is certain to be just as harrowing and haunting. But perhaps — just perhaps — we will learn something along the way with them. Human survival depends on adapting to horror situations. Maybe there is something to be learned, and I look forward to learning that.
Last at #10 on my Top 10 Shows of 2022 is “Andor”. Disney took an unexpected character in its massive “Star Wars” universe and chose to give him a backstory and journey of his own. This is perhaps one of the smartest creative decisions it has made. “Andor” as a character and series is extraordinary. I remember being deeply impressed and affected by the character of Cassian Andor in the film “Rogue One” and have always wondered who he was beyond that story. So getting the opportunity to get to know him better has been a gift. Credit largely goes to Diego Luna for inhabiting the character so fully that his presence in and out of “Star Wars” feels more vital and intriguing today more than ever.
“Andor” is a rather simple tale of a man who got caught up in events much bigger than he ever dreamed of, for his own life, and yet he chose to step up and be a part of those extraordinary events, just because he could. Andor, himself, is not a Jedi or blessed with exceptional training or supernatural powers. He is just a man — but one that stepped up when needed. He did not seek to be a hero, he was just willing to do what it took to get a difficult job done. The symbolism and message of that “everyman” can still make a difference in a cruel universe is powerful. It is inspiring and carves itself right into your heart.
There is a saying that all humans live a life of “quiet desperation” — yet even in that desperation, humans come together, bond and fight for each other. It is not some great cause or passionate love that compels them, just the belief that they need to do their part in the never-ending tapestry of life. They may simply be a “thread” in that tapestry, but they are an essential “thread” that can connect people and events in extraordinary ways. Cassian Andor only wanted a simple life, but ended up living an extraordinary life. This is his story and we are blessed to finally learn of his life and story.
What the creatives behind-the-screen and on-screen brought to “Andor” was top tier talent to make it feel so real. I bet you watched “Andor” and thought nearly everything in it exists in our world today. We have been exposed to so many entertainment films and series depicting space travel and we have heard of astronauts traveling to the moon and space stations for nearly our entire lives, so “Andor” does not quite feel like “science fiction”. It feels real and, thus, our empathy for Cassian and how he gets swept up in events beyond his control, makes the stakes real. After all, who doesn’t feel like their lives have swept them up beyond their control most days? Even when Andor is taken to the prison colony, his days are filled with non-stop pressure to work until he drops dead from the never-ending grind. So watching him assess the set life-plan ahead of him, he defiantly chose to escape. Yet even after his grand escape, he found himself returning home, mourning over the death of a beloved relative, and caught up in a flight between the rebels and the federation. He would love to runaway, but there is no running from the war ahead as destiny also has big plans for him. So he ends up facing and embracing it.
Quiet tenacity and refusal to give up is really what made the series of “Andor” so touching to watch. It touches the lives of every viewer with that mirrored-reflection of the reality we live in. So cheering for Cassian and rooting for his success is like encouraging ourselves in our own lives.
In addition to Diego Luna, “Andor” is populated with strong performances by co-stars Kyle Soller, Adria Arjona, Fiona Shaw, Denise Gough, Genevieve O’Reilly, Faye Marsay, Varda Sethu, Elizabeth Dulau, Stellan Skarsgard, Joplin Sibtain, and Andy Serkis. Cassian Andor’s world is a bit of a tug-of-war between characters and with each pull, one side or the other gains a foothold in the bigger fight for freedom and self-determination versus the preset plans of the intergalactic authority. With such amazing performances, it was always fun to see how each of the characters would interact when confronted by or combined with other characters. The stakes are life-and-death and yet there is an undercurrent of mutual appreciation and respect between the actors that gives their joint scenes a bit more bouncy and life-affirming than would be typical in such a dystopian and tyrannical world of waring powers.
For a show named after a man, “Andor” featured women in significant roles: Adria Arjona portraying Bix Carleen, the mechanic and trade shop owner who also has a key part to play in the resistance; Fiona Shaw portraying Maarva Andor, Cassian’s adopted mother and a prominent figure in the resistance; Denise Gough portraying Dedra Meero, the relentless investigator working for the Imperial Security Bureau; Genevieve O’Reilly portraying Mon Mothma, the Chandrilan politician who also aids the resistance; Faye Marsay portraying Vel Sartha, a resistance member with powerful connections; Varda Sethu portraying Cinta Kaz, another resistance member who is both a healer and assassin; and Elizabeth Dulau portraying Kleya Marki, who acts as the liaison for resistance members and works as concierge at the gallery. Throughout “Andor” these women were instrumental in making the resistance function as a clandestine organization with sufficient funding, expertise, and assets to accomplish their goals. They were also the planners who made each operation come to fruition. Where Cassian was more of a person caught up in the events of “Andor”, these women were quietly and effectively launching and guarding the “resistance” as a formidable power that would then become the Rebel Alliance. Cassian was the “heart” of the story, but the women surrounding him in “Andor” was just as pivotal, powerful and necessary.
Compliments to the behind-the-screen talent who clearly put extra effort into the world building for “Andor”, which reflected on screen. Cool settings with strong production work along with superior casting and cast interaction, combined with a well-written script and keen director skills elevated the entire series. It is an impressive work of visual art and seeing how enthusiastically it was received by viewers and fans, the second season cannot come soon enough. Bring on Season 2 of “Andor”!
As special mention, I wanted to highlight a few more series that were runners-up, which were exemplary and provided such incredible portrayals by women in series showcasing layered, multi-dimensional stories for women:
In the interest of transparency, I have provided a short explanation of how this Top 10 list was curated.
As discovered since 2020, the online streaming platforms (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max, Paramount+, Viki.com) continued to dominate, and provided some of the best serialized shows as each expanded their current content to include international series. Accordingly, this is my third year including South Korean international shows (aka K-dramas), though it should be noted that I have included international shows in my annual Top 10 of shows since 2010 from countries, such as: United Kingdom (“Doctor Who”, “Downton Abbey”, “Sherlock”, “Luther”, “The Hour”, “Broadchurch”, “Killing Eve”), Canada (“Orphan Black”, “Mary Kills People”) and Spain (“Money Heist”). It is challenging, yet exciting, to explore the world of international series as streaming platforms continue to add these series to their curated libraries for U.S. viewers to explore and enjoy.
Television critics (aka “entertainment critics”) continue to be challenged to watch and assess a large volume of U.S. shows as well as international shows to come up with a “Top 10” list. Thus, to be a bit more transparent, when assessing shows that I watch, I tried to be fair about which shows I enjoyed watching and the reasons why I spent my time with these shows. Thus, I have done my best to weigh each on a fair scale to select series that earned a spot in my “Top 10” list, based on the following criteria:
• fearless storytelling
• highly entertaining
• water-cooler factor
• clearly ascertainable “hero” and “heart”
• strong, complex, well-developed female characters
• empowered female characters
To briefly explain:
“Fearlessness” in storytelling means a willingness to tackle the topic or subject of its story head-on with no regrets.
“Highly entertaining” is pretty self-explanatory — the viewing audience must enjoy watching the show and not just endure it.
“Consistency” means that each episode must stand on its own. Lots of serialized shows have one or two great episodes and then fall-off the creative-cliff for the rest of the season. So maintaining the momentum of a strong, well-written season is crucial as well.
The “water-cooler” factor is also essential. People must be talking about the show. It must be part of the zeitgeist and inspiring passion in those who watch it.
There had to be a clear “hero” and a reason to care about the characters — the “heart.” There are simply too many shows that forget we want to root for someone and we want to care about the characters.
Finally, the show had to not only have strong, well-developed female roles, it had to empower those female characters. This should be a given in any show, but now more than ever, this criteria needs to be recognized as crucial to any top show.
This criteria actually sets a high bar and it made it a bit easier to see which shows truly earned a spot on my “Top 10” list for 2022. Here is to looking forward to all the new and returning shows in 2023!