Roundup

The Best Movies, TV Shows, and Podcasts We Liked in 2022

FP columnists, contributors, and editors recommend the pop culture offerings that kept them entertained and informed this year.

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a0-lead-Foreign-policy-pop-culture
ILLUSTRATION by KLAWE RZECZY FOR FOREIGN POLICY

Even foreign-policy nerds like us (and most likely you, if you’re reading this) sometimes need to take a break from the nonstop news churn and just tune out for a few minutes—listen to an engaging podcast, binge a thrilling TV series, or curl up on the couch with a big bowl of popcorn to watch the latest entry in the Star Wars universe.

We asked FP columnists, contributors, and editors to share the TV shows, movies, and podcasts they particularly enjoyed this year. From an approachable philosophy podcast to an Indian legal drama, from a campy horror flick set in blighted Detroit to an animated kids’ show with a subtle message about the importance of a social safety net, here are their recommendations.


Borgen (TV)

Available on Netflix

Even foreign-policy nerds like us (and most likely you, if you’re reading this) sometimes need to take a break from the nonstop news churn and just tune out for a few minutes—listen to an engaging podcast, binge a thrilling TV series, or curl up on the couch with a big bowl of popcorn to watch the latest entry in the Star Wars universe.

We asked FP columnists, contributors, and editors to share the TV shows, movies, and podcasts they particularly enjoyed this year. From an approachable philosophy podcast to an Indian legal drama, from a campy horror flick set in blighted Detroit to an animated kids’ show with a subtle message about the importance of a social safety net, here are their recommendations.


Borgen (TV)

Available on Netflix

I could not more strongly recommend the Danish drama series Borgen. Now entering its fourth season, this Netflix show features a commanding woman who becomes the country’s prime minister (and then, following an electoral loss, its foreign minister). The show deftly deals with her travails as a parent and liberal feminist dealing with right-wing boors, scheming members of her own party, and Denmark’s attempts to play a global role despite its small size and population. —Sumit Ganguly


Philosophize This! (podcast)

Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and other podcast platforms

Only one podcast has ever mattered to me in the way that a great book does: Philosophize This!, a program that examines the work of philosophers from Plotinus to Guy Debord. Philosophize This! is the perfect vehicle for people—like me—who would like to know about the best that has been thought and said without enduring the difficulty of reading it themselves.

The show is the brainchild, indeed the virtual incarnation, of Stephen West, who is not a professional philosopher but something much more important for the listener: a very thoughtful person who has sought out philosophy to help him through life’s trials. In his episode on Thomas Hobbes, for instance, West reveals—in his usual self-mocking manner—that Leviathan rescued him from a terrible state of despair he had fallen into in high school.

Philosophy, for West, is the ongoing effort to make sense of life and thus help us live better. Other than that, he has no ax to grind, no fortress to defend. West has the humility to ask simple questions and the bumptiousness to cross-examine Thomas Aquinas or Immanuel Kant. Take a walk with him for half an hour and see if you don’t emerge a little better. —James Traub


Dark Winds (TV)

Available on Roku, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, and other platforms

If my book recommendation of historian Pekka Hamalainen’s Indigenous Continent: The Epic Contest for North America whets your appetite for more, then you can follow it up by streaming the TV thriller series Dark Winds, a beautifully executed and brilliantly acted adaptation of novelist Tony Hillerman’s mystery series, set in the Navajo territory and featuring tribal policemen Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn. —Stephen M. Walt

 


Columbia Energy Exchange (podcast)

Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and other podcast platforms

There are surprisingly few publications out there that put energy issues in layman’s terms and fewer still that are focused on policy questions rather than aimed at markets and investors. The result is that it can be hard to keep up with energy policy debates and developments in energy markets if you’re not constantly engaged in that milieu.

The Columbia Energy Exchange podcast is a nice exception to that rule, providing wide-ranging and accessible conversations on a variety of energy market, technology, and climate issues. With energy at the heart of some of today’s biggest geopolitical conflicts, it’s a great way to keep your eye on what’s happening in these vital areas of international security. —Emma Ashford


Andor (TV)

Available on Disney+

I turned 9 years old the summer Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope was released. True story: I played Luke Skywalker in the musical adaptation—set to Rodgers and Hammerstein—of the movie at summer camp in 1978. (My big sister will happily and hilariously confirm.)

Needless to say, the intergalactic saga has been a big part of my life. Recently, my family and I binge-watched The Book of Boba Fett, The Mandalorian, and Obi-Wan Kenobi, which were good but not great. We have now turned our attention to Andor, which is great. It adds backstory to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the best of the newest Star Wars movies, and is a tale about the fight against authoritarianism, how heroes are made, and intrigue. I am cynical about the world, but I am a sucker for good versus evil, especially when it is set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. —Steven A. Cook


Lords of Soccer: How FIFA Stole the Beautiful Game (podcast)

Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and other podcast platforms

Football—or soccer, as it is known in the United States—is the world’s most popular sport. It is played by millions of kids around the world who aspire to the excellence that has elevated players from slums to superstardom. It unites people, nations, and the globe. It also, as the most recent World Cup held in Qatar has demonstrated, corrupts. In the case of the sport’s governing body, FIFA, it corrupts absolutely—as this superb podcast series kicks home.

Lords of Soccer: How FIFA Stole the Beautiful Game is about more than soccer. It’s a story of criminality on a grand scale. Sure, the sport is there. But it also has most everything else a podcast fan might enjoy—because, as the Ted Lasso character Dani Rojas says, “Football is life.”

Conor Powell, a veteran foreign correspondent, co-wrote and narrates this compelling true crime tale of greed, bribery, theft, racism, sexism, politics, entitlement, and outsized personalities as well as their desires and demands. Scandal is never far below the surface as FIFA’s ambitions transcend the ugly truth of human rights violations and the excesses of dictators for the sake of the beautiful game and its ever-growing bottom line. As the blot of Qatar blurs into yet another stain on soccer’s murky history, this podcast series should ensure that its legacy, and FIFA’s collusion, is never forgotten. —Lynne O’Donnell


Timothy Snyder: The Making of Modern Ukraine (YouTube series)

Available on YouTube

Timothy Snyder, the eminent Yale University history professor, has launched his course on The Making of Modern Ukraine, which he teaches to undergraduates for free on YouTube via the YaleCourses channel. As of Dec. 12, there were 23 videos (or classes) in the course series, each a little under an hour long. He also includes a link to the course syllabus, complete with a reading list, in the notes beneath each video (though you’ll have to buy the books yourself).

There’s a reason why this has gone viral. Snyder is an extraordinary professor, teaching the complicated history of that traumatized country with wisdom and great authority. —Janine di Giovanni


Guilty Minds (TV)

Available on Amazon Prime Video

The streaming wars have been good for TV audiences around the world—and India is no exception. Guilty Minds is a legal drama that centers on two friends from law school who often find themselves on opposite sides of the courtroom. Deepak Rana (played by Varun Mitra) is a partner at a top law firm who has few qualms defending corrupt powerbrokers; Kashaf Quaze (played by Shriya Pilgaonkar) defends the defenseless, always staying true to her ideals.

Rana and Quaze have a romantic history—and maybe a future together? The frenemies dynamic between them propels the TV series across its 10 episodes, each of which takes on a new case that highlights a different aspect of a rapidly changing India. Yes, there’s bribery and corruption—the usual legal fare—but the cases also thrust viewers into the middle of debates about video game addiction, sexual consent, in vitro fertilization, self-driving cars, and an algorithm that makes the next Bollywood hit song.

The show has its flaws, of course. Some of the cases are too simplistic. But the drama is at once enjoyable and engrossing. Along the way, you get a realistic set of snapshots of where modern India might be headed. —Ravi Agrawal


Why It Matters (podcast)

Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and other podcast platforms

I will cop to being a home-teamer here, but I cannot resist. I love the podcast Why It Matters from the Council on Foreign Relations (where I am a senior fellow). I do my best to remain in my lane, but my interests in the world vary well beyond my expertise in the Middle East. Host Gabrielle Sierra and the terrific team that produces the show have a knack for zeroing in on unique and important subjects and then presenting them in a well-informed but relaxed story-like way.

The foreign-policy community is rarely asked to check its homework, so when the Why It Matters team asks someone why an issue or country is important, it is a way of reexamining the assumptions, reflexes, and habits of the people who are thinking about foreign affairs.

The podcast is not straight foreign policy, however. Sure, Why It Matters has covered Ukraine and Saudi Arabia, which are both in the news, but it also recently produced episodes about the pope, quantum computing, the global minimum tax, and climate adaptation. Take some time to listen. You won’t regret it. —Steven A. Cook


Barbarian (movie)

Available on Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max, Apple TV, Hulu, and other streaming platforms

Barbarian is an American horror (or, arguably, horror comedy) film that starts out as one kind of horror movie and about halfway through becomes a completely different kind of horror film.

The movie’s basic premise is simple: A young woman named Tess Marshall (played by Georgina Campbell) shows up to the Airbnb she has booked to stay in while she interviews for a new job, only to discover the house has been double-booked and is already occupied. With nowhere else to go on a dark and stormy night, she finds herself uneasily sharing the space with the other occupant, a man (played by Bill Skarsgard) with a decidedly creepy vibe who may be a psychopathic sexual predator or may just be a totally normal, nice guy.

So far, so good. We’ve got a classic horror movie setup: A young woman finds herself isolated and at the mercy of a man whose intentions toward her are unclear. And that’s when the film goes completely off the rails. Marshall discovers a secret, hidden door in the basement, which leads to what seems to be a torture chamber, and then another secret, hidden door behind that door that leads to a warren of stone passageways leading deep underground. What she discovers down there catapults the film into a completely different horror genre.

Set in Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood—a once-thriving working-class community that became the poster child for the post-apocalyptic wasteland much of that city became following the decline of domestic U.S. auto manufacturing and racial tensions that resulted in white flight (it is sometimes popularly referred to as “Blight More”)—the film nods at deeper themes of race, economic devastation, sexual violence, buried secrets, and who gets treated as a criminal or a victim.

But don’t take that to mean it’s a highbrow “elevated horror” film. It’s not—it’s a wild, often hilariously absurd horror flick complete with jump scares, gore, and plenty of camp. And it’s one of the most fun movies I watched all year. —Jennifer Williams


The Prince (podcast)

Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and other podcast platforms

I’m not going to pull a Steven A. Cook and recommend an FP podcast (but you really must check them all out). I recently enjoyed listening to The Prince, a podcast about Chinese President Xi Jinping.

I end up reading a lot about China these days, but the Economist’s China correspondent, Sue-Lin Wong, dives into a topic we know very little about: Xi’s childhood. While the latter episodes, which deal with contemporary Chinese politics, will be largely familiar to this audience, the first few episodes do a terrific job of sketching out what a young Xi’s life might have been like and what his formative moments were.

I got chills when I learned how Xi’s mother, who is still alive, once reported her young son to the authorities for escaping a labor camp and coming to her for help. I wonder what a therapist would say. —Ravi Agrawal


Bluey (TV)

Available on Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, and other platforms

The biggest thing in children’s television since Sesame Street requires little introduction. That this Australian animated show about a 6-year-old Blue Heeler from the Brisbane suburbs has been on high rotation in my home this year is one of the least interesting facts about me, a not-very-interesting working parent. Still, I’d like to advance a theory—this is FP, after all—that Bluey could only emerge from a society with a robust social safety net like Australia’s.

Bluey’s adventures take place almost exclusively in relation to her nuclear family: her sister, Bingo, and her parents, Bandit and Chilli. The plotlines vary from the resolutely domestic, such as when Bingo and Bluey move into the same bedroom, to the entirely interior. Take my son’s two favorite episodes: In “Queens,” Bluey and her sister pretend to be butlers in a monarch’s castle; in “Tickle Crabs,” they create a new kind of monster. In other words, most of the stories are products of Bluey’s imagination—and her father, Bandit, is invariably along for the ride.

Does Bandit have a job? He doesn’t talk about it much. (In the British show Peppa Pig, we know that Peppa’s father, Daddy Pig, is a structural engineer. As he describes it, “I take big numbers, transmute them, and calculate their load-bearing tangents.”)

The eponymous animated show about a kid that makes for a more striking comparison to Bluey is Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, produced by PBS and inspired by the beloved American television show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

In Daniel Tiger’s universe, his parents appear mostly to hustle Daniel, a 4-year-old, out of the house: to school but also to day camp, ballet, the hospital, and the library. All good places! Some, essential. But the truth is in the title: Daniel must acquaint himself with his “neighborhood,” the broader community around him, because his middle-class American parents are otherwise occupied. They appear financially comfortable but are likely nonetheless to have very little vacation time, even less parental leave, and all-consuming jobs that pay for their health insurance.

We have no reason to think Daniel’s imagination is any less vital or fascinating than Bluey’s (or, for that matter, Peppa’s). But we see a lot less of it. It is the freedom and space afforded to Bluey to daydream, within the expansive confines of her own house, that must surely form a huge part of the show’s appeal worldwide. —Amelia Lester


1899 (TV)

Available on Netflix

Imagine if the show Lost were set on a passenger steamship crossing the Atlantic Ocean at the end of the 19th century. Oh, and make it German. That’s the best way I can describe 1899, a new mystery-science fiction-horror drama series on Netflix that just about broke my brain.

From the creators of the sleeper Netflix German drama Dark, 1899 follows the story of the enigmatic Maura Franklin (played by Emily Beecham), a (gasp!) woman doctor with some serious daddy issues who is searching for her brother on the high seas aboard the steamship Kerberos, suspecting he may have been on another passenger ship that mysteriously went missing four months earlier.

Along the way, we meet a number of her fellow travelers who hail from a host of different countries (and social classes), speaking a staggering array of languages—German, English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Polish, Danish, Norwegian, Japanese, and Cantonese are all spoken on the show.

The passengers soon find themselves trapped in a hallucinatory nightmare where reality is unstable; cryptic objects, messages, and symbols taunt both the characters and the viewer; and terrors loom out of the past to stalk dreams and waking life. What starts out as a mysterious period drama quickly turns into something wildly different—offering a meditation on family, grief, technology, control, and the nature of reality itself. —Jennifer Williams


The Last Cup (podcast)

Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and other podcast platforms

Whether you’ve been closely watching this year’s FIFA World Cup or not, The Last Cup podcast from NPR and Futuro Studios offers a poignant and often chuckle-inducing ride into why international soccer is about so much more than the sport. The show follows the story of Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi’s life and career—his childhood in Argentina, his rise to fame playing for Spain’s FC Barcelona, and his dream of winning a World Cup for his home country.

The show’s host is journalist Jasmine Garsd, who was born in Argentina and moved away from the country around the same time Messi did. Garsd’s look at how the Argentine press and fans analyzed Messi’s career—and how it overlapped with her own life—allows for broader reflections about Argentine identity and what it means to leave home.

No prior expertise on the sport is required to listen and feel a bit of the magic that makes it the world’s most popular game. For Spanish speakers and learners, there is also an entire version en Español where you can appreciate the finer points of Argentine slang. —Catherine Osborn


Interview With the Vampire (TV)

Available on AMC+, Amazon Prime Video, Roku, and other streaming platforms

If you had told me in January that the two best shows of the year would be a Star Wars prequel series and a new adaptation of novelist Anne Rice’s 1973 goth teen classic about vampire relationships, I would have assumed that you were demented. But while everybody seems to have caught on to Andor’s greatness by now, AMC+’s Interview With the Vampire hasn’t quite broken through to the mainstream yet. But it’s one of the cleverest and most watchable shows of the year.

The original Interview With the Vampire was set in San Francisco; the series reunites the titular vampire with an aged interviewer, played by Eric Bogosian as a grumpy cross between football player David Carr and chef Anthony Bourdain. This time, the vampire promises he’s going to tell the true story of what happened. But it becomes apparent very early on that truth and memory are slippery in this show, and what you see onscreen may well not be what happened. It’s a show for mystery fans, but it’s also about the way we retell the stories of our relationships, especially the failed ones. It’s also a very well-acted and often hilarious horror story—both about vampires and about family and lovers. —James Palmer


Annette (movie)

Available on Amazon Prime Video

To adapt a phrase from Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, it often seems like all prestige dramas are prestigious in the same way. We all know high-quality television and movies when we see them: the naturalistic acting, the intelligent dialogue, the carefully choreographed emotional payoffs. The aesthetics are familiar—and, for the same reason, can’t we admit that they’re a bit boring?

Which brings me to Annette, the latest film by French director Leos Carax. You could call it a musical—though I think rock opera would be a more accurate term—and it is, on the whole, completely bonkers.

It stars Adam Driver as an angry comedian and Marion Cotillard as an acclaimed opera soprano as well as their love child in the form of a puppet; the emotions at work aren’t tastefully parceled out over the course of the film but explosively projected in every direction from scene to scene. The central conflicts aren’t bourgeois dilemmas but Oedipal dramas.

To ask whether the movie is good is to make a category mistake. What makes it rewarding is that it simply isn’t something you’d mistake for normal life in any way. Who wants tasteful prestige when you can have Driver and Cotillard copulating while belting out a love song called “We Love Each Other So Much”? —Cameron Abadi


Berlin Bouncer (movie)

Available on Amazon Prime Video

When a social history of German reunification is written, it will have at least one chapter on Berlin nightlife. In the documentary Berlin Bouncer, three of the city’s best-known arbiters of access take you on a journey to the early 1990s, when underground club culture—birthed in the industrial ruins and abandoned warehouses of reunified Berlin—was the first place for young East and West Germans to mingle. The star of the film is Sven Marquardt, the much-tattooed gatekeeper at Berghain, Berlin’s notoriously debauched temple of techno. No, the documentary doesn’t give you tips for getting past the door—but it’s a great look at both Berlin and what one of the three protagonists calls “an absurd profession.” —Stefan Theil


Charlie Wilson’s War (movie)

Available on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, and other streaming platforms

When Moscow launched a military invasion of a vulnerable neighboring country, the U.S. Congress sprang into action and provided military aid, including Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, to help the defending forces fight for freedom.

No, I am not talking about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ongoing war in Ukraine but rather the Soviet Union’s 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. History does not repeat, but it sometimes rhymes, and the 2007 film Charlie Wilson’s War underscores the eerie similarities between that earlier historical period and our geopolitical crisis du jour.

But do any current members of Congress possess enough of Wilson’s panache to become the subject of their own Hollywood biopic? —Matthew Kroenig

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