The Guide #41: From Hacks to Kendrick Lamar, the year’s best pop culture … so far

·5 min read
<span>Photograph: Scott Garfitt/AP</span>
Photograph: Scott Garfitt/AP

Terrifyingly, given that it was January just two minutes ago, we have reached the mid-point of 2022. A good time, then, to take stock of culture for the year so far. You might have already read the roundups from the Guardian’s culture desk, and here are even more, with The Guide’s own picks across TV, music and film, along with a few of our readers’ faves. Strap in!

TV

In what was one of the best six months for television that I can remember, Severance (Apple TV+) stood tallest. Profound, funny, unsettling and packed full of monster twists, this dark comedy-drama about employees who have their brains split between work and non-work modes took its concept and really ran with it. Station Eleven’s (Starzplay) tale of a deadly flu pandemic and the world it created should have been the mother of all turn-offs, but managed to find real joy amid the wreckage.

Continuing our ‘shows beginning with S’ theme, Sherwood (BBC One/iPlayer) was the best British drama of the year so far, summoning ghosts of the country’s recent past with its real-events-inspired story of murder and rancour in a town scarred by the miners strikes of the 1980s. Meanwhile Pachinko (Apple TV+) – a dazzling multi-generational account of Korean lives in Japan – continued Apple’s excellent year of telly, and Hacks (Amazon Prime Video) was my favourite comedy of the year so far, with Jean Smart finding new ways to zigzag between viciousness and candour as a veteran comic.

Your picks

Then Barbara Met Alan (BBC Two/iPlayer): Ruth Madeley is brilliant as ever in an under-known story of the fight for the Disability Discrimination Act. – Richard Hamilton

Big Boys (Channel 4/All 4). Laugh-out-loud funny, unexpectedly tender and moving, it should be prescribed by the NHS. Six short episodes of utter joy. – Rob Mansfield

Music

Beyoncé is still to come, but Kendrick Lamar’s Mr Morale and the Big Steppers is the landmark album of 2022 so far, lyrically unflinching and dazzling in its ability to bounce between styles, from trap to jazz to trip-hop and more besides. The Weeknd produced his best work since his House of Balloons heyday with Dawn FM, an eerie but endlessly melodic concept work built around a purgatorial radio station and featuring an inspired guest appearance from, of all people, Jim Carrey.

Nilüfer Yanya’s Painless, 12 tracks of propulsive moody indie-soul, marked the west London musician out as one of our most exciting new talents, while another artist bending guitar music into exciting new shapes was Bartees Strange, whose album Farm to Table demonstrated that he’s as adept at big-skied Springsteenian rock as he is at Auto-Tuned R&B. Elsewhere, Drug Church produced the year’s best hard-partying heavy rock album, Hygiene, which was full of mile-a-minute riffs and screamalong choruses.

Your picks

Sigrid’s How To Let Go seemed a touch unassuming at first, but by the second or third listen I was wowed by just how much emotion she manages to pack into every track. Mistake Like You in particular is everything I want from a sad pop banger. – Eva Harrison

I wasn’t expecting much from the new Arcade Fire after their two previous albums, so We was a delightful surprise, returning to the big-hearted stadium indie we all loved in the first place. Unconditional I (Lookout Kid) was a stirring standout. – Jess Hutcherson

Film

Cinema got off to a belting start in 2022 with Paul Thomas Anderson’s lovely, lazy, funny coming-of-age drama Licorice Pizza, released in the UK on New Year’s Day. It’s still my favourite film of the year six months later. Robert Eggers’ trippy Viking epic The Northman baffled everyone hoping for Zach Snyder’s 300 with added longboats, but delighted those who loved Eggers’s last gonzo period work, The Lighthouse. Everything Everywhere All at Once was also divisive – I can see why people might have loathed its overblown multi-dimensional wackiness, but I was won over by the sheer breadth of its imagination and a wildly committed central performance by Michelle Yeoh.

On the opposite end of the scale was Clio Barnard’s Ali and Ava, a beautifully low-key tale of forbidden love in Bradford, and Barnard’s best film since The Selfish Giant. And the year’s most remarkable documentary so far was surely Taming the Garden, a tale of tree theft in Georgia that was all the more jaw-dropping for its almost wordless matter-of-fact telling.

Your picks

I don’t quite know how watching a succession of Americans be subjected to brutal, genital-mangling pranks is still funny after 20 years, but Jackass Forever had me hyperventilating with laughter. Bravo, Knoxville and co. – Alice Jackson

Despite being ambivalent to the character – I’ve always found him something of a libertarian wet dream – I adored The Batman. Robert Pattinson (Battinson?) showed me a new side to the character with his grungy take on Bruce Wayne, and I was pleasantly surprised the plot was more of a gripping noir thriller like Se7en than the superhero fare we’ve become used to. – Miles Smith

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