The 29 most shocking TV moments of 2022
Television shows love to shock us. Whether we’re talking about a scripted twist — Sally’s first kill on Barry, anyone? — or something the creatives might not have even seen coming — Gavin Leatherwood leaving The Sex Lives of College Girls — or even a reality moment that left us all scratching our heads, television never fails to deliver a handful of surprising moments. Below, we’ve rounded up the 29 TV moments we haven’t stopped thinking about from this year.
David Tennant returns to Doctor Who
It is always a big episode of Doctor Who when one actor’s version of the titular time traveler “regenerates” into another. Anticipation was high among Whovians watching the last show of Jodie Whittaker‘s tenure in TARDIS to see her Thirteenth Doctor transform into a new iteration played by Ncuti Gatwa, who was announced as the new Doctor last May. Turned out, they’d have to wait a lot longer to see Gatwa’s Doc. In fact, Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor transformed into David Tennant, who had played the Tenth Doctor back in the aughts and whose first line after taking over from Whittaker (“I know these teeth”) riffed on something his character said after the actor replaced Christopher Eccleston (“New teeth, that’s weird”). Once the episode screened, the BBC confirmed that Tennant was returning to portray the two-hearted alien in three 2023 specials before handing over the role to Gatwa. —Clark Collis
The Dua Lipa dance break, Resident Evil
The most brow-raising, popcorn-spilling moment of the Netflix Resident Evil series wasn’t the gargantuan zombie caterpillar or the Lickers made real, it wasn’t the kaiju crocodile or all the Wesker clones. It was the one thing you’d never expect from Resident Evil: Dua Lipa. To demonstrate how she mentally took control of the body of Evelyn Marcus (Paola Núñez), Billie Wesker (Adeline Rudolph), in the 2036 timeline, programs the Umbrella head honcho to perform an impromptu dance routine to “Don’t Start Now,” Lipa’s 2020 hit. Perhaps it’s one of those moments that worked against the show, leading to its eventual cancelation as many fans decried Resident Evil for not living up to the more brutal nature of the source material. We’d like to think that this musical break speaks to the under-appreciated charm of the show. —Nick Romano
Larys Strong’s foot fetish, House of the Dragon
Just like its predecessor, Game of Thrones, prequel series House of the Dragon quickly proved to audiences that they were going to see things that other fantasy series weren’t going to touch even with medical gloves and hand sanitizer. The shockers kept coming through episode 9, “The Green Council.” As Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) made moves to usurp the throne from the chosen heir and put his grandson on the seat of power, the dowager queen, Alicent (Olivia Cooke), had a private meeting with her own informant, Ser Larys Strong (Matthew Needham), showing us just what she’s had to do to keep the secrets flowing. In hindsight, we probably should have expected the man nicknamed Clubfoot for his club foot to have a foot fetish, but watching him masturbate to the queen in a medieval WikiFeet-style situation was something else entirely. The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power could never! —N.R.
Judy dies, Dead to Me
A death in a series about grief and loss is, by all accounts, not very shocking, but Judy’s (Linda Cardellini) terminal cancer diagnosis and death in the Dead to Me series finale had the effect of a hit-and-run. The free-spirited and altruistic artist received the unexpected diagnosis after undergoing some routine scans following the car accident at the end of season 2, which left her otherwise stoic ride-or-die bestie Jen (Christina Applegate) in shambles, given her mother’s history with the disease. While on a brief getaway in Mexico, Judy died, as implied in a quiet but affecting scene wherein Jen gazed out into the sea and spotted a sailboat floating along the water. While the trauma-bonded outlaws managed to evade murder charges, they couldn’t outrun the trials of life — a realization that no doubt left viewers reaching for some orange wine to drown such sweet sorrows. —Jessica Wang
Sally’s first kill, Barry
Barry‘s third season was when viewers officially found themselves laughing less at its gallows humor and more out of nervous terror. The pitch-black comedy’s astonishing finale presented its titular thespian hitman (Bill Hader), aging acting coach Gene (Henry Winkler), and a caged and horrified NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan) attempting to claw their way out of impossibly grim scenarios. But watching Barry’s ex-girlfriend, Sally (a brilliant Sarah Goldberg), swiftly morph from victim to killer was a twist none of us saw coming. When a vengeful biker-gang member launches a surprise attack in Barry’s home, knocking him unconscious and throwing Sally to the floor and choking her, she manages to stab him in the neck. But as he stumbles into the room’s sound booth to inspect his injury, she follows him in with a baseball bat and beats him to death. In an instant, self-defense becomes brutal catharsis. Watching her savagely, silently clobber her assailant behind a closed door wasn’t just disturbing because it marked the moment Barry’s darkness and trauma merged with hers. It was disturbing because it somehow, secretly, deep down, felt gratifying. —Jason Lamphier
That Termite scene, The Boys
So much attention in the weeks leading up to the premiere of The Boys season 3 honed in on “Herogasm,” the long-awaited adaptation of the weeklong island superhero orgy from the original comics. We completely weren’t even thinking about anything else that might rival that depravity. And yet, now all fans can talk about is Termite, the Ant-Man-esque supe who had a scene-stealing moment when, in the very first episode, he shrank down to the size of a gnat, climbed through his lover’s penis to arouse him from the inside, and had a cocaine-prompted sneeze that sent him back to normal size, leaving a gruesome carcass that used to be his boyfriend in his wake. Because the producers behind The Boys are so dedicated to their craft, they made an actual 30-foot-long, 11-foot-high prosthetic penis for Termite actor Brett Geddes to interact with. Emmys for the giant dick when, Academy? —N.R.
The way Kendall Jenner cut her cucumber, The Kardashians
The shockers of Tristan Thompson’s baby scandal and Kim Kardashian‘s controversial diet regime to fit into Marilyn Monroe’s dress at the Met Gala cannot compare to cucumbergate (or kucumbergate) in season 1 of The Kardashians. While at mom Kris Jenner‘s house, model and tequila entrepreneur Kendall Jenner decided to fix herself a snack and slice into a cucumber — and it soon became clear that she had never sliced a cucumber in her entire life. “You go girl,” her supportive momager said, before dissociating and calling on her chef (ah, wealth!) to help her daughter out, lest she dislocate her shoulder. Kendall was insistent on completing the job on her own, though, proving that this woman in business is willing to get her a– up and work, just as it seems like nobody wants to work anymore! —J.W.
Lalo kills Howard, Better Call Saul
Ah, Lalo! He was the most chipper — if not the most chilling antagonist — in the Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul universe. And this saucy Salamanca cartel player burnished the hell out of his wicked legacy in midseason finale of Saul‘s final season. After Howard (Patrick Fabian) showed up drunk at Kim (Rhea Seehorn) and Jimmy’s (Bob Odenkirk) apartment to tell them that he saw right through their plan to take him down “a peg or two,” an ominous candle quiver announced the arrival of another surprise visitor: Lalo (Tony Dalton). He exchanged small talk with Howard (“I just need to talk to my lawyers.” “You want some advice? Find better lawyers.”) while fitting the silencer on his gun before depositing a bullet into Howard’s head. As Jimmy and Kim screamed in horror, Lalo calmly shushed them before cheerfully saying, “Let’s talk!” There were no words for the audience — and there was no going back for these characters. That flickering flame of a candle would be forever burned into the brain at Howard’s end. —Dan Snierson
Lea Michele reveals she showed Jonathan Groff her vagina
Lea Michele has made plenty of headlines this year, particularly with her messy takeover of lead role Fanny Brice in the Broadway revival of Funny Girl. But in spite of all that rumored backstage drama, her most shocking moment came via the Spring Awakening reunion documentary, Those You’ve Known. In the HBO doc, which captured 2021’s reunion concert, as well as telling the story of the show as a whole, Michele revealed just how close she and longtime bestie Jonathan Groff really are. When Groff, a gay man, was curious about the female anatomy, Michele showed him the word of her body complete with the aid of a desk lamp. That little confession totally f–d with our head. —Maureen Lee Lenker
Vecna’s connection to Eleven, Stranger Things
Season 4 of Stranger Things returned to 1959 and introduced the Creel family — namely, young son Henry (Raphael Luce) — as they settled into a new home in Hawkins. As it turns out, Henry possessed psychokinetic abilities, ones that ultimately led to the small town’s ruin in present-day 1986. In a twist that flipped viewers’ brains upside down, Henry, who was presumed dead after he murdered his mother and sister, was in fact One (Jamie Campbell Bower), the affable orderly at Hawkins Lab who formed a bond with a young Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) and — twist! — Brenner’s (Matthew Modine) very first test subject. But wait, there’s more! A showdown between Eleven and One following that big reveal and One’s lab massacre was how Eleven unwittingly opened the portal to the Upside Down, where One had been banished to all this time and — twist no. 2! — became Vecna, who was responsible for the creation of — twist no. 3! — the Mind Flayer. —J.W.
Will Smith slaps Chris Rock at the Oscars
Arguably the most shocking moment of the year was not scripted. During the 94th Academy Awards, Chris Rock took the stage to present the award for Best Documentary Feature. Before doing so, he made a couple jokes, including one about Jada Pinkett Smith‘s bald head, saying, “Jada, I love you. G.I. Jane 2, can’t wait to see it.” Husband Will Smith, after seemingly chuckling at the joke at first, then stood up, walked up onto the stage, and slapped Rock in front of a crowded room (not to mention everyone tuned in). It took a couple hours of people trying to figure out whether it was a bit before it was confirmed that it definitely was not. —Samantha Highfill
Little Leia is the main character, Obi-Wan Kenobi
As anticipation built for the long-awaited Obi-Wan Kenobi television series, one thing seemed clear — the Jedi Knight, a shell of his former self and hiding out on Tatooine, would cross paths with a young Luke Skywalker. The trailer even showcased Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) watching Luke (Grant Feely) through his binoculars. Imagine our surprise then when the first episode instead introduced another Skywalker to the mix — young Leia Organa (Vivien Lyra Blair), whose kidnapping forced Obi-Wan from his hermit existence. It is then Leia, in all her spunky, precocious, rebel-in-the-making glory, who is at the heart of this new addition to the Skywalker saga. Not her force sensitive brother, as we all expected. But you know we love it. —M.L.L.
FGirl reveal, FBoy Island
Make a twirl, FGirl! FBoy Island, the off-the-rails reality dating series on HBO Max, continued to change the game heading into season 2. Typically, the scenario sees three single gals living it up in an island mansion while they date around a pool of attractive men, attempting to determine which one of them are Nice Guys, gents genuinely looking for love, and FBoys, self-proclaimed players wooing the women under false pretenses. Each of the ladies made their final choices in the finale and got their happy endings, even if Tamaris landed where we weren’t expecting. The pink-haired siren flipped the script and revealed herself to be the show’s first FGirl, someone who was just there to have a good time and win some money. If the show gets a third season — and it should! — it becomes anyone’s game in the battle of the sexes. —N.R.
Penis montage, Minx
The last few years have been thick with male full-frontal nudity on television, but nothing has quite made us bulge (our eyes, you creeps!) like the Minx pilot’s penis parade. As Joyce (Ophelia Lovibond) and Doug (Jake Johnson) hunt for the perfect centerfold model for their new venture, a 70’s feminist porn magazine, they size up the members of their audition pool. It’s a diverse panoply of options. As Bambi (Jessica Lowe) puts it, “Not all weiners are the same, babes. There’s shorties, fatties, long ones, flatties.” But the moment, as surprising as it is, isn’t played at the expense of the exposed actors. Rather it’s a glorious rendering of the female gaze and an effective demonstration of how suddenly Joyce is thrust into this world — with the scene’s real power being the way her shock fades to a recognition that women can (and should!) enjoy exploring sex. —M.L.L.
The CW reveals its average viewer is 58
Of all the moments on this list, there was perhaps nothing more shocking than this one. In August, The CW — a network known for shows like Supernatural, The Vampire Diaries, and the Arrowverse — revealed that the median age of its viewers was … 58?! Surely that’s a typo, we all thought. They must mean 18! But no, reader, they did not. And we can only hope it means that 58-year-olds everywhere once watched King Henry hump a woman out of a window on The CW series Reign. —S.H.
Malva dies, Outlander
For its abbreviated sixth season, Outlander was ready to bring the drama with the Christie family, new residents on Fraser’s Ridge who couldn’t help but bring trouble in their wake. Daughter Malva (Jessica Reynolds) seemed the best of the bunch, fascinated by Claire’s (Caitriona Balfe) life as a doctor and eager to learn about medicine. But when Malva suddenly accused Jamie (Sam Heughan) of adultery and named him the father of her child, all bets were off. Still, we were shocked and devastated by Malva’s brutal death, finding her murdered in a field as a horrified Claire attempted to save Malva’s unborn child via a posthumous C-section. Not only was her death grisly, but we were left wondering who was responsible for it (and her pregnancy) as Claire became an object of suspicion on the Ridge. —M.L.L.
Cobie Smolders shows up on How I Met Your Father
On the season finale of How I Met Your Father, fans of How I Met Your Mother got a special surprise when Robin Scherbatsky (Cobie Smulders) appeared to lend Sophie (Hilary Duff) some much-needed words of wisdom! When the How I Met Your Mother spin-off was first announced, fans were left to wonder whether any of the original cast members would pop up. Audiences were given a little callback to the original series in the pilot when it is revealed that Jesse (Chris Lowell) and Sid (Suraj Sharma) live in Marshall (Jason Segel) and Lily’s (Alyson Hannigan) old NY apartment, but we all thought the nostalgia would end there. —Jessica Leon
Gavin Leatherwood exits The Sex Lives of College Girls
Talk about a devastating breakup. In season 1 of The Sex Lives of College Girls, viewers watched as small town girl Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet) fell for frat boy hottie Nico (Gavin Leatherwood). At first, the romance seemed unlikely. Then, thing got very hot and very heavy. And then, it was revealed that Nico had been hiding a girlfriend the entire time. Although he tried to redeem himself at the end of the season when he let Kimberly steal the fraternity’s tests, the two didn’t quite get the closure they deserved. So when Leatherwood announced he wouldn’t be returning for season 2? Hearts broke. (Although Kimberly has already moved on, so there’s that.) —S.H.
Zanab’s 180 at the altar, Love Is Blind
Everything seemed to be going fine. After falling in love and getting engaged in the Love is Blind pods, 31-year-old flight attendant Zanab Jaffrey and 26-year-old realtor Cole Barnett were at the altar. Theirs was a relationship marked with bickering and passive aggression, but it looked like they were finally ready to take that leap into lifelong commitment. “You are not a hard man to fall in love with,” said Zanab during their pre-vows exchange. “I believe that love is blind because of you.” Awww, how sweet! But when it came time for “I do,” Zanab went full “I will destroy you” instead. “You have disrespected me, you have insulted me, you have critiqued me, and… you have single-handedly shattered my self-confidence,” she announced, stunning Cole and all the assembled guests. “I can’t marry you, and I don’t.” It wasn’t until the reunion special that we learned that it was Cole’s consistent body shaming that drove Zanab to unleash her wedding-day wrath. —Kristen Baldwin
Ellen Pompeo leaves Grey’s Anatomy
In a show called Grey’s Anatomy, it’s hard to imagine life without a Grey, and yet that’s what fans are facing. Early on in season 19, ABC announced that series star Ellen Pompeo would have a limited role, only appearing in 8 of the season’s episodes (though she’d remain on board as an executive producer and as the show’s narrator for the rest of the season). But when Pompeo took to Instagram to seemingly say goodbye to the long-running series, fans were forced to imagine that Pompeo’s limited involvement might be permanent. After all this time, it seems she’s done picking Grey’s, choosing Grey’s, or loving Grey’s. —S.H.
Paul Rudd shows up, then dies, Only Murders in the Building
If Paul Rudd doesn’t age, that means he’ll never die … right? Right?! Not in the world of Only Murders In the Building! Hulu’s hilarious whodunnit delivered more shocking moments in season 2’s brilliant finale than a viral true crime podcast does all season, first by revealing that Bunny’s (Jayne Houdyshell) killer was actually Cinda’s (Tina Fey) assistant Poppy (Adina Verson), then by jumping forward a full year for the final scene that introduced Rudd’s new character … only to kill him off seconds later. A lot changed in a year, and while Oliver’s (Martin Short) Broadway directorial comeback opening night should have been a celebratory occasion, a new murder mystery began when one of his stars Ben Glenroy (Rudd) dropped dead on stage, causing Mabel (Selena Gomez) to end the season with the perfect line: “You’ve got to be f—ing kidding me.” The show must go on in season 3, which will include more Rudd, despite his character’s death. Bring on the flashbacks! —Sydney Bucksbaum
Riverdale goes back in time
At this point, Riverdale is nothing if not a stream of shocking moments. An alternate universe? Been there. Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) battling a comet with the superpowers she inherited from all her friends? Done that. But perhaps the biggest twist of the CW series’ fifth season was how it ended. Remember the comet? Well, when Cheryl used her powers to destroy it and prevent it from obliterating her beloved town, it somehow reset the clock. Not only are the show’s characters back in high school, but they’re suddenly living in the year 1955? Well, this is definitely going to make for an interesting final season. —S.H.
Sauron reveals himself, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power
We should’ve known that Halbrand (Charlie Vickers) was up to something when he kept hanging around those Númenórean forges. All season long, rumors of Sauron haunted The Rings of Power, swirling around Middle-earth like some sort of sinister, unseen specter. Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) spent eight episodes hunting for her nemesis, only to learn in the season finale that he was in front of her all along. Her human companion turned out to be not-so-human after all, and Halbrand revealed himself to be the all-powerful Dark Lord, urging her to join him and rule at his side. It just goes to show: If you find a hot and mysterious castaway floating in the middle of the ocean, don’t take him home! —Devan Coggan
Jesse Lee Soffer leaves Chicago P.D.
From the pilot, Jesse Lee Soffer‘s Jay Halstead has been a staple of Chicago P.D. For 10 seasons, he’s been the conscience of the Intelligence Unit, not to mention that he’s also been involved in two of the series’ biggest couples. First, he fell for his partner, Erin (Sophia Bush), and then after she left the series, he found love again (and recently married) Hailey (Tracy Spiridakos). So imagine fans’ surprise when he announced he’d be leaving the show in its 10th season. In the season’s third episode, he packed his bags and re-enlisted, leaving behind his new wife in order to rediscover some parts of himself that he felt he’d lost. Intelligence hasn’t been the same without him. —S.H.
Kamala Khan is a mutant, Ms. Marvel
There were a lot of questions to figure out when it came to adapting Kamala Khan, the greatest Marvel comics creation of the past decade, for the screen. Disney’s Ms. Marvel series decided to spend time exploring her Pakistani roots and reconfigured the nature of her superpowers. But what about where those powers came from? In the comics, Kamala is an Inhuman whose powers come from exposure to the Terrigen Mists — because she was created in 2014, when Inhumans were all the rage at Marvel. But since the attempt to bring Inhumans into the MCU a couple years ago was such a comprehensive flop (it remains dead last in EW’s Marvel TV ranking), it seemed likely that the adaptation would change up her origin. But few were prepared for the joyous revelation that Iman Vellani’s Kamala is actually a mutant — the first time that oh-so-consequential word has been uttered in the MCU. To make sure we understood the full implications, the show even put the classic theme song of X-Men: The Animated Series in the background of the scene. —Christian Holub
Every episode of Yellowjackets
Could we have picked one shocking moment from Yellowjackets? Sure. Could it have been the cannibalistic opening of the entire series? Yes. Or could it have been the teens getting high off mushrooms and nearly killing Travis (Kevin Alves)? Also yes. But what about the reveal that Lottie (Courtney Eaton) is alive in present day and that she runs a cult?! Or that time Shauna (Melanie Lynskey) killed Adam (Peter Gadiot), who was NOT actually Javi (Luciano Leroux)?! Now that you see our point, you can agree there was only one way to honor the many twists and turns of Yellowjackets‘ first season — by including them all. —S.H.
Rosita dies, The Walking Dead
The fact that anyone died in The Walking Dead series finale is not, in itself, all that shocking. I mean, the act itself is in the show title, for crying out loud. But what made the loss of Rosita so profoundly devastating was the performance Christian Serratos put into it. Serratos — who lobbied to producers for her character to not make it out alive — not only showcased the ferocity of a mother doing anything and everything to protect her baby, but also the tender acceptance of a woman quietly accepting her fate with a mix of sadness and relief that her sacrifice had been well worth it. “I’m glad it was you in the end,” Rosita told Josh McDermitt’s Eugene with her dying breaths. We could say the same thing to her for giving fans the heart-wrenching tragedy this show needed in its final chapter. —Dalton Ross
Jordan Elsass leaves Superman & Lois
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s … a totally different actor playing Jonathan Kent when Superman & Lois returns for season 3? Just six weeks after The CW’s superhero drama aired its best episode yet — the magnificent season 2 finale — news leaked that Jordan Elsass, who played one of Clark Kent (Tyler Hoechlin) and Lois Lane’s (Elizabeth Tulloch) teenage sons for two seasons, had suddenly exited the series and his role was going to be recast. A few weeks later, his replacement was found in Australian actor Michael Bishop. Only a vague explanation was given as to why Elsass left the show — due to “personal reasons” (according to Warner Bros. TV’s statement at the time) and not a workplace-related issue (according to sources close to the situation) — leaving everyone wondering what really led to his shocking decision. Will the series even address onscreen how Jonathan looks a lot different all of a sudden? We’ll just have to wait and see. —S.B.
There are more Stevens, Moon Knight
Moon Knight elevated the idea of multiple personalities to an art form with Mark Spector and Steven Grant sharing Oscar Isaac‘s body, as they both served as avatars to Egyptian moon god Khonshu. But in the season finale, the two men worked together to reject Khonshu’s orders to execute Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke) and free themselves from the god’s power. Until the post-credits scene, which revealed that Steven/Mark aren’t so free after all — there’s a third alter-ego, Jake Lockley, who speaks Spanish and is still working with Khonshu (and as such, is all too happy to assassinate Harrow). Talk about a bumpy knight. —M.L.L.
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