Some of TV’s most delightful surprises involve not what happens on screen, but who appears on screen.
Heck, this year the preponderance of IP-driven shows alone paved the way for choice cameos from the Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel and DC universes — sometimes sneaking up on us entirely unannounced.
We also were treated to highly hoped-for encores on shows such as Legacies and How I Met Your Father, castings that were quite possibly set in motion on a family group text, and some “Hey, Is That…?” voice work that aroused our curiosity. (We said curiosity, Tommy Lee.)
With such casting coups and delightful cameos in greater supply than ever this year, TVLine’s 2022 in Review has rounded up more than 20 on-screen appearances that caught the audience-at-large off guard and/or teased us all with a really fun wink-wink.
From Charlize Theron’s super role in a movie-within-a-series to Paul Rudd’s surprise involvement in a new Murders plot, let’s revisit some of the year’s very best cameos and most secret castings — and then chime in with the ones you enjoyed most!
ANDY SERKIS, ANDOR
When “Keef Girgo” (aka Cassian) was picked up by overzealous troopers at the Niamos resort and sentenced to six years in the Narkina 5 lock-up, few could have predicted that he would end up toiling alongside no less than the voice of Supreme Leader Snoke from the Star Wars film sequel trilogy. Appearing on-screen this time, as Unit Five-Two-D manager Kino Loy, Serkis with his unannounced casting quickly created a memorable character in the Star Wars world, and one who’d experience quite the journey in but a few episodes.
ALEXANDER SKARSGARD, ATLANTA
Donald Glover’s boundary-pushing FX comedy loved to throw random celebrities at us without warning, but none were more delightful than the True Blood alum’s kooky appearance in the Paris-set Season 3 finale. Skarsgard played a truly weird version of himself as Van’s new boyfriend, grooving to Ashanti and stripping down to animal-print underwear (ooh-la-la!), which only added to the surreal feel of Van’s whimsical French adventure. It was, in a word, magnifique.
BETSY BRANDT, BETTER CALL SAUL
When Jimmy McGill’s crimes caught up with him in the Saul series finale, Brandt reprised her Breaking Bad role as Hank’s widow Marie Schrader, to very effectively put a human face on the damage he’s done. In an emotionally devastating speech, Marie reminded Jimmy that his cute little schemes can have deadly consequences — and Brandt reminded us how great she was as Marie, too.
CHARLIZE THERON, THE BOYS
The Prime Video drama landed an A-list cameo when Theron — who also showed up this year in one of the mid-credits sequences from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness — took on the role of evil supe Stormfront in the movie-within-the-series, Dawn of the Seven. Talk about a super way to kick off the third season!
JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE, CANDY
When sheriff’s deputy Steve “Diffy” Deffibaugh first spoke onscreen, by way of a middle-of-the-night phone call to his darkened house, we thought, “Hang on, doesn’t that guy sound a little like….?” And sure enough, Deffibaugh’s portrayer was revealed to be Justin Timberlake — the real-life husband of Candy star Jessica Biel — who appeared in the uncredited role in Episodes 4 and 5 of Hulu’s true-crime miniseries.
STEPHEN FRY, HEARTSTOPPER (voice)
“Truham’s Headmaster Barnes sure sounds familiar,” fans of Netflix’s superlative LGBTQ+ dramedy thought to themselves — with good reason. The droll character, who is only ever heard making announcements (“Go do sports!”), is voiced by one of the UK’s foremost funnymen, a casting coup that wasn’t made known until the series’ Season 1 trailer dropped.
COBIE SMULDERS, HOW I MET YOUR FATHER
During its first season on Hulu, we weren’t sure if HIMYF would gift us with any appearances from original How I Met Your Mother cast members. And that’s what made Smulders’ surprise return in the finale — as Robin, in MacLaren’s! — doubly enjoyable. As director Pam Fryman divulged to TVLine, Smulders’ cameo was logistically tricky to bring to fruition, given the actress’ ongoing involvement with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But the show pulled it off, and Smulders reinhabited Robin like no time had passed at all.
JOSEPH MORGAN & CANDICE KING, LEGACIES
From Day 1 of this Vampire Diaries spinoff, fans waited not-at-all-patiently for Joseph Morgan (aka Klaus) and Candice King (aka Caroline) to reprise their iconic roles, and they finally showed up in the CW drama’s fourth season finale — which turned out to be its series finale. (Damn you, Nexstar!) And what could be more stealth than Morgan recording his cameo separately from any of the other actors?
CHAD LOWE, 9-1-1: LONE STAR
Who better to cast as Rob Lowe’s brother than, you know, his brother? Chad Lowe popped up as Owen’s estranged sibling during a particularly emotional episode of the Fox procedural.
TOM HANKS, 1883
The Yellowstone prequel’s second episode featured a flashback to James Dutton’s time as a Civil War prisoner, and we were shocked when we realized that Oscar winner Hanks was underneath that big beard and Union uniform. (Hanks played Gen. George Meade in large part because it afforded him the opportunity to hang out with his good friend Tim McGraw; wife Rita Wilson, who is close with McGraw’s wife and 1883 co-star Faith Hill, showed up later in the season.)
LIAM NEESON, OBI-WAN KENOBI
Obi-Wan had spent the season trying (unsuccessfully) to commune with Qui-Gon, so we weren’t really expecting Liam Neeson to show up and reprise his prequel trilogy role. But when the actor appeared as a Force ghost in the season finale’s final moments, we were both surprised and relieved to see master and apprentice finally reunited.
PAUL RUDD, ONLY MURDERS IN THE BUILDING
Like the Hulu dramedy’s freshman closer, the Season 2 finale set us up for another brutal slaying that our trio will have to investigate — only this one was (gasp!) not in the building! Enter Paul Rudd as the series’ latest murder victim, who just seconds before going on stage in Oliver’s new play was threatened by a peeved Charles. “I know what you did,” he seethed. And we can’t wait to find out!
DOLLY PARTON, THE ORVILLE
The Orville creator Seth MacFarlane is famously tight-lipped about guest casting. But given female Moclan leader Heveena’s regard for Dolly Parton’s prose, which was established back in Season 2, MacFarlane was determined to have the music legend herself appear on the show in Season 3 — even if it wound up requiring filming Parton on her literal half of the cabin simulation set, which had been shipped to Nashville.
JASON MANTZOUKAS, PAM & TOMMY (voice)
The ubiquitous Mantzoukas was heard, but not seen, in Episode 2 of Hulu’s limited series, though we would have much preferred to see the comedian himself instead of the body part he voiced: Tommy Lee’s moving, speaking penis, with whom the Mötley Crüe drummer had an absurd conversation about his growing affection for Pamela Anderson.
JASON MOMOA & EZRA MILLER, PEACEMAKER
Long before he would take the reins of DC Studios, James Gunn flexed his filmmaking muscle by having Justice League members Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and the Flash show up — admittedly “late, you f–king d–kheads!” — in his The Suicide Squad offshoot’s season finale. The stand-ins for Kal-El and Diana stayed in silhouette, whereas Momoa and Miller actually appeared on-camera and exchanged opinions about a rumor about Aquaman’s… predilections.
BRANDON BOYD, RESERVATION DOGS
No one could have ever guessed that Incubus singer Brandon Boyd would have shown up as a character named White Jesus in Sterlin Harjo’s magnificent dramedy. But that he did, as the aforementioned homeless L.A. native helped the kids stay safe and navigate a city that was far outside their comfort zone. (Add that to an appearance from saxophonist-turned-Lost Boys star Tim Cappello? Stealthy, indeed!)
GEORGE TAKEI, RESIDENT ALIEN (voice)
Oh my. Alan Tudyk isn’t the only alien on this series, and who better to voice the villainous leader of the Greys than George Takei himself? It was a superfun surprise for genre-TV fans everywhere, and could potentially lead to more voice work from him come Season 3… we hope!
SARAH MCLACHLAN, RUPAUL'S DRAG RACE
The three-time Grammy winner has become synonymous with PSAs about rescuing animals, so to see her unexpectedly appear at the end of Drag Race‘s “Save the Queens” spoof commercial was simply delightful. (“Hi, I’m Sarah McLachlan… and this is wrong on so many levels.”)
CHARLIE COX, SHE-HULK: ATTORNEY AT LAW
Yes, Marvel TV vet Cox’s encore as Matt Murdock aka Daredevil got spoiled in one of the final, pre-season trailers, released at the San Diego Comic-Con. Yet knowing that the Man Without Fear would be putting in an appearance (and in new togs, no less!) did not make his eventual arrival in fellow legal eagle Jen Walter’s life any less thrilling. And having now seen the electric banter ‘tween Matt and Jen, his was one of the best cameos by a known character in any Disney+ Marvel series to date.
STACEY ABRAMS, STAR TREK: DISCOVERY
We’re used to seeing Abrams doing grassroots work ensuring that voting is accessible to everyone in Georgia, so it was a surreal surprise to see the politician and activist emerge from a space shuttle as the President of Earth in the Season 4 finale. And what a fitting role!
WIL WHEATON, STAR TREK: PICARD
Paramount+’s Next Generation sequel series has brought back a number of familiar faces from Jean-Luc’s Enterprise crew, but this one came as quite a fun little surprise. Wheaton popped up in Picard‘s Season 2 finale as former ensign Wesley Crusher, who now heads up a team of “Supervisors” keeping the spacetime continuum intact. He recruited Kore to join his team… and it’s nice to see the young guy all grown up and thriving, right? Our main lingering question: Do you think Wheaton confided in Sheldon and Leonard about this gig?
ROBERT ENGLUND, STRANGER THINGS
In a Season 4 that revolved around a Big Bad who pulls his victims into nightmarish, dreamlike trances, Nightmare on Elm Street terrorizer Robert Englund was a killer pick to play Victor Creel, a longtime asylum inmate who has his own past with Vecna. Add in a subtle nod to how Creel habitually scrapes his fingernails into his desk, and consider us slain!
JENNIFER GARNER, UPLOAD (voice)
The Alias alum lent her voice to the Prime Video comedy’s Season 2 finale in a brief but fun cameo, when a character called 911 for help and was greeted with this message: “Hello, I’m Officer Jennifer Garner, an automated system with the voice of Jennifer Garner that can handle complete emergencies.” And you know what, we totally believe she can!
LAURA DERN, THE WHITE LOTUS (voice)
Michael Imperioli’s Dom sure got an earful in the Season 2 premiere, when he rang (estranged) wife Abby with an update on his, Albie and Bert’s arrival in Sicily — but all that we heard was the voice of Laura Dern, who of course headlined White Lotus creator Mike White’s previous HBO hit, Enlightened. (As such, you can imagine our disappointment when the family photos seen on Dom’s phone in the finale put a face other than Dern’s to Abby.)
BEN FOLDS, THE WILDS
Leah’s hallucinations unexpectedly manifested in the form of her favorite singer-songwriter, Ben Folds, who performed The Psychedelic Furs’ “The Ghost In You” at a piano in the forest as well as a rendition of his own song “Brick” on the beach. The strangeness of seeing Folds on the show’s deserted island got even more delightful when he gamely got into the ocean with Leah and pushed her to a mental breakthrough.
GLENN CLOSE, THE WOMAN IN THE HOUSE ACROSS THE STREET FROM THE GIRL IN THE WINDOW
Last but far from least….
Color our surprise when the queen of psychological thrillers popped up for a quick finale stint as a woman on Anna’s flight. She winds up dead in the airplane’s bathroom (oops, spoiler alert?), but the cameo set us up for a fun little cliffhanger and a laugh as Anna finds the woman’s compact and signs off with one last, “Bingo!”
What was your favorite bit of secret or just plain superfun casting in 2022?