2022: The Year of the Hot Uncle
2022 was the year of many things—the tech-scammer limited series, the big-budget fantasy prequel, the cinematic donkey. But it was also a low-key triumph for a family member who heretofore had mostly gone unheralded. This was the year that everybody was super hot for uncles.
Uncles are there to give you cash on your birthday or make an unscheduled speech at your wedding that you hope he just keeps short. Or maybe we’re talking about a gay uncle, in which case he’s going to be taking no fewer than a dozen adorable photos with the nieces and nephews for Instagram. But pop culture-wise, uncles have historically had to take a back seat to endless iterations of father-son strife, mother-daughter angst, and sibling rivalry. And before you say anything, yes, Claudius in Hamlet, fine, that’s definitely one in the “uncles are important” column. Though even in that example it’s like, congratulations, you’re the most infamously duplicitous archetype in the family unit, well done, Claudius (and also by extension Scar from The Lion King)!
The most famous onscreen uncle of the year was probably the most inappropriate one, even by HBO’s own taboo-flouting standards. Game of Thrones had already set the expectation that intrafamilial relationships were controversial-yet-acceptable, at least if the characters in question were blond enough. So when House of the Dragon’s Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D’Arcy) chose to fake her gay husband’s death and marry her uncle Daemon in order to strengthen the family claim on the throne, we all winced a little before agreeing that, creepy or not, they made for a pretty badass couple. If there were a Heisman Trophy for uncles in 2022, Matt Smith’s Daemon Targaryen would certainly be favored to win. He made uncles look mercurial, sexy, and dangerous, a combination that dads spent all year chasing in vain. Was it icky that we all ended up more or less rooting for this uncle-niece power couple? Probably! But Westeros has a way of refracting our traditional morals.
The White Lotus had its own ambiguously icky uncle moment, when Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge) walked in on uncle Quentin (Tom Hollander) and supposed nephew Jack (Leo Woodall) in a rather spirited act of sexual congress. Ambiguous, in the end, because there was never an official ruling on whether Quentin and Jack were actual uncle and nephew or just a transactional/coercive arrangement. Whatever the truth of that was, it’s undeniable that this episode-ending moment was the jaw-dropper of the season. Once again, an HBO uncle was at the center of TV discourse for a week.
Thankfully, not all of 2022’s uncle moments were quite so morally gross. Catherine Called Birdy, Lena Dunham’s deeply charming medieval romp, gives the title character, played by Bella Ramsey, a positively sweet crush on her uncle, George, played by Joe Alwyn and his superhuman smile. And while the crush remains chastely unrequited throughout, it does end up generating much of the film’s plot, including driving a wedge between Birdy and her best friend, Aelis (Isis Hainsworth).