Best TV Shows of 2023

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By Ketrin Agustine

Best TV Shows of 2023

Series like “The Bear,” “Beef,” “Happy Valley,” “Reservation Dogs” and “Succession” dazzled in a year when much of the TV business was in disarray.


James Poniewozik

TV in 2023 was like synchronized swimming. Below the surface, there was roiling and churn. The writers’ and actors’ strikes wiped out much of the production year. The hangover from the corporate binge on streaming platforms led to cancellations and cutbacks. A number of hall-of-fame series left the air, with no clear plan of, as it were, succession.

But above the waterline, the dance went on. As usual, it was challenging to whittle down my year-end list to 10. (So I picked 11.) As usual, I am listing it in alphabetical, not ranked order. As usual, I made it a rule not to repeat shows from the previous year, and as usual, I broke that rule. (I couldn’t not include “Reservation Dogs.”)

And as usual, I probably missed stuff: I have the same number of hours in the day as you, even if I spend more of them in front of a screen. Herewith, the best of what I did see, for your catching-up pleasure. Even if Peak TV is dead, Off-Peak TV should keep us plenty busy.

When “The Americans” was on the air, I used to say that it was good it came first on my list alphabetically, because it was probably the series I would rank No. 1 if pushed. Now “The Bear” has that pride of place (at least until “Abbott Elementary” makes it back on my list). After a much-hyped 2022 premiere, the restaurant dramedy leveled up, exploring the volcanic dysfunction of its central family and celebrating the care and feeding of guests as a quasi-spiritual calling. This show is cooking with gas. (Streaming on Hulu.)

Steven Yeun in “Beef,” which used a road rage incident to explore many different modern tensions.Andrew Cooper/Netflix

“Beef” was a good story about people getting mad: Amy Lau (Ali Wong) and Danny Cho (Steven Yeun), whose road-rage encounter descends into a quagmire of terrible choices. But it was a great story about why people get mad. It unpeeled the blazing onion of their conflict to expose class differences, family resentments and inter- and intragroup tensions among its Asian American characters, in an unsparing but empathetic telling. A big enough collection of last straws, “Beef” said, can build a highly flammable house. (Streaming on Netflix.)

Like the mirrored eco-houses that its two lead characters build, “The Curse” is a polarizing creation. The collaboration between Nathan Fielder and Benny Safdie, with a stunning performance by Emma Stone, is deeply uncomfortable. It is also an entrancing, original, astute, creepy — and funny! — study of guilt, marriage and benighted altruism. Enter this haunted house if you dare, but watch your step. (Streaming on Paramount+.)

We’d have been just fine without so many remakes, reboots and adaptations in 2023. “Dead Ringers” was a bloody, brilliant exception. Rachel Weisz — playing twin gynecologists in a gender-swapped version of the Jeremy Irons film role — and the writer Alice Birch delivered a truly distinctive reimagining of this story that kept the body horror while adding a contemporary take on scientific hubris and big-money medicine. (Streaming on Amazon Prime Video.)

Boots Riley’s Brobdingnagian satire was both fabulistic and fabulous. Through the misadventures and explorations of Cootie (a marvelous Jharrel Jerome), a 13-foot-tall teen in Oakland, Riley personified the idea of the young Black man as threat, while spinning a wild, political and relentlessly entertaining tale that incorporated superhero mythology and anticapitalist critique. The series strained to control its outsized ambitions, but it was proof that you can never aim too big. (Streaming on Amazon Prime Video.)

Like a jury summons, this innovative reality-comedy was a surprise. But in this case, it was a pleasant one. An unsuspecting citizen, Ronald Gladden, was called to serve on a fictional case, joining a jury of his fake peers played by actors (as well as the actor James Marsden, playing himself). Miraculously, the production pulled off the elaborate “trial” without blowing its cover. And marvelously, what might have sounded like a cruel joke turned out to be a feel-good, hilarious test of decency, in which Gladden, er, acquitted himself with charm and integrity. (Streaming on Amazon Freevee.)

You might think that a thriller about a fungal zombie apocalypse has nothing in common with a slice-of-life account of friendships, queer life and cabaret music. But these very different HBO series showcased two of 2023’s great duos. (Each of them involving a Joel!) In “Last of Us,” Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey starred as Joel and Ellie, an odd couple forced to consider what they would sacrifice for endangered humanity. Season 2 of “Somewhere” tested the bond of Sam (Bridget Everett) and Joel (Jeff Hiller) in an endearing story of heartland eccentrics. One series splattered more guts than the other, but each had heart to spare. (Streaming on Max.)

From left, Paulina Alexis, Devery Jacobs, D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, Lane Factor and Elva Guerra in “Reservation Dogs,” which ended this year.Shane Brown/FX

It is fitting that the final season of this comedy, set on a Native reservation in Oklahoma, had a story line involving extraterrestrial life. This was a story of a small community that, over its three seasons, managed to fill an entire universe. A rare coming-of-age story that does as well by its elder characters as its young leads, it left me with my heart brimming and my eyes wanting more. (Streaming on Hulu.)

What is a “year,” really? Yes, eagle-eyed readers will note that the final season of this comedy aired at the end of 2022, but it arrived too late for my previous list. Over a too-short, three-season run, “South Side” expanded a workplace comedy about a Chicago rent-to-own shop into a fantastical universe of eccentrics, scammers and hapless police and pols, and the final season packed years’ worth of ideas into a final blaze of surreal world-building. This was one for the ages, even if it lived on borrowed — or rented — time. (Streaming on Max.)

Like the Roy family empire, the final season of this corporate saga dominated all available media. But the saturation coverage was deserved. The drama followed its dark instincts to the end, giving a send-off for the ages to the patriarch Logan Roy (Brian Cox) and living up to its title in his heirs fight for his legacy. The C-suite brawl — in which American democracy was collateral damage — managed to be cynically satisfying and deeply emotional. Money could not buy the Roys happiness, but their misery was priceless. (Streaming on Max.)

Honorable mention: “Barry” (HBO); “Blue Eye Samurai” (Netflix); “Dave” (FXX); “Happy Valley” (BBC America); “How To With John Wilson” (HBO); “I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson” (Netflix); “Killing It” (Peacock); “Minx” (Starz); “Mrs. Davis” (Peacock); “Party Down” (Starz); “Scavengers Reign” (Max); “The Traitors” (Peacock).

Flawed but fascinating: “Foundation” (Apple TV+); “Hello Tomorrow!” (Apple TV+); “Three-Body” (Rakuten Viki); “The Wheel of Time” (Amazon Prime Video).


MIKE HALE

It cannot be overemphasized: The wild proliferation of series, especially imported ones, makes the word “best” at the top of any list a hazy approximation at, you know, best. Here are 10 shows from outside the United States, in alphabetical order, that I particularly enjoyed in 2023.

“A Spy Among Friends,” with Guy Pearce, left, and Damian Lewis, was based on actual events.Adi Marineci/Sony Pictures Television

This languorous yet nail-biting variation on the espionage thriller dramatized the end of the friendship between Kim Philby, the British spy who was a double agent for the Soviets, and Nicholas Elliott, the fellow spy sent to bring Philby home and then suspected of treason himself when Philby escaped. Written by Alex Cary (“Homeland”) based on Ben Macintyre’s book, it was a smart and complicated puzzle play and an icy dissection of the British class system; most of all, it was a tour de force for Guy Pearce as Philby, Damian Lewis as Elliott and Anna Maxwell Martin as a fictional agent caught in the middle. (Streaming on MGM+.)

The rapport between Tom Burke, as the gruff British private eye Cormoran Strike, and Holliday Grainger, as his assistant and then fellow investigator Robin Ellacott, has always been more than enough reason to watch this series based on J.K. Rowling’s Strike mystery novels (written under the name Robert Galbraith). The show’s balance of detection and thorny, soulful friendship-cum-romance is close to ideal; the fifth season, based on Rowling’s book “Troubled Blood,” combined a cluster of family crises with a deft, surprising mystery involving the 40-year-old case of a missing doctor. (Streaming on Max.)

Siobhan Finneran, left, and Sarah Lancashire in “Happy Valley,” which wrapped up this year. Matt Squire/AMC

Sally Wainwright’s intimate, everyday epic about the life-or-death struggle between a Yorkshire police officer and her nemesis, the blandly brutal sociopath who was also the father of her grandson, reached its reckoning in its third and final season. Sarah Lancashire and James Norton were terrific to the end, along with Siobhan Finneran as the cop’s ruinously, redemptively softhearted sister. (Streaming on AMC+ and Acorn TV.)

From idol singing groups to TV dramas, reality-dating shows, anime musicals, modeling, YouTube stardom, performing-arts high schools, celebrity journalism and online trolling, this animated series offers an almost documentary-style account of the wages of success in the Japanese entertainment industry. Because it is a sprightly, goofy anime, its darkly earnest accounts of struggle and exploitation share space with teenage romance and a murder mystery, and its hero and heroine are a young doctor and his teenage patient reincarnated as the twin babies of a pop singer they both idolized. (Streaming on Hidive.)

The latest winner from the French network Canal+ (progenitor of “Spiral” and “The Bureau”) is a police procedural that doubles as a panorama of French society at a time when overwhelming change barrels into ossified conservatism and privilege. (The first season was titled “Paris Police 1900.”) The plot of the new season of this highly entertaining melodrama, which matches a grisly sang-froid with the driest humor, is driven by syphilis, homophobia and a deadly new menace, the automobile. (Streaming on MHz Choice.)

“Slow Horses” had even more twists in its second season. With Aimee-Ffion Edwards and Gary Oldman.Apple TV+

The second season of this wonderfully sardonic British series about a cadre of misfit, career-stalled MI5 agents (which premiered on Dec. 2, 2022, after last year’s edition of these lists appeared) was, if anything, better than the first — its mystery twistier, its action more tense and shocking. Season 3, premiering Wednesday, is a slight step back — the bullet count goes way up, which is always a bad sign — but the average of the two seasons is still awfully high. (Streaming on Apple TV+.)

In its flashbacks, this compact drama is a dark fable: a bereaved Welsh husband, terrified of also losing his young son, keeps the boy captive by telling him that the world outside their isolated home is populated by monsters. In the present, it’s an astringent coming-of-age story, as Danny (Lewis Gribben), now nearly an adult, emerges into the confusing, disappointing, equally frightening real world. Gribben and Samuel Bottomley, as the cousin suddenly saddled with being Danny’s protector, are excellent. (Streaming on Hulu.)

“It’s all quite incomprehensible,” a character says of events in the second season of Álex de la Iglesia’s apocalyptic theological thriller. “But life is incomprehensible, too.” That’s the correct spirit in which to watch de la Iglesia’s rococo riot of a series about a handful of ordinary, though in some cases extraordinarily attractive people — a small-town mayor, a veterinarian, a lapsed cop, a YouTube ghostbuster — battling Satan, the Vatican, Paul Giamatti (as an L. Ron Hubbard-style cult leader) and possibly God over the fate of the world. (Streaming on Max.)

Abe Forsythe’s charming, sometimes extremely bloody Australian dramedy is a moving and tartly comic account of a blended family in which part of the blend is a werewolf. Isla Fisher is enormously appealing as the no-nonsense, highly suspicious wolf, Mary, who spent the second season pregnant by her lumpenly human boyfriend (Josh Gad); the season-ending cliffhanger promises to radically change the show. (Streaming on Peacock.)

The Argentine writer and director Daniel Burman based this absorbing drama on the true story of a government agent who infiltrated the Jewish community of Buenos Aires in the years leading up to the horrific terrorist bombings that targeted that community in the early 1990s. Through two seasons, its depiction of the automatic, paranoiac anti-Semitism of the country’s establishment is all the more chilling for being utterly matter-of-fact. (Streaming on Amazon Prime Video.)


Margaret Lyons

This year brought a few banner finales and a few shows unjustly cut off in their primes, some slow fades and some purposeful but (to a fan) premature endings. So goes my lament each year.

To qualify for my list, arranged below in alphabetical order, shows had to air in 2023 (or just about) and also officially end; renewal limbo is the enemy of the fan and the list-maker alike. Miniseries and limited series did not count (God bless, though), and I considered shows in toto, not just their final runs.

“Barry,” cocreated by and starring Bill Hader, was by turns both brooding and snappy.Merrick Morton/HBO

Bill Hader cocreated, starred in and directed most of this assassin black comedy, which was among television’s most brooding and violent shows but still bubbled over with snappy one-liners and zippy satire. The show’s virtuosic action sequences and fight choreography were only part of its appeal, though. Barry discovering a love of and aptitude for acting; his relationship with his grandiose mentor, Gene (Henry Winkler); his abusive romance with Sally (Sarah Goldberg) — all of these marvelous facets refracted light through a dark gem. (Streaming on Max.)

The first two seasons of this show are much better than the second two, but, man, they are a ton of fun. While a lot of comic book fare is trite, didactic and redundant, “Doom” was raucous, silly, arch — but with a fairy-tale wistfulness and a real, beating heart. It was filthy and funny, and not particularly attached to always making sense, full of a vibrant strangeness that allowed for both immature humor and richly depicted sorrow and longing. (Streaming on Max.)

Nicholas Hoult and Elle Fanning starred as Peter III and Catherine the Great in “The Great.”Christian Black/Hulu

Few shows, if any, wring as much from each fiber of their existence as “The Great” did: Every line, every gesture, every hat, every plate conveyed something rich and thrilling, a ballerina telling an entire tragedy through the tilt of her pinkie. Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult cultivated an electrified sense of menace and then a real but twisted love between Catherine the Great and Peter III. So many period dramas just feel like inert, expensive Wikipedia entries, but “The Great,” through its irreverence and artistry, was alive at every turn. (Streaming on Hulu.)

“Happy Valley” debuted in 2014, when the bleak foreign crime show was more in fashion, but it was never strictly a misery-murder show. Sarah Lancashire starred as Catherine Cawood, a police sergeant in West Yorkshire still tormented by her daughter’s suicide and raising her grandson in the shadow of that grief. Where lots of sad cop shows flatten their characters, “Valley” always sought depth and fullness — characters make jokes, the relationships have texture, choices have emotional heft. (Streaming on AMC+ and Acorn TV.)

This mesmerizing collage series always felt maybe a little too fragile for this harsh world, its tender musings and awkward but reverential curiosity leading to moments of human resonance that were so lovely they were almost painful. John Wilson reassembled his obsessive catalogs of New York City (and occasionally elsewhere) into poems about yearning, growing, belonging, changing — all these snippets of minutiae that would add up to a beautiful, illuminating gut punch. The end of this show stings harder than most because there won’t ever be anything else quite like it. (Streaming on Max.)

Drew Tarver and Heléne Yorke in “The Other Two,” which mocked both fame and its characters’ thirst for it. Greg Endries/Max

Over its three seasons, “The Other Two” was thrillingly catty and cynical while keeping a tiny ember of sweetness burning all the way through. Heléne Yorke and Drew Tarver starred as the older siblings to a teeny-bopper idol who each crave the spotlight in their own ways, too. The show loved mocking their thirst for fame and especially ridiculing the hollowness of much of the entertainment industry and media. The Season 3 episode about a play called “8 Gay Men with AIDS: A Poem in Many Hours” is a particular treat. (Streaming on Max.)

“Reservation Dogs” was so suffused with death and absence, maybe I shouldn’t feel so aggrieved that it is ending after just three seasons. Maybe I should internalize one of the central ideas of the show, that the end of a life is not the end of a relationship. Maybe someday I will be that sanguine, but for now, I’m still bummed out! In its short run, this coming-of-age series about Native American teens in Oklahoma was as gorgeous, surprising and nimble as TV gets — funny and whimsical, daring and important. (Streaming on Hulu.)

This is one of our unjustly canceled specimens this year, a show cut off mid-blossom. In Season 1, we met Sam (Sofia Black-D’Elia) as she hit rock bottom, moved home with her difficult mother, joined Alcoholics Anonymous and tried to crawl out of her despair. In Season 2, the show, like Sam, found its footing, and its warm approach made grim themes accessible to Freeform’s younger audience and to anyone drained by sad-coms who still wanted something with depth. Adding insult to injury, Disney, which owns Freeform, also pulled the show off its streaming platforms. (Buy it on Amazon Prime Video.)

This is our asterisk entry this year — “South Side” did not air in 2023, but its third and final season aired in December 2022, after last year’s list went to print, and its cancellation wasn’t official until February of this year. So it is sneaking through on multiple technicalities. Also because it was so dang funny, with among the highest jokes-per-minute rate of any contemporary show. The show, set on the South Side of Chicago, had one of the most fully developed worlds on television, where characters who were onscreen for only a line or two still felt woven in. (Streaming on Max.)

From left, Fisher Stevens, Kieran Culkin, Jeremy Strong and Sarah Snook in the final season of “Succession.”Macall B. Polay/HBO

I mean … it’s “Succession.” Bury me in its fine textiles and viciousness, its fascinating ability to depict its characters as piñatas filled with more emptiness, its filthy rejoinders and knack for detail. A show this grand had to go out big, too, and killing off Logan not as its denouement but rather as its 11 o’clock number gave its final batch of episodes a swirling urgency. (Streaming on Max.)

Honorable mention: “A Black Lady Sketch Show” (HBO); “Miracle Workers” (TBS); “Painting With John” (HBO); “Sex Education” (Netflix); “Summer Camp Island” (Cartoon Network).

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