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The 15 Best TV Shows of 2023

The 15 Best TV Shows of 2023
The 15 Best TV Shows of 2023

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Television suffered some setbacks in 2023. Soulless reboots seemed to pop up or get announced every few weeks. Distinguishing reality from reality TV became harder to do. And the dual actors’ and writers’ strikes in Hollywood shut down productions while exposing the problems diminishing the quality of the shows being made.

Still, the list below exemplifies the small screen’s creative breadth this year. New programs caught our attention even amid the enormous libraries of projects already available to watch. Returning titles challenged our assumptions about where their plots would lead and how they’d end; other shows pushed the boundaries of episodic storytelling. All proved to be worthwhile viewing—and kept us convinced that we should stay tuned to whatever the medium brings us next.  — Shirley Li

Matthew Macfayden and Sarah Snook in “Succession”
HBO

Succession (HBO)

How do you end a series that spent its entire run questioning the likelihood of its premise? Up until the fourth and final season of Succession, the media magnate Logan Roy (played by Brian Cox) never truly stepped down from his post, perennially thwarting his four adult children’s attempts to jockey for power. In the gulf between Logan’s unrelenting control and the futures that his kids envisioned for their family’s company, the show forced the Roy siblings to confront one another’s depravities again and again.

Season 4, by contrast, brought them together in the face of tragedy. Watching them rally around one another in grief rather than greed boggled the mind, but the show succeeded in puncturing some of their characteristic narcissism. Still, their post-mourning solidarity could last only so long: As the series drew toward its epic conclusion, it became clear that the Roy siblings would always return to their trademark nastiness and caustic wit—even without their father as an obvious adversary. Once again, Succession managed, in offensively lavish environments, to extract new meaning and heightened drama from its cyclical character studies. The rot, as ever, came from within.  — Hannah Giorgis

Ali Wong and Steven Yeun in “Beef”
Andrew Cooper / Netflix

Beef (Netflix)

Anger courses through Beef, a searing half-hour comedy about a road-rage incident that escalates into an apparently unstoppable feud. But the show wasn’t just episode after episode of shocking set pieces and characters screaming at one another. Anchored by a pair of fine-tuned performances, it was a rather thoughtful exploration of our instinct—and even need—for outrage. Danny (Steven Yeun), a contractor caring for his younger brother, lives paycheck to paycheck and has cultivated a tough front to survive. Amy (Ali Wong), a wealthy entrepreneur with a nuclear family, is terrified of ruining her sterling reputation as a girlboss who has it all. Both had nowhere to release their pent-up bitterness until they met in traffic, and though their efforts to ruin each other’s lives could be unpleasant to watch, Beef offered a nasty truth: Sometimes, there’s no better motivation than raw fury.  — S.L.

Jeremy Allen White in “The Bear”
Frank Ockenfels/FX

The Bear (FX)

If The Bear were just a tense restaurant comedy with abundant Chicago in-jokes, it would still be on this list. But the show’s humanistic ethos—its insistence that life is enriched by care, and that food encapsulates care better than virtually anything else—made it unmissable. The second season of Christopher Storer’s FX show contained so much: Olivia Colman peeling mushrooms during an astonishing scene about second chances, Jamie Lee Curtis harnessing all of the holiday rage of all the moms into one colossal eruption, a dreamlike episode set in Copenhagen that tempered the excruciating tension of head chef Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) and his protégée Syd’s (Ayo Edebiri) attempt to finally open their restaurant. And this year, the most perfect moment on television, for me, was Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) taking a pop quiz on elements of service in the kitchen of a three-Michelin-star restaurant, offhandedly referring to a sauce as a “velouté derivative,” screaming “Up your ass!” in triumph upon getting every question right, and then shout-singing the words to Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” on his drive home, vaulting over a speed bump in pure emotional catharsis. For this alone, I would give The Bear anything.  — Sophie Gilbert

Quinta Brunson in “Abbott Elementary”
Gilles Mingasson / ABC

Abbott Elementary (ABC)

The students who attend Abbott Elementary aren’t the only ones experiencing growing pains; the teachers are too. That was the secret to the breakout sitcom’s continued success: Its second season avoided the sophomore slump not only by juggling silly workplace hijinks with the serious struggles faced at an underfunded school, but also by exploring how its characters were still working on becoming true role models for their young charges. Everyone at Abbott, from the self-obsessed principal, Ava (Janelle James), to the school’s wonderfully dry janitor, Mr. Johnson (William Stanford Davis), had much to learn from their students and from one another. That such life lessons came with a heavy dose of humor is the primary reason Abbott Elementary went beyond merely making the grade.  — S.L.

Astronauts on a space shuttle in “For All Mankind”
Apple TV+

For All Mankind (Apple TV+)

Alternate histories sometimes work better as intellectual exercises than as narratives, shortchanging their plots in favor of making points about the world we live in—and the ones that could’ve been. The first three seasons of For All Mankind, in imagining a world where the U.S.S.R. won the space race, sometimes overcorrected by fueling their stories with soap operatics and NASA-ex-machina twists. In its fourth installment, though—as a saga that began in the late 1960s hurtles into 2003—the show has become more taut, more finely observed, and more focused on the political relationships that shape humans’ path into the future. (The majority of its episodes aired in late 2023 and will conclude next month.)

The pioneering astronauts Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall) and Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman) now have gray hair and aching limbs and a world-weariness that plagues them even when they navigate other planets. They do not always, however, have the wisdom of their age—and their fallibility, as Earth’s power brokers race to mine a mineral-rich asteroid, is widely shared. This season, collaborations among both people and nations have toppled under the weight of pride, pettiness, greed, fear, anger, whim. And although it’s notoriously difficult to tell good stories about flawed systems, For All Mankind manages to portray the failures with action-movie levels of exhilaration. The season’s setting (Al Gore is a side character, as is George H. W. Bush) further heightens the tension. Humans are forces of physics, bending every timeline we occupy; as the show’s story edges ever closer to our own, its arc becomes ever more familiar—and ever more uncanny.  — Megan Garber

Rachel Weisz in “Dead Ringers”
Niko Tavernise / Amazon

Dead Ringers (Amazon)

If you love acting, Rachel Weisz (who doesn’t?), and pitch-dark comedy that excoriates the 0.001 percent, then why haven’t you watched Dead Ringers? This is presumptuous—maybe you have. Emmy voters didn’t, I’m guessing, because there’s no way anyone with eyes could see Weisz playing the identical-twin gynecologists Beverly and Elliot Mantle and not festoon her with accolades. The show was, granted, subversive: It considered reproductive health and childbirth through the lens of body horror, and darted between unreliable Beverly and unhinged Elliot with a disorienting lack of definition. But Dead Ringers was deeply funny and extremely sharp, turning David Cronenberg’s melodramatic 1988 movie into a discomfiting analysis of what women’s bodies are worth in this world. Jennifer Ehle, playing the sociopathic scion of a toxic pharmaceutical-heir family, deserves honorable mention, but this was Weisz’s show to win or lose. For me, she won it in a single diner scene where she devoured a cheeseburger so rapaciously that it felt like revolution.  — S.G.

Nathan Fielder and Emma Stone in “The Curse”
Showtime

The Curse (Showtime)

Watching The Curse feels like gazing into a fun-house mirror, uncertain whether the warped image is meant to make you laugh or cringe. The show, co-created by the comedian Nathan Fielder and the writer-director Benny Safdie, follows newlyweds Asher (Fielder) and Whitney (a brilliant Emma Stone) as they film an HGTV program about building and selling eco-friendly homes in a small New Mexico town. (The majority of its episodes aired in late 2023 and will conclude next month.) That sounds straightforward, but The Curse blends elements of horror into its already uncomfortable and blackly comic tone as it explores why Asher and Whitney can’t seem to get their job done. Each episode skewers their self-image as well-intentioned do-gooders while also questioning what being on camera does to a person and their purported values. The answer is a lot more complicated—and a lot more unpredictable—than anything else on air.  — S.L.

Four teenagers standing on a beach with their backs turned on “Reservation Dogs”
Shane Brown / FX

Reservation Dogs (FX)

Since premiering, in 2021, Reservation Dogs was a rare pillar of Native representation both on-screen and behind the camera, quickly garnering attention for its complex portrait of four teens grieving a dead friend, and the Indigenous community from which they hailed. In its third and final season, the show delved into the stories of betrayal and resilience that shaped its characters’ lives well before they were born. True to form, it was alternately hilarious and gutting—and by the final minutes of the series finale, I wasn’t ready to let go of a show that had been such an exemplar of inventive storytelling. How fitting, then, that one of the last scenes involved a recurring character’s final quip to the teen who most needed him: “I can’t really say goodbye, because, you know, it’s, like, a colonial way of talking.”  — H.G.

David Beckham standing on a field
Netflix

Beckham (Netflix)

Beckham could easily have been a puff piece about one of the most famous soccer players of the 20th century. In some ways, it was: The four-part Netflix series, directed by the Oscar-winning Fisher Stevens with its subject’s energetic participation, evaded difficult moments, such as the details of David Beckham’s reported infidelity early in his marriage to the Spice Girl formerly known as Victoria Adams. Still, there was something revelatory in the way the series explored fame and fandom through the lens of sports, not least the way the world loses its collective mind when two über-famous people fall in love. (Taylor and Travis, take note.) We’ve had several revisionist portraits lately of women picked to the bone in public during the 1990s and early 2000s, but Beckham revealed that men could be treated just as viciously, especially in the hypermasculine and grudge-driven realm of soccer. Can professional athletes have it all, if by “all” we mean career success, Premier League glory, committed fatherhood, and a stable relationship with someone whose job is equally demanding? Beckham said: Not quite.  — S.G.

Contestants on “Jeopardy Masters”
Christopher Willard / ABC

Jeopardy Masters (ABC)

What if The Avengers, but nerdy? What if the Super Bowl, but with facts? Earlier this year, six champion Jeopardy players faced off in a contest for bragging rights, prize money, and a jaunty piece of hardware dubbed the Alex Trebek Trophy. With a delightful lack of irony, Jeopardy Masters took the old premise of the all-star competition and dressed it up, effectively, as a sporting event. Good-natured trash talk? ESPN-style graphics? Moments of nail-biting tension? Yes, yes, and yes. What distinguished the series in the end, though, were the moments beyond the contest itself. Mattea Roach, the Canadian phenom who had a 23-game winning streak on the standard program, shared, fighting back tears, that their father had died during filming; during one episode, Andrew He announced the birth of his son. In a franchise that has turned stodginess into a selling point, those tender moments were welcome intrusions. They also worked as counters, of sorts, to some of the unforced errors the show has made in recent years. Jeopardy, that decades-old ode to knowledge, may be a source of steadiness in our frenzied and fact-challenged world. But even it will contend, eventually, with the tumult beyond the studio.  — M.G.

Natasha Lyonne in “Poker Face”
Peacock

Poker Face (Peacock)

Charlie Cale (Natasha Lyonne), the heroine of Poker Face, can tell when people are lying—a superpower that turns out to be less than helpful when she, while on the run from some shady casino goons, keeps getting sucked into different murder mysteries. Created as a spin on Columbo by the writer-director Rian Johnson, Poker Face might have been a bleak procedural were it not for Lyonne’s charisma, the rat-a-tat dialogue, and the eye-popping landscapes as Charlie traveled across America. Plus, the show boasted a stacked cast of guest performers ranging from acting veterans (Nick Nolte, Ellen Barkin) to rising stars (Stephanie Hsu, Charles Melton). It was joyous to watch, because Charlie’s real superpower wasn’t her ability to spot a lie—it was her talent for connecting with everyone she met.  — S.L.

Molly Shannon and other cast members of “The Other Two”
Greg Endries / HBO Max

The Other Two (Max)

Early in the third and final season of The Other Two, Brooke Dubek (Heléne Yorke) quit her job in the entertainment industry to do, she announced, acts of “undeniable good.” Brooke, committing to the bit, dyed her blond hair brown and turned altruism into an aesthetic (beatific smile, prim button-down, pants so thoroughly khaki that they deserve to be called slacks). Asked what she would do to do Undeniable Good, though, she outsourced the matter to her phone. “Good job,” Brooke typed into Google. And then, reconsidering: “1 mil a year.” And then: “Not ugly inside.”

The search failed (zero returns), but it was a fitting tagline for a show that began its run as a gonzo satire of Hollywood and ended as an exploration of life in an ever more synthetic world. The Other Two’s wackiness was always something of a feint, and its third season was also its smartest. Method acting, Instagram addiction, space tourism, the fickleness of fame, the gift-but-also-curse of being seen—it was all there, filtered through the show’s brand of farcical realism. But the final season, in the end, was about searching. Each member of the Dubek family was trying to find what so many others are too: the difference between performing life and living it. Many of their efforts failed. But they confirmed The Other Two’s ability to create parody that was also, somehow, poignant. What other show would center an entire episode on a picture of a celebrity armpit? And what other show could leave you convinced, as you laugh to the point of tears, that an episode about an armpit is its own form of Undeniable Good?  — M.G.

Gerry on “The Golden Bachelor”
John Fleenor / Disney

The Golden Bachelor (ABC)

If you spend a considerable amount of time watching reality-dating series (guilty), you quickly realize that almost all of the romantic hopefuls’ loathsome behavior can be explained by them being in their early 20s. Throw in copious amounts of alcohol, and you’ve got utter chaos. But what happens if the romantic hopefuls all have fully developed prefrontal cortexes? In The Golden Bachelor, the latest installment of the Bachelor franchise, the 72-year-old widower Gerry Turner dated a group of women 60 to 75 years old. Their season wasn’t wholly free of drama, but The Golden Bachelor did differ wildly from previous iterations of the franchise by keeping its focus squarely on the relationships Gerry developed with the women—and how being on the series changed their relationships to themselves. More than any other recent reality series, the show approached the task of finding love anew by exploring themes of grief, ageism, loneliness, and parental responsibility. But it was also undeniably fun, packed to the brim with competitive pickleball matches, romance-novel photo shoots, food-related gags, and a whole lot of meditative cursing. I won’t be joining Bachelor Nation anytime soon, but I’m definitely hoping we get a Golden Bachelorette.  — H.G.

Jack Lowden on “Slow Horses”
Apple TV+

Slow Horses (Apple TV+)

You could argue that Slow Horses is as much a workplace comedy about surly misfits who despise one another as it is a breakneck spy thriller. The balance tips more toward the latter in the show’s superlative third season, as the members of Jackson Lamb’s department for intelligence-agency rejects take on their most explosive enemy yet: a heavily armed private militia intent on cleaning up a big MI5 mess with brute force. Rarely is action on TV rendered with such precision, not least on a show where flatulence is a recurring feature and spies get offed not at ski resorts or casinos but on rail-replacement buses. With Gary Oldman’s Lamb moldering right in front of our eyes, Kristin Scott Thomas’s Diana Taverner more fiendishly charismatic than ever, and Sophie Okonedo’s Ingrid Tearney just chillingly evil, Slow Horses is absolutely the best show on Apple TV+. Its only downside is that six episodes at a time never feels like enough.  — S.G.

Juno Temple on “Fargo”
Michelle Faye / FX

Fargo (FX)

The worst thing about Fargo’s latest installment is also its best: It tells stories that finish but do not, strictly, end. The show’s fifth season (the majority of its episodes aired in late 2023 and will conclude next month) presents conflicts that never resolve. Catharsis never comes. The absence feels like an error—what does a story owe to its audience, after all, but a conclusion?—until it feels like the point. Fargo, this time around, tells a story of domestic violence. Dot (Juno Temple) escaped an abusive marriage and built a new and happy life; soon, her first husband (Jon Hamm) tracks her down. What follows is a cat-and-mouse tale of the grimmest sort: She escapes him. He finds her again. Over. And over. And over.

The cycle would be hard to watch were it not for Temple’s performance: Dot proves to be ingenious at the art of self-defense, a doe-eyed MacGyver who turns hair spray and ice cubes into tools of survival, and Temple carries the show by imbuing the character with both steeliness and vulnerability. You admire her; you root for her; you feel for her. Hamm, meanwhile, plays her predator—a sheriff of the “I am the law” variety, armed with tactical weapons and entitlement—as someone so void of emotion that his mere presence becomes chilling. Fargo is rarely subtle in its symbolism, and the struggle between Dot and her abuser, the show makes clear, doubles as an allegory for life under another wayward lawman. The effect is itself chilling. Here are the abuse, the lying, the unchecked power, the regression, the backlash, the unrelenting cruelty—portrayed not as matters of politics, but through a woman who keeps finding her freedom, only to be cornered once more.  — M.G.

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