While the cinema enjoyed an ascendant year after several years in the doldrums, streaming and TV generally has been in somewhat murky waters.
In the US, numerous streaming services have shelved and deleted entire TV shows in an effort to improve their bottom line, while other studios have begun selling off older shows to the stalwarts like Netflix and Prime Video in a bit to increase profits. While the zenith of streaming has come and gone, it wouldn't be at all surprise to see one or possibly a few streaming services close up shop in 2024, citing the saturation of the market.
Regardless, the output for much of them has been spectacular, with some shows returning to par excellence and others maintaining their status. Here's our pick of the ten best TV shows of 2023.
As exhausting as superhero movies have become generally, it's been really something to see a TV like 'The Boys' and its spinoff, 'Gen V', rip so stridently into it in a way that really hasn't been seen since HBO's excellent 'Watchmen' series helmed by Damon Lindelof. Despite the somewhat eye-roll inducing title, 'Gen V' has been a clever and witty take on the ideas and themes in 'X-Men', with the super students going through the awkwardness of college with the knowledge that their powers are now known for all to see. Patrick Schwarzenegger has been one of the standouts, though he does feature somewhat intermittently in the show, while the absence of the main cast of 'The Boys' has done little to hold it back.
If by sheer star-wattage, no other TV show has come close to 'Only Murders In The Building' this year. Meryl Streep and Paul Rudd are both on guest star duties, in a clear indicator of the show's ascendant nature, but neither of them does any more or any less than the main trio of Martin Short, Selena Gomez, and Steve Martin. It's a testament to the show's writing that Streep and Rudd slide into the dynamic so easily, and this season's twist of musical theatre made for some truly delightful moments.
8. 'Slow Horses'
Gary Oldman's career has always been an interesting one to chart, but pitching him as the anti-George Smiley - all greasy spoons, dishevelled hair, and filthy language - wasn't something any of us could have predicted. Now in its third season and losing none of its lustre, 'Slow Horses' has become one of two reasons to keep an Apple TV+ subscription going. Blackly funny in parts and riven with a deep cynicism about British institutions, including the security services, 'Slow Horses' feels like John le Carré crossed with a particularly filthy edition of Viz Magazine. For anyone over 18 and under 40, look it up.
As mentioned in our previous entries, this is the other reason to keep an Apple TV+ subscription going. 'For All Mankind' has consistently had some of the most thrilling moments in sci-fi television since its inception, and as the alternate history schtick reaches closer to our own time, we're beginning to see the realities of it begin to set in. Toby Kebbell's addition to the series and the particular class struggle that he and his co-stars face on Mars makes for some pretty interesting moments, not the least of it being this week's episode involving a worker's strike on Mars.
6. 'Star Trek: Strange New Worlds'
This season of 'Strange New Worlds' has been a real treat for dorky Trek fans, and has included no less than a riff on one of the franchise's great episodes ('City on the Edge of Forever', no less), an episode featuring animated characters from 'Star Trek: Lower Decks', and an all-singing, all-dancing musical episode with Klingons performing K-pop influenced dance moves. All of that may seem like it's setting phasers to shark-jumping, but the series has really embraced the freedom of episodic television by crafting these ambitious yet tightly written stories that have been a joy for recent and long-suffering Trekkies to experience.
It's telling that out of all of the content that Netflix has cranked out this year, a series produced by A24 for Netflix is the one that's standing out to critics and audiences alike. There's a real freshness in 'Beef', not jus the willingness to be angry and horny at all once, but how it's written its characters so sympathetically without making them particularly likeable. Though mostly known for his role in 'The Walking Dead', Steve Yuen's comedic abilities kept him on par with Ali Wong as their rage-filled saga careened from comedy to thriller and back again over the course of 10 episodes.
4. 'Poker Face'
Chances are you probably didn't get to see 'Poker Face' this year, but let us be upfront about this - if you are a fan of good, old-fashioned murder mysteries ala 'Columbo' and that kind of grainy, sun-soaked feel, then friend, you've been missing out. Natasha Lyonne, in the role she was born to play, is a wandering not-a-detective who has the uncanny ability to detect bullshit straight away. It's not that she's a cop, in fact she's pretty ardently against them at some points, but rather that she finds herself taking on the role of one by her gifts. Like 'Strange New Worlds', there's a return to episodic television here with each chapter having a new murder and a new town for Lyonne's character to take up residence in. The guest stars are exquisitely casted - Adrien Brody, Chole Sevigny (obviously), Ellen Barkin, Nick Nolte! - and the murders themselves are deliciously devious. Again, if you love old-school murder mysteries, this is the best show you can watch this year.
Although it'd be easy to dismiss 'The Last of Us' as a more emotionally resonant version of 'The Walking Dead', it's got so much more going on than simple comparisons. For one, the third episode - featuring Nick Offerman and 'White Lotus' alum Murray Bartlett - became a cultural moment and reintroduced younger audiences to Linda Ronstadt, while humanising the end of civilisation in a real and tangible way. Later episodes, particularly those set inside Kansas City, find us examining what any of us would do in the kind of deprived circumstances the characters find themselves in. Beyond that, Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey are able to communicate both the unflinching horrors of the world around them and the tiny sliver of hope and friendship that both of them cling to without it being sentimental. Without a doubt, it's the best adaptation of videogame ever made thus far.
So falls the House of Roy in the final season of 'Succession', and what a joy and a freak show it's been. There are endlessly quotable moments from this season - "I'm the eldest boy!" - to references to Greek tragedies, to Brian Cox's character appearing from beyond the grave. In the end, the race to see who would come out on top culminated in something of a wet fart and that was ultimately the point. The transition of power was always going to go with the safest pair of hands, and those pudgy pink digits of Tom Wambsgans' had circled Waystar|Royco for far too long. Of course, it was the anguish in Jeremy Strong's performance that made 'Succession' so damn compelling, and even in the end, when his character's failure felt so complete, it felt almost like divine justice.
In its second season, 'The Bear' could have very easily engaged the same kind of manic, high-stress energy of the first season and it would have sat comfortably within our top five. The heat, the exhaustion, the anger, and the ecstasy captured in the first season burned bright, but the second season had something else going on - presence. The fact that the story was able to pause, take a beat, and engage its varied and multifaceted cast in new and exciting ways meant for some of the most touching moments in television this year. What more can be said or written about the Christmas episode? Jon Bernthal and Jamie Lee Curtis swing for the fences, but it's the quiet horror in Abby Elliot's performance that makes it so real.
The arc of Ebon Moss-Bachrach's character, Cousin Richie, could have easily been its own show, while guest appearances from the likes of Oscar winner Olivia Colman demonstrate how much the show has come on. Through all of this, it hasn't lost any of its edge. If anything, it's become more incisive, more flavourful and exciting, and ultimately one of the few shows left on television that's managed to get better in its second season.