Television is still in its so-called golden era — at least, that’s what numerous outlets and critics tell us. And you know what? They might actually be right. The best shows on Netflix, Max, Hulu, and Prime Video are excellent examples of why streaming has become such a powerful force in the industry, while cable keeps delivering the same excellent, daring, and bold shows that first made it a force to be reckoned with. Hell, even network TV is putting something of a fight, thanks to hits like Abbott Elementary.
Indeed, 2023 gave us enough great shows to justify the term “golden era.” And among these great shows, some were outright masterful. These ten shows from across streaming and cable are the best of the year, thanks to their incredible performers, clever writing, and outright ability to capture the zeitgeist and become part of our everyday lexicon. From apocalyptic dramas to satirical comedies, these are the 10 best shows of 2023.
Boots Riley rose to prominence with his remarkably intelligent and subversive 2018 pitch-black comedy Sorry to Bother You. After spending far too long away from the camera, he returned this year with the absurdist comedy I’m a Virgo, a hidden gem that didn’t receive half the attention it deserved. Emmy-winner Jharrel Jerome stars as Cootie, a 13-foot-tall boy who escapes his sheltered life to experience the liberties of the world after being discovered by a group of teenage political activists.
I’m a Virgo is a classic coming-of-age tale with a refreshingly modern twist and revealing insights into the Black experience. Jerome is spectacular in the lead role, perfectly complementing Riley’s vision with a performance that explodes with heart and charm. Hardly any show this year can match I’m a Virgo in terms of pure scope and ambition, yet it remains firmly and steadily on track to its ultimate, heartwarming message. Quirky without becoming unhinged, I’m a Virgo might be the year’s most underrated triumph and one of the best shows on Prime Video.
I’m a Virgo is available on Prime Video.
What’s better than seeing Rachel Weisz in a twisting, off-putting miniseries developed by Lady Macbeth screenwriter Alice Birch? Well, seeing two Rachel Weiszes, of course. The Oscar-winner stars in Prime Video’s limited series Dead Ringers, a reinterpretation of David Cronenberg’s seminal 1988 psychological thriller.
We live in the age of the limited series; classic movies, books, and podcasts receive 8-episode seasons meant to feed the ever-changing demands of a voracious industry. With so much content available, many of them slip through the cracks, which was unfortunately the case for the brilliant Dead Ringers. A bravura Rachel Weisz confidently and effortlessly guides this intense psychological nightmare of brutal visual spectacle, making up for the show’s, let’s admit, many flaws. Yet, there’s nothing wrong with the perfect actor finding the perfect role and consuming everything around them in a larger-than-life flex of talent and charisma. Dead Ringers is a stellar showcase for Rachel Weisz, and we couldn’t be happier about it.
Dead Ringers is available on Amazon Prime.
Few SNL actors have as thriving and acclaimed careers following their stint on the popular sketch show as Bill Hader. The actor’s biting and wicked black comedy Barry earned him critical raves as an actor, writer, and director, including two Emmy Awards for his lead role as hitman-turned-acting student Barry Berkman. This year, Barry ended with its fourth season, airing its last episode the same night as another prestigious HBO drama.
Like the other show that ended on that night, Barry concluded on its own terms, with a hard-to-swallow ending that drove home the series’ main theses. The glorification of violence, the senselessness of fame, and the inherent humor in life’s many tragedies were on full display in the show’s last hour, simply titled Wow. Barry‘s final season leaves a bitter aftertaste, the hollow, tired feeling in the mouth of the stomach after laughing too hard for too long. Yet there are hardly any laughs in the last season; it’s discomfiting, somewhat frustrating, and nearly deprived of any levity but undeniably rewarding — even if the prize itself is one we don’t necessarily want.
Barry is available on HBO.
There’s this tendency in modern television to call bleak, macabre, and occasionally funny shows “comedies.” The Bear might be the best and most blatant example of how we need a “dramedy” category in award shows because it’s indeed worthy of recognition, yet can anyone comfortably and seriously call it a comedy? Shameless breakout Jeremy Allen White stars in the show’s second season as neurotic and talented chef Carmy Berzatto, joined by an equally great supporting cast, including Ayo Edebiri (Bottoms) and Ebon Moss-Bachrach.
The Bear is chaotic entertainment at its finest. Season 2 ups the show’s tragicomic element to a point where Martin McDonagh would be proud. Powered by a truly compelling Jeremy Allen White, delivering one of the most sadly entertaining portrayals of misery in modern television, The Bear season 2 evolves into more of an ensemble piece. Like a true kitchen, The Bear becomes a true working unit – there’s a head chef, but everyone there is as important to the restaurant’s success.
The Bear is available on Hulu.
No 2023 show was more surprising than Jury Duty. An Amazon Freevee (!) original, the show is a hoax sitcom following Ronald Gladden, a solar contractor from San Diego, unaware that his jury duty summons isn’t real. Thus, everything happening in the court case is staged, and everyone in the courtroom, from the judge to the other jurors, are actors.
Although the premise might sound dubious at best and cruel at worst, Jury Duty might be 2023’s most wholesome comedy. Gladden’s naturalistic approach makes the gimmick pay off, with the non-actor proving that there can be some genuine value in the otherwise barren and exploitative land of reality television. However, Jury Duty‘s true star is the ever-charming James Marsden. Portraying an exaggerated version of himself, Marsden is hilarious and irresistible, largely thanks to his absolute willingness to lampoon not only himself but the entire idea of celebrity.
Jury Duty is available on Amazon Freevee.
As it does every year, Netflix put out a lot of content this year. However, only a few of its efforts successfully entered the entertainment language, and arguably, only Beef left a lasting impression on the business. Academy Award nominee Steven Yeun stars opposite Ally Wong in a tale of escalation and pettiness that is as biting as it’s clever.
Thematically relevant and daringly executed, Beef is the perfect mirror of our angry, frustrated, terrified society. It’s among the year’s only shows to capture our current situation with such expert accuracy, delivering a tale that is neither cautionary nor condemnatory. More interestingly, Beef is a study of rage: its overwhelming power, its possible inevitability, and its ability to provoke true change within us. Beef is a reflexive and intelligent show that never once stops being entertaining, a feat not many other limited series can achieve.
Beef is available on Netflix.
FX’s comedy-drama Reservation Dogs went on for three seasons without ever rising to mainstream prominence. The show follows the lives of four indigenous teenagers in rural Oklahoma, painting a striking, raw, and eye-opening portrayal of life within a reservation. It’s the first show with an all-indigenous cast and an almost entirely indigenous crew.
Reservation Dogs is probably the best show you haven’t watched. It’s an intimate and revelatory look into indigenous life that feels real in every possible sense: it’s often as witty as discomforting without ever becoming cruel. Season 3 delivers the show’s final chapter with earnest confidence, delivering its message without beating you over the head with it. Like its central characters, Reservation Dogs grew and matured with age yet remained as unflinching and uncompromising as it was on day one. Its dialogue is sharp, its performances outstanding, and its humor dry, a burst of laughter too hard to release yet too honest to swallow.
Reservation Dogs is available on Hulu.
Mike Flanagan has been delivering consistently great miniseries at Netflix since the 2018 release of the critically acclaimed The Haunting of Hill House. This year, Flanagan delivered his latest – and, as it turns out, last – miniseries for Netflix, and it might be his best since that 2018 masterpiece. The Fall of the House of Usher stars a never-better Bruce Greenwood and an utterly magnificent Carla Gugino leading an ensemble cast of Flanagan regulars and newcomers like Mark Hamill and Mary McDonnell.
The Fall of the House of Usher is the best from Flanagan’s Gothic, heartfelt horror sensibilities. Chilling but firmly grounded in an emotionally resonant core, the show is as much about legacy, blind ambition, and privilege as it is about expertly crafted, well-delivered chills. Gugino, in particular, is at the top of her game, crafting a deceptively alluring portrayal of power unlike anything we’ve seen from her of Flanagan. The Fall of the House of Usher is addictive, atmospheric, poignant, and quite simply outstanding and definitive proof that Flanagan is among the most consistent and visionary creative minds working today.
The Fall of the House of Usher is available on Netflix.
Video game adaptations are notorious for being often mediocre, seldom good, and nearly impossibly great. However, this seemingly unstoppable curse was broken when HBO delivered arguably the first truly incredible video game adaptation, the long-awaited The Last of Us. Internet daddy Pedro Pascal and GOT scene-stealer Bella Ramsey star as Joel and Ellie in the live-action version of one of the most iconic and groundbreaking games in recent memory.
The Last of Us was arguably 2023’s biggest television phenomenon. It kicked the year off with a bang, dominating the zeitgeist with its intricate and profoundly impactful storytelling that wasn’t afraid to expand upon its already acclaimed source material. Further elevated by two spectacular performances from Pascal and Ramsey, this two-hander is a gorgeously produced tale of survival and the human spirit, even in the bleakest situation. The ending might be somewhat rushed — dare I say anti-climactic — but it doesn’t deprive of the eight stunning episodes that came before.
The Last of Us is available on HBO.
Few shows have ever portrayed the tragedy of a broken family unit with more depth, complexity, and absurdity than Jesse Armstrong’s Succession. The show about the Roy family’s struggle to control the massive entertainment conglomerate Waystar RoyCo perfectly captured every detail and nuance about loving someone you just can’t stomach. Its insightful, eviscerating dialog, perfectly delivered by a cast of increasingly unhinged performances, only made it more addictive and, in the long run, timeless.
Succession aired its series finale, the now-iconic With Open Eyes, earlier this year, ending one of the 21st century’s best drama series on a soul-crushing yet unavoidable note. The Roy siblings’ ultimate tragedy remains among television’s most devastating events, an uncompromising, ruthless clash of broken psyches and wounded egos that felt as disappointing as it was inevitable. Succession had the rare ability to dominate the conversation, confirming that HBO remains the prime destination for “appointment television.” Furthermore, it went out on its own terms with a brutal, unforgiving ending that stands out in an age where endings seem never to be final.
Succession is available on Max.
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